Thursday, January 19, 2012

Religious Discrimination

I’m Church shopping. It doesn’t have quite the same impact as racing out at midnight for a Black Friday sale, but there are more similarities than you’d think. There’s not too much pushing and shoving, but window shoppers like me are eyed warily by the shopkeepers. I’m looking for certain specific liturgical traditions inside of my life long denomination but I’m equally interested in finding a community of people to connect with in my new city. It’s an interesting process and allows me to evaluate whether I’m drawn to a particular type of service out of habit and tradition, or out of spiritual fulfillment. Much as I miss my home Parish, I get to choose my Church, a wonderful opportunity. After last week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, however, religious institutions are now able to choose the people they welcome. Religious institutions can now legally discriminate.

Discriminate is a loaded word and implies judgment. The New York Times reported that  the Court made a sweeping change to the law – allowing religious institutions to fire somebody if they aren’t able to adhere to the dogma of that Church. Employment laws before the ruling required equal treatment regardless of an organization’s philosophical beliefs on a bevy of social issues had to treat its employees equally. Institutions that believed women should be in the home were required to hire women. No longer. Today a gay musician working at a denomination that believes gay marriage threatens the future of humanity (as the Pope said last week). Under the unanimous ruling by the Court, the musician can be fired for no other reason than their orientation conflicts with Catholic teachings.

The Court took steps to make sure that it was clear that only people who perform ministerial functions were impacted by this decision. It left the delineation of ministerial functions to the lower courts to sort out. In many traditions music is an integral part of the liturgy and certainly would be defined as part of the ministry. Judge Clarence Thomas wrote: “The question whether an employee is a minister is itself religious in nature, and the answer will vary widely.”

The Universal Life Ministry will ordain anybody online for free. 20 million have done so. That’s a lot of ministers with a lot of opinions.

In the United States, thanks to the First Amendment, Government is prohibited from making any law impeding the free exercise of religion. For 235 years the courts have respected and honored this core principal while balancing individual rights with universal employment laws. The balance has now shifted. 

In 2008 the Mormon Church played a significant role in California’s Proposition 8 campaign. They were fully involved against the effort to legalize gay marriage – funding, promoting, and producing propaganda.. Their historic involvement in the political campaign was documented in the award winning film “The Mormon Proposition.”

Minnesota will be voting on gay marriage this November. No matter how the vote goes gay marriage will still be illegal after the election – the issue is whether the constitution should be amended in the event that gay marriages should be considered in the future. Talk about proactive. In the midst of the campaign the Catholic Bishop told his priests to "toe the line on marriage or keep your mouth shut."

It seems in the instances of personal liberty issues, especially related to LGBT issues, many different religious denominations have quite a bit to say and quite a few rules to be followed. They’ve worked hard to pass laws that dictate how people are to live and interact with each other. Could it backfire?  The next possible manifestation of the law could be to allow a GLBT organization to fire somebody when it is discovered that the person is Catholic or Mormon.

When it comes to adhering to societal standards of fairness in employment religious institutions can now be left alone to practice their faith. These same institutions should be consistent and stay out of political campaigns and allow people to be left alone to live their lives.  I'll add it to the shopping list.

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