The Church newsroom is beginning a series of statements about religious freedom.  “Honoring religious freedom does not mean discarding other freedoms and social interests or subverting the law; religious freedom coexists with other legitimate (caveat alert) interests in society. Government has a critical role to . . . arbitrate the conflict of some rights with others.”  So far so good.

Here’s the meaty paragraph where we discover where this series of articles is headed (at least if we use our X-Ray vision goggles to read between the lines):  “Challenges to religious freedom are emerging from many sources.”  Such as?  The article lists 2 vague examples and one ominous assertion:

  •  “Emerging advocacy for gay rights threatens to abridge religious freedom in a number of ways.”  This is also pretty vague.  Might we be talking about requiring adoption agencies to allow gay couples to adopt?
  • “Changes in health care threaten the rights of those who hold certain moral convictions about human life.”  This is pretty vague.  Are we talking about Planned Parenthood getting funding from tax dollars?  Doctors being required to perform abortions even if they are morally opposed?
  • “These and other developments are producing conflict and beginning to impose on religious organizations and people of conscience.”  Are we talking about the rights of individuals or the rights of organizations?  This reminds me of Mitt Romney’s “Corporations are people, my friend.”  I get that organizations are comprised of people, but most rights we talk about are protections of individual rights from organizations, not the other way around.  Do organizations merit rights like individuals do?  What if they use those rights to supercede individual rights?
  • “They are threatening, for instance, to restrict how religious organizations can manage their employment and their property.”  Like, preventing discrimination?
  • “They are bringing about the coercion of religiously-affiliated universities, schools and social-service entities.”  To prevent discrimination?
  • “They are also resulting in reprimands to individuals who act in line with their principles, from health practitioners and other professionals to parents.”  Because they broke discrimination laws?
  • “In these and in many other circumstances, we see how religious freedom and freedom of conscience are being subtly but steadily eroded.”  In favor of individual rights?  Also, my college professors would have used a big swooshy “omit” on the phrase “and in many other circumstances” and written “name them!” in the margin.
  • “And of equal concern, the legal provisions emerging to safeguard these freedoms are often deceptively shallow — protecting these liberties only in the narrowest sense.”  IOW, the institution loses its freedoms big time for a small gain for individual freedoms.
  • “In many aspects of public life, religious freedom and freedom of conscience are being drawn into conflicts that may suppress them.”  If I had written that sentence on a college essay, my teacher would have drawn through it with a big swooshy “omit” sign.

Is institutional freedom an oxymoron?  Do organizations have rights like individuals or are laws in place to protect the rights of individuals from organizations?  Is institutional freedom the same as religious freedom?  Does it protect individual rights or is it at odds with them?  Is it freedom to want to restrict the rights of others?  Does it restrict our religious freedom for norms to make us seem quaint?  Here are some possible examples of what “religious freedoms” might be curttailed:

  • Organizations forced to follow equal opportunity practices in employment or school enrollment selection.
  • Organizations not allowed to discriminate or create a hostile environment for individuals, including protected classes such as women, people of different religions, or homosexuals.
  • Adoption agencies required to accept parents of various faiths or homosexual couples.
  • Individual health practitioners or health organizations being required to perform procedures they disagree with (e.g. abortions).
  • Restrictions on ministerial exemptions (see below).

Exponent II recently ran a fascinating (in a watching-a-train-wreck sort of way) Q&A about CES’s discriminatory policies toward women.  I urge you to read their entire exchange, but here’s a great quotation that relates to the question of institutional freedom vs. individual rights:

Question:  Is it true that mothers may not be seminary teachers?
Answer:
No, that is not true.  Mothers of young children are discouraged from being seminary teachers.  (They are more than “discouraged” as you’ll see.)

Question: So CES does hire mothers to be seminary teachers?
Answer: 
CES will hire mothers whose children are all over 18 and whose children have all graduated from high school.

Question: What happens to a female seminary teacher who has a baby?  Can she continue teaching seminary?
Answer:
She stops teaching seminary when she has a baby.

Question:  She is fired?
Answer:
No. Female seminary teachers understand this when they are hired.  They know that they will only work as seminary teachers until they have children.  (She’s not fired, but she can no longer work there.  Hmmm.)

Question: Do they have the option of continuing to teach when they become mothers?
Answer:
They do not want to keep working full-time after they have children.  They want to stay home with their children.  (And we know this how?)

Question: Doesn’t the Family Medical Leave Act require employers to allow mothers to return to work after maternity leave?
Answer:
  The Church has met all of the legal requirements to implement this policy.

Given that this policy is obviously discriminatory, how does it meet the legal requirements?  Because these jobs are defined as ministerial which allows an exemption:  “religious employers have consistently — and successfully — claimed an exemption from employment discrimination laws. This “ministerial exception” allows religious employers to avoid liability for discrimination when making employment decisions concerning employees who qualify as ministers.”

How do courts determine that a job is ministerial?  They apply a “duties test that considers whether an employee’s job responsibilities render him “important to the spiritual and pastoral mission of the church.””  This clearly must be the CES stance as it does employ mothers with children at home in clerical roles (that have no ministerial exemption based on duties).

The conclusion CES and the church have made is that women with children between the ages of 0 and 18 in the home are not fit to be paid seminary or institute teachers.  Likewise, neither are divorced men or women or single men.  However, in areas where unpaid lay members teach, these restrictions do not apply.  As a result, those in CES instructor areas (primarily Utah, Idaho and Mesa), very seldom hear a female perspective on the gospel in seminary or institute, and the organization is far more male-dominated than the church as a whole.

  • Is it inconsistent that a working woman can hold a TR and be called to teach seminary on a volunteer basis, but not be considered fit to be paid to teach seminary or institute?
  • Is this a proper use of “ministerial exception” or are seminary and institute teachers really no different than any of the unpaid ministerial positions in the church that do not have these restrictions?
  • Would it infringe on the church’s rights if leglislation forced them to stop discriminating against women with children ages 0-18 in the home?  Would it be worth it because of the individual rights protected in such an action?  What about divorced men and women and single men?

Let’s get your perspective:

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What other threats to religious freedoms do you believe we will see in the near future?  Do you agree that organizations need to be protected as well as individuals?

The original newsroom articles concludes thusly:

“Given the depth of these conflicts and the controversy that they sometimes create, it is essential that all parties are civil as they negotiate these deeply important issues. . . . Each group, including religious individuals (not a group, BTW) and organizations (that’s the only group – there aren’t two groups – seriously, where is the editor?), is responsible to state its views reasonably in order to contribute to meaningful discussion.”

So let’s have a civil discussion, shall we?