Monday, February 12, 2018

What does it mean to be religious?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about religion. Or, rather, what it means to be religious.

I am not religious. Or at least not in the organized sense.

This does not mean that I am an atheist, or a pagan, or a heathen, or whatever other aspersion you’d like to cast upon me.

It just means that I do not believe I need a building and a structure upon which to ascribe my beliefs.

Yes, I believe in the higher power, whatever name you assign to him (or her).

Whether it be God, or Jehovah, or Yahweh, or Jesus, or Muhammed, or Buddha, or Vishnu, or whatever.

It’s all one and the same.

(It has to be the same. Otherwise, how can you explain how we’re all here, on this planet, together.)

Anything else is arrogance. Which, by the way, I believe is very un-religious.

Also un-religious? This story, which I read in the Huffington Post.

It recounts a lawsuit against a religious school (Trinity Episcopal School, of Galveston, Texas) by parents of a child victimized by racist bullying. The school’s defense? Because it’s a religious organization, it can maintain its own discipline system, outside of that which the law may otherwise require, which may, or may not, involve consequences for racist bullying.

This position might be the most un-religious one the school could take.

“All humans are equal in the eyes of God, unless you happen to be African-American, in which case all bets are off. When you attend our school, and you’re bullied because of your race [or other protected class], we don’t have to do anything about it. Now let’s pray for God’s forgiveness for the racist bullies.”

How many of the Ten Commandments does that position violate?

(I looked it up. Actually, it’s not as many as I thought. But, even one is bad enough.)

The problem, however, is that the school’s position may be perfectly legal.

In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a corporation can rely on its religious beliefs to opt out of the requirement of the Affordable Care Act to provide healthcare coverage for contraceptives.

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ginsburg argued against the dangerous precedent of the majority’s holding:
In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.

What about Title VII and the other anti-discrimination laws? What if a company has a sincerely held religious belief that it is okay to discriminate based on race? Or okay to harass individuals because of  their race? Or, how about a company, that, because of its religious beliefs, segregates its men and women? Hobby Lobby would arguably permit those employers to opt out of Title VII.

Keep a close eye on Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which will decide whether a private business can deny service to a customer based on the sincerely held religious belief of the business owner (in that case, a bakery’s refusal to sell a wedding cake a gay couple).

We need to worry about how companies, like Trinity Episcopal School, will try to pervert Hobby Lobby to opt out of laws they do not like. I am concerned that this argument will lead to a slippery slope of companies using religion to pick and choose laws based on their socio-political beliefs.

I understand that a religious school is different than a bakery, but the danger of expanding the logic of Hobby Lobby holds true in both cases, which is troubling. It not only undermines our civil-rights laws, but also the First Amendment religious freedoms upon which out country was founded.

It also undermines to what I think it means to be a good person and live a good life, and, at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about.