Is Religious Discrimination Wrong?

First, a few things to notice.

Notice the category.  This is a philosophical discussion, not meant to incite a “religious war” (pun intended).

Notice the history of posts like this on this blog, and the comments upon them.  Thus, I’ve decided to not allow comments on this post. If you want to converse on this topic, write your thoughts on your own blog, tumblr, twitter account, or whatever publishing platform you want to use, and link to this post. Otherwise, simply take a moment to ponder, create your own opinion, and talk about it with someone. Or not, and go on your merry way. The decision is yours. And, I’ve decided not to make this a forum for discussion; rather hopefully a spark of one to have elsewhere.

Notice I have avoided what the law is and what political fight is about in this post. My concern is philosophical, not related to current laws.

Now, on to the question

Is Religious Discrimination Wrong?

This post is in response to Jonathan Rouch’s Atlantic Magazine article entitled “The Great Secession“.

It’s a very thought provoking read. Not because I agree, nor because I think he’s very convincing. But because it makes you think about the meta – the overarching controversy.

At first glance, I want to say “of course religious discrimination is wrong, you twit.” But let’s think about this for a second. What other things do we discriminate over?

In militaristic hierarchy (corporate, government, or otherwise) some people have access to documents or powers that others do not. My access to those documents is rightfully discriminated against, most would argue.

In national welfare (access to well built infrastructure, in some countries their health care, military protection, privatized real estate, etc) we discriminate against non-citizens because they don’t pay our taxes and therefore shouldn’t have access to our protections.

And there are so many other things we all discriminate against. So, how do we justify this discrimination?

We do so through the code. Our code (ie, that access rights or payment of taxes in these cases) is what justifies our discrimination.

The code

Those of us who follow the code agree to the discrimination. I don’t expect to be taxed at Sweden’s rates because I don’t agree to their code, and they have not agreed to let me in to do so – I am not a citizen. I don’t expect a tax haven in the Monaco because I’m not a citizen there either. I am a citizen of the U.S., and therefore, by our code, when I pay my taxes and abide by the laws, I expect the protections afforded me in the same code.

A code doesn’t have to be written either. It can be an agreement, a handshake, a wink, a nod. Social contracts are a kind of code, which includes discriminating against others who do not adhere to them. We do this daily, if not every hour or minute of the day.

Why, then, is religious discrimination any different? It’s a code which billions of people adhere to, of varying sizes, shapes, ethical boundaries, etc. Just like a social code or contract.

Non-Religious Discrimination

So, let’s get down to what it really is, because it’s not about whether it’s religious or not anymore. It’s simply the discrimination itself. So, let’s talk about when discrimination is justified and when it is not.

The easy ones to talk about is discrimination based on race or gender. These are issues we’ve gone a bit further in dealing with, socially, over the past 50 years.

Is race or gender discrimination justifiable? In most of our American bathrooms, it is. Either we go in one at a time, or we post signs to indicate which gender can go into which bathroom. It’s actually uncannily similar (at least apologetically in the eyes of this average white middle-class American in his 30’s) to the signs designated for colored vs white water fountains.

Why does our general society say bathroom designation and discrimination by gender is socially allowed, but water fountains by race are not anymore?

I certainly don’t condone racial discrimination. But why not? I’ve been taught (and agree) that a person is a person, and regardless of his or her race or gender. Everyone is to be afforded the same dignity as I expect. Do we discriminate who can go into a certain bathroom by gender, then, because one is less dignified than another? No. Of course not. Therefore, if dignity is at stake, this seems an appropriate time to displace discrimination.

Thus, dignity is a human right, is it not?

The Great Secession

Let’s apply this logic to Mr. Rouch’s subject – the “seceding” of religious (Christian) from the general marketplace.

Mr. Rouch’s examples were that of Christian dog walkers or caterers refusing to serve homosexuals based on their sexual preference. Is it undignified to acquire services from a different caterer or dog walker? Of course not. So, dignity is not the issue.

So, why does the person who doesn’t abide by the vendor’s code (in this case a religious one) expect a service to be provided? In the case of the dog walker, they even have “faith” in their motto. They expect to be serving Christians (implied), not the general public. They’ve publicly exclaimed their exclusion, and thus their code. And because it’s not a universally public service, there should be no expectations of the service to be provided. Similarly, if I don’t pay the taxes of a nation, I should not expect them to guarantee me safety.

Isn’t it the right of the individual to serve whom he or she wishes?

We believe we should have the right to change employers whenever we want. We believe we should have the right to change citizenship, should another country accept us, serving that nation with our taxes and other civic duties. Why should we not have the right to serve the customers we choose to?

Simply having and marketing a skill or service does not necessitate we serve everyone who wants it. France could want my citizenship, but they don’t get to force their citizenship on me. They could also deny my application for citizenship for any reason they chose, most notably including my decision not to abide by their code; their laws.

The Conclusion

The word “discrimination” connotes negative situations like race, gender and other dignity based discrimination. But, other types of discrimination are not simply occurring, but in certain instances, good.  We do it regularly, and with complete justification.

If we thought otherwise, our neighbors in other countries would be able to enjoy America’s sovereignty and benefits without paying our country’s taxes, among so many other “injustices”.

And in the words of Chris Rock as Mays Gilliam in Head of State

“That aint right!”

It isn’t right that people who don’t abide by our code get our society’s provisions.  That goes for the United States of America as well as for dog walkers, cake makers, Christians, and any other subculture.  If you disagree with the culture’s code, use a different service, or try to change the code of the people who hold it.  This now becomes your burden – the one who disagrees with the code – just as it is not France’s burden to change according to what I want their rules to be.  It is my burden to either abide by them, or find a different place to call home, thus not receiving France’s benefits, like warm non-GMO-filled croissants (which I’d love to argue are a human right).

Nate Ritter lives in the Pacific Northwest (U.S.), popularized the #hashtag and creates web applications for a living. He also does miles and point hacking to enable cheap travel for his family. More here →

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