Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Bureacrats have no right to discriminate.

In the Canadian province of Saskatchewan the so-called Justice Minister, Don Morgan, has announced they will entertain legislation to exempt marriage commissioners from having to perform same-sex weddings. The reason given is that this “respects” the freedom of religion of these state employees. Morgan said: “We also have rights of people that have deeply held religious beliefs, and if we can accommodate both sets of beliefs or both views... that would be our preferred course.”

Not long ago a fundamentalist Christian in England refused to perform civil unions for gay couples because it offends her religious beliefs.

There is some really confused thinking on this matter. This idea that the “rights” of antigay Christians are being violated is absurd. An employee is in a contractual relationship with their employer. They are hired to perform a specific job. If they refuse to perform that job, for any reason, then it is the right of the employer to remove them from that position.

What if gay employees of the state announced that they would not perform their job for anyone who was a born-again Christian? Would anyone argue that it is their “right” to do this and still keep their job?

That the beliefs in question are “religious” is of absolutely no consequence. The “religious beliefs” of a Christian are no more sacrosanct than the political beliefs of a socialist, or the ethical beliefs of a humanist. People have the right to believe anything they want. But, what they don’t have is a right to a specific job, if they are unwilling to do the work.

Any employer would have the right to fire workers who refuse to work, even if those workers pretend their temporary strike is inspired by God and that the Holy Ghost is directing them to the picket line.

While any employer is free to fire workers who refuse to do their jobs, whether on orders from Jesus or Marx, the government is in aposition which actually mandates that it fire such workers. A private employer may choose to accommodate the religious fantasies of their employees whenever they want. Government may not. A church has the right to refuse to perform marriages for any reason. It may discriminate against others on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, etc. But government employees are not private individuals but public servants. What a minister does in his church is one thing, what a Christian does in his job in government is quite another.

The difference is that government agencies are tax-supported. If an agency is going to give one class of citizens second rate service then it shouldn’t tax them. Government agencies are supported by tax money and there is no way for those who are discriminated against by it to avoid paying for that agency. If a particular grocery store refused to serve gay customers those customers could go elsewhere. But government is a monopoly provider. As such it has no right to discriminate and a positive obligation not to do so.

There are all sorts of prejudiced people in the world and they imagine all sorts of fantastical reasons to justify their petty and stupid beliefs. There are churches that still teach that black people are “beasts of the field” and that Jews are the “children of Satan.” Would a member of that church, who is employed in a state agency, have the right to refuse service to blacks and Jews? If not, why not? Does the right to refuse service, on the grounds of religious fantasies, only apply in some cases but not others? Is there a reason that antigay Christians are given exemptions from their jobs while religiously-inspired bigots of other kinds are denied those same rights?

Can a religiously-inspired firefighter refuse to douse the flames of the home of a gay couple? Can a Jesus-saturated police officer refuse to protect that gay couple from violence merely because he disproves of their “sinful lifestyle?” What if gay firefighters let churches burn and gay police officers turned their backs on Christians? Could a gay marriage commissioner refuse to perform marriages for Baptists?

Rights go in both directions. If a Christian bureaucrat can refuse service to gay taxpayers then why can’t gays refuse to pay taxes?

This is not a matter of Christians having their rights respected. There simply is no such thing as a right to a government pay check. They ought to have the right to seek state employment on the same terms as everyone else. And everyone else is expected to do the jobs for which they are hired. What we have here is a demand by Christians to gain special rights, that is rights that other groups are not allowed to have.

If this law is passed Christian bureaucrats can refuse service to the gay citizen but gay bureaucrats would not be free to refuse service to Christian citizens. It is clear that Christians are seeking a special privilege, not equal rights.

The libertarian would abolish most of these positions, given their druthers. But while those positions exist then the bureaucrats who hold those positions are not entitled to deny service based on their own prejudices—no matter what the source of those prejudices may be. As long as those positions exist, and I hope it won’t be long, they should be open to any citizen who has the ability to do the work in question. If they are unwilling to do the job, either all the time or some of the time, then they deserve to be fired. If a religious fanatic wishes to work for the state they have to do so on exactly the same terms as all other employees.

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