First of all, it is important to say that NO religious practice whatsoever should be automatically exempt from the law of the land. I hate to use the slippery slope argument, but in this case I think it’s applicable in that if you just broadly say “yes, anything you want to do for religious purposes is exempt from the law”, you’re giving a carte blanche for everything from drug taking to honor killings. It’s ridiculous to assume that that would be a right and the only reason anyone is even arguing that it is in this case is only doing so because this issue has to do with Christianity and anti-woman legislation.
However, I suppose I’m a “libertarian” in that I’m willing to find a compromise, if such compromise ensures that other people’s safety (i.e. people who did not choose to partake in the religious ritual) is not put at risk. This means that I think that if you have a specific gripe about a law that prevents you from exercising your religious freedom, you should be able to present your case and a compromise might be reached depending on the circumstances.
Our first example involves Muslim women required to cover their faces in public buildings. As I understand it, the reason there is a law banning the covering of one’s face in public buildings has to do with being a potential threat and not being recognizable. This compromise is hard to reach, because it involves the safety of the public. Someone intending to do harm could dress in a burka in order to gain access to the public building without being recognized if such a compromise would be allowed. The only reasonable alternative I could think of is to replace the law with metal detectors, but that comes at significant expense. In this case I would leave the decision to them, although I do not think that a compromise always needs to be reached if one cannot be.
Example two involves a ban on the consumption of peyote, no exceptions for religious ritual. I have to admit a certain about of bias here as I am for the legalisation of drugs in general, but even if drugs remain illegal I think that this argument still applies. The question is why is peyote illegal? How dangerous is it? If it is true that prolonged use is not more damaging thanalcohol abuse I don’t think that a compromise cannot be reached. This may include that they not grow their own, not be allowed to sell it or transport it, receive a controlled amount of it from a controlled source or even have a physician present during the ritual in case something goes wrong (can you even OD on peyote? Pardon my ignorance but it was missing from my big book of drugs). They could require that members be aware of the risks associated with it before partaking in the ritual. It is a reasonable compromise that does not endanger anyone outside the community that knowingly participates.
The third example regards child labor laws, in that Jehovah’s Witnesses might violate them by having their fourteen-year-old children sell books and/or pamphlets for them. While I believe that child labor laws are in place primarily to protect the rights of the child regarding getting an education (and therefore there should be checks to make sure that these children are in fact being educated satisfactorily, this specific issue notwithstanding), I do think that there is a way to get around this law by not having the children sell anything, but rather have them simply hand out free pamphlets after school hours and on weekends.
Example four is a little more tricky because it involved animal cruelty, which is always a gray area under the law. More information regarding the exact practices during the ritual would be needed in order to reach a decision. If it is a case of simply killing an animal as a form of sacrifice, perhaps they could simply be required to comply with US law regarding how animals are killed. If they use the same methods that are legally used for slaughtering animals for meat then I don’t see any conflict between religion and law in this case (based on some videos I’ve seen though, I’m not sure the US has many laws regarding the ethical killing of animals, but that’s something I’ve discussed elsewhere). If the big problem here is not the method of killing which is found unethical but the fact that the animal is not slaughtered for the sole purpose of food consumption, that could easily be gotten around by either consuming the animal themselves or selling it for meat. Anyway, I find it quite ludicrous that, in a country where billions of animalsare slaughtered every year for food, they will draw a line at slaughtering just a couple more of the exact same animal on an altar, but that’s my opinion.
This brings us full circle back to the situation between the Obama Administration’s health care reform and the Catholic Church. From what I understand, a compromise has been reached. The health care reform would require the health insurance companies to pay for the contraception. The Catholic hospitals would not be required to pay for it, hand it out or be directly involved with it in any way. I think that it is a fine compromise and the issue should now be over.
Having said all that, if a compromise cannot be reached, or the religious entity in question rejects the compromise, fuck ‘em. A secular government should not be expected to let anyone do whatever they want simply because they are a religious organization. It puts religion on a pedestal that it does not deserve. I don’t see why, objectively and legally speaking, you should make automatic exemptions for a person’s faith, but none for a person’s morality. If person A doesn’t want to abide by the law for religious reasons, and person B doesn’t want to abide by the law for moral reasons, and person C doesn’t want to abide by the law for cultural reasons, how can you say that there is a fundamental difference between them?