Friday, November 14, 2014

Religious freedoms vs. religious rights | Last Word

State Sen. Donna Campbell, whose district includes a good portion of San Antonio, this week filed legislation aimed at passing an amendment to the state constitution protecting the religious rights of Texans.

The language is almost identical to legislation she filed two years ago.

That measure died in committee after a range of opponents raised some surprising objections.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte worried that it might void laws that keep members of the Westboro Baptist Church a prescribed distance away as they yell hateful things during military burials.

Former Rep. Scott Hochberg, who authored a state law protecting such freedoms, noted that this law prohibited a “substantial burden” on the exercise of religion.

Campbell’s proposed amendment eliminates the word “substantial.”

Under the current law, Hochberg noted, Jewish inmates could request transfer to the one state prison that has a kosher kitchen – a burden if it takes the inmate farther from his family, but not a substantial burden under the law.

Under Campbell’s amendment, he said, all prisons could be required to install kosher kitchens.

The current bill, by the way, is strong enough that a judge upheld the right of a Santeria priest in Euless to ritually slaughter a goat in his back yard in violation of a city ordinance.

The executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life worried that under Campbell’s amendment “abortion would become a religious right and taxpayers could be forced to pay for abortions.”

Campbell, a staunch opponent of abortion, said she was “unfamiliar with any religious doctrine that supports the right to abortion.” 

Campbell needs to get out more.

Apparently she is not aware that the Episcopal Church, the American Presbyterian Church, Unitarians and the Evangelical Lutheran Church all support abortion rights.

The United Church of Christ also officially supports tax funding for abortions for low-income women.

Since Campbell’s current measure is almost identical to the one she filed two years ago, these objections presumably still stand.

This week however, gay groups also raised the alarm.

They are concerned that her measure would gut non-discrimination ordinances passed in recent years by cities ranging from El Paso to Houston.

The measure says:

Government may not burden an individual’s or religious Organization’s freedom of religion or right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief unless the government proves that the burden is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.
The measure defines “burden” as including “withholding benefits, assessing penalties, and denying access to facilities or programs.”

Gay activists worry that the amendment could gut the anti-discrimination ordinance San Antonio’s City Council passed last year.

For example, a company with city contracts could not lose its contract for firing an employee the company owner learned was gay.

But because the measure’s language does not mention gays, all devoutly held religious convictions would presumably be equally protected.

A business owner who is a devout Catholic could fire an employee for divorcing and re-marrying, or for using contraception.

A devout Jewish landlord could rent only to tenants who agreed to run a kosher kitchen.

An old-fashioned Baptist boss could fire an employee after learning that she went dancing.

And a Muslim entrepreneur could dismiss an employee after finding that he had drunk water in daylight during Ramadan.

That would be un-American.

So would all the other actions listed above.

America works because we permit everyone their religious beliefs, and because we don’t allow them to enforce their beliefs on others.

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