A news item gleaned from Joe. My. God this morning:
“New York law protects my right to hold both my job and my beliefs. I’m not supposed to have to leave my beliefs at the door at my government job. For me to participate in the same-sex marriage application process I don’t feel is right. God doesn’t want me to do this, so I can’t do what God doesn’t want me to do, just like I can’t steal, or any of the other things that God doesn’t want me to do.” – Rose Belforti, town clerk in Ledyard, New York.
Belforti is being defended by the anti-gay Alliance Defense Fund in a case brought by People For The American Way, who are representing a lesbian couple whom Belforti refused to serve.
Here is my take on this. The first Amendment to the Constitution says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…
Notice that government not establishing a religion comes before prohibiting the free exercise thereof. This is because the whole point is to avoid creating a state sponsored religion or to have the authorities take sides in religion— choosing one over another. You are as free to worship chickens as I am to worship God with no state interference or preferential treatment to the God worshiper over the chicken worshiper. And if you want to go out and dance in a chicken costume as part of your sacramental ritual, even if it confuses your god-worshiping neighbors, the government is not going to swoop in and stop you.
The most important thing here is that the government and its representatives are not imposing a faith on you for participation in society.
In this case Belforti is acting as a representative of the government. There is no law requiring Blforti to work for the government. This was a matter of choice. If you do work for the state, however, you are acting as its representative and that comes with a certain responsibility.
What are the religious beliefs of the lesbian couple who came in to be married? I belong to a church that believes that gays and lesbians should be celebrated in their commitments to each other. This is as much a matter of deep conviction as Belforti’s. Does Belforti’s religion trump my religious conviction?
Under the U.S. constitution it does not. Not for Americans.
The government should not prevent Belforti from believing the Bible commands her to believe homosexuality is an abomination or from speaking as much as she likes about it when she is not acting as a government representative. For her to be entitled to that right, she must extend that right to those whose beliefs are in conflict with her own— not only those who agree.
Whenever the concept of “religion” gets narrowed down to a form of conservative protestantism, and given preference over other deeply held convictions— religious or otherwise— in government policy it is an affront to the spirit of what it means to be a U.S. citizen.