A gathering storm (Yes, it's a stupid ad, but…)

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  1. I’m suprised by your characterization of the New Jersey pavilion case. The church in question was getting a tax break under a state law because they were offering their pavilion as a public accommodation. In New Jersey, one is not allowed to discriminate against who uses public accommodations. Therefore, in order to discriminate, they needed to do so without tax benefits. Which they are rightfully free to do.
    I’d call this the least troubling thing around, if you look at the details – if you are going to get tax benefits based on classifying yourself as a public accommodation, you have to obey the local laws about public accommodations, and if you don’t like them, you can skip the tax benefit (provided by tax funds paid by all your fellow citizens, including the gay and lesbian taxpayers) and do whatever you want.
    And as for the school cases… I agree that parents are allowed to teach their kids any insane, hateful thing they want. When they want the public schools to validate their own prejudices for all the children there, that’s extremely troublesome. (And when you dig into these cases, “promoting homosexuality” seems to amount to things like saying, “Some people are gay or lesbian.” Given that there are gay and lesbian kids, and kids with gay and lesbian parents in those classes, what about them? Should they go to school and have everyone simply say, “Oh, we can’t talk about your family?” Given the news reports in the last few weeks about two different 11 year olds killing themselves after being the objects of bullying with anti-gay epithets, I can see some issues there.
    Lots of Texas parents thing that the world was created by a superbeing 6,000 years ago and what science tells us about its history is wrong. Should we protect their religious freedom by avoiding anything that conflicts with that in the curriculum? (If you say yes, you may have a future as a state rep…)
    And none of this has anything to do with marriage equality – it has to do with state laws barring discrimination against gay and lesbian people. (The event in New Jersey was not a wedding, as same-sex weddings are not legal in that state.)
    I’m not familiar with the case about the psychologist.
    What the NOM crowd is arguing for isn’t freedom, it’s an insistence on having their prejudice celebrated. I find it hard to believe that a capable parents cannot tell a kid, “Lots of people believe this – I don’t, and here’s why.” My parents certainly did about lots of things.
    And of course… do you want a public function room to be able to hand a “No Jews” sign out? Do you want schools to not talk about mixed-faith or mixed-race couples?

  2. Hi John —
    Obviously (I hope), I don’t agree with these people. And you and I agree 100% about the public schools. The NOM people sound like idiots when they wring their hands about how they can’t teach their kids as a result of a more inclusive educational environment.
    OTOH, several of the cases in the WaPo article really do strike me as problematic, John. Should an abstinence-only student group be required to admit members who are sexually active? Is a fertility doctor required to impregnate a lesbian who’s in a committed relationship? Is there no room at all in our society for these people’s strongly-held beliefs?
    Even the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association’s Pavilion is less straight-forward than either the article or you have presented. Wikipedia has a good description of their history, and some of the arguments, here.
    I’m not saying I agree with the NOM positions. I am saying that I think there are cases — and will be more — where the line cannot be easily drawn. And also that I do not think one can simply dismiss all these people’s concerns, and have any hope of social progress in the country.

  3. “Should an abstinence-only student group be required to admit members who are sexually active? ”
    Of course. if their purpose is to encourage abstinence, why wouldn’t they want to talk to those who are not abstinent?
    I was chair of the GLBT student group on my campus; we welcomed anyone who was interesting in GLBT issues and typically had some non-GLBT people particpating in meetings and events. Our school’s policy was that if you were a student group funded by the activity fee, any student must be allowed to join. The end. It worked fine.
    As for Ocean Grove: they took half a million dollars for the state under a state program explicitly designed to reward groups for offering their property for public use, and then wished to violate NJ law about public access to those spaces. I see nothing unclear here. If they want to be a private facility and pick and choose who can use it, they should, but not with public money.
    (I actually find the whole idea of churches being exempt from taxes rather offensive; it leads to things like the Osteen self-help corporation getting to avoid taxes.)
    I think an appropriate approach for the fertility question is that if a specific doctor does not want to perform a procedure, the facility must provide the treatment via another provider. I have to wonder if the same people complaining that doctor’s religious views were being compromised would defend a doctor who did not with to provide fertility treatment to highly religious people, because he or she viewed indoctrinating children with superstitious beliefs to be a form of child abuse (a viewpoint with which I have some sympathy). I doubt it.

  4. By the way, the student group policy I mention also applied to religious groups (we had quite a variety), political groups, and so on. There was never the slightest issue with it; if I had showed up at the very conservation Christian club meeting, I’m sure they would have talked to me a lot about god, and if any of them had showed up at our meetings, we would have talked to them about homophobia. (Our bulletin boards in the student center were next to one another, and we did have a period where anti-gay tracts kept getting stuck up on ours. It was kind of obvious what was going on; I mentioned it to the student center staff, and then left a note in the Christian group’s mailbox in the office telling them that we weren’t sure who was doing it, but if they knew they should let that person know that it was rather offensive, and inviting them to join us at a meeting to talk about religous issues about sexual orientation. Never heard from them.)

  5. As is often the case with these cases, details are hard to come by. I’m very curious about the Georgia psychologist case you mention… but I can find any references to it other than various sites saying “A psychologist was fired in Georgia!”
    Which makes me wonder: fired by whom? If, for example she worked for a public agency and providing counseling to all patients was her job, this seems totally appropriate. If she worked for a private mental health practice and providing services to all patients was her job, this seems equally appropriate.
    If she was in private practice and being fine – yes, very problematic (which is why most antidiscrimination laws exempt businesses under a certain size – and having been self-employed, I recognize the importance of being able to choose one’s clients, though my usual criteria were “can they pay” and “do they know what they want or will this be a nightmare of poorly-defined and articulated expectations?” (And in fact I had at least one client who was a conservative Christian, and have many such coworkers now, and have never had the slightest problem with that.)
    One does have to wonder, though, what Jesus would say about church groups with behavior tests before they will worship with, talk to, or minister to people.

  6. (sorry for the repeat comments)
    What does any of this have to do with whether gay marriage is legal, by the way? The cases in the Post article are from Georgia, New Mexico, New Jersey, and California, none of which have legal gay marriage.

  7. Hi John —
    You’re right — gay marriage is merely one aspect of the larger issue for these people. I interjected a specific that probably didn’t belong there.
    The case of the psychologist turns out to be from Mississippi. Here’s a link to the appeal filed by the counselor: Bruff v. No. Mississippi Health Services.
    She lost, and as is often true, the specifics of the case make the actual issues a bit different than presented. Given the structure of the EAP counseling staff and the job requirements, I can see why she was fired. But I don’t know that this would (or should) have played out the same way at all in a different setting.
    While hunting for the counseling case, I found another round-up of cases and conflicts at NPR from 2008: LINK
    Some of them are the same as the WaPo article, and some I hadn’t seen. The California doctor who refused fertilization treatment, though, has a bit more detail, and I’m finding myself surprised that the lawsuit against that clinic won. It seems that another doctor in the same clinic did agree to provide services. So the woman sued… why?
    I can see the reasoning behind a number of cases mentioned in that NPR article, but some strike me — again — as problematic.
    Editing to add — This is a link to a PDF newsletter from 2002.   It’s called, “Employers Need to Be Aware of Potentially Controversial Mix of Religion and Sexual Orientation”, and discusses a number of cases that are reflective of our discussion here.

  8. Something that crossed my mind with regard to the issue of the psychologist: “therapy” sounds very fuzzy, but in fact psychology is a discipline with a body of knowledge and standards, and a psychologist whose treatment of a lesbian couple is driven by a belief that they should go marry some men is, in fact, revealing herself to be at odds with her profession. I think it’s reasonable for us to expect that psychologists with state licenses will be practicing according to the current standards and knowledge of the profession, just as we expect our doctors won’t be applying leeches to drain us of sickness, and that science teachers won’t be teaching kids that the earth was created 6000 years ago and humans and dinosaurs lived on it at the same time.
    If one’s religious views force one to reject science, social science, or medical knowledge, one should consider careers where that won’t be an issue.
    I just have trouble getting worked up about people who hold views without discernible foundations in observable reality feeling oppressed because the public at large isn’t tolerant of them when it comes to providing services to the public.

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