Monday, February 13, 2012

Religious Beliefs and Professional Duties


In my discussion of Sean Faircloth's new atheist strategy, I am at the third of ten policy objectives - that pharmacists and doctors do their job and not use their religion as an excuse to do refuse legal medical help to others.

Faircloth has in mind the case of a rape victim. After enduring the rape, and reporting it to the police, and going through a rape exam, she gets a prescription for a "morning after pill." She goes to a local pharmacist - and he refuses to fill the prescription. Where this happens once, it can happen two or three times. In a more rural part of the country, once is enough.

Faircloth's policy objective is for the law to declare that these jobs come with certain duties and responsibilities, which includes filling legal prescriptions that customers may come in with.

If your religion prohibits you from doing the job, find a different job.

Imagine taking your child to the hospital with a severe bleeding wound and being told, "We do not do blood transfusions here. If you want a blood transfusion, you will have to go elsewhere." And the next nearest hospital is 60 miles away.

However, I do not think that this issue is quite as simple as some wish it to be.

Let's consider conscientious objector status. Here is a case of people who, for religious reasons, refuse to kill. Are we going to advocate putting a gun in their hand and forcing them to kill people? Or are we going to allow them to use their religion as a legitimate reason not to kill?

My next step will be to ask whether or not the pharmacist can use religion as a reason not to kill.

I hold that an fetus has to have a brain capable of having desires before it can have moral standing. You cannot violate the interests of a being that has no interests. And while the being has potential future interests, that only speaks to the possibility of potential future harm if and when those potential interests become actual interests. Therefore, I deny that abortion or the use of a morning-after pill violates any moral prescription. However, the question here is whether and to what degree I may impose those beliefs upon others.

The argument for freedom is substantially an argument against arrogance. It is an argument that says that we are going to allow each competent adult the opportunity to look around and decide his own place in the world. Each of us thinks we are right. However, we are going to require enough humility to require that we use words to convince others of the error of their ways - not guns. We will presume in favor of freedom and the power of non-violent forms of persuasion, and give up freedom only when the arguments for doing so are compelling.

When religion commands somebody to kill others, the argument for finding this freedom intolerable is compelling. When it tells somebody not to kill - as in the case of the conscientious objector - the weight of the argument remains with the presumption of freedom.

However, in the case of the conscientious objector, freedom means that we are not going to compel them to kill. We still leave it to them not to choose the profession of soldier, where killing is potentially required.

We say, Fine. If you do not wish to kill - which is one of the potential duties of a soldier - then do not enlist. Do not go through basic training, get assigned to a squad, get into a battle, and decide at that point not to pull the trigger because you have religious objections to killing. Make your decision before you sign up that this career opportunity is not for you. In addition, do not demand that you be able keep your job as the heavy weapons specialist after you have decided not to do perform the duties that this job requires - because removing you from that position violates your "freedom of religion". Your freedom of religion is exercised in the freedom to not be a soldier.

We can take the same position with respect to the pharmacist. If you object to handing out any legally prescribed drugs, stay out of the pharmacy business. Do not go into training, get yourself a job, take the Sunday shift, and then refuse to do your duty when a customer comes in with a valid prescription for a morning after pill. Make your decision before you start training. This career opportunity is not for you. Do not say that requiring you to sell a legal prescription drug violates your freedom of religion. Your freedom of religion is exercised in the freedom to not be a pharmacist.

Individuals are still given freedom of conscience. We are not going to force people into jobs that are not compatible with their religious beliefs.

We are not going to force the conscientious objector to become a soldier.

We are not going to force that devout Jew or Muslim to become a sausage taster.

We are not going to force the devout animal-rights advocate to become a rancher.

We are not going to require religious fundamentalists to become pharmacists.

We will trust them to take jobs that are compatible with their religious beliefs.


  1. I am extremely impressed along with your writing abilities, Thanks for this great share.

  2. It was very useful for me. Keep sharing such ideas in the future as well. This was actually what I was looking for, and I am glad to came here! Thanks for sharing the such information with us.


What's your opinion?