Category Archives: Freedom

“Religious Freedom” Bills Aren’t About Religion or Freedom

Related to the so-called conscience clause that would excuse unprofessional refusals of care are religious freedom bills. A current example is Kansas’ HB2453, which passed the Kansas state house last week but died in the state senate yesterday.

March against racial discrimination
Thanks to these marchers and many others, America no longer tolerates refusing admission or service to people of color. Denying these based on sexual orientation is just as wrong. Though proponents say the issue is religious freedom, the real issue is power.
Photo Credit: washington_area_spark via Compfight cc

Called “An act concerning religious freedoms with respect to marriage,” the bill would have prevented government agencies from compelling individuals and religious organizations to provide employment, employment benefits, and most any product or service to anyone involved in a gay marriage or civil union or even the celebration of one. Arguably, it also would allow businesses and religious organizations to refuse service to anyone involved in a gay relationship.

Calling such bills religious-freedom bills is Orwellian because they would take away freedom. They are about domination, not religion. They would empower people and organizations to deny basic human rights such as engaging in commerce and participating in the community. That’s unneighborly, un-American, unchristian, and unacceptable.

Besides, in a free society, our freedom depends on respecting the rights of others. If we can call discrimination an act of conscience, why couldn’t others do the same to us?

As George Lakoff has pointed out, bullies* use Orwellian language when they know their position is weak. I think Framologists should expose their position’s weakness and the true nature of such legislation by framing them as, perhaps:

  • The Freedom for Me but Not for Thee Act
  • Another LGBT Discrimination Act
  • The Anti-Marriage Act
  • The Marriage Inequality Act
  • The Marriage Discrimination Act
  • The Golden Rule Violation Act
  • The Religious Hypocrisy Act

Of these, the first and the last two are my favorites. Whatever we call them, it’s important to avoid calling such legislation “religious freedom” bills because they are not. What do you think Framologists should call them?

*Lakoff used the word conservatives.

Why “Freedom of Conscience” Could Excuse Unprofessional Behavior

Many states, including my own, have considered bills to protect health care professionals who refuse to provide care they judge to conflict with their personal  religious, moral, or ethical views and to refuse to refer patients to where they could get care. The care in question usually is reproductive: abortion, contraception, etc.

Known as the conscience clause or healthcare freedom of conscience bills, such bills could endanger patients–especially those with medical emergencies or that have few medical providers in their areas.

Such bills also violate professional ethics. For example, the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers, which I have promised to uphold as an NASW member, requires social workers to refer clients to a competent professional when terminating services. Furthermore, it requires that they smooth the transition to the next provider by, e.g., providing records the professional will need. (See 1.16(b) and (e) in the code).

Social workers respect and promote the right of clients to self­determination and assist clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their goals. –NASW Code of Ethics 1.02

The code also requires social workers to “respect and support the rights of clients” to make decisions that affect their lives. It does not grant social workers license to end services without referral because a client wants something that conflicts with the worker’s personal values.

Because of the harm that refusing care can cause, such refusals could violate the Hippocratic Oath’s requirement to “first, do no harm.”

Because of the protection from potential ethical violations that such bills would provide, I call them Excusing Unprofessional Behavior acts. That is what they would do. This opposes the freedom-of-conscience frame with professional responsibility.

Professionalism demands placing the client’s interests ahead of one’s own when they conflict. Though it’s uncomfortable to be asked to provide a service that you don’t think is right, it’s part of being a professional. If you really can’t do it, refer.

What do you think of the Excusing Unprofessional Behavior Act?

Liberty or License?

My high school social studies teacher liked to distinguish freedom and license. Freedom, he said, is exercised with responsibility while license is doing what you want without considering how your behavior affects others.

The distinction matters. As pointed out in an earlier post, for example, the extreme position that firearms sales should not be regulated in any way is a demand for license, not legitimate exercise of rights. Rights imply responsibilities. Ownership of something as dangerous as deadly weapons calls for (at least) responsibility and accountability for their safe storage and use.

Another reason it matters is that it is the basis for much ideological conflict. From its very beginning, Americans have held different ideas about freedom. In American Nations, Colin Woodard points out that the Yankees of New England have long held a Germanic view of freedom:

  • that all are born free,
  • equal before the law,
  • with rights that must be respected.
Caesar Statue
Ancient Rome’s 1% enjoyed liberty with no accountability from the 99%. But in 21st century America, freedom should come with responsibility.
Photo Credit: mharrsch via Compfight cc

By contrast, the settlers of the Virginia Tidewater sought to create a Greco-Roman-style republic. In the Roman view of liberty, most people were born unfree. “The Roman republic was one in which only a handful of people had the full privileges of speech (senators, magistrates), a minority had the right to vote on what their superiors had decided (citizens), and most people had no say at all (slaves)” (pp. 54-55).

Because I believe that America should be a land of freedom for all, to me liberty for the few without accountability amounts to license. It should be framed as such.

When opponents cry for liberty, we should ask:

  • Is the liberty they want for everyone or mainly for a privileged few?
  • If it’s for the few, how will the many hold the few accountable for their actions?

If the few wouldn’t be easily accountable, then the demand is for license, not responsible freedom.

What do you think? Is this an appropriate use for the concept of license?