Category Archives: F

“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?

Framing Markets, Part 2: Who Decides? What Do We Want?

How should progressives respond to the extreme conservative mantra,  Let the market decide!?

This slogan comes from the inaccurate view that markets justly mete rewards and punishments like the fundamentalist, strict-father version of God.

As noted before, from a progressive perspective, markets are tools to be used by Us the People for our benefit. If we were to let markets make important policy decisions for us, we would be like Don Quixote on his first sally. Seeking adventure, the would-be knight rode out of town and then let his horse decide where to go. The horse returned him to his barn, of course!

But at least his horse got him safely home. If we abandon ourselves to the judgment of “markets” without clear, consistently-enforced expectations for fair play and fair treatment of workers, customers, communities, animals, and the planet, the corporations that tend to dominate markets could be far crueler.

The effect of letting the market decide too often means that the two or three (sometimes only one) companies that dominate an industry decide for us what our options are. Insisting that the government, as the people’s servant, set rules to structure markets for our benefit, increases confidence in business and helps markets function in our interest.

Therefore, when extreme conservatives say to let “the market” decide, progressives should reply,What do we want markets to do for us?

But what do you think?

Framing the Free Market

In a 1999 essay in The Atlantic titled “The Market as God,” Harvey Cox brilliantly discusses  ways in which some Americans treat the idea of the free market as if it were a god. The problem is that, while markets certainly can be very influential, they are not gods and do not necessarily have people’s best interests at heart. In fact, they can seem heartless sometimes. But that doesn’t mean that markets are bad–just that deifying them is unwise.

A better understanding of markets came to me from an unlikely source: a book about parking. Donald Shoup’s excellent book The High Price of Free Parking argues for using market forces as tools to better manage parking.

An example is charging more for on-street parking during peak hours and charging less for parking in garages at the same time. That will encourage more drivers to park in the garage, leaving more on-street spaces available for those willing to pay extra for them. He proposes a goal of making one parking space available on each side of each block at any given time. That would allow motorists to park without having to cruise for spaces, saving time, fuel, pollution, and stress.

The details of Shoup’s proposals aside, instead of thinking of the market as god, progressives should talk about the market as tool. Therefore, the question should never be whether markets are good or bad but what markets are good for and bad at. How should we use markets, and who should benefit from them?

For example, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act attempts to use market forces to improve Americans’ access to quality health insurance. The government creates standards of quality and fairness and marketplaces for buying and selling insurance, and the insurance companies do the rest. It is an attempt to use markets to advance the health and wellbeing of Americans.

When extreme conservatives complain about government interference in the free market, progressives could reply (if they can say so truly) that government is providing the market structure that both companies and customers need so they know what behavior is and is not acceptable. This allows them to do business with confidence that they are being treated fairly and not ripped off or harmed. This confidence makes business possible. I think progressives should frame this as market-confidence building.

How do you think progressives should talk about markets?