I sat down and read the Constitution of the United States of America this morning. (Yes, the whole thing.) I was trying to answer some important and pressing questions.
Where do my freedoms stop – and your freedoms begin? When are my rights allowed to infringe on yours?
These are not hypothetical questions. Because you see, while we all technically have the same basic human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – the way in which we exercise those rights means that occasionally we are going to step on each other’s toes, get our lines crossed and come to an ugly stand-off, or even uglier blows.
To complicate matters, in this country we have a few other protected rights:
The freedom to establish and exercise our religion. We have freedom of speech, and press. We have the freedom to assemble, and the freedom to petition the government.
We have the freedom to bear arms and form militias.
We have the freedom to not (personally) house soldiers during times of peace.
We have freedom FROM unreasonable search and seizure of our property.
We have the freedoms of due process of law.
And we have the freedom to debate, decide, determine, dole out, and even deny other rights as they come up. We do this as a people, by petitioning our government, by electing officials who we believe will best uphold, support and defend our interests and by participating in our government so that it remains – Of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Such a debate is raging across the nation even as I type. In fact, many such debates are raging. They center around the freedoms of three groups of people – Gays, women, and certain types/sects of Christians.
In these debates the question seems to continually circle back to – Do basic HUMAN rights – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – trump your right to practice your religion as you see fit?
Does someone else’s gay marriage infringe on your right to think gays are evil, devil spawn? If churches who believe that gays should die and burn in Hell are exempt from performing gay marriages in the handful of places where gays are allowed to marry – then what about a judge, county clerk, or other legally ordained public official who also holds those beliefs? Should they also be exempt? Or do they have a responsibility to do their job and uphold their sworn duties that trumps their religious freedom and protects the rights of the rest of the citizens in their jurisdiction?
Does a doctor who has taken an oath to do no harm, to treat the sick, to NOT play at being God, have a responsibility to perform his/her sworn duties that trumps their personal beliefs, thus protecting the rights, liberties and LIVES of the citizens under their care? Does this responsibility include performing EMERGENCY, LIFE SAVING abortions? Further, if a bill passes that allows for medical institutions to practice medicine based on religious belief rather than medical science – does that, in fact, “ensure that hospitals’ institutional dictates, including those at odds with medical science, could override the consciences of the doctors who work for them, even when those dictates unreasonably risk women’s lives.” Is a nurse required by his/her job and title to deliver post-operative care to a patient, regardless of personal beliefs and regardless of the operation performed?
Does my pharmacist’s right to exercise her/his religion trump their responsibility to do their job and dispense the medicines that my doctor has deemed medically necessary?
Can a soldier have a sudden change of faith and decide to simply stop shooting? Would he be protected from legal action, or discharge from the army when he returned home, or does his sworn duty as a soldier trump his religious freedoms? (Thanks to Jess D’Arbonne for this one.)
Can a postal worker choose to stop delivering mail which they find morally objectionable? Or stop delivering to people they find morally objectionable? Does a Baptist postal worker have to deliver mail to a gay couple? Is my postal worker required to deliver porn, condoms, HRC membership bulletins, religious fliers from a rival faith?
When I brought this up on faceboook I was fed the line “Tolerance is a two-way street, and well it should be.” Yes – I agree. To a point. And that point, that line in the sand, is when people use their religious freedoms as a way to both refuse to do their job, and a way to deny other people their fundamental rights.
I believe – and you are free to argue here on the FREE SPEECH RULES, I mean, think banned thoughts, blog – I believe that we, as a people, should be able to trust that the people in positions of power and authority in our lives will do their jobs.
I should be able to trust that my child’s science teacher is teaching her SCIENCE.
I should be able to trust that the doctors in the emergency room will do everything in their power to save my life in a timely manner, and the nurses in that hospital will provide me with the care I require to recover.
I should be able to trust that my pharmacist will fill any prescription my doctor has written and deemed medically necessary for me.
I should be able to trust that my postal worker will deliver all of my mail.
I should be able to trust that a judge/county clerk/other authorized public official in a state that allows gay marriage will perform such a marriage.
I should be able to trust that the police will uphold and enforce all of the laws of my state and city.
I should be able to trust that an enlisted soldier will perform their duties and protect our nation.
I should be able to trust that the people around me will do the jobs they have sworn to do, especially when those people are in positions of power or hold my life or freedoms in their hands.
So perhaps, the real question here isn’t about when my rights are allowed to infringe on yours, but when our RESPONSIBILITIES as active, participatory citizens in a collective society trump our freedoms? After all as Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt reminds us, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.”
We must balance our personal freedoms against our public responsibilities. Certain jobs carry more public responsibility than others. If your personal beliefs render you unable to perform the responsibilities of the job you’ve agreed to do – then quite frankly, you should be fired or you should quit.