TEXAS FAITH 125: What’s the balance between religious freedom and freedom from discrimination?

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Dallas Morning News,

Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.

When Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced she was vetoing a “religious freedom” bill that targeted gay men and lesbians, she said religious liberty remains a “core value” in Arizona. But, she added, “So is non-discrimination.”

The debate over the Arizona bill – and similar proposals under consideration elsewhere – highlights the tension between two competing and deeply held American values: the right of people to practice their religion vs. the right to be free from discrimination. It’s a balancing act, and not an easy one.

It is at the heart of the debate over the Obama administration policy requiring businesses to provide health insurance for their employees that includes forms of contraception. It’s central to the argument by supporters of the Arizona bill that a baker who opposes same-sex marriage shouldn’t be required to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. Both sides make a claim on liberty.

Clearly, nobody’s advocating that the government sanction, say, the right to deny service to black people at a lunch counter – regardless of whether the owner says it violates his religious beliefs. At the same time, nobody’s saying a Jewish caterer must work the Nazi rally, even if the Nazis claim they’re being discriminated against.

The question is, as a matter of public policy, how to reconcile competing rights? How do we protect both the religious rights of one person (which may involve discriminating against some people) and the deeply held right to be free from discrimination? What’s the balance and how best do we achieve it?

As expected, our Texas Faith panel of experts on faith and public policy – theologians, activists, clergy, scholars – don’t agree. And in so doing, they offer provocative, thoughtful reasons. If you think you know what side you’re on, read our Texas Faith panel and think again.

NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas 

To be merited rights is a metaphysical concept.  There is no scientific or secular logic that procures rights upon an individual.  Therefore this subject must be approached metaphysically with logic and reason.

The first question is: what is it that is being granted rights?  If there is no logical understanding of the self or individual, then we cannot progress further.

In an American history we had slavery because it was said that dark-skinned people did not have souls. But where is the logic in that?  By simple analysis one can see that the symptom of the soul or self is consciousness.  As soon as the soul leaves the body, that body no longer carries its beauty and luster. That same symptom of consciousness is equal whether one is a man or a woman, dark-skinned or light, or human or animal.   All feel pain and pleasure.   However, because our society’s understanding of the self and consciousness is lacking depth, a large foolish section of society makes claims that animals are without souls and therefore without inherent rights.

Another large and equally foolish section of society will make claims that the unborn individual is also without rights.  This is all because there is no clear understanding of the self which is the foundation of the discussions of rights.  But there are books, such as the Bhagavad Gītā As It Is, that deal with this subject with such clarity that it can shock most people.  Such clarity is necessary to govern social structures in a progressive way.

To see all responses of the TEXAS Faith panel click here.