Freedom of Religion or Freedom to Discriminate?

It appears that when it comes to overcoming discrimination against gay people, we are taking steps backward instead of forward. This is at least the case in Michigan, where recently it came to light that a doctor from Roseville refused to treat a child simply because she had two mothers (myFOXDetroit.com Staff 2015). Parents Krista and Jami Contreras described Dr. Vesna Roi as “friendly” and “straight up” and that they were “really happy with her” (myFOXDetroit.com Staff 2015) – that is, at least until she failed to even come into the office when Krista and Jami’s daughter, Bay, had her very first appointment. Her reason for failing to treat Bay was her religion: She stated in a letter that “after much prayer following your prenatal, I felt that I would not be able to develop the personal patient-doctor relationships that I normally do with my patients” (myFOXDetroit.com Staff 2015). Krista and Jami were horrified by the fact that their child, who had not yet even developed her own sexual orientation, was being discriminated against due to their own sexuality (myFOXDetroit.com Staff 2015). Ironically, Dr. Roi wrote to the couple in a letter saying that she “would never judge anyone based on what they do with… free choice”, although Dr. Roi’s replacement told the two mothers that Dr. Roi had not come to work that morning to avoid seeing them (myFOXDetroit.com Staff 2015).

Unfortunately, it seems that the couple will not be able to sue since there are no laws to protect those who identify as LGBTQ from discrimination. The American Medical Association states in their policy for “Continued Support of Human Rights and Freedom” that they “oppose any discrimination based on an individual’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, national origin or age” (AMA Policies on LGBT Issues 2015), however, doctors are allowed to choose to not give treatment if it is “incompatible with their personal, religious or moral beliefs” (myFOXDetroit.com Staff 2015). In the autumn of 2014, the state of Michigan attempted to create laws to protect LGBTQ from such discrimination, however, the bills did not pass (Ford 2015), and instead, the state concentrated on a bill called the “Michigan religious freedom restoration act (RFRA)” that allowed more religious freedom (Ford 2014). The RFRA grants people the ability to refuse service to certain people if it goes against their religious views (Ford 2014), making it easier for people like Dr. Roi to make religion a scapegoat for homophobia, which is “the discrimination against and hatred of lesbians, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people” (Aulette & Wittner 2015).

The reason that bills like the RFRA are even being considered is because there are many moral complications at the point where religious freedom and equal rights cross. Supporters of the bill argue that discrimination is not a one-way street, and that there must be protection for discrimination against religion along with protection for discrimination against LGBTQ people (Oosting 2014). Jase Bolger, the house speaker who proposed the RFRA, gave the example that “a baker should [not] be able to fire an employee for being gay or refuse to make a birthday cake for a gay customer” but the baker “should not be forced to make a cake for a same-sex wedding if such a union would run counter to his or her religious beliefs” (Oosting 2014). In opposition to the bill, Rabbi Jason Miller argues that the RFRA “allows individuals to put their religious beliefs above civil law and cause hardship for other individuals” (Miller 2014).

Having been raised in a religious household, I can almost understand Bolger’s side of the argument, or at least where he’s coming from. Religious freedom is important. However, it is ridiculous that a doctor could refuse treatment to someone who needs it simply because of his or her sexual orientation, or that a landlord could attempt to evict someone whose sexuality doesn’t align with his or her religion. These actions result in the strengthening of heterosexual privilege as well as heteronormativity, which is the idea that heterosexuals are “normal” and anyone who deviates from it is “unnatural” (Aulette & Wittner 2015). Imagine the outcry if a gay doctor refused to treat a child because his or her parents were straight. Of course, this is a different situation since there are no known religions that are against heterosexuality, but I am simply trying to point out how rejecting a gay person services is not out of the blue in our society, but it would be ridiculous if things were reversed. As Rabbi Miller writes, “freedom of religion shouldn’t be unconditional” (2014). I firmly believe that people should be allowed to practice whatever religion they choose, but whatever they believe should not have a negative effect on other individuals.

– curlyfrypoutine

WORKS CITED

AMA Policies on LGBT Issues. (2015). Retrieved March 15, 2015, from http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/about-ama/our-people/member-groups-sections/glbt-advisory-committee/ama-policy-regarding-sexual-orientation.page?

Aulette, J., & Wittner, J. (2015). Gendered Worlds (3rd ed.). New York, New York: Oxford University Press.

Doctor refuses treatment of same-sex couple’s baby. (2015, February 18). Retrieved March 15, 2015, from http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/story/28142401/doctor-refuses-treatment-of-same-sex-couples-baby

Ford, Z. (2015, February 19). It Was Perfectly Legal For This Doctor To Refuse To Treat A Same-Sex Couple’s Newborn. Retrieved March 15, 2015, from http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2015/02/19/3624769/michigan-doctor-discrimination-child-same-sex-couple/

Ford, Z. (2014, December 4). Michigan Advances ‘License To Discriminate’ While LGBT Protections Stagnate. Retrieved March 15, 2015, from http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/12/04/3599833/michigan-rfra-discrimination/

Miller, J. (2014, December 11). Freedom of Religion Shouldn’t Be Unconditional. Retrieved March 15, 2015, from http://time.com/3629943/michigan-religious-freedom-restoration-act/x

Oosting, J. (2014, November 12). Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger seeks to pair gay rights bill with ‘religious freedom’ act. Retrieved March 15, 2015, from http://www.mlive.com/lansing-news/index.ssf/2014/11/bolger_proposes_religious_free.html

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3 comments

  1. thelazyriser · March 20, 2015

    This was a very interesting topic to choose! I too read this story and was very upset on how a doctor could refuse to treat a patient, claiming it was against their religion. I really like how you included Bolger’s side of the argument. I fully believe in freedom to express ones religion, however I do not think in anyway those religious beliefs should be able infringe on another rights. The doctor was completely using religion as a way to avoid treating bay, therefor promoting homophobia, this is never ok. I like how you examined the debates on religious freedom and the acts on religious freedom. I think there are defiantly specific instances where it would be ok to refuse a certain type of treatment to an individual due to their religious views, however only if the service someone was requesting was actually against their religion. In this case I fully agree with your statement of the doctor using religion as a scapegoat for homophobia. This is a very interesting blog that I really enjoyed, great job!!

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  2. lazybreakfast95 · March 21, 2015

    I find it very interesting how you believe that we are taking “steps backward instead of forward” when looking at discrimination. Although there are many movements that take a stand towards non discriminatory ways there seems as though there are always going to be those people that just don’t “buy it.” Much like this case that you analyzed here. Do you believe movements such as pride parades and positive space advertisements are taking steps forward? Personally, i believe they are good for our society and like anything it allows people to become informed about something other then themselves. People are very selfish and even though in this case the girl was a doctor, it seems as though she did not want to go out of her comfort zone. To me advertisements of positive space lets people do that and informs them that its okay to go out of your comfort zone! Let me know your thoughts!
    Lazy Breakfast

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  3. 4pce · March 24, 2015

    I found your analysis of the thin line between allowing religious freedom and maintaining human rights very insightful, particularly as you identified your own experiences with religion. In my own experience, I have seen that the reason many religious people refuse to lease, hire, or treat people who identify as gay is due to the concept of not condoning bad behavior. Many religious texts allude to same-sex relationships, often in very simple terms. People who follow these religions feel an obligation not only to abide by these rules, but also to encourage others to do so as well. By ignoring the sexualities of these potential tenants, employees, or patients, it is almost as if they are saying their “bad behavior” will be tolerated. It’s as though they need to punish these individuals, as if they were children who need to be taught better. I find this way of thinking very frustrating as to me that says that in order to lease, hire, or treat an individual, you must agree with any and every one of their traits and choices. Which I’m sure most would agree is a bit ridiculous to expect of most people.

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