The right to invoke conscience on religious grounds has a long history in the
In the modern era, conscience-based claims were extended to the non-religious as well. During the Vietnam War, those who opposed war on deeply held moral grounds were granted deferments alongside the religious.
But just because conscience claims are familiar, it does not follow that all are equally valid. Recently, Religious Right groups have been invoking conscience in ways that infringe on the rights of others.
Some “pro-life” pharmacists refuse to provide “morning after” pills or even birth control. In
In another case, a state-employed nurse told an AIDS patient and his partner that God “doesn’t like the homosexual lifestyle” and urged them to pray for salvation.
These claims of conscience raise troubling concerns. They are efforts by individuals in positions of some power (even if only temporary) to force their religious views onto the unwilling.
Some states are moving to block bogus conscience claims. In
Unfortunately, proposed legislation that has been floating around in
There is a balance to be struck here, but the last version of WRFA we saw in Congress didn’t get it right. No measure has been introduced yet this session but behind-the-scenes negotiations are under way, and the situation bears close scrutiny.
Claims of conscience may sound high minded, but increasingly they are being used by the Religious Right as an excuse to force a narrow version of religion on everyone else. Fedral and state officials should tread carefully and not exacerbate the problem with ill-considered laws and proposals.