Thursday, June 16, 2011

Senator Ball and the Fallacy of Religious Accommodation

       Today, New York State Senator Greg Ball came out strongly against the current version of the marriage equality legislation that is being debated in the Republican Caucus as I write this. Politics on the Hudson has a summery of his "issues" with the current religious protections within the bill.
“1.      Governor’s language does not protect church-related agencies from denial of funding by state and local government agencies to provide charitable and health services, or allow them to make hiring and benefits decisions based on religious beliefs. Most of these religious-affiliated groups are incorporated under the Not for Profit Corporation Law, not just the Religious Corporation Law and Education Law.

2.      The exemption given for church halls and facilities of benevolent orders is limited. It does not protect religious or benevolent orders from challenges to tax exempt status. (POINT: This occurred in NJ – when a Methodist Church refused use of facilities for same sex marriage). Nor would the current bill protect against local human rights/public accommodations laws. 

3.      The exemption language in the Governor’s bill does not rule out enforcement actions by regulatory agencies (POINT: Examples include denial of licenses to provide services).”
       Methinks that he contrived these "issues" of religious protection with the help of Washington and Lee Professor Robin Wilson, who yesterday sent the Senator a letter outlining how the current bill does not go far enough in regards to religious protection.  Never-mind the fact that Professor Wilson has been caught misrepresenting evidence and precedent in regards to religious exemptions in the past. But let us look at Senator Ball's concerns and see if they hold any water.

        First, Ball takes issue with the fact that charitable organizations - lets say for example Catholic Charities (a provider of adoption services in New York State) - are not expressly protected in the legislation. Actually Senator, they are protected, just maybe not in the way that you would like them to be. Many times, these organizations fabricate stories of persecution by gay activists, when really all they are upset about is the loss of public financing of their endeavors. As I wrote here and here concerning the situation in Illinois, religious organizations will be able to provide services that are in line with their religious beliefs, they just cannot use government money to do so.  And as cited in the links, this is actually necessary. Additionally, Senator Ball should actually support this notion; for once religious organizations are granted financing by the State, the State has undue control over such organizations - a lose-lose situation for both the State and the Church.

      Second, Ball gives the example of the Ocean Grove, New Jersey controversy. He fails to mention though, that the pavilion in question was not tax exempt because it was for "religious purposes", but instead because of the State of New Jerseys Green Acres Program - a secular program that had express secular purposes and thus is subject to anti-discrimination laws. This was one of the deciding factors in the decision to revoke its tax exempt status. In fact, the church was able to keep its tax exempt status as a whole, just had to lose the tax exempt status of the "Green Acres Program". It lost its status for a program that had an expressly secular purpose, not something that had to do with religion. Thus, the fears of religious organizations losing tax exempt status because of discrimination complaints are rather unfounded.

      Third, Ball states something about regulatory services and denial of licenses. Not exactly sure what he is getting at here, but I feel that he is advocating for the ability of religious individuals to be allowed to "opt out" of providing civil marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. I take great issue with this notion, for it makes gay and lesbian couples legally inferior to their heterosexual counterparts. How so? Because it allows a unique exception to the rule, the rule being that that civil servants provide services equally to all taxpayers. Though I respect the religious views of these civil servants, why are gay and lesbian couples being differentiated from others. For example, a religious clerk might have a religious objection to a Muslim man and a Christian woman getting married, but is that justification to deny them a license?  I think that Ball would say that that reason is not acceptable, for the individuals personal belief should come second to a government service. Why then, is he potentially advocating the exact same thing - but dressed up in a different suit?

      All in all, I find that Governor Cuomo's bill fairly addresses all of the religious concerns of clergymen and churches, and that the supposed "necessary exemptions" are just more smoke and mirrors Senator Ball to deny gay and lesbian New Yorkers marriage equality.

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