There was an article in the Oregonian yesterday taken from the wire services that stated:
Insemination: California’s highest court Monday barred doctors from invoking their religious beliefs as a reason to deny treatment to gays and lesbians, ruling that state law prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination extends to the medical profession.
I found the short article on the inside page and couldn’t help but wonder where the use of the “conscience clause” would stop. The conscience clasue, in case you aren’t aware, is a law proposed by Frank Church of Idaho in the early 70’s as a reaction to the Rowe vs Wade abortion decision handed down by the Supreme Court. This particular law was passed to protect churches and their institutions such as the Catholic Church’s hospitals from performing procedure that went directly against their religious beliefs. This included abortions.. Many states have passed their own laws to deal with this dilemma. The law has been used since that time to protect pharmacist with religious objections to birth control, for example, from being forced to fill prescription that were meant for birth control.
I have seen the conscience clause at work in the Oregon Education Association. This is the organization that represents teachers in disputes and contract negotiation. We were working under union sanctioned Fair Share, a situation here in the state of Oregon that required everyone to pay union dues if they are working in a situation where a union was voted as the representative of the employees. Union dues were removed directly from our paycheck by the school district. The one exception to Fair Share was the one my friend used. Because our union also felt the need to support various political causes including the Gay Rights ammendment her in Oregon, my friend opted out on the conscience clause and did not have to pay dues. She is the wife of a Baptist minister. In the case of my friend, working in a public institution and the associations with unions and their representatives bothered her religious conscience, so she did not have to pay dues. It saved her a great deal of money…or at least denied the union their dues.
My opinion at the time was that our dues should not have been spent to support political causes. I thought that only political candidates that supported educators and their calling should receive our support. I saw no wrong in what my friend did. I had no religious or non religious objections to gays and still don’t. If I had decided to object on the basis of Union participation in politics, I would have had to quit my job to protest the same action. But I did not think of that at the time…and I was not going to quit my job. It was not easy for me to get it in the first place!
In an article written on a site called Ethics Scoreboard a contributor wrote an article that I also found very interesting and thought provoking. He was speaking to the right of people to refuse to perform under circumstances that offended their ethics. In his opinion, if an employee chose to work in a job then they should either do that job or if their conscience was bothered, quit. It was, in his view, a matter of courage and acting on the strength of one’s convictions. The article was called The Perverted Ethics of “Conscience Clauses” and was written in 2005.
The call for conscience clauses is just another chapter in what I sometimes refer to as the ethical “weeny-fication” of America, in which advocates work assiduously to take all risk, danger and courage out of moral stands. Courage is a great and necessary test of conviction, and it must not be removed from ethical decision-making. Professionals should be able to make moral stands in violation of their official duties only if they are willing to take the heat afterwards, and pay the price.
It seems that when doctors, pharmacists, hospital employees invoke the conscience clause, in some cases, the law prohibits the employer from firing or reprimanding the employees. I read an article the other day that centers that provide birth control and abortion clinics cannot use anti-abortion sentiments as a cause not to hire an applicant. I suppose that the conscience clause will be used in that situation especially if the new new hire refuses to give abortion as an option for a client and they are reprimanded for not giving all the information.
So does the law really need to protect protesters in the workplace. My ethics tell me that no one should have to break the law in the work place and companies that break the law should have their corporate behinds kicked. So, yes, people should be protected in that case. We should have the right to quit (unless we are in the military) if we don’t like what is going on otherwise. But, when your conscience bothers you and you are asked to do what is lawful, especially in the medical field, then you need to go choose another profession or working situation. A high court should not have to tell you to do your job…men go to war that don’t want to kill, teachers teach in ghettos, paramedic treat drug addicts, police and our laws protect both the bad guys and the good guys. And the people that do these jobs chose their professions. If they can’t do the job they are asked to, they leave. Could they use the Conscience Clause…maybe but I can bet you very few do!
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