Church & state and ‘beliefs’ that believers don’t care about

Church & state and ‘beliefs’ that believers don’t care about January 5, 2013

Republican state Sen. Dennis Kruse of has introduced a bill that would allow Indiana public schools to require students to recite the Lord’s prayer each morning.

Um … which Lord’s prayer?

Sen. Dennis Kruse wants to require Indiana schoolchildren to pray to Lord Cthulhu in His House at R’lyeh.

I don’t just mean the subtle differences of “debts” and “trespasses,” I mean that there are as many different Lord’s prayers as there are different Lords.

Could a school require students to recite this one?

In His House at R’lyeh Dead Cthulhu waits dreaming, yet He shall rise and His kingdom shall cover the Earth. …

To select an “official” Lord’s Prayer is to select to privilege one sect above all the others. It is, in other words, to establish an official religion.

Sen. Kruse wants to make a law respecting the establishment of religion and prohibiting the free exercise thereof. That’s not allowed.

Speaking of the First Amendment: Three nurses no longer work at an Indiana hospital because they refused to get flu shots.

The hospital has at least two good reasons for dismissing these nurses. First is simple public safety — having nurses who might be walking around and giving all of your patients the flu would be negligent bordering on reckless.

And second, hospitals really aren’t looking to hire medical professionals who don’t believe in professional medicine. Nor are they looking to hire nurses who defiantly refuse to protect the health of patients. Hiring a nurse who doesn’t “believe in” flu shots is a bit like hiring an auto mechanic who doesn’t believe in internal combustion. Or, you know, like hiring a nurse who doesn’t believe in hand-washing.

But the nurses’ attorney says their disbelief in modern medicine must be respected, because it’s their free exercise of religion:

lan Phillips, who represented several nurses at the hospital, says his clients had the right to refuse their flu shots under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination of employees. Religion is legally broad under the First Amendment, so it could include any strongly held belief, he said, adding that the belief flu shots are bad should suffice.

“If your personal beliefs are religious in nature, then they are a protected belief,” Phillips said.

But Phillips case has nothing to do with his clients’ “personal beliefs,” it has to do with their right to work as medical professionals despite their purported “religious” devotion to holy influenza. Phillips is pretending that this is a civil liberties case akin to the defense of conscientious objectors. It’s far stranger than that — it’s more like a pacifist Mennonite suing to become a U.S. Marine.

In any case, I have a very hard time accepting that these nurses really do believe “flu shots are bad” when, at the same time, they are completely uninterested in the question, “Are flu shots, actually, bad?” and when they seem unconcerned with the hospital’s flu-shot policies except as they pertain to themselves.

These nurses formerly worked at a hospital that requires its staff to get flu shots, and that administers flu shots to patients. Anyone who worked there and really believed “flu shots are bad” ought to be fighting those policies, arguing that the hospital must stop providing the shots for patients and stop requiring the shots for employees.

But Phillips isn’t arguing that the hospital should change its rules, only that the rules shouldn’t apply to his clients.

In other words, it doesn’t seem that these nurses lost their jobs out of devotion to their belief that “flu shots are bad.” It seems they lost their jobs out of devotion to their belief that “Nobody can ever make me get (or understand) a flu shot.”

When someone claims that a belief is a deeply held religious conviction, but simultaneously doesn’t seem at all interested in the substance of that purported belief, then it’s hard to see them as sincere. “Conviction” suggests interest and concern. Faith without interest is dead.


In South Dakota, a state senator, Jeff Monroe (R-Pierre), has introduced a bill making it easier for parents to refuse to get their children vaccinated thus guaranteeing an increase in deaths from preventable causes. Monroe says it’s all about religious freedom. South Dakota is already one of the states that allows parents to opt out of vaccinations if that is part of the doctrine of their sect. That’s not good enough for Monroe. He believes parents should be allowed to opt out if they have a “sincere, verifiable religious belief,” even if it’s at odds with the teaching of their sect.


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