Encyclopedias define religious discrimination as ‘valuing or treating a person or group differently because of what they do or do not believe.‘ That seems like a pretty fair and broad definition, but I think there is a great deal of misunderstanding out there as to what this means.
Most claims of religious discrimination are claims of violation of the first amendment statement that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. I think the first thing that is important to understand here is that the government doesn’t give us our rights, it just hasn’t managed to take all of them away yet. The Constitution isn’t a document granting us rights, it’s a document restricting the actions of government. The thing to note here is that it isn’t the job of Congress to prevent discrimination, but rather to not cause it.
Claims of religious discrimination range from legitimate to ridiculous, and resolving them is difficult in the sense that the ones seemingly being wronged are often the ones asking for the discrimination. Some examples that are already happening:
An Orthodox Jewish couple in Bournemouth have issued a county court writ claiming religious discrimination. Why? This couple contends that they are being held hostage on Shabbat because walking out their door triggers their neighbor’s motion light, and thus their prohibition of ‘making fire’, one of many things they aren’t allowed to do on the Sabbath. Lets say Jehovah’s Witnesses were afraid of motion lights too. Would putting outdoor motion lighting on your front door be a hate crime? This highlights the problem of the government getting involved in private affairs. What happens when one religion requires motion lights on their door while another forbids it? There is no way to please everyone.
What I find disturbing about this kind of case is that looking at the above definition for religious discrimination, it is the couple who is doing the discriminating by demanding special treatment because of their beliefs. No one else can sue their neighbors for having motion lighting unless they also subscribe to this belief.
Another example is that of the burkha. A girl in Florida tried to get her drivers license photo taken with her burkha on. Obviously the state shot this down. The same goes for being identified before boarding airplanes. It is an interesting dilemma because, while it is the burkha wearers who want the special treatment, denying it is essentially preventing Islamic women from travelling. I would also note that if you are an identical twin, they don’t force you to come up with additional identification to prove you aren’t your sibling. An airline could hire a woman to take the burkha wearers into a private room for identification, but if the airline were small enough to only have one ID checker, then they would be forced to be discriminatory in their hiring practices by only hiring a woman. It is the FAA that requires such checks, so it is a government matter, just as it would be if they were carded at a liquor store. The ACLU thinks it is disallowed because of religious discrimination caused by 9-11, rather than the obvious security reasons of identifying passengers. I’d challenge them to try to go buy some liquor one night wearing a ski mask and see how far they get.
The intent of the constitution as it relates to religious discrimination should be interpreted as a sort of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. Those in government should not commit religious acts while on the job, or add them or their terminology into policy, and the government shouldn’t take religion into account when making decisions. Where the lines of discrimination law should be drawn for businesses and individuals, I admit I don’t know. Anyone have any opinions?