Strongly Held Belief
Fred Clark over at Slacktivist pointed to a story that I had seen on Facebook about nurses at an Indiana hospital who were fired for refusing to get flu shots. Allow me to quote the same paragraph or so of the story that Fred points to:
But still, Alan 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.
Without going to deeply into this ridiculousnesses, isn’t this exactly what we should expect in a secular society that offers protection for ‘religious’ – an ambiguous term at best – beliefs and practices? In American practice, do we really mean something by the word ‘religion’ other than ‘strongly held belief’?
Historically, of course, religion has always been tied to community. When Fred refers to the oddity of a Mennonite suing to join the Marines, he can do so because the Mennonites are a community with norms and – at least to some degree – enforcement of those norms. When a Mennonite enlists in any military body in any capacity, it is at least reasonable to ask whether that person is still a Mennonite.
The same is true for the Catholic who performs abortions, the Amish astronaut, the Muslim swineherd, etc.
But once ‘religion’ is severed from even the semi-public realm of voluntary communities and relegated entirely to the private sphere, isn’t it bound to become a matter of any deeply held belief? And in a state that offers special protections for ‘religious’ belief an practices, aren’t we bound to see special protections for deeply held beliefs?
And, of course, given that the state cannot possibly allow just any deeply held belief to be believed or practice to be practiced, doesn’t this mean that the state will eventually be adjudicating deeply held beliefs and their related practices on a case by case basis?
None of this is to say that there should be a state religion or some list of state approved religions. But it seems as though we have to come to an understanding of religion that is something beyond ‘that which you believe strongly at the moment’. A reasonable suggestion, I think, could be found in relating religion to community in some way, shape or form.