You are here

The rights of conscience in America today

Here’s the latest on mutual respect and public neutrality, as filtered through what now passes for American public thought: a U.S. appeals court says that law schools, which have never seen a federal antidiscrimination rule on faculty hiring they don’t like, can ignore a federal law that says they can’t discriminate against military recruiters and keep their government contracts. It seems that the rule violated the First Amendment rights of schools that don’t like military policy regarding homosexuality and don’t want their students to talk to the recruiters. Meanwhile, 78% of Americans say that pharmacists opposed to birth control shouldn’t be allowed to refuse to sell the Pill, while the New York Times calls a new provision allowing health-care providers conscientiously opposed to abortion to refuse to provide it a “disgraceful sneak attack on women’s health and freedom” and a “serious threat to the First Amendment.”

Conscience, it seems, has rights only if conscience says the right things. Whether your beliefs get you out of something depends on what those beliefs are. The lack of symmetry carries over to the First Amendment. It appears from the arguments presented in the situations I mention that the First Amendment says that if a hospital is pro-life, it can’t have the right to tell its employees not to counsel abortion in the course of their employment, while if a law school is pro-gay it must have the right to keep its students from talking to military recruiters in the course of its placement program. It appears, as Lenin said, that the basic question is always who whom.

Share/Save