Gay rights vs Church rights: The fight to keep religious exemption

Intentious | Gay Rights vs Church Rights - Religions Fight To Keep Exemptions To Discriminate To Employ Who They Please

Historically and traditionally, powerful churches belonging to the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have been huge influencers on law. ‘Temporal rule’ as it was called by the Papal Government in the Roman Catholic Church, presided over terrestrial or Earthly law. Today, that mindset is changing rapidly. In many first-world / western countries there’s been debate between religious and non-religious law institutions. Should they go their separate ways and cease to influence one another? For the most part, the two law-making sides tend to agree on the basics, however, the swing seems to be in favour of farther separating legislation and religious doctrine.

This is all fine, especially where a rising percentage of the public want to see significant human rights improvements for vulnerable groups traditionally shunned as “lesser” or “amoral”  by religions, such as protection and rights for women, acknowledgement and rights for homosexuals.

In western nations, we are definitely on the way to getting there.

The controversy now becomes whether non-religious legislation has any right or jurisdiction to impose its laws back onto the religious institutions the people want to split from.

This, I have issue with.

In early 2012 the Supreme Court of the United States  ruled unanimously in favor of a church’s right to be itself, and its freedom to assign its ministries:

religious freedom:  In a groundbreaking case, the Supreme Court on Wednesday held for the first time that religious employees of a church cannot sue for employment discrimination.

This is an enormous and timely victory for religious freedom:

“In a groundbreaking case, the Supreme Court on Wednesday held for the first time that religious employees of a church cannot sue for employment discrimination.

But the court’s unanimous decision in a case from Michigan did not specify the distinction between a secular employee, who can take advantage of the government’s protection from discrimination and retaliation, and a religious employee, who can’t.

It was, nevertheless, the first time the high court has acknowledged the existence of a “ministerial exception” to anti-discrimination laws — a doctrine developed in lower court rulings. This doctrine says the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion shields churches and their operations from the reach of such protective laws when the issue involves employees of these institutions.”


However, in an increasing number of nations such as Australia and the United Kingdom, Churches are ironically becoming the ones battling to keep their rights.

In particular, the controversial yet fundamentally traditional right to refuse to employ women, gay, lesbian and transgender people in the roles of teachers, rabbis, elders, priests and other informing/influencing figures. Their religious beliefs dictate this sort of role should be filled only by certain individuals who strongly adhere to the conservative written word of their unchanged religious texts.

All prejudices toward the public fall from grace of so-called straight Catholic Priests aside, these sorts of screening doctrines based on scripture beliefs are still kept across many religious institutions today.

Federal Governments have thrown open for debate the very laws which exempt religious organisations from legislation if they refuse to employ or have as volunteers gay, lesbian and transgender people – if this conflicts with the organisation’s religious beliefs.

Granted, many religious groups voluntarily no longer discriminate when they employ people.
South Australian Equal Opportunity Commissioner Anne Burgess said if the exemption to discriminate clause was continued, it should be limited to jobs directly involving spiritual or religious activities.

“A number of people” (sorry, how many exactly?) “are saying the ability of religious groups to discriminate should be reduced to a minimum, so it should only be appropriate if it is a person teaching religion or carrying out some religious duty,” she said. “When it comes to whether the cleaner or the librarian (is gay, lesbian or transgender) why should it matter?”

Anne Burgess might be a politician, but I’m sorry, that doesn’t make her – or anyone else for that matter – qualified to impose their own beliefs on a religion. Especially a religion they do not follow. The argument  makes basic sense from a bare-bones employment rights perspective, yet even though I am in support of the working rights of minority groups, the stinking reversed-hypocrisy in forcing alternative beliefs back onto churches sickens me.

In Australia, the Labor Party made a 2010 election promise to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in a consolidation of anti-discrimination laws.

The religious exemption is the most contentious of the 30 questions proposed by the Federal Government in public consultation.

Many church groups are now feeling increasingly stripped of not only their ability to voice their beliefs, but to defended themselves at all. Catholics Bishops have released the following statement to the Australian Federal Government:

“The right to freedom of conscience and religion should be upheld as there is scope for the attributes of sexual orientation and gender identity to undermine the freedom of Catholic bodies to have the right to employ or admit those who are committed to Catholic teachings and beliefs“.

That makes perfect sense to me. If the Religious Exemptions are lifted, next we’ll be imposing that Muslims can become Jewish Rabbis or that Satanists can be Parish Groundskeepers because religious orientation should not be a screening factor in … um… religions.

What I ask, is the point of believing in anything at all, if you don’t get the choice to live by it? Is it just me, or are governments turning increasingly into their own religions of the Middle Ages?

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Categories: Beliefs, Morals, Multiculturalism, Politics, Law

Author:Andrew Beato

CEO, Chief Editor and founder of Intentious. Passionate comment enthusiast, amateur philosopher, Quora contributor, audiobook and general knowledge addict.

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9 Comments on “Gay rights vs Church rights: The fight to keep religious exemption”

  1. Jimbo
    April 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    I could not agree more! It needs to cut both ways in a secular society. The state is free of religious influence and the people have freedom of religion.
    Therefore religious groups should be free of influence by the state and free to govern their own internal affairs. (Except in matters of criminal law and national security of course as they override all.) It’s pretty basic really.

    • Jimbo
      April 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

      Above I was speaking of an ideal world of course. Unfortunately it is never that simple now is it! Otherwise Australia would have risen out of the dark ages and gay marriage would no longer be an issue… It would just be marriage! So I guess it is only fair that the government should impose some common sense on those religious types then eh?

      • April 12, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

        Well “Marriage” as a civil freedom is totally separate to “marriage” as recognised by a religious institution. So again, religions should be free to religiously marry who they want.

        • Jimbo
          April 12, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

          I was referring to religious groups meddling in Australian politics. 70% of Australians approve of gay marriage after all! I never suggested for one moment that the church should be forced to marry gay couples. To be sure I reread my comments… Nope didn’t say that.

  2. James Hill
    April 12, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

    The employment issue is a tricky question and it really depends on specific circumstances. If the catholic church runs a charity organisation similar to the salvation army and hires secular workers I see no reason why they should be allowed to ban gays or unmarried mothers or anyone else the church disapproves of.

    What disturbs me is where this trend will end though. Freedom of association is a cornerstone of secular western democracy. The modern left are proving more and more that they are totalitarian in nature and it is not merely enough to tolerate and respect their opinions, you have to swallow them wholesale or face fierce reprisal.

    • Jimbo
      April 12, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

      Indeed! I was considering this very idea earlier. It is completely understandable if a Catholic school did not want to hire an openly gay librarian for example. However if that very same librarian was already employed by the school and admitted to being gay it would be completely wrong for the school to fire them! It is a very complex and difficult issue fraught with endless problems. Your right when it comes to the modern left, to refer to a previous Intentious article, Cultural Marxists are destroying the very freedoms they claim to protect.

  3. April 16, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    Last week on #qanda Cardinal Pell said even atheists can go to heaven. ( Wow, Catholicism has gone to the dogs. I really want to know, do Rabbis and Buddhists and Sheiks and other secular Christian churches also make their religions utterly meaningless through statements like that? Besides, why is a “Catholic Heaven” the right heaven to an Athiest? Does an atheist even give a shit that a Cardinal lowers himself and the entire religion’s fundamentals to that level of political correctness to appear trendy and inoffensive? That a Cardinal feels he can offer a free ticket to heaven to someone who doesn’t want to believe in heaven, who turns their back on it and who turns their back on every fundamental belief in the religion, makes me glad I identify as a base Christian, not a Catholic.

    • Jimbo
      April 18, 2012 at 5:01 am #

      Please tell me you’re trolling Andrew? Surely you do not subscribe to such a simplistic theology!


  1. Quora - May 13, 2012

    Does the Catholic Church have an obligation to change its stance on traditional beliefs?…

    Sorry, here is the link: http: //…

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