What should be the position of secularism on issues raised by debates over the Religious Freedom Acts? Some of the issues have easy answers but others are not clear. Here is a summary of the challenges raised by religiously grounded discrimination. I have read no commentaries with good answers to the hard questions.
- Repeal all Religious Freedom Acts. (https://www.secular.org/issues/rfra/position) This issue is easy. These laws create special rights for some religious people that do not apply to other religions or the non-religious. An essential principle of secularism is that all laws should apply equally to the religious and the non-religious.
- Discrimination based on race or ethnicity. All discrimination based on race or ethnicity in selling goods or publically advertised services or employment should be prohibited, even by people whose religion justifies racism. Although the answer to this issue is not given by principles of secularism, the answer is easy on anti-tribalism grounds.
Discrimination based on religion. Secularism requires that all discrimination based on religion or lack thereof in selling goods or publically advertised services or in hiring by government be prohibited.
However, although government employers cannot discriminate on the basis of religion when hiring, shouldn’t religious institutions be allowed to hire only their adherents for preaching and speaking jobs? Does this mean that any private party should be allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring for any job? If not, where do we draw the lines? Is there any justification for treating any private party differently from religious institutions?
Discrimination based on sexual orientation. At first blush, it seems we might be able to treat this like race and allow no discrimination. This works for sale of goods and providing housing, restaurant, medical, pharmacy and government services.
But what about providing services related to religion? If a pastor or musician offers services for marriage or other religious rites, must the pastor or musician provide the services to people of all sexual orientations? It is likely this question will never come up except perhaps where someone is trying to harass a pastor or musician, but it is still worthwhile deciding whether this is required by secularism.
And what about providing other speech-based services related to sex or marriage? Must a sex or marriage counselor offer speaking services to all despite personal religious objections?
- Discrimination based on gender. Many religions discriminate among adherents based on gender. Providing the discrimination does not extend to non-adherents when providing goods or services, do the principles of secularism have anything to say about this? To advance secularism, is it not enough for the adherents of each religion to merely cast their public policy arguments in secular terms (see Ronald Lindsay, The Necessity of Secularism) and be tolerant of behaviors by people of other religions or no religion?
Discrimination based on marital status. Citing religious grounds, some private parties refuse to provide contraceptives or hotel rooms for use by unmarried couples. Secularism requires tolerance of behaviors by people of other religions or no religion so this discrimination should be illegal.
I look forward to proposed answers to these questions.