Column: You Can’t Pick and Choose Your Laws
You’re at the pharmacy to pick up your diabetes medication. The pharmacist takes a look at you and at your prescription, and refuses to fill it. Why? Is it expired, or maybe you’re out of refills?
No, the prescription is valid and current. But the pharmacist has decided that your Type II diabetes is something you brought on yourself, and because of his deeply held moral and religious objection to the sin of gluttony, he doesn’t have to serve you.
(At this point, the HIV-positive guy in line behind you is getting nervous.)
Such a scenario hasn’t played out anywhere, as far as I know. But it exemplifies the fallacies, both logical and ethical, of some of these laws based on pick-and-choose morality.
Alabama wanted to allow druggists to refuse the so-called “morning after” pill on the basis of a moral objection to abortion (a tenuous connection, to put it diplomatically). And of course there’s the brouhaha about whether people or organizations affiliated with religions that don’t condone birth control should have to provide contraception coverage to employees — regardless, of course, of the employees’ own moral and religious convictions.
(The funniest episode in the whole mindless “Obamacare” muddle was the revelation that Georgia’s employee health plan had included contraception coverage for years. It became a “moral” issue only when the name Obama was attached to it, which speaks volumes about the intellectual honesty and ethical consistency of contemporary Georgia politics.)
Then there’s a “religious freedom” measure in Georgia that would give students more leeway to lead prayers and religious discussions in class and at public events. Gee, what could go wrong there?
But the Kansas bill that would let just about anybody refuse to provide products or services for homosexuals on the basis of “deeply held moral or religious convictions” has to be the topper, at least until something stupider surfaces. (And rest assured it will — most likely in Kansas or Texas, but Georgia and Alabama are always strong contenders.)
I’m intrigued by the selective morality of politics, and why so many of us seem to be such suckers for it. And it’s especially intriguing to see how often these efforts to punish or exclude or marginalize particular groups are couched in the language of “rights” and “freedom” and “liberty.”
Contemporary pols and pundits didn’t invent that trick, of course; just read the news from 50 and 60 years ago. To segregationists, the idea of American citizens of color being protected by the same constitutional rights white Americans took for granted was an imminent threat to freedom, liberty and the Constitution itself. Try to untangle that snarl of reasoning.
The better angel of my nature, the one in white hanging over one shoulder, just wants everything to be fair and non-confrontational. The little devil over my other shoulder (think Animal House) wants to see what happens when a Buddhist or Hindu kid asks to lead the prayer before a football game or a religious discussion in school. That malicious imp wants to watch the meltdown if a Muslim grocery clerk refuses to ring up a pork roast.
A reader offered an interesting perspective on some of these Protect Me From What Offends Me laws: If he has a deeply held moral and religious objection to war, why must he pay federal taxes that go mostly to the Pentagon?
Of course, such an exemption is as unworkable as the reader’s point is irrefutable.
So we pick and choose our stands (or our politicians pick them for us) based on the hatreds, fears and sanctimonies of the moment, and tell ourselves that’s morality.
I’ve been told more than once, in relation to my own religious beliefs, that I can’t pick and choose which parts of the Bible to embrace. Of course, the people saying this are generally the ones who invoke Leviticus to condemn homosexuals. The same scripture’s condemnations of shaving, shellfish, tattoos, mixing crops and blending fibers apparently don’t trouble their consciences, their diets or their clothing choices.
I guess you just have to pick and choose what you can and what you can’t pick and choose. I know that doesn’t make sense. It also doesn’t make good law.
Dusty Nix is the editorial-page editor of the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer.