Massachusetts Senate candidate Martha Coakley has apparently created a stir by giving a refreshingly candid response to a question about religious freedom in the workplace.
On the subject of conscience clauses — which allow health-care workers to deny delivery of a service if that service runs counter to their religious belief — Coakley said:
“…the law says that people are allowed to have that. You can have religious freedom but you probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room.”
So, clearly, she’s telling Catholics they shouldn’t work in the emergency room, right?
First, although the question specifically mentioned Catholics and their opposition to birth control, her response is more broadly directed, acknowledging religious freedom in general for all manners of faith.
But second, and more important, is the fundamental truth of what she’s saying — if there is a line of work in which you would be faced with the dilemma of doing your job but violating your religious faith, you should find another line of work.
Here is my reasoning: if I show up at a hospital needing a blood transfusion, I expect that the men and women employed by that hospital will perform that blood transfusion; and they will do so because it is their professional obligation to provide care. Now, the counter argument would be — I assume — that religious obligation trumps professional. But that is exactly the point. If your faith is such that it would prohibit you from fulfilling your duties, then you hurt both your faith and your profession by being there and you should strive to find a work environment that does not present such a conflict.
Granted, I am biased on this issue as I am not, in general, supportive of so-called “conscience clauses”. There’s enough of a cold-hearted capitalist in me that if you come to me asking for a job, I’m going to expect you to do that job; and if there is something that renders you incapable of doing the job I hired you for, you will no longer work for me. Further, as much I will respect your devotion to your faith, and understand your need to abide by it, I will expect you to understand that my only concern as an employer is that you do your job.
Attorney General Coakley should be commended for speaking hard truth on a matter where there is far too much deference to a self-righteous religious community.