The Freedom of Conscience

People of faith—whatever their faith—have a right to live their lives in accordance with their religious beliefs. Likewise, religious organizations (that are made up of those people of faith) have a right to operate in accordance with their beliefs as well.

You don’t have to like what those beliefs are, but if a religious group believes—for example—that unmarried cohabitation is immoral, then that religious group is under no obligation to provide its services (whatever they are) to an unmarried cohabiting couple. Cohabitation should not be criminalized, since government generally has no place legislating private morality . . . but neither should it be illegal for private religious organizations to refuse to endorse and support unmarried cohabitation. Each law would be just as wrong as the other, as they both take freedom away from the individuals to follow their conscience.

It’s the same when we talk about homosexuality. Even if you are the most pro-gay rights person in the world, you should find it appalling that governments think it’s acceptable to force religious organizations to, say, provide adoption services to gay couples when it runs counter to their beliefs. Homosexual activity should not be criminalized . . . but, once again, neither should it be illegal for private religious organizations to act in accordance with their beliefs. The gay-rights activists’ moral views on homosexuality have no more or less validity in the public sphere than devout Christians’ moral views on it, and government has no right to declare either view to be invalid.

If a religious group and its adherents believe homosexuality to be sinful, they have a fundamental right to refuse to provide services—like adoption—to gay couples. You don’t have to like that Catholic adoption agencies won’t adopt children to gay couples any more than a devout Catholic has to like governments legalizing gay marriage. If you don’t like it and don’t agree with it, you don’t have to use Catholic adoption services. You have no right, simply because you disagree with the Catholic position on the issue, to demand that Catholic organizations follow your moral beliefs instead of their own.

Laws that require religious groups to follow the state’s dictates on conscience are undeniably unjust and immoral, no matter how much you or I might agree with the ideas behind those dictates. We have a right to decide for ourselves what is morally acceptable and what isn’t. When the state starts to demand your adherence to their ideas of right and wrong—on whichever side—beyond the most basic fundamental civil liberties (like rights to life, liberty, and property; free speech; free press; right to keep and bear arms; etc.), then the state has become despotic and the people are no longer free.

With each passing year, our western societies move further and further down this path. How long before it becomes a crime even to think that something is morally wrong if the state has decided it isn’t?

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.