Thursday, December 27, 2007

On Religious Accommodation

In any given week, someone like Bill Donahue or James Dobson makes the absurd argument that religion (by which, of course, they mean their particular variety of Christianity) is under attack. It helps keeps the troops wide-eyed paranoid and motivated, but it's just not true. In fact, the entire legal structure of this country - from the First Amendment, to tax-exempt status for churches, to legislation like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act - places religion in a privileged place, at least when compared to non-belief.

For a recent example, consider a recent decision detailed on the Ninth Circuit Blog, involving the application of the "Justice for All Act of 2004." The Act requires that persons convicted of federal crimes submit to the collection of DNA for entry in a national database to use as a resource to solve past and future crimes. Court after court - including the Ninth Circuit, IIRC - has rejected Fourth Amendment challenges to such collection. Regardless, all a defendant had to do to throw a monkey wrench in the system was plead that collection of a blood sample violated his religious beliefs. Here's the money quote:

Without determining the precise scope of Zimmerman’s beliefs, the district court held that his beliefs weren’t religious . . . This was error. While this may not be a mainstream religious belief or common interpretation of the Bible, Zimmerman’s belief that he can’t give a blood sample is based on his connection with god, not purely on secular philosophical concerns . . . As a result, the district court erred in holding that Zimmerman’s refusal to give a blood sample wasn’t based on a religious belief.
Read the bolded section twice. It's not good enough to object "purely on secular philosophical" grounds - like the romantic notion that the Fourth Amendment still means something. But come up with a reason that's based on a "connection with god" (how was that connection proven? what was the standard of proof?) and everybody stops dead in their tracks.

Not that I plan on committing any crimes in the near (or distant) future, but it's depressing to know that to avoid having the Feds catalog my genetic markers I'd have to perjure myself and come up with some bullshit God-woo to back up my objection.

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