Where do you draw the line on accommodating the religious beliefs of public officials?
SAN MARCOS — In his official opinion as the Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton summarized his conclusions about the duty of certain public officials to issue same-sex marriage licenses if they have sincerely held religious beliefs against same-sex marriage:
County clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may provide accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Justices of the peace and judges also may claim that the government forcing them to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies over their religious objections, particularly when other authorized individuals have no objection to conducting such ceremonies, is not the least restrictive means of furthering any compelling governmental interest in ensuring that such ceremonies occur. Importantly, the strength of any particular religious-accommodation claim depends on the particular facts of each case.
These conclusions give rise to questions about the duties of various other government officials in Texas who may have religious objections to the behaviors of some Texans.
- May a judge refuse to hear a divorce petition from a same-sex couple based on the judge’s sincerely held religious beliefs?
- If a same-sex couple wishes to register a boat and motor with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) in keeping with Texas statutes requiring such registration, may a TPWD clerk refuse to process the application for registration because of that clerk’s sincerely held religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage?
- May a registrar for deaths in Texas refuse to process a death certificate for someone who has committed suicide if suicide offends that official’s sincerely held religious beliefs?
- May a judge refuse to hear a divorce petition from a heterosexual couple based on the judge’s sincerely held religious beliefs opposing divorce?
- May an official with the Texas Medical Board refuse to issue a medical license to a doctor who has performed an abortion in another state or refuse to renew a medical license for a doctor who has previously performed abortions in Texas based on that official’s sincerely held religious beliefs opposing abortion?
- May an official with the Texas State Board of Pharmacy refuse to renew a pharmacist’s license to a pharmacist who has filled prescriptions for birth control pills based on that official’s sincerely held religious beliefs opposing contraception?
- May an official with the Texas State Board of Pharmacy refuse to renew a pharmacist’s license for a pharmacist who has filled prescriptions for emergency contraception when a person has had unprotected sexual relations based on that official’s sincerely held religious beliefs opposing contraception and abortion?
I’m sure the reader gets the gist of my problem with Attorney General Paxton’s opinion on the right of county clerks and their assistants to refuse to carry out their sworn duties based on their sincerely-held religious beliefs. Certainly, there must be many other situations where sincerely held religious beliefs could come into play. A public official may object to providing service to persons who are Muslim, atheist, Mormon, Scientologist, or some other group considered a cult.
Are we now going to have massive disruptions of government functioning because of the sincerely held religious beliefs of government officials and employees who wish to have their religious beliefs accommodated? Where will Attorney General Paxton draw the line?
Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.
[Rag Blog columnist Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, City Attorney, also blogs at Texas Freethought Journal. This article © Texas Freethought Journal, Lamar W. Hankins.]