Friday, September 30, 2011

To Thine Own Self Be True

To Thine Own Self Be True
What do those words, spoken by the character Polonius*, from Shakespeare's Hamlet mean to you? They are often interpreted as advising us to live in harmony with our conscience. Although there are some people with warped consciences or who don't have consciences, most of us would probably agree that if someone is trying to live consistently in accordance with his or her internal values they are likely attempting to live a "good" life. 

Or would we agree with this at all? After all there are other ethical, moral and legal considerations that life requires besides living in harmony with our conscience. Sometimes these considerations conflict. Two recent stories piqued my interest on this. 

LEDYARD, N.Y. — Rose Marie Belforti is a 57-year-old cheese maker, the elected town clerk in this sprawling Finger Lakes farming community and a self-described Bible-believing Christian. She believes that God has condemned homosexuality as a sin, so she does not want to sign same-sex marriage licenses; instead, she has arranged for a deputy to issue all marriage licenses by appointment.
But when a lesbian couple who own a farm near here showed up at the town hall last month, the women said they were unwilling to wait.
Now Ms. Belforti is at the heart of an emerging test case, as national advocacy groups look to Ledyard for an answer to how the state balances a religious freedom claim by a local official against a civil rights claim by a same-sex couple.
Ms. Belforti, represented by a Christian legal advocacy group based in Arizona, the Alliance Defense Fund, is arguing that state law requires New York to accommodate her religious beliefs.
“New York law protects my right to hold both my job and my beliefs,” she said in an interview last week, pausing briefly to collect $50 from a resident planning to take 20 loads of refuse to the town dump. “I’m not supposed to have to leave my beliefs at the door at my government job.”
But the couple, Deirdre DiBiaggio and Katie Carmichael of Miami, are arguing that the law requires all clerks in New York to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The couple are being represented by a liberal advocacy organization, People for the American Way, based in Washington. “Gay people have fought so long and hard to get these civil rights,” said Ms. Carmichael, 53, a filmmaker. “To have her basically telling us to get in the back of the line is just not acceptable.”

Story Link
The Lesbian Couple

The Town Clerk
The second story is that because of the new HHS requirement that requires organizations to cover contraceptive services for women employees, some Catholic organizations have been pushing back against this requirement, claiming that the current religious exemption is too narrow. Some charities have said they could wind up reducing headcount or going out of business.
Catholic universities, hospitals, and social-service organizations are fighting new federal health-care rules that would require them to cover contraceptive services for employees, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Catholic leaders say a provision exempting organizations that employ and serve people within their faith is too narrow because larger institutions such as schools and hospitals routinely hire non-Catholics.
Churches have been urging parishioners to contact the Department of Health and Human Services and call for a broader exemption.
Faith groups said the rule would force them to choose between violating their religious beliefs and dropping insurance coverage for workers.
“If you’re required to pay for services that are contrary to our teaching, the only option is to not provide benefits,” said Susan Rauscher, who heads Catholic Charities in Pittsburgh.
I have my own ideas on both situations but I don't feel like writing a polemic this morning.  I just want to know what you think of each issue. Are you bothered by either or both of them?
Are the people or institutions correct to follow their conscience above government demands?
Does the government have the right to require someone to violate deeply held moral or religious beliefs? Where do you draw the line?
Do you respect people who let you know upfront where they stand, even if you disagree with them?
If you don't agree with a law does that give you the right to ignore it?
* Polonius is usually depicted as something of a boorish old fool and gets killed by Hamlet , albeit mistakenly. So it goes.

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