Well, I hadn’t rolled my eyes and despaired of humanity in, ooh, hours, so I suppose I should be grateful this story came along when it did.
What happened was, someone got on a bus in Texas, wanting to go to a Planned Parenthood office. Apparently the Capital Area Rural Transportation System does “some door-to-door service within its rural coverage area”, not just a set of standard routes.
So, a woman wanted to be transported to one of this organisation’s clinics, which provides services like contraception, pregnancy testing, cancer screenings, information and education on sexual health, sex and relationships counselling, vasectomies, and abortions, among other stuff.
The driver refused to make the journey, and he was subsequently fired. The reason for his refusal was that his Christian religious beliefs meant that “in good conscience, he could not take someone to have an abortion”. He’s filed a lawsuit against his former employer, wanting his job back, as well as back pay and “compensatory damages for pain, suffering and emotional distress”.
Let’s start with two things the guy’s lawyer said, one of which is complete bullshit and one of which is much more valid, but which are lined up next to each other as if they’re connected somehow. Thing the first:
It’s only because he voiced his religions [sic] beliefs that he was canned.
Unless I’m hugely misunderstanding the story, this is demonstrably false. He wasn’t fired for “voicing” anything. He was fired because he refused to do the job he was being paid for. He’s welcome to hold religious convictions, and even to voice them, but any actions your convictions compel you to take are not automatically protected by the law.
I might have a profound and deeply held conviction that the PS3 I saw in a shop window on my way home from work today ought to be mine. This doesn’t mean I can just take it, no matter how much I protest that Jesus wants me to worship him by playing God of War III all weekend.
Thing the other:
Employers have a legal responsibility to at least attempt to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs.
My legal expertise could fit on the side of a cereal box – which, incidentally, is where I got it from in the first place – so I don’t know the ins and outs of how true this technically is. But sure, if it’s something that can be worked around, I’m in favour of making the effort to find a compromise. Religion shouldn’t be relevant – if it’s important to someone that, say, they don’t want to drive their bus a particular route, but it’s not something that comes up that often, and if things can be shuffled around so that other colleagues are covering them without being inconvenienced, then this needn’t be a big deal.
But there comes a point beyond which it’s not reasonable to expect your employers to make room for your own personal quirks. And that’s what this is. One guy’s personal quirk. There is no legal issue about driving someone to a Planned Parenthood clinic, and this is where I think some of today’s Twitter discussion got derailed, and why former bus driver Edwin Graning should probably shut up.
Tracy King, the Skepchick whose comments brought this to my attention, raised the point of how any of us might feel if our job involved driving somebody somewhere to be murdered. Such a scenario would surely make us a party to this terrible crime, and her point was that – in this particular bus driver’s eyes – this is analogous to taking a female passenger to get an abortion.
Now, first of all, Planned Parenthood does a lot more than perform abortions, and there could have been many other reasons the passenger might have wanted to go there than to actually terminate a fetus on this particular trip. It’s not clear from the article whether she was feeling chatty and told the driver that this was exactly what she was going there for, or if he just knew the destination and drew his own conclusions.
But in a sense, it doesn’t even matter whether his personally held convictions are against abortion, or against sexual and reproductive health advice in general. They’re his own convictions, and they need concern nobody else. The only justification he has for not doing this part of his job is that he doesn’t want to. The reasons are utterly irrelevant when it falls to his employers to decide how to respond to that. It’s his choice, based on what’s important to him alone.
And the values that are important to him might make it impossible for him to drive someone to a Planned Parenthood clinic. And that’s okay. But because it’s his personal choice, they’re his personal consequences to deal with if it means he can’t do his job properly any more and he gets fired. It’s not fair for him to expect everyone else to bend to fit his own set of values and ethics, if what he finds immoral is out of phase with everybody else.
I’ve made the comparison before to a vegan working in an abattoir. They might want to refuse to do any work involving the slaughter of animals which they find morally repugnant, and they probably should. But they can’t take this stance and still expect to hold down their salaried position.
If it was an actual murder that you were assisting by driving somebody somewhere, you could argue that refusing to participate shouldn’t lose you your job. Because, unlike visiting a clinic, murder is illegal. So it’d be kinda unreasonable for your job to demand this of you. I think that’s where the analogy falls down, if you’re using it to try and argue this guy’s defence.
This might seem like I’m ragging on Tracy for being too lenient with this guy. That’s really not my intent – she wasn’t arguing his defence in any legal respect. Her point in the first place was simply that she could sympathise with his feelings, given his presumed views on abortion and the fact that he may have felt like he was being asked to aid and abet what he saw as an ungodly sin. I totally agree with this, and with pretty much everything that you can see on her Twitter feed on this subject.
I didn’t want to let the story pass without comment, but I felt that it deserved a little more thought than a standard moan about religious privilege. That’s why there’s quite so much of it. Sorry about that.