Is it just me, or is this kind of ironic?

The Come Reason apologetics site has a ‘Posts You May Have Missed’ feature where they tweet past posts; hence, a few days ago, I found a post of theirs entitled Beware The Thought Police Against Religion!

This post was written a couple of years ago in response to the decision of Pasadena Health Department to rescind the offer of the job of head of the Public Health Department to Eric Walsh, after finding some rather concerning sermons that Walsh had preached, recorded, and posted on YouTube. Apparently the beliefs Walsh expressed in these sermons included, among others, that Catholicism, gay acceptance, evolution and rap music were all tools of the devil; that single parents were ruining their children; and that condom distribution was only going to increase AIDS rates. (I found that information, by the way, in this article; the Come Reason post on the subject glosses over the content of the sermons somewhat.) It seems that the Pasadena Health Department, on finding these sermons, seriously questioned Walsh’s ability to provide an effective health service. Can’t think why.

Lenny Esposito (the author of the Come Reason post) lamented what he sees as an attack on free speech, rhetorically demanding ‘When did the First Amendment require an asterisk?’ He doesn’t quite seem to have understood the First Amendment; I looked it up (I’m British, so what I knew about it was ‘something something free speech something something something’) and it turns out that what it actually said was that Congress can’t make laws against freedom of speech or religion, not that nobody is allowed to do anything in response to someone’s speech that might have adverse consequences for that person. So, if the First Amendment did have an asterisk, I guess it would have to be something like this:

Congress shall make no law* respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

*Look, we said that Congress shall make no law. Not that nobody is allowed to take any action whatsoever regarding what a person has said. So read the flippin’ thing properly already, and stop making stuff up that isn’t in there.

I may have to fine-tune the legalese a bit on that one.

(Edited to add: For a much more sensible and well-informed comment on the issues, see Kengi’s comment on this post, just below.)

Anyway, that actually wasn’t the main thing I wanted to say about this post. What struck me was this:

Esposito is lamenting the fact that Walsh, and other people in examples he quotes, are suffering adverse consequences for expressing their beliefs. He sees this as an immoral attack on their rights. But this is a Christian apologetics blog. In other words, Esposito is a vocal member of a religion that believes that God will send you to a torturous hell forever for holding the wrong beliefs. And he believes that this is completely good and moral of God.

I have no doubt that Esposito would have some kind of explanation for this inconsistency. (Because God made the universe and gets to do what he wants with it? Because God isn’t really sending people to hell for their beliefs as such, but just set up a system in which the default is ending up in hell and the only way out happens to be to believe particular things, so that’s quite all right then, isn’t it? Because… oh, I don’t know, you think of one.) But it did strike me as pretty ironic.

In the meantime, good for the Pasadena Health Department. I’d also be pretty darned concerned about the kind of unbiased, compassionate, evidence-based health care that someone with those views was capable of providing.


  1. Kengi says

    After the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed, there arose a doctrine known as the incorporation of the Bill of Rights which means most of the first ten amendments (known as the Bill of Rights) restricts local and state governments as well as the federal government. Pointing out the words “Congress shall make no law…” is what many conservatives do to try to allow our state and local governments to violate the separation clause of the same amendment to allow those government to promote religion.

    Based on Supreme Court rulings, the freedom of speech clause of the First Amendment now applies to all governments and government agencies in the US, and not just to laws made by Congress.

    There actually is a potential First Amendment free speech issue since it was a government agency which “punished” Eric Walsh for his speech. What we are probably dealing with here is one of the few exceptions to the First Amendment, so in one way, it is kind of an “asterisk” to the amendment. For example, local governments can restrict free speech near a hospital so patients aren’t disturbed by people with bull-horns exercising their free-speech rights.

    I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but this probably falls into the notion that rescinding the job offer was in the public’s interest (not having a bigot in charge of public health) and the government didn’t have a less restrictive way to obtain that interest which defends the rights of minority citizens (their right to trust in their public health official and not be discriminated against).

    The answer to the question “When did the First Amendment require an asterisk?” is “Always.” Rights will often conflict. The doctrine US courts have tried to use to resolve some of these conflicts is to try to force the government to use the least restrictive means possible to uphold one right when restricting another.

    A classic example of this in the US were the anti-discrimination provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. People have the right to free association (to decide who they should allow to do business with), but minorities also have the right to free and fair access to commerce (not being told they wouldn’t be served by a business). These rights can often come in conflict with each other. The courts decided the least restrictive way to grant minorities access to free and fair commerce was to restrict the free association rights of others, but only in the context of providing goods and services through a business transaction.

    This notion that all of our rights come with an asterisk is generally summed up with the phrase “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”

  2. Dr Sarah says

    Thank you for providing a much better discussion of the issues than I managed in my rather flippant passing remarks! 🙂 I’ve updated the post to link to your comment.

  3. Granny C says

    A fascinating start from a new blogging voice on this website.. I plan to be a regular visitor.

  4. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Also, these same xians practice the kind of discrimination (some of which is legal) when they only hire other xians at their religious schools, churches, etc. And some of it makes sense (they shouldn’t have to hire an atheist pastor), but many religious, for profit businesses (like the Noah’s adventure park in…Kentucky?) want to claim the same ability to discriminate, so their whining about this kind of thing really bugs me.

  5. Numenaster says

    So nice to see a family that values humanism in more than one generation. I wish my dad were more like Granny C.

  6. wzrd1 says

    Indeed, Christian held corporations now have rights that are above and beyond the rights that their employees formerly enjoyed.
    All thanks to the SCOTUS decision in Burwell v Hobby Lobby. A company that I will never do business with again.

  7. Dr Sarah says

    @Crimson Clupeidae: I wrote a reply to your comment and then deleted it. (I have no idea whether it came over the ‘comment subscription’ thing, so apologies for any confusion if so) because I was trying to decide what I thought about the ‘Christian employees only for a religious park’ issue. If it’s something like a religious theme park or religious bookshop, I can actually see the employers feeling that being of that particular religion is a necessary condition to work there, or at least to hold the important and influential posts. But maybe I’m missing something? Willing to listen to another viewpoint on this…

  8. Dr Sarah says

    @Numenaster, what a lovely thing to say… and, yes, my mother is a wonderful woman. 🙂 But I think what she’s valuing most here isn’t humanism, but me. If I were writing a blog about Christianity, or Buddhism, or international cheese, or whatever, she’d still be on there saying how great it was.

    And that’s good, too. Because I know that, whatever happens, my mother will always have my back.

  9. hotshoe_ says

    It should not feel necessary to believe that God made the world in literally seven days to work at the Ark Park, any more than it should feel necessary to believe that Cinderella literally had a fairy godmother who magicked a pumpkin into her coach to work at Disneyland.

    All that the employer should be allowed to require is the same standard of competence and appropriate attitude towards customer relations that any other service business requires.

    Believing in god, or the christian god in particular, or the Young-Earth version of christianity in particular, has nothing to do with whether an employee will “fit in” or work well and make the customers happy while selling tickets or managing the landscaping crew.

    But the parent company of Ham’s Ark Park (supported by Kentucky taxpayers in the form of corporate tax breaks and municipal bonds as well as taxpayer-funded public road improvements, etc) does require on its employment application a statement of faith before being considered for employment there. And to add insult to injury, the statement of faith is not just a bland “yeah, I’m a good christian” but is a multi-paragraph document which includes such goodies as:

    The 66 books of the Bible are the written Word of God. The Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant throughout. Its assertions are factually true in all the original autographs. It is the supreme authority in everything it teaches. Its authority is not limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes but includes its assertions in such fields as history and science.
    The final guide to the interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself.
    The account of origins presented in Genesis is a simple but factual presentation of actual events and therefore provides a reliable framework for scientific research into the question of the origin and history of life, mankind, the earth, and the universe.

    Yep, that’s for the gardener’s employment application.

    It should be illegal everywhere in the world to discriminate against someone on the basis of their religion, or lack of religion. In practice, it’s only illegal in the USA if the victim of discrimination is an evangelical christian. In the USA, the christians favor their own and screw the rest, atheist, Muslim, Jew, or anyone else.

    You might have to choose your personal friends on the basis (at least partly) of their religion to avoid conflict and hurt feelings. You shouldn’t choose employees or professional coworkers on that basis.

  10. wzrd1 says

    hotshoe_says, so the Roman Catholic church should be required to hire any atheist priest for their parish?
    Sunday morning sermons might actually have a bearing on the real world then! 😉
    “Today’s sermon is, ‘don’t be a dick’…” :P:p:P:p

    Actually, for religious posts, yeah, belief is and should be required. But, for secular businesses, they’re secular and requiring a statement of faith should be as legal as requiring someone to be and vote a specific political party.
    Alas, today, refusing to permit businesses to do that is violating their religious freedom to persecute others and as businesses are people, really, really big people, we the people take a back seat.
    After all, the 33 1/3 amendment says, businesses and rich people have the absolute right to persecute others and in general, do whatever the hell that they want to.
    Oh wait, that’s the law of campaign contributions.

    Sorry about the 33 1/3, been missing my old Beatles White Album, which was stolen from my home while I was deployed, along with a bunch of other collectible albums.
    Boy, but I gave away my age, huh?

  11. Dr Sarah says

    Holy crap. (An unusually literal application for that term.) That is… OK, I can now totally see what you’re annoyed about.

    I also now have Donovan’s ‘Gold Watch Blues’ running in my head:

    ‘And I didn’t want a job upon the board,
    I just wanted to take a broom and sweep the bloody floor.’

    Question, though. Eric Walsh wasn’t applying to be a gardener or to sweep the bloody floor – he was applying for a high-level job where he would have had significant influence over the lives of a large number of other people. So, thinking about the kind of equivalent you might have in somewhere like the Ark Park – let’s say a senior-level management position – would it be OK then for them to aim to employ someone whose beliefs and outlook matched theirs? Not so much in the kind of detail specified in the part you quoted, which is just flippin’ ridiculous, but more generally?

    It seems to me that it would. But, again, maybe there’s a side to this that I haven’t thought of.

    And, as you say, it’s interesting to speculate on what Esposito would say about that example.

  12. Dr Sarah says

    Good to see someone else around who remembers the days of record players!

    Sadly, I cannot argue with the facts you describe in your suggested amendment; but I would ask that you give it a number that isn’t associated with pleasantly nostalgic memories. 666, maybe?

  13. Dr Sarah says

    From what I’ve heard, employees in the US seem to have depressingly few rights across the board, even before religion starts playing into it.

  14. wzrd1 says

    Doc, I can indeed recall a number. 42.
    The ultimate answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.

    The problem is, the question and answer may not exist within the same universe.
    (See Life, the Universe and Everything, D. Adams et al)

    US employee and rights? Mutually exclusive terms there. The land of the free costs a hell of a lot, if one wants rights. :/

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