The Unbounded Right To Conscience

By Jesse Taylor
Friday, April 24, 2009 17:29 EDT
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imageThe Alliance Defense Fund is seeking to expand Iowa’s ill-conceived conscience clause (now limited to abortion) to county clerks compelled to hand out marriage licenses to gays, because the only way to ensure the proper function of society is to make sure that a certain religious segment of it can repeatedly fuck the rest of us over.

However, a letter sent to county recorders by the Alliance Defense Fund says Miller is forgetting completely about “one of the most foundational rights and liberties we enjoy as Iowans” … “the right of conscience.”

That right, the letter says, is codified in Iowa Code 146.1.

“This right is based upon the simple truth that it is wrong to force anyone to violate his or her conscience,” said the letter, also from the Iowa Family Policy Council.

It cites the motto on the seal of the state, which reads, “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.”

“This noble motto … is emblematic of the moral sentiments of Iowans from the banks of the Missouri to the waters of the Mighty Mississippi. … As citizens of the State of Iowa and thus, the United States, we enjoy the protections of this right guaranteed in the U.S. and Iowa Constitutions. This right of conscience protects individuals against coercion by the state authority, and serves as the first line of defense against the cancer of tyranny.”

The letter suggests counties adopt policies that ensure no one will be required to “issue or process a marriage license, or to perform, assist, or participate in such procedures, against that individual’s religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

The suggested policy continues: “A person shall not discriminate against any individual in any way, including but not limited to employment, promotion, advancement, transfer, licensing, education, training, or the granting of employment privileges or conditions, because of the individual’s participation in or refusal to participate in the issuance of a marriage license.”

Except that it’s neither foundational nor expansive as a right. Iowa Code § 146.1 gives a conscience clause as it relates to performing medical procedures which result in abortions; it makes no sense that you’d draft a general right in a specific statute for a specific activity. What the ADF is asking for is an expansion of a principle to the point where it will have no limit; there is no “right of conscience” (and every April 15th, the government reminds you of that). To create one, and to create one as broadly as the ADF would have it, would essentially imperil every constitutional right on an issue of first invocation of conscience. You have the right to petition the government (for, say, some vague conglomeration of anti-tax, anti-spending and anti-Muslim principles), except if the city clerk decides they can’t issue a protest permit because their brother died at a pointless conservative rally sponsored by Fox News. My conscience says that I can’t rent this apartment to a single mother, which is obviously more important than the Fair Housing Act.

It’s the same problem as the tolerance/intolerance argument: you create an insane recursive loop of oversensitivity, where your conscience violates my conscience, but since you started it, you get to call me a hatemonger and yourself the innocent victim. If I don’t have to issue a marriage license because of my moral convictions, why should I have to process unemployment benefits or respond to your crime report or deliver your mail? The entire point of America is supposed to be that, at the very least, we extend rights to all who abide by the law, regardless of who they are or where they come from.

If you find yourself unable to extend a constitutional right to those to whom it applies because your sky-man told you it was wrong, then go pray for a new job and let someone else serve the public. It’s certainly an issue for taxpayers to get angrier about than, you know, teabagging.

Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor is an attorney and blogger from the great state of Ohio. He founded Pandagon in July, 2002, and has also served on the campaign and in the administration of former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. He focuses on politics, race, law and pop culture, as well as the odd personal digression when the mood strikes.
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