Welcome to the 21st century! According to the Star Trek universe, we should be meeting aliens soon, 2063 to be precise. Actually, according to most Sci-fi shows, we should be entering a new age of enlightenment, where logic and reason rule the world. So why, nearly years into this century are we still battling with each other for religious rights and equal treatment?
The first time I became aware of these rights was in an episode of “Only Fools and Horses” when a gentleman wearing a turban and was riding a motorbike. Rodney asked why he wasn’t wearing a helmet. I was only a little kid at the time and wondered it myself. My father went on to explain how this man’s religion meant that he didn’t have to wear a helmet, and I thought it was stupid. Clearly, for safety reasons, everyone should wear a helmet, regardless of his or her beliefs. But that is not my choice to make if someone wants to put their life on the line because of religion (and it doesn’t hurt anyone else) who am I to stop them?
Recently in Belfast, we had a scandal known as “Cake Gate” when a local bakery refused to bake a cake with Bert and Ernie on it. It wasn’t the duo which Ashers bakery had a problem with. It was the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” on the side. Ashers are a Christian company who refused to make the cake on the grounds that it opposed their beliefs on marriage. Next thing we all knew it was blown out of proportion, the Equality Commission got involved, and it was a big mess. Should it have been a big deal? No. I have had problems with bakers recently over my wedding cake. I have been refused custom because what I wanted wasn’t “suitable for a wedding”. Look, if I want a three-tier rainbow cake with sugar crystals and Superman carrying Lois Lane through a cloud of candyfloss for my wedding cake, then that’s what I’ll get. Did I phone some legal body over it? No, I went to a different baker, someone who is happy to take my money. It was annoying at the time but I got over it. Should the person who ordered the Bert and Ernie cake have gone to another bakery? Probably. Did they need to get the Equality Commission involved? Probably not. There are plenty of other bakeries in Belfast who would have been happy to do the cake.
But what happens when religious beliefs extend beyond cakes and crash helmets? Recently a Walmart in the state of Georgia in America, refused to fill a woman’s prescription after she had a miscarriage. Rather than have a D&C, the woman decided to take the non-invasive route of taking medication. The medication, Misoprostol, can be used to induce abortions, and the pharmacist in question refused to fill out the prescription on the grounds of personal belief. This has been part of Georgia law for 15 years.
Religion is like Sex
So what is the point of all this? Religion has its place and it isn’t in the workplace. Religion is like sex and its best kept behind closed doors. What you do with either is your business, but when you start sticking religion or sex in my face, then we have a problem. Putting your own life at risk for the sake of your religion is your business, not mine. Don’t want someone’s money and business because what they ask of you offends you? Your loss. Someone else will take the money. But when it comes to medical professions, including pharmacists, who can refuse to serve someone on the grounds of personal beliefs, then we have a problem. Everyone has the right to express themselves, and I wouldn’t deny anyone that right. But we need to stop somewhere. Religion is personal to everyone, and in a world where many religions have to live side-by-side in the same community, maybe it is the time we started keeping our religions to ourselves and stopped letting it interfere with everyday life. You wouldn’t have sex in public, so let’s treat religion the same way. Otherwise, the aliens will never talk to us.