Dear Theist: Do Your Job or Find Another

You know, I get that it’s a tough economy out there. Lots of people are taking jobs that aren’t necessarily optimal, like working at a fast food joint, cooking meth, or making YouTube videos. And not everyone is able to choose a job that is 100% in line with his or her morals, like a vegetarian flipping burgers, an ex-DEA agent cooking meth, or a normal human being making YouTube videos.

Or like a fundamentalist Christian who is a town clerk in New York, where same-sex marriage was recently made legal.

That’s right, there are people in New York who are refusing to approve the marriage licenses of same-sex couples because of “religious freedom.” Here’s one now!

“I love helping people . . . the Bible tells me that marriage is between a man and a woman. So I don’t feel I can endorse the new law, the policy for same-sex people to be married. I don’t feel it’s right.”

Look, I’m almost willing to overlook the fact that Bible actually defines marriage as a convenant between a man and a woman, a man and a woman and dozens of concubines, a man and several wives, a rapist and a woman, a man’s brother and a woman, a man and his aunt, etc. etc., because I realize that you said “the Bible tells [you]”, and who am I to interpret what an inanimate object is whispering to you late at night when no one else is around? If you believe that that’s what marriage is or should be, then fine! That’s what you think marriage is. Great for you.

But if you also think that the Bible tells you that you can’t stamp a piece of paper because you’ll be complicit in some evil deed, then you should not have a job that requires you to stamp a piece of paper. You should get a new job. Have you tried cooking meth? The Bible says literally nothing about meth. Nothing.

This is, of course, just the latest in a long line of attempts by fundamentalist Christians to not do their jobs. There are the pharmacists who refuse to fill women’s prescriptions because those women may be using those prescribed drugs to not have babies. There are the doctors and nurses who refuse to perform potentially life-saving operations on women because those operations may destroy a fetus. There are the science teachers who refuse to teach science because the facts contradict their faith.

I give a talk on women’s reproductive rights in which I compare these people to a vegan priest refusing to give the sacrament – if you can’t do the job, then quit your job. A commenter over at The Advocate brought up another apt analogy: would these fundamentalists support a Hindu meat inspector’s right to not inspect beef? What about an orthodox Jewish lifeguard who refused to touch members of the opposite sex?

I find town clerks refusing to do their jobs to be particularly vexing because they work for the US (state) government and have no idea what the first amendment means. No idea. “It is a religious freedom situation,” according to the woman in the video, who is completely unaware that religious freedom is about keeping religion out of governmental duties so that the rest of us can be protected from her bigoted beliefs. If only there were a basic constitution quiz given to any applicant for any governmental job. But then, who would the GOP run for president?

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. I’m too lazy to look it up, but there was a case in Louisiana about a year ago involving some state official who refused to marry a mixed race couple. I believe that he lost his job as a consequence.

    This case should be no different.

    1. What sucks about the First Amendment is that religious people actually are guaranteed special rights. You know all that whining about how gay folks want ‘special rights’ to do the exact same thing straight people can do? It’s projection of the worst kind – the Constitution protects religious beliefs in a way that it completely ignores other things.

      In prison and keeping kosher? They’re going to have to accommodate you. In prison and a lifelong vegan? They don’t have to do squat.

      It sucks.

  2. Isn’t there alo a bible passage here or there that says you should follow the law of the land you live in. Maybe I just made that up, probably, because it would make some kind of sense…

    1. cthandhs, I think you’re referring to “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”. This is a quote from the parable in which Jesus explains why the religious are not above secular law, and one part of the Bible Rose Marie Belforti has evidently chosen to ignore.

  3. The Courage Fund’s site contains the quote “I believe that there is a higher law than the law of the land”. Why does this excuse for breaking the law never seem to work for Rastafarians who want to smoke marijuana?

    1. I once knew a fundamentalist Rastafarian. He was very strict, lived by very rigid rules for his life and yet still had to obtain marijuana illegally. His faith was very important to him (in his faith, the herb brings you “closer to God” and puts you in a more “god-like state”. For him it genuinely was an important part of his religious practices, but there’s no exception for that.

      1. …and in both cases, the Rastafarian and the Christian are requesting that an exception is made for them to allow them to break the law in the name of their deity. I’m not a smoker myself but I still find it depressing that Rastafarians wanting to smoke marijuana seem to get less sympathy than Christians wanting to engage in homophobic behaviour.

  4. “Boy, I sure wish this law had been done differently with a referendum so that people could have voted.”

    Would that have changed the bible? If so, I’d like to propose a few referendums.

    1. You can tell how vital to democracy referendums are, because the founding fathers incorporated them so frequently into the Constitution. There are at least zero mentions of them.

  5. I mean, the First Amendment has the Establishment Clause keeping religion out of government, and the Free Exercise Clause, which does protect people from government intrusion into their religious practices. So there’s at least some cognizable first amendment argument to be made there.

    However, I really think that this one would fail, because this isn’t a general law being applied to all, with a religious person seeking an exemption, it’s a religious person seeking to impose on the government as an employer instead of as a lawmaker.

  6. Well here’s one for you: in my country, civil servants who have religious objections to gay marriage can refuse to marry same sex couples. When the law that allows same-sex marriage was passed ten years ago, special exceptions where put in place to ensure that nobody would be forced to, you know, actually do their fucking job. Because not allowing an employee of the state to discriminate against teh gays is… wait for it… intolerant.

    And this country is….

    the Netherlands! Where discrimination against homosexuals by state employees is a legal right, stores can be barred from opening on Sundays, schools can proselytize and fire homosexual teachers, all the while receiving state funding, each law starts by pointing out our Queen rules by the grace of God, city councils can (and many do) open with a prayer and blasphemy is still illegal.

    1. Can Catholics refuse to marry people who have been divorced but not had a religious annulment?

  7. “I wish this law had been done differently with a referendum…”.

    And if the law had passed how would that make a difference? Is there parable about referendums?

    1. NY does not have much of a referendum process so it would be against the state constitution to do it that way.

  8. No, there shouldn’t have been a referendum.

    That would be similar to allowing white people to vote on whether black people should have civil rights.

    There is nothing in the Constitution that says it’s legal to discriminate against gays/lesbians. However, there’s all sorts of stuff about separating religion from the state, guaranteeing due process, guaranteeing protection from discrimination…

    If she can’t do her job because of her religion, then I’m sure one of the more than 14 million unemployed people in the U.S. would love to take over for her.

  9. Isn’t there a passage in the bible saying that if a man rapes a woman, her father must pay the rapist money and marry his daughter to him? I wonder how that fits on for size with fundamentalist christians?

    Or that the bible says though shalt not kill and then not moments later says that you can kill gay men. Only men.

    The bible is totally inconsistant and reminds me of a schizophrenic’s bable during acute psychosis…

  10. I don’t think a state employee would last long at the Department of Motor Vehicles if he or she thought that women shouldn’t drive, or needed a permission slip from their husbands to get a driver’s license.

  11. Rebecca Watson,

    This doesn’t really surprise me. She can object as much as she wants, however, no one is forcing her to accept it. The state is not going to force churches to wed homosexual couples. If she wants to insist that her rights are being violated, she might want to ask herself how she would feel if she heard someone in the south complaining about having to perform interracial marriages, using her argument. There are plenty of religious racists out there who think that interracial marriage is against God’s will.

  12. I wonder if she stoned her children when they misbehaved.

    The one and only reason Saul/Paul gives for homosexual behavior being wrong is that it is “not natural”. That is exactly the same reason he says that men should have short hair and women should have long hair.


  13. @criticaldragon1177

    Wrt churches not allowing homosexual marraige: would we think that it is descrimination that a church does not marry two people who are black? How does this change if you are gay.

    I don’t know where I stand on the issue of forcing churches to marry homosexual people. However, if we allow them to make pick and choose what laws they will abide by (i.e.: discriminate who every they see fit) then where do we draw the line?

    1. pakili1987,

      I’m not suggesting we allow them to just pick and choose what laws they want to follow. If you thought I was saying that, you are mistaken.

  14. “Before you know it, we have a whole different set of rules”

    She’s arguing that you shouldn’t change the rules too quickly, yet the rules she follows were written 2000-3000 years ago. How much time does she need to get used to the reduced barbarity of the modern age? I’m certain she would also defend the bible’s rules as tradition, saying we can’t change something simply because it’s been done that way for a long time.

    Both arguments are invalid. My understanding of the NYC approval of same-sex marriage is that it was a collaborative effort more than a year in the making. Also this woman would have to be living under a rock to not be aware of the growing focus on SSM. The second argument is factually incorrect. If we consider the polygamous marriages in the bible, marriage has always been a flexible affair. OMOW was an assumption but only recently has it been legislated as a requirement. It’s clearly discriminatory against same-sex couples, and it has to go.

  15. Correct me if I’m wrong, but as I understand the story, the three clerks stated they felt it was wrong. Then two of them resigned, while the third is seeking legal recourse to allow a deputy to her position to do that which she chooses not to do. While you may disagree with their decisions, tell me what exactly about them is inherently wrong? And on what basis? Belforti even wants to create a new job! Holy crap! Why aren’t you excited for the new job on the market?

    The point being, while it’s cool and all to have an opinion, and get all up in arms about how much better yours is than others, belittling others in the search for self-worth is a pitiful means of communication. Especially when it results in sloppy self-congratulation. Valuing human life is not inherently “fundamentalist Christian”. There are vegan alternatives for both members of the sacrament. However, the real issue is that you lump the three clerks in with these “fundamentalists” who are inherently stupid, as you make quite clear in your rant. Perhaps what some people have done in seeking to mesh their job description and their belief system hasn’t always been the best choice. But don’t reflect that hatred for misjudgement onto people who are doing their best to stay within the law and their convictions.

    If you’re going to make a living writing and talking down to others, you should at least learn how. And take a few minutes to get your facts straight. Thanks!

      1. I know we had some gluten-free “host” at communion last Sunday, so vegan doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch. And vegan grape juice sounds downright trivial. I’m sure it would appall the Catholics, but they tend to get pissy about a lot of things.

        1. I think you may have missed the point, here: the Catholic Church teaches that the bread and wine literally become the flesh and blood of Jesus. Literally. It is impossible to create a vegan version of that.

          1. I suppose it would have to depend on your definition of veganism. Since some folks define it as not using or eating anything that comes from animals, I think a bit of bread that transubstantiated into Jesus’ flesh would qualify as a loophole. Now I’m starting to get curious as to whether the Catholics have any official ruling on vegans and communion. I shall consult Google.

            But as to my original point, there are numerous Protestant denominations that treat the communion elements as being mostly/purely symbolic. So if vegans can’t be good Catholics, they can still be good Methodists, for example.

          2. Found the loophole!

            “Transubstantiation is a conversion of the essence of one thing into another thing.

            In the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ.

            After this conversion of essence takes place, the physical properties of the bread and wine remain the same.

            The Body and Blood of Christ physically appears as the original bread and wine down to the molecular level.

            But Catholics believe that their essence has been changed literally to the Body and Blood of Christ.”

            Not that I am endorsing the view stated here, but it does look like you can simultaneously be a good vegan and a good Catholic.

          3. How dare you make fun of the Supernatural Vegans!

            In addition to the animals we all know, we also do not eat mythical animals like dragons, unicorns, and yes, even Jesus.

            I bet Jesus tastes like chicken…like a chicken that doesn’t exist.

      2. Well, you can’t really. But they are marketing a host for strict vegans – it’s called “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Jesus”.

        1. COTW.

          To mangle a quote from The Vicar of Dibley, “You know the stuff that’s like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Jesus, but is not I Can’t Believe It’s Not Jesus? I can’t believe it’s not I Can’t Believe It’s Not Jesus!

          1. They say memory is the 2nd thing to go. I can’t remember what was the 1st thing.

      3. Haha, thanks for the response. As blunt and critical as I’m being right now (and I’m sorry, I’m just a butthole in general, but I try to make good points), it says a lot about your willingness to discuss things openly that you approved and responded to my comment. I respect your ability to do what literally no other blogger I’ve commented on has done: Read and respond to criticisms. I can’t think of a way to express my new-found respect for you, other than to say that that’s really cool, ha.

        Also, I’m not Catholic nor vegan, but as others have said, I suppose it all comes down to whether you think transubstantiation is a physical manifestation. And if so, if a person is an animal. Though, unless they’re vegan for dietary reasons, I think a good Catholic who reads the bible would remember the passages where it says that animals are there to provide sustenance, among other things. So I really don’t see why a Catholic would be vegan, ha. Perhaps I’m too utilitarian, though. Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with three New York clerks, but it’s funny to think about.

        1. Upon coming back to this, as excited as I was at the time that somebody was willing to post my criticisms, it saddens me now to realize that they were completely ignored in Rebecca’s response.

    1. “belittling others in the search for self-worth is a pitiful means of communication…If you’re going to make a living writing and talking down to others, you should at least learn how. And take a few minutes to get your facts straight.”

      No irony there.

      1. Does she not have a tone of superiority? Does she not use sloppy analogies ungrounded in reality? Does she not misrepresent the three clerks as fighting for their right to refuse service, despite explicit statements to the contrary in the article she linked? What have I said that wasn’t directly warranted from what I read in her article? I would argue there’s a far different tone between “and who am I to interpret what an inanimate object is whispering to you late at night” and my writing you quoted.

        Side note: “Have you tried cooking meth? The Bible says literally nothing about meth. Nothing.” I think this completely misses any valuable point. It’s against the law. What these clerks are trying to do is both the legal thing and the right thing. This is the kind of sloppiness I’m talking about. These parts that are sloppy all seem like attempts at humor, but they’re only humorous if you assume that this group of people Rebecca obviously hates are idiots.

        1. Any other petty style criticisms?
          Anything else you want to say about tone?

          It’s clear you’ve unhappy with Rebecca’s post because it doesn’t express your opinions and it makes fun of the foolish, but I read her posts to find out HER opinion — and enjoy her wit.

          1. Of course you do, because you have the same assumption she does. But some people prefer to find fault with ideas and actions, rather than people. Also, nobody seems to disagree that she misread the article. That was my original point, with a secondary point of her misconstruing the clerks as evil people bent on imposing their beliefs on others. The rest are just things that occurred to me.

  16. I ranted recently on FB about danish priests who refused to wed divorcees. That’s priests working for the state church, that is. If they were from some fringe ministry receiving no state money, I’d have had no issue – I’d just think they were idiots.
    The priests said that they weren’t preventing the couples in question from being married since they could just go to city hall. My opinion is that they should then take the priest’s salary to city hall with them.

    But yeah: Religious freedom is not the freedom to have a job and not do it in the name of your religion.

    What I think would be helpful would be to start viewing religion as a hobby: a thing that you enjoy doing in your spare time. Comic book enthusiasts don’t get special privileges, nor should Jesus-fans or Mohammed-fanciers.

  17. What the law say about Churches refusing to marry gay couples? What about Churches refusing to marry interracial couples? In the case of the latter, what interracial couple would want to be member of a church that didn’t believe in interracial marriage? It would be kind of a black guy showing up at a klan meeting and asking for a membership application (i.e. it probably doesn’t happen too often – except when Dave Chappelle is involved).

    With Churches who refuse to marry gay couples its probably a different story since many large denominations seem to be split internally on these sorts of issues (women in the clergy, practicing gays in the clergy, etc).

  18. I suck at proofreading:

    “It would be kind of a black guy….”

    should be have been

    “It would be kind of like a black guy….”

  19. You have a moral issue about rubber stamping a piece of paper. What do you do?

    A)Quit the job that requires you to do this.

    B)Give it to another clerk to stamp (you can’t tell me that there are NO clerks in New York would do it)

    C) Get on a soap box and scream religious oppression until someone from the press shows up.

    D) both A and B.

    1. I don’t know how it works in NY, but in Mass, there are many towns where the town clerk’s office consists of exactly one person, the elected town clerk, who is paid by the town, not the state or federal government.

      If that town clerk refuses to do their job, then no gay couples can get married in that town, though I’m sure you could sue. It looks like you are not required to get married in your town of residence, but can apply for a marriage license at any city or town clerk’s office in the state. However, that refusal clearly forces people to spend more time and money to obtain their legal rights and thus constitutes a tort and the clerk is (or should be) liable for damages. (IANAL, but it looks pretty cut and dried to me.)

      If a car-less gay couple showed up at her office wanting to marry, would she transport them, at her personal expense, to another town where they could be married? Would she pay them mileage out her own pocket if they did have a car? Would she compensate them for the additional time required to do this? Would she charge her own town for the time she spent doing this? Anyone harmed by her should definitely consult a lawyer.

      1) She should quit her job.

      2) She should be compelled by court order to do her job, and held in contempt if she refuses.

      3) She should be held personally liable for any time and expenses she causes other people by her refusal to perform lawful services required of her office.

      Given option 1, I wouldn’t cut her any slack at all.

  20. I agree it is absolutely ridiculous. A state employee should not get to override the law. It is not a reasonable accommodation to infringe on another’s civil rights. In regards to the Orthodox Jewish lifeguard, most Orthodox Jews I know, and I know a lot, don’t really hold to this. But even in the more traditional ends of Jewish Orthodoxy, it doesn’t apply to life threatening situations. I also take some issue with your title – Dear Theist. It conflates a belief in God with a zealous fundamentalism.

  21. I went to the Youtube video and discovered that there is only one comment and it’s positive. I tried to leave a comment, only to discover that it’s pending approval.

    I’m assuming they let in all positive comments and let in no negative comments. And they have one.

    1. Incidentally, the comment I left was:

      When you’re a public officer, doing your job is not an endorsement of every state policy; it’s doing your job. If it’s so deeply personal to you, then quit. Don’t expect special treatment.

    2. I left a comment, which also has not yet been approved… I’m not really expecting it to be. I don’t remember the exact comment, but it had to do with public officials having to swear, or take an oath, to uphold and defend the Constitution (whether it’s NY or US).

  22. To collatz and mcskeptic –

    AFAIK, Skepchick has never banned anyone for expressing an opinion, no matter how different it might be from their’s nor how stupid and unsupported by reason or facts it might be. The only reason I’ve ever seen anyone banned is for abusive, trollish behavior. (I imagine lots of spambots get banned on their first post, but that’s another thing entirely.)

    [I just had an evil thought about how to get spambots past manual approval screening, but I won’t post it because I would have to smash myself over the head with a 2×4 if I did, and if I survived that and my scheme worked, I would certainly and deservedly be banned for life from every decent web site.]

    1. That puts them above other bloggers I’ve encountered. Pretty awesome. I’m kinda assuming your wording was more towards complimenting them than saying bad things about my logic. :P

      And as to the spambot thing: You could always put your idea to good use by staying one step ahead of them. If you convince some internet security guru that what you claim is accurate, and that your proposed solution fixes the problem, I’m sure they’d love you. That’s what security’s all about. I’d suggest Gary Warner, but he’s more into email spam. Who knows, maybe there’d be an overlap, though.

    2. I suspect mcskeptic is referring to comments on the youtube video on youtube not to commenting on Skepchick given that mcskeptic’s comment follows banyan’s comment concerning commenting on youtube.

  23. I enjoyed reading Rebecca’s post but thanks to collatz for clarifying the situation.

    This sort of dilemma is not uncommon and can be overcome by reasonable people in a reasonable world.

    My wife for instance is a practicing Catholic and a medic. When somebody wants an abortion, she simply refers her to to the guy across the corridor (politely, and she sorts it immediately, she doesn’t kick them out or force them to make another appointment).

    Contraceptives, OTOH, she hands out like jellybeans. Popes and hierarchy, she does not believe in.

  24. Theists are quite selective about which parts of scripture they choose to impose on others. There are bible verses against usury, and yet there are Christian loan officers; there are verses against lying and greed, and yet there are Christian politicians; there are verses against divorce, and yet many churches are led by divorced ministers. Belforti would have equal scriptural basis for refusing to sign marriage licenses between Christians and non-believers. However, at no point in Paul’s lecture about being “unequally yoked” did he tell Christians working for the government to refuse to approve such marriages, so she also has scriptural support for shutting up and doing her job.

  25. Don’t most Job applications ask a question like “Is there anything that would prevent you from doing this job”

    If so in this case, I’m thinking she lied on her application.

  26. Just found this in my online search for fundie-ridicule lulz…
    Anyone want to go on and troll the “Courage Fund” fundies?
    Hmmm… All this is going on at the Ithaca farmer’s market which makes me think…
    Didn’t Thunderf00t just “out” himself as being from there?
    I vote for sending him over to her stand at the market.

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