Opinion: When freedom of religion is challenged

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Kent Kirker is a junior Education major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected] 

Kent Kirker

We have the right to worship however we choose, but that doesn’t guarantee we have the right to freedom from religion as well. Don’t get me wrong — as a practicing Christian, I think we should all be able to practice or not practice however we want. That being said, it’s important to note how religion affects us outside of our personal lives, in the workplace for instance.  

As the melting pot of many different cultures, America’s workforce is a conglomerate of people, many of whom practice their faith on a daily basis; however, many places of employment restrict the discussion of politics and religion from their business, mostly to keep their employees as efficient and cohesive as possible. In many cases, however, these topics are unavoidable. For instance, in public schools, while there is somewhat of a separation of church and state, there are many classes on history and government, where talk of politics and study of religion are commonplace.

The medical field is another grey area in the argument between the separation of church and state for both political and religious reasons, particularly in regard to the Affordable Care Act and the fight over women’s reproductive rights.  In one recent case, it wasn’t the patient nor an insurance company who filed a claim, but a medical professional making a case against her employer. In a lawsuit filed Jan. 2 in the U.S. Southern District Court of Ohio, Karen Good, a now former registered nurse of the Coshocton County Memorial Hospital, is suing her former employer on the basis of religious discrimination. According to an explanation of the lawsuit printed in the Jan 12, 2014, Coshocton Tribune, the plaintiff, Good, of Warsaw, Ohio, was terminated from her job around Nov. 1, 2013, after refusing to receive a flu shot, a breach of CCMH’s mandated policy. 

According to the policy, which wasn’t fully released as part of the Tribune article, two exemptions existed, one citing health reasons and the other for religious reasons. To be eligible for the religious exemption, the employee must provide an exemption form, signed by their clergyperson, citing the reason of religious exemption. This form was filed by Good, who claims to be a practicing Christian and was likely denied based on the hospital’s opinion of the submitted statement. 

Some people have called an invasion of privacy, but, as a friend of mine eloquently put it, “Your employer doesn’t have the right to force something into your body, but they still reserve the right to write state-approved policies that require its employees to do so. They reserve the right to terminate anyone who does not follow their policy.” Just as most of the professional American workforce has to take a drug test to be employed, medical professionals should clearly be aware that they may be required to submit to medicinal employment policies, most of which are implemented for the protection of employees, patients and visitors.  I believe the hospital had a full right to accept or deny the exemption based on the content of the submitted form. Otherwise, what would be the use of requesting a statement in the first place?