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Day care center A: “There must be continuing training for the staff. Her nurseries must have two sinks, one exclusively for food preparation. All cabinets must have safety locks. Medications for the children must be kept under lock and key, and refrigerated.”

Day care center B: “[D]oes not have to worry about unannounced state inspections at the day care center…. Alabama exempts … day care programs [like B] from state licensing requirements, which were tightened after almost a dozen children died in licensed and unlicensed day care centers in the state in two years.

So, what’s the difference? What makes A deserving of health regulations and B not? If you guessed religion, you guessed correctly:

In recent years, many politicians and commentators have cited what they consider a nationwide “war on religion” that exposes religious organizations to hostility and discrimination. But such organizations — from mainline Presbyterian and Methodist churches to mosques to synagogues to Hindu temples — enjoy an abundance of exemptions from regulations and taxes. And the number is multiplying rapidly.

Some of the exceptions have existed for much of the nation’s history, originally devised for Christian churches but expanded to other faiths as the nation has become more religiously diverse. But many have been granted in just the last 15 years — sometimes added to legislation, anonymously and with little attention, much as are the widely criticized “earmarks” benefiting other special interests.

An analysis by The New York Times of laws passed since 1989 shows that more than 200 special arrangements, protections or exemptions for religious groups or their adherents were tucked into Congressional legislation, covering topics ranging from pensions to immigration to land use. New breaks have also been provided by a host of pivotal court decisions at the state and federal level, and by numerous rule changes in almost every department and agency of the executive branch.

The special breaks amount to “a sort of religious affirmative action program,” said John Witte Jr., director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at the Emory University law school.

I was looking for something that doesn’t involve religion to talk about (I’m almost all religion-ed out at the moment), but this is pretty important. The impetus for such regulations doesn’t depend on the religion of the organization. And yet, they get such special treatment? There’s no logic to this at all.

It’s certainly not an easy question. People have the right to act in accordance with their religion. It doesn’t make sense to me to force a religious school to hire an atheist as a teacher, but religious discrimination seems just as wrong. That said, a lot of what the Times article points out isn’t in this gray area. Health regulations are pretty straightforward, aren’t they? Then again, who’s to say someone’s religious beliefs don’t compel them to prepare food in a way that is unsafe? Shouldn’t they be able to serve that food to others who share those beliefs and make a business out of it?

Interesting and difficult questions.

Categories: Religion
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