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Does Religious Freedom Trump Gay Rights?

LOMA LINDA – A panel of distinguished Adventist professionals convened Saturday, November 9, at the Loma Linda University Church to discuss whether gay rights trump doctors’ religious liberties.
In a decision filed on August 18, 2008, the California Supreme Court decided that the rights of religious freedom and free speech do not exempt a medical clinic’s physicians from complying with the California Unruh Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation.
The Loma Linda University School of Religion Humanities Program hosted the Sabbath afternoon panel discussion featuring Alan Reinach, president of the North American Religious Liberty Association; Douglas Welebir, Redlands attorney; Danielle Sawyer, LLUMC OB/GYN; and David Larson, LLU ethics professor. Jim Walters, LLU professor of Christian Ethics moderated the discussion.
In the case under consideration, North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group Inc. v. San Diego County, California justices unanimously sided with Guadalupe Benitez, a lesbian. Benitez received over a year of treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome in order to become pregnant through artificial insemination. After completing treatment, Benitez was affronted by a physician who refused to assist with artificial insemination citing religious reasons.
Benitez’ primary physician, Dr. Christine Brody, went on vacation and referred Benitez to colleague Dr. Douglas Fenton. When Fenton refused to perform artificial insemination on religious grounds, Benitez sued for discrimination as outlined in the Unruh Civil Rights Act and ultimately won her case.
Listed among the attorneys for the appellant in North Coast v. San Diego as a friend of the court: Alan J. Reinach; Alan E. Brownstein; Bassi, Martini & Blum and Fred Blum for Seventh-day Adventist Church State Council.
Adventist panelists at the forum Saturday discussed the implications of the court’s decision against discrimination on religious grounds. Alan Reinach—who recently championed California Proposition 8, framing the measure as a protection of religious liberties—argued vigorously that the California court essentially nullified freedom of conscience, making homosexuals a protected class whose rights outweigh religious liberty and free exercise of religion.
Danielle Sawyer, a practicing gynecologist, worries that a series of small steps by courts may limit the rights of physicians like her to exercise their religious convictions with impunity. Sawyer said that she is not like a fast food chain or retail store to provide service for any who come to her. When the floor opened for audience interaction, LLU ethicist Mark Carr noted that because medicine today is also a business, in a sense physicians are like McDonalds with the obligation to serve all comers. Sawyer retorted that she was not trained in business; she was trained as a servant, though at times it seems as though she might become a slave.
David Larson discussed the ethical ramifications of providing health care. Professional, philosophical and Christian theological ethics all agree: to accept or reject patients solely on the basis of gender, race, color, religion, national origin or sexual orientation is patently wrong. When an audience member suggested that infertility differs in gravity from saving a human life, Larson thanked the commenter for the distinction while adding that the hottest topic in the guild is whether to classify infertility as a disease and treat it as such. Larson concluded his prepared remarks by saying, “I agree with the court, and Jesus does too.”
Amid several serious inquiries from audience members came a few moments of levity. One disgruntled, elderly gentleman complained at length that he was the victim of discrimination by his church, which had forbidden him from distributing religious tracts. Moderator Jim Walters managed to placate the man with an invitation to discuss his case with Mr. Reinach following the presentation.
The audience member who followed proved less comedic, saying that the church has a biblical mandate to oppose homosexuals, and if that means being barred from practicing medicine or another profession, so be it!
[Because I arrived late at the discussion, I did not hear Douglas Welebir’s opening statements. I hope that someone will be able to summarize his arguments for our benefit here.]

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