First Do No Harm

by | Dec 28, 2014 | Politics/Government

Primum non nocere is a Latin phrase that means “first, do no harm.” It is a fundamental principle taught in bioethics throughout the world. While the exact words are not contained in it, the principle’s source is largely credited to the Hippocratic oath.

This principle is one to live by in most walks of life. None more so than when it comes to writing new laws.

Enter the latest bad idea: an Indiana legislative initiative has been drafted to protect our religious freedom. What!? I could swear I read somewhere that I already had this freedom. Have I been living a lie all these years?

So what is the initiative? Many states in recent years have proposed and some have passed state versions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This is a federal law passed in 1993 in response to Native American religious practices and ceremonies involving sacred lands and the use of peyote. In today’s context, it seems to be about private business entities looking for a way to use religious freedom as a justification to discriminate amongst citizen classes in its provision of services.

In yesterday’s Indianapolis Star, two “problems” were cited as examples as to why this legislation is needed. Those examples both were related to two separate bakeries refusing service to two separate sets of gay customers. That’s right, the bill’s supporters are already off message. This bill should not be called a “religious freedom” bill or the more nationally popular name of “religious liberty” bill at all. This is clearly about protecting rogue bakers and pastry chefs from being forced to bring happiness to cake eaters in America. This is exactly why I never learned to bake. After all, where do you draw the line?

Let’s be honest. The freedom of religion is safe in America. If it’s not, we really need better examples of what the problem is before we start passing state laws that are disguised as attempts to enhance that freedom. I have read WAY too much about this since the Saturday Star came out, and I cannot find a decent, let alone compelling, reason to even discuss the need for this. Unless of course, we are concerned about rogue wedding photographers also. Apparently there is a huge concern in the wedding photography market like the bakery market because of ONE unhappy photographer in New Mexico.

It sure seems like these bills are pointed at limiting liability for businesses that may want to refuse services to gay people. Marriage services, wedding photography and baked goods are on top of the list ironically. Hmmm. I have been to an odd number of stand up comedy shows in recent weeks, and I assure you both Brian Regan and Dave Chappelle could fill an hour on this one.

These bills are solutions looking for a problem. As a former government bureaucrat, I can attest to the fact that the government doesn’t need to look for problems, they magically find their way to you. Any legislative idea that starts with the “solution,” but is weak on the “problem” doesn’t pass the “first, do no harm” principle. This idea is a perfect example of that.

How weak is the alleged problem? One of the bakeries cited in yesterday’s Star is a bakery located around the corner from my house. The owners refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. Actually, the elaborate reason they gave was that since their religion did not condone gay marriage, they couldn’t give the creation of the cake the proper artistic motivation that is vital to all of the other cakes they produce. So what? As funny as that ridiculous story is, many of us in the neighborhood just boycott them now. It’s an easy boycott for me, since I rarely eat cake any way. And this awful bill won’t do anything to stop the boycott, which will continue until the bakery moves.

Maybe the “harm” this legislative idea might accomplish is the reenergizing of that boycott. Admittedly, things have been a little dull around here lately. Protesting this stuff does seem more cerebral and less life threatening than protests regarding police brutality, excessive force and gun violence that have been occurring all over the country in recent weeks and months.

It’s time for a change of pace. Let them not eat cake. There are some great ice cream and frozen yogurt places a few blocks in the other direction. I think I will go there now. And if asked, I will gladly fire up my iPhone camera and photograph anyone who asks. All in the name of liberty.

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