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Here's what "martyr" used to mean (courtesy of

   1. a person who willingly suffers death rather than renounce his or her religion.
   2. a person who is put to death or endures great suffering on behalf of any belief, principle, or cause: a martyr to the cause of social justice.
   3. a person who undergoes severe or constant suffering: a martyr to severe headaches.
   4. a person who seeks sympathy or attention by feigning or exaggerating pain, deprivation, etc.

Dictionaries list the meanings of words in order of most prevalent use. So until recently, definition #1 was the most common definition of the word "martyr." However, "martyr" has now become the word for "someone who forces their beliefs on other people in the course of doing their job and then cries foul if they get properly penalized for doing so." In other words, the most common definition of the word is shifting from #1 to #4. Come with me over the jump for a few examples of this, and some discussion of the difference between a martyr and a hypocrite.

My mother used to use "martyr" as a sarcastic put-down when my brothers and I would whine about things not being fair: "Oh, martyr, martyr, martyr! Cope." It was usually a pointed observation that we had to make a hard choice, because whether we like it or not, life isn't fair.  

And yet there seem to be a lot of people who want freedom of religion to mean "I don't have to make that hard choice between my religion and my job." Often, they file court cases to try to force their employers to allow them exemption from basic and essential job functions - for example:

*Pharmacists refusing to dispense birth control or the morning-after pill.

*Doctors refusing to inseminate a lesbian woman here in California.

*Court clerks in San Diego refusing to perform weddings (but only for same-sex couples).

Here's a particularly egregious example: In June of this year, a news story broke about John Freshwater, a science teacher in an Ohio middle school, who apparently spent the past 11 years refusing to teach to the curriculum, instead proselytizing his students with fundamentalist Christian teachings and going so far as to burn crosses into their arms with an electrostatic machine. He's currently appealing the school board's decision to fire him. (Anyone who assaults students ought to be brought up on charges, too, but that's another diary for another day.)

Now, there are people claiming that if Proposition 8 doesn't pass, people's rights to freedom of religion will disappear. Not only that, some are now claiming that the real prejudice is against heterosexuals, not same-sex couples. The writer of this article cites the lesbian-insemination case, saying that those poor put-upon doctors are no longer free to practice their religious beliefs.

This article is yet another example of fundamentalists who think they shouldn't have to do their jobs if the job conflicts with their religious beliefs. Then they act like they're "martyrs" if they get punished for not doing their jobs. And if they lose their jobs? OH NOEZ! They're being PERSECUTED!!! Call the papers! Call a lawyer! My religious rights are being violated because I can't proselytize people on the job!!

What it boils down to is that they want all of the benefits and none of the responsibilities of having a right. Rights don't come without strings attached. Rights require taking responsibility for the consequences of exercising them. If your job requires you to do things that your religion won't permit, it's time to find a different job (or a different religion). If you provide artificial insemination to one group of people, you must provide it to all groups that are legally eligible, or find another job that doesn't require you to do it. If your job requires you to fill prescriptions for birth control, but you're prohibited from doing so by your religion, it's time to find another job that doesn't require that. If your religion frowns on marriage equality, it's time for you to find a job that doesn't require performing marriages for the state. And so forth.

You don't get to cry off your basic job responsibilities just because your religion disapproves. If your religion disapproves of your basic job responsibilities, what the heck are you doing in that job in the first place, anyway? Could it be that you want to have all of the benefits and none of the costs? Could it be that you want to limit other people's freedom based not on the law but on your personal religious beliefs?

Let's be clear about this: If someone takes a job precisely so they can claim religious exemption from its basic responsibilities and requirements, and then throws a temper tantrum about not being allowed to keep the job, they don't get to cry martyr. Martyrs are people who are punished for having a faith, not for having a faith and using it to punish others. People who deliberately set themselves up to be punished by way of hurting other people with their faith? They're not martyrs.

And frankly, it's past time to start pointing that out! It's time to remind people that if your religion and your job conflict, you have to make a hard choice. You can claim religious exemptions and accommodations for certain things, but not for the basic responsibilities of the job. Heck, even disability accommodations can't require that.

Religious accommodations for things that are not essential job functions? I'm wholeheartedly for that. I don't think a Jehovah's Witness should have to sing "Happy Birthday" to their customers in a restaurant, and I don't think that a Jew should be required to work on Saturday. But If you're an obstetrician, you're going to have to work with both gay and straight women as your patients. If you're a science teacher, you're going to have to teach science, not religion. If you're a city or county clerk in California or Massachusetts, you're going to have to obey the law and perform marriage ceremonies for all comers, not just the ones you prefer. And if you can't do it without violating your religious beliefs, then you need to find a job where you won't be presented with that issue.

If you don't do that, you're not a martyr.

You're just a hypocrite.

Originally posted to Killer of Sacred Cows on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 03:11 PM PDT.

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