Justinian C. Lane, Esq.
Let Justice Be Done, Though the Heavens May Fall

Justinian Lane's Blog

Justinian's Blog

Religious Discrimination at Walgreen's?

Recently, a group of pharmacists working for Walgreen’s filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that Walgreen’s is discriminating against them by forcing them to follow state law and dispense “morning after pills.”  The pharmacists argue that since their religion forbids abortion, they cannot dispense this medication, and to force them to do so is discriminatory.

There are two ways to examine this issue, an easy way, and a hard way.  The easy way is to point out that Illinois state law requires the pharmacists to dispense the drug, and that they surely cannot expect Walgreen’s to disobey a state law.  This analysis leads to the conclusion that the pharmacists should challenge the constitutionality of the state law, not Walgreen’s.  So for the duration of this post, I’ll simply ignore the state law (as the pharmacists do) and focus on the larger issue.

Should an employer be allowed to force an employee to perform job duties that are prohibited by that employee’s religion?  This case is getting so much attention because it’s nothing more than a proxy fight over abortion.  Rabid pro-lifers believe that their brethren should be able to violate any law to prevent individuals from having an abortion, or even birth control.  Rabid pro-choicers, on the other hand, take no small measure of joy at the thought of pro-lifers being forced to assist in an abortion.  I have no intention of wading into the thoroughly-muddied waters of the abortion debate, so I’ll use some hypothetical situations based upon the pharmacists’ argument.

What if Denny’s hired a Muslim cook and the cook refused to cook any pork products because it is strictly forbidden by the Quran?  Perhaps Denny’s would try to work around the cook’s beliefs by allowing him or her to pass pork orders to another cook?  Walgreen’s tried a similar tactic by allowing the pro-life pharmacists to pass morning after pill prescriptions to other pharmacists.  There’s a problem with this compromise: What if the Muslim cook was the only cook working, and a customer ordered pigs in a blanket?  Should the customer be forced to order another breakfast, or should Denny’s be permitted to fire the cook for refusing to do his or her job? 

The answer, to me, seems pretty clear: While an employer should attempt to make reasonable accommodations for the religious beliefs of its employees, it’s unreasonable for an employee to expect his or her employer to lose customers because of his or her religious beliefs. 

Any individual planning on becoming a pharmacist should surely know that at least once in their professional career, he or she will be asked to fulfill a prescription for birth control pills and possible even a morning after pill.  If the prospective pharmacist knows that he or she will be unable to do so, he or she should reconsider careers – or own their own pharmacy.  But it’s simply ludicrous to expect an employer to lose business to accommodate your religious beliefs.

Should a Hindu worker in a slaughterhouse expect to keep his or her job if he or she refuses to slaughter cows?  Or to bring it back around to abortion, should a pro-life nurse who works at an abortion clinic receive a paycheck if he or she won’t assist the doctor perform an abortion? 

Right or wrong, Walgreen’s has chosen to stock emergency contraception pills. Company policy and state law requires their pharmacists to dispense those pills.  If the pharmacists can’t do so, the pharmacists need to find a different employer. 

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