There is a new idea in disability services – a wonderful idea.  In the past, disability services were places where students with specific diagnosable permanent disability were able to ask for reasonable accommodations and exceptions to rules in order to succeed.  They still are.  However, it’s become obvious that this is not enough.  Many people requiring accommodation simply aren’t diagnosed or diagnosable; the disability may be temporary or enigmatic; the student may be unwilling or unable to seek professional assistance; they may be very adverse to being singled out for “exceptions”.  So, these days disability services also helps educational institutions to build structures, policies, and student activities that, by their nature, are inclusive of the inherent diversity within the population that these institutions serve.  This does NOT require lowering expectations or changing the goals of the curriculum.  The idea is that the institution should give to all students reasonable flexibility and a range of tools and opportunities so that more students are able to succeed at a high level.The fundamental idea is that if a structure or policy is created that would contribute to the success of students with disabilities, perhaps it would contribute to the success of all students.  A very simple example would be requiring elevators.  Elevators are sometimes thought of as a horrid expense required by ADA only for the purpose of allowing a very small number of people access to a location that they would otherwise not have.  However, the moment a non-disabled student breaks their leg or someone has to transport equipment up a few flights – all the sudden elevators are a useful tool that everyone, at some point, may utilize in order to participate.

It’s simple.  What is good for some students is generally good for all students.  It is better to keep in mind the individuality of students when making decisions that affect everyone, than having rigid structures that require constant exceptions for many students to even have a chance, much less to thrive.

I propose we extend this idea to the concept of religious freedom.

I know we already do to a great degree.  Many clauses for opting out of this or that include language such as “philosophy” or “conscience” – not just religion.

I’m not sure why we can’t just make only the laws completely necessary for the functioning of our society – those laws that cannot be simply tossed out based on someone’s religious belief.  If all that is required to exempt myself from such a law is to say that God told me not to follow it, and that is somehow OKAY, then perhaps that law shouldn’t be imposed on the rest of us.  Perhaps all of us, regardless of readily obtainable diagnosis, should have the same opt-out options?  Wouldn’t that be good for us all?

The way you don’t conduct a secular government is to disallow women to cover their heads.  You don’t pass blasphemy laws.  You don’t curtail the building of churches.  You don’t allow tax exempt status to depend on theology.  You don’t place children into public schools by force.  You don’t allow parents to deny healthcare to their children because God told them to beat the Satan out of their little witch or pray the diabetes away – unless you are willing to allow parents to beat their children and to not medically treat their children onto imminent death “because”.

You also don’t allow someone to refuse to do hir job (such as providing a service for someone) because God told hir not to, without the same consequences as someone simply refusing to do hir job.  It is also inappropriate for any institution to make it more difficult for a person to be able to perform in hir job needlessly.

Why would we make accommodations for someone to take a leave of absence for a religious reason but not a secular one; or a secular one but not a religious one?  Perhaps a policy that allows for the maximum amount of practical flexibility should be employed – and leave the reasons to the personal lives of employees.  Would that be so difficult?

Would the same policies and laws applying to everyone equally be too much to ask?

Maybe both in the private and public sector, in law and in government, people should be treated the same – equally – in great respect for our human diversity?  Could it be that treating people the same is the best way to respect our differences?  Could we simply be allowed to act upon our conscience in the privacy of our minds and our personal lives, regardless of where we believe that conscience comes from?

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