I discovered groups have more rights than individuals from my experience in the public school system. In junior high school, I was required to shower after gym class. The shower was akin to a lawn sprinkler, a pole around 6 feet high which sprayed water in 360 degrees. Prepubescent boys forced to shower together in a circle.
My personal modesty made showering after gym class a horrifying experience. I had no desire to be seen or see my classmates naked. When I and others challenged the need to shower, we were told it was a health issue and important for hygiene.
There was one kid that wasn’t required to shower, because Islam forbids public nudity; he was not forced to participate in this dehumanizing ritual. My own individual beliefs were not held in the same regard as his religious beliefs. Finding the showering akin to being forced to participate in a pedophile’s daydream was simply irrelevant.
I found the public school’s Christmas program personally offensive, because I felt it violated the separation of church and state. I had developed a religious respect for the Constitution at an early age, and deemed the lack of cognitive dissonance from those at school to be hypocritical and disgusting.
My individual view that being forced to participate in the Christmas program was repugnant and immoral fell on deaf ears. I was fully aware at this point that group rights were protected, so I asked my father, who is Jewish, to get me out of the Christmas program. Unfortunately, the answer was a swift “‘No,” because my mother had raised me as a Christian Scientist. My attempt to religion-shape-shift to a different protected group had failed.
My mother, being a Christian Scientist, did not have a problem with using religious exemptions; she asked for and received a religious exemption for my vaccinations. Looking back, I now see how unequal and unfair it was to parents concerned about the safety of vaccinations to have their individual beliefs ignored.
I discussed these issue with my wife, raised as a Jehovah Witness. Jehovah Witnesses didn’t have to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or participate in holiday activities. It seems Jehovah Witnesses are more likely to receive an exemption from a school than atheists. Group belief systems garner more respect than the lack of beliefs.
With the recent healthcare law, I find myself wanting to religion-shape-shift to the Amish faith for the healthcare exemption. I know that however humiliating and morally repugnant I find being forced to participate in the healthcare program is, my own individual beliefs are yet again moot.
My point here is not an anti-religion rant, it’s a pro-individual rant. Individual beliefs are only respected when those beliefs are part of a protected group. Exceptions made for specific groups by their very nature mean there will be individuals that fall outside that group, therefore having fewer rights.
These laws and rules start with the good intention of not forcing someone to something they find morally repugnant. When exemptions are only available to certain groups, there is the unintended consequence of evaluating these groups with rights superior to individual rights.