Thursday, October 05, 2006

Crying "discrimination" too many times

This NAACP chapter has its collective head in an untenable spot.

SPRING VALLEY, N.Y. — The village chapter of the NAACP has filed a complaint accusing the Ben Gilman Medical and Dental Clinic of religious discrimination for closing on Saturdays.

The complaint, filed Sept. 6 with the state's Division of Human Rights, alleges that the clinic's practice of remaining closed Saturdays in observance of operators' Jewish Sabbath, unlawfully imposes their religious beliefs on others.

Complainants say the practice is an unlawful violation of people's civil rights, particularly since the clinic's operator, Monsey-based Community Medical and Dental Care Inc., has received millions of dollars in federal funding.

In addition to the Gilman clinic, Community Medical and Dental Care operates Monsey Medical and Dental Center.

If you read to the bottom of the link, you'll see that this appears to be an outgrowth of an ongoing battle between the clinic and the NAACP. But let's ignore that and focus on the case at hand.

The NAACP has this exactly backward. Religious discrimination would be forcing a Jewish-run clinic to close on Sunday because all the Christian-run clinics are closed that day. Someone deciding to shut their business to observe their personal holy day is an example of religious freedom, not discrimination.

The federal funding makes the argument a little more interesting, but not compellingly so. For one thing, does the NAACP think their constituents would be better off if the clinic simply shut down rather than accept federal funding with such strings attached? And I'll bet federal funds are used by plenty of Christian-run clinics that aren't open on Sunday.

Each clinic has the right to limit its business by limiting the hours it is open. In response, another clinic is free to set up shop to cater to those who wish to have Saturday hours.

There is a legitimate practical concern here in the context of public health: if these clinics constitute the only practical health-care option for the region, then being closed on Saturday represents a gap in coverage. But I doubt this is the case. Spring Valley isn't in the middle of nowhere; there are undoubtedly hospitals and other care providers within a reasonable distance. And even if it were the case, trying to legally compel a business owner to violate their religious beliefs is not the way to go.

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