Local Commentary

Editorial: ‘Right to Conscience’ Equals Discrimination

As residents of the City of Falls Church come into the final weeks of their latest local election season, with absentee voting already underway and the Nov. 5 election day only a few weeks off, there will be some additional opportunities for them to see the candidates (four for three seats for both the City Council and School Board) stand off against each other to clarify their issues and pitch for votes. There will also be the further springtime of lawn signs, lots of door-knocking (and inevitably in some rare cases, loud dog barkings and chasings), League of Women Voters published questionnaires and paid political advertising.

It’s another robust campaign season and we’re grateful for the decision City voters made a few years back to have municipal elections held in November and not May. It was the influence of the old Byrd machine in Virginia that set state legislative elections in off-years, not the same years as national races, in order to better control the outcomes in-state. That may or may not ever change, but for Falls Church, just the heightened turnout of November over May elections definitely helps the public to ensure that its electoral will is adequately expressed.

This election season so far has been markedly genteel and devoid of acrimony, but the first real hint of conflict arose at the School Board debate last Thursday at the American Legion Hall when the toxic phrase, “right to conscience,” was introduced into the debate on inclusivity and affirmation of students without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. Phil Reitinger, the sole incumbent running for re-election, made the existing School Board’s unanimous position clear when he stated, “We support inclusivity, without moderation, as a system. It is not a moral decision made by others. We accept all students who are seeking to learn.”

The remark came after challenger Douglass Stevens argued that there needs to be a way to accept both all students, on the one hand, and those students who may wish to exercise their “right to conscience” on the other.

Readers need to appreciate that the phrase, “right to conscience,” is code, if you will, for “right to discriminate.”

Stevens did not mince words on the subject, saying that it should not be the role of the schools to “take sides” on the issue of full inclusivity versus the so-called “right to conscience,” as in, right to object or oppose the exercise of full inclusivity. That led to Reitinger’s comment that affirmation of full inclusivity, as expressed by the School Board, “is not a moral decision made by others.”

It is a form of the issue expressed nationally in matters before the U.S. Supreme Court as to whether exercise of “religious freedom” permits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment and, in the famous case, of whether a bakery can deny a same-sex couple its services.

F.C. must soundly reject discrimination in all its forms.