Many people know that the great Sandy Koufax chose not to pitch in the first game of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. No big deal: he just went on to win the second, fifth, and seventh games of the Series for the Dodgers. The same problem had faced the great Tigers first baseman Hank Greenberg decades earlier, and would face a later Dodger, Shawn Green, just a few years ago.
But, in the spirit of Chaim Potok, let’s imagine a great baseball player — an outfielder, say — who would not play on the Sabbath. A pretty tough situation for his team, especially if (as might actually happen) they’re in a pennant race late in the season and find themselves faced with a Friday night game and a Saturday afternoon doubleheader.
Koufax and Greenberg and Green were each faced with an unusual situation, the kind of thing that might happen only a handful of times, if at all, in a long career. So not too many people were likely to be upset at their staying out of a game. But in the case of the imaginary star outfielder, some people will surely think that the strictness of his conscience, coupled with the regularity of the Sabbath, create an environment in which he should probably consider another line of work.
Stanley Fish asks, “Isn’t it a matter of conscience (in [Thomas] Hobbes’s sense) to abide by the rules that define the profession you’ve signed up for?” The answer, historically, seems to be “It depends.” If you generally abide by those rules, but there are rare circumstances in which you dissent, you can be cut some slack; but if your conscience regularly puts you at odds with your profession, that profession may be justified in ushering you out the door.
So it’s a sliding scale, and there’s no iron-clad law that will determine how much dissent is too much. What about the pro-life “health care professionals . . . who refuse involvement with abortion and contraception issues”? The Obama administration apparently thinks they’re like my imgainary Sabbatarian outfielder; I think they’re much more like Sandy Koufax, which is why I agree with Francis Cardinal George.