Category Archives: Religious Liberty

Your Religion, My Body….

There has been another attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic–this time, in Colorado. I’ve never quite understood how ostensibly “pro life” men (and they are almost always white Christian men) justify killing for life, but however they understand their Deities to compel these acts of domestic terrorism, their incidence has been growing since the release of the doctored Planned Parenthood tapes.

Ironically, these murderous attacks are far less effective at limiting abortions than the considerably more mundane and seemingly inexorable consolidation of hospitals around the country.

For example, the experience of women needing medical care in Michigan is increasingly being replicated throughout the U.S.

In October, the ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of their members against Trinity Health Corporation, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country, for its repeated and systematic failure to provide women experiencing pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.

In response to the lawsuit, the hospital submitted a brief arguing that state and federal law allow Trinity to “refuse to allow abortions to be performed on hospital premises,” in the context of emergency miscarriage treatment when the woman’s life or health is at risk.

Trinity is legally exempt from having to perform elective abortions. But emergency situations such as those that triggered the ACLU’s lawsuit are another matter; indeed,  refusing to provide emergency care in these situations is medical malpractice. (I couldn’t find any information in a cursory search, but I would be surprised if doctors refusing to adhere to a medical standard of care in such situations aren’t being sued.)

The policy question is simple, although the appropriate resolution is anything but.

Virtually all hospitals depend for their existence upon federal dollars. Those dollars come from taxpayers of all religions and none. Are such institutions entitled to deny people medically appropriate care on the basis of their own religious doctrine? The question is gaining urgency as more and more of the nation’s hospitals have become part of Catholic health-care systems–currently, 10 of the 25 largest hospital systems in the U.S. are Catholic. As the ACLU’s Reproductive Rights project newsletter noted

We know, for example, that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which sets the rules for all Catholic hospitals, has said that its hospitals should let a woman die rather provide an emergency abortion. The bishops made their policy crystal-clear when a Catholic hospital in Phoenix defied the bishops’ rules and saved a woman’s life by providing an abortion. The bishops excommunicated a nun who was on the committee that approved the abortion, and the hospital was stripped of its Catholic status.

There are plenty of doctrinal questions raised by such examples, but those are matters for internal Catholic debate. The question for the rest of us is the same question that is raised in other conflicts pitting civic equality and access to public services against the religious beliefs of people claiming their faith exempts them from treating others as they would wish to be treated–as autonomous persons entitled to make their own moral decisions.

That question is: at what point do the obligations of citizenship in a diverse nation that celebrates civic equality override the “sincerely held religious beliefs”of those who believe they are entitled to be more equal than others?


First World Problems

I know I’m going to get a load of blowback for this, but I’m posting it anyway.

In Bangladesh right now, religious extremists are murdering advocates of secular democracy. Recent religious conflicts in East Timor, the Ivory Coast, Bosnia, Ireland, India and many other countries have been persistent, vicious and bloody.

Meanwhile, here in the good old U.S. of A., college students are irate over insensitive Halloween costumes and fundamentalists are whining about Starbucks unadorned coffee cups.

I have to agree with Asher Miller, who wrote in a recent Resilience column

If offensive Halloween costumes and throwaway holiday coffee cups can generate this much discord and animosity, what happens when Americans are faced with far more complex and challenging situations? I’m afraid that in the coming months and decades there will be no shortage of these …

In this our mainstream media and politicians are doing us no favors, as they feed on anger, resentment, and an “us vs. them” mentality to capture eyeballs, votes, and dollars. Nor is modern communication technology, which fosters an expectation of immediate gratification and instant answers, while allowing us to filter information and interactions to those that reinforce our cognitive biases.

What is really worrisome about our homegrown conflicts is not that they exist, nor that they reflect different perspectives on our common culture. We live in a diverse society, and we should expect–and to the extent possible, accommodate–such differences. What is troubling is the lack of proportion.

So many of these “culture war” conflicts–some manufactured out of whole cloth, some vastly overblown–are what my youngest son calls “First World Problems.”

Let me stipulate that people have every right to criticize clueless folks who appropriate others’ identities or insult minorities by their choice of Halloween costumes. It’s insensitive and tasteless behavior. In the scheme of things, however, it ranks considerably behind machete-wielding in Bangladesh (or for that matter, racist bullying and gay-bashing in the United States).

Coffee cup hysteria is harder to justify. When people’s real lives and liberties are so secure that they have to go looking for offense at Starbucks, we can only assume that they have a very tenuous relation with reality and a deep-seated psychological need to see themselves as victims.

Americans can and should discuss differences in our perceptions and approaches. We should try to understand each other, and appreciate where other folks are coming from.

But we also need to recognize the difference between actual threats to personal safety and/or liberty, and First World Problems.

Americans need to get a grip.

Gotta Give Them Credit for Honesty

Last Sunday I posted about research suggesting the emergence of a “kinder, gentler,” less political Christianity.

The news has evidently not reached Augusta, Virginia.

An ad by the Augusta County Republican Committee touting the need to “Preserve our Christian Heritage” was created to be a reflection of the party’s creed, officials say.

Larry Roller, 87, created the political flier that says, “Preserve our Christian Heritage! VOTE REPUBLICAN” on Nov. 3. The ad ran as an insert in The News Leader Thursday.

God is a foundation of our nation,” said Roller, of Mount Sidney, who is on the GOP committee. “If you read the histories of our founding fathers, (they say) you should not run for office if you are not a Christian.”

Well, I hate to break it to you, Larry, but the founding fathers actually said no such thing. In fact, quite the opposite. That’s why they put that bit in the Constitution about never requiring a religious test for office, and that’s also why the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits government from engaging in activities that “respect an establishment” of religion.

People like Larry remind me of the caller to a radio show I was on a few years ago, who justified his (unconstitutional) position by informing me that “Even James Madison said we’re giving the Bill of Rights to people who live by the Ten Commandments.” When I politely informed him that the quote had been debunked as bogus–and that it was also contrary to everything Madison actually had said–he screamed into the phone “Well I think he said it!” and slammed down the receiver.

In Augusta county, a follow-up story had quotes from a number of local Republican officeholders defending both the ad and Larry’s somewhat unique perspective on the American founding.

When you live in a fact-free world, it’s easier to understand support for people like Donald Trump and Ben Carson…

That Old-Time Religion…Again. And Again.

Oh, Mike! You’ve stepped in it again...

Gov. Mike Pence said his administration is looking into objections raised by religious conservatives after the Indiana State Department of Health sent letters to parents who haven’t vaccinated their children for a type of cervical cancer.

The letter was sent to about 305,000 parents of Indiana children with no record of having started the three-dose vaccine for human papilloma virus, or HPV. The letter encourages them to have their children vaccinated.

Indiana culture warrior Micah Clark received one of those letters (having evidently decided not to protect his own 14-year-old daughter against HPV) and immediately sounded the alarm–not against the disease, but against the “intrusiveness” of the Department of Health. How dare they advise about children’s health!

The vaccination prevents the most common types of HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cancer and genital warts. Indiana ranks 40th in the nation for how many girls between the ages of 13 and 16 have been vaccinated, with about 23 percent having received all three doses of the HPV vaccine.

State Department of Health spokeswoman Jennifer O’Malley said the letters were sent starting the week of Sept. 21 to parents of children with no record of having started the HPV series in the state immunization information system, which is called the Children and Hoosier Immunization Registry Program.

When the vaccine was developed, a number of fundamentalist Christians objected that it would lead young girls to become sexually promiscuous. (Don’t ask me–I don’t get it either.) Our pious Governor previously concluded that the vaccine “is a decision that’s best left to parents in consultation with their doctors.”

It’s hard to see how a reminder letter from health professionals usurps that parental prerogative, but Micah Clark sees a War on Christians behind every tree…or postage stamp.

I don’t know about others, but I am very, very tired of fundamentalists trying to impose bad history and narrow theology on the rest of America.

Recently, USA Today carried a story about something called the Congressional Prayer Caucus. Led by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), the Caucus, which is taxpayer-funded, is part of a  group called the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, coincidentally headquartered in a building owned by Forbes that also houses his campaign office.

The CPC wants “In God We Trust” signs and Ten Commandments monuments in public places, they want prayer to be part of government activities, and they defend gay-bashing chaplains in the military. The CPC criticized President Obama for referring to E Pluribus Unum as the American motto, and advocates removing Establishment Clause cases from the jurisdiction of federal courts.

It isn’t a small group, either. According to David Niose, at one point the CPC had 100 members.

If that isn’t enough to terrify those of us who reside in the 21st Century, take a look at this recent poll, reported by Dailykos

Nationwide, more than a third of Republicans say that Islam should be illegal in the United States, according to a new PPP poll provided exclusively to Daily Kos Elections. Nearly half—a 44 percent plurality—say Christianity should be our official religion.

Those are the Republicans who elected Mike Pence, and those are the voters who will cast their ballots to retain him.

The American Taliban.


Not Your (Founding) Fathers’ Definition of “Religious Liberty”

Sunday Sermon time….

It’s not just the fight over RFRA.

Increasingly, defenders of “religious liberty” are insisting that what their liberty requires is the right to dictate the behaviors and prescribe the rights of others. Any effort to remind these theocrats that non-Christians and nonbelievers are entitled to equal treatment by government is met with outrage and accusations of “political correctness” and “waging war on faith.”

Think I’m exaggerating? These three examples all crossed my desk on a single day:

In Michigan, a Catholic hospital repeatedly refused to perform a medically-necessary tubal ligation, despite the doctor’s strong recommendation.

Weeks after learning she would give birth to her third child, Jessica Mann was faced with a difficult decision: because she was stricken by a life-threatening brain tumor, her doctor recommended she have her fallopian tubes tied at the time of her scheduled cesarean section delivery, later this month….

Mann’s doctor advised her that tubal ligation during the C-section it would be the safest route, consistent with long-established standard of care, and prevent the need for another surgery.

The hospital cited its Catholic affiliation–and its liberty to follow the teachings of  the Church, even if that meant it was sufficiently in conflict with the medical “standard of care” as to be considered malpractice– as justification for the denial.

In Tennessee, self-identified “Sovereign Citizens” are refusing to buy license plates or to register their automobiles. From the Marty Center at the University of Chicago, we learn that

While the sovereign citizen movement is often represented as a collection of scofflaws creating elaborate interpretations of the American legal system in order to scam it, the reality is more complex…

The majority of sovereign citizens conceive of and engage in their claims and practices as religious.

These sovereign citizens claim–and fervently believe–that the law as they espouse it always supersedes other interpretations of the law. Their “liberty” to follow the “real” law is thus more important than the government’s interpretation of the law.

But this is my favorite: In Washington, D.C., a church is actually claiming that the location of a proposed bike lane adjacent to its property would “infringe on its constitutional right to religious freedom.” (You really can’t make this shit up.) As a post at Think Progress pointed out:

Currently, D.C. provides the church with a benefit that is paid for by taxpayers: a road near the church which does not include a bike lane. D.C. proposed offering the church a different benefit which would also be paid for by the city’s taxpayers: a road near the church which does include a bike lane. The church, in effect, is claiming that it has the right to dictate which taxpayer-funded benefits the District of Columbia shall provide, solely because it happens to be a religious organization.

These assertions of “religious liberty” would have baffled the men who drafted America’s Constitution. They are certainly inconsistent with the libertarian construct that emerged from the Enlightenment and influenced America’s founders: the notion that each individual has a right to make his or her own moral choices–follow his own telos–so long as he does not thereby harm the person or property of a non-consenting other and so long as he is willing to accord an equal right to others.

To put the philosophy of the Bill of Rights into modern terminology, it’s pretty much “live and let live.” (Again, so long as you aren’t harming anyone else–and “harming” is admittedly a contestable definition.)

That philosophy definitely isn’t “I get to do what I want, and since I have a direct line to God and Truth, I also get to make you behave the way my religion thinks you should.”

We are each entitled to liberty, not privilege.