Category Archives: Religious Liberty

Whose “Religious Liberty” Do We Protect?

A couple of years ago, the website Raw Story had a troubling report about a conflict between religion and individual rights that is both accelerating and less visible than the high-profile conflicts (think Kentucky clerk) that make the news.

Healthcare providers and institutions are increasingly consolidating. In Washington State, for example, if all of the mergers planned when the Raw Story article was written were consummated, all hospital beds in nine counties are tied to religious institutions. That includes the University of Washington system.

Why should we care? Why is this is medically problematic?

Recently a woman was traveling across the Midwest when she developed abdominal pain. She and her husband went to the nearest hospital, where she was diagnosed with a potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy. The doctors recommended immediate surgery to remove the fallopian tube containing the misplaced embryo, a procedure that would reduce by half her future chances of conceiving a child. They failed to mention that a simple injection of Methotrexate could solve the problem, leaving her fertility intact. (In fact, at a secular hospital she found on her smart phone, it subsequently did.) Why the omission?

According to Catholic teaching, an injection that destroys an ectopic embryo counts as an  abortion; removing the part of a woman’s reproductive system containing the embryo is not.

The article has several other examples of situations, both in the U.S. and abroad, where theological commitments have trumped sound medical practice. In 2012, for example, a 16-year-old Dominican girl was denied cancer treatment for weeks while doctors debated whether chemotherapy would constitute an abortion. She eventually miscarried and later died.

An angry father shared his daughter’s experience:

A Catholic doctor at a Catholic hospital went against my daughter’s wishes and signed consent to have a hysterectomy because of severe endometriosis. One ovary had already exploded. My daughter had never intended or desired children nor was she in a suitable situation to have a child. She was single, in her late 20s. When she awoke from surgery she learned that the doctor had over-ridden her wishes and consent in an attempt to save her fertility. The operation was botched, leaving my daughter on permanent disability, in pain, with even more health problems than she’d had before.

When we go into a hospital, most of us expect our doctors and other healthcare providers to honor our expressed treatment directives. Many of us have Living Wills or other healthcare documents that reflect our own considered, deeply-held beliefs.

When a patient’s wishes are disregarded because they are inconsistent with someone else’s religion, that’s an unjustified denial of religious liberty–a denial that is particularly egregious because the  “bargaining power” of the parties is so unequal.

In a diverse society committed to civic equality, hospitals dependent upon government funds (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) should be required to respect the decisions of adult, competent patients.

And medical practices consistent with accepted standards of care should never take a back seat to doctrine.

Privilege and Persecution

Can you stand one more rumination triggered by the marriage license controversy in Kentucky?

Usually, when Americans talk about inequality, we’re talking about economic disparities; over the past several years, such conversations have tended to focus on the troubling and growing gap between the “one-percenters” and everyone else. But every once in a while, we need to remind ourselves and our fellow Americans that there are other kinds of inequality—sometimes affecting economic opportunity, sometimes not—that can also be deeply corrosive of public life and civility.

The obvious example, of course, is racism, which has become more visible due to some white folk’s seething resentment over Obama’s election. But racism isn’t the only manifestation of tribalism and legal disadvantage that the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to address.

The past few weeks, we’ve seen a flare-up of America’s long-simmering “culture war,” thanks to Kim Davis, the Kentucky County Clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and defied several court orders demanding that she follow the law.

Her legal position is untenable, even ludicrous. (She has a constitutional right to religious liberty but no right to hold a government position and no right to use that position to deny equal rights to others.) But her defiance has once again exposed a persistent belief on the part of many Americans that this is a “Christian Nation,” and that any denial of Christian privilege is tantamount to persecution.

Indeed, in a particularly offensive assertion of that perspective, Davis’ lawyer characterized her five days in jail for contempt of court as “just like what happened” to Jews in Nazi Germany.

Several Republican candidates for President have rushed to defend Davis and “religious liberty.” An increasingly unhinged Mike Huckabee has warned of the imminent “criminalization” of Christianity; rhetoric from Cruz, Trump, Jindal and others has been equally intemperate. Anyone listening to them would conclude that secularists control America and are oppressing the few remaining Christians.

Sane people, on the other hand, observe that over seventy percent of Americans identify as Christian, that every President the country has ever elected has been Christian, and that Christians—at least white ones—are privileged by the culture to an extent that few of them recognize or admit. Christians routinely get time off work to celebrate religious holidays, Christian music and television programs with Christian themes fill the airways, and multiple stores carry items Christians need in order to celebrate religious holidays. Unlike Muslims, Jews and others, Christians aren’t pressured to celebrate holidays that conflict with their religious values. The (extensive) list goes on.

The erosion of privilege can trigger unpleasant responses from those who feel entitled to deference. Some men react badly as women make inroads into what was once a “man’s world.” Efforts to ameliorate structural racism engender hostility and resentment. We probably shouldn’t be surprised to see the same reaction from those who have uncritically accepted Christian privilege as their due, and who consider any diminution of their exalted social status an unwarranted affront.

How did Orwell put it in Animal Farm? Everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.

And some want to keep it that way.





Faux History For God

I’ve often repeated Pat Moynahan’s famous adage: we are all entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts.

I stand corrected.

In Texas (where else?), “educators” unsatisfied with actual American history have responded by creating their own. Because God.

Did you have any idea that our first President believed that government required God and the Bible in order to function? And are you familiar with the following quote from President Ronald Reagan? “Within the covers of the Bible are the answers for all the problems men face.”  Chances are you haven’t heard of either of these – because they’re both fiction. George Washington is better categorized as a Deist (rather than a traditional Christian), and Reagan never made such a statement about the Bible.

It’s part of a strange indoctrination strategy at a small school district in eastern Texas. On the walls of the school hallways and classrooms are many such alleged “passages” from the Bible and “statements” attributed to prominent figures in American history that all are inaccurate, misquoted, taken out of context, and even made up out of whole cloth.

The school’s practice of inventing “suitably” pious quotations with which to indoctrinate children came to light after a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged the quotations.  According to the organization’s attorney Samuel Grover:

“The district cannot even fall back on the argument that these quotes have educational merit, given the many examples of misquotes, misattributions, and entirely fraudulent quotes displayed on its walls…The district sets a poor example for its students if it cannot be bothered to fact check the messages it chooses to endorse.”

With all due respect, I don’t think the problem was “failure to fact check.” I think the problem was the readiness of dishonest people to invent a history that would be more consistent with their religious preferences than that pesky thing called reality….

I guess they missed that place in the Ten Commandments about “bearing false witness.”

Suffer the Little Children

File under: unbelievable and despicable.

As numerous news sources have reported, a second grade student at Forest Park Elementary School in Fort Wayne was asked by a classmate where he went to church. The seven-year-old said he didn’t go to church, and didn’t believe in God–but it was fine with him if the girl posing the question believed in God.

This evidently upset the girl, who began to cry. At that point, the teacher stepped in. And punished the second-grader. She told him she was “very concerned” about what he had done. Then she required him to sit by himself at lunch and forbid him to talk to the other children. For three days.

According to the lawsuit that has been filed on the second-grader’s behalf:

A.B. had been publicly separated from his classmates and informed that he could not speak to them. All the students in his class heard and were aware of this. He was publicly shamed and made to feel that his personal beliefs were terribly wrong.

No efforts were made to correct the damages that had been done.

A.B. came home from school on multiple occasions crying saying that he knows that everyone at school — teachers and students — hate him.

Even now there are some classmates who will not talk to A.B.

Even now A.B. remains anxious and fearful about school, which is completely contrary to how he felt before this incident.

What kind of teacher humiliates a second-grader for sharing beliefs of which she doesn’t approve? Would she treat a Jewish or Muslim or Sikh child this way? Or is her lack of compassion and humanity reserved for children from non-religious families?

And why is she in a classroom?

No, Public Officials Aren’t “Ministers of God”

Oh Alabama…Are you trying to out-Texas Texas?

For years, we’ve watched the antics of crazy Judge Roy Moore–he of the 5-ton Ten Commandments fiasco– who somehow managed to get himself re-elected to the Alabama Supreme Court a couple of years ago. (Moore is a poster child for the proposition that Judges ought not be popularly elected.)

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, Moore has (predictably) gone over the edge. Far, far over. So has the lawyer representing him, who is apparently as delusional about the American legal system and the settled meaning of the First Amendment as his client.

In a letter to Alabama’s Governor urging defiance of the Supreme Court’s decision, the lawyer–Win Johnson–wrote:

Public officials are ministers of God assigned the duty of punishing the wicked and protecting the righteous. If the public officials decide to officially approve of the acts of the wicked, they must logically not protect the righteous from the wicked. In fact, they must become protectors of the wicked. You cannot serve two masters; you must pick — God or Satan.

And you know whose side that crafty Satan is on….

I’m not sure what law school Mr. Johnson attended, but the fact that he actually matriculated should be cause for considerable concern.

This isn’t just a misunderstanding of separation of church and state;  it’s civil law as understood by the Taliban.