Contemporary American society reminds me a lot of Orwell’s Animal Farm, where everyone was equal, but some were more equal than others…
The last few years have ushered in a long-overdue recognition of the concept of privilege: we are at least beginning to discuss what we mean by white privilege and male privilege, and the ways in which unconscious cultural biases operate to disadvantage non-white, non-male citizens. Those conversations are important, and we need to continue them, but I want to suggest that it is also time–indeed, well past time–to address religious privilege.
It’s getting out of hand.
Just last week, a legislative committee in Tennessee approved a bill that would make the “Holy Bible” the “official book” of Tennessee.
In Mississippi, the legislature passed a bill that “gives protection to those in the state who cannot in a good conscience provide services for a same-sex marriage.”
North Carolina recently “protected” good Christian folks from having to share restrooms with citizens of whom they disapprove, among other things.
Other states–notably Indiana–have passed measures clearly intended to cater to the religious beliefs of some (certainly not all) Christians about abortion, despite the fact that those measures demonstrably harm women.
Meanwhile, scientists continually fight efforts to introduce creationism into science classrooms, and civil libertarians oppose ongoing attempts to introduce prayer and religious observances into the nation’s increasingly diverse public schools.
All of these efforts, even those that have been repeatedly struck down by the courts as inconsistent with our First Amendment liberties, are met with a degree of respect that we would not accord other illegal actions. For that matter, these self-proclaimed “Christians” expect–and receive–a level of deference not accorded to atheists, or even members of other, less privileged religions.
As I write this, the Supreme Court is considering whether religiously affiliated organizations that employ people of many faiths and none can refuse to allow those employees access to birth control through their health insurance policies. The government has already bent over backwards to accommodate religious objections: the employer need not pay for the birth control and needs only to inform the government of its objection; the insurer will then provide contraceptives directly to the employee. The organizations are arguing that requiring the act of notification“burdens” their religious liberty.
In an analysis of that case, The Nation recently asked a pertinent question: Can religious groups simply ignore all the laws they don’t like?
Given their constant insistence on privileging the pious, it might be well to reflect upon the performance of our sanctimonious “family values” politicians. Those of us who live in Indiana are painfully aware of the damage done by self-proclaimed Christians with little or no interest in actually governing, but it is worth noting that things are even worse in deep-red Alabama. H/T Steve Benen at Rachel Maddow’s blog, reporting on Governor Bentley’s deepening sex scandal:
The Birmingham News’ John Archibald published a brutal column today noting that Alabama’s state government is simply unraveling: the governor is mired in scandal; the lieutenant governor is widely seen as “unfit to serve”; the state House Speaker is currently awaiting trial on 23 felony counts; and the state Supreme Court’s chief justice is Roy Moore, whose crackpot views have already forced his ouster once, and who can hardly be counted on to adjudicate responsibly going forward.
But they all go to church. And hold prayer meetings. And quote the bible. And (like Indiana’s Governor) they clearly believe that those attributes–not compassion, not administrative competence, not constitutional scholarship, not personal probity– are the qualities that entitle them to use the power of the state to force the rest of us to behave as they see fit.
We really need to stop privileging people who want to impose their beliefs on the rest of us, whether those beliefs are ideological or religious in origin.
We definitely need to remind these self-righteous theocrats that in America, wrapping themselves in religious dogma does not make them more equal than anyone else.