Question for today: Are women human? Are we people in the eyes of our government? We’ve been told that corporations are people. We know that white men are people–that was established by the U.S. Constitution when it was ratified in 1789. Since that time, there have been amendments that granted some rights to non-white men and to women. We can vote now. Does that mean our government recognizes our humanity?
Today our ultra-conservative, mostly Catholic Supreme Court will hear two cases that bring this question to the forefront, and the Court’s decisions may give us some answers to the question of whether American women are officially people with individual rights.
From MSNBC: Supreme Court to hear birth control case
Depending on whom you ask, Tuesday morning’s oral argument at the Supreme Court is about whether Obamacare can keep treading on religious liberty – or it’s about a woman’s right to access contraception on her employee insurance plan, no matter what her employer thinks of it. Either way, it is the first time the Affordable Care Act will be at the nation’s highest Court since it was first largely upheld as constitutional. The same two men as in that case, current Solicitor General Don Verrilli and former Bush administration solicitor general Paul Clement, are facing off to argue over a narrower provision.
Before the Supreme Court decides whether the contraceptive coverage required of insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act violates a 1993 law governing religious liberty, it has to settle the threshold question: Does a corporation even have religious liberty?
I think the question about the rights of women is far broader than that. Without access to birth control and abortion, a woman has no real autonomy as a human being. If she becomes pregnant–even through rape–she loses the ability to make choices about her future life. It has been a relatively short period of time since women have had the power to make those choices. But that power has led to other advances for women–such as the right to prosecute a rapist or an abusive boyfriend or husband, the right to have credit in her own name, the right to an education, and entry into careers from which women were previously blocked. We can only hope that the justices see clearly what their decisions will mean for women’s lives and women’s personhood.
Back to the MSNBC article:
Hobby Lobby Stores, an Oklahoma-based, evangelical-owned craft chain with about 13,000 employees, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a small Mennonite-owned cabinet maker in Pennsylvania, sued the administration and got two very different answers from the lower courts. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals declared of Hobby Lobby that “such corporations can be ‘persons’ exercising religion.” In ruling on Conestoga’s bid for exemption from the requirement, the Third Circuit disagreed: “For-profit secular corporations cannot exercise in religious exercise.”
The companies are among the 47 for-profit corporations that have objected to their company plans complying with the minimum coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act. Under those regulations, contraception is covered fully, without a co-pay, as preventive care. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood object to a handful of contraceptives that they speculate can block a fertilized egg, which is neither documented in the science nor the medical definition of abortion. Other for-profit plaintiffs object to any birth control coverage at all….
The Obama administration says that the government has a compelling interest in women’s health and in gender equality. The Department of Health and Human Services agreed to classify contraceptives as preventive care after considering testimony from medical experts, who cited the country’s high rate of unintended pregnancy and the persistence cost barriers to accessing effective birth control.
Some legal experts argue that to rule for Hobby Lobby would be imposing religion on others, by forcing the women who work for such companies to pay the cost of their employers’ religion. Frederick Gedicks, a law professor at Brigham Young, has even argued in a brief before the Court that doing so would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
What will SCOTUS decide?
At NPR, Nina Totenberg offers some scary quotes from Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby:
“We believe that the principles that are taught scripturally is what we should operate our lives by … and so we cannot be a part of taking life,” explains Hobby Lobby President Steve Green.
“It’s our rights that are being infringed upon to require us to do something against our conscience,” adds CEO and founder David Green.
Using birth control is “taking a life?” Apparently one of the arguments Hobby Lobby is using that–contrary to scientific facts–some forms of birth control are equal to abortion. So is every sperm is sacred too? Should men be prosecuted for masturbating? But those questions are not likely to be asked, because it is already legally established that men are people.
At the WaPo, Sandra Fluke writes: At the Supreme Court, a potential catastrophe for women’s rights.
Unlike my congressional testimony in 2012, which was about Georgetown University — a Catholic-affiliated university — refusing to include contraception in student insurance because it was a religiously affiliated school, the institutions arguing before the Supreme Court are not houses of worship or religious non-profits. The Affordable Care Act already includes special arrangements for those types of organizations. These are private, for-profit corporations — a craft store and a cabinet manufacturer — that want to be excluded from health insurance and employment laws because of bosses’ personal views.
Laws that include religious protection have never given corporations the right to have religious views, and it would be a terrible idea to make such an enormous change to our legal precedent now. Our laws protect individuals’ private religious beliefs, but when you cross over into the public sphere to become a corporation and make a profit off of the public, you must abide by the public’s laws.
Depending on the court’s rulings, the cases’ outcomes could deny millions of women coverage of any or all forms of birth control, limiting women’s ability to control their reproductive health, plan their pregnancies and manage their lives. As I testified, women also need birth control for many other medical reasons, including relief of painful health problems like endometriosis.
And, Fluke argues, recognizing a right for corporations to hold religious views will open the door to
Allowing any private employer to dictate which laws fit inside its religious beliefs could upset the necessary balance of both religious liberty and employee health and safety laws. Depending on the exact ruling, any for-profit corporation could cut off its employees’ insurance coverage for blood transfusions, vaccinations or HIV treatment — all of which some Americans have religious objections to. Any critical health coverage the boss doesn’t agree with could be eliminated.
Furthermore, SCOTUS could not limit these proposed “religious freedoms” to Christians.
Although this country predominantly descends from a Judeo-Christian tradition, our valuable religious protection laws ensure that anyone is free to practice any religion they want, including religions whose belief systems and practices many of us would disagree with vehemently. In fact, far-ranging beliefs that are not associated with any organized religion could be used to justify a corporation’s practices as well.
Sahil Kapur of TPM points out that Justice Scalia, who might be expected to vote in favor of a corporate “right to religious freedom,” will have to deal with one of his previous rulings: Justice Scalia’s Past Comes Back To Haunt Him On Birth Control.
In 1990, Scalia wrote the majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, concluding that the First Amendment “does not require” the government to grant “religious exemptions” from generally applicable laws or civic obligations. The case was brought by two men in Oregon who sued the state for denying them unemployment benefits after they were fired from their jobs for ingesting peyote, which they said they did because of their Native American religious beliefs.
“[T]he right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability,” Scalia wrote in the 6-3 majority decision, going on to aggressively argue that such exemptions could be a slippery slope to lawlessness and that “[a]ny society adopting such a system would be courting anarchy.”
“The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind,” he wrote, “ranging from compulsory military service, to the payment of taxes, to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws, and traffic laws; to social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, animal cruelty laws, environmental protection laws, and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races.”
That opinion could haunt the jurist if he seeks to invalidate the birth control rule.
“Scalia will have to reckon with his own concern in Smith about the lawlessness and chaos created by liberal exemptions to generally applicable law,” said Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA. “For him to uphold an exemption now is to invite more of the lawlessness that he warned about.”
At Think Progress, Ian Millhiser addresses the right wing organizations that have waged a concerted war against women’s rights during the past several years: Read This One Document To Understand What The Christian Right Hopes To Gain From Hobby Lobby.
2009 was a grim year for social conservatives. Barack Obama was an ambitious and popular new president. Republicans, and their conservative philosophy, were largely discredited in the public eye by a failed war and a massive recession. And the GOP’s effort to reshape its message was still in its awkward adolescence. If the conservative movement had a mascot, it would have been a white man dressed as Paul Revere and waving a misspelled sign.
Amidst this wreckage, more than two hundred of the nation’s leading Christian conservatives joined together in a statement expressing their dismay at the state of the nation. “Many in the present administration want to make abortions legal at any stage of fetal development,” their statement claimed, while “[m]ajorities in both houses of Congress hold pro-abortion views.” Meanwhile, they feared that the liberals who now controlled the country “are very often in the vanguard of those who would trample upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife.”
The signatories to this statement, which they named the “Manhattan Declaration,” included many of America’s most prominent Catholic bishops and clergy of similar prominence in other Christian sects. It included leaders oftop anti-gay organizations like the National Organization for Marriage, and of more broadly focused conservative advocacy shops such as the Family Research Council. It included university presidents and deans from Christian conservative colleges. And it included the top editors from many of the Christian right’s leading publications.
Perhaps most significantly, however, the document’s signatories includes Alan Sears, the head of one of the two conservative legal groups litigating what are likely to be the two most important cases decided by the Supreme Court this term. Indeed, the Manhattan Declaration offers a virtual roadmap to understanding what religious conservatives hope to gain from Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, two cases the justices will hear Tuesday which present the question whether a business owner’s religious objections to birth control trump their legal obligation to include it in their employee’s health plan.
Read the gory details at the link.
Finally, I ask that everyone read this year-old article at Time Magazine by Jessica Winter, Subject for Debate: Are Women People? It is both darkly humorous and deadly serious.
All my adult life, I’ve been pretty sure I’m a sentient, even semi-competent human being. I have a job and an apartment; I know how to read and vote; I make regular, mostly autonomous decisions about what to eat for lunch and which cat videos I will watch whilst eating my lunch. But in the past couple of months, certain powerful figures in media and politics have cracked open that certitude.
You see, like most women, I was born with the chromosome abnormality known as “XX,” a deviation of the normative “XY” pattern. Symptoms of XX, which affects slightly more than half of the American population, include breasts, ovaries, a uterus, a menstrual cycle, and the potential to bear and nurse children. Now, many would argue even today that the lack of a Y chromosome should not affect my ability to make informed choices about what health care options and lunchtime cat videos are right for me. But others have posited, with increasing volume and intensity, that XX is a disability, even a roadblock on the evolutionary highway. This debate has reached critical mass, and leaves me uncertain of my legal and moral status. Am I a person? An object? A ward of the state? A “prostitute”? (And if I’m the last of these, where do I drop off my W-2?)
Please go read the whole thing. It’s not long.
So . . . those are my recommended reads for today. What stories are you following? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.
I am a coward. A big fat coward. I’ve spent the last countless days avoiding the computer so that I could have an excuse not to go online.
Why? Because one of my oldest childhood friends from Florida…whom I’ve lost touch with over the years, but is someone who is connected deeply to my memories of growing up that I could not even comprehend a world without her…this person who shared life dreams with me…is currently getting treatment for third-stage breast cancer.
The chemo is making her sick as hell. Her long natural curly hair is all gone, she’s bald, and the things that seem to keep her going now are the three kids (20, 15 and 6) and her crazy family and her close friends, which are more like family to her then the one she and her sister survived from.
Honestly, I cannot tell you how many adversities she has fought through. My one repeated memory of her locking her bedroom door when we were little, and sleeping with a kitchen knife under the bed should give you a hint. The fact that the mother did not “believe” the stories…or divorce the father until years later. Oh…it is amazing that the family has even worked through it, albeit understandably with tensions still intact.
I finally sent her a message yesterday and told her what a coward I was…and why I had not responded to her the past couple of days. I am so pissed at myself.
It really makes me want to check out even more, especially with so much crap going on, and so many good people like my friend…struggling to get through the day. As if she did not have all the shitty obstacles of her life to get across, then to have additional road blocks put up by rich ass dickwad politicians and hypocritical assholes. The hoops she has jump to get her treatments covered in Gov. Rick Scott aka Voldemort’s State of Florida is ridiculous. It just adds to an already stressful situation. I hate it.
The reason for that longer than usual opening is to give you the sense of my mood. My frustrations.
Now, on to a few items of fancy this morning…you see these old comic clips?
Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.
Sheena, Queen of the Jungle is a fictional, American comic book jungle girl heroine, originally published primarily by Fiction House. She was the first female comic-book character with her own title, with her 1937 (in Great Britain; 1938 in the United States) premiere preceding Wonder Woman #1 (cover-dated Dec. 1941). Sheena inspired a wealth of similar comic-book jungle queens. She was predated in literature by Rima, the Jungle Girl, introduced in the 1904 William Henry Hudson novel Green Mansions. Sheena was ranked 59th in Comics Buyer’s Guide’s “100 Sexiest Women in Comics” list.
An orphan who grew up in the jungle, learning how to survive and thrive there, she possessed the ability to communicate with wild animals and was proficient in fighting with knives, spears, bows, and makeshift weapons.
This woman kicks ass…as you can see if you take a look at her archive of comics:
Here…at this link (which is a site Boston Boomer sent to me a little while ago The Digital Comic Museum and it is fantastic.) The Digital Comic Museum > Sheena, Queen of the Jungle
Both are good sites with lots of downloadable comics that have become part of the public domain.
One thing you will notice is the change in Sheena as she transitions into the 1950′s woman.
Take a look at this gallery of covers and see the way she is represented, in both the artwork and situations on the covers and the various titles and headlines.
Sheena went from a cover where she is alone kicking a guy’s ass in a crocodile suit and, “She rules a world of killer beast and savage men!” to an ape grabbing her suggestively around the waist, and a dudebro saving her by shooting another ape with, “Trek the jungle trails of killer beast and savage men with Sheena wild beauty of the Congo.”
Well, that was just my observation.
The Digital Comic Museum has some wonderful comics to look through. Luckily they have more Women in Red comics, so maybe another installment of our shero is in the future?
Sally the Sleuth in Crime Smashers (Check out the first Sally the Sleuth story here… Love the lipstick gun!), Firehair Queen of the Sagebrush Frontier, Lady Luck (who was later replaced by Wendy the Waitress) and the dames in Gangsters and Gun Molls and Underworld.
I think if you spend some time, and bookmark some of those pages, you will have an enjoyable few hours wasted away…and forget reality of what is going on in the real world…where those women in the comic books from the 40′s seemed to be given more credit for being an individual “thinking” human being (flawed or not) than what the assholes give women of today. I mean I am not blind to the advances that have been made, but seriously? Links below the jump will connect to this point.
The most ridiculous meme to come out of the right wing recently is that the Constitution supports the right to ruin other people’s lives because of one’s narrow grasp on reality coming from one fairly narrow view of one very specific religion. Those of us that don’t want to adhere to their delusions are persecuting them! No matter how many times these people couch their bigotry, suspension of belief in science, and greed agenda in their religious beliefs, most of us know that it’s simply an agenda of narrow minded hatred that demands conformity from all. The sad thing is that one political party in a two party state has been completely railroaded by these religious extremists who confuse the establishment clause of our Constitution with their right to ramrod everything they label the correct”religion” down every one else’s throat.
One of the worst examples of blatant pandering to this crowd comes from this speech by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who professes to be a Catholic, has a degree in biology from a good school, and seems to wander one day from the message of not being the stupid party to being its main spokesperson. Why does Politico give this loser–who has no chance at ever being President and will never hold another elected office in Louisiana because we all royally disapprove of him–a voice? Which Billionaire Asshat has paid for the virtual column space? Bobby Jindal is obviously going for the Bachmann contingent in Iowa’s weird republican caucuses. He’s picked up Sarah Palin’s War on Christmas book and read straight from it.
In a Thursday night speech at Ronald Reagan’s presidential library, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will warn of a “silent war” on religious liberty in America and urge states to pass laws designed to block overreach by the Obama administration.
The 4,500-word address, shared first with POLITICO, touches on several hot-button issues, including same-sex marriage and contraception. Jindal, a potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate trying to woo social conservatives, argues that liberals will use the mantra of anti-discrimination to force people to violate their religious beliefs.
“The American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war,” Jindal will say at the Simi Valley, Calif., event. “It threatens the fabric of our communities, the health of our public square and the endurance of our constitutional governance.”
“This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power,” he adds, according to the prepared remarks. “It is pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith into a land where faith is silenced, privatized and circumscribed.”
The 42-year-old governor calls the upcoming Supreme Court decision on whether government can force Hobby Lobby craft stores to cover contraception through their health insurance plans just one of the battles being fought over religious liberty.
Citing a piece of failed legislation in Illinois, Jindal suggests that liberals will eventually try to pass laws designed to pressure churches to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies against their will. He also will blast the New Mexico Supreme Court for ruling last August that a wedding photography business violated the state’s Human Rights Act by refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony.
“This is the next stage of the assault, and it is only beginning,” Jindal plans to say. “Today, an overwhelming majority of those who belong to a religious denomination in America — that’s more than half the country — are members of organizations that affirm the traditional definition of marriage. All of those denominations will be targeted in large and small degrees in the coming years.”
This is pure nonsense and is obviously Jindal’s bid to get attention in the Iowa Caucuses. No one is doing anything to any one inside their churches. This so reminds me of watching the screaming mimis in front of schools being forced to segregate. None of us should have to endure their craziness in public spaces. PERIOD. No one should be treated like a second class citizen because some one selectively pulls a few lines out of a seriously edited, reedited, and badly translated bit of iron age fiction then screams it’s my right to do whatever I want to because BIBLE! That’s just so astoundingly unAmerican it’s not even funny. In that case, I’ll just suggest we all stand out there with stones in our hands and assert our right to stone them for wearing the wrong hair style, eating shellfish and pigs, and sporting polyblend clothing. It’s our gawdamned religious rights!!!
Unfortunately, Jindal’s delusions are the new crazy republican legislative push. Kansas continues to be at the epicenter of insanity and hatred. Opposing marriage equality by way of screaming religious freedom is the new refuge of the narrow minded. It was the same refuge used to justify slavery and stop interracial mixing and marrying back in the day. It’s also being used on women who overwhelmingly use birth control. A few folks think all women should live within the bounds of their weird ethos. This group that seems to have no idea that forcing you religious beliefs on birth control or abortion on your employees or your neighbors is the religious bigotry. These religious views should not get to trump every one else’s ethos.
Virtually all secularists and even the vast majority of American Catholics see no problem with the use of artificial birth control, so the issue doesn’t generate much sympathy in the public at large. Then there’s the fact that the Obama administration created a contraception exemption for churches and at least some other religiously based organizations. Isn’t that good enough?
Apparently it isn’t for the numerous groups that have filed suit in the matter. And sorry, but their concerns can’t just be waved away by linking to a column by Linda Greenhouse that expresses contemptuous condescension for the plaintiffs in one of the cases (an order of nuns called the Little Sisters of the Poor). The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, but Greenhouse thinks the suit is ridiculous; therefore, the justices have been brainwashed by a seductive “story.” That’s really all there is to her argument.
As Lyle Denniston explains in a helpful post at SCOTUSblog, the issues raised by the case — and by the other mandate-related cases before the court this term — are real, though they will inevitably appear to be trivial to those who regularly view religious truth claims as trivial.
As for gay marriage and anti-discrimination, Chotiner appears not to recognize that his own flippant views — which are very widely held among secular liberals — pose a very real threat to the religious freedom of millions of his fellow citizens. As countless liberals have done before him, Chotiner breezily equates those believers who once appealed to Scripture in defense of racism and those who currently reject gay marriage. The first position has been socially, morally, and legally marginalized with no negative consequences for faith, Chotiner asserts, and the same will soon be true about the second. So what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that strictures against homosexuality are rooted far more deeply in the Judeo-Christian tradition than racism ever was. Yes, slavery is found throughout the Scriptures and comes in for criticism only, at best, by implication. But race-based slavery — and the racism that made it possible and continues to infect ideas and institutions throughout the West to this day — receives no explicit endorsement from the Bible.
Which isn’t to say that those seeking to justify race-based slavery or racism couldn’t, and didn’t, twist biblical passages to make them provide such justification. But the Hebrew Bible and New Testament clearly do not teach (either explicitly or implicitly) that buying, owning, and selling African slaves is next to godliness.
Denying services to same-sex couples may soon become legal in Kansas.
House Bill 2453 explicitly protects religious individuals, groups and businesses that refuse services to same-sex couples, particularly those looking to tie the knot.
It passed the state’s Republican-dominated House on Wednesdaywith a vote of 72-49, and has gone to the Senate for a vote.
Such a law may seem unnecessary in a state where same-sex marriage is banned, but some Kansas lawmakers think different.
They want to prevent religious individuals and organizations from getting sued, or otherwise punished, for not providing goods or services to gay couples — or for not recognizing their marriages or committed relationship as valid.
This includes employees of the state.
The law claims to protect the rights of religious people, but gender rights advocates such as Equality Kansas are dismayed.
“Kansans across the state are rightly appalled that legislators are spending their efforts to pass yet another piece of legislation that seeks to enshrine discrimination against gay and lesbian people into law,” state chairwoman Sandra Meade said.
“HB 2453 is a blatant attempt to maintain second-class citizen status for taxpaying gay and lesbian Kansans.”
Despite the blowback, its chances of passing seem pretty good.
Republicans dominate the state’s Senate and Gov. Sam Brownback is a conservative Christian known for taking a public stand against same-sex marriage.
Brownback has already praised the bill in an interview with a local newspaper.
“Americans have constitutional rights, among them the right to exercise their religious beliefs and the right for every human life to be treated with respect and dignity,” he told The Topeka Capital-Journal.
Yes. If you offend some one’s religious “sensibilities” in Kansas, it is perfectly alright for them to persecute you, deny you service, and basically turn you into third class citizen. How can any of this be remotely legal let alone put into law? How can your employers religion or the religion of the Subway franchise owner on the corner trump your right to avoid their prescriptions and proscriptions?
Let’s start, though, with the argument most people have focused on during the run-up to the contraceptive-mandate cases—that being for-profit corporations, the challengers cannot assert a “free exercise” claim at all. It’s a strong argument, but one that takes more subtlety to assert than most published comments seem to display.
That’s because it is routine to say that free exercise is an individual right, and that “corporations are not people.” But in this context, the argument is flawed at the outset. Free exercise is actually primarily a group right, extended to religious bodies, in corporate form or other wise. The term “free exercise” in fact originally referred to a right held only by groups. It dates back at least to the 17th Century, and is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the right or permission to celebrate the observances (of a religion)”—that is, a privilege granted by monarchs to specific faiths to hold their services in public.
Religion, Emile Durkheim wrote, is primarily a set of “beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.” Most religious “exercise” can’t be done alone. One of the earliest—and most embarrassing—cases brought under the Free Exercise Clause was entitled Late Corporation of the Presiding Bishop v. United States, which upheld an Act of Congress dissolving the Mormon Church and seizing all its property ($3,000,000 in 1887 dollars). The Mormons argued that punishing their church for polygamous beliefs violated the First Amendment, but the Court ridiculed the idea. “No doubt the Thugs of India imagined that their belief in the right of assassination was a religious belief,” the justices briskly reasoned, “but their thinking so did not make it so.”
Can anyone imagine this case coming out the same way in 2014, on the grounds that a corporation has no religious rights? Or that the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ parent company, The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Inc., has no rights except the individual rights of its members?
The important distinction here, of course, is that Hobby Lobby and the other challengers are for-profit corporations. The Mormon Church, like a lot of religious bodies, is a religious corporation. And despite the disinformation floating around about the Little Sisters of the Poor case, religious corporations have a very firm exemption to the contraceptive mandate. Would the Court want to rewrite the statute—and possibly make corporate law into a teeming mess of exemptions and inquisitions?
There’s a way out, of course; and that is to rely on precedents like Lee and say that the “for profit issue” doesn’t need to be decided, because in any case the government’s interest in uniform application of the mandate trumps whatever burden it may place on any secular employer, corporation or not. If Congress disagrees, it knows how to write a limited exemption to the mandate, the way it did for Edwin Lee. That would be the best all around; the Tenth Circuit opinion upholding Hobby Lobby’s claims is such a wretched piece of work that a sane justice might not want to touch it, much less affirm it.
Just last year, the Princeton economist Angus Deaton, in his book “The Great Escape,” demonstrated that the enlargement of well-being in at least the northern half of the planet during the past couple of centuries is discontinuous with all previous times. The daily miseries of the Age of Faith scarcely exist in our Western Age of Fatuity. The horrors of normal life in times past, enumerated, are now almost inconceivable: women died in agony in childbirth, and their babies died, too; operations were performed without anesthesia. (The novelist Fanny Burney, recounting her surgery for a breast tumor: “I began a scream that lasted unremittingly during the whole time of the incision. . . . I felt the knife rackling against the breast bone, scraping it while I remained in torture.”) If God became the opiate of the many, it was because so many were in need of a drug.
As incomes go up, steeples come down. Matisse’s “Red Studio” may represent the room the artist retreats to after the churches close—but it is also a pleasant place to pass the time, with an Oriental carpet and central heating and space to work. Happiness arrives and God gets gone. “Happiness!” the Super-Naturalist cries. “Surely not just the animal happiness of more stuff!” But by happiness we need mean only less of pain. You don’t really have to pursue happiness; it is a subtractive quality. Anyone who has had a bad headache or a kidney stone or a toothache, and then hasn’t had it, knows what happiness is. The world had a toothache and a headache and a kidney stone for millennia. Not having them any longer is a very nice feeling. On much of the planet, we need no longer hold an invisible hand or bite an invisible bullet to get by.
Yet the wondering never quite comes to an end. Relatively peaceful and prosperous societies, we can establish, tend to have a declining belief in a deity. But did we first give up on God and so become calm and rich? Or did we become calm and rich, and so give up on God?
Here’s yet another attempt at trying to free up religious practice while making certain only the right religion gets it’s due. This is a law offered up in Georgia.
A prime example is the proposed Senate Bill 283, sponsored by state Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton.
The bill, if passed, would allow local school systems that chose to do so to “educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations and allow students and school system staff to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations, including … ‘Merry Christmas’; … ‘Happy Hanukkah’; and … ‘Happy holidays.’”
Senate Bill 283 also would allow “scenes or symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations, including a menorah or a Christmas image, such as a nativity scene or Christmas tree” to be displayed on school property, as long as the display “includes a scene or symbol of … more than one religion; or … one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol.”
Such displays could be put in place under the condition that they “shall not include a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.”
Of course, Dugan’s bill owes as much to political considerations as to any particular concern that he or other lawmakers might have with regard to any inadequacy in public-school instruction on “winter celebrations.” It’s clear that the sole purpose of the bill is to allow Republican lawmakers, who comprise a majority of General Assembly members, to go back home claiming to have struck a blow against the alleged “war on Christmas” as part of their re-election bids.
If you’ll pardon the expression, though, the devil is in the details here. Let’s suppose the bill does become law. A couple of issues, which might be attractive to any litigiously minded heathen like the ACLU, or any number of godless liberals who might imprudently insist on an exact interpretation of a state law, immediately present themselves.
First, of course, is the broad phrase ‘traditional winter celebrations.’ In ancient times, it was traditional to celebrate the winter solstice, sometimes in debauched fashion. If, as the argument might go, students are to be educated about Christmas, should they not also be taught about other, arguably more problematic, winter observances?
There’s also the language in the bill prohibiting holiday displays from including “a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.” Clearly, the intent here is to ensure that overtly religious phrases — “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” immediately springs to mind — don’t intrude into the public arena.
It would, however, certainly be possible to argue that even the presence of a holiday symbol — say, a Nativity scene — in a school display is “a message that encourages adherence to a particular religion.”
This kind’ve crap is even filtering down to the city level where Baton Rouge City Council refuses to symbolically support removing a blatantly unConstitutional sodomy law off its books. What is worse, is that police are still using the damn thing.
On Wednesday, the Metro Council voted on what was intended to be a symbolic gesture of support for a legislative proposal by state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, to remove the anti-sodomy laws from the books.
Such laws were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, but the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office cited the state’s law in recent years when it arrested more than a dozen gay men in sting operations for consenting to sex. The District Attorney’s Office refused to prosecute the cases.
Ahead of the vote, groups such as the Louisiana Family Forum and the Baptist Association of Southern Baton Rouge expressed their strong opposition to the measure.
The Family Forum emailed residents urging them to voice their disapproval to the council, which prompted a flood of emails against the resolution.
However, some prominent local groups expressed disappointment Thursday with the Metro Council’s action, saying the council was continuing to project an image that Baton Rouge is intolerant toward gays and lesbians.
The Metro Council is “out of sync with the rest of the community,” according to John Davies, president of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, adding recent surveys show local and statewide residents are generally supportive of gay and lesbian rights.
There’s always been backlashes to progress and modernity. History is full of such examples and many of them are wrapped up in religious mantels. What is so amazing to me is how extremist pols seem to have crept into the halls of power in such unimaginable ways with such horrible legislation. The Republican Party seems to have sold its soul to extremists. Little wonder that so few people these days actually self-identify as Republican.
Forty-two percent of Americans, on average, identified as political independents in 2013, the highest Gallup has measured since it began conducting interviews by telephone 25 years ago. Meanwhile, Republican identification fell to 25%, the lowest over that time span. At 31%, Democratic identification is unchanged from the last four years but down from 36% in 2008.
Let’s just hope that more and more people know what this minority party has in store for us all.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?