Nel's New Day

June 3, 2012

Women Need to Take Back Their Power

As I share this privileged moment with you, Your Holiness, I urge you to be mindful of the intense suffering and pain which is part of the life of many women in these United States. I call upon you to listen with compassion and to hear the call of women…As women, we have heard the powerful messages of our church addressing the dignity [of] and reverence for all persons. As women, we have pondered these words. Our contemplation leads us to state that the church, in its struggle to be true to its call to reverence and dignity for all persons, must respond by providing the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries of the church.

These were the words of Sister Theresa Kane in 1979 when she was asked, as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), to give four minutes of welcoming remarks to the newly elected Pope John Paul II during his first papal visit to the United States.

In the audience was Joseph Ratzinger, the bishop from Bavaria, who is now Pope Benedict XVI. This pope is the Vatican leader who tried to quell the nuns in the United States because all they do is serve the poor. These nuns were reprimanded because they “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.”

Their punishment includes giving Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle the final say on every speaker at the group’s conference and every public utterance made in its name. Sartain will also revise LCWR’s governing statutes, and investigate links between LCWR and two liberal Catholic groups.

Sister Maureen Fiedler said yesterday, “If this were the corporate world, I think we’d call it a hostile takeover.” But the nuns are not peacefully accepting the Vatican’s actions. Yesterday, they issued a statement showing LCWR’s intent to contest the hostile takeover:

Board members concluded that the assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency. Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.

LCWR President Sister Pat Farrell and Executive Director Sister Janet Mock plan to go to Rome to take up these concerns with the prefect and Sartain before they consult with the organization’s general membership in August.  If necessary, LCWR can entirely disassociate with Rome and reconfigure itself as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. According to its website, LCWR “has approximately 1500 members who are elected leaders of their religious orders, representing approximately 80% of the 57,000 Catholic sisters in the United States.”  A reorganization would mean that the group would be only required to operate under U.S. law with the constitutional freedom of religion.

Some people view the Pope’s crusade against the nuns and the fury with which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops attacked the birth control mandate, as opposition to women. Adele Stan believes it goes farther, that  “the church hierarchy is a cult of power.” She cites the scandal regarding the Vatican bank and the battle waged by partisans and enemies of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone to keep him from presiding over the group electing the next pope as well as the pay-offs that Cardinal Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, while Archbishop of Milwaukee, to priests accused of abusing children.

Theologian Mary E. Hunt, co-director of the Catholic feminist resource center WATER, describes the Vatican’s attack on nuns as a method of maintaining the clerics’ power, thus keeping people in the church from claiming the power that reforms of the Second Vatican Council give them. Cardinal Ratzinger attacked the nuns before when 24 sisters were threatened with expulsion from their orders for having signed a statement that asserted “a diversity of views” on the subject of abortion existed within the church. This time the reason was the support that LCWR, joined by leaders of 55 religious orders and umbrella groups, gave to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, which represents some 600 Catholic hospitals and 1400 health-care facilities, also backed the bill in defiance of the Vatican. In addition, she  supported the compromise regarding the birth control mandate when the White House required health insurance companies to pay for contraception. Although the bishops gave a hue and cry against the compromise, the majority of Catholics in the country support the nuns’ position, not that of the bishops.

While the nuns pay for food for the poor, the bishops pay for lawsuits against the administration challenging the requirement that all health insurance companies contracted for employer-provided health plans offer contraceptive coverage to the insured, with no co-payment by the patient. According to a New York Times editorial, “The First Amendment is not a license for religious entities to impose their dogma on society through the law.” Even ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia disagrees with the Catholic Church’s position: in 1990, he said that making “the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land” would mean allowing “every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

The Catholic leadership’s supposed desire for “religious freedom” comes from the same people who want to make laws against all people in the United States regarding women’s reproductive rights, marriage equality, and other issues that result solely from religious interests. They threaten religious liberty by their efforts to impose their doctrine on everyone. The same desire for this freedom comes from Catholic Church leadership’s desire to protect all priests who sexually abuse children. One such bishop was William Levada, who served as archbishop of San Francisco and Portland (OR) and is now the Vatican prefect in charge of the nuns’ persecution.

According to Hunt, the Vatican’s power structure is very similar to that of a corporation, while the structure of the U.S. coalition of women’s religious orders functions more on the process-oriented and deliberative model of a local food co-op. About the Vatican, she said, “This is a business, where people do what people do in business.” The Catholic Church’s fiscal problems pattern those of big business.

Two U.S. archdioceses in the U.S. declared bankruptcy after making settlements to abuse victims: Milwaukee, less than two years after Cardinal Dolan became Archbishop of New York; and Portland (OR) under the leadership of Cardinal Levada. Levada punished a priest who reported a child-abusing fellow priest to the police, but the whistle-blower, Father Jon Conley, brought a defamation case against the archdiocese after paving the way for the family of an abused child to win a $750,000 settlement from the archdiocese.

The New York Times’ Laurie Goodstein reported about Catholics protesting in more than 50 cities against the Vatican removing nuns’ rights “for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping ‘silent’ on abortion and same-sex marriage.”

The Catholic Church is not the only religion suffering protests against their actions. The fundamentalist pastors who call for imprisonment and death of LGBTQ people are also experiencing backlashes from their communities. One Million Moms of the hate group American Family Association keeps failing in its boycotts with JC Penneys and Olay making more money after the group publicizes advertising by gays and lesbians.

In a Washington Post column, Lisa Miller wrote about women leaving the church:

There are churches in America in which women aren’t allowed to speak out loud unless they get permission from a man first.

There are churches (many of them) in which women aren’t permitted to preach from the pulpit.

There are churches in America where a 13-year-old boy has more authority than his mother.

Between 1991 and 2011, the number of adult women attending church weekly  declined 20 percent. The number of women going to Sunday school dropped by about a third, as did the number of women who volunteer at church.

It is not only Rush Limbaugh who demeans all women by calling one a “slut” and a “prostitute.” It’s Rick Santorum–that man of faith–who has stopped just short of calling working mothers selfish and who lumps all single moms together as his opposition, as he did in an interview with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council last year.

Unless the strident, authoritarian social conservatives loosen their stranglehold on American women, American women will abandon the Republican Party (as they’re quitting church) and look for their candidates elsewhere.

Conservatives won’t give up their power. Let’s hope that women just take it.

April 18, 2012

Republicans’ War on Religion

Republicans have declared a war on religion. Yes, you read it right—the Republicans. Earlier it was assumed that the Democrats had done this with its demand that women receive birth control. But now the proverbial shoe is on the other foot–and it’s pinching the Republicans’ feet.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has sent a letter to the House Agriculture Committee, criticizing Paul Ryan’s Republican budget because it leaves large holes in the safety net by cutting food stamps and other programs that “serve poor and vulnerable people.” The letter stated that the budget fails to meet certain “moral criteria.”

Not stopping there, the bishops fired off a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee, criticizing the provision making it more difficult for illegal immigrants to claim child tax credits. The bishops called the credit “one of the most effective antipoverty programs in our nation.”

Last week, Ryan commented that Catholic faith shaped the budget he authored and that the budget is consistent with Catholic teachings. His weak response to the bishops was that President Obama’s policies will hurt “the poor the first and the worst.” He said his own budget “lifts this crushing burden of debt, repairs our broken safety net, and tackles our generation’s defining challenge of ensuring opportunity for generations to come.”

This claim is at odds with the moral case that he earlier made on the Christian Broadcasting Network. There, he argued that it wasn’t the government’s responsibility to lift people out of poverty, that people themselves should be society’s caretakers. “Don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of poverty, out into a life of independence,” he said.

The bishops didn’t buy Ryan’s argument. Their letter urged lawmakers to reject “unacceptable cuts to hunger and nutrition” programs for “moral and human reasons” and instead create spending cuts to subsidy programs that “disproportionately go to large growers and agribusiness.” Lawmakers should “protect essential programs that serve poor and hungry people over subsidies that assist large and relatively well-off agricultural enterprises,” said the letter, signed by Bishop Stephen E. Blaire. “Cuts to nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment. These cuts are unjustified and wrong.”

Other religious leaders took on Ryan’s justification for his budget. Nearly 60 prominent theologians, priests, nuns, and national Catholic social justice leaders wrote him in protest. “If Rep. Ryan thinks a budget that takes food and healthcare away from millions of vulnerable people upholds Catholic values, then he also probably believes Jesus was a Tea Partier who lectured the poor to stop being so lazy and work harder,” said John Gehring, Catholic Outreach Coordinator at Faith in Public Life. “This budget turns centuries of Catholic social teaching on its head. These Catholic leaders and many Catholics in the pews are tired of faith being misused to bless an immoral agenda.”

It’s not the first time that the bishops have objected to Ryan’s budgeting style. Joint letters to the House and Senate sent last year on March 3 addressed the “moral and human dimensions of the federal budget” and their fear that pressure to reduce the deficit would wipe out Pell Grants, workforce training and development, nutrition assistance, low-income tax credits, and safe and affordable housing for the less fortunate. One month later, almost exactly a year ago, bishops sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee, opposing potential cuts to Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs that benefit the poor, elderly, veterans, and those with disabilities. HUD programs are those that Mitt Romney promised to eliminate at a private fundraising event when he thought that information would not get to the general public.

Almost a year ago, 27 Protestant bishops sent a letter to the Senate protesting Ryan’s budget that had sailed through the House. The bill, that proposed a dramatic overhaul of Medicare, was described as “morally indefensible” because the proposal’s cuts target America’s most vulnerable citizens. The budget “fails the basic tests of justice, compassion and a commitment to the common good,” according to the letter. “This budget eviscerates vital nutrition programs for mothers and infants (WIC), and makes cuts to Medicaid that will hurt sick children, struggling families and seniors in nursing homes,” the letter continued. “Unlike the Good Samaritan, who stopped to care for a wounded stranger on the side of the road, the House budget turns its back on the most vulnerable at a time of grave economic uncertainty even as it endorses policies that gives tax breaks for the privileged few.”

At the same time last year, however, Bishop Timothy Nolan, new president of USCCB, sent a letter to Ryan that stated, “I commend your letter’s attention to the important values of fiscal responsibility.” Not all Catholics agreed with Nolan. More than 75 professors at Catholic University and other prominent Catholic colleges wrote House Speaker John Boehner last spring:

“Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the church’s most ancient moral teachings. From the apostles to the present, the magisterium of the church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor. Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it.”

This year Boehner is justifying his actions, first by saying that the budget doesn’t hurt the safety net (the one that includes $34 billion in cuts to food stamps) and second by declaring that he is more concerned with the debt. The bishops just don’t see the big picture, according to Boehner. We’ll guess that Ryan is not interested in following the bishops’ request: as I write, the House Republicans are trying to make more cuts for the poor instead of replacing taxes for the wealthy.

When Republicans also voted en mass against the Buffett Rule, they missed this part of the Bible: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”—Luke 12:48.

Questions for conservatives:  Does Ryan’s budget violate the responsibility that government has to religion, according to recent conservatives’ statements that Democrats should do exactly what Catholics demand? Should the government follow religious demands only in the case of women’s reproductive rights? Do Catholic demands trump the Protestant ones–the belief that the government should help the poor and demand more from those who have “been given much”? Should the country return to the separation of church and state? Will anyone notice that the Republicans have declared a war on religion?

March 27, 2012

Women Gaining Ground–Maybe

As the war on women moves through Women’s History Month, the opposition to women’s rights may be weakening slightly. The Catholic bishops’ struggle to control government decisions and taxpayer dollars regarding contraception flagged last week when U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns ruled that the government was in the right for refusing to renew a contract to the Catholic Church. The decision focused on the bishops’ decision to refuse key reproductive counseling and referrals for human trafficking victims with its $3 million grant. Stearns agreed with the ACLU on the basis that the bishops’ rules for federal funding violated constitutional prohibitions on church and state. The judge in the Massachusetts federal court wrote:

“To insist that the government respect the separation of church and state is not to discriminate against religion; indeed, it promotes a respect for religion by refusing to single out any creed for official favor at the expense of all others….This case is about the limits of the government’s ability to delegate to a religious institution the right to use taxpayer money to impose its beliefs on others (who may or may not share them).”

He also cited an earlier Supreme Court ruling that stated the Framers “did not set up a system of government in which important, discretionary governmental powers would be delegated to or shared with religious institutions.” Last week’s ruling questions the entire basis of the George W. Bush’s federal faith-based contracting initiative that has given almost total power to groups like the Catholic bishops who are permitted to determine how  taxpayer dollars are spent.

The bishops wanted the issue resolved in their favor even though they no longer had the contract. Their success might continue their autonomy over spending public money—including selection of insurance that provides contraception. In losing this case, they may have lost even more than the control of spending their money as they wish. It is possible that the FDA would make oral contraception available over the counter, making birth control far more accessible to women and totally offending the Catholic bishops.

Another break in the conservative forces against abortion and contraception came from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) in an interview yesterday with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. She said that she opposes the loss of Medicaid funding for the state after Texas stopped funding for Planned Parenthood. “I think Planned Parenthood does mammograms, they do so much of the health care, the preventative health care, and if they’re doing that, then we need to provide those services, absolutely,” Hutchinson said.

Although almost no men directly support women’s fight for contraception, one Republican made a surprising statement at a rally for the Equal Rights Amendment. Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) thinks that we women should give our money to Democrats. “I think these are very precarious times for women, it seems. So many of your rights are under assault,” he told the crowd of mostly women. “I’ll tell you this: Contribute your money to people who speak out on your behalf, because the other side—my side—has a lot of it. And you need to send your own message. You need to remind people that you vote, you matter, and that they can’t succeed without your help.”

The inequality between men and women in this country is made glaringly clear when male support for a female issue is totally unexpected—and when that male is a Republican, we find the support almost impossible to believe. We still live in a country where the Constitution defines a citizen as a male. But people like Richard Hanna may move us up the path toward more equality.

February 26, 2012

The United States, a Theocracy

Let’s just face it. The United States is a theocracy. Let’s look at the indicators beyond the majority of the Republican presidential candidates swearing to the far-right conservatives that they were called by God to work for the nomination,

To encourage churches to intervene in campaigns—illegally—the Alliance Defense Fund held its annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” in October. Fundamentalists and evangelical churches plan voter turnout drives and distribution of voter guides that tell the church-goers the candidate of the church’s choice.  Meanwhile, pastors such as the influential Dallas one, Robert Jeffress, tell all and sundry that Mitt Romney, a Mormon, is a cult member who should not become president. The claims that President Obama is a Muslim of an opponent of Christianity, started when he was elected to this office, have increased since Rick Santorum refers to his policy as a “phony kind of theology.”

Thirty states explored school voucher subsidies for religious and other private schools in 2011, the efforts driven by wealthy right-wing organizations, such as the Alliance for School Choice. Run by right-wing activist Betsy DeVos, the organization is joined by allies to provide vast resources and public relations expertise to push for school vouchers. These vouchers would benefit not only fundamentalist academies but also Roman Catholic parochial schools. Florida currently has a ballot initiative allowing the religious organizations to get taxpayer money. Arizona has already passed such a law that has passed judicial tests. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) also pushed a voucher program for the District of Columbia.

A relatively new lobbying group, the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has declared war on the separation of church and state in its goal to keep its taxpayer funding for church agencies while maintaining overly broad exemptions from the law. These agencies have become highly visible recently when they declared themselves exempt from involvement in birth control or same-sex marriage while still receiving government contracts and funds. Faith-based religious groups receive federal advantages that other non-profit groups lack. No federal regulations, no disclosure reports to show how much they’re spending, no transparency.

States plan laws that would require Christian proselytizing in public schools. Missouri, for example, has an amendment on the 2012 ballot that proposes to allow religious activities on all public property including schools. The open-ended bill even permits children to refuse to do homework on religious grounds. Florida’s bill, recently passed by the Senate and being considered by the House, lets students pray at school events. Tennessee is following Florida’s flaunting of separating church and state.

The far-right evangelicals also continue to demand that curriculum and textbooks include religious material, including creationism and refutation of man-made climate change. In Missouri last summer, a school district banned Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Oeckler’s Twenty Boy Summer because a local professor complained that the books advocate principles contrary to the Bible.

Those who believe that President Obama has declared a “war on religion” fail to recognize his current support of the Christian religion through government actions. The president said during his campaign in 2008, “If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them–or against the people you hire–on the basis of their religion.” Yet he has not changed George W. Bush’s “faith-based” initiative that exempted faith-based groups from complying with anti-discrimination statutes. Religious groups can refuse to hire gays and lesbians even for secular work. In 2009, Obama put Alexia Kelley, an anti-abortion Catholic, in charge of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the HHS, where she oversees the distribution of more than $20 million in grants to religious groups.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is also considering a new rule allowing the use of taxpayer funds for the construction and repair of religious buildings overseas.

Under President Obama, Catholic religious charities alone have received more than $650 million, and the share of USCCB federal grants from HHS have increased from $71.8 million in the last three years of the Bush administration to $81.2 million during the first three years of Obama. In fiscal 2011 alone, the group received a record $31.4 million from the administration that the Catholics claim as anti-religious. Federal money can also go directly to churches rather than nonprofit charitable organizations.

Millions of dollars from the military budget benefits Christians. For over 18 months, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has been examining these expenditures, such as the $125 million spent for “spiritual fitness” program. To develop “resilience,” those who serve in the military are required to take a survey biased so that nonbelievers are guaranteed to score poorly. Those people will then be forced to participate in exercises that use religious imagery to “train” soldiers up to a satisfactory level of spirituality, namely Christian.

Department of Defense funds built the $30,000,000 mega-church at Fort Hood and the “Spiritual Fitness” centers scattered across the military bases. More spiritual fitness money goes for evangelical Christian concerts with overtly Christian music, light shows of large crosses beamed all over the stage, and Christian testimony or Bible verses songs. Most of the Army’s Strong Bonds program expenditures of least $30 million for retreats for soldiers and their families go to evangelical Christian retreats, many held at Christian camps and resorts, with evangelical Christian speakers and entertainers.

Children of military service people are also targeted by evangelical Christian groups that are financed by the DoD. The biggest one is Military Community Youth Ministries (MCYM), whose mission statement is “Celebrate life with military teens, Introduce them to the Life-Giver, Jesus Christ, And help them become more like Him.” MCYM has received $12,346,333 in DoD contracts since 2000 and use some of it to stalk “unchurched” military children by following their school buses. The DoD also hires Religious Education Directors to get the kids into Christian churches.

Congress keeps legislating Christian laws. The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution that reaffirmed “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States and encouraged its display in public schools and other public buildings despite the fact that this motto, put in place during the “Red Scare” of the 1950s, had not been challenged. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) has introduced a bill ordering the Secretary of the Interior to add a Franklin Delano Roosevelt prayer to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Both the Knights of Columbus and Rep. Denny Rehlberg (R-MT) are fighting the removal of a large statue of Jesus sitting on national forest land in Montana.

States are also working to create Christian law. In Georgia, the state legislature will consider a bill that would require all vehicle license plates to be emblazoned with “In God We Trust” unless drivers pay extra to cover up the message. A prime example of this nation’s theocracy is its anti-Sharia legislation. In 2010, Oklahoma passed, with 70 percent of the vote, the so-called “Save Our State Amendment,” barring enforcement of Islamic law. The challenge to this law is before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Because the constitution bars government support for religion, legislation barring Sharia law is unnecessary. What appears to be necessary is a law banning Christian legislation, which would provide women with reproductive rights and same-sex couples with marriage equality.

The Christian religious right, both fundamentalists and Catholics, successfully intimidate their opponents by accusing anyone who wants freedom from religion that they are bigots who don’t believe in religious freedom. Their position of victimology comes from the enormous power that they wield over the anyone who disagrees with them. To these Christian conservatives, the definition of religious freedom is forcing everyone to live by their religion, whichever one of the 38,000 Christian denominations it may represent.

February 8, 2012

Conscience = Discrimination

Conscience. What a strange word to use when discriminating against people. Once again, religious groups have co-opted a term to oppose the scientific view that conscience is probably learned or imprinted (like language) as part of a culture.

The concept of conscience has provided the latest firestorm against President Obama regarding the requirement that all health insurance plans cover birth control without co-pay with exemptions those provided by churches and other places of worship. Because the Catholic Church operates an unbelievable number of businesses including private schools, universities, hospitals, and charities, millions of employees in these institution are not Catholic. Catholic leaders don’t want to follow the president’s guidelines—except in the 28 states that already require insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and services. No matter that the Church will not be paying for birth control; the insurance carriers do this as part of the benefits.

Republicans are delighted with their war on contraception because they can scream from the rooftops that President Obama is violating the First Amendment right of religious freedom. But what will the result be from their constituents? Republicans are ignoring the fact that 58 percent of Catholics believe that all employers should provide no co-pay birth control, and 98 percent of Catholic women use or have used contraception. Eighty-five percent of all Catholics support expanding access to birth control for women who cannot afford it, higher than the 82 percent of the general population who favors this, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute in Washington, D.C.

The decision to provide free birth control to women was based on an Institute of Medicine study concluding that birth control is medically necessary to “ensure women’s health and well being,” echoing similar recommendations by other medical organizations such as the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Public Health Association.

Demonstrating the extremes to which conservatives are going to fight the health benefit of birth control for women, MSNBC commentator Eric Metaxas compared the requirement to provide contraception to women to the rise of Nazi Germany. Men in Congress have again retreated from solving the economy and jobs problem to again trying to control women’s bodies.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has introduced legislation promoted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, an organization with $26 million in its annual lobbying budget. This legislation would make all women who work for Catholic-operated institutions—nurses, janitors, teachers, etc.—purchase their own birth control unless state law provides that all employee insurance provide birth control or Catholic institutions already include this provision in the insurance policies.

House Leader John Boehner (R-OH) has sworn that Congress will overturn the administration’s mandate. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) claimed that the requirement of contraception coverage in employers’ insurance plans was a “bailout for Planned Parenthood” because birth control “is unrelated to the basic needs of health care.”

“What we are seeing now is the unfortunate fruits of the logical extension of the cesspool of Jacques Rousseau and his civil religion, whereby which your true religion was tolerated as long as it was subservient to the state,” Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) said. “That is not what this nation is about–it is a clear violation of your constitutional right to freely exercise your religion.”

In response, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said, “Women’s health care should not depend on who the boss is.”

As Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) explained, the administration’s rule has exempted 335,000 churches and other places of worship. “The concept of separation of church and state protects these 335,000 places of worship, but the concept of separation of church and state does not mean that a church can use their bully pulpit to separate millions of women from critical healthcare benefits,”Moore said, adding that separation of church and state does not trump women’s access to contraception.

Conscience is also the excuse in Virginia to give private adoption agencies the right to refuse parents based on sexual orientation or religious and moral beliefs. Under consideration in the state is adding state-funded, faith-based agencies to the list of agencies that can choose which parents are suitable for adoption based on the agencies’ beliefs. At this time, gay and lesbian couples are prevented from adopting because unmarried couples cannot adopt and gays and lesbians cannot get married in Virginia and eight other states. Thus gay and lesbian parents will be forced to contribute their tax dollars to an agency that, in turn, refuse them its adoption services.

The state currently permits single people, including gays and lesbians to adopt.  At this time, approximately 2,279 same-sex couples are raising about 4,558 children inVirginia, most adopted in Virginia, allowing only one parent to have custody.The new law will be more restrictive than the existing one, allowing agencies to refuse adoption by a single gay or lesbian.

Although the federal government has some protection against discrimination, Virginia allows faith-based organizations to discriminate based on gender, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and family status. These discriminations will almost certainly continue with the new law despite the 1996 Supreme Court ruling that gays and lesbians are a distinct legal classification and entitled to collective protection under the Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection clauses.

As with the birth control bruhaha, the Virginia legislature ignores the will of the people. Last year a Washington Post poll showed that 55 percent of Virginians think that gays and lesbians should be able to legally adopt children, and a Quinnipiac University poll showed that 59 percent of Virginians think that state-run agencies should not ban prospective parents based on their sexual orientation.

The basic question is how far religion can discriminate in the name of religious freedom. For example, if state-funded organizations can deny service to gays and lesbians in adoptive services, can they also deny services to them in hospitals? If Catholic institutions can discriminate against non-Catholic employees in providing health care, can they then discriminate against them in hiring? How far can religions go in infringing on other people’s rights in the name of religious freedom? Why should religions be able to use their beliefs to exclude rights and services when they receive government funding? Why should people be forced to contribute financially to organizations that refuse to provide services to these same people?

If an Islam-operated hospital were to insist that its employees be bound by Sharia law, Congress would be screaming that this is wrong. Their position on freedom of religion is attached only to the Christian religion, which means that they don’t actually believe in religious freedom—just in the political clout that the argument might give them.

January 23, 2012

Women’s Contraception at Risk

Over half a century ago, people questioned voting for a Catholic president because he might impose his religious beliefs on the United States. Five decades later religious beliefs are the basis of right-wing policies. The Catholic Church vigorously fights not only abortion but also birth control. The Catholic bishops used “religious freedom” to refuse reproductive health care to women who are employed by religious institutions that provide their health care.

President Obama is to be commended for not caving into pressures from the bishop in finalizing a regulation under the health care reform law requiring that all employer-provided insurance plans cover birth control without co-pays. He did give religious nonprofits until August 2013 to comply with the law. Medical research proves that women are healthier if the pregnancy is planned; children born at least two years apart are healthier.

Amanda Marcotte’s arguments supporting Obama’s refusal to allow the Catholic bishops to control women’s reproductive rights are very eloquent. She says, “Having the same regulations for every employer requiring insurance to fully cover birth control is a matter of religious freedom at its most basic. When Catholic organizations use their employees’ economic dependence as leverage to force pregnancy on them, no matter how unwilling they are to be pregnant, they deprive those women of their basic right to believe what they wish on matters of faith. Religious freedom is primarily an individual right. When an organization’s beliefs come in conflict with individual beliefs, the individual right to freedom of religion must triumph over organizational claims. Doing otherwise is allowing organizations to create a government-supported authority to discriminate and control on the basis of religion, depriving individuals of basic religious rights.

“After all, I can’t open a business and refuse to serve people because they have differing religious beliefs than I do. This is recognized as a violation of their basic freedom of religion. And that’s just a matter of serving sandwiches and fixing tires for people. It’s much, much easier to go to a different sandwich shop or car mechanic than it is to get another job or go to another school. Formal religious discrimination against those who don’t believe contraception is a sin has serious ramifications for those who are discriminated against in such a way. Anyone who truly supports religious freedom should therefore understand that women’s reproductive rights and equal treatment by their employers is part and parcel of religious freedom.”

Marcotte continues by comparing negativity toward women’s rights to the civil rights battle. During the turbulent times of the 1960s, “those who wished to discriminate on the basis of race would often claim that their right to push black people out of their businesses and neighborhoods trumped black people’s right not be discriminated against.”

Having free birth control saves money; unplanned pregnancies cost U.S. taxpayers more than $11 billion a year. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that contraceptive services provided at publicly funded clinics helped prevent almost two million unintended pregnancies. Without funding from Medicaid and Title X, “abortions occurring in the United States would be nearly two-thirds higher among women overall and among teens; the number of unintended pregnancies among poor women would nearly double.” More than 99 percent of women aged 15–44 have used at least one contraceptive method at some time to prevent unintended pregnancies and limit the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.

All four of the current Republican presidential candidates have signed the “personhood” pledge, affirming that they would protect all “innocent human life.” This includes any fertilized egg that people think might be damaged by the most popular birth control methods.

As governor of Massachusettsin 2005, Mitt Romney vetoed a popular bill to make the “morning-after pill” available over the counter and require hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims. The bill became law after the legislature overrode his veto. In a recent debate he said, “I don’t know if a state has a right to ban contraception. No state wants to!” He followed that statement with the position that he wouldn’t vote to ban contraception, but he seems to not know that Griswold v. Connecticut requires all states to allow birth control. He also signed the “personhood” pledge that would stop the most popular forms of birth control.

Rick Santorum has gone even farther than Romney in protesting contraception. He has suggested that the U.S. Supreme Court erred in its overturning Connecticut’s law banning contraception for unmarried women and pledged to defund federal funding for contraception. His reasoning is that states should have the right to “limit individuals’ wants and passions.” According to Santorum, contraception “is a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” Recently he has tried to back away from these words, but they will follow him to the end of his campaign.

People who believe that unmarried women should have access to contraception might want to start celebrating June 6, the date that the U.S. Supreme Court gave this reproductive right to all women 46 years ago. If a Republican becomes president in the next election, that right may disappear.

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