Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Contraception Controversy: "Remember why the Pilgrims came here."
In a comment section on Facebook, someone was attempting to justify the attacks on women's access to health care and contraception as a religious right of conscience (my words—he said something like, "people shouldn't have to do what goes against their faith"), and he ended with, "Remember why the Pilgrims came here and why this country was founded!"
What follows is my answer:
History is fun sometimes, though. For example, the "Pilgrims" never actually called themselves "pilgrims." Some came to escape persecution for their so-called (but not self-called) separatist attitudes about the Anglican Church. They did not come here to establish religious liberty for others, but only to practice their brand of religion. They were, however, much more in favor of a clear separation of church and state than the Puritans who followed ten years later. William Bradford, the leader of Plymouth, was not a minister, nor did they have one in their midst, but being puritans, but not Puritans, they followed some of the tenets of John Calvin, including a belief in "the accessibility of Divine truth," and therefore found ministers less necessary than the Anglican Church. They adopted a congregational (and somewhat democratic) approach to governance of the colony and to the separate governance of the church.
Their little 2000 member colony was fairly quickly overtaken by 20,000 Puritans who did not defend one's right to free speech. They excommunicated, banished, and occasionally killed those who disagreed with or spoke against their decrees. It is very instructive to read Roger Williams and his treatise on "The Bloody Tenet of Persecution" in which he condemned the colonies in both Plymouth and Boston (and governments in Europe) for allowing people to be punished for their beliefs. He advocated freedom of religion and an absolute separation of church and state. For these reasons he was banished by the Puritans with the concurrence of the colony at Plymouth.
One of the other things that got him kicked out was his argument that the King's charters establishing Plymouth Plantation and the Massachusetts colony were unlawful and that the natives must be paid for their land if the colonists were to stay. You can bet they ran him out quickly for that one. He did purchase land from the natives with whom he had formed a trusting friendship and established a colony which he named Providence. He also encouraged Ann Hutchison, another critic of the Puritan government in Massachusetts who was also banished for her teachings, to settle in another town close to his (This eventually became Portsmouth). Eventually, this area was formalized into the colony of Rhode Island, a true "land of the free" where Baptists, Quakers, Jews, and people from other persecuted religions could find true religious freedom.
So, I guess the short, snotty retort is, "Don't talk to me about the Pilgrims and the Puritans and why they came here" because it was only the reaction against their policies that helped our nation eventually establish our fundamental rights including freedom of religion and the essential wall of separation between church and state.
Now, let's look at the idea of IMPOSING OUR VALUES (man, I love the "shouting" CAPS) [My response to his use of caps]. Every single law that has been proposed by the religious right—and remember a majority of Christians do NOT believe in the extremist positions that the radical right pursues, let alone those who practice non-Christian religions, not to mention those who find religion to be unfounded or predicated on dangerous superstition—every law proposing a limiting of access to or elimination of abortion or contraception or Planned Parenthood or other health care is a direct imposing of their religious values (or in some cases, cynical economic interests) on the rest of us.
So let's get down to the specific argument at hand. It has nothing to do with abortion. It has to do with providing insurance for employees. The Catholic Bishops say that they should not have to provide insurance that offers access to contraception to their employees, even if their employee is not Catholic. As has been true of every compromise by the President and the Democrats in the last three years, when the Republicans are given what they want, they say, "That's not enough. Now we want more."
The president, very cleverly I might add, came up with a solution that answered the Bishops' complaint. They did not have to pay for contraception (remember, a huge majority of Catholics use contraception—I don't know what the statistics are for contraceptive use by pedophile priests, and yes, I am absolutely incensed that the same Catholic hierarchy that has condoned child molestation for centuries has the nerve to IMPOSE their minority religious view on this so-called "free" country, while using millions of tax-free dollars to impose that will!). His proposal required that access to birth control be provided not by the employer but by the insurance company. It's the same as the ridiculous Hyde amendment by which no federal dollars can be spent on abortion. Nevertheless, the foolish and ill-advised separation of spending sources would be maintained. Well, what of the good, honest, fair-minded Americans who want their federal dollars made available for women's health care, including access to safe and affordable contraception and abortion when necessary. They are held hostage to the machinations and manipulation of a few cynical billionaires and the flagrant hypocrisy of churches.
It is also extremely important to recognize that this health law had already exempted churches and church employees from this requirement. The requirement to have contraceptive coverage applied to all other employers, including other businesses that happen to be owned by a religious organization. In other words, if you had been hired by the church to work in the church, they were exempt from this provision. But if you worked in a hospital, or a store, or a restaurant or a service or manufacturing facility owned or run by a religion, then all employees would be covered. Another important part of this controversy is that many of these employees in these "religiously run" enterprises do not share the faith of their employers, and denying women coverage of contraception (while happily paying for and encouraging men's use of "viagra") is blatantly discriminatory. In a sense, especially when the employee is of a different faith from the employer, it is a form of religious persecution.
Look at it another way. If I am of a religious group that condemns homosexuality, do I have a right, as an employer, to deny medication and treatment for HIV or AIDS to my employees because I think it God's punishment for sin? Before you answer, remember, many straight people are afflicted with the disease (realize, also, that contraceptive medicine has other life-saving purposes in women's health). If I am a Quaker or a Jain, then I don't believe in war. Should my group spend millions of tax-free dollars to demand that not one red cent of any taxpayer's money be allowed to be spent on the military? Can I refuse to serve a soldier if he comes into my Quaker restaurant? Or deny my Jainist insurance coverage to any employee who is also a veteran? Can Christian Science congregations who hire someone inside or outside their faith refuse to provide insurance or health care for that employee? Can a Synogogue forbid their non-Jewish employees from having a lunch hour because one of them might eat pork? Understand, it's not that they would be required to prepare or serve the pork. They just can't prevent the employee from having access to that choice.
Now, fortunately, neither the Quakers nor the Christian Scientists nor the Jews take such extreme positions; in fact, despite their "unusual" (non-mainstream) religious beliefs, each of these groups are remarkably open and liberal in their thinking (of course, all groups have fundamentalist factions that are much less liberal, but they do not represent the vast majority). The religious employer is not being forced to use contraception, nor are they being forced to require their employees to use contraception; and in this new compromise, they are not even being asked to pay for it; they are only being asked to provide health insurance for their employees. That their employees choose to use contraception (and I do not hesitate to argue that abortion should also be available) should be absolutely no business of the employer. It should be a decision left solely to the employee. Your employer should not even know which specific health services you are using.
But the response to the President's compromise? A proposal from a Republican legislator that any employer be allowed to exclude any procedure from their insurance coverage for any reason. Pissed off yet? I am. And I am incensed and disgusted by the attempt of so many to equate the actions and motives of the two sides in this political charade—a controversy which emanates solely from the political and economic interests of the radical right in limiting freedoms while pretending to champion them!