Thursday, November 14, 2013

First Amendment Convolutions


While reading my local paper, I came across the following letter to the editor:

It is disturbing that California's attorney general, Kamala Harris, believes that access to contraception trumps the First Amendment ("State questions corporations' religious rights," Nov. 11.). Religious business-owners should have the right to manage their own companies according to their most basic beliefs. The First Amendment does not simply guarantee the freedom to worship; it ensures "the free exercise thereof," which extends beyond Fridays at the mosque or Saturdays at the synagogue. Subtle attempts to undermine this guarantee to all Americans, masked in pernicious language like "regulatory obligations," should be what the attorney general is protecting us against, not standing up for.

This letter had been written by the pastor of a church. The name of the pastor, church and community from which this letter came are not important. It could have come from anywhere, been written by a religious leader of any denomination or faith.

This letter is clearly about denying rights to women. The pastor perhaps owns a business. Surely the church is not the business he owns, is it? Hopefully the employee in question is not a female church secretary…

What I find most interesting is the ironic twist accorded to the First Amendment. To me, it is clear that the author of the letter is unclear on the letter of the law, as well as a bit muddy on the tenets of his faith. The author of the letter seems to imply that the religious freedoms accorded by the First Amendment allow one person, in the context of practicing and keeping of their faith, to deny rights to another person.

This is, of course, not true under the letter of the law. This kind of confused thinking is what the separation of church and state is all about, and why it is essential. This is what the Women’s Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Labor Movement, the LGBQ Movement and all of the Movements since, have reared up to remind us all. We should all be equally treated under the law. It could also be argued that we should all be treated equally under divine providence.

Your beliefs and your practices are yours. You are welcome to them. You cannot impose them on others. The First Amendment applies to individual conscience, not collective consciousness. The First Amendment allows you to say you don’t like contraception, and to rail against contraception and to campaign against contraception, but it does not entitle you, because you practice a certain religion that has dogma and doctrine against it, to deny any person the right to access, have and use contraceptives. Even if you are a business owner, your business cannot deny any worker access to contraceptives, whether you pay all or part of the insurance coverage for your employee or not. To do so is to disrespect and violate the privacy and rights of your employee, which surely is not what any divine being would require of you, in order for you to be a good person, ostensibly living a life of righteousness and equity.

You are free to exercise your right to be a dogmatic doctrinaire, even a misogynist; you just cannot impose your personal will, whether or not it is informed by your religion, on others—and that means not in the work place nor in your church.

Pernicious is the language that claims the golden rule, yet excludes people from the rights and dignity they should naturally be accorded. Pernicious is the hate hidden in a convoluted, conditional and inconsistent rhetoric of love. Pernicious is the morality that counsels, “You must do as I say, or you will go to Hell!” The First Amendment is not a club to be wielded against someone else.

I am grateful that the attorney general of California is holding people, religious and not, to their regulatory obligations under the law.

Mr. Pastor, sir, if you don’t want contraceptives, the Good News is you are not required to have or to use them. The bad news is, you can’t force others to do as you would do, not even your wife. It is none of your business what other people do with their health coverage, and why should it matter to you? The sad truth is it costs you nothing that someone else can obtain and use contraceptives. While you may believe that the use of contraceptives is ungodly,     though how you would arrive at that conclusion I don't know, as the Bible does not mention them at all  you have no legal grounds by which to deny their availability to or use by anyone. 

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