I have said on MSNBC, Twitter, and Facebook numerous times that we seem to be in a political environment where men have a surging desire to tell women what to do (or not to do) with their bodies. Many of my friends on the GOP side of the aisle and frankly some on the left have pushed back, claiming this current debate to be about religious freedom only.
I have an inherent faith in people, including people of faith, whether they be Democrats, Republicans, or none-of-the-above. When someone tells me something, I start from a place where they’re telling me the truth unless I have a reason to believe otherwise. Perhaps this faith in “man” stems from my undergraduate days at The Citadel where we were bound by an honor code: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do.”
Over the course of my weekend reading and researching for this column, I ran across a piece by The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein concerning the number of legislative actions restricting a woman’s right to choose currently pending in those neat little laboratories called the 50 state legislatures. This led me to the Guttmacher Institute’s website, where I found a ton of information on the proliferation of “religious freedom” legislation pending all across America, including in the United States Senate and House of Representatives.
You might imagine how surprised I was to learn that there are currently pending 430 bills in our state legislatures restricting abortion. According to the staff at Guttmacher, roughly 83 of these kinds of bills were signed into law in 2011. Now compare that number to November 2010, prior to the GOP taking over a majority of the state legislatures when only 23 bills were signed into law. This is troubling not because I have strong opinions about abortion but because I’m being lied to and that, my friends, really hacks me off.
If these debates in the states are supposed to be about religious freedom, exactly whose religious freedom are we protecting?
America is by and large a Judeo-Christian nation. We are made up of believers in a higher power and of non-believers as well. I happen to be a believer, an Episcopalian, and my religion is perhaps the most private aspect of my personal life. I, like many other Americans, am a member of a church that is in the mainstream of our culture on the issue of abortion and choice. And while we’re at it, I don’t know what pro-life is vs. pro-death but I think if I had my druthers I’d rather just be pro-woman. That’s another column for another day though.
The Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church all play this issue right down the middle, where most Americans actually find themselves. Combined, these churches account for over 13,000,000 communicants. Obviously there are millions more Protestants than these three churches but I single them out because these are mainstream faiths which have existed since the founding of our country. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, maintains a population of around 65,000,000. Without a doubt, there are more Catholics in the USA than any other religion.
This begs the following questions: A) Should the majority church determine religious legislation? B) Should the minority’s stance on abortion, contraception, gay marriage, interracial marriage or any other social issue be ignored under the guise of “religious freedom?” and C) Should any government big or small be involved with our bodies (remember Terry Schiavo)?
What about America’s Jewish population? I don’t seem to recall anyone in the 50 state legislatures standing up for the religious freedom of their Jewish constituents. According to halacha (Jewish law), as a general rule abortion should only be allowed if the life of the mother is in danger. Once the baby’s head has exited the womb and has taken its first breath, only then does the child have the same rights as the mother. Again, I must ask the question: which if any of these state legislatures are taking their Jewish constituents’ religious freedoms into account when they pass these laws?
If our governments (either state and federal) want to protect religious freedom, shouldn’t they be protecting that right and privilege for ALL Americans by staying out of our homes and our doctors’ offices? Many of us are familiar with the tyranny of the majority. My fellow South Carolinian, former Vice President and Senator John C. Calhoun, spoke repeatedly about what is known as the “concurrent majority” i.e. the states passing laws when they feel their rights have been infringed upon by the Federal government. I believe strongly in states’ rights but not at the expense of civil rights. Jim Crow laws and bans on interracial marriage stemmed from this theory and I’d love to hear someone defend those types of laws today.
I have developed what I like to call the “pajama test.” If you’re in a room where PJ’s are required or worn, the big hand of government should rarely be your guest. We have the right to be left alone in our homes and in our doctors’ offices. Justice, my friends, is blind. She wears the blindfold for a reason and I don’t think she wants to see our pajamas.
Legislation being passed across this country isn’t about religious freedom for everyone. It’s about religious freedom for some. Once again we as a nation find ourselves at the same crossroad of personal liberty and equal rights and once again, it’s an election year. And I really wish our politicians would stop lying to us about their intent and stop hiding behind a governmental pulpit. It just seems so, well, dishonorable.