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The Right’s Religious Liberty Lie Hides the Heart of the War on Women
Every parent recognizes the time their young child first exhibits reluctance to follow directions, and although they may be surprised that a four year old has an idea that is independent of mom or dad, they are certainly aware their son or daughter would not be an obedient robot forever. It is innate for individuals to want to have control over their own actions and freedom from outside compulsion, but understanding liberty involves how one imagines the roles and responsibilities of an individual in society and how it relates to the concept of free will. Religion, to its adherents, is anathema to free will and within the confines of a faith, willing participants make a choice of either acquiescing to give up control over their own actions, or are expelled from the faith for willful disobedience, and regardless if it is fair or not, membership in the club comes with restrictions and requirements. There are problems though, when a faith imposes their rules on people outside the faith and, throughout world history, there are examples of powerful religious groups forcing unwilling participants to give up control over their actions or face retribution that more often than not resulted in mayhem and death.
For the past two years in America, a consortium of powerful religious groups have used their legislative arm, the Republican Party, to force universal compliance of their standards governing women, and their latest catch-phrase to justify their actions is religious liberty. The phrase, in and of itself, is incongruent, but within the context of the Constitution’s First Amendment is understood to mean the freedom to worship without interference from the government. However, anti-choice religious groups have twisted the implication to mean their religious liberty entails enforcing their edicts on every woman whether they are members of the club or not, and they are having a measure of success in Republican controlled legislatures.
With the nation’s attention fixed on Willard Romney’s despicable abuse of the death of four American diplomats in Libya for political expediency, many Americans missed the news that anti-choice groups in Missouri used the religious liberty meme to give employers the power to deny contraception coverage to female employees if it conflicted with their religious or moral sensibilities. The measure was championed by the Missouri Catholic Conference, Missouri Right to Life, and other religious groups with the Christian-oriented Hobby Lobby Stores filing suit claiming the federal policy requiring employers to provide contraception coverage is an infringement on their religious rights. The bill had been vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon, but Republicans gathered their biblical cohort together to barely override the veto in both chambers of the state’s legislature. Supporters of the bill claimed it was to register their disapproval of the Obama administration’s policy requiring insurers to cover birth control at no additional cost to women.
In July when Governor Nixon vetoed the bill, he said it was unnecessary because Missouri already has strong religious exemptions in its insurance laws, and that the new law would allow insurers to claim a religious or moral exemption and deny birth control coverage to women who want it. After the veto override vote, Nixon said “the legislators who voted to override this veto are standing between women and their right to make their own personal decisions about birth control.” However, Rep. Sandy Crawford (R) said “This bill is about protecting our religious liberties,” and it gives the state attorney general, or other individuals and entities, grounds to file lawsuits claiming an infringement of their religious rights if they are compelled to cover contraception. The proponents of the law are lying, because their goal is giving religious-minded men the ability to deny women control over their own actions; when they give birth, and when they have sex. It is, in effect, the ultimate expression of negating a woman’s personal freedom under the guise of Catholic and evangelicals’ religious liberty to dominate and control women.
The religious liberty proponents fail to understand a very simple concept about offering contraception coverage; the President’s policy does not require any man, or woman, to use contraception or to abandon their own religious prohibition against using birth control. If the men who voted to override Governor Nixon’s veto are averse to taking birth control pills, their religious liberty allows them to control their own actions including not using an IUD, diaphragm, or other forms of contraception. However, their religious liberty does not give them the right to tell women that the only time they can have sex is if they intend on giving birth.
It is a tenet of the Christian religion that women must subject themselves to a man’s will, and Republicans went all-in to legislate the bible regardless the Draconian laws contradict the true meaning of liberty. According to the Guttmacher Institute, there are 62 million women in the U.S. in their childbearing years, and more than 99% of all women who have ever had sexual intercourse used at least one contraceptive method, and among those at risk of unintended pregnancy, 89% are currently using contraception. It is unfortunate, but now women in Missouri, married or not, are at the mercy of their employer, individuals, or the state attorney general’s religious or moral whims of whether or not they remain chaste and employed, or homebound birth machines. The Missouri Right to Life and Missouri Catholic Conference have successfully stripped show-me-state women of their right to control their own actions if they are employed, and the law is already being challenged by the Greater Kansas City Coalition of Labor Union Women who are seeking an injunction against the measure.
The law was unnecessary because Missouri already had several conscience protections, and a 2001 law states birth control prescriptions shall be covered under policies that include pharmaceutical benefits at the same co-payment or deductible rates as other medications. The same law also allows insurers to offer policies without contraception coverage to people or employers who say it violates their moral or religious beliefs prompting Democratic Sen. Jolie Justus to say, “At best, this is a cheap political stunt that re-states current law, and at worst, it just creates another obstacle to women accessing birth control.” Based on the evangelical and Catholic drive to ban contraception in other states and Congress, it was meant to put up another impediment to birth control and a woman’s right to choose her own reproductive health.
The Missouri law and others in the works are nothing more than a religious imposition to abridge women’s liberty, and their reproductive health. It is the new meaning of religious liberty that most human beings thought perished with the end of the Vatican’s world domination of a bygone era, but this is America in 2012 and in a last ditch effort to hijack the government, religious fanatics are imposing their religious edicts on the entire country beginning with an assault on women. The Republican presidential candidate has promised, that if elected, to pack the Supreme Court with justices who will overturn Roe v Wade to begin America’s foray into theocracy. It is more than a cheap political stunt or a repudiation of the President’s contraception policy; it is an attack on women, their right to choose, and their liberty, and any American that believes for a second religious edicts will end with contraception, they are as naïve as those who believe that offering contraception is a breach of religious liberty.