Something every human being experiences is an inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct that impels them toward right action founded on the complex ethical and moral principles that control or inhibit their actions or thoughts. For an alarming number of Americans, their thoughts and actions are not driven by their inner sense of right and wrong, or their conscience, but rather what their bastardized Americanized Christianity tells them is right and wrong. Since demigod Ronald Reagan’s administration, the religious right inculcated in their weak-minded followers that what is morally right is using their religious conscience to control and impose their will on other Americans; particularly American women. In that sense, the American religious right’s conscience is identical to the extremist ISIS and Taliban conscience in that their “inner sense” informs their religious right to force compliance to their religious concept of right and wrong.
In America, the idea that a Christian’s conscience gives them authority to withhold medical services from non-compliant Americans is the foundation of the various Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) being passed in theocratic Republican states. For the record, those “religious freedoms” were not restored from a previous time; they are a relatively new concept first introduced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in the late 1970s to early 1980s and quickly embraced by theocratic extremists in the religious right movement. However, those so-called “religious freedoms” to use “religious conscience” to deny medical care were dealt a setback this week in Washington state.
According to a unanimous decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, “pharmacy owners do not have a constitutional religious right to refuse to dispense medicines.” The plaintiffs in the case claimed that according to the Washington state and federal RFRA, their conscience supersedes physicians’ expertise and women’s rights and afforded them legal authority to deny prescription drugs, particularly birth control, to patients on the basis of their religion. The pharmacists also were prevented from denying patients physician-prescribed “diabetic syringes, insulin, HIV-related medications, and Valium;” different medicines that curiously violated Washington state evangelicals’ religious conscience.
The lawsuit, Stormans v. Wiesman, centered around a Washington state law that allows “individual pharmacists” to refuse to fill a particular prescription, but only “so long as another pharmacist working for the pharmacy provides timely delivery.” Washington’s RFRA was written to guarantee that when a doctor prescribes legal medicine, a pharmacy is required to dispense it; the plaintiffs in the case disagreed according to their religious conscience. The Court ruled that according to Washington’s RFRA, the “evangelical conscience clause” does not, however, allow ‘the pharmacy itself ‘to refuse to dispense a prescription “even if the owner of the pharmacy has a religious objection.” Two of the people who joined the state officials defending the rule, an HIV-positive man and a woman with AIDS, were rightly fearful that they would be denied “timely access to their prescription medications” if the court sided with the plaintiffs.
According to legal experts, the case should have never made it to the appellate court in the first place. The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) does expand religious extremists’ authority far beyond the minimum requirements of the Constitution, and it is that federal RFRA the Supreme Court’s Vatican-5 used in lieu of the Constitution to rule in favor of the Hobby Lobby corporate conscience. However, that particular (federal) RFRA only applies to challenges against the U.S. Constitution and federal laws and of course religion trumps the Constitution these days. The Stormans v. Wiesman case challenged the validity of the Washington RFRA’s clause requiring “another pharmacist to deliver timely delivery” of physician prescribed medicine and state law challenges are governed by a much less stringent constitutional standard; especially when theocratic challenges are brought in a federal Appeals Court. The Supreme Court already ruled in 1990 that the U.S. Constitution “does not relieve a religious individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).”
The Ninth Circuit unanimously explained that the Washington state rules are just such a “neutral law of general applicability.” The Court explained that, among other things, that “the rules’ delivery requirement applies to all objections to delivery that do not fall within an exemption, regardless of whether that objection is rooted in religious faith or some other reason.” In essence the Appellate judges said that a person who refuses to fill an anti-HIV prescription due to their religious objection to sexual activity that may cause someone to become infected with HIV is treated identically to someone with a purely secular objection to filling the same prescription. Obviously, the ruling and the assertion that a religious fanatic is treated the same as a secular person will not sit well with theocrats.
The only reason the original theocratic lawsuit was not summarily dismissed by the trial judge first hearing the case is because, like the Vatican-5 in Hobby Lobby, the judge ruled that regardless established medical science or Washington’s RFRA, “the plaintiffs had a religious right to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraception premised on their religious right ‘to refrain from taking human life.'” For the one-thousandth time, a zygote or fetus is not a human life according to the theocrats’ own Christian bible where their god said there is no human life, or specifically no living being, until that fetus exits the womb and breathes air of its own accord. Further, contraception cannot possibly “take a human life” because it prevents fertilization, or implantation, of an ovum and therefore cannot in any way, shape, or form be regarded as an abortifacient.
These fanatical Christians, and frankly they are as fanatical as any ISIS or Taliban religious extremist, truly believe that their religious conscience gives them authority over not just medical doctors and their patients, but the population in general. This type of ‘conscience religious objection’ extends far beyond just a pharmacist refusing to do their job and fill a doctor’s prescription for contraceptives. Evangelical medical providers and first responders have attempted to use their religion as a reason to deny medical services, including lifesaving medical care to anyone they “think” acts contrary to their religion’s dictates or their religious conscience.
This case, although properly dispensed by the Appellate court, is not the end of the religious freedom cabal’s assault on Americans, particularly where women’s constitutionally protected reproductive rights are concerned. However, during this American Dark Age where evangelicals are regularly exerting their ‘religious freedom’ over women, and the LGBT community, it was refreshing to see that at least, for a change, a unanimous panel of Appellate Court judges comprehend that America is not yet a biblical theocracy. Once the Court understood that simple, 236-year old fact, they ruled the only way they could according to the U.S. Constitution; being an evangelical extremist does not supersede other Americans or their physicians’ rights to receive medical care or practice medicine. The distressing part is that the plaintiffs are certain to appeal to the Vatican-5 on the Supreme Court and after properly dismantling the religious clauses in the 1st Amendment, they will likely rule theocratically that, like in Hobby Lobby, evangelical extremists have religious freedom to control women and prevent physicians from practicing medicine; a ruling that would endear them to extremists in ISIS and the Taliban.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.