The bonfire of women's rights continues

Yesterday, I heard one of the worst things I’ve heard in a long time: the Supreme Court ruled that in this country, a for-profit company’s religious beliefs are more important than a woman’s rights to her body.

Obama’s Affordable Care Act came with a contraception mandate, which requires employers to include contraception in their employee health plans. Hobby Lobby was solicited by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and convinced to sue that some types of contraception (IUDs, and the Plan B, and Ella morning-after-pills) clashed with their Christian beliefs and infringed upon their religious rights (More on the Becket Fund later).

The Supreme Court ruled in the favor of Hobby Lobby, citing the company as a “person” and thus protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

According to some voices, this is a “narrow” ruling, affecting only “closely held companies,” so there is no cause for alarm. The definition of a closely held company is one that at least 50% of the companies stock is held by up to 5 family members.

But how narrow is that definition? Just last year, buy backs brought the Walton family’s portion of stocks of Wal-Mart to 50.9%. Their family is also religious. It also falls under the category of a “closely held company.” And they have more employees than any other company in the United States. Koch Industries? Yea, they count too.

When you’re talking about a group of companies that includes Hobby Lobby, Wal-Mart and Koch Industries, the results can no longer be defined as “narrow.” When the subject is a woman’s right to her own body and the opponent a religion whose God’s name is in the pledge of allegiance and on every piece of U.S. currency, it is no longer “localized.” That is why we are worried. That is why it is important.

More than 70 other companies have also sued to be exempt from Obamacare’s contraception provision. 48 of those are still pending. Our justice system looks to the rulings from the Supreme Court for guidance in their own cases in the lower courts, and now they have it.

There is an existing system in place to provide those with contraceptive coverage if they are employed by, for example, the Catholic Church. Supposedly, all the newly affected women will join this channel of access to these now restricted rights. But how will a system set up for thousands of people handle the influx of applicants? How long will it hold out until a new president or congress decides that there just isn’t a budget for women’s contraceptives anymore?

According to Hobby Lobby owners Barbara and David Green’s video response to the ruling “America is a country founded on and sustained by religious liberty.” But Mrs. Green, you are misinterpreting the liberties that our founding fathers intended.

In 1779, as the Governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson proposed a bill (Virginia’s 1786 Act for Establishing Religious Freedom) that would assure full equality for citizens of all religions in Virginia. “… meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.” That means we all get to exist and get to be protected from each other.

How could religious liberty exist if everyone were allowed to affect each other with their own religious agendas? It couldn’t. And our founders never intended for that to happen. They were secularists. In her book Freethinkers, Susan Jacoby describes the distinction: “… a secularist’s specific metaphysical beliefs are politically irrelevant, because insistence on the distinction between private faith and the conduct of public affairs is precisely what distinguishes secularists from the religiously correct”

But despite our founders’ efforts, the Protestant, and recently Catholic, agendas have infected our secular system. The phrase “Under God” was added to our pledge of allegiance in 1942. “In God we trust” was added to our money in 1957. Judicial and executive branches of our government have even endorsed tax breaks to people who wish to send their kids to religious schools.

But when our nation was born, Jefferson not only wanted to protect religions from government, but government from religions as well. He meant for me, as an “infidel”, to have protection against your brand of Christianity or religious institution.

To those who wish to play devil’s advocate and retort that “employees shouldn’t be able to force their beliefs on their employers,” I beg you to reassess your definition of affectation. If an American Islamic extremist wished to sue and demand that his women employees wear the hijab and take away their right to choose their clothing, who would you say was the one truly being forced?

11 year-old Nashala Hearn, a 6th grader in Oklahoma won her case in 2004 when she sued her school district who suspended her for wearing her hijab. It is her right to follow a religious belief that does not negatively affect anyone else. Plenty of people believe the hijab to be a form of repression, but in this country, it can be a choice, and we need to respect it. The difference is in the hypothetical situation where someone is forced to physically follow someone else’s belief system contrary to their own beliefs. That is invasive and against this country’s democratic intentions.

In Jefferson’s 1800 presidential campaign, he wrote “The legitimate powers of government extend only to such acts as are injurious to others… it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

But this ruling is injurious to others. Statistics have shown time and time again that inaccessibility to legal birth control negatively affects the underprivileged, while not making a dent in the upper classes.

Late last year, the Guttemacher Institute found that “Between 1994 and 2006, the number of unintended pregnancies among women whose incomes fall below the national poverty line rose by 50 percent. At the same time, however, unintended pregnancies dropped among more economically privileged women.”

And while fighting for the lives of helpless infants is all well and good, why does the zealous goodwill stop once the baby is actually born? As a “religiously founded” nation who cares so deeply about the life of the unborn fetus, we also have a rate of child poverty that is so high, in the developing world it is only bested by Romania. According to the CIA, even Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate despite a low economy.

Take Mississippi as an example. It is the most religious state in the U.S according to a 2013 Gallup poll. It also is one of the hardest places to get any form of birth control. It is also the third highest-ranked state for unwanted pregnancies, the highest for overall poverty (24.2% live below the poverty line), and highest for child poverty. One in three. That's three times as high as Lithuania, according UNICEF.

And no offense to Hobby Lobby, or the hard-working Americans who work in your aisles, but your employees are not picked from the privileged class. Your employees and your communities are part of those previous statistics. The one’s that could never afford to replace what you have now taken from them. They will be directly affected by this ruling.

This ruling only affirms that to many, women are still mostly a child-bearing vessel. The potential life inside her is more precious than the one she is trying to live herself. The guise of “saving a life” is rhetoric that has drawn many good-willed people to its cause, unwittingly knowing they are merely playing someone else’s power game. It is a tactic that has been used by powerful men, for thousands of years. It’s meant to keep their women at home, subservient, making more little beings for them to rule over.

In fact, let’s take a look at one of the authorities who made this decision: Anton Scalia, Supreme Court Justice since 1986. In 2002, he gave an infamous speech to the Chicago Divinity School titled “God’s Justice and Ours,” where he made it quite plain that he believes our democratic process amounts to nothing in comparison to the will of God.

“It is easy to see the hand of the Almighty behind rulers whose forebears, in the dim mists of history, were supposedly anointed by God, who at least obtained their thrones in awful and unpredictable battles, whose outcome was determined by the Lord of Hosts, that is, the Lord of Armies. It is much more difficult to see the hand of God – or any higher moral authority – behind the fools and rogues (as the losers would have it ) whom we ourselves elect to do our own will. How can their power to avenge – to vindicate the “public order” – be greater than our own?”

And yet, he participates in our democratic processes while he internally scoffs at us all. Even more horrifying, is that while he similarly believes abortion is tantamount to murder, he has no qualms with the death penalty, even for the mentally challenged or minors. In the same speech, Scalia said; “The more Christian a country is the less likely it is to regard the death penalty as immoral. I attribute that to the fact that, for the believing Christian, death is no big deal.” Why is it no big deal for the man when it is so terrible for the fetus? Where is his love for human life? It remains conveniently tucked away until that argument serves his purposes.

I would like to state that I don’t believe Mr. and Mrs. Green to be bad people. Quite the contrary, I believe they are acting within their version of utmost idealism and good will. They also pay their employees a little higher than the established minimum wage, donate half of their profits to charities, and take Sundays off, even though that choice might cost them billions.

But I also find it interesting that they did not come up with this plan on their own. Rather, they were solicited by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty about two years ago to be the poster child for this cause. They were hand picked to be attached to a battle that other people had already decided to fight

The Becket Fund is a 17-year-old-old non-profit law firm, dedicated to protecting religious rights across the world. They have been a widely respected, levelheaded institution, protecting Christians, Muslims, Jews, alike. But in 2011, their leadership changed, and while before they were lead by founder and former Justice Department attorney Kevin Hasson, they are now at the hands of William P. Mumma, a Wall Street Banker who ran the New York trading desk for Mitsubishi UFJ Securities USA.

“What the Becket Fund is trying to do right now is when we know there’s an issue that is really threatening to religious liberty, we are actively out there looking to see if there’s a client we can help,” said  Mumma, President and Chairman of the Board of The Becket Fund.

In a 2012 Huffington Post article written by Jon Ward, the Becket Fund’s executive director Kristina Arriaga comments on the new leadership “So we are a nonprofit that runs like a well-oiled business now. We have gone from Guerilla warriors to special forces.”

In the same article, Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State says the Becket Fund is "trying to raise their profile dramatically. I think there’s a kind of competition on the so called religious right about membership and contributions.”

This might explain why the Becket Fund was so eager to bring Hobby Lobby into their battle. As openly conceded by Mumma, the fight will not stop there. Their new policy is an active one. They are not defending rights anymore. They are attacking them. Seek and destroy. This is not the end for them. This was one battle, but they are fighting a war.

So to Mrs. Green, I wish to remind you that historically, we are a country that was founded by secularist white men, but later captured, controlled and sustained for white Protestant (and eventually also white Catholic) males while the rest of our little melting pot has been trying to catch up ever since. But it was really nice of your husband to let you do the talking in your video response. So, at least there’s that.

The belief that this will remain an insular incident of religious rights is naïve. The United States has been losing a battle against the separation of church and state for over 100 years, and women have been fighting for basic equality rights for much longer than that. This ruling will have far reaching effects, but the profits will be held by just a few.

Our founders wished to create a free and enlightened country. In a letter our 2nd president, John Adams, wrote to our 3rd president, Thomas Jefferson in 1813, Adams states “Miracles or Prophecies might frighten Us out of our Witts; might scare us to death; might induce Us to lie, to say that We believe that 2 and 2 make 5. But We should not believe it. We should know the contrary.”