Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Contraception, Five Catholic Supreme Men, and the U.S. As One Big Piggie Park

When the issue was the sincerely held belief that slavery was ordained by God and that racial segregation is the divine will, the Supreme Court was clear about the fact that it's unconstitutional to use religion to discriminate. When the issue was the sincerely held belief that God has placed men over women and the workplaces should favor men economically and in provision of healthcare, the Supreme Court was clear about the fact that religion can't be used to discriminate.

Now, when the issue is contraception, suddenly, things change. Why, I wonder? What's different about the issue of contraception (and, by implication, abortion, since the groups attacking the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate on religious grounds have conflated contraception and abortion — see Fred Clark's valuable take-down of this position yesterday)? 

Hint: look at who made this Hobby Lobby decision. Look at whose religion is suddenly being enshrined in national law, made the law of the land, to which everyone in a pluralistic secular democracy is expected to bow. 

Five Catholic men, the Humanae Vitae Court of the United States in Charles Pierce's apt, zingy formulation, have, at the level of the highest court in the land, just succeeded in turning the United States into one big Piggie Park. And this ought to be of tremendous concern to any of us who have been under the impression that these United States are not a nation in which any particular religion is enshrined, and in which the appeal to sincerely held religious beliefs to justify discrimination in the workplace is an illicit appeal, no matter how sincere those beliefs.

Discrimination by other religious groups citing sincerely held religious beliefs: not okay. Discrimination by Catholics citing sincerely held religious beliefs: hunkydory.

Since Catholics are, don't you know, right. And incapable of the kind of raw, destructive bigotry we see at play in the other cases in which the Supremes rightly ruled that sincerely held religious belief is not sufficient warrant for coercing one's fellow citizens to adhere to one's peculiar religious values and practice discrimination based on those peculiar values.

And as a result, everyone not prone to cheer when the U.S. Catholic bishops score new points by trouncing women or gay folks is now inclined, along with Ronald A. Lindsay, to ask uncomfortable questions about precisely why specifically Catholic theological positions (including, with contraception, positions almost unanimously rejected by the Catholic laity) ought to trump non-discrimination laws in the workplace in a pluralistic secular democracy.* Lindsay writes,

In accepting the Catholic Church's extremely expansive understanding of what constitutes a burden on someone's religious beliefs, while simultaneously being dismissive of concerns that would be raised by minority religions, the Court majority is effectively undermining confidence in Catholic judges and forcing us to ask the uncomfortable question: Is it appropriate to have six Catholilic justices on the Supreme Court?

The U.S. Catholic bishops and their allies in the religious right think they have won a victory with the Hobby Lobby decision. They're rejoicing because that victory has been won over uppity women and, as they imagine, gay human beings. But because this decision exposes the bishops and their allies to uncomfortable questions like the ones Ron Lindsay is now rightly asking, this victory may well prove to be a pyrrhic one in the eyes of the many Americans who do not enjoy seeing some sectors of the human community singled out and trounced to demonstrate the power and might of some religious men who are inclined to throw their weight around as they see their authority diminishing. 

And the victory may prove to be a pyrrhic one in the eyes of the man Americans who do not enjoy the prospect of living in the huge Piggie Park into which the highest court in the land has just turned our country at the behest of mitered men eager to demonstrate their cultural and political clout at a time in which it is waning everywhere in the world. Except, of course, in the circles of other powerful men like themselves . . . . Or the five Catholic men on the Supreme Court . . . . Or the men who own and run corporations . . . . 

The video is from the Maddow blog. If it fails to open here when you click on it, you may want to visit that site and click on the video there.

*See Vince Killoran's very good comment here about the really embarrassing coverage of the Hobby Lobby decision at the Jesuit journal America Magazine, which used to be known for intelligent, critical coverage of Catholic and political issues, but which appears intent at this point in history (as I recently noted) on turning itself into a Pravda-like blaring trumpet for the Catholic hierarchy. 

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