Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Amanda Marcotte on Links between U.S. Catholic Bishops' Religious Freedom Rhetoric and Civil Rights-Era Bigotry

At Alternet today, Amanda Marcotte takes a look at the claim of the U.S. Catholic bishops and their supporters that their "religious freedom" and their "rights" trump the rights of employees of Catholic institutions to health insurance coverage that includes access to contraceptives.  Marcotte notes that the tactic the Catholic hierarchy has been employing all year--turning the notions of religious freedom and human rights on their heads to claim their faith-based "right" to deny rights and freedom to others--is not new.  It was part and parcel, as she points out, of the response of bigots to the  Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

Marcotte writes,

It’s not an unusual tactic. During the civil rights era, those who wished to discriminate on the basis of race would often claim that their right to push black people out of their businesses and neighborhoods trumped black people’s right not be discriminated against. Now they’re trying the same tactic, arguing that the greater freedom is not the right to individual conscience, but to bully women who don’t agree with them into living by their religious dogma.

Marcotte is absolutely correct.  And it's still going on.  At least, it's still going on in my area of the country.  As Max Brantley reports last week in Arkansas Times, the Chamber of Commerce in Little Rock is urging the city board to revoke a resolution the board passed back in 1957, applauding then-governor Faubus for resisting the integration of the city's public schools.  It was Faubus's resistance that brought federal troops into the city in that year, to protect African-American youngsters integrating our Central High school.

It's still going on, the attempt of bigots to claim that they're the real victims in civil rights struggles, because have a look at the response of one reader, Thomas Pope, to Max Brantley's report.  Pope writes that the rights of whites are being suspended in the areas of employment and education by a nefarious Democratic party.   Whites, not blacks, are the real victims of America's historic racism.

Just as Catholic bishops denying women the right of health care coverage that includes access to contraceptives or denying gay citizens the right of civil marriage are the real heroes fighting for human rights and religious freedom, and are being made the victims insofar as anyone pushes back against their behavior and names it as bigotry.

The bishops are building on arguments developed by bigots adamantly opposed to racial justice in American society, who remain openly bigoted in some areas of the country, as they continue to argue that they and not African Americans are the real victims of our society.  The bishops and their supporters don't like being called bigots.  

But I wonder what else we can honestly name the bishops and their supporters, when their arguments for "religious freedom" and for unique faith-based "rights" line up so neatly with arguments long used by those seeking to deny rights to people of color--on the very same faith-based grounds cited by the bishops?  Perhaps if more Catholics in the U.S. who have bought into the ideology of the religious right, with its strong Southern base, had a more informed sense of this movement's history and cultural background, they'd be less eager to hop into bed with the movement.

But, then again, perhaps not.  

The graphic is a picture of demonstrators in New Orleans in 1960 protesting the integration of schools.

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