Hobby Lobby – a Different Point of View

The Hobby Lobby decision implies that it is OK to treat others differently, and unfairly, merely because our religious beliefs dictate that we should do so. This is the sort of logic used by the religious extremists found in any faith: they believe their faith gives them the right to treat others in a way that is not respectful of them or their humanity.

Hobby Lobby315*304We’ve all heard (and read) lots of angry denouncements of the Supreme Court’s recent “Hobby Lobby” decision. I agree with many of them, especially George Takei’s eloquent statement; but, I’d rather not delve into that right now.  Instead, let’s begin by going in a different direction and ask “What is the decision, really?”

To be specific, the Supreme Court deems that “closely held corporations [shall not be forced to] provide health-insurance coverage for methods of contraception that violate the sincerely held religious beliefs of the companies’ owners. … regulations that impose this obligation violate RFRA, which prohibits the Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless that action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.”

The court’s decision is also very carefully written to limit its scope and effect, even though efforts are already underway to extend the impact of this decision into new territory.   The justices explicitly state that they did not deem it necessary to address or consider the First Amendment (“Freedom of Religion”) claims of the plaintiffs, since the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA) is applicable to this case, and in the court’s opinion, the defense’s case clearly fails the tests imposed by the RFRA, as passed by Congress under President Clinton in 1993.

The justices go on to state: We do not hold … that for-profit corporations and other commercial enterprises can “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” … Nor do we hold … that such corporations have free rein to take steps that impose “disadvantages . . . on others” or that require “the general public [to] pick up the tab.” … And we certainly do not hold or suggest that “RFRA demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on . . . thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby.” … The effect of the HHS-created accommodation on the women employed by Hobby Lobby and the other companies involved in these cases would be precisely zero. Under that accommodation, these women would still be entitled to all FDA-approved contraceptives without cost sharing.

So, at first blush this all seems fairly reasonable, and it was such reasoning that helped lead to the end of the so called “Blue Laws” in many states that required businesses to be closed on Sundays. At that time – a generation or two ago – it was determined that such laws proved an unfair burden for – for instance– Jewish small business owners, who were already closing their shops on Saturdays due to their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Continue reading “Hobby Lobby – a Different Point of View”

Be Happy

Many have already noted the irony of hardliners in the Islamic Republic of Iran arresting the youth who appear in this tribute to Pharrell William’s video “Happy.”  It seems that happiness is not allowed in Iran, particularly for youth.

Maybe so, but what I also find ironic is the many in the West who claim to be Christian and who condemn Islam – as a whole – for being a cruel and violent religion.  From time to time, we all see videos or screeds (in various internet forums or email) warning us of the evils of Islam.  The thrust of these is that Islam, and usually every other religion that is not Christianity for that matter, are branded as evil.  The authors of such missives usually emphasize that Islam is a threat to Christianity and/or to the United States, and that we must respond in kind.  Usually, the rantings of one or more extremist Muslim clerics or out of context quotes from the Koran or various Muslim prophets are supplied as evidence that Islam is bent upon destroying anything that stands in the way of Islam’s domination of the world.

I have several responses to such drivel…

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Just a Slut

rush_limbaughIn the movie “Definitely, Maybe“, Dakota Fanning asks her philandering father the question “What’s the male word for ‘Slut’?” To which he sheepishly responds “They’re still working on that one.”

It’s sad that in this day and age, the slang word for a female who is suspected of having multiple intimate partners is still an accusatory, denigrating term (“slut”); while the nearest equivalent for a male denotes admiration or envy (“stud”).

Ultimately, this reflects the ongoing imbalance of power between men and women in this society.  While there has been steady improvement over the last century or so, our language, laws and social expectations still grant men dominance and marginalize the role of women in relationships and society; we are far from resolving the problem.

This dichotomy has been highlighted in recent attempts by some Christian leaders, and political leaders at both the State and National level, to cast the issue of reproductive rights for women as a “freedom of religion” issue.

In my own view, this is alarmingly disingenuous.  “Freedom of Religion” has always meant the freedom to practice ones’ own faith without interference from the state.  It does not include the right to impose ones’ religious beliefs on others, nor the right to practice ones’ faith in a way that causes harm to others.

Yet, this is what is being proposed by those who are using the “Freedom of Religion” argument in the current controversy, that I, as a person of faith, have the right to determine whether another person has the right to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  Or, to put it less grandiloquently, has the right to determine what is best for themselves.

So, which of the two trumps the other?  Should “Freedom of Religion” take precedence over our right to self-determination?  I think not.  To do so would push our nation in the direction of a Theocracy while turning the cry of “Freedom of Religion” into the perfect excuse for avoiding any responsibility or law that we find distasteful.

Continue reading “Just a Slut”

Absolute Knowledge

J Edgar HooverAs a recent New York Times video (about the event that proved J. Edgar Hoover was on a crusade to destroy liberal dissent) demonstrates, it is natural for those in power to view ANY challenge to their authority and/or policies as a threat.  It is not much of a step from there to justify the need to silence all who oppose their policies, even though (as one of the people in this video says) “dissent is the lifeblood of Democracy.”

So, one must reflect on how the legacy of Karl Rove & Dick Cheney, Richard M. Nixon, Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, and Albert S. Burleson (among others), proves that this temptation to squash dissent (rather than allow it to have a place in “the marketplace of ideas”) has a long and unrelenting history in this nation (let alone elsewhere!) and that preserving free speech is a never-ending and often thankless battle.

I should note that several people I know are mentioned in the FBI’s surveillance files from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. Some (like my Dad) merited only a passing reference.  Others were the target of prolonged harassment and pressure, to try and silence them and/or to force them to name others as threats to the public order.

Our modern euphemism for such threats is the word “terrorist” – which is a term that has become fashionable in some circles as a label for any who dissent, used far more often than is merited.

So, in the current furor over Richard Snowden and the NSA’s spying activities, one must remember that the NSA has accumulated the largest trove of information and knowledge about the activities of millions of people that has ever been assembled – far greater than what the most repressive regimes in history were ever able to accumulate.  Whether Snowden is a hero of free speech or not, he is but one in a long line of those who have paid a great price for their attempts to shine a light in the dark corners of our government.

Can we trust that there isn’t a nascent J. Edgar Hoover somewhere within the Beltway who has access to this mountain of data?

I doubt it.

Knowledge is power.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or gaining) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site).