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“A Moral Imperative”: Protecting Access To Birth Control Does Not Violate Religious Freedom

In many respects it is amazing that in 2012 there is a controversy over women’s access to birth control.

Let’s be clear, the current controversy over the Obama administration’s rules that require all employers who provide health insurance to provide birth control without a co-pay to its women employees, has nothing whatsoever to do with religious freedom.

It has everything to do with an attempt to take away women’s access to easy, affordable birth control, no matter where they work.

Birth control is not controversial.  Surveys show that 99 percent of women and 98 percent of Catholic women have used birth control at some time in their lives.

No one is trying to require that anyone else use birth control if it violates their religious convictions.  But the convictions of some religious leaders should not be allowed to trump the rights of women employees to have access to birth control.

The rule in question exempts 355,000 churches from this requirement since they presumably hire individuals who share the religious faith of the institutions in question.  But it does not exempt universities and hospitals that may be owned by religious organizations, but serve — and employ — people of all faiths to engage in decidedly secular activities. These are not “religious institutions.”  They are engaged in the normal flow of commerce, even though they are owned by religious organizations.

Some religious leaders argue that they should not be required to pay for birth control coverage for their employees if they have religious objections to birth control. This argument ignores the fact that health insurance coverage is not a voluntary gift to employees. It is a part of their compensation package. If someone opposed the minimum wage on religious grounds — say because they believed it “discouraged individual initiative” — that wouldn’t excuse them from having to pay the minimum wage.

If a Christian Science institution opposed invasive medical treatment on religious grounds, it would not be allowed to provide health care plans that fund only spiritual healing.

Many Americans opposed the Iraq War — some on religious grounds.  That did not excuse them from paying taxes to the government.

The overwhelming majority of Americans oppose taking away the ability for women to have easy, affordable access to birth control. A Public Policy Polling survey released yesterday found that 56 percent of voters support the decision to require health plans to cover prescription birth control with no additional out-of-pocket fees, while only 37 percent opposed.  Fifty-three percent of Catholic voters favor the benefit.

Fifty-seven percent of voters think that women employed by Catholic hospitals and universities should have the same rights to contraceptive coverage as other women.

No doubt these numbers would be vastly higher if the poll were limited to the employees of those hospitals and universities because eliminating the requirement of coverage would cost the average woman $600 to $1,200 per year in out-of-pocket costs.

But ironically, requiring birth control coverage generally costs nothing to the institution that provides it.  That’s because by making birth control accessible, health plans cut down on the number of unwanted pregnancies that cost a great deal more.  And of course they also cut down on the number of abortions.

That may help explain why many Catholic-owned universities already provide coverage for birth control. For instance, a Georgetown University spokesperson told ThinkProgress yesterday that employees “have access to health insurance plans offered and designed by national providers to a national pool. These plans include coverage for birth control.”

The University of San Francisco, the University of Scranton, DePaul University in Chicago, Boston College — all have health insurance plans that cover contraception.

And, finally, this is nothing new. Twenty-eight states already require organizations that offer prescription insurance to cover contraception.

Of course the shocking thing about this entire controversy is that there is a worldwide consensus that the use of birth control is one of society’s most important moral priorities.  Far from being something that should be discouraged, or is controversial, the use of birth control is critical to the survival and success of humanity.

In 1968, the world’s population reached 3.5 billion people.  On October 31, 2011, the United Nations Population Division reported that the world population had reached seven billion.  It had doubled in 43 years.

It took 90,000 years of human development for the population to reach 1 billion. Over the last two centuries the population has grown by another six billion.

In fact, in the first 12 years of the 21st Century, we have already added a billion people to the planet.

It is simply not possible for this small planet to sustain that kind of exponential human population growth.  If we do, the result will be poverty, war, the depletion of our natural resources and famine. Fundamentally, the Reverend Malthus was right — except that the result is not inevitable.

Population growth is not something that just happens to us.  We can choose whether or not to reproduce and at what rates.

No force is required.  The evidence shows that the population explosion stops where there is the availability of birth control and women have educational opportunity.

That’s why it is our moral imperative to act responsibly and encourage each other to use birth control.  And it’s not a hard sell.  Children are the greatest blessing you can have in life.  But most people are eager to limit the number of children they have if they have access to contraception. We owe it to those children — to the next generation and the generation after that — to act responsibly and stabilize the size of the human population.

The moral thing to do is to make certain that every woman who wants it has access to birth control.

 

By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post, February 8, 2012

February 10, 2012 Posted by | Birth Control, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Does It Matter Newt Cheated?

Newt Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne, told ABC News he’s morally unfit to be president because he cut out on her with Callista and then asked her to go along with the arrangement. She’s attacking the candidate who shut down the entire U.S. government because it was spending too much money on poor people; who thinks that “African-American” is just a synonym for food stamp recipient; and who wants to conscript impoverished children into janitorial jobs to teach them promptness. And we’re worrying about what he did with his dick? Watch out: When all morality collapses into sexual morality, the voters will become so fixated on whom the candidates are screwing they don’t notice …  it’s them.

Most of the fault for this misallocation of our moral indignation lies, of course, in the unruly sexuality of fourth-century Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo. Like Newt Gingrich, Augustine’s sexual desires stood in the way of his ambition — in his case, for a career in the church. Although, like Gingrich, Augustine finally suppressed sufficiently to embrace the requisite behavior, in his struggles he left behind the wicked legacy that conflates sexual desire with moral failure. As time went by, the church agreed that sex was OK as long as you confined it to one lifelong heterosexual reproductive marriage. The monogamous marriage really took off as a moral model when Martin Luther founded the Protestant wing that Gingrich the Catholic now eschews. Like Gingrich, Martin Luther had his eye on a nun long before he nailed the theses.

And so when Gingrich decided to get married in 1962 and again in 1981 and once more in 2000, Speaker Gingrich had to commit himself to be faithful to Wife 1, Wife 2 and, now, Callista. And then he breached his contract. Again and again. Unless you live in fourth-century Italy, that’s what infidelity is. Not the sum and substance of all that’s wrong in the world. Not the only thing a Republican can do that is legitimate to criticize (enjoying all those Cayman millions, Mitt?). Not the definition of immorality. But definitely a breach of contract. It’s like walking away from your mortgage when your house is underwater or wearing a dress to the party and then taking it back to the store.

Breach of contract, like lying, is not nothing. When people try to get out from under the Catholic/Protestant order of sexual morality, they try to say Gingriching around is nothing, as long as you don’t do it in the streets and scare the horses: the right to privacy and all that. That is as foolish as saying infidelity is everything. All you have to do is look at the video of the usually unflappable Hillary Clinton walking to the helicopter to Camp David that awful day in 1997 to know that breaching the fidelity contract is not nothing.

The problem is, what with no-fault divorce, our society provides no damages for breach of sexual contract other than a suicidal divorce. In most divorces, the breacher pays about the same price as he would for forgetting to return his Netflix. Especially if he’s a big, powerful man like Newt Gingrich and the wife was foolish enough to bet all her hopes for her future on his stellar course. Or Bill Clinton. Or France’s contribution to the news category, feel-like-you-need-a-shower-after-hearing-it, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Their wives were smart enough not to try to enforce their contract of marital fidelity through the suicidal medium of divorce. Hillary Clinton gagged it down and she almost made it to the White House. Anne Sinclair got chosen the most admired woman in France. Don’t blame them for choosing unconditional surrender. Under the current divorce laws and social norms, those alpha males are the U.S.Army and the wives are Grenada. Why does the society treat the women who invest early in high-flying careers so much worse than the early investors in, say, Facebook? A better system would treat a Marianne Gingrich at least as well as the courts treated the Winklevoss twins.

Which is why I’m actually rooting for Marianne. When she refused to take Newt’s offer and stay on the gravy train, he tried to stick her with two grand a month they had agreed to after an earlier squabble. His earlier attempts to avoid supporting his first wife and their daughters were also legendary. Now he’s a Tiffany-patronizing, speech-making money machine, a gold mine. And as usual the ex-wife got the shaft. It’s not the definition of immorality, but her going public right before the South Carolina primary has all the appeal of asymmetrical warfare. Just as Newt was cruising down the road to victory in South Carolina his jeep hit an IED. He’ll probably be fine. But it’s so gratifying at least to see him bleed a little.

 

By: Linda Hirshman, Salon, January 20, 2012

January 23, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Family Values | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We The People” And America’s Future: Is Rick Perry As American As He Thinks He Is?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece asking whether Governor Rick Perry could call himself a Christian given his opposition to government actions to help the hungry, aged, and ill. Not surprisingly, many challenged my view of Christianity. In letter after letter they pointed out that Christ spoke to individuals, not government. My observation that He was speaking to a conquered people, not free individuals who could use their power to make a more just state, was not convincing. My reference to the prophets Micah, Amos, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, each of whom called on governmental leaders to help the poor, was dismissed as being from the “Old Testament.”

I will surely return to the issue of Christianity again, but I devote this piece to Rick Perry’s character and the character he would nurture in American citizens. Teddy Roosevelt said, “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.” So what is the character that Perry embodies? What is his view of the American citizen and the citizen’s responsibility to our country and to one’s fellows?

First, Perry himself.

His persona evokes the rugged individualist. His warning to Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, not to come to Texas so that he can avoid being subjected to “real ugly” frontier justice evidences a character antithetical to one of the crowning achievements of the United States — a nation under law, not men. In a phrase, he dismisses the Bill of Rights — due process, trial by jury, the right to confront one’s accuser.

The real question is not what character he would make of the United States but whether he believes in America at all. He has threatened to secede. Central to his campaign is his pledge to shrink the federal government — making it impossible for our noble nation to lead the world, to serve as the “city on the Hill.”

Perry may want to pretend that he is taking America back to a better past, but his actions are part of the movement away from nation-states, where countries are largely irrelevant. The notion that we are at the end of the need for nation-states is gaining more adherents globally. The fortunate few, commonly referred to as the Davos groupies, hang out with the other well off and well-heeled all over the world. Summering in Europe, wintering in Colorado, the global elite have more in common with and feel more loyal to their carefully connected crowd than with their fellow citizens. When one’s loyalty lies with one’s own class, where does that leave one’s country?

In declaring his wish to shrink the size of government, Perry believes that government should have as little role in people’s lives as possible. No investment in education, science research, building the railroads, highways, or sewage systems of the future.  Why care about America’s future, why set inspirational goals that bring people together, if you don’t believe in “We the people”?

Nationalism, patriotism, commitment to one another are for Perry an anachronism, a thing of the past. He has not said that those with the greatest wealth, talent, and circumstances have any special responsibility to our country or their fellow citizens. He has not said we are all Americans together. Rather, he seems to be able to watch human suffering with equanimity — as though America should be a place of survival of the fittest. No Social Security, no Medicare, no unemployment insurance, no laws to protect clean air, clean water. When hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and flood destroy home and communities — no FEMA, no help. “We” are on our own.

In his book Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America From Washington, Perry writes that the 16th Amendment, which gave birth to the federal income tax, was “the great milestone on the road to serfdom,” because it represented “the birth of wealth redistribution in the United States.”

Individualism, self-reliance, self-respect — these are great virtues, useful in many fields of endeavor. But they are not enough to sustain a nation. Virtues don’t spring into being in a moment. They need to be exercised and practiced. Nations at war need courage, quick thinking, and selflessness. Nations at peace require that sense of duty to others. No man goes into a burning building for mere money. Nor does a fierce individualism nurture the patience that a teacher requires, the love given by a hospice nurse caring for a dying man.

Citizens’ moral compasses do not stem only from their faith. Government also defines the moral standard of a nation. If we are told that blacks are worth but three-fifths of whites, many will see this as the acceptable treatment of their fellow man. Likewise, when the government declares it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, we see that discrimination is also wrong.

When a candidate like Governor Perry boasts that he will shrink government by cutting those programs that grasp the nation’s imagination of what we can do together, he is saying that America does not need the one institution in which we make our most solemn decisions together. We need not nurture a nation of laws, nor educate the young, nor protect the elderly. Teddy Roosevelt took on the trusts, protected the environment, made America more just. The character of the nation improved with his leadership. Can it improve with Perry’s?

By: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, The Atlantic, August 29, 2011

August 30, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, Education, Elections, Equal Rights, Freedom, GOP, Government, Governors, Human Rights, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Liberty, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Seniors, Social Security, Teaparty, Unemployment, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Religion, Patriotism And Freedom: Ayn Rand Vs. America

Ayn Rand has a large and growing influence on American politics. Speaking at an event in her honor, Congressman Paul Ryan said, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”

A few weeks ago, Maureen Fiedler, the producer of the weekly radio show, Interfaith Voices, asked me to participate in a debate with Onkar Ghate, a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute. I eagerly accepted. I wanted to hear how a follower of Rand would defend proposals to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps while exempting the wealthy from paying their fair share.

In one sense there was agreement. Maureen, a Sister of Loretto, argued that Republican budget proposals turned their back on Christ’s admonition to care for “the least among us,” the hungry, the sick, the homeless. Ghate did not dispute that. Rand, he said, was an atheist who did not believe in government efforts to help those in need.

Ghate countered Sister Maureen’s religious position with a moral argument. He maintained that redistribution of wealth was unfair to the rich and weakened the ambition of the rest. I wasn’t surprised by this position, since I’d heard it repeatedly during the fight on welfare reform.

What I did find startling was Ghate’s insistence that just as there should be a separation of church and state, so there should be a separation of economics and state. That notion really got me thinking.

I’ve always understood that one’s loyalty to God should take precedence over one’s patriotic duty. Churches are exempt from taxation, and conscientious objectors aren’t required to serve in war. Our high regard for the First Amendment shows the preeminence of faith in the American consciousness.

But to place economics on the same level as religious freedom seemed to me almost blasphemous. Are we really to believe that the freedom to make money should stand on the same level of religious liberty? Are the words of Milton Friedman equal to the Sermon on the Mount?  I don’t think so. But maybe in the eyes of Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan, they are.

Ayn Rand’s biography goes a long way toward explaining her animus to government. Her first-hand experience of communism showed her how the state can crush people, kill dissent, and exile lovers of freedom to the gulag. Horrified by what government power could do, she was determined to shrink it to the point of impotence.

America was the perfect place for Rand’s single-minded celebration of the individual. After all, this was the nation that inspired intrepid emigrants to leave behind country, family, and friends with little more than the shirt on their back to make a new life. Here they wouldn’t be judged by what they were before or who their parents were but by what they could made of themselves.

America was a beacon of freedom from its earliest days. But the freedom to earn one’s living is not the same as the freedom to emasculate government. It’s a mistake to enshrine individual liberty without acknowledging the role that a good government plays in preserving and promoting it. Look at places like Haiti, Somalia, and the Congo to see what happens when governments aren’t around much.

When government is marginalized, it’s not just individual freedom that suffers; the economy suffers too. A vibrant capitalism requires a legal system: contracts must be honored, fraud punished. Markets have to work, and for that we need a strong infrastructure of roads, rail, energy, and water and sewage systems.

Good government sets us free to spend our days in fruitful endeavors, not evasive action motivated by fear and distrust. Government regulations reassure us that speeding drivers will be arrested, that the financial products we buy won’t cheat us, and that it will be safer to put our money in banks than under our pillows. If we can’t trust our food to be healthy, our drugs to be safe, or our planes to fly without crashing, we’ll waste a lot of productive time.

During the debate, I also raised the point that the separation of economics and state implies that businesses and the people who run them are under no obligation to be patriotic.

In the 19th century, the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Fricks, and J.P. Morgans wanted America to do well because their own fortunes were tied to American prosperity. They made America a great economic power by creating jobs and technological advances right here at home. They knew that their own fortunes were bound up with the well-being of their fellow Americans.

In Ayn Rand’s America, the first obligation of CEOs is to their shareholders, not to citizens. Their business is global, not local. Why should they care if they send jobs overseas? Why should they be concerned if American kids can’t do math or write a sentence? They’ll just outsource the work. Why should they worry that the next generation of Americans is going to have a tough time? Their own kids will do just fine. And in the meantime, they’re doing just fine themselves.

Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, sees a problem with this view. He writes, “You could say, as many do, that shipping jobs overseas is no big deal because the high-value work–and much of the profits–remain in the U.S. That may well be so. But what kind of a society are we going to have if it consists of highly paid people doing high-value-added work–and masses of unemployed?”

Don Peck makes a similar point in his new book, Pinched, and in an Atlantic cover story. “Arguably,” he writes, “the most important economic trend in the United States over the past couple of generations has been the ever more distinct sorting of Americans into winners and losers, and the slow hollowing-out of the middle class.”

Besides this economic problem, I also see a moral issue with Ayn Rand’s insistence that all of us, CEOs included, should be totally free of the ties that bind. I especially disagree when it comes to CEOs. As I wrote here a few months ago, the wealthy have a special responsibility. Much will be asked of those to whom much has been given. Participating in government and civic life, serving in war, helping the less fortunate, and–yes–paying a fair share of taxes are inescapable responsibilities for all Americans, especially for those who have realized the American dream that inspires us all.

I doubt there was anything I could have said in the debate that would have induced Onkar Ghate to view the meaning of freedom in a different light. I suppose he might say the same of me. Still, I can’t see how one can be free in a vacuum. Freedom takes work, by each of us, and by our government, to create the place where each of us can prosper. The freedom to sleep under a bridge is no freedom at all. We can only be free when we work together for the well-being of all Americans–including the least among us.

By: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, The Atlantic, August 23, 2011

August 26, 2011 Posted by | Capitalism, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Democrats, Equal Rights, Freedom, GOP, Government, Human Rights, Ideologues, Ideology, Immigrants, Liberty, Medicaid, Medicare, Middle East, Politics, Regulations, Religion, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes, Teaparty, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Day Of Prayer And Fasting”: Rick Perry’s Houston Dog Whistle

The definition of a political “dog whistle” is a communication (or series of communications) that convey to key members of an interest or constituency group gratifying but potentially controversial affirmations of their views without the mainstream media or the broader electorate catching on. By that standard, Rick Perry’s big “day of prayer and fasting” in Houston over the weekend was a very successful dog whistle.

Mainstream and secular-conservative media coverage of the event (dubbed “The Response,” itself a dog whistle reference to an ongoing series of dominionist events operating under the brand of “The Call” aimed at mobilizing conservative evangelicals to assume leadership of secular society) generally concluded that it was a largely “non-political” gathering–just some Christians upset about the bad economy and their own moral failings who got together to pray over it.

A few reporters who watched and listened more carefully, and had a Christian Right decoder ring on hand, had a very different take. Religion Dispatches’ Sarah Posner, who knows the ins and outs of dominionist thinking exceptionally well, and who attended the Houston event, explained its intent as an act of political mobilization:

“[C]ommand” and “obedience” were the day’s chief buzzwords for many speakers, as repentance was required on behalf of yourself, your church, and your country for having failed to commit yourself to Jesus, for having permitted abortion and “sexual immorality,” for failing to cleanse yourself of “filthiness,” and to repent for having “touched what is unclean….”

The people who gathered at Reliant Stadium are not just Rick Perry’s spiritual army, raised up, as Perry and others imagine it, in the spirit of Joel 2, to sound an alarm and prepare the people for Judgment Day. They are the ground troops the religious right set out four decades ago to create, and duplicate over generations, for the ongoing culture wars. One part of that army is people like Perry himself, supported by religious right political elites who aimed to cultivate candidates, advocates, and political strategists committed to putting God before government.

That a sitting governor would laugh off charges that his “instigation” of an exclusively Christian–and, more specifically, a certain kind of Christian–event is proof of the success of the cultural and spiritual warriors, who believe they are commanded to “take dominion” over government and other spheres of influence. Perry is their man in a high place, in this case an especially courageous one, willing to rebuff charges from the “radical secularists” that he’s crossed the line between church and state. That makes him something much more than just a political or spiritual hero; he is an exemplar.

Slate’s Dave Weigel was also in Houston, and his report debunks the talk of the event being “nonpolitical” by understanding, like Posner, the political freight of the particular strain of evangelical Christianity mostly represented there:

[According to] Pete Ortega, one of dozens of people who’s come up from San Antonio on buses from John Hagee’s church…there is nothing political about the event, he says. He just wants to praise Perry.

“If this is successful here,” he says, “I think other governors, or other politicians, will come out of the closet. Christianity is under attack, and we don’t speak out about it.”

That’s the brilliance of what Perry has done here: These ideas don’t contradict each other at all. He doesn’t need to talk about politics, or do anything besides be here and understand this event. The religion is the politics. These worshippers understand that if they can bring “the kingdom of God” to Earth, economic problems, even macroeconomic problems, will sort themselves out….

The soon-to-be Republican presidential frontrunner, who is best known among liberal voters for raising the prospect of secession and for presiding over hundreds of executions, has just presented himself as a humble messenger of obvious biblical truth. “Our heart breaks for America,” he says. “We see discord at home.

We see fear in the marketplace. We see anger in the halls of government.” It’s one day since S&P downgraded America’s bond rating, in part because the agency worried that conservative Republicans had proved that they would never agree to a debt-reducing bargain that included tax increases. Perry was pulling off an impressive act of transference.

Observers who don’t get any of what Posner and Weigel are talking about are in effect assisting him in the effort to execute his dog whistle appeal to activists whose world-view is entirely alien to nearly all secular Americans and most mainstream Christians. But just because much of the country can’t hear it doesn’t mean it cannot serve as a powerful inducement to political activity in a presidential nominating process where small determined groups of people can have a big impact.

By: Ed Kilgore, The Democratic Strategist, August 8, 2011

August 9, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, GOP, Government, Governors, Ideologues, Ideology, Journalists, Media, Politics, Press, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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