It Isn’t About Their Religion; It’s About Yours
I lecture frequently regarding the separation of church and state; both in general and, more specifically, on the issue of prayer in the public schools. One of the points that I try to put across in my lectures is that for most people who think that there should be organized prayers in public schools, the issue is not whether their kids pray, but rather, whether your kids pray. After all, if parents want their kids to pray, there is no shortage of opportunities for them to do so. Parents can pray with their children, in the home or in a house of worship, before school, after school, and on weekends. Not to mention the fact that anyone can pray silently to themselves any time and any place they want. So why do people want to re-introduce organized prayers in public schools, which were held to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Engel v. Vitale (1962)? If it’s not so their own kids can pray, there must be another reason they want to put organized prayer back in public schools. That reason is: they want everyone else’s kids to pray, including mine and yours, regardless of what we think of this issue.
Which brings us to the Hobby Lobby case (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby), that the Supreme Court decided last week, as well as other recent cases regarding the role and place of religion in public life. Hobby Lobby, a privately owned business, sued the Federal government, seeking a religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employer health plans cover the cost of prescription contraceptives. The use of contraceptives (at least certain kinds) apparently offends the religious sensibilities of the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, and so they do not want their company health insurance plan to cover the cost of those contraceptives for their employees, regardless of what the employees themselves want or believe. The Supreme Court, in its infinite wisdom, agreed with the Green family and held that the ACA’s contraception mandate constituted an unreasonable burden on Hobby Lobby, and that the company was therefore exempt from the requirement that their employees’ health insurance plans cover the type of contraceptives (which include some of the most widely used in the country) to which the Green family objects. Regardless of the contraception mandate in the ACA, nobody is forced to use them. This includes Hobby Lobby’s employees and the Green family themselves. Sure, their employees could purchase such contraceptives with their own funds, but just how much do you think the average worker in a retail hobby store earns? Not enough to reasonably pay for the birth control methods the Green family objects to, I can tell you that. That’s why we have health insurance.
So what is this really about? It’s about individuals using state action to force their religious beliefs on others. Just like the people who want to re-instate organized prayer in public schools, to make sure that your kids pray, and that they do so in the “right” way. Just like the good people of Greece, NY, who recently won a Supreme Court case which allows the Town of Greece to start its official meetings with a Protestant prayer. If you want to do business with the Town, you’ll start your day with a prayer, and you’ll do it their way. Just like the County of San Diego, CA, which just recently gave up on their decades long effort to erect a giant cross on public park land, which the County thought was a good idea because, well, everybody benefits from a good dose of Christianity, don’t they, whether they like it or not.
The fight for so-called religious freedom in this country has morphed into the fight for right-wing Christians to be able to force their religious convictions on the entire country. They say they’re fighting for religious freedom, but they’re actually fighting for religious tyranny. The real fight for religious freedom is the battle being waged by secularists and fair-minded believers all over our country. It’s the fight to practice or not practice any religion we wish without being coerced by religious fanatics, without having our public institutions overrun with religious customs, symbols and practices, leaving us with no choice but to abide them if we want to participate in the process of civic affairs. As the Monty Python troupe famously reminded us “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”. Well, nobody expected the American Inquisition either, but here it is. It is up to real freedom loving people throughout this great land to resist this new Inquisition and therefore preserve real religious freedom for everyone.