Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
“Remember the Constitution? Let’s get back to it!”
I saw that bumper sticker on a pickup truck that passed us on the highway in Phoenix last month.
Based on the fact that we were in Phoenix (in the state so Republican “red” that when you come to a traffic light, you Stop on Green and Go on Red – and only right turns are allowed), I had to assume that the slogan was part of the familiar right-wing fantasy.
You know, the one that insists: Democrats hate the Constitution. (By the way, I just Googled that phrase and got almost 31 million results – it’s clearly a popular sentiment.)
Naturally, that argument has surfaced – with the speed and ferocity of a nuclear-tipped Polaris missile launched from the USS Wingnut – during the recent fight over birth control.
As you know, the government recently announced that some religiously connected institutions – not churches, but, for example, church-owned universities and hospitals – would be required to provide health insurance that covered contraception.
When they heard this news, Catholic bishops threw up their hands in dismay (causing any number of them to drop their favorite 10-year-old boys, who scuttled off, pulling up their pants and weeping uncontrollably, as young boys will after a “religious experience”).
Once those bishops got their knickers unknotted and their skirts demurely arranged, they began howling, “the First Amendment!”
(Forgive a side note here, but I wonder if perhaps they should concentrate on the First Commandment. That’s the one that says, “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above. … You shall not bow down to them or serve them.” Seems to me I see a lot of bowing down to “graven images” whenever I wander into a Catholic church. But maybe I’m missing something – other than my foreskin, I mean.)
The bishops declared that, since the First Amendment decrees absolute separation of church and state, the government had no right to require them to offer health insurance that violated their prohibition on birth control.
They swiftly moved on to make that issue part of “Obama’s war on religion.” (I just checked that one on Google: 193 million hits.)
Obama – who might or might not actually be the Antichrist (almost 21 million Google hits) – quickly came up with a compromise. Those quasi-religious institutions (universities, hospitals, papal car washes and Jiffy Lubes) would not have to provide health insurance that covered birth control. The insurance companies would provide it themselves, separate from the employers’ health insurance.
And that coverage would be free – truly free – because insurance companies know it’s cheaper to offer birth control than to pay for pregnancies, wanted or unwanted. (This is, of course, in observance of the insurance companies’ own one true religion: worship of the almighty dollar.)
Did this solve the problem? Of course not. The bishops screamed even louder, and Republicans raced to introduce laws that would allow any employer, of any religion, to reject any health insurance that offended them for any reason.
All in the name of religious freedom.
So here’s one question that comes to mind: How about the religious freedom of those employees?
I mean, sure, if you really work directly for the church, that shouldn’t be a problem. A Catholic priest or nun should have no qualms about following the rules of Catholicism (and, of course, shouldn’t need birth control).
But suppose you’re a Protestant (or, who knows, a Hindu) janitor, mopping the floors of the dining hall at Georgetown University.
Do you have to give up your religious freedom when you accept that job? You’re taking a mop handle, not holy orders.
Religious freedom needs to cut both ways, doesn’t it?
It has been fashionable in recent years for various conservative religious types to declare that the words “separation of church and state” are not in the Constitution. And, they continue, neither is there any mention of a “wall between church and state.”
They are, of course, correct.
But they then move on to argue that this means that religion really can seep into our public life. After all, there’s no wall there.
Prayer in schools? Damn right. Christmas pageants in schools? Hell yes! A nativity scene in front of city hall? That too.
A Confederate flag over the state Capitol? Oh, wait. Sorry. Wrong sort of deeply held faith.
But here’s the problem they don’t want to recognize: Once you’ve replaced that wall of separation with a semipermeable membrane … well, stuff starts to permeate. In both directions.
That “wall” was conceived as much to protect church from state as vice versa. But if you can offer prayer freely in government-supported schools, who’s to say you can’t offer birth control in church-supported businesses?
You might think that perhaps the religious folks would do better to steer clear of the Bill of Rights and focus their attention on the Ten Commandments – particularly ones like “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” (For the biblically challenged, by the way, that “false witness” thing means, “no lying.” Got that, Mitt? How about you, Newt? Oh, never mind, Newt, you need to focus on the adultery one. Remember: The devil makes work for idle zippers.)
And finally, if I may, let’s circle back around to that whole “Remember the Constitution?” thing.
I do remember the Constitution. I studied it in school, like many (though perhaps not enough) of you.
And I even remember the preamble to the Constitution, which talks about justice, tranquility and promoting “the general welfare.”
That last phrase does not mean throwing so much money at the military that all our generals are effectively on welfare.
It means that the government established by this Constitution is charged with taking good care of the citizens of this nation, with concern for nothing but their humanity – not their religion.
Here’s a new bumper sticker: Hey, conservatives, remember the Bill of Rights? Read ’em and weep!
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