Freedom’s Price? Corporate Freedom of Religious Expression Trumps A Woman’s Right of Choice

Religion without humanity is poor human stuff.

Sojourner Truth

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.

Blaise Pascal (Pensees) 1670

There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.  ~Mahatma Gandhi

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.
Karl Marx

 

Western Art, Song and Literature  elevate religious thought and feeling, canon and belief throughout centuries.  Women burning as witches, brother slaying brother, specifics of the creed determine lives.  Families fleeing intolerance and persecution, cultures reproduce in unlikely spaces across the world. The United States proclaims a refuge for the persecuted: Puritan, Quaker, Catholic, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Lutheran, Anglican. All voices may rise in free worship; the atheist song as well. Free speech, free association, freedom of religion.  Until today.

Compromised, contained, categorized, freedom of Religion, certainly.  Legal minds splitting threads of legal thought.  Fine, fine filaments. Today,  the Supreme Court  severed the strand.

A circle of owners, a private family business,  Hobby Lobby sells bric a brac, becomes wildly successful.  The family establishes a trust, then forms a ‘closely held corporation’.  Corporate law creates a shield for  individual family members.  The corporate form protects against legal liability. It bestows abundant tax benefits to the family. The  corporation donates generously, strategically to social and election campaigns, pursues  political objectives.  Hobby Lobby, one of Forbes 150 top US  closely held corporations, spends fortunes to create a political agenda.

 Hobby Lobby need not account for how it spends  money:  a corporation can be a  “person” under US law.

And, Hobby Lobby, need not be consistent in belief and behavior.

Hobby Lobby, the corporation, unfettered, free, invests workers money wisely, even into funds of other corporations which are makers of medicines and devices for birth control.(These companies’ business violates Hobby Lobby’s ethical code.  But the fund makes a profit.)  No worker sues to divest this course.  Corporate freedom of investment remains unencumbered.

 Hobby Lobby denies  female workers  access to health care options which include contraceptive care.   Corporate owners announce that their personal moral and religious beliefs oppose reproductive planning health care. They oppose this care even if used to treat a strictly medical condition. The owners assert their corporation has the same religious views.  They assert the right for free exercise of religion by their family corporation.

The Corporation is victorious once again.

The Supreme Court will not require closely held corporations to direct money into undifferentiated funds which finance a variety of health benefits under comprehensive health plans, including reproductive care. Not when the Corporation asserts that the provision of reproductive care violates a sincerely held religious value. Never mind that many workers  have different but equally important and as sincerely held religious beliefs.  Never mind that these workers financially depend on the job for health care and insurance. Do not consider that any worker whose values are offended can opt out of the insurance program or the reproductive benefits.  Why these factors do not matter is not clear.  Corporate free exercise of religion, apparently, trumps all.

Before today, a worker at Hobby Lobby who wanted access to reproductive health care whether for contraception or medical reasons had insurance coverage to obtain it.   Now, no matter the individual worker’s belief system,  she has no reproductive health care insurance coverage whether it is for family planning or it is medically necessary.

What other corporate ethical codes will trump a worker’s own?  Hobby Lobby, and countless other corporate consciences, could contrive religious exemptions to many legal mandates.  Many heard before, will they find favor if raised anew?   “It’s against my religious beliefs to allow…” blood transfusions; antidepressants; vaccinations; anesthesia; gelatin covered, pig derived or animal tested medicine!   “My religion precludes me from…”  employing women, paying minimum wages; employing integrated races; employing integrated religions, employing homosexuals, providing professional services to persons not of my religion, not of my race, not of my sexual orientation.

But, is it again about the woman, the worker, the working woman’s womb?  Is it  coincidence that the challenge which reached the court concerned women’s health?  Should we overlook that this challenge  implicates contraception?

Byzantine though the anti-birth control politicians seem, they are relentless.  A fully realized woman, empowered, employed, sexually fulfilled, a mother, healthy,  and above all happy with this life, affronts grotesque puritan values.  Values which mock us around the modern world.  Values so rooted at home we do not feel the constriction.

The sun is shining bright in Philadelphia,  merely 90 miles away from that decision.  Still, no greater darkness has manifest in the life of women from the law, in decades.

   

http://www.blogsbywomen.org/

Realizations in Black and White

 

I love film.  I love watching films in a nice theater with deep comfortable seats and equipped with an audio system that will allow the soundtrack to encircle me.  I have found films healthy food for my intellect, enhancing for my literary sense, challenging for my mind, directing for my reading.  But I can recall few  films that can begin to meet the power or the challenging intellectual and emotional impact of   Fruitvale Station.

If you had asked me before I entered the theater whether I was aware of racism in our society, I would have said, quite reflexively, in fact,  “of course.”

However, driving home after watching the power of this film, I recalled what had seemed to me at the time an embarrassing, but not so important incident. Leaving a medical facility while under the influence of anesthetic after a medical procedure, I was assaulted by a man, although not injured.  When I reported the incident to the facility staff, the first question posed:”Was he black?”

I did not realize then that because I did not query back, “Why, does it make a difference?” I was complicit in a racist exchange.

In many discussions, in many places, at many times, I might have posed as a person who had special insight into “the race question.”  I might have told you that I learned about white privilege early when I attended a 1% white elementary school in West Philadelphia.  I probably would have shared how it was through the indiscriminate brutality of the nuns towards the children of color and their simultaneous treatment of the white children as “special,” that I saw the ugly face of racism and the embarrassing privilege of being white in the U.S.   I possibly might have   recounted my early experience of friendship with black children, exchanging and sharing snacks, believing this represented my own surmounting of our society’s racial divide.  Or I might have opened up about the magical friendship which I shared with my best friend in college, Sheena.  Sadly, this friendship was lost in those politically charged days of the late 1970s  when  identity politics was such a personal struggle.  Measuring identity as a black woman and its room for friendship with white women took a terrible toll,  yet this was one of the tasks which could become paramount in our young world where we claimed, “the personal is political,” convinced that we understood.

If you had asked me about racists, I most likely would have told you about my family of origin:  Irish immigrants and their offspring who spouted hateful statements as the civil rights struggle, the assassinations, the legal changes unfolded before our eyes as I grew up in the 1960’s.

Yes, I  was quite comfortable with that my liberal credentials allowed me understanding of the “race question” in the United States.

Not anymore.  Not after experiencing Fruitvale Station.

The film has been criticized by bastions of conservative propaganda as “whitewashing” the factual life of Oscar Grant, who was executed by a white Oakland police officer in 2008.  This criticism is almost the point.

Fruitvale Station bases its plot on the life of Oscar Grant the day before he was murdered.  It is implicit in the film’s action that we cannot know whether every word uttered, every embrace exchanged, each flash of anger, each moment of kindness is “real” or fictional.

We have learned that fifty people can witness the same event and report it entirely differently.  Do we not understand at the very least that one person’s honest statement of fact can differ dramatically from that of another?

What matters in this film is not that this WAS the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, but that this could have been the experience of Mr. Grant or any one of the young black men sacrificed on the United States’ altar of racism.

As I watched the film, I slowly traveled a path of new awareness as to how white supremacy infiltrates the life of a young black man, his family, and his friends.  From the fear he sees in the eyes of a white woman whom he addresses without knowing her, to the realization he accepts that for an unconnected, disrespected young black male, there will be no second chances, I saw reflections of myself, my family, my friends.  The search for a greeting card with black faces, while perhaps a cliché, in this film is a moment of transcendent understanding.  The image of a dead pit-bull is heartbreaking as we  comprehend that we are often easily aroused to sympathy for abused animals even as we are reluctant to engage in a conversation about the depth of the racial divide.

Perhaps most stunningly the film moved my consciousness from the screen to the theater.  Here, the audience for this film in an upscale art house theater was at least 50% people of color. Never before had I shared a film experience with such a diverse audience in this cinema generally populated with white, urban film buffs.

Ultimately we are left with a true image, that of Oscar Grant’s child.  It is this achingly poignant image that testifies to the truth of this narrative.  In the child’s face, we see pain passed on to another generation that will struggle in a society ravaged by a humiliating racial history.  The natural movement of her eyes escaping the camera affirms that it matters not whether Oscar Grant in fact decided to “go straight” the day before he died.  It matters only that, as real-time video captured in this case, a young black father was targeted to the exclusion of any white train riders. He was accused of crime based on the color of his skin, what that skin color means to whites. What matters is the brutality that was witnessed and tolerated by hundreds of onlookers who lacked the courage to intervene.  What matters is the shot that ended another life which had limited chances to change the narrative he entered at the moment of his birth.

I left that theater with a sense of shame. Shame at my skin color, shame at my middle class life, shame at my education, and shame at my foolishness believing I could even begin to understand.

(This post was first written in January, 2013 when the film appeared in theaters.  The film is now available on DVD.)