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/

Down the yellow brick road after almost forty years

cropped-6-13-14.jpgIt does not take much to make us realize what fools we are, but

the little it takes is long in coming.

Flannery O’Connor

Some  days, green times of the early seventies filter through my memory and energize me with a subtle hopefulness.  It was after all, and as they say, a time of innocence.

For over a hundred years our voices had been unwelcome, our presence banned.   None of our ideas were thought to ennoble this  pleasant urban space. Now, the breath of change, crisp and fresh,  gave life to new friendship all around the campus.  

Willowy, long-haired women in denim skirts which reached the ground or those  in peasant garb or  the ones with shaggy hair dressed in traditional worker blues picnicked in the sun.  Books buttressing shoulders or balancing long sheets of ink filled paper, they sidelined sandwiches half-eaten, collected  yogurt cups on the felt-like lawn.  Miniskirts and mustaches  passed, silent or sneering, either way unnoticed as the gathered women vowed to meet again for dinner on Wednesday night to share, then, a more personal conversation.

Elsewhere, alcohol and drugs were expanding minds.  We adventured  landscapes new and old,  together and separately.  And though it was not always sunshine, it remained mostly green, as we became the star-gazer, the professor, the business woman, the writer, the teacher, and the one who disappeared. Nor can we forget, the lawyer, the one who was made duty bound to make the change for our daughters and their daughters. We thought, then,”if women had the power…” We believed better worlds lay down the yellow brick road. 

Young women dreaming, working hard, studying, achieving, so serious. Perched precariously, preparing for the revolutionary times that were ours to make and to finesse with fine ideas and our own fire.

But it became a summer of sweet content, mainly.

We became a writer and a star-gazer turned corporate traveler, a professor and two lawyers. Life gave  husbands, wives, houses, children, joys, sorrows and to one an early death. With our sisters in the same professions or in book clubs, we met at power lunches, for power walks, power runs for sister candidates.  We got older, looking younger than previous generations, with  expensive lotions, female surgeons and women’s fitness routines. We styled our long hair, recycled peasant dresses, shrunk the denim.

As do our sisters of the same color, class and education, we  live in such comfort our mothers dreamt of for the important and the wealthy. Many  mothers, who showed us more than we will ever comprehend about life, age in “assisted living” placements.  Our generation prides itself on our deep, rich, barrier breaking sensibilities.

 Our urban campus today, a testament: “if you let them in they shall seize it all. ”  Women outnumber men by three to one.  The institute  of learning which channeled  leaders to high places in the city, now feeds nurses to the clinics. No less achieved. More?

But, do the women still picnic on the green, grasping a new world order?  What of women vanished into that summer of content?

Deep hued times and even a new century,  women rise with matured aspirations.  Institutions defiantly departed now greet the daughters nonchalantly. Doctors and lawyers and professors, women are not uncommon.  Justice, equality and power remain absent, but inky notes on picnic papers  are quaint  relics of past hopes and philosophies.

The real revolution was women talking.  Women reaching out to women and listening to what was said.  Wanting to know what the other thought, felt, experienced, understood, expressed.  Certainly, this was a way of understanding self, narcissistic.  But it was also, a way of reaching out into the world.  Power, connection, caring.  

As are  blithe gatherings on the green, the conviviality for a cause vanished quickly in the summer. “Sisterhood” soon  shrouded with a bruising cloth.

We used to say the political is personal, the personal, political.

Some us always listened to each other, perhaps because these were the only sisters whose care we had ever known.  In that circle of understanding, learning, justice, connection, but validation above all.  Naively seeing worldly circles equal, these women headed straight to painful falls.

Some of us, unaware we were so vulnerable.  That attachment to a person and a cause would fray so quickly.  “That isn’t the way I see it, I see it differently.  There are extremists on every issue, in every time.”

Some of us,so easily intoxicated, refusing treatment, in denial our whole life long.  For  some, the drug, meanness,  the silent, silken   sway, enchanting, to see the others fall down in the path.  The bitter taste, but men have drunk this brew through ages, so many blends. We drink with gusto.Our right.  Our turn.

We , the bully, the bureaucrat, the shooter,the soldier,now as well.

” and so it goes,” Secretary Hillary Clinton  may refuse to trash Sarah Palin  just because she is asked to do so. But, Terry Gross will  try to trash  Secretary  Clinton  merely to show she can.

The writer will trash the business executive,traveling around the world.  Not in the open, with the concrete thing, which can be seen and defended. But behind the curtains, to some of the others, some words spoken.  The meaning clear, or not so clear, for the executive must believe she herself  at fault.

The director of the community group will trash the  popular professor.  The professor, too kind, too supportive, or, perhaps, presents another defect.  Is she a stand out member, too assertive, too many ideas?  The emails and memos circulate. There are missed meetings, about which the professor was not called. She will later scramble to trace events, as if she is researching her dissertation: who has been told; what has been said; when did this start; what is happening? Falling into a well of darkness, unsure of the beginning or the end.

Trashing is crazymaking.  Conflict announced as conflict avoidance.  Sudden, the unanticipated cold steel apprehended in the midst of warm conversation.

Is this the old, old pattern from years ago, or a dynamic by a newer catchy name: the bully, the frenemy.

Is this just what we did in school when they said that boys were tough but girls were catty?

Oh, has the world changed at all in forty years?

On the TV after another school shooting, another protest.  This time the grandmothers are all marching with colored signs outside the school.  They blame the bullies, they blame the videos and they blame the gun laws.  As I watch them, I cannot hep wonder how they communicate.

The statehouse steps erupt in shouts and angry protest as the car speeds away.  The governor again declares not all citizens have equal rights. At the front, clenched fists are pounding the humid air, relentless.  To the right, a couple embraces, and the woman cries on her partner’s breast.

The small courtroom empties to the lot in the shopping center.  The  man-child marches to his car, the woman-child to hers.  Because he is a soldier, his drunken fists have been forgiven. What will those fists do in three months time in the desert sands of Afghanistan?

…it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place.  If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!

Lewis Carroll

       

http://www.blogsbywomen.org/

“…Curiouser and Curiouser…”

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense.

Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. 

And, contrary wise,

what it is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Recently, much praised New York Times journalist, Thomas L. Friedman, apparently serious, questioned Hillary Clinton and Christine Lagarde “Is there still a double standard in the media about how women are treated…”   The audience at the Fifth Annual Women of the World Summit in New York erupted in laughter.

Secretary Clinton captured the humor and rejoined, lightly, “Really, Tom…”

She then offered her recollection of advice given regarding office decor when she was a young lawyer in Arkansas: If you are a male professional and have a family, display photographs to signify your responsibility, reliability and trustworthiness.  Women should never display such photographs as this suggests to the client distractibility and mixed priorities.

But that was way back in the Seventies, Eighties?

Women, we are told, have truly “come a long way” in the kinetic decades intervening.

Scrutiny discloses an elliptical tale.

In the United States, the pursuit of a level playing field for men and women of all races and incomes in terms of power, politics, work and family life is ongoing.

Some sources poll statistics to suggest that, in the western world, women enjoy political power in historically large numbers as elected officials and appointed judges, commissioners and directors.  Women occupy significant numbers of industry leadership positions especially outside the United States. Educational institutions demonstrate a more equitable   “leadership to population “gender ratio than ever before.

More than a few women have scaled barriers and amassed incomprehensible fortunes to rank among the world’s most wealthy.

Achievement in the more ordinary spheres of living in terms of gender equality also emerged.  More female students graduate from college than do men.  During the “great recession”, female breadwinner households emerged as a “new normal”.

Still, the unrelenting narrative of the overstressed, over-extended, hyper-vigilant, and never fulfilled “working mom” penetrates any fog of good feeling that gender equity might be on the horizon.  Despite the fact that these tales invariable focus on middle and upper-middle class women to whom society, perhaps with duplicity, offers a “choice” regarding whether and how much to engage employment outside the home, this story has remarkable staying power.  Through the decades, the chronicle of this burdened woman and her needy family has begotten innumerable new fashions, products, even industries: the time-savers, the stress-reducers, the educational, the “just like home-made.”

Ours is a culture of at least two minds about a woman’s place.

The little girl playing with her dolls, dreaming of the day when she too would be the bride “all dressed in white” attended by a bevy of beautiful maids as she crosses the threshold to her future, realizing her true self, the wife of the handsome tuxedo-clad man who stands admiring her…. This conceit successfully and lucratively pervaded American life for generations, certainly post World War II.

I remember my decidely level-headed mother had a huge book of wedding day photographs bound in a sumptuous white binder which was placed in sight but out of reach.  The album featured, what the child considered, hundreds of twelve by twelve, black and white photographs of the most glamorous people.  She in a pure silk flowing gown, he in his tails and stripped tie, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral under an October sun, an eternal smile from the rear window of an actual limousine…

Had my mother been a home economics student in 1954, her  text would have  prepared her for what came after the limousine as follows:   “Have dinner ready, prepare yourself, prepare the children, minimize all noise, be happy to see him, listen to him, make the evening his.” There was no question that the married woman would have children.  There was no question, the mother should not work outside the home. The employed spouse was definitely the male.   There was certainly not even the vaguest notion that the married couple could be of the same gender.  Perhaps only slightly more conceivable was an unmarried two parent household.

Conversations about housework, from the casual to the scholarly, can be remarkably provocative. In the early years of the United States Women’s Movement, suffragist, author and political theorist and activist Charlotte Perkins Gilman articulated “housework” denies a woman’s “humanness.” In the 1960’s, Betty Friedan’s popular political work, The Feminine Mystique captured the energy of a cross section of largely educated white, middle and upper middle class women dissecting cultural standards of feminine behavior as submissive, affective, fulfilled when living vicariously through others.   In the early 1980’s Professor Angela Davis offered a challenging Marxist analysis of the issue. In 2011, the National Institute  of  Health reported that  mothers employed part-time outside the home experience ideal  adjustment as do their families.

Still, especially over the last two generations, society’s gaze has turned from  how well a woman cleans the house or bakes a cake.  Such services await those who can afford them.  A busy female administrative assistant can purchase a candle light dinner for the Tuesday night dinner at the take out department of the supermarket by calling ahead or ordering online.

Today, our culture pursues the perfect mother.

Some still recall their own childhood friends gathering unsupervised  and spontaneous at the playground, in the schoolyard, or “on the corner.”  Childhoods of bygone days featured unaccountably fleeting hours producing little of tangible value.  A book read.  A confidence shared.  A story written.  A movie watched.  A path explored.

Technology, crime, social competition, economics and social institutions  eviscerated those now seemingly laconic childhoods. Children today largely live more structured lives with women the organizing force.

Today’s mother is often tasked with providing more than the expected needs of a child (food, clothing, shelter, love, safety).  She must deliver the child to the gates of adulthood equipped to tread confidently and competently on the highest paths.  “Intensive mothering” is a phrase describing mothers investing vast amounts of time, money, energy, and emotion into the raising of a child.  It is perhaps a logical outgrowth of the shame/blame dynamic which has swirled around mothers in America for years.

In modern times, Freud propelled mothers to center stage to receive the “blame” for “causing” filial homosexuality by her over-protectiveness, or in the alternative, her indifference.

Mothers accepted the blame for autism  in their children when it was alleged to be caused by maternal coldness.

Psychiatrists pronounced    “schizophrenogenic” mothers (disturbed, self-deluding women with fluid identity boundaries) guilty of causing schizophrenia in their children.

Generally, mothers today are not blamed for causing specific diseases or disorders.  However, many women report experiencing an overwhelming sense of guilt  as mothers, absorbing criticism of their children, feeling responsible for the “failings” of the child as theyt were their own. This guilt is all the more painful and deep  fifty years after Friedan’s analysis ignited a firestorm of controversy about the role of  mothers in the workplace; ashes of debate singe the air.

On the home front, women still face expectations that every child requires unlimited access to his or her mother at all times.  Any mother who is unwilling or unable to provide a child with this constant tenderness, is, quite simply, deficient.  A good mother is one who is home whenever the child is home. The same analysis does not, of course, apply to fathers. (May we presume that fathers are still more free to display family photographs?)  The recent national hysteria when New York Mets player Daniel Murphy missed two games to be with his wife at the cesarean birth of their son shows that in the United States the subtext remains: real men do not put fatherhood first.

At a time when so much in our lives is unrecognizable if we watch film footage from 50 years ago, the manner of dress, communication, transportation, food consumption, social norms of “good mothering” seem based on traditional concepts from a half century ago.  Evidence suggests many sources of love for a child only benefit  if reliable, kind and genuine.  Studies supportive of pre-kindergarten socialization and education are discounted.  The needs of the mother and family, economically and otherwise, are not part of the equation.

The “cultural schizophrenia” about employed mothers is not limited to the United States.  It affects high ranking officials as well as lower paid workers internationally. The double messages which assail families undermine our ability to find comfort and satisfaction in either our work or our home lives. Some suggest that the narrative of the “perfect mom” who can “do it all” converts motherhood into a never-ending exercise in “measuring up” for too many women who do not embrace the individual right to define a unique pattern of family organization.

Technology is intended enhances the effect of the media on our lives.  Clinton and Lagarde laughed at Friedman’s question.  But for many women working inside the technology industry, sexism is no laughing matter.  It is rancid, forcing them to exit the field.

If women who work in the industry responsible for so many of the images and messages which create cultural expectations are alienated and disappointed, it appears the time has arrived to begin again assertively addressing issues of equality.

This week, congress will yet again be asked to address the question of equal pay for women.

Title VII of the Civil Right Act came to be applied to women as a result of what one would call bad karma.  A segregationist, opposed to Civil Rights for African Americans, added the word “sex” to the legislation believing it would ensure defeat.  The joke was on him.

The  Equal Pay Act of 1963. was passed as a means to stop the continuing advance of the Equal Rights Amendment.  It is unclear who bore the brunt of that joke.  The  1963 act proved largely ineffectual.  Our nation of laws has never stated its female citizens are the equal of men.

Fifty one years later, equal pay remains on the political agenda.  A recent study confirms  a significant gender wage gap.  That earning divide  remains deeply affected by race and ethnicity with Asian American women reaching salaries most equal to males, white women in second place.

If the current legislation moves forward, it bears monitoring and advocacy.  Women must be watchful that there is not a hidden political agenda as there was in times past.  In addition, legislation without enforcement is meaningless.

The climate of politics is quite uncertain for women.

Analysts of the   landmark decision of the conservative Roberts led Supreme Court on April 2, 2014, McCutcheon vs. FEC, caution that future political campaigns may be dominated by male mega-donors. Female political candidates in the United States successfully navigated previous campaign contribution laws.  It remains to be seen whether the McCutcheon decision shackles further female political advancement.

Which coffers garner the unlimited new coins tossed into politics post McCutcheon is yet unknown.

Only a tiny fragment of the total adult US population contributes $200.00 or more to political campaigns.  Substantially rarer is the individual contributor of larger sums.  Broadly defined, “business” contributes more money and more often compared to labor or unaffiliated donors. Strikingly, incumbents  amass more than five times as much money as their challengers, on average, in contested races.  Monies are strategically bestowed upon candidates or campaigns based on an over-arching agenda.  For example, in 2013, the top ten most expensive senate races included Arkansas. Georgia, Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey and Colorado.

If  those with the most money win, if, post McCutcheoncash is able to craft speech successfully, whatever advances women have made since the days of double standard, office decor rules may be at risk.  No matter how out of touch, dreamers of a Donna Reed style America may inspire the law of the future.

Fifty years after the deception of offering an equal pay law to thwart  an  equal  rights amendment, women in the United States in all classes and racial groups contain the energy and means to divert the conversation from victimhood to empowerment.  We have traveled the same road, watching the same scenery for too long.  But this is the cycle of deep and meaningful social change.

“Now, here, you see  it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place,

If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”(The Queen)

Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

 

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