Bishops and burkhas and buggies

Bishops and burkhas and buggies February 9, 2012

Consider burkhas. In some religious traditions, women are required to wear head-to-toe loose-fitting garments to preserve their modesty and to shield men from the temptations that may follow from glimpsing the female form.

I believe in religious freedom, so I believe that those who choose to wear burkhas must be free to do so. A pluralist society with secular law and government should not seek to limit that freedom.

Traffic sign near Arcola, Ill. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Daniel Schwen)

But what happens when this does not satisfy the burkha believers? Part of the reason for this practice, after all, is to shield the eyes of men — to ensure their freedom to go about their day without encountering the sight of un-burkha-ed women. If only the women of their particular sect follow the practice, then these men will still find themselves constantly barraged by that sight and that temptation — their religious freedom will be under a constant attack. Their freedom to fulfill their religious requirement demands that they should not have to endure that. So for these men, “religious liberty” demands that all women of every faith be required to wear burkhas.

Such a requirement must be passed as a binding law for all women everywhere or else these men are being denied their religious liberty.

It’s a fundamental matter of conscience. Any refusal to enforce such a statute, universally, is an affront to their faith — a “war” on their freedom of religion.

That’s burkha-logic. And it’s utter nonsense.

“It does me no injury,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” The advocates of burka-logic disagree. They insist that the very presence of such irreligious neighbors does them an injury — the injury of constraining their freedom to live unperturbed by the constant reminder of such blasphemies.

At it’s core, burkha-logic says that my freedom and your freedom are incompatible, and that therefore your freedom must be constrained so that my freedom can be enjoyed.

It says that my religious beliefs must be established, and that therefore you cannot be free to exercise your religious beliefs.

That has nothing to do with religious liberty or with freedom of conscience. That’s just being a bully and a jackass.

Sadly, none of this is hypothetical. We are, right now, hearing this burkha-logic trumpeted loudly and proudly by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and by a distressing number of aging pundits who seem to think that the words “religious liberty” are a magical invocation that allows the speaker to coerce all others to abide by their own sectarian beliefs.

Starkly, explicitly, this is what the bishops are saying. They are saying that they want to coerce everyone else — all employers everywhere and especially all women everywhere — to abide by their sectarian beliefs.

Don’t take my word for it. Just listen to Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said this to USA Today:

“There has been a lot of talk in the last couple days about compromise, but it sounds to us like a way to turn down the heat, to placate people without doing anything in particular,” Picarello said. “We’re not going to do anything until this is fixed.”

That means removing the provision from the health care law altogether, he said, not simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers. He cited the problem that would create for “good Catholic business people who can’t in good conscience cooperate with this.”

“If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I’d be covered by the mandate,” Picarello said.

He said this voluntarily. He wasn’t tricked into saying this. Picarello said this because this — exactly this — is what the bishops are demanding.

Not a “conscience clause.” Not a religious exemption for Catholic institutions. Picarello’s honesty has proven those claims to be dishonest.

What the bishops demand is a universal law applying to everyone everywhere. They demand a sectarian establishment of sectarian belief that would apply not just to Catholic institutions but even to Taco Bell. They demand a world in which health insurance does not cover contraception for any woman anywhere.

All women must wear the burkha. All women must be forced, compelled and coerced to wear the burkha — even those who aren’t burkha-believers — or else the burkha-bishops say their own freedom is being impinged upon.

The burkha-bishops insist that their religious freedom to coerce others trumps those others’ freedom not to be so coerced.

It’s just that stark, just that explicit. They are saying so themselves. Pay attention and don’t pretend they don’t really mean it.

Taco Bell, for frock’s sake.

One more example: Consider the Amish. Their religious beliefs prohibit them from driving automobiles (mostly, there are exceptions), so they ride around in buggies pulled by horses. We honor their religious liberty and do not limit their freedom to drive their buggies on roadways built for car traffic. And the Amish, being good people, are pleased to have their sectarian freedoms preserved by our secular laws and government.

The Amish, unlike the bishops, are satisfied with the freedom to believe and practice their religion. The Amish, unlike the bishops, are not calling for a ban on all automobiles everywhere. They are not demanding that everyone else must drive buggies too.

Not being mad with power, the Amish would never think that their religious freedom demands that everyone else be coerced to abide by their rules. And since the Amish are honest people who are not inclined towards disingenuous rhetoric, it would not occur to them to pretend that the non-Amish car-driving rest of us are somehow “oppressing” them and denying them their religious freedom by refusing to follow their particular rules.

You will never hear an Amishman say anything so cruel or foolish or hideously dishonest as to suggest that he isn’t really free to practice his religion until everyone else is forced to take a horse-and-buggy through the drive-through at Taco Bell.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • your logic is off, it’s like you are saying not only does the pro-brakha have to tolerate other people beliefs(i agree 100%) but he has to buy the bikini(that’s where i disagree with).  
    Thomas Jefferson wrote, “for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”  to me its sounds like you want to pick the pockets of the catholic church. i think Thomas Jefferson would have a problem with that.

  • they don’t want to pay for all birth control,  they didn’t say only female birth control

  • Anonymous

    ” your logic is off, it’s like you are saying not only does the pro-brakha
    have to tolerate other people beliefs(i agree 100%) but he has to buy
    the bikini”

    No.  It would be like the pro-burkha fellow employing someone, then objecting the employee use their wages to buy a bikini.

  • Lunch Meat

    This is not about religious freedom. Everyone deserves access to comprehensive health care. The government has decided that as part of compensation for employment, employers must provide insurance for comprehensive health care. Birth control is part of comprehensive health care, like it or not. The government is saying employers have to provide for all the health care, and that they’re not allowed to pick and choose what’s covered for the employee based on ideology.

    And birth control is culturally the responsibility of women, because we’re the ones who have to deal with the consequences. There isn’t a pill for men.

    If the church really doesn’t want to feel like they’re “paying for birth control” (which they’re not, they’re providing, as part of the compensation package, comprehensive health insurance which includes coverage for contraception) then they shouldn’t offer insurance to employees and should just pay the extra tax. The fact that they’re making a huge issue about it shows that they just want to limit access to contraception and make it culturally unacceptable for birth control to be seen as a vital part of women’s health care.

  • Makarios

    Bingo! If the Catholic bishops don’t want their employees to practice contraception, then it’s their job to convince them not to practice contraception. They have no business demanding that the government discriminate against the employees of a particular organization because that organization wants to control the way that its employees behave.

  • Matri

    They are targeting health care simply because it includes birth control.

    Thinking it is the other way around is in-congruent with their vicious attacks on Planned Parenthood.

  • Matri

    It’s almost like they want Congress to make a law respecting the establishment of their religion.

    Oh wait…

  • Kiba

    And let us not forget that according to Picarello the Church doesn’t just want to deny comprehensive healthcare to just those people that happen to work for them, they want to deny it to everyone.

  • Baeraad

    Yes, but if Catholics were a tiny minority with no money and influence, they’d be all about living and letting live, too. Weakness teaches you the virtue of tolerance right quick. And being big and strong tends to make you forget what it’s for just as quickly. That’s just human nature.

  • Baeraad

    And yet you are sitting here writing this on a computer, so apparently you have decided what sort of life you prefer.

    Look, aside from the exhaust fumes (and like I alluded to, I do heartily feel that we could do with a lot less of those, even if it meant a lot more walking. And I’d sign up for some far more extreme restrictions, too, if they were universally applied), you could have all that stuff you mentioned without giving up technology. If you can create an agricultural commune where people look out for each other (and the Amish, apparently, have managed to do that), you could just as easily make it an agricultural commune where people looked out for each other *and* where you were allowed Internet access. No, I stand by my opinion – machines are a blessing, our problem is just that we have somehow gotten a society where we treat *each other* like machines.

  • Caravelle

    your logic is off, it’s like you are saying not only does the pro-brakha
    have to tolerate other people beliefs(i agree 100%) but he has to buy
    the bikini(that’s where i disagree with). 

    Not quite, it’s like pretty much all employers are like those 19th century company town deals where they provide housing and clothing and stuff to their employees as part of their pay, and clothes are so expensive it’s the main way people meet their clothing needs, and the government is setting up some regulation so that all companies have to provide a basic selection of clothing that is adequate to their employees’ needs (or pay a fine to a system that helps employees buy clothes on their own), and the pro-burkha faction wants to make sure this basic clothing package does not include bras.

    You know, not to push a metaphor or anything..

  • Tonio

    Playing catch-up…

    I would argue that universal laws in which everyone is expected to
    accept should be based on logical grounds that don’t depend on treating
    any one religion as true.

    I would agree if the laws part is changed to “principles that apply to everyone.” “Universal laws” aren’t moral concepts because following a law simply because it’s a law isn’t the same as doing the moral thing. Right and wrong are about the effects of one’s actions on others. Following a particular law may help others or not following it may harm others, or the reverse.

    I don’t necessarily agree philosophically that labeling things “right”
    and “wrong” cannot be based on grounds that one religion is true. 
    Because that would assume that no one religion is true.

    No. That’s the same fallacy that Justice Scalia espouses, confusing neutrality among religions with hostility to all religions. When we’re dealing with interaction among people who belong to different religions, the idea is to take all those religions’ claims off the table, leaving them open questions. This means if Catholicism insists that contraception is immoral for everyone, and not just against Catholic teaching, it should provide reasoning that doesn’t depend on “God’s will.” Otherwise the religion is saying that everyone should automatically accept its theologies and teachings as true.

    The Catholic hospitals are not seeking a universal label of “immoral”
    for contraception, but rather an exemption based on their own
    religious view.

    Others here have refuted the former. And with the latter, the exemption implies that contraception use by employees is immoral, and when the hospitals invoke Catholic doctrine, they have no standing to make that judgment for non-Catholics.

  • Tonio

     One caveat – men shouldn’t be absolved of any responsibility for preventing conception, especially if they’re not monogamous. This would include not just a hypothetical Pill for men but also condoms. It would be irresponsible for them to assume that it’s the woman’s job and they don’t have to do anything.

  • LE

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but with the single exception of vasectomy (which is not BC, it’s a sterilization procedure) there are no currently available male forms of birth control that require a prescription from a doctor.  Whereas almost all forms of female specific forms of BC require a prescription, and have additional therapeutic uses/side effects in addition to BC.

    This shouldn’t be news to anyone.  And the courts have ruled in the past that that single exception doesn’t trump the discriminatory effect on women of excluding a major factor in their health and welfare from coverage.

  • Anonymous

    Thomas Jefferson wrote, “for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” to me its sounds like you want to pick the pockets of the catholic church.

    I was expecting to see this point made, but in the other direction. In the name of their religious beliefs, the leaders of Catholic institutions running secular services for the general public would be picking their employees’ pockets by forcing them to pay an extra “sin tax” for services determined basic and standard by industry experts. Put the other way, those seeking the same standard treatment and services available to those working for non-religious employers are not picking their employers’ pockets by expecting industry-determined standard treatment and services.

  • Anonymous

    If you ever find yourself as one of the only liberal participants on a conservative blog, you would quickly understand.

    Congratulations. You’ve officially made an entire blog post about *you* and *your* ideas. Aren’t you so proud of yourself?

  • Anonymous

    Guaranteed, the same religious groups would be arguing that it’s a
    violation of their religious freedom to take their tax money and use it
    to pay for contraception.

    That hasn’t seemed to bother them when the government is taking their tax money and using it for unjust wars, torture, murder, and pretty much the entire catalog of CIA operations for the past fifty or so years.

  • Lunch Meat

    Oh, of course. I definitely think men should be more responsible for contraception. But the fact is, our culture does not expect them to worry about it, and I have to be sure that I’m protected because I can’t trust men to do it. I was just responding to the idea that “It’s the responsibility of the man and the woman, therefore this isn’t sexist.”

  • Heck, it doesn’t even bother them when state governments like Georgia make them do it. It only became a problem during an election year with a Democratic president. Electioneering at its finest!

  • Kish

    You assume that someone who is on one side of certain issues will be on
    the same partisan side on all issues.  You really should treat people as
    individuals.

    I wonder if you really, seriously believe Lori’s belief that you’re arguing against the separation of church and state is because of unrelated beliefs you’ve expressed in the past, rather than the arguments you’re making for the validity of laws which would violate that separation right now.

    Or to put it more briefly, I wonder which you are: that dishonest, or that stupid.

  • This has left me in blind, incoherent rage.

    I’m incoherent because I don’t even know where to start on that article. One could parse every sentence for misogyny and libel.

  •  

    The obvious solution here is for Americans to have universal health coverage that is paid for out of the tax base.

    But that would be Socialism! And we all know Socialism is evil because… because!

  •  

    Guaranteed, the same religious groups would be arguing that it’s a
    violation of their religious freedom to take their tax money and use it
    to pay for contraception.

    Yet somehow, it is not a violation of my (Quaker) religious freedom to take my tax money and use it to pay for wars.

  • Lionrampant Douglas

    A brief comment, hopefully others haven’t mentioned it. Amish are part of the Anabaptist movement which holds non-cohersion as a principle aspect (in addition to simple living etc.), it would be nice if all aspects of Christianity and indeed all religions adopted this, but we can’t force anyone to ;).

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    If I may say, you’re on fire today (yesterday?) Magic Cracker!

    I have little to contribute to this entire multi-thread discussion because I can’t get beyond the JUST GET PUBLIC UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE ALREADY OMFG culture shock.

    The idea that my employer would have *anything* to do with my healthcare beyond letting me use flextime to go to a doctor’s appointment is alient to me, and very disturbing.

    Cheerio from the socialist hellhole :)

  • Tricksterson

    Would that be Canada?
    Going into a bit of a siderant here on the subject of Conservative fear mongering and that’s the idea that “Oh noes!  if we do that we’ll become like…Europe!”  Or Britain or Canada.  Back in the Cold War days the idea of being conquered by the Soviet Unian was not only a somewhat valid fear but it was also an oppressive hellhole whoe’s stabndard of living was for shit.  But when you’re rabblerousing against countries that not only pose no physical threat to us but are our allies, are all stable democracies and have living standards equal to ours you are definitely pulling up lame.

  • P J Evans

    Would that be Canada?
    I think it’s Australia, actually.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    PJ is correct – Australia. Where basic universal healthcare is funded from tax revenue. Second in the world on the Human Development Index.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    PJ is correct – Australia. Where basic universal healthcare is funded from tax revenue. Second in the world on the Human Development Index.

  • Tricksterson

    And still qualifies.  One of our strongest allies in the Pacific, a stable democracy, high standard of living.  While I do prefer living here, somehow the thought of becoming more like you guys fails to fill me with terror.  Am still waiting for the day kangaroos get the vote though.

  • Tricksterson

    And still qualifies.  One of our strongest allies in the Pacific, a stable democracy, high standard of living.  While I do prefer living here, somehow the thought of becoming more like you guys fails to fill me with terror.  Am still waiting for the day kangaroos get the vote though.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    While I do prefer living here, somehow the thought of becoming more like you guys fails to fill me with terror.

    Huh? If you’re American, then the feeling is reciprocated more than I can say.