Tuesday, March 25, 2014


The Supreme Court heard opening arguments in the Hobby Lobby case today, and things did not go well for supporters of the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate.

The Court seems prepared to rule that corporations, or at least some corporations, have religious rights previously extended only to individuals. Likely swing vote Anthony Kennedy apparently believes that allowing the contraceptive mandate to stand could someday force businesses run by religious conservatives to pay for abortions, while Chief Justice John Roberts says, in effect, that the contraceptives in dispute induce abortions if the plaintiffs feel that they do. (Ian Millhiser at Think Progress: "Roberts, however, suggested that someone's mere belief that something is an abortion is enough to trigger an religious exemption to federal law.")

In response to all this, David Atkins writes:
... abortion has been set up in its own special category by conservative male legislators in this country. I am forced to support corporate welfare, Creationist schools and immoral wars with my tax dollars. But for some reason my conservative neighbor doesn't have to support abortion rights with his tax dollars. And if Hobby Lobby gets their way, my conservative neighbor will be able to pay any potential employees differently based on whether they use birth control.

That's not justice. If this country wants to move in that direction, then perhaps progressives nationally should reorganize into a "religion." Sounds like a pretty cool perk: organize politically without the pesky IRS, and enshrine a bunch of political beliefs into a discriminatory legal code.
Maybe we just need to embrace the notion, promulgated by right-wingers over the years, that we evil lefties have a godless religion called "secular humanism."

Some believe (erroneously) that the Supreme Court found secular humanism to be a religion in 1961. In fact, Justice Hugo Black merely referred to it as a religion in a footnote in the case Torcaso v. Watkins, which reaffirmed that there can't be a religious test for any U.S. public office. Since then, however -- Rick Perlstein runs down the history here -- right-wingers have argued that, yes, liberals are trying to establish the religion of secular humanism in America. A sample:
In 1976, an Arizona congressman named John Conlan -- now obscure, but at one time Evangelicals' first choice for president -- introduced an anti-secular humanism bill. It passed a House of Representatives in which Democrats outnumbered Republicans 291 to 144. This is potent stuff. The conservative group Concerned Women for America began donating legal services for parents wishing to challenge the supposed teaching of secular humanism, predicting that 300,000 school districts might come under challenge in 1986. Megachurch minister Tim LaHaye (who later co-authored the "Left Behind" series) said secular humanists were not qualified to hold government positions -- neatly inverting ... Torcaso v. Watkins.... And in 1985, congress passed the Education for Economic Security Act to improve science education, including funding for magnet schools -- to which conservatives added an amendment prohibiting its use for "teaching secular humanism," conveniently omitting to define "secular humanism," except to note that local school boards could define it themselves.
If this is how right-wingers think, maybe we should go for it. Maybe we should start churches of secular humanism and assert our rights under the new post-Hobby Lobby order. We struggle to advance the cause of climate science, or evolution, or reproductive rights by appealing to reason -- maybe we'd do better if we could whine that our enemies are guilty of religious bigotry. How much worse could it get?


Unknown said...

How about the church of reality?


Philo Vaihinger said...

Sounds like a newly minted constitutional fiction, a "religious exemption to federal law," positively required, no doubt, by the free exercise clause (of course it is) of the First Amendment.

Add it to the great heaping pile of constitutional fictions invented by unaccountable, life tenured, politically bigoted lawyers with the last word.

Just another episode in that heart-warming drama, "Democracy in America."

Philo Vaihinger said...

As to creationism in the public schools, well, Mencken was actually right.

The First Amendment does not apply to the states and Tennessee was perfectly free not only to ban Darwinism but even require Protestant creationism, if Tennessee so wished, in their schools.

The notion that it does apply to the states is yet another lie erected into dogma by a succession of Supremes, over the decades.

And academic freedom is a nonsense of no application to high school teachers.

Do you pay taxes in Tennessee?

A question meant rhetorically and figuratively.

Victor said...

It's worth a try!

FSM knows, "reason" ain't workin'!!!

If I remember correctly, Martin Luther, and his original followers, were "Protestants" because they "protested" the corruption of the Catholic Church, and said that, basically, every person was his/her own church.

We could all ourselves, "The Real Protestants," because we protest the idea of church, and our belief and "church" is based on the idea that everyone can believe, or not believe, in whatever we want to.

Victor said...

Also, too - it appears that the SCOTUS is going to be willing to let the Federal Government courts, INCLUDING itself, to decide what companies have legitimate religious beliefs, and beefs, with certain medical procedures.

Isn't THAT the very definition of Government intruding INTO religion, that the 1st Amendment says should NOT happen?

If not, please explain why, to me?

Anonymous said...

Secular Humanism was also declared a religion by a federal judge named Brevard Hand, in a a decision (later overturned) that upheld the teaching of creationism, with the idea that biblical fundamentalism and science were merely two different religions, and the government shouldn't be taking a position on which religion's teachings were right.

Think of all the good stuff that would be tax-deductible.

Anonymous said...

"..Tennessee was perfectly free not only to ban Darwinism.."

If there was, in fact, a religion known as Darwinism, your statement would make sense. Since there is not, I assume you mean that Tennessee was perfectly free to ban the teaching of science in schools. I'm not sure how that falls under the First Amendment, but I'm sure you can explain it to me.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Philo; my bad - you specifically state that the First Amendment does not apply to the states. That's a relief! When Maryland decides to ban the teaching of anything related to the Protestant religion (out of deference to our foundation as a Catholic State) I will be comforted by your assurance that it is perfectly legal.