Carefully Considered Appropriate Hyperventilating

There’s Fox News for the perpetually outraged, and their massive outrage machine is a fine business model for delivering eyeballs to advertisers. There are millions who are outraged that Obama is in the White House, who have been outraged about that for almost six years now, with two years to go, with no hint that their outrage will burn itself out. That’s useful, but that outrage must be carefully managed. For Fox News – and for Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and the crowd at Newsmax – this is a matter of carefully transferring the outrage from one disgraceful and shocking thing to the next – from the obviously fake birth certificate to the New Black Panther Party to Obamacare with its death panels and its provision to provide free slut-pills (contraceptives) to weak and wayward women, then to Fast and Furious and then to the IRS scandal and then to Benghazi. When each outrage turns out to be nothing much, drop it. Pick up the next one, or invent the next one. There’s always something. Obama wants to take away your guns – even if he never said so, he wants to. And he hates coal and likes sleazy gay people. And he wants lazy Mexicans to take over America. Hell, he didn’t even attend the World Cup to cheer for our guys, so he hates America, but if he had attended, that would be an outrageous waste of taxpayer money so he could go watch a sport that’s not NASCAR or NFL football. Only someone who hates America likes soccer. See Ann Coulter discuss that with Sean Hannity – it’s a Fox News thing. When all else fails there’s always the epidemic of black-on-white violence – black kids everywhere beating up random white folks, all across America. It’s that Knockout Game, which is now happening everywhere – except it isn’t – but it’s an outrage anyway. And why didn’t he send our troops into Syria, and the Ukraine, and why won’t he send them back into Iraq, and why is he pulling out of Afghanistan? Or, conversely, why would anyone send our heroes anywhere, now that it’s too late and we lost it all, because of him? It seems that outrage is fungible.

It’s also tiresome. Most of America is politically indifferent. They’re concerned with everyday life – the wife and family, the job, the bills, the car that needs new tires or whatever. Even the politically engaged – the civic-minded and, say, Democrats and those on what passes for the left in America – tend to husband their outrage. All those years of George Bush mangling the English language – clearly not quite knowing what he was saying, or even thinking – was more depressing than outrageous. Dick Cheney shooting his hunting buddy in the face was of a piece with his character, but it made no difference in the life of the nation. John McCain choosing Sarah Palin as his back-up, should he get hit by a bus, was pretty outrageous – even Dick Cheney called that “irresponsible” – and so was Mitt Romney’s forty-seven percent comment. But one must pick and choose. One cannot be outraged at everything that comes along. Life’s too short, and perpetual outrage can make it even shorter real fast. High blood pressure can kill you.

It’s probably best to reserve one’s outrage for Supreme Court decisions, because those can change everything. The 1954 Brown decision mandated that public schools be desegregated – and we’re still working on that. But the mandate is clear, as it is with the Roe decision long ago – abortion is legal. Yep, we’re still working on that too, even if the law is the law. Last year’s decision in the Windsor case and on the Defense of Marriage Act changed things too – those decisions were supposed to be “narrow” but none of the Supreme Court’s decisions ever are. Kentucky’s ban on gay marriage was just declared unconstitutional – a Bush-appointed federal judge looked at the Supreme Court’s “narrow” decision and saw nothing narrow there. That’s happened in state after state. Gay marriage will be legal everywhere soon.

These sorts of things outraged those on the right, and rightly so, given their values, and now it’s time for those on the other side to decide if it’s time to be outraged by the Hobby Lobby decision. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that some companies with religious objections can avoid the contraceptives requirement in the Affordable Care Act, and this is the first time they have declared that businesses can hold religious views under federal law. This is a victory for conservatives, and for Republicans who have decided that the only thing that matters is getting rid of Obamacare. This chips away at it, but the whole matter raises many fundamental issues – the devil is in the details.

Those who aren’t perpetually outraged – those not tuned to Fox News all day – will need some time to think about this. How much outrage is appropriate? They’re still trying to wrap their heads around what seems to be an unspoken premise in all this, that when you agreed to take a job you implicitly agreed to follow the religious strictures of your boss – seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Accepting a job is accepting the theology that goes along with it. Don’t like the theology? Seek employment elsewhere. And thus all our acts in daily life are religious acts, and religious statements – everyone one of them – just like in Iran and the new ISIS state, or caliphate or whatever it is. It all comes together.

A friend responded to that thought:

Although what you say seems obvious to you and me, and maybe Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it’s invisible to the men of the court, who think it’s not at all about you, the employee – it’s about the religious convictions of the rich people who own you.

But also, you’re absolutely right about ISIS and Iran. It’s all “Christian Sharia”, hinted at by Erick Erickson when he said, “My religion trumps your ‘right’ to employer-subsidized consequence-free sex” – although this all obviously goes much further than that, more like “My religion trumps your laws.”

Outrage may be appropriate:

I may not be a card-carrying American Exceptionalist, but I do think the American system, in which all religions are treated more or less equally, is better – or at least until the brain-dead conservatives gain absolute control of the country, essentially shit-canning every tradition the country ever stood for.

Yeah, but all bets are off if rich people own you, and if their religious views thus trump yours, and the day after the decision, Andrew Sullivan offers this:

I remain of the view that if this precedent leads to discrimination in employment against purported sinners, then it will be a death-knell for Christianity in America. If Christianity becomes about marginalizing groups of people, it will be a betrayal of the Gospels and a sure-fire path to extinction. And the Christianists will not win with that argument, as the marriage equality experience demonstrates. But if evangelical or orthodox Catholic Christians seek merely to protect themselves from being coerced by government in overly aggressive fashion – remember that the Obama administration lost this fight because they chose the maximalist position with respect to employer-provided health insurance and did not choose another, less invasive path of providing contraception – then I think that’s a paradigm worth encouraging.

He’s okay with the decision:

Religion is best when it does not seek to impose itself on other people.

This, indeed, is the core heresy of Christianism – a desire to impose religious rules on others who do not share the faith. But when it seeks merely to carve out a space in a secular culture where it can operate as autonomously as possible, it is imposing nothing on anyone. It is merely seeking an exemption for itself. Yes, Hobby Lobby prevents its own employees, who may not be evangelical Christians, from getting four types of contraception. But nothing in the ruling prevents other ways of providing those options that do not violate anyone’s consciences. A single-payer provision, for example, would not incur any religious freedom issues – and that means that this decision is, in essence, a libertarian one. And the more the evangelical right seeks merely to protect its own rights, rather than imposing on anyone else’s, the better.

It sure doesn’t seem that way, but Sullivan offers this:

Perhaps liberals and old-school conservatives should cheer that, instead of hyperventilating quite as much as they did yesterday.

Yes, but there is carefully considered appropriate hyperventilating, and at the New Yorker, Amy Davidson, looking at how Justices Ginsberg and Alito disagree, decides outrage might be appropriate:

Alito sees all the substance in how put-upon the owners of corporations feel. In oral arguments, Kennedy openly worried that companies would somehow be mixed up with abortion, and one suspects that his sense that abortion is a distinctly volatile, morally charged subject was part of why he acquiesced here, and why seems to believe, against all reason, that this decision is narrow. Women’s health is treated as something troublesome – less like other kinds of healthcare, which a company should be asked to pay for, than as a burden for those who have to contemplate it.

At the Time site, Soraya Chemaly has similar concerns:

Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women will use birth control at some point in their lives. The Court’s decision displays the profound depth of patriarchal norms that deny women autonomy and the right to control our own reproduction – norms that privilege people’s “religious consciences” over women’s choices about our own bodies, the welfare of our families, our financial security and our equal right to freedom from the imposition of our employers’ religious beliefs. … This religious qualifier was narrowly construed to address just this belief and not others, such as prohibitions on vaccines or transfusions. It is not a coincidence that all three female members of the Court and only one man of six dissented from this opinion.

Kevin Drum is simply blunt about it:

This is not a ruling that upholds religious liberty. It is a ruling that specifically enshrines opposition to abortion as the most important religious liberty in America.

Yes, but corporations are people, at least as Reason’s Peter Suderman sees it:

The key to Alito’s ruling arguably comes down to just two words: “a person’s.” The big question isn’t whether the contraception mandate violates the religious freedoms of some faceless corporate entity entirely separate from the individuals who own that company – it’s whether the requirement would violate the free exercise of religious for the particular people who founded and now run the company. As Alito writes in his opinion, “A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends… When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people.”

Those poor babies! Please, exempt them from the law. The women can turn elsewhere for that part of their healthcare, or pay out of pocket. What about personal responsibility? And the decision was narrow anyway.

The New Yorker’s legal scholar, Jeffrey Toobin, begs to differ:

The Supreme Court concluded its term with a pair of decisions widely described as “narrow” – that is, of limited application except to the parties in the lawsuits. Don’t believe it. In fact, the Court’s decisions in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn conform to an established pattern for the Roberts Court. It’s generally a two-step process: in confronting a politically charged issue, the court first decides a case in a “narrow” way, but then uses that decision as a precedent to move in a more dramatic, conservative direction in a subsequent case.

There were, of course, two cases decided:

Harris, about the rights of workers and their unions, provides a classic example of the process in action. The larger issue here concerns government workers who are covered by a union contract but don’t want to pay dues. Excusing these employees from contributing to union coffers would cripple the political and economic power of unions. This particular case concerned home-health-care workers in Illinois. By a vote of five-to-four, the five Republican appointees to the court allowed these workers – and only these workers – to avoid contributing to the union. But in his opinion Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and John Roberts, clearly indicates that the majority would have been willing extend its judgment to all government workers – and wound unions even more deeply.

The Hobby Lobby decision follows the same pattern. Again, Justice Alito’s opinion (for the same five-to-four majority) expressed its ruling in narrow terms. Alito asserted that the case concerned only a single “closely held” private company whose owners had religious objections to providing certain forms of birth control. According to the court, federal law required that those wishes be honored.

But, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent, there is almost no limitation on the logic of the majority’s view. Almost any closely held companies – which make up a substantial chunk of the American economy – can now claim a religious orientation, and they can now seek to excuse themselves from all sorts of obligations, including honoring certain anti-discrimination laws. And after today’s “narrow” rulings, those cases will come.

Ah, we didn’t have long to wait for just that:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday confirmed that its decision a day earlier extending religious rights to closely held corporations applies broadly to the contraceptive coverage requirement in the new health care law, not just the handful of methods the justices considered in their ruling. …

Tuesday’s orders apply to companies owned by Catholics who oppose all contraception. Cases involving Colorado-based Hercules Industries Inc., Illinois-based Korte & Luitjohan Contractors Inc. and Indiana-based Grote Industries Inc. were awaiting action pending resolution of the Hobby Lobby case.

They are among roughly 50 lawsuits from profit-seeking corporations that object to the contraceptive coverage requirement in their health plans for employees. Contraception is among a range of preventive services that must be included in the health plans, at no extra cost to workers.

The justices also ordered lower courts that ruled in favor of the Obama administration to reconsider those decisions in light of Monday’s 5-4 decision.

Two Michigan-based companies, Autocam Corp. and Eden Foods Inc., both lost their cases in the lower courts. The justices ordered the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its decisions against the companies.

Kevin Drum decides to hyperventilate:

Until now, fans of the Hobby Lobby decision have made the point that abortion really is different from most other religious objections to specific aspects of health care. Christian Scientists might forego most medical treatments for themselves, for example, but they don’t consider it a sin to assist someone else who’s getting medical treatment. Thus they have no grounds to object to insurance that covers it. Conversely, members of some Christian denominations consider abortion to be murder, and obviously this means they have a strong objection to playing even a minor supporting role that helps anyone receive an abortion.

But what now? Is there a similar argument about contraception? Sure, Catholics might consider it sinful, but it’s not murder, and as far as I know the church wouldn’t consider your soul to be in danger if, say, you drove a Jewish friend to a pharmacy to pick up her birth control pills – I could be wrong about this, of course. But I’ll bet it’s a pretty damn minor sin.

Nonetheless, the court has now ruled that a religious objection to contraceptives is indeed at the same level as a religious objection to abortion. In other words, just about anything Catholics consider a sin for Catholics is justification for opting out of federal regulations. I wonder if the court plans to apply this to things that other religions consider sinful.

And so we do move toward a theocracy – a Christian caliphate or our version of Iran – and Ezekiel Emanuel asks the essential question:

Which would you prefer: to have the ability to decide for yourself and your family the type of coverage you want to purchase on a health insurance exchange – and having your premiums subsidized by a defined contribution or voucher from your employer – or to cede that ability to your employer entirely, having them pick your insurance for you, but empowering them to decide, based on their personal religious beliefs, which services to cover and which to exclude?

The Supreme Court, out of respect for religion, just said the latter should be the law, and Amanda Marcotte sees a pattern here:

Religious freedom is one of the most fundamental American values, written directly into the First Amendment of the Constitution. Of course, true religious freedom requires a secular society, where government stays out of the religion game and leaves it strictly to individual conscience, a standard that runs directly against the modern conservative insistence that America is and should be a “Christian nation”. So what are people who claim to be patriots standing up for American values to do? Increasingly, the solution on the right is to redefine “religious freedom” so that it means, well, its exact opposite. “Religious freedom” has turned into conservative code for imposing the Christian faith on the non-believers.

While it seems like a leap even for the most delusional conservatives to believe that their religious freedom can only be protected by giving Christians broad power to force their faith on others, a new report from the People for the American Way shows how the narrative is constructed. The report shows that Christian conservative circles have become awash in legends of being persecuted for their faith, stories that invariably turn out to be nonsense but that “serve to bolster a larger story, that of a majority religious group in American society becoming a persecuted minority, driven underground in its own country.” This sense of persecution, in turn, gives them justification to push their actual agenda of religious repression under the guise that they’re just protecting themselves.

There’s a lot of that going on in northern Iraq right now, as some things are inevitable:

Of course, this kind of logic inevitably starts to crumble when people who don’t share the conservative Christian religion start pushing back and arguing that their right to their own private beliefs should not be infringed by being made to pray to someone else’s god in school, being taught Bible stories in biology class, or being forced to check with the boss first before you pick up your prescription medications after hours. The solution, increasingly, is to outright argue that non-believers or people of different faiths have beliefs that are simply less worthy of basic protections for religious freedom, much less the hyper-charged “religious freedom” of imposing your faith on others, the kind of “religious freedom” conservative Christians believe they’re entitled to.

That’s where we are:

Sadly, this argument that the Christian right to religious freedom includes the right to foist their faith on others has made the leap to the Supreme Court, with Justice Scalia arguing incoherently that the “First Amendment explicitly favors religion” in order to justify the hijacking of a school event to force religion on the non-believers in attendance. As Scott Lemieux at Lawyers Guns and Money pointed out, it’s actually the exact opposite: “it disfavors religious endorsements by the state.” But in this new topsy-turvy right-wing world, up is down, left is right, and the only way to protect religious freedom is to use government and corporate force to make everyone follow a conservative version of Christianity, whether they believe it or not.

Is she hyperventilating? Maybe she is, but maybe she isn’t. We do seem to be edging toward a theocracy, which many on the right do not find outrageous at all, as long as it’s a Christian theocracy, with room for the right kind of Jews of course. Only some of us find that outrageous, and there’s that new book:

Not only the erudite Thomas Jefferson, the wily and elusive Ben Franklin, and the underappreciated Thomas Paine, but also Ethan Allen, the hero of the Green Mountain Boys, and Thomas Young, the forgotten Founder who kicked off the Boston Tea Party – these radicals who founded America set their sights on a revolution of the mind. Derided as “infidels” and “atheists” in their own time, they wanted to liberate us not just from one king but from the tyranny of supernatural religion.

The ideas that inspired them were neither British nor Christian but largely ancient, pagan, and continental – the fecund universe of the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius, the potent (but non-transcendent) natural divinity of the Dutch heretic Benedict de Spinoza. Drawing deeply on the study of European philosophy, Matthew Stewart pursues a genealogy of the philosophical ideas from which America’s revolutionaries drew their inspiration, all scrupulously researched and documented…

From Wendy Smith’s review:

Stewart spells out the present-day implications of all this in his closing chapter, “The Religion of Freedom.” The government created by our deist Founding Fathers does of course protect religious belief, he writes, “but only insofar as that belief is understood to be intrinsically private. It does not and ought not tolerate any form of religion that attempts to hold the power of the sovereign answerable to its private religious belief.”

In this context, objections to the teaching of evolution in school or posting the Ten Commandments in a courtroom are unwarranted intrusions of private belief into the public sphere.

It’s become a conservative commonplace to argue that the Constitution establishes freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, but Stewart’s eloquently argued book makes a strong case that freedom from religion is precisely what America’s founders had in mind.

Could that be? Perhaps Stewart had another country in mind.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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