The most religious and most conservative first-world nation

Lisa Bloom explains lucidly in the Washington Post what is so radical about the Hobby Lobby ruling.

The U.S. is the most religious and most conservative first-world nation, and believers have tried to opt out of our laws for centuries. For the most part, courts haven’t allowed it. May Christian Scientists forego lifesaving medical treatment for their children? No. May Native Americans ingest illegal peyote as part of their religious ceremonies? No. May the Amish refuse to pay Social Security taxes that violate their sincere religious beliefs? No.

The simple general rule has always been that you are free to practice Protestantism or Wicca or Zoroastrianism or any belief of your choice, provided your religious practice does not harm others. You may swing your arm just until it reaches my shoulder, as the old legal epigram goes. Nor may you impose your religion on me, thank you very much. And whether you’re Hindu or Muslim or Baha’i, you must follow general U.S. laws, including paying a wide array of taxes and fees, and more recently, buying certain kinds of insurance, like auto and health insurance.

To interrupt for a second – actually in most states, Christian Scientists may forego lifesaving medical treatment for their children, as may any other religious fanatic. I think it’s 30-something states that have religious exemptions.

Pause to look it up.

Damn, it’s 38 states.

Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have religious exemptions in their civil codes on child abuse or neglect, largely because of a federal government policy from 1974 to 1983 requiring states to pass such exemptions in order to get federal funding for child protection work. The states are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Additionally, Tennessee exempts caretakers who withhold medical care from being adjudicated as negligent if they rely instead on non-medical “remedial treatment” that is “legally recognized or legally permitted.”

As Bloom says – we are the most religious and most conservative first-world nation. Back to Bloom’s article.

Probably every American, religious or not, can point to services provided by moneys we are required to pay that we despise on moral or religious grounds. For my part, as an ethical vegan, government subsidies to hideously cruel factory farms tops the list of most vile uses of my tax dollars. Can I opt out? No, just as a religious Jew can’t say no to his tax contribution to the pork industry and a Quaker can’t hold back tax payments for wars. We can lobby to change the laws. But once they’re passed, we must all follow them. We can’t have 300 million different legal exceptions for the 300 million Americans who’d like to pick and choose which laws comport with our personal beliefs.

The Hobby Lobby decision’s first radical move is in its wide departure from these core American principles. For the first time in the Court’s history, it ruled that a law requiring one to merely vicariously enable another to take an action contrary to one’s religious beliefs violates religious freedom.

I know this is not new, but I still just marvel (and cringe) at how farfetched it is, how 17th century in its intrusiveness, how illegitimate, how great a triumph for the evil bishops.

Let’s take a moment to remember what was entirely forgotten in the Hobby Lobby majority opinion: that birth control is vital to women’s health and equality, even our very lives. The United States has one of the highest rates of unplanned pregnancies in the developed world, in part because we have not had universal coverage of birth control as is the case in much of Europe, which — shocker — has far fewer unwanted pregnancies. Unintended pregnancy rates for poor American women are high and have shot up in the last two decades, as the prices for contraception for those without health coverage make it unattainable.

Oh well now there’s another item for that list I drew up a few weeks ago, the list of ways we differ for the worse from other developed countries –  a high rate of unplanned pregnancies. Maybe theocrats think that’s a good thing, because it’s a Sign that god’s will can shove aside what any given woman may have wanted.

In wide swaths of America, abortion is so unavailable we may as well be living in the nineteenth century. 87 percent of U.S. counties lack any abortion provider. For many poor American women, an unplanned pregnancy means a surprise baby, full stop.

All medically approved forms of birth control are far safer for women’s health than childbirth, as is abortion, a safe and simple medical procedure when performed by a doctor. Childbirth, in contrast, can be dangerous for poor American women. Most of us are unaware of the shocking fact that a U.S. woman’s chance of dying in childbirth is high and on the rise. We rank 60th in the world in maternal mortality rates, worse than China with its hundreds of millions of rural poor.

That one I did include on the list.

There’s a lot more. I find myself wanting to read all the lawyers these days. Well, all the secular lawyers.


  1. Suido says

    Exhibit B

    The USA hasn’t ratified it because it forbids the death penalty and life imprisonment of children.

    The only two other countries to have not ratified it? Somalia and South Sudan, and both are making progress towards ratification.

    “Family” organisations in the US oppose it on the grounds that parents’ right to choose how to raise their children must trump the children’s rights. Religious, conservative and authoritarian.

  2. Silentbob says

    @ 2 Miki Z

    That’s what I thought. My understanding was that it was the original decision not to allow peyote use that inspired the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the first place. And Wikipedia confirms that it is so:

    In [Employment Division v. Smith] the Court upheld the state of Oregon’s refusal to give unemployment benefits to two Native Americans fired from their jobs at a rehab clinic after testing positive for mescaline, the main psychoactive compound in the peyote cactus, which they used in a religious ceremony. Peyote use has been a common practice in Native American tribes for centuries. It was integrated with Christianity into what is now known as the Native American Church.[7]

    The Smith decision outraged the public. Many groups came together. Both liberal (like the American Civil Liberties Union) and conservative groups (like the Traditional Values Coalition) as well as other groups such as the Christian Legal Society, the American Jewish Congress, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, and the National Association of Evangelicals joined forces to support RFRA, which would reinstate the Sherbert Test, overturning laws if they burden a religion.[8] The act, which was Congress’s reaction to the Lyng and Smith cases, passed the House unanimously and the Senate 97 to 3 and was signed into law by U.S. President Bill Clinton.

  3. imthegenieicandoanything says

    America only looks good from a distance, at a certain angle, when earning a certain income. America is sometimes a better place, but “relatively” doesn’t cut it for me. Fuck this America – everyone everywhere deserves far better of us in the USA.

  4. jesse says

    Yeah, Bloom was quite wrong about peyote, as with the other examples, and I wasn’t sure what his point was after that. (Well, I sort of got it, but you’d think the guy could have looked up stuff).

    I think there’s a better test for religious exemptions — does it affect anyone else? That is, peyote use doesn’t really do anything to anyone else, nor does taking Passover wine (jeez, imagine what would happen if they enforced no alcohol for minors — every Jewish parent would be jailed). Whether you pay into insurance though, does affect other people and may place burdens on their free exercise of religion.

    Another change I’d propose is re-thinking the division we have in the US between public and private. That is, employers are allowed a lot of leeway — more than in any other industrialized country I am aware of — because we in the US see them as private entities with corporate personhood being the end result. Dialing that back would go a long way, as well as recognizing that private entities can effectively curtail your rights as much as governments can. More, in fact.

    In fact, I think it interesting that the courts have essentially said insurance can’t be counted as part of an employee’s compensation. That is, your boss can’t tell you how to spend your pay. In other countries insurance is classed as a part of the compensation package, and insurance companies cover everything precisely for that reason (or rather the laws are written so that happens). Here insurance is classed as a gift or charitable contribution, essentially.

  5. geekgirlsrule says

    Legally insurance is part of your compensation, which is what makes this asshattery all the more infuriating. They ARE in fact telling their employees how to spend their money. Why does no one fucking get that?


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