Thursday, February 09, 2012

Separation of Church and State For Real

I want to remind you, dear reader, that I'm an ordained Interfaith Minister of Spiritual Counseling.  It is most particularly in this capacity that I'm deeply troubled by the increasing lack of separation of Church and State.  One’s personal faith, or lack of it, legally and, yes, morally, should have no place in how government or business operate.  Religious fundamentalists, whose political influence is extensive and disturbing, would have citizens and government believe otherwise.  They are legally and, yes, morally, wrong.

Nonetheless, recent presidential elections – most starkly in 2000, but it’s been going on for longer than that – have taken on a dangerous and onerous religious undertone, overtone and shocking role as a necessity in a candidate’s persona and policies.  Regrettably, there is little genuine understanding (by politicians, the public and the press) about the Constitutional proviso for “Separation of Church and State.”

It is ironic that during the 1960 presidential campaign, there was wholesale concern that John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism would play an inappropriately active role in his governmental leadership.  Now, the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction, there is wholesale concern that a leader who does not bring strong personal religious belief to the political table will lead us straight to hell.  How times do change…

This week, President Obama announced that all employer-provided health insurance plans had to pay-in-full for women’s contraception, including those plans offered by secular institutions administered by religious organizations – including the very rich and politically powerful Catholic Church, with its many universities, hospitals and charities.  The Church,  the Republicans, and some members of the media (including a few on the Left) responded as if the President had just ordered the slaughter of all first-born male babies.  The Democrats and others who are presumably Left of Conservative Everything, have, as unfortunately usual, done nothing to present a cohesive rejoinder.

Here is what the First Amendment of the Constitution says about religious freedom: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (the remainder details all that pesky free speech and free press stuff).  President Obama’s regulation regarding the limits and responsibilities of religious employers who provide health care coverage does nothing that breaks this law.

There is a great piece in today’s New York Times Online “Opinionator” section by Linda Greenhouse entitled “Whose Conscience?” that I earnestly hope you’ll take a look at, since she covers more legal ground and cogent observations than I have room for here.  Suffice it to say, however, that this latest brouhaha over the relationship between government and religion and its impact on all citizens (regardless of their religion or lack of it) brings into uncomfortable relief the fact that there has been far too much overlap for far too long.

As Ms. Greenhouse points out: “The regulation doesn’t require anyone to use birth control.  It exempts any religious employer that primarily hires and serves its own faithful, the same exclusion offered by New York and California from the contraception mandate in state insurance laws…  Permitting Catholic hospitals to withhold contraception coverage from their 765,000 employees would blow a gaping hole in the regulation.  The 629-hospital Catholic health care system is a major and respected health care provider, serving one in every six hospital patients and employing nearly 14 percent of all hospital staff in the country…  These institutions, as well as Catholic universities – not seminaries, but colleges and universities whose doors are open to all – are full participants in the public square…”  In other words, when the Church ventures into the public secular arena, it is obliged to play by public secular rules.

Let’s forget for a moment that numerous statistical sources show that 98% of sexually-active American Catholic women have used contraception at some point in their reproductive lives.  The larger point is that until now, the same insurance companies that routinely pay for men’s erectile dysfunction medication do not pay for women’s contraception, a disconnect that would be laughable if it weren’t so serious and downright discriminatory.

The fact is, all women who want contraception, regardless of the religious strictures of their employers, should be able to get it free of charge.  The alternative is an $800-$1200 out-of-pocket annual expense that is an extreme hardship for many women and therefore a clear path to more unwanted pregnancies and more abortions.  How Church or State can justify this is beyond me.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Singularly Aggravating

Something’s been on my mind – for years, actually – that I finally want to rant – er, comment – about.

Both Republicans and Democrats are constantly talking about The American Family.  The Family is brought up whether the context is positive or negative.  Regardless of how one’s political views define Family, that’s the “unit” that seems to be of greatest political and social concern.

But please note: not everyone is part of a Family, no matter how you define it.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a full 42% of adult Americans are single, including those who are divorced.  Now, I’m sure a fair percentage of these single people are single parents with children (= family), singles straight or gay who are co-habitating (also = family) and single adults still (or again) living with their parents, which also = family.

However, a considerable number in that 42% are just plain single – living alone or in institutions, which in no way = family.  Many are women, elderly or both.  But the point is, we, too, are Americans, with a combination of special needs and, to a considerably lesser extent, particular advantages.  The problem is that as a group, we’re not really recognized; we just plain don’t count.

I am a completely single person.  I have no parents, extended family, children, or significant other.  I’ll be 60 in less than two months and live alone.  If I were hospitalized and didn’t have a legally-designated health care proxy, there are circumstances (the most dire) in which none of my friends would be allowed to visit let alone advocate for me, because those privileges are reserved for Family Only.  If I were institutionalized – a nursing home, a prison, whatever – I would be treated (mistreated) differently than residents with Family.

If I had home health care, regardless of the behavior/treatment of my aide, there would be little monitoring or other supervision.  If I were under the supposedly protective auspices of a city-run Adult Protective Services agency, which often takes advantage of their clients and have been frequently sued for this, I’d be screwed by them – especially if I didn’t have the capacity to speak up for myself.  If I dropped dead in my apartment, no one would know about it until the smell disturbed the neighbors.  In all the circumstances noted here, single = nobody’s looking out for you and you are extremely, particularly, singularly vulnerable.

As a single, competent person, it’s my responsibility to put in place as many legally protective measures as I can; I’m in the process of doing just that.  I’ve seen several single, older people fall off the grid and literally disappear.  It’s a very real thing, a very frequent thing.  Single people – whatever their age, health status, and even (often especially) financial status, are the most vulnerable – particularly the very rich and very poor.

And, if government speech is anything to go by, single people are not on our representatives’ or leaders’ radar.  That’s not a good or fair or even cost-effective state of affairs.  I encourage you to remember this the next time you hear one of these people talk about The American Family.  And while you’re at it, keep your single friends in mind.  It’s lonely, wearying and worrying to be single in a nation so solely focused on The Family.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

What Is It With Conservatives and Sex?

This past week’s sexually-related political news has left me, as usual, with my mouth agape and my head spinning.  I am increasingly astonished, appalled and frightened by the sexual Puritanism that increasingly spans the American political landscape.  The Conservative desire to “take their country back,” presumably back to 1952, refuses to acknowledge that 60 years and a sexual revolution have passed.  That’s the fact, Jack, like it or not.

I’m referring specifically to the (thankfully thwarted) politically-motivated decision by the breast cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, to withdraw their longstanding support of Planned Parenthood.  They bought into the lie that Planned Parenthood is “the nation’s largest abortion mill.”

Komen didn’t want to jeopardize their mainstream support from abortion opponents who feel about breast cancer the same way they feel about children with cleft lips in poor countries and battered kittens everywhere.  Truth is, only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s activity is performing abortions; the rest is devoted to all other women’s health needs, especially breast health and making contraception readily available.  Their core clientele is poor and working class women.

The other assaults du week on women’s health, freedom and day-to-day survival came, of course, from the Greek Chorus of Republican Presidential contenders, including Mitt Romney’s dismissal of the very poor (predominantly women and children), Newt Gingrich’s assertion that America “has always been a bible-based country,” and Rick Santorum’s assorted invectives against abortion (which he claimed is linked to breast cancer; not true), homosexuality, and contraception, because the last enables sinful activity, also known as sex, by unmarried and married “fornicators.”

The scientific ignorance, prudery, social obliviousness, and presumption that personal sexual activity is of legitimate governmental concern, is frightening – as well as an unconstitutional infringement on personal liberty.  But the media feed into it as if it were nothing more than a Hollywood “scandal” to have a giggle over, and the public…well, the largely-politically-disengaged public either doesn’t know or care that there is a dangerous social movement in our midst.

I understand fiscal conservatism.  I don’t agree with it or think it’s in the nation’s best interest – but it isn’t insane, it’s just a particular belief about how to manage taxpayer funds.  It’s up to taxpayers (citizens!) to tell government through votes, petitions and other recourse, what they do and don’t want their money spent on, and we don’t vote or speak out anywhere near enough.

What I don’t understand is social conservatism, which is deeply rooted in Fundamental Christianity and focuses on the sanctity of The Family and the Evils of Sin (also known as human sexuality).  They believe that the only appropriate sexuality is heterosexuality between monogamous, legally married couples for the sole purpose of reproduction.  All and any other sexual activity on the part of consenting adults is sinful.

If these ideas were simply the moral foundation upon which some people choose to live their lives, there would be no problem.  I’ve often said that the best pro-choice slogan I’ve ever heard is: “If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one.”

The problem – and it’s a very big and important problem – is that social conservatives, the same people who say government should stay out of people’s personal lives – want to legislate their definition of morality and outlaw everyone else’s.  And anyone who opposes them is either a fascist or a socialist, but in either case, a degenerate sinner.  Give me a fucking break.  Literally.

Attention liberals, libertarians and all free-thinkers: have sex freakily and frequently.  It’s not just your right – it’s your civic responsibility!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Shame of Poverty in America vs. “Shame on the Poor!”

As you may know, the Prince of Republican Presidential Contenders, Mitt Romney, said a couple of days ago that he “wasn’t concerned about the very poor, because they have an ample safety net.”  Naturally, he immediately began back-peddling and told CNN today that he had been taken out of context (as usual…) and actually said (or meant to say):  “I’m not concerned about the very poor.  We have a safety net there.  If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.  I’m not concerned about the very rich.  They’re doing just fine.  I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”

I’m not concerned about what Mitt Romney says or doesn’t say, because he’s already proven he’ll say anything he thinks will serve him at the moment.  What does concern me is that his remark reflects the climate of anti-poor sentiment that seems to be embracing the nation – at least Center and Right – and as usual, the ideas that people have about the poor range from just plain incorrect to hostile and unfeeling.  I guess that since everyone except the very rich is having a hard time, sympathy for those at the bottom is scant.  It also seems particularly negligible on the part of the previously poor who managed to rise above their station; a case of “If I can do it, you can do it, too.”

The problem is that not everyone can do what some others can.  And even in this post-economic-collapse-day-and-age, a lot of folks don’t understand that many very poor people do work and often at more than one job, but despite their best efforts they still can’t make ends meet and live mean, impossible lives.

The poor haters (and many people do hate the poor) still believe there are Welfare Queens; that there are “able-bodied men” who just refuse to work; that Food Stamps provide an ongoing luxury buffet; that Medicaid provides quality, readily-available health care; and that in general, the poor are just lazy, shiftless, irresponsible, drug/alcohol addicts – undeserving burdens on society who think they have everything coming to them.  It boggles my mind.

The impact of the attitudes of the “…very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling” are reflected in a White Paper on Poverty in America recently released by the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University (not exactly a bastion of left-wing academia).  The paper provides all the horrific true facts about poverty the Center/Right refuse to acknowledge – just as they won’t accept the facts of climate change, Evolution, overpopulation, environmental imperatives, the dangers of de-regulation/ necessary new regulation, the insanity of an unrestricted free market, and the common-sense need for greater taxes from the very rich.  Etcetera.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I – a single woman with no living relatives, no assets, and outdated job skills – spent about a month on Welfare before the permanent Social Security disability benefits I am (here comes that word): entitled to (because I paid into the system for over 35 years) kicked in.  Welfare paid my rent and gave me $67 every two weeks for all other expenses, and I also got $150 in Food Stamps monthly.  Clearly, that gravy train couldn’t go on indefinitely!

Now, I receive those disability benefits.  I’m very grateful to have them, but they don’t cover all of my expenses.  I have no disposable income whatsoever.  I no longer get Food Stamps.  My health care is Medicare – an extremely expensive program that is managed so poorly, it covers almost nothing I actually need.  And the irony is, I’m not considered poor.  I sure do feel poor – but, obviously, that’s because I’m a lazy, shiftless, irresponsible, undeserving burden on society who thinks I have everything coming to me.

The true facts about the poor in America include the following: the vast majority of people on Welfare are white women and children.  Virtually all of the poor are severely under-educated.  Most suffer from both physical and emotional ailments.  Almost none have health insurance and Medicaid makes Medicare look like a well-oiled machine.  All live in what can generously be called sub-standard housing (crumbling urban Projects, rural ramshackle houses, and often broken-down cars and tents).  Many are outright homeless.  Most are chronically hungry.  All rely on the kindness of strangers (church groups, soup kitchens, hog-tied non-profit organizations).

And if the Republicans have their way, what little safety net the poor do have – that John Boehner actually called a hammock – will be unstrung to virtually nothing in the name of Debt & Deficit.  At the rate things are going, no matter who wins the White House in November, those who have nothing will soon have less than nothing – including Mitt Romney’s lack of concern.