A few rich and powerful people now have another way to legally exercise religious control over other people’s private lives.
Democracy doesn’t allow two kinds of citizenship and two versions of the law. If you want to live in a country where some citizens have bigger rights, more freedoms, and more powers over the rest, then you don’t want to live in a democracy. You might want to live in America, after Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
Why would anyone be surprised that the erosion of democracy in America would again be accomplished through corporations? Theocrats admire proxy powers while they themselves are still weak, and they like to control strong bodies through manipulable souls. Why wouldn’t corporations be obvious candidates for supporting salvific work in the world? Corporations are not only legal persons, but they became real citizens covered under the Bill of Rights, and now corporations have religious convictions that award them legal privileges that ordinary citizens will never get.
If you thought that a few rich and powerful people needed another way to legally exercise religious control over other people’s private lives, you are rejoicing. If you instead thought that ordinary people need more political freedom from religious oppression, you are dismayed beyond belief.
But you don’t want to make a hasty judgment here, you say. Let a few days pass, while the press and the pundits hypnotize you about how this is supposed to be a narrow ruling on just one issue, and how Christians are lovely people who only want the best for everyone, and how private corporations are somehow now the guardians of freedom. But do try to think about how someone’s else vaster freedoms usually end up forging somebody else’s chains.
Let it sink in, while those legal interpreters mystify you about how corporations are supposedly persons with rights because corporations are owned by people, so the rights of private owners extend to everything the ‘private’ corporation does. Let the fallacy in that way of thinking sink in for a while. A corporation able to exercise remote control over what a women and her doctor can do is really acting ‘privately’?
Let it sink in how five Supreme Court justices – each one is a male Roman Catholic – decided that sanctimonious abhorrence against birth control is legitimate grounds for letting giant corporations control the reproductive lives of women. Do you really think that a private corporation in non-Christian hands would be allowed to make it harder for employees to get basic health care?
After you’ve let this all sink in, be careful where you point the finger of praise, or blame. Yes, Protestant Evangelicalism ensured that five Roman Catholics would get to decide democracy’s fate. But this wasn’t supposed to be Protestantism’s fight. There are Justices who still own neckties older than Protestant opposition to birth control. No, this was a Roman Catholic agenda, and a Roman Catholic victory.
Don’t start making any changes to your insurance plans, Muslim, Sikh, or Hindu corporate owners! Let’s wait to see how much of a precedence has been set. I’d bet that it turns out to be very narrow in one sense: unless your religious conviction fits with the Catholic Hegemony, don’t expect to get your way too. There now are first-class citizens, the rich, powerful corporate owners acknowledged by the Catholic Dominion; and there’s everyone else, whose may not share the same religious opinions.
When you wake up from your pleasant slumbers, dreaming of an America where each individual cannot be controlled by someone else’s religion, let me know. Until then, try not to mutter in your sleep about liberty and democracy and how everything’s still just fine. If you manage to open your eyes, don’t be shocked at people ‘overreacting’, while you yourself appear to be sleepwalking. Don’t speak to me until you are ready to wake up into this new reality, where somebody else’s ideas about God can make our lives harder and more expensive. Don’t even look at me, while nobody is looking at you to figure out how to control your body.
Let all this sink in. If you cling to your faith that America remains a democracy, then you shall get the theocracy you deserve. The priests are already plotting out where you need to kneel next.
John Shook is a professor of science education at the University of Buffalo.
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