TIME LGBT

Panic! at the Disco Turns Westboro Protest into an HRC Fundraiser

Panic At The Disco Perform At O2 Academy In Glasgow
Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco performs on stage at O2 Academy on May 7, 2014 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. Ross Gilmore—Redferns/Getty Images

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This article originally appeared on Patheos

When the band Panic! At The Disco (below) — you might remember them from their 2006 hit song “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” — visited Kansas City, Missouri for a show on Sunday night, they had special guests waiting for them: Westboro Baptist Church members, complete with their “God Hates Fags” signs. (The band’s lead singer Brendon Urie said last year that he had experimented with homosexuality, though he’s married to a woman.)

The WBC even recorded a homophobic cover of the band’s hit song, called “You Love Sin What A Tragedy” in anticipation of the concert.

Rather than ignore them, the band responded in a wonderful way. They turned the protest into a mini-fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign:

That’s how you make lemonade out of lemons.

WBC, always declaring victory regardless of the situation, said they would just protest 20 times for every dollar raised. So that’s 20,000 more protests than usual.

Good luck with that. I suspect it’ll be tough to pull off when so many people in the church are either dying or escaping…

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide.

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Pro-Life Nurse Sues Family Planning Clinic for Hiring Discrimination

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Birth control pills Raymond Forbes—age fotostock RM/Getty Images

She said she would not prescribe birth control

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

We have a new frontrunner in the race for dumbest Christian Right lawsuit.

Sara Hellwege, a pro-life nurse, applied for a job at Tampa Family Health Centers (in Florida) this past April. TFHC is a Title X clinic, meaning they’re all about things like family planning, contraception, and birth control.

So when Hellwege mentioned her affiliation with the “American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists” in her resume, the interviewer (Chad Lindsey) asked her if that would be a problem since, you know, conservative Christians + birth control = crazytown.

Hellwege said she couldn’t prescribe birth control since, in her unscientific mind, it caused abortions. Lindsey, knowing that all of the job openings involved prescribing birth control, told her there were no other positions available and that there was no reason to proceed with the interview process.

So she’s suing him.

I repeat: She’s suing him because he’s not hiring her for a job she refuses to do.

It makes as much sense as a vegetarian suing Taco Bell for not hiring him even though he told the manager he couldn’t be near meat.

The misnamed Alliance Defending Freedom reiterated the whole misunderstanding about how birth control works while completely ignoring the job description:

Willingness to commit an abortion cannot be a litmus test for employment,” added ADF Senior Counsel Steven H. Aden. “All we are asking is for the health center to obey the law and not make a nurse’s employment contingent upon giving up her respect for life.”

I know we’re talking about birth control, and most forms of birth control are not abortifacients, but let’s roll with it for a second. If the job involves helping women obtain abortions, and you don’t want to help women obtain abortions for whatever reason, go find another job. Hellwege can’t do the very thing they need her to do.

No one owes her a job when she refuses to do it.

Maybe I should apply for an attorney position at ADF. My own sincere beliefs prevent me from defending Christians who have martyr complexes, but screw it. ADF owes me a paycheck.

Gregory M. Lipper of Americans United for Separation of Church and State put it simply: “Even after Hobby Lobby, this lawsuit retires the trophy for chutzpah.”

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. His latest book is called The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide.

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Wife of Wiccan Priest Recounts Religious Discrimination

Blake Kirk was uninvited from giving the invocation at a city council meeting in Huntsville, Ala. after it was learned that he's a clergyman of the Wiccan faith. Here, his wife speaks out

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I think most of us start out in our interfaith work with the expectation that our work will proceed smoothly and that we will find tolerance and acceptance in our relations with those of other faiths. And for the most part that is probably the case. At least those with whom we work are willing to respect those of other faiths than their own, and even offer their cooperation and support in projects that are aimed at improving their communities.

But sometimes our best intentions go awry and we find ourselves in confrontational situations where the concept of interfaith and respect for the religious rights of others breaks down. What one decides to do in that situation may have a lasting impact and needs to be approached thoughtfully and as calmly as possible.

Such a situation has arisen in my own life and the life of my husband. As I have mentioned in the past, Blake and I have been members of our local interfaith group here in Huntsville for several years. In 2012, as a result of a legal case in Georgia, the City of Huntsville requested that the Interfaith Mission Service maintain a roster of faith leaders from across the community to give invocations prior to the beginning of meetings of the City Council. It was understood then, or should have been understood, that such a roster would include faith groups other than Christians or even other Abrahamic faiths in order to be in accord with the ruling of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pelphrey v Cobb County, GA.

In January of this year my husband (he was listed at that time as a representative of the earth based religious community) gave the invocation before the City Council saying: “O gentle Goddess and loving God, we pray tonight that You will bless this Council with wisdom and judgment so that they may make sound decisions for the governance of our city. And further, we pray that You will visit upon these chambers an atmosphere of comity and peace, so that all who are here tonight to make their views known may do so in an air of civility and respect, without needless rancor or hostility. These things we ask of You as children do of their loving parents, trusting that You will give unto us those gifts that we truly need. Amen.” There were no repercussions as a result of this appearance and we were pleased that all had gone so well.

On June 26th he was again scheduled to give the invocation. He was contacted by the secretary for the City Council to get the information to fill out the agenda. And of course he indicated at that time that he was a priest of the Oak, Ash, and Thorn Tradition of Wicca. The next day he was contacted and told that his services were no longer desired and he was told it was because there were “concerns” about his religion. And at that point the City of Huntsville had crossed the line into religious discrimination which is not permitted under the Constitution or under case determinations by both the U.S. Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals which covers Alabama. Unfortunately for the City of Huntsville, a reporter got wind of the situation and the story was broken by our local news service, picked up by the Associated Press newsfeed and it went viral.

We were subsequently contacted by both Lady Liberty League and the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State offering their support in fighting what they considered a clear-cut case of religious discrimination.

So at this point we had some serious thinking to do about how we wanted to proceed. While we are definitely not in the broom closet, (I’m not even certain that the broom closet survived the explosion of the news media frenzy!), we are generally private about our beliefs and practices. It had never been our intention for our beliefs to become a divisive issue in our community. My husband’s delivery of the invocation was simply to help take part in the business of the governance of the city and to represent one of the many groups of individuals here in Huntsville. And to be truthful, the idea of going through the confrontational business of forcing the City to abide by the law, whether through negotiation or legal action was not something we wished to do.

However….

At some point one needs to decide whether or not something is worth fighting for and whether you can afford the consequences of that fight. As Martin Luther said in his famous speech; “I cannot and will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other…” My husband and I decided that this was a battle worth waging and that, like Luther, we could not back down and go against our own conscience in this case.

On May 16th here in Wild Garden I wrote about how a threat to one group or one person constitutes a threat to us all. In that piece I quoted Martin Niemoller when he wrote during the dark days of Nazi Germany:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I did not speak out;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

How ironic that a mere month later we were faced with Niemoller’s dilemma. My husband and I looked in our hearts and we decided that we were prepared to speak out and called upon by our Gods to speak out, not just for ourselves, but to preserve the Constitutional rights of all Americans. As the poet, John Donne, wrote, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

We don’t know where our stance will take us. We hope that we can resolve this amicably with the City of Huntsville. If we must we will engage in litigation to assure our legal rights to religious freedom under the 1st and 14th Amendment of the Constitution. What we do know is that we are in this fight now and we will not give up until it is over. Our Gods will accept no less.

What I hope is that my recounting of our story will help those considering entering the interfaith world to understand is that it is not always uplifting, accepting, or fun. Sometimes it is hard emotionally and spiritually. So I suggest that each of you search your hearts and talk to your Gods about what you are going to do and where you will take your stand…because you can do no other.

Carol Kirk is a retired nurse and a Vietnam war veteran.

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Just Because You’re Mad at Obama Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Have Dinner at His House

The White House Iftar boycott is a fruitless debate

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The other day in clinic when I asked a patient of mine what he did for work, he said, “Doc, I’m embarrassed to say it, but I’m a retired deputy Sheriff from LA.” I inquired about his hesitation. He noted how the department had deteriorated in morale and discipline, adding that once he was so proud to be a part of the department that if the Sheriff called him for duty, he could not say “no.” It’s much like if the President of United States calls one to serve our country, he said. How can one say “no?”

It is his latter comment that has stuck with me. Time and again, I’m intrigued by the respect, trust and prestige the office of POTUS carries in the minds of Americans, despite the contemporary vitriol and polarizing environment surrounding the office. When a national tragedy occurs, the President consoles the American people. And, when the President addresses the nation, it brings much needed healing and comfort, as seen in the aftermath of recent mass shootings and terror incidents.

It is for this reason, I contend, that when the President invites one for Iftar (the fast-breaking meal in Ramadan), one responds gracefully and strives to attend. It is precisely the respect for this office and what it symbolizes – not necessarily the one who holds the office – that inspires citizens.

Therefore, if one wishes to boycott such an event in hopes of achieving a policy objective, I would direct that individual’s energies toward the ballot box. Imagine if 90 percent of American Muslims began casting votes; we would then be having a different conversation altogether.

On Monday, hours before the White House Iftar, a boycott petition was circulated and generated an unusual buzz, especially on social media, that was captured by the Huffington Post and Politico. The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee’s position, in favor of the boycott, was also released before the Iftar. The reaction was hardly surprising, as it came on the eve of a barbaric and brutal assault on the innocent women and children of Gaza. The loss of civilian life clearly outweighed any chronic grievances the Muslim community held, ranging from surveillance to Guantanamo Bay, which despite being constantly brought up directly with the President at these Iftarsin the past, had not received much consideration at all.

At the Iftar, POTUS’s remarks included an emphasis on the right of Israel to defend itself while stating, in passing, a request to also protect civilian life –- confirming the sentiments of boycott proponents. Furthermore, the news of 18 family members who were killed in an aerial bombing of Gaza that broke earlier pointed to the extreme gravity of the situation. We, as Americans, cannot even begin to imagine the pain and suffering endured by the Gaza victims and their loved ones.

And so, in the midst of such pain and injustice, it is completely understandable that an individual might not feel comfortable smiling for the cameras on the White House red carpet. So if one rather busied onself with humanitarian efforts, aid delivery and advocacy on the Gaza situation and decided to politely decline the invitation with an appropriate accompanying message, it would be completely reasonable and justified. Such a response would be graceful and have impact. The decision of each guest whether or not to attend is, of course, a personal choice. But regardless of the decision, the act should be done with purpose, dignity and grace.

The arguments that I have seen from both sides of the debate merit consideration, minus the rare instances of calling theIftar participants sellouts (irrelevant in this case, since most attendees are from the diplomatic corps anyway; usually few American Muslims are invited). The event itself is symbolic in nature but does speak volumes about American Muslim contributions and the recognition of those contributions by the highest office of the land. And that is something that should not be dismantled but, instead, strengthened.

In drawing lessons from Islamic history, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was invited to meet an elite group from a powerful tribe in Medina (Banu Nadhir) that was initially an ally but had begun to turn against him. He accepted the invitation at the expense of risk to his life. What followed suit is a matter of controversy. Nevertheless, the lesson derived here is the emphasis on attempting at dialogue and setting things right on part of the prophet (pbuh).

Did Musa (Moses) walk into Pharaoh’s palace uninvited? Certainly not, he was invited and he went forth with an ultimatum and a challenge. In the White House Iftar story, there is neither a Moses nor a Pharaoh, but only a challenge. And that challenge is for us to deliver results for the sake of all those who are suffering from inequities . And once again, it all starts at the ballot box.

Rather than boycotting the Iftar to show disapproval of the White House’s response to the situation in Gaza, this opportunity should be optimized, to make the Muslim presence felt and our voices heard.

Many of you may have heard of Tarek Abu Khdeir, a teenager from Florida who was nearly beaten to death by earlier this month. Two IDF soldiers beat him to unconsciousness after which he was imprisoned without medical care. Tariq’s teenage cousin Muhammed was burned to death on July 2.

I believe one useful petition to circulate next year would be to urge the White House to invite Tarek and his family to participate in the Iftar, perhaps even reward him for his courage and determination.

Dr. Faisal Qazi is the co-Founder of MiNDS, a community development foundation local to Southern California and VP of the Whitestone Foundation – a national American Muslim community-building project. He serves as a member of City of Fullerton’s Community Development Commission.

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4 Reasons Conservatives Are Embracing Prison Reform

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Empty prison cell Darrin Klimek—Getty Images

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

There are few social issues over which all within the greater Christian Church can agree, or at least historically have been able to find common ground. From gay marriage to gun control, it seems that religious ideology have gone part and parcel along with the respective political parties that tend to represent our social views.

Criminal sentencing certainly has been one of those divisive social issues among Christians, with many progressives calling for more leniency on nonviolent crimes, and conservatives embracing a “zero tolerance” ethos. If raw numbers are any indication, the right has been “winning” this debate for the past several decades, with prison populations in the United States increasing tenfold in the past forty or so years.

Only recently have the number of incarcerated people within our borders begun to decline, and it’s in part due to a shift in the way those who have championed a hard-nosed approach to sentencing are reframing their thinking. In some respects, the reasons are logistical and economic; for others, the change of heart is informed particularly by their understanding of scripture and the mandates of the Gospel.

As I discuss in my upcoming book, “postChristian: What’s Left? Can We Fix It? Do We Care?” The departure from more rigid institutional identities and values, whether because of inspired reflection or economic necessity, actually give us an opportunity to think in fresh ways about what Jesus calls us to do and be in the world. And not surprising, when we listen to that still small voice, we find some holy, common ground.

In the spirit of seeking such common ground, here are four ideas around which Christians – and non-Christians – from both the left and right are coming together.

Reform makes good financial sense.

Studies have shown that drug treatment and monitored work programs consistently cost less than incarceration, while also proving to be more effective at helping those with substance abuse issues remain sober and stay out of prison in the future. This “bang for your buck” sensibility resonates with many fiscal conservatives concerned with prudence when it comes to tax dollars.

Reform reduces government’s role in our lives.

One historical core value of the right is that of limited government. Since the time of Jefferson, stemming the reach of Uncle Sam has been a drumbeat around which most on the right can rally. In the last thirty years, the public dollars funneled into housing prisoners has exploded past $1 trillion annually, while the use of illicit drugs by adults in the United States continues to increase. Suffice it to say that this is one government program that has failed to live up to its promises, and an increasing number of conservatives and libertarians are joining the chorus for reform as a result.

Second Chances are Biblical.

Though some on the right have long embraced the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” attitude, others are finding a basis in scripture for inclining toward mercy, particularly when it comes to nonviolent crimes. Consider the stories of the Prodigal son, Jonah, David or even Adam and Eve who, though they were promised a death sentence for the transgressions they committed, actually benefitted from a reduced sentence.

Thinking on “paying our debt to society” is shifting.

Traditionally, it’s been suggested the way lawbreakers pay their debt is to sit in jail, and perhaps pick up some trash or hammer out a few license plates for pennies a day. But rather than developing skills as contributing citizens, most prisoners, after being imprisoned for a few years, simply become habituated to their new environment. In short: they become good convicts. Without proper job training and work placement programs, many prisoners turn to public services, from public shelters to SSI, food stamps, etc., to make ends meet. So we exchange one kind of public support for another, while adding nothing to the tax base. And since a federal law in the nineties was passed barring drug offenders from receiving food stamps or cash assistance, many former inmates turn back to criminal activities such as theft or prostitution, thus starting the cycle of recidivism in motion.

Warehousing nonviolent offenders is still big business in the United States, which means that people with significant influence are intent on keeping things more or less as they already are. And certainly not all on the political and religious right agree with the points above. But enough conservatives are breaking rank to begin to form coalitions with the center and left, so that real reform becomes an increasing possibility.

Meanwhile we’re tied with only one other country for having the most prisoners per capita of any nation in the world: nearly as many per capita as Iran and Russia combined. Is this the legacy we want to leave in the annals of history, and the system of democracy we are preserving for our children?

Here’s hoping the momentum of this new coalition continues to grow.

Christian Piatt is the author and creator of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS.

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Quitting the Cancer ‘Battle’

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Watching my wife deal with morning sickness while I was laid low by chemo­therapy, I realized that I had the easier job. All I had to do was die

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I am not a hero. After my last post, some readers wanted to know how I arrived at my attitude toward cancer, which is to be found somewhere between a religious person’s submis­sion and the cordial host’s welcome. A better question—one my oncologist and I wrestle with at every appointment—is why most cancer patients tumble into a bottom­less slough of despond.

My intention is not to criticize other cancer patients. To be told that you have a disease which is going to kill you in the next few months or years is to be slammed by a violent and remorseless truth that nothing in experience prepares you for. At first you can’t even process what your doctor is telling you, because there is nothing to which you can com­pare the news in order to make sense of it—it is a monster from beyond your imagination. Denial, self-pity, panic, despair: these are the natural reactions.

I was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in the fall of 2007. Just before Sukkot my doctor phoned to warn that an “opacity” had shown up on my chest X-ray during a routine physical examination. To the Jews, Sukkot is zeman simhatenu, the “season of our rejoicing,” but there was little joy in our sukkah that year. Our season was one of dread.

Average survival time of men diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer is one to three years. Maybe ten percent live ten years. When you are first diagnosed, you obsess over the numbers. You vow, “I will be one of the ten percent!” Your vow, though, has no effect whatever on the outcome of your disease.

No matter how often you swear that you will fight the cancer, you are helpless against it. The journalistic convention in obituaries to praise the dead for their “coura­geous battle” against cancer is a lie designed to comfort the living and healthy. At best the cancer patient consents to treatment, although he must withdraw consent at some point and permit the disease to run its course. Or, as L. E. Sissman sang of the foreign country known as Hodgkin’s lymphoma where he lingered for a decade,

…I
Reside on the sufferance of authorities
Until my visas wither, and I die.

Cancer patients are betrayed by our culture’s dishonesty. Those who recover from the disease are hailed as “survivors”—a term appropriated from the Holo­caust—but while they are struggling with cancer and undergoing sometimes painful treatments for it, they are barely acknowledged. They are consigned to what Ralph Elli­son calls a “hole of invisibility.”

“There’s a possibility,” Ellison goes on to say, “that even an invisible man has a socially responsible role to play.” Not, however, as long as the servitude of cancer is described by the platitudes our culture favors—“fight,” “battle,” “survive,” or “suc­cumb.” Is it any wonder the cancer patient, who suspects the truth even if he dare not utter it to himself, ends in inconsolable resignation?

A friend of mine who has recovered from breast cancer points out that being a patient with a life-threatening illness is a release from daily, clock-managed, to-do-list responsi­bility. Cancer patients should embrace their freedom, she argues. That most fail to do so is a testament to their mortal terror of freedom.

My own view is somewhat different. Cancer permanently disfigures a person’s self-image, and neither the culture nor his curriculum vitae includes the materials for a recon­struction.

For half a century now, American culture has been a culture of self-fulfillment. Interests must be pursued, talents developed, desires expressed, needs met: the self is con­ceived as a string of imperatives. But cancer exposes these as arbitrary and extrava­gant. The staples of selfhood, it turns out, have been neglected.

A diagnosis of cancer might be the “rift or revelation” which, as the Romanian philosopher E. M. Cioran says, dries up illu­sion and begins the true self. And yet the exact opposite is what usually happens:

When you no longer believe in yourself, you stop producing or struggling…whereas it is the contrary which should have occurred, since it is precisely at this moment that, being free of all bonds, you are likely to grasp the truth, discern what is real and what is not.

If cancer patients are to be helped out of their despondency—if they are to face the reality of their condition, which to my mind is the only possible way to go on living with cancer—they must be helped to believe in themselves again.

But how? The literature, divided between breathless guides to “alternative” healing and triumphalist accounts of “survival,” is of small assistance. Perhaps my own history, though, might suggest a tentative first step.

My wife was pregnant with our fourth child during the initial months of my cancer. Watching her deal with morning sickness and a husband laid low by chemo­therapy, I realized that I had the easier job. All I had to do was die. She would be left alone with her grief and the emptiness where I once held her and we laughed together. As Dora Carring­ton cried to her dead husband Lytton Strachey in her diary, “Every day for the rest of my life you will be away.”

The self that lived for fulfillment may have collapsed like a pretense at the first word of cancer. This is not a loss, however, but a refinement. You are no longer defined by the interests you pursued or the desires you expressed: you are no more or less than the person whom your wife (or husband) and children love.

Your capacities may be diminished—you may not be able to dance with your wife, play catch with your sons, pick up your daughter—but they do not love your capacities; they love the person. And whether you accept the responsibility of being that person, or acquiesce as the cancer proves itself to be stronger than love, is a decision entirely within your command.

D. G. Myers is a critic and literary historian who taught for nearly a quarter of a century at Texas A&M and Ohio State universities. He is the author of The Elephants Teach and ex-fiction critic for Commentary.

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Ramadan Is Morphing Into a Meaningless Holiday Season

The Muslim holiday has taken on a completely different form in America, one that more closely resembles Christmas

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I belong to a very particular generation of Muslims, one who formed a Muslim identity well before the turning point of 9/11. Those days were very different — it was a time when Muslims in America were still primarily under the radar. It was also a time before the Internet flooded us with information (and misinformation) about Islam and Muslims. I still had to explain to work colleagues why I wasn’t ordering anything at lunch during Ramadan, and conversations around me didn’t always revolve around my Muslim identity or global politics. It was much easier to be a normal American, and to be seen as one as well.

Under the cover of this relative isolation, my Ramadan experiences were different then they are today. It was a much more intimate affair — I would spend my evenings in quiet prayer and then break my fast either at the mosque with my community or in small home gatherings with friends and family.

These experiences forever defined within me the scope, power, and meaning of this month. It was certainly a time to be social, to reconnect with community and family, but the heart of it still lay with my relationship with God. It was relatively apolitical as well — we didn’t argue about moon sighting methodologies or getting Eid on school calendars.

Fast forward to modern American Muslim life. Ramadan has taken on a completely different form, and I’m as guilty as any in indulging and reinforcing it. Within our communities, invitations to iftars/social events get sent out weeks in advance, often overlapping so much that the truly determined “iftar-hop” in order to get them all in.

In a month devoted to the abstinence of food, we paradoxically spend our days preparing it, and our evenings feasting on it, making sure to Instagram culinary creations that took the better part of a day to finish. We have turned our attention from celebrating the month inwardly to making sure others know about it. We spend an increasing amount of time blogging, lobbying and spending on Ramadan.

The greatest shift, however, is in how Ramadan is perceived by society at large. I regularly get unsolicited “Ramadan Mubarak!” messages from friends, colleagues, even strangers — both in person and on social media. Where I live in Washington, D.C., the iftar has become a public celebration, where all sorts of institutions outside the Muslim community — non-profit organizations, think tanks, embassies, city halls and federal government institutions — jockey to claim one of the days of the month for iftar dinners that are open to the public (I know this because I spent the last three years organizing the State Department iftar, a much sought-after ticket among the upwardly mobile, Muslim or not).

What is happening to the Ramadan I used to know? I feel we are inadvertently following the model of Christmas and turning the month into a “season” that is a time for socializing, indulgence and consumerism above all else. Corporate America is sensing this and is responding accordingly with Ramadan promotions and special events (latest example: the DKNY Ramadan launch this week), using a barely-modified Christmas playbook.

Our need for belonging makes us applaud any public acknowledgement of our holiday, whether it is a Best Buy ad, a politician’s Ramadan greeting or a department store Ramadan display. I regularly attend public iftars where nearly half the attendees are not Muslim, and any religious aspect is relegated to a small side room so as to not get in the way of networking and socializing. When you start seeing people like Wolf Blitzer at iftars, you just have to wonder what is happening to our most precious religious holiday.

None of what I’m seeing is inherently bad, of course. It certainly is a mark of recognition and cross-community understanding that we’ve been able to cement Ramadan into the public landscape while keeping it relatively free of the geopolitics that so infects our identity these days.

Our economic power has convinced corporate America to respect us as a demographic group, and our increasing political clout has enabled elected officials to calculate that they would gain more votes than they would lose if they cater to us. When you consider the beating we take in certain elements of the public sphere, these are certainly things to be proud of.

But in pursuing the advancement of our communities, it would be a shame to lose what Ramadan is really about and what it was meant to be. How do we make sure that doesn’t happen?

Shahed Amanullah is the founder and original editor-in-chief of Altmuslim, CEO and co-founder of LaunchPosse, CEO and founder of Halalfire (parent company to zabiha.com) and a former senior advisor at the U.S. Department of State.

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How Having an (Insurance-Covered) IUD Is Saving My Life

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IUD Jonathan Kantor—Getty Images

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I had no intentions of writing about the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case. I tweeted my friend Laura Ortberg Turner’s short post on it, because I share her opinions and she wrote with good humor and admirable economy. I expected to leave it at that.

But while reading friends’ Facebook conversations, I noticed two troubling trends in some Christian responses to the Supreme Court ruling. The first trend was simple inaccuracy, as people argued that the case was primarily about Hobby Lobby not wanting to fund contraceptives that cause abortions. First, many would argue that this is not actually what the case was primarily about (for one take on what it was about, read Paul Horwitz’s New York Times op ed). Second, that contraceptives such as “morning after” pills and IUDs prevent implantation of fertilized embryos and thus cause abortion is simply not true. I’m not even going to link to evidence that these and other contraceptives interfere with ovulation or fertilization, not implantation, because it’s so easy to find that it would take me longer to copy and paste links than it would take you to find and read them on your own. (If you want something more fun to read than dry data, check out this post from my colleague the Slacktivist, who points out that fertilization doesn’t occur during or immediately after intercourse. Taking a pill such as Plan B in the day or two after having unprotected intercourse doesn’t abort an implanted fertilized egg; at that point, a fertilized egg most likely doesn’t exist, as sperm are still swimming around refusing to ask for directions. Rather, such medications prevent or delay ovulation or inhibit fertilization.)

The second, and to me more viscerally troubling, trend among some Christians rejoicing in Hobby Lobby’s victory was the characterization of the court’s decision as a dismissal of whiny women who want someone else to pay so they can have lots and lots of sex without worry, because they can have as many abortions-via-contraception as they need.

I can’t believe this point needs to be made, but contraceptives are actually not used solely, or even primarily, by women who want to have lots and lots of sex without getting pregnant. Contraception isn’t a mere “Get Out of Jail Free” card for the promiscuous. It’s a tool that can promote health—physical, psychological, individual, communal, and global. Propagating the idea that medications to halt infections, ameliorate mental illness, and prolong men’s erections are reasonable tools to promote health (and therefore covered by insurance, regardless of your employer’s opinions about the germ theory, the causes of depression, or erections), but contraceptives are a personal choice so that women can give their out-of-control libidos a regular workout without worry is, indeed, an act of aggression toward and dismissal of women.

Contraceptives don’t merely prevent pregnancy for women having lots, or even a little, sex. They support women’s physical, psychological, and emotional health. I’m not just talking about women taking birth control pills for conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome or painful periods, or women whose circumstances dictate that a pregnancy could kill her or push her family more deeply into dire poverty.

I’m talking about me.

I have had an IUD for just more than eight years. I consider my IUD to be saving my life. I don’t mean that exactly literally, but I do mean it seriously. My IUD protects my sanity and my fragile physical health to such an extent that I consider it necessary to my, and my family’s, health and well-being.

I got my first IUD (I’m now on my second) three months after my third child was born. We didn’t want any more children. Underneath that simple statement are deep, jagged layers of anxiety, pain, and even terror—anxiety, pain, and terror that my IUD, which prevents pregnancy regardless of the timing of intercourse or my memory or the repair history of the condom factory’s equipment, almost entirely ameliorates.

Because of my IUD, I hardly get periods anymore. This is convenient, but it’s far more than that. My periods were horrible, painful, long, irregularly constant (as in, I would sometimes bleed all but three or four days a month), copious, clotty, hideous things. I am deeply grateful for the reproductive goings-on behind even my horrible periods, because they allowed me to conceive and carry three children. I am also deeply grateful to no longer have my vision narrow to a pinpoint in the throes of menstrual cramps or bleed out of my vagina more days of the month than not. (Sorry to be graphic, but I want you to understand from what sort of captivity I’ve been freed.)

More important, because of my IUD, I carry no anxiety about an unwanted pregnancy. My desire not to have another baby is not just because we have three beautiful kids and that feels like enough, just right. I don’t want another baby because I’m convinced that carrying and giving birth to another baby would damage me, and secondarily our entire family, in deep, perhaps irreparable ways.

There’s this:

During my third baby’s c-section birth, the doctors had a lot of trouble getting my epidural in properly. I had epidurals with my first two children; the first was straightforward, the second less so. But the third was a nightmare. They were poking needles into my spine for 15 or 20 minutes, each time producing a painful burst of shock-like sensations up and down my spine. I endured silently, expecting that soon I’d be numb from the ribs down and ready to meet our son.

Except when they began cutting my abdomen, I could feel it, enough to produce both pain and panic. At that point, there was nothing to do about the epidural. The anesthesiologist, in my husbands words, began “throwing” meds into my IV and the mask over my nose, including nitrous oxide and various other cocktails. The point, the anesthesiologist explained, wasn’t to erase the pain. Nothing could really do that. The point was to make me loopy enough that I wasn’t fully engaged with the fact of my abdomen being sliced open without adequate anesthesia.

While I made it through the ordeal (obviously), I became shaky and agitated any time I thought about it. The thought of having another baby—another epidural, another c-section—didn’t just make me weary. It made me (makes me) panic.

And there’s this:

I tore cartilage in my knee toward the end of that third pregnancy. Who knows if that sped along my inevitable march toward arthritis or not? I do know that the injury, which occurred because of the extra weight I was carrying on my already precarious joints, was the beginning of something life changing. I no longer have much cartilage left in either knee, and take powerful opioids so I can function as a mother, wife, homeowner, and writer despite pain and impairment. I know, literally in my bones, that I could not carry another pregnancy without at least exacerbating the pain, and at most, permanently worsening the condition of my joints. I would also have to go without my medication for the duration, which would involve unpleasant withdrawal and worsened pain. And when it was all over, I suspect my ability to care for a new baby, three other children and our household, to cook and clean and walk the dog and take the kids sledding, would be either diminished or destroyed.

I might someday, even without another pregnancy and another baby, need a wheelchair for mobility, hired help for cleaning and cooking, or other aids. While I don’t relish those possibilities, I will make those decisions when the time comes. But I have reason to believe, and a tenacious hope, that such decisions are still years down the road.

Really, what it comes down to is this:

If I were to become pregnant again, there is enormous potential for another harrowing birth and permanent damage to my body and ability to do the things that I love, want, and need to do. That potential means that I would seriously consider having an abortion.

I don’t know if I would or not. But I know the question would be an open one. I know I don’t want to face that decision. I know that a tiny boomerang of hormone-infused plastic ensures that I haven’t had to, and won’t have to, make such a decision.

This is why I feel like my IUD is saving my sanity, my family, my life.

Our health insurance paid for both of my IUDs (they are replaced every five years), at a cost of $500 – $1,000 a pop for the device itself, insertion, and follow-up. If our insurance didn’t cover it, most likely we would have chosen a less expensive birth control method—one requiring more regular involvement, one feeling less sure.

That wouldn’t be a tragedy. I know that. But it would deal a real blow to my health.

That blow would largely take the form of much more anxiety around having another baby. As a Christian, a believer in God’s word made flesh, I understand health as incorporating body and mind and spirit. The state of our bodies dictates the state of mind and spirit, and vice versa. This is why I feel like my IUD, by protecting me and my family from the potentially ruinous consequences of another pregnancy as well as the deep worry about that happening in the first place, is saving my life.

Some Christians’ rejoicing in the Hobby Lobby decision is based on bad science about how contraception works. And some of it arises from graceless, inaccurate assumptions about why low-cost contraception isn’t merely a choice or a convenience for many women—including monogamous, responsible, married women like me—but a necessity. Contraception can be a life- and sanity-saver for women who want to be good stewards of the bodies and minds and spirits—our own and our families’—that God has entrusted to us. That’s something a so-called “Christian” employer might consider good.

Ellen is the author of ‘No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction’.

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TIME Religion

Hobby Lobby Turned Roman Catholics Into First-Class Citizens

A few rich and powerful people now have another way to legally exercise religious control over other people’s private lives.

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

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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TIME Religion

What Can We Learn From the Pending Hobby Lobby Case?

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Just a little while ago, I read a blog post by Dr. Jackie Roese regarding the upcoming Supreme Court decision about the Hobby Lobby case. She makes the argument that we, especially women, are “eating cheeseburgers” when it comes to the issue of contraception for women – that it seems so straightforward and obvious that women should have easy access to contraceptives, we just go about our regular lives, munching on our cheeseburgers and not worrying about this case or its implications. But depending on how the Court rules, the decision on the Hobby Lobby case could make us think differently.

The Hobby Lobby case asks a simple question – can corporations refuse to cover certain kinds of birth control for women by claiming First Amendment religious freedom protections, despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act requires insurance to cover birth control? So, should corporations have this power – yes or no? It is a simple question, with a simple answer of ‘no,’ but it is the far-reaching implications that come from studying the issue that make things a bit more complicated.

The Affordable Care Act requires for-profit organizations to cover birth control for women on their employees’ health insurance plans. Any non-profit, religious organization with a religious objection to contraception can opt out of this coverage. And obviously any individual with a religious objection to using contraception is not forced to do so. This distinguishes individuals and non-profit organizations formed for religious reasons from corporations formed to make profits. If we start treating for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby the same as churches and allow them to claim to have a faith, we create a bunch of problems. Let’s take a look.

Religious Freedom

In this case, corporations are claiming they should be able to ignore laws they don’t like by claiming the laws violate their faith. But everyone knows corporations do not have souls. They cannot have faith. Corporations were not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Corporations were created by states to provide liability protections for their owners and to create an organizing mechanism to make profit. It cheapens our religious freedoms and the idea of faith to say that faith is something a corporation can have. And it raises the risks that the government will have to take a more active role in litigating and deciding what counts as religious activity, and what is and is not a valid expression of it, as corporations continue to use religion to bypass any of our laws they happen not to like.

Abortion

Because supporters of Hobby Lobby have claimed to be against abortion, and many of the women’s groups who are pro-choice have opposed Hobby Lobby, many assume that a Hobby Lobby win would reduce abortions. But the opposite is true. Restricting access to contraception actually leads to more unintended pregnancies, which studies have consistently shown result in many more abortions. As the recent Faithful Dems post by Lindsey Bergholz explains, we all want to lower the number of abortions in America, but restricting contraceptives is not the way to do it. If this case goes in Hobby Lobby’s favor, there will be more unintended pregnancies and more abortions. As Christians, we should do everything we can to ensure that doesn’t happen, while at the same time staying true to our progressive values and giving women as many choices as we can. Giving women access to contraception fulfills both of these needs.

Women’s Choices

Last but not least is the issue of women’s choices. As women, we have made so much progress since the second-wave feminism of the 1960s that it is easy to take for granted the gains that we do have. However, events such as this pending Hobby Lobby case should remind us how precarious our rights and choices are. Should the Supreme Court rule in Hobby Lobby’s favor and agree that women’s right to contraception can be restricted, hundreds of thousands of women and their families would be put in jeopardy. As Democrats, we must raise our voices in defense of the fundamental right of women to plan when they will have a family and what size it will be. And as people of faith, we should think hard about the best ways to support our families and let all people make the decisions that fit best with their values and beliefs. Dr. Jackie Roese puts it well:

“I want to consider how fortunate I am to have choices. I want to spend a second grieving for women around the globe who don’t. And I at least want to contemplate what this court decision means on a broader scope for us as women, women who have had choice for so long we are eating burgers and drinking ice cold cokes while watching fireworks as those in power make powerful decisions – about me. A woman.”

Madeleine Roberts is a contributor to Faithful Democrats.

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