Years ago, I was deeply troubled reading The Handmaid’s Tale, the novel by Margaret Atwood. After a catastrophic plague, in the Republic of Gilead (formerly the United States), theocratic ideals have been carried to extremes. Women are strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money, and are assigned to various classes: the chaste and childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the “morally fit” Wives. The tale is told by Offred (read: “of Fred”), a Handmaid who recalls the past and tells how the chilling society came to be.
Like all stories of its kind, The Handmaid’s Tale is meant to be fantasy, but just real enough to be cautionary. Sadly, we seem to be moving closer and closer to the fantastic here in Michigan.
I have been very actively opposing Michigan HB 5711, 5712, and 5713 in recent months – bills that would, in effect, make it nearly impossible for women in this state to receive abortions for any reason, be it rape or incest, even to save their own lives. In just the past few weeks, more bills have been brought forth that jeopardize our core tenets of religious freedom in this county.
- HB 5763 would legalize discrimination against adopting parents by allowing adoption agencies the ability to deny a placement based on that agency’s “moral or religious beliefs.” HB 5764 would protect government funding for agencies choosing to so discriminate. The bills even acknowledge that a religious or moral conviction that could allow an agency to deny adoption rights to certain families does NOT imply “that the proposed adoption is not in the best interest of the adoptee.” The obvious targets of this legislation are gay and lesbian, non-Christian, or nonreligious parents.
- SB 975 could allow emergency room doctors and nurses to deny emergency medical care to gay people, women who need a life-saving abortion, and even those with AIDS, for reasons of “conscience.” This bill would create the possibility of the unimaginable cruelty suffered by Savita Halappanavar in Ireland a few weeks ago.
To be honest, I would rather spend my time writing sermons, providing pastoral care, and teaching religious education classes. But my conscience and the spirits of Unitarians and Universalists who sacrificed through the ages to provide us the freedoms we enjoy command me to resist these efforts to create a dystopian theocracy in this state.
Ironically – and I wish I could laugh at the hypocrisy of it all – the sponsors of these bills argue that they are defending religious freedom. And yet they also back SB 59, which would allow people to legally carry a gun into churches or other places of worship, schools, day care centers, sports arenas or stadiums, day care centers, bars and taverns, hospitals, and college classrooms and dormitories. In other words, these theocrats want to use the church to shield their hate and discrimination, but then trample what the church represents when its principles runs counter to their lobbyists’ wishes.
You cannot have it both ways. You cannot live a moral life only when it is convenient or expeditious, or when it benefits you. A truly religious person stands for truth whatever the cost and whatever the consequences, because it is the truth.
And the truth is that it is wrong for churches receiving public funds, and thereby acting as agents of the state to deny any qualified adults the ability to provide their love and care to the 14,000 children needing homes in this state. It is wrong for any medical provider to deny treatment to anyone on any basis – ever. And it is wrong for government to force churches to allow loaded handguns – tools whose primary purpose is to injure and murder other human beings – into their sanctuaries.
Unitarian Thomas Jefferson defined religious freedom in the United States. His writings formed the basis of the separation of church and state, whose tenets include the freedom from the establishment of a state religion, and the free practice of religion by citizens. Any attempt to twist Jefferson’s words to support the withholding of public services on the basis of religious or moral beliefs is a vicious assault on our freedoms and our civil liberties. Jesus would certainly not approve, nor should the teachings of any mainstream, non-fundamentalist religion.
State Senator John Moolenaar, serving the 36th District, and State Representative Jim Stamas, serving the 98th District (both of which include Midland), have both supported or sponsored these bills. They will continue to support these attempts to erode true religious freedom until people speak up. I truly believe that we are approaching a tipping point in this state. And if we say that we promote justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, then we cannot sit idly by as our legislators rewrite the U.S. Constitution. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, the only thing necessary for the triumph of prejudice and hate is for good people to do nothing.