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An Increasingly Divided Country

July 9, 2014

I’VE MENTIONED BEFORE IN THIS SPACE that I have been worried about the long-term prospects for the survival of the United States as a unified and cohesive political entity. I still am.

Before I get to the specific reasons for my concern, it is worth pointing out that countries and empires have been breaking up, merging with one another, annexing territories, granting those territories independence and so on since the first farmer planted the very first crop 10 or 12 millennia ago and the whole project of human civilization began. Recent world history suggests that the breakup of the United States into a sort of commonwealth of independent countries need not be violent or otherwise ruinous, at least in principle. The breakup of the old Soviet Union was accomplished with relatively little bloodshed.

Go back a few decades, and we have examples in our own history — the Philippines, the Panama Canal Zone and various scattered atolls and islands in the Pacific were all once U.S. territory or colonies, and all gained (or regained) sovereignty through peaceful negotiation and treaties.

There are, of course, counter-examples of breakups that went much more badly.

The primary example from our American history was, of course, the  U.S. Civil War, which answered two burning questions of the day: Do states have the right to secede from federal jurisdiction because of policy differences with the federal government (the answer was a resounding “no”); and should states be allowed to deny basic human rights to some of their residents based on “peculiar” local customs and traditions? (The answer, again, was “no,” though it took another century to make significant progress in overturning Jim Crow and other forms of de facto and de jure discrimination, and that work is still unfinished.)

The Civil War resulted in a million Americans on both sides killed and wounded, and the conversion of much of the armature of civilization in the southern U.S. into smoldering ruins, which was all the more horrifying when you consider that this was in the days before bomber and fighter aircraft and the mass production of armaments. Richmond, Virginia in 1865 looked very much like Berlin 80 years later at the end of the Second World War.

This is what we risk when contemplating the breakup of the United States — actually, much worse than that. Remember that entire cities in the South were razed without recourse to the extremely efficient machinery of death that is now available to all factions in any armed rebellion.

Let me be blunt here: Contemplating a second Civil War in the era of nuclear weapons is deeply irresponsible. It is a prospect that might well end human civilization worldwide. In other words, it is utterly unthinkable.

So why am I even talking about something as seemingly outlandish as the United States breaking up amid a second civil war?

There is a widening gulf in the U.S. between two different factions: on the one hand, rural culture united by cultural traditionalism (there are, roughly speaking, to sub-groups within this faction:  the Old South and the rural West), and on the other hand more cosmopolitan urban America, particularly on the coasts but also in major urban centers in the interior of the country.

The political and cultural gulf between urban and rural America reflects, of course, the different priorities of urban and rural people, and to some extent has been a persistent feature of our country since its founding. That said, I think the present size of the gulf is a symptom of a people who are forgetting how to talk to one another.

Speaking as someone with a good fraction of rural folk on my mother’s side of the family, it bothers me a great deal when I hear some of my urban friends dismiss rural people as a bunch of ignorant, benighted rednecks.

My uncle Leonard is a rancher in central California, and he is one of the most principled and honorable men I’ve ever known.

He owns a liquor store in a small town near his farm, and for years you could not buy a Time, Newsweek or Motor Trend magazine in his store because the magazine distributors in whose territory Leonard lived said that if Leonard wanted to have magazines in his store, it would be a package deal — meaning he would need to sell Playboy and Penthouse magazines along with more respectable fare. Leonard, a deeply religious Catholic, stood on principle and said if that was the deal, he would refuse to carry magazines at all. Eventually the distributors relented and agreed to allow him to skip the skin magazines.

Leonard and I certainly have our differences politically. He’s not a big fan of unions, for example, and I consider unions to be an indispensable institution to ensure economic fairness and get workers a fair deal.

That said, he and I get along just fine. When I go visit we keep the conversation on topics that will serve to keep the peace (we both like the EF Mass, and both of us hunt, for example), and we just agree to disagree on some issues.

Some of the responsibility for depth of the urban/rural divisions in the country rest with the Democratic Party, which has become a far more exclusively urban-constituent party than it used to be. It is worth remembering that FDR was a great friend to farmers and rural people in the United States — New Deal initiatives like federal agricultural price supports, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and rural electrification more generally were responsible for drastically lessening the besetting poverty that had characterized millions of square miles of rural America before the 1930s. There were people in the mountains of Appalachia and the Ozarks who kept photos of FDR in honored places in their houses long after he was gone from the scene.

I think the Democratic Party needs to re-learn how to talk to rural Americans. In part this is in their political best interests: Many of the folks who keep pulling the lever for Republicans might be doing that because, as Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown has said, “the Democrats stopped talking to them.”

But it is also essential to lessening the gulf that threatens our national unity.

“Talking to them,” by the way, means, mostly, listening. Ask, “What are the top 5 issues that affect your quality of life?” and then listen to the answers. Then come up with policies whose purpose is to address those issues directly — and then explicitly campaign on those issues. This is what Democrats can do to help the nation heal its great and still-growing divide.

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99 Comments leave one →
  1. Agellius permalink
    July 9, 2014 3:34 pm

    “This is what Democrats can do to help the nation heal its great and still-growing divide.”

    And what can the Republicans do? : )

    Do you think it’s really just a matter of urban vs. rural? You said yourself that “rural culture” is “united by cultural traditionalism”. Can Democrats address the rift merely by addressing rural quality of life issues?

    • July 9, 2014 3:39 pm

      My preference would be for the Democrats to get away from being the Party of the Professoriat and becoming once moe more the “Party of the Common Man [and Woman]” Rhapsodized about by Harry Truman, Will Rogers and others.

      The American political left has become the representatives of the more bohemian slice of the rich rather than a defender of the weak.

  2. Agellius permalink
    July 9, 2014 4:02 pm

    Of course I agree that it’s become the representative of the bohemian rich. But it’s also become the party of rescuing and protecting people from the homophobia and racism intractably embedded in white American culture. So naturally, it has placed itself in an adversarial attitude towards traditional white American culture. Which adversarial attitude is constantly reinforced in the media.

    If the Democratic party really wants to re-connect with middle America, what it needs first of all is to call off the dogs in the media and academia. You’re not going to reconnect with them by offering help with quality of life issues with one hand, while continuing to bash them with the other.

    • July 9, 2014 6:13 pm

      “If the Democratic party really wants to re-connect with middle America, what it needs first of all is to call off the dogs in the media and academia.”

      I’m assuming that when you speak of “middle America,” you’re referring specifically to “white America,” which begs the question of why the two are synonymous.The problem with “traditional white culture” (assuming that such a thing ever existed) is that it is based on the foundational belief that blacks have no rights that whites ought to respect. In the past, whites could rest assured that no matter how poor they might be that they would never be in as low a position as blacks. If you’re suggesting that we go back to the days when black adults couldn’t be called Mr./Mrs./Ms. or when blacks had to get off the sidewalks to make room for whites or when the schools taught that blacks enjoyed being slaves, I’m must inform you that I and millions of others will resist you at every turn. If this is what you base your culture/identity on, then you’ve living in an illusion, one that deserves to be shattered.

      • July 10, 2014 12:38 am

        An interesting microcosm in the comment section as a rurale, I find the comments from another planet

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      July 10, 2014 5:24 am

      Who exactly are the bohemian rich? George Soros, a hedge fund manager? Warren Buffet? Yes, young, urban, upper and upper middle class voters (particularly on the coasts) tend to vote democratic, but to say that this is the only bloc represented by the democrats is as narrow a stereotype as calling republicans the party of rednecks.

  3. July 9, 2014 5:07 pm

    An interesting post, but you leave out the racial dimension. Even in 2014, a majority of blacks still live in the states of the Old Confederacy and vote Democratic. Although blacks are the most religious demographic in the United States (which I don’t think is a good thing, but that’s another conversation), they don’t put “God, Gays, and Guns” at the forefront of their voting patterns. Unlike white conservative Christians, I think that blacks don’t expect society to conform to their particular set of morality and are content to police the boundaries of their own communities and let others sort out theirs. When people speak of “Red state America,” they aren’t talking about Democrat-voting blacks, even though many of them obviously live in such states and probably have roots going back before America even existed.

    Immigration is also changing the demographics of many rural areas, especially in the South. Until about the 1970s, the South operated as a closed, agrarian society, which is probably why race relations in these areas traditionally had the dynamics of a dysfunctional family or abusive cult. Today, however, people from all over the world are moving to the South for a variety of reasons, causing the once static character of the region to change in ways that would have been inconceivable during the Jim Crow era. Some of these deep red states may very well turn purple or even blue by 2016.

  4. Thales permalink
    July 9, 2014 10:42 pm

    My suggestion for the Democratic Party to heal the divide and connect more with rural Americans? Pull back on the assault on religious freedom and show more tolerance to those with traditional moral or religious views.

  5. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    July 10, 2014 5:18 am

    I think we need to be careful in ascribing a monolithic identity to the democrats. Were we organized like many of the western European democracies, the democrats (as well as the republicans) would be split into several parties: a labor party, a centrist party representing slices of the urban middle class (dare I say bourgeoisie?), and probably a western/midwest regional party which had the support of rural voters. So which of these parties do we want to reconnect with red state voters, however defined, and how should they do it?

  6. July 10, 2014 6:08 am

    Reblogged this on Intersections and commented:
    Vox Nova addresses a growing concern. We are perceiving a widening gap between urban and rural America. Politically defined America appears to grow more regionally concentrated, such as in Missouri where I live: City of St Louis, West County, St Charles County.

    But the effects of 21st century urbanization overlay even the smallest of places. Example: urban culture in SE Kansas where in our frequent visits we observe urban music and social inroads. The life of cities extends more widely than ever via media, commerce, especially through the internet. Urban life informs and shapes our world-view.

    Our increasingly connected urbanized America is more densely populated, diversified, and prominently income disparate. We may be seeing rural and urban socio-political differences more regionally defined. But can they pull America apart?

    The overlay of urbanization – it’s density, diversity, disparity – may be more definitive of America’s future.

  7. Melody permalink
    July 10, 2014 6:40 am

    One really can’t talk about the divisions in this country, and in political parties, without talking about the life issues. This includes all of them; the unborn, war, social safety net, etc. But if you really want to connect the red state voters with some others; find a way to decouple the Democratic party from abortion. There are a lot of people who would find common cause in a heartbeat; but they can’t in conscience ignore that issue.

  8. dismasdolben permalink
    July 10, 2014 8:17 am

    Do states have the right to secede from federal jurisdiction because of policy differences with the federal government (the answer was a resounding “no”)

    Thomas Jefferson and at least half of the Founding Fathers would have rancorously parted company with Lincoln and the early Republicans on this. In order to “unify” the country, Lincoln behaved like a tyrant, dragooned Irish Catholic immigrants into his civil war, imprisoned the Chief Justice of the United States and broke the Constitutional limitations on the Executive Branch, helping to lay the groundwork for the “imperial Presidency.”

    As a former long-time resident of the American South with absolutely no respect for or esteem of its “peculiar institution,” I still think that the outcome of the American Civil War was a tragedy for BOTH of the dominant cultures of America, and I believe that the American South should have been permitted to sink into the orbit of the British world empire and economic system. After a few decades of being leeched of her cotton and other natural resources, she would have come crawling back on her knees, much chastened and purged of her feudalistic and militarist values—and, perhaps, of her racism, after the British had forced her, through economic pressure alone (as they did their own colonies) to abandon slavery.

    The greatest tragedy for America in the 19th century was that the virtuous and self-disciplined republicanism of the Founders was abandoned, in favour of Socially Darwinian and monopolistic capitalism, and “Manifest Destiny.” It was all about money, and hardly about “slavery” at all; as a matter of fact, after Reconstruction was over, the lot of African Americans in the South got WORSE.

    t is worth remembering that FDR was a great friend to farmers and rural people in the United States —

    FDR maintained that “friendship” with “rural people” by scrupulously avoiding confrontation with Southerners over their “Jim Crow” laws.

    What are the top 5 issues that affect your quality of life?” and then listen to the answers.

    And what if one of those “issues” is “the maintenance of the ‘traditional family’”—which, by the way, in terms of Western Christian culture is not “traditional” at all, but is, instead, atomistic, and the product of too-rapid industrialization? We all know that those are code-words for being anti-feminist and anti-”gay,” and so, for plenty of us is just absolutely ethically unacceptable.

    And what if one of those “issues” is “the right to bear arms”—no matter what harm those “rights” do to children?

    I’m sorry, but the United States of America are deeply divided on fundamental principles of equal rights, justice and basic morality, and, for those reasons of thoroughly antagonistic cultures, really ought to be broken up.

    • July 11, 2014 12:52 pm

      It’s hard to argue that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery when Alexander H. Stevens, Vice President of the Confederacy said that slavery was the immediate cause of secession and that:

      “The new Constitution [unlike the United States Constitution] has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away… Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it—when the “storm came and the wind blew, it fell. Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.”

      This excerpt came from Stevens’ “Cornerstone Speech” in which he explained the basis for the founding of the Confederate States of America. Straight from the horses’ mouth, you might say. With an attitude like this as the foundation of the Confederacy, I find it hard to believe that this country would have ended slavery of its own accord or been willing to see blacks as equals to whites. How could it when the Confederate constitution had slavery and racism built right into it, especially given how much the South’s arm had to be twisted to end Jim Crow laws? I’m not big on capitalism myself, but if given the choice between being a chattel slave and a wage laborer, I would definitely choose the latter to the former. If the Confederacy had succeeded in becoming its own country, I suspect that it would have ended up like Guatemala, another failed state obsessed with racial stratification and plantation economics.

      The white Union troops may have been confused about what they were fighting for, but among the black troops their reasons were crystal clear:

      In case you can’t tell, that’s a Confederate soldier with his stars and bars flag about to be bayoneted by a black Union soldier. Seriously, I love this picture. If I was into body art, I would get a sleeve tattoo of this image.

      • dismasdolben permalink
        July 11, 2014 5:27 pm

        Frankly, after having lived most of my youth in the American South, I’m not particularly interested in what would have happened there, because I have never been able to believe that the indigenous culture of the American South is compatible with the principles or the values of whatever can be called “American civilization,” as embodied in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. And please don’t quote to me the reasons the CONFEDERATES gave for abandoning the Union. I am far more interested in the reasons that Lincoln and the Northern Industrialists gave for forcing them back into the Union; those reasons had NOTHING to do Abolitionism or principles of racial equality or even Whitmanesque “brotherhood of man” opinions, and they had EVERYTHING to do with economics. Lincoln was almost as big a racist as Stephens and frequently harped on the “bestiality” of blacks and wanted to ship them all to Liberia after the war. Hofstader says, in The American Political Tradition that Lincoln demagogued among the coal miners of Pennsylvania, in his Presidential campaign, that, if they didn’t vote for him, and thereby allowed slavery to spread further in the country, their employers would be enabled to reduce them to chattels by employing Negroes running away from the slave states. How’s THAT for virtuous “brotherhood of man” ethics?

        • July 12, 2014 5:28 pm

          If you’re looking for sympathy towards the Confederacy from me, you aren’t going to find it. To me, one of the primary problems with the aftermath of the Civil War was that Southern whites weren’t punished enough, since the Southern narrative ruled the day until the Civil Rights Movement. If it was up to me, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and the rest of the Confederate leadership would have been hanged as traitors and their properties divided up between the people they enslaved, not lionized for fighting for a “Lost Cause.” I consider the rest of the country to be enablers of the South, whether in the de facto segregation of the North or supporting the “Lost Cause” industry by continuing to watch propaganda pieces like “Gone With the Wind.” In the end, I have to agree with this Malcolm X quote:

          “I am not a Republican nor a Democrat, nor an American, and got sense enough to know it. I am one of the 22 million Black victims of the Democrats, and one of the 22 million Black victims of the Republicans, and one of the 22 million Black victims of Americanism…. You and I have never seen Democracy, all we’ve seen is hypocracy…. If you go to jail, so what. If you are Black, you were born in jail. If you are Black, you were born in jail, in the North as well as the South. Stop talking about the South. As long as you are South of the Canadian border, you are South.”

        • Templar permalink
          July 14, 2014 7:54 am

          It should be noted that some of the Slave Power oligarchs had made rumblings about how the white lower classes should also be considered as candidates for ownership. This was part of the early Republicans’ “free labor” platform.

        • July 14, 2014 1:32 pm

          LM, I really don’t think you understand what I’ve been trying to relate here: I don’t believe anybody writing here despises the Southern political tradition or the cultural and religious influences that engendered it. In fact, like my Copperhead Democrat ancestors, I despise it so much that I think they should have been ENCOURAGED to leave the Union, no matter what the financial cost.

  9. Agellius permalink
    July 10, 2014 11:57 am


    You write, ‘I’m assuming that when you speak of “middle America,” you’re referring specifically to “white America,” which begs the question of why the two are synonymous.’

    No, I don’t consider “middle America” and “white” to be synonymous. I was making basically the point that Democratic rhetoric alienates “cultural traditionalists” (Matt’s term) by constantly accusing them of racism and homophobia. It simply follows that the particular cultural traditionalists who would be alienated by charges of racism would be white ones. That doesn’t mean that cultural traditionalists are exclusively white — that’s so obvious it hardly seems worth mentioning — although I’m sure we would agree that the majority of them are white. But those who are not white, presumably also do not equate cultural traditionalism with racism, or they would not be cultural traditionalists in the first place.

    You write, ‘The problem with “traditional white culture” (assuming that such a thing ever existed) is that it is based on the foundational belief that blacks have no rights that whites ought to respect. … If you’re suggesting that we go back to the days when black adults couldn’t be called Mr./Mrs./Ms. or when blacks had to get off the sidewalks to make room for whites or when the schools taught that blacks enjoyed being slaves, I’m must inform you that I and millions of others will resist you at every turn. If this is what you base your culture/identity on, then you’ve living in an illusion, one that deserves to be shattered.’

    This is exactly the kind of alienating rhetoric I was talking about: In today’s political climate you can’t be conservative and white without also being presumed racist. (Of course, being conservative and black is no picnic either.)

    • July 10, 2014 4:33 pm

      There are many blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, etc. who believe in “traditional morality” and are personally conservative. However, they don’t align themselves with what I call movement conservatism because it doesn’t consider the problems they face as minorities to be legitimate. For example, American Muslims were overwhelmingly Republican before 9/11, because they thought the GOP reflected Islamic values better than the Democrats. The anti-Muslim hysteria that arose in the post-9/11 world caused them to switch to the Democratic Party. Or consider the topic of police profiling, where conservatives tell minorities that we just look suspicious and deserve to be treated like criminals. Or the completely non-existant issue of voter fraud. Race has been interwoven in our political discourse from the beginning and this will be the case for some time to come. I don’t think that you’re racist so much as you choose not to think about the history and real-world consequences of some of your beliefs.

      The Republican Party is on the fast track to being a regional party that only represents conservative white Christians in the South. There are already no non-Christian Republicans in Congress, and I expect the party to become more homogenous as time goes by. Social conservatives have already lost the conversation on same-sex marriage among millenials, except among those who have been raised specifically as culture warriors and have had no contact with LGBT people. For all of the talk of taking up a “Benedict option” among conservatives, they don’t like the idea of losing their cultural hegemony. Contrast these among traditionally minded blacks or Jews, who are content to police their own communities but as minorities who have been subjected to varying forms of discrimination, don’t expect the wider society to reflect their particular values.

      • Agellius permalink
        July 10, 2014 6:10 pm

        All very interesting, but I’m not sure what it has to do with Democrats re-connecting with cultural traditionalists.

        • July 11, 2014 12:13 pm

          The point I was trying to make is that Democrats do connect with cultural traditionalists. Just not white conservative Christians who are upset with the prospect of losing their cultural and political power.

        • Agellius permalink
          July 11, 2014 2:17 pm


          You write, “The point I was trying to make is that Democrats do connect with cultural traditionalists. Just not white conservative Christians who are upset with the prospect of losing their cultural and political power.”

          Part of the problem, I suspect, is that we haven’t defined “cultural traditionalist”. You seem to be using it differently from how I would, since I can’t imagine a cultural traditionalist of any color feeling “connected” with today’s Democratic Party, except in the sense in which an old cathedral might feel connected with a wrecking ball.

        • Templar permalink
          July 11, 2014 6:11 pm

          Agellius, what your missing is that LM has pointed out that cultural traditionalists within American minority groups tend not to be authoritarian, or at least lack the opportunity to act on that impulse. White movement conservatives have a long and well-documented history of authoritarianism. They are perfectly happy to use the power of government to require others to act in accordance with traditional cultural mores (of course they are the ones who decide what is “traditional”). This is why Republican culture war appeals resonate with them, but not with minority traditionalists. Further, the minority traditionalists understand that they don’t need to lord over gays and unmarried mothers as means to buttress their feelings of self-worth. They need economic fairness and to be protected by the white traditionalists who fight to prevent the loss of their cultural hegemony. I say this all as a white Southerner raised in a bastion of small-town cultural traditionalism.

        • July 11, 2014 7:19 pm

          There are several ways I’m using the term “cultural traditionalist.” The first way is probably the way you’re thinking of, which means that one believes that homosexuality, abortion, divorce, and pre-marital sex are wrong, that traditional gender roles are best, and that religion should play an important role in the life of the community. If this is the definition one uses for “cultural traditionalist,” then you’re going to find a lot of people in a variety of ethnic groups who believe this. The problem for the Republican Party comes with the second way in which I use the term “cultural traditionalist” which is to signify that a belief that American culture is fundamentally a Christian nation founded by and for white Christians, which is something many if not most paleo-conservatives would agree with. No matter how conservative a black Christian is on issues like abortion or homosexuality, they’re not going to back a party that is actively working to disenfranchise them or one where the members think that blacks were better off under slavery. The quote I posted from Lee Atwater elsewhere should demonstrate why conservative talking points like “states’ rights” and “lower taxes” tend to fall on deaf ears in the black community. Similarly, many Tea Partiers say that they want to “take the nation back.” When non-whites hear that, they interpret that to mean “go back to the days of segregation.”

          With regard to Jews (or any other minority religion), I think that the heavy conservative Christian flavor of the GOP, especially in the South, would have to be off-putting. Judaism has been having its own internal battles about homosexuality and the role of women (but not abortion; the fetus is considered to be part of the mother according to Jewish law, so while generally abortion is frowned upon in Orthodox circles, it is permitted in some cases), but the Jewish community isn’t interested in engaging in a culture war, especially one that is coming from an explicitly Christian perspective.

        • Cojuanco permalink
          July 13, 2014 12:12 pm

          Jordan, infra on the bishops and Republicans:

          It’s a simple case of the Movement Republicans saying: “Look the other way, or the baby gets it.” It’s hostage politics. Which is nothing new in American politics – Republicans in the 19th century were notorious for “waving the bloody shirt” to cover up its more seamy policies.

    • Jordan permalink
      July 10, 2014 9:27 pm

      LM [July 10, 2014 4:33 pm]: The Republican Party is on the fast track to being a regional party that only represents conservative white Christians in the South.

      I fully agree LM. Don’t forget that the Republican Party is also the party of the corporate Roman Church, as well as a constellation of Evangelical groups (again, mostly Southern). At least in the Northeast, Church subtle propaganda to vote Republican does not stop many Catholics from pulling the D levers anyway.

      The Southernization of the GOP, which is certainly most similar historically to stronghold of the DIxiecrats, has plenty to do in my opinion with the social tenor of the South as compared to the North. I have a set of relatives from Arkansas. The mother of the family, my cousin, relates everything, including political affiliation, within the consensus of her friends. It is as if the social hive dictates even who to vote for. By contrast, my immediate family is politically divided. We each have separate and sharp positions cultivated through discussion of the newspapers, social media, and similar.

      My cousin is an intelligent and independent woman. Still, the notion that one’s friends could greatly influence or even dictate one’s political affiliation and voting is entirely strange to me. My friends and I debate politics eagerly. What is the source of this Stepford-ish lock with the GOP? I still don’t get it. Do people not debate in the rural South?

      It could just be that many parts of the South vote in blocks simply because people decide on political positions through social consensus. Friendship requires political as well as social harmony, which is certainly not true in the North. This is strange for Northerners, mostly because they maintain the veneer that their political choices are individual and uninfluenced. Still, I think that these divergent phenomena require more investigation.

      • July 11, 2014 12:20 pm

        I’ll let Lee Atwater, the architect of the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy explain it for you Jordan:

        “You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.””

        • Templar permalink
          July 11, 2014 6:16 pm

          +1. Plus, you convince them in the 1880s-1940s that unionization is Communist-inspired race-mixing. Don’t forget that the racism at the bottom is a product of the long-term dominance of the Southern economic elite who had to institute it after Bacon’s Rebellion to keep black slaves and white indentured servants from overthrowing the system. It continued from there and has well served the Southern oligarchs whether they owned plantations, lumber mills, or automotive factories as means of keeping the workforce divided.

        • Jordan permalink
          July 12, 2014 2:40 am

          LM +1, Templar +1. LM, I’m familiar with your quotation of Lee Atwater. What is so galling about the Southern Strategy is not even Atwater’s bald and cynical racism. It’s the fact that Tricky Dick and accomplices were willing to use every dog whistle they could get their hands on to win. Why haven’t these whistles lost their sound?

          When Newt Gingrich called Pres. Obama the “food stamp president”, I just couldn’t believe that anyone would fall for such barely veiled racism. I don’t care what stats Newt used to try to back up his statement with. Starting out with a phrase like that either rallies the base or induces fear in people of all colors who are on EBT (for whatever reason), and especially African-Americans. Certainly, such a tactic paints any politician who attempts to use it as a moron.

          No Catholic bishop or influential conservative preacher has stood up to challenge the dog whistles. High time one of them did. Catholic bishops once put their positions and lives on the line to support the civil rights movement. Where’s that leadership now that a significant number of American Catholic bishops are cozy with the R?

  10. Agellius permalink
    July 12, 2014 9:27 pm


    I don’t want to go down a lot of side tracks.

    I will just say that being a cultural traditionalist (as I see it) is not logically incompatible with rejecting what was bad in the past, and desiring to carry on what was good. Same with being a Catholic traditionalist: Granted, masses before V2 were not always terribly reverent and beautiful. Being a Catholic traditionalist means I would like to carry on what was good about pre-V2 masses; it does not necessarily imply that I would like to carry one what was bad, merely because they occurred before V2. The same with being a cultural traditionalist.

    I would also point out what David said previously: “I think we need to be careful in ascribing a monolithic identity to the democrats”. Does not the same go for conservatives?

    Again my comments were addressing the question of how the Democratic party can re-connect with cultural traditionalists. My answer is that they can do it by evaluating traditionalist concerns on their own terms, rather than continually insisting that traditionalists either don’t know their own motives, or are too dishonest to admit them. Taking gay marriage as an example: Opposing gay marriage (many or most Democrats would say) must have hatred as its motive. People who say they oppose it on any other grounds either don’t know their own minds or are lying. This shows a complete lack of respect for those you disagree with. You will never, ever re-connect with people who oppose gay marriage while treating their views in that manner.

    Obviously this kind of treatment goes both ways: Plenty of conservatives fail to give liberals the benefit of the doubt as to the good faith of their opinions. Having been raised in a liberal Democratic household, and having many liberal family members whom I love and respect, I find this very frustrating as well.

  11. Agellius permalink
    July 12, 2014 9:31 pm


    You write, “what your missing is that LM has pointed out that cultural traditionalists within American minority groups tend not to be authoritarian, or at least lack the opportunity to act on that impulse. White movement conservatives have a long and well-documented history of authoritarianism.”

    I’m not missing it, I just don’t see how it’s relevant. The topic I raised in my initial comments, and have been trying to stick with, was how Democrats can re-connect with cultural traditionalists. The topic you and LM seem to be addressing is “why cultural traditionalists are evil, hateful jerks.”

    • Templar permalink
      July 14, 2014 8:16 am

      I was not making the claim that all cultural traditionalists are evil, but that white cultural traditionalists that self-identify within the Conservative Movement are fine with using state power to enforce their orthodoxy and orthopraxis on those outside of their community while pretending that their desired world is divinely-mandated. Minority cultural traditionalists are not willing to make common causes with the white CTs because they have been in the position that gays and other culture war targets now occupy and know that they could go back to that position again. I think Chris Rock did a routine about how blacks after 9/11 breathed a little easier knowing that Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus were about to take some of the pressure.

      Regarding how Democrats can reconnect to white CTs, a economically populist platform would be the best political route so long as the same social platform that appeals to young women is retained. People have mentioned it above, and I agree, that abortion is the major sticking point. The Democrats could advocate policies that reduce abortion such as sex education, access to contraception, and ensuring that women have better access to education generally and good jobs. Lowering poverty seems to be the best way of reducing the incidence of abortion by recognizing the agency of women and providing them the tools to avoid pregnancy and support any children they could have. The problem is that this requires taxes and greater government intervention in the economy. I once had a 30 minute discussion with an anti-abortion protester with a fetus sign. When we got to this point, he threw up his hands and asked, “Who’s going to pay for that, me?” I promptly and loudly denounced him as a greedy fraud. Not the most charitable response, but Christ did overthrow the money-changers’ tables. This is a real problem for people concerned with abortion – the use of legitimate moral concerns to cover and advance the agenda of the rich and is the major theme of the “Southern Strategy.” As I explained in my earlier response on white supremacy as a means of supporting the power of the Southern elites, this is a problem as old as time and I don’t know that there is an answer to the issue. Sorry for the rambling response.

      • Jordan permalink
        July 14, 2014 10:21 am

        I once had a 30 minute discussion with an anti-abortion protester with a fetus sign. When we got to this point, he threw up his hands and asked, “Who’s going to pay for that, me?” I promptly and loudly denounced him as a greedy fraud.

        Templar, I understand your frustration. The man’s response is ostensibly hypocritical. However, when some bishops has made participations in anti-abortion/pro-life protests something akin to a precept of the Church, then people who do not want to or cannot consider the cost ramifications of an end to legalized abortion will still attend protests because they consider their participation to be an activity of “devout/good/holy Catholics”. Denouncing the man, though tempting, will do little to help him bridge the disjunct between a present action and a contemplation of the potential effects of this present action.

        Few of these rallies outside abortion clinics are mere protests. Rather, most exhibit some form of harassment aimed at the woman just about to have an abortion or those accompanying her. If a woman has made it to the point of five meters before the door of an abortion clinic, she is likely to abort. At that point, prayer, and not shoving pamphlets in her face, is the only possible antidote. What is more galling is that many of the harrassers might not know why they engage in harrassment other than a vague feeling that doing so is a perhaps a last-minute work of mercy.

        Anti-abortion/pro-life efforts should, as you note, center around prevention of situations which lead to abortion. However, it takes only milliseconds to activate one’s vocal cords.

        • Thales permalink
          July 14, 2014 4:32 pm

          I can’t comment on your experience, but in my experience the vast majority of the time, the “rallies” are respectful and prayerful counseling attempts, harassment.

        • Jordan permalink
          July 14, 2014 8:48 pm

          Thales, I’ve been to both peaceful pro-life protests and pro-life activities on a college campus which nearly turned to physical violence between opposing sides. In the worst abortion protest cases, persons on both sides of the divide can become almost feral in behavior. This disgusts me deeply.

          As for pro-life sidewalk counselors: I wonder about the theological and personal spiritual ramifications of counseling, and not necessarily about the legality or ethics of counseling. Yes, it was wrong for me to paint sidewalk counselors as necessarily aggressive or combative. It should also be said that even if pamphleteering is sometimes the case among pro-life activists, pro-choice activists have also sometimes engaged in pamphleteering at protests. I wonder if the attempts of pro-life sidewalk counselors to dissuade women from having abortions is an act of witness or really just an elaborated pelagianism. Is counseling a movement of the graced soul to share, even in thirty seconds, what we hold to be revealed truth about personhood, or just another way to tinkle one’s thalers in a box? I would think that sidewalk counseling would have to be thankless, or at least given without the desire to be seen, to be Christian.

        • Thales permalink
          July 14, 2014 10:07 pm

          I recommend you take a look at Abby Johnson’s book Unplanned for a good perspective on these matters.

        • July 14, 2014 10:24 pm

          The term “counseling” implies a two-way street of communication between counselor and counsellee. Before a person can seek counseling, they have to be interested in talking to the counselor. Since very few of the women who go to abortion clinics are interested in receiving sidewalk counseling (otherwise they wouldn’t be there in the first place), I think the term “harassment” is appropriate.

        • Thales permalink
          July 15, 2014 1:38 am

          Same suggestion to you to look at Unplanned for a new perspective.

        • Templar permalink
          July 15, 2014 8:15 am

          Jordan, a very good point. Thank you for helping me understand the viewpoint. It still makes me want to spit nails, though.

        • July 15, 2014 5:57 pm

          Same suggestion to you to look at Unplanned for a new perspective.”

          Abby Johnson doesn’t appear to be very credible:

          “Other questions about Johnson’s credibility arose during our interview. She told me, for example, that there had never been any threats of violence against the Bryan clinic; however, Johnson herself received a series of threatening letters in 2007. “God will punish you for killing the innocent or we will,” read one. “You are not taking us seriously. You were at the clinic alone. Not very smart,” read another. In fact, the threats were taken so seriously that security cameras were installed at Johnson’s house, as she later acknowledged. Johnson also claimed that while most services at Planned Parenthood were provided by a nonprofit corporation, abortions were done by a for-profit corporation. Both she and Carney seemed to sincerely believe this was true, though all services at Planned Parenthood are, in fact, provided by a pair of separate nonprofit corporations.

          As confounding as these inconsistencies are, there may be a much larger problem with Johnson’s story. Johnson has told the story of her journey from pro-choice activist to pro-life celebrity many times in many venues, and the crux of the tale is always the same: her moving description of what she saw on the ultrasound that September day in the Bryan clinic’s operating room … Johnson’s account is so plausible and rich in detail that even Planned Parenthood seems not to have investigated whether this event ever took place. At my request, the staff at the Bryan clinic examined patient records from September 26, the day Johnson claims to have had her conversion experience, and spoke with the physician who performed abortions on that date. According to Planned Parenthood, there is no record of an ultrasound-guided abortion performed on September 26. The physician on duty told the organization that he did not use an ultrasound that day, nor did Johnson assist on any abortion procedure. “Planned Parenthood can assure you that no abortion patients underwent an ultrasound-guided abortion on September 26,” said a spokesperson. It’s difficult to imagine that Johnson simply got the date wrong; September 12 was the only other day that month that the clinic performed surgical abortions.

          Could clinic staff and the physician be mistaken? The Texas Department of State Health Services requires abortion providers to fill out a form documenting basic information about each procedure performed at a clinic. This document is known as the Induced Abortion Report Form. The Bryan clinic reported performing fifteen surgical abortions on September 26. Johnson has consistently said that the patient in question was thirteen weeks pregnant, which is plausible, since thirteen weeks is right at the cusp of when physicians will consider using an ultrasound to assist with the procedure. Yet none of the patients listed on the report for that day were thirteen weeks pregnant; in fact, none were beyond ten weeks.”

        • Thales permalink
          July 16, 2014 4:14 am

          That is a bizarre article full of innuendo that appears to be trying to prove something about Johnson, but what? That Johnson didn’t convert or is not sincerely pro-life? That’s absurd considering what Johnson is currently doing nowadays and how that is so different from what she used to be doing at PP. Because the premise of the article is absurd and it only has innuendo, it makes me think that it is an insincere article. I suggest that you be cautious as the Texas Monthly reporter might not be credible. And regardless, it doesn’t change the insights that Johnson has in her book about the thoughtful and loving ways to minister to women considering abortion. So I recommend you read the book.

        • July 16, 2014 5:50 pm


          The article I linked to is not filled with innuendo, because it used the records at Ms. Johnson’s former workplace to show that her pro-life conversion experience could not have happened in the way she has described it. Only she can know for sure what her motives were/are for her change of heart, but at the very least Ms. Johnson is guilty of embellishing her life story for dramatic effect.

          Going back to an earlier point, I don’t really see much difference between what sidewalk counselors do and the aggressive solicitation the Hare Krishnas used to do at airports, since both are acting out of “sincerely held beliefs.” In fact, I would say that the Hare Krishnas had a stronger case for their unwelcome activities, since mendicant begging has existed in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jainist traditions for thousands of years, and to say they can’t do this indicates a clear bias against non-Western religions. The only difference is that the Hare Krishnas are considered to be strange and unpopular, whereas conservative Christians have a network of lobbyists, think tanks, activists, lawyers, elected officials and other allies to advocate on their behalf.

        • Thales permalink
          July 16, 2014 11:43 pm

          First, not sure why we should consider her former workplace to be trustworthy, considering that it has every reason in the world to discredit Johnson and it doesn’t really have a past record of sterling trustworthiness. Also, not sure why the fact of embellishment, if true, is relevant. Johnson has some really interesting insights on how abortion – minded women can be counseled in a loving manner, which I recommend you look into. Finally, regarding the Hare Krishna, I’m not sure I’m opposed to their proselytizing – I value free speech and evangelizing over discomfort. Also, Johnson is suggesting a different method of counseling women going to an abortion instead of the Hare Krishna method you are thinking of.

        • July 17, 2014 3:52 pm


          As you can probably guess from the tenor of my posts, I’ve lost faith in the pro-life movement. My evolution in this regard is somewhat similar to what happened to this blogger, although I was never raised in the Christian homeschooling bubble:

          Like Libby Anne, I discovered that the information I had been fed about abortion and contraception was objectively wrong: the pill doesn’t cause abortion, fewer zygotes “die” when a sexually active woman is on birth control than without, abortion doesn’t cause breast cancer, and the states and countries with the lowest rates of abortion, STDs, and teen pregnancy are the ones that have free and/or accessible birth control. If a supporting a certain position requires magical thinking and the use of outright lies, it’s probably weak.

          From what I can tell, Texas Monthly is hardly a publication of the left. The reporter for the story I linked to asked some hard questions and Johnson answered evasively. That’s certainly her right to do so, but she shouldn’t expect softball questions from the media that she herself sought out in the first place.

          As I believe I mentioned earlier, there is not a consensus among “cultural traditionalists” of the various world religions that abortion is murder. I mentioned Judaism earlier, but it’s worth mentioning that even Islamic jurists don’t take the absolutist position that conservative Catholics and Protestants have:

          Hinduism and Buddhism view abortion as being not good, but not the worst thing imaginable, and certainly not the equivilent of murdering a fully formed baby able to live independently of its mother. The point I’m trying to make is that pro-lifers tend to assume that their position is and was the norm throughout history, when it’s actually of recent vintage and not shared by conservatives even within the Abrahamic tradition.

        • Thales permalink
          July 19, 2014 1:29 am

          I’m sorry to learn that you apparently don’t have a problem with abortion. My comments on this topic then won’t really be applicable to you. My point here is that for those of us who do think that abortion is the intentional killing of a human being and that abortion truly harms women physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, Johnson has some good insights for how the pro-life movement can better minister to abortion-minded women.

        • July 19, 2014 5:04 pm


          The point I was actually trying to make is that most “cultural traditionalists” in other religious traditions don’t share the Catholic view about the personhood of embryos, zygotes, and fetuses. This isn’t a problem per se for you, but it does provide another explanation as to why the pro-life movement isn’t full of conservative Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists; their religious traditions simply don’t see abortion in the same way that conservative Catholics do. One problem the pro-life movement has is that it assumes conservative Christianity as a jumping off point, and has difficulty stating its claims using non-religious, medically accurate information, not just about abortion but about contraception. If you can’t make your case with unbiased, secular reasoning, then your position is weak.

          One reason why the debate over abortion, contraception, and sex education is such a stalemate is because one side views it as a matter of sin and the other as a matter of public health policy. As I mentioned earlier, increased contraception use drastically cuts the abortion rate. But if you don’t believe in contraception, then there’s no middle ground and nothing to talk about. From a public health standpoint, abstinence only sex education and virginity pledges don’t work, unless you happen to be a teen in an extremely religious household where the parents practice extreme sheltering:

          Mississippi, for example, is by most metrics, the most religious state in the union and has abstinence only sex education in its public schools. It also has the second highest rate of teen pregnancy and STD infection in the union, as well as the seventh highest rate of HIV infection. Not only that, but Mississippi teens are actually having sex at an earlier rate and more often than their peers in states who have access to medically accurate sex education. So not only is Mississippi’s faith-based approach to public health not working, it’s doing the exact opposite of what they want it to do.

        • Thales permalink
          July 21, 2014 1:04 am

          I think we’re at an impasse on this particular issue. I think unbiased secular reasoning favors the pro-life side that a human being exists from conception onward, and you appear to disagree. The fact that other “cultural traditionalists” have a different opinion according to you doesn’t really bother me. From our perspective, we’re concerned with Truth and the defense of an innocent human being, not a popularity contest.

  12. Thales permalink
    July 13, 2014 1:34 am

    Where’s that leadership now that a significant number of American Catholic bishops are cozy with the R?
    Again, I think the “coziness” is related to what I and Agellius are saying. They probably don’t think that the Democratic party is open to them or is interested in reaching out to them considering its current attitude to traditional morality and religious freedom, and that the Gop at least allows them a place to exist even with the Gop’s flaws. The demagoguery on the Hobby Lobby case is Exhibit A of this.

    • Cojuanco permalink
      July 14, 2014 1:33 am

      Also, as I point out, the GOP leadership seems to say, “vote for us, look the other way – or the baby gets it.”

    • Kurt permalink
      July 15, 2014 10:20 am

      The bishops’ demagoguery on Hobby Lobby?

      • Thales permalink
        July 16, 2014 4:20 am

        Nope. The Democratic leadership’s demagoguery. You’re not bothered by their position that amounts to churches can be forced to pay for, and hospitals can be forced to perform, late term abortions?

        • Kurt permalink
          July 16, 2014 2:24 pm

          I’m bothered by the dishonesty that claims the Democratic leadership has said that.

        • Thales permalink
          July 16, 2014 11:49 pm

          I recommend you read the Hobby Lobby case and the many comments and actions from the Democratic leadership taking the position that Hobby Lobby was wrongly decided, and that no one should be able to claim a religious freedom exemption from having to pay for “women’s health care.”

        • Kurt permalink
          July 18, 2014 1:59 pm

          I’ve read it. It is without a doubt false that the Hobby Lobby was about giving no one a religious objection to late term abortions. Rather than no one, it addressed only for profit corporations and rather than late term abortions, it addressed contraception.

        • July 19, 2014 6:40 pm


          Since you put the phrase women’s health in scare quotes, I think I should mention that birth control really does make a positive difference for a woman’s health. The pill, for example, can cut a woman’s risk for ovarian and endometrial cancer. It also clears the skin, reduces PMS, makes lighter periods, and helps soothe the pains associated with endometriosis and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Similarly, IUDs can also help with painful periods and are better for women’s whose hormone levels are relatively balanced.

          I should also mention that pregnancy can be a very dangerous thing for a woman. It can led to anemia, depression, ectopic pregnancy, gestational diabetes, hyperemesis gravidarum (i.e., non-stop nausea which can cause dehydration), preeclampsia, and placental rupture. This doesn’t even include the risks associated with the act of childbirth itself, which was the number one cause of death for young women in the pre-modern era, and even into the 20th century. Women in childbirth can suffer from puerperal pyrexiai (i.e, infection of the female reproductive organs due to childbirth or miscarriage), various types of hemorrhages, and toxaemia. Women who did survive the act of childbirth could suffer from obstetric fistulas, something that continues to be a major problem in the developing world.

          The medical advances of the past one hundred years or so have greatly curbed maternal death in the West to the point where most people take for granted that a pregnancy will led to the birth of a healthy baby and a mother who can be up and about in a few days, no worse for the wear. Part of the reason for the decrease in maternal deaths is due to contraception and the practices of having fewer children with considerable gaps between births. I feel that Catholic conservatives have a tendency to romanticize childbirth and pregnancy in a way that naively ignores the very real dangers that a poses to a woman’s health, a fact that is obscured by the wonders of modern medicine but is very real. Countless women throughout history, living without modern medicine, sanitation, or painkillers, and billions living today would agree with Euripides’ Medea who famously said, “I would rather stand three times with a shield in battle than give birth once.”

        • Thales permalink
          July 20, 2014 2:13 am

          To be exact, Hobby Lobby addressed abortifacient drugs, not contraception.

        • Kurt permalink
          July 20, 2014 4:37 pm

          First, abortifacient drugs are not used in late term abortions, so you are simply distracting from your false and dishonest claim that the Democratic leadership as calling for churches to be forced to pay for late term abortions.

          Second, the Democratic bill to counter the HL decision address contraception, not abortion. But it is your first false assertion that is more harmful to decency and civility in policy discussion.

        • Thales permalink
          July 20, 2014 9:30 pm

          I put “women’s health” in scare quotes not as a reference to contraception, but as a reference to abortion. “Women’s health” is routinely used as euphemism for abortion. I’m not interested in getting into a discussion about contraception right now — I’m more interested in exploring the abortifacient angle and potential abortion angle of the Hobby Lobby decision. I’ll explain more in new post below, so that we don’t have the conversation going in more than 1 place.

        • Thales permalink
          July 20, 2014 9:35 pm

          You’re misstating my comments and misunderstanding my point, while you’re the one who stated that the Hobby Lobby decision addressed contraception — which isn’t quite true, since the case is actually about post-conception anti-implantation pills and devices. I’m going to start over in a new post below, and explain my thoughts about how the Hobby Lobby dissent/Dem.bill would logically mean that entities like Hobby Lobby would have to pay for abortion against their religious beliefs.

  13. Thales permalink
    July 14, 2014 4:34 pm

    And as I said, the Democratic leadership too often says “we have no room for you and we don’t want you and we’d rather suppress you.”

    • Cojuanco permalink
      July 15, 2014 8:29 am

      Well, they think they have a permanent winning coalition, anyway, so why reach put to those dirty bigoted, possibly even Papist, proletarians? It’s hubris, of course, as much as the GOP was a decade ago, and still is today.

    • Kurt permalink
      July 15, 2014 6:33 pm

      Actually they never said that and I (as a party officer) am evidence against it. My experience has been that being pro-life puts one in the minority within but not outside the Democratic Party. Being a trade unionist, however, shuts the door of the Republican Party on you.

      • Thales permalink
        July 16, 2014 4:29 am

        I can’t comment on your experience. All I have is the current Hobby Lobby comments from Clinton, Reid, Pelosi, the other Democratic senators and their Hobby Lobby bill, and others in the Democratic leadership essentially saying that institutions including churches shouldn’t have the religious freedom to object to such things as having to pay for late term abortions, for example. That’s why many people (including myself) don’t feel welcome in today’s Democratic party.

        • Kurt permalink
          July 16, 2014 2:26 pm

          You seem to not have these comments, because your claim does not have an ounce of accuracy.

        • Thales permalink
          July 16, 2014 11:52 pm

          See my comment above. I recommend you read the Hobby Lobby decision, and the comments of the Democratic leadership in response saying that no one should have a religious exemption from having to pay for “women’s health care.”

        • July 17, 2014 4:11 pm


          I don’t know what Kurt thinks about this matter, but I have no problem saying that I don’t believe in religious exemptions. Religious exemptions tend to just be fronts for discrimination, whether its the segregation academies of the 1960s cloaked as “Christian schools” or the current push to not serve LGBT people. To me, there is no reason why religious beliefs should be priviledged over other types of beliefs, especially when said beliefs make claims that are objectively false (e.g., the Green family’s belief that IUDs cause abortions when the medical literature on the topic says otherwise). Given the wide range of religious beliefs present in the United States, Jehovah’s Witnesses could choose not to cover blood transfusions, Scientologists could choose not to cover psychiatric drugs, and the Christian Scientists could just not offer insurance at all. If that’s not a dictatorship of relativism, I don’t know what is.

        • Kurt permalink
          July 18, 2014 2:01 pm

          And see my comment above.

          I’ve read it. It is without a doubt false that the Hobby Lobby was about giving no one a religious objection to late term abortions. Rather than no one, it addressed only for profit corporations and rather than late term abortions, it addressed contraception.

          Those pushing false assertions like you have is one of the reasons I (like LM) have left the pro-life movement.

        • Thales permalink
          July 19, 2014 1:03 am

          I respectfully suggest that you need to be better informed on this topic because you’re repeating liberal canards. Read up on our current legal structure for religious exemptions. It’s not a free for all, where a religion can just assert a claim, and they win automatically. Instead, it’s a balancing between the government interest and the religion- and the religion loses when there is a compelling government interest and the government is imposing a burden on religion and it is the least restrictive way in order to achieve this interest.

          This current system of balancing between religion and a law imposed by the government is a very good thing and I’m frightened to see your position against all religious exemptions. Not only is your position against the first amendment which guarantees the free exercise of religion, but it’s frankly a mark of an uncivilized society. A civilized society is one that recognizes and accommodates, as much as possible, people and institutions practicing religion because 1. it is humane to respect the religion and consciences of a human being and because 2. religion and religious practice has a positive effect on the common good and the rest of society. Sometimes an accommodation of religion is not possible or is truly against the common good, and yes, in those cases, a denial of religious exemption is appropriate. But to simply deny any possibility of a religious objection to a law, as you’re suggesting, is terrifying to me. Your position means that everyone can be forced by law to act against their religious beliefs and no one could object to it. In others words, you presumably would have no problem with doctors and hospitals being forced to perform late term abortions or all business members of society being forced to support the Act of Supremacy.

        • July 19, 2014 4:30 pm


          The system I had in mind regarding not allowing religious exemptions is the French concept of laicitie:

          I know this has no change of being implemented in the USA, but I find laicite to be more in line with my own thinking.

          Bringing up late-term abortion is a red herring, since there are only four doctors in the entire country who even perform them (see the documentary “After Tiller” for more details). The number of doctors who do late-term abortion won’t be affected by conscience clauses or the lack thereof. Abortion after 14-20 weeks is actually illegal in many Western European countries. They are able to have a lower overall abortion rate than the US because contraception is free and readily availible.

        • Thales permalink
          July 20, 2014 2:20 am

          It’s ironic that you accuse me of false assertions (you misunderstand the point I’m trying to make), while saying that Hobby Lobby was about contraception – - – as this is not so, since the case was about abortifacient drugs.

        • Kurt permalink
          July 20, 2014 4:40 pm

          As I said above, first, abortifacient drugs are not used in late term abortions, so you are simply distracting from your false and dishonest claim that the Democratic leadership as calling for churches to be forced to pay for late term abortions.

          Second, the Democratic bill to counter the HL decision address contraception, not abortion. But it is your first false assertion that is more harmful to decency and civility in policy discussion.

          Third, rather than misunderstanding your point, I’m objecting to the false and defamatory accusations that you use to make your point.

        • Thales permalink
          July 20, 2014 9:41 pm

          As I said above, you’re misstating my comments — I never said that the Dem. leadership is calling for churches to be forced to pay for late-term abortions; I said that Dem. leadership is saying that no one should have a religious exemption from having to pay for “women’s health care.” Maybe I’m being too oblique. I’ll explain more in a new post below so that we’re not talking in more than 1 place.

  14. Thales permalink
    July 19, 2014 1:11 am

    You do realize, don’t you, that if the Hobby Lobby decision went the way you wanted it to go, it would have established the legal rule that if a law required hospitals and doctors to perform late term abortions, or a if a law required institutions to pay for late term abortions, there would be no basis to make a religious objection?

    • Kurt permalink
      July 19, 2014 3:36 pm

      It would not. The Administration’s request was for a narrow ruling strictly on the matter before the Court. Rather than no one having an exemption as you falsely claim, there was no request to upset the exemption religious non-profit have. You can claim a speculative legal theory that x would lead to y, but it is simply dishonest to say that the Democratic leadership said that no one should have a religious from performing late term abortions.

      • Thales permalink
        July 20, 2014 9:41 pm

        Kurt, see my new post below.

  15. Kurt permalink
    July 19, 2014 3:55 pm

    Separate from my correction of Thales dishonest claim above, if I can address the more general issue — it has become far too common for people of all political, social and religious viewpoints including some of my friends to claim “my opponent wants to [insert horrible thing]” or “my opponent believes [horrible thing]” when they have said no such thing but the speaker simply believe that some position of his opponent will lead to some horrible thing. In certain situations, there might be a solid reason to think that it will lead in that direction. But it is false, defamatory and sinful to use a theory one holds as to where something will lead and claim that one’s opponents are actually calling for the end assumption when they (reasonably or unreasonably) don’t hold that theory.

    All sides need to stop this and good people need to call out those who persist in doing this.

  16. Thales permalink
    July 21, 2014 12:26 am

    Kurt and LM,

    I’m starting a new comment to discuss the Hobby Lobby case and why the dissent’s opposition to majority decision (and the Dem. bill essentially overturning the Hobby Lobby decision) are problematic.

    First, we need to have the same definitions, because I’m afraid that we’ll be talking past each other if we don’t do that. Kurt has said earlier that the HL case involved “contraceptives” and that term can be confusing. As you know, the HL case involved 4 out of 20 contraceptive methods set out by the HHS in the federal regulations. HL didn’t object to the 16 pre-conception contraceptives. For the 4 that HL objected to, HL said that these were potentially post-conception “contraceptives” that worked, at least in part, by preventing implantation. Now I realize that some liberals are arguing that HL’s belief on this point is mistaken and against science. That position is irrelevant to the HL case. Early in the HL case, the government conceded that some of the 4 might work by preventing implantation post-conception. If you think the government was wrong to concede that point and that the government should have argued against HL by saying that HL’s belief about the 4 preventing implantation was crazy and unscientific, then your beef is with the government and its legal strategy. But it’s irrelevant to the HL case. The point is that in the HL case, the Court was operating on the presumption that the 4 work by sometimes preventing implantation post-conception—regardless of whether this is actually so or not. So, in short, the HL case presents the question whether a for-profit corporation (HL) can be forced to cover post-conception, implantation-preventing drugs and devices in its employee health plan.

    The majority decided this question in HL’s favor, finding that (1) HL could bring a RFRA claim and (2) HL was substantially burdened, and (3) the government wasn’t using a least restrictive means (as required by RFRA if there was a substantial burden to religious exercise).

    The dissent would have ruled against HL. I see 3 different reasons why the dissent thinks HL should lose: (1) for-profit corporations like HL cannot engage in religious exercise, and thus cannot experience a violation of its religious liberty that would potentially be protected by RFRA; and (2) even if HL was protected by RFRA, there was no substantial burden on HL; and (3) even if there was a substantial burden, there is a compelling government interest and it is the least restrictive means. It’s the first reason that I’ll explore a little below.

    An important thing to note is that the actual ACA doesn’t list what type of health care has to be covered in HL’s employee health plan. The ACA only says “preventive health services” and it gives the HHS the authority to determine what that term means. So far, the HHS has decided that preventive health services included among other things, the 20 “contraceptives” and sterilizations. But there is nothing preventing the HHS to add other types of “health care” to this list of preventive services. And that is also part of what I want to explore right now.

    Suppose the HHS added to the list of required services a drug that indisputably only acted by preventing implantation post-conception. If that were the case, then we would have basically what the Court considered in the HL case, because it is similar to the presumption the Court was working under in the HL case: The dissent would have ruled that HL was required to cover this drug for the reasons I mentioned above. And the current bill being presented by the Democratic senators would also require HL to cover that type of drug.

    If you read the bill, you’ll see that what the bill does is require all employers like HL to cover any service required by federal law or federal regulation, and it specifies that there can be no violation of RFRA.

    Now, here’s the interesting question: suppose that HHS added the abortion pill (used to terminate very early pregnancies) to the list of services that had to be covered by a for-profit corporation’s health plan, like that of HL. Many medical experts and others believe that the abortion pill is a “preventive health service.” If that was done, could HL object to having to cover the abortion pill in its health plan? Under the dissent’s theory, HL cannot engage in religious exercise and thus cannot make any religious freedom objection — so HL would have to cover the abortion pill. Under the Democratic bill, the result would be the same — HL would have to cover the abortion pill too, and couldn’t object to it. Kurt and LM, do you think that HL could object to having to cover the abortion pill?

    • Kurt permalink
      July 21, 2014 12:37 pm


      Without directly apologizing, you seemed to have moved off your previous false assertion that the “Democratic leadership taking the position that Hobby Lobby was wrongly decided, and that no one should be able to claim a religious freedom exemption” and that the Democratic Leadership has a position that “churches can be forced to pay for, and hospitals can be forced to perform, late term abortions.” The HL decision, as was as Senator Murray’s corrective legislation, did not make any changes regarding churches or religious non-profits. It was strictly limited to for profit corporations.

      I appreciate your revised claim that the critics of the HL are only saying that “(1) for-profit corporations like HL cannot engage in religious exercise, and thus cannot experience a violation of its religious liberty that would potentially be protected by RFRA.” So yes, your former assertion was untrue that “no one” would have a religious freedom claim including churches and your revised claim that HL’s critics are speaking to for-profit corporations is correct.

      Now on your next inaccurate claim, you write; “But there is nothing preventing the HHS to add other types of “health care” to this list of preventive services…. Suppose the HHS added to the list of required services a drug that indisputably only acted by preventing implantation post-conception.”

      It is not true that there is nothing preventing HHS to adding abortion to the list of preventive services. There is both federal legislation prohibiting the use of any federal funds for abortion and there is an Executive Order further prohibiting HHS from authorizing any abortion services in any part of the ACA. Further, the ACA allows states to exclude even 100% customer financed abortions from ACA plans (of which many have so acted). So it is not within the authority of HHS to include either surgical or chemical abortion in any ACA plans. So while you are correct that what “the [Murray] bill does is require all employers like HL to cover any service required by federal law or federal regulation”, federal law and regulation specifically exclude abortion. It doesn’t matter how many “medical experts and others believe that the abortion pill is a ‘preventive health service,’” as HHS has no authority to include abortion even if every last medical experts thinks they should.

      Lastly, you have a point that HL was not about contraception or abortion. HL could have sued that it was in compliance of the Obama Administration HHS rule that contraception be included but that it was not offering 4 medicines that the Bush Administration FDA said were contraceptives because they FDA had erred in fact. A Court victory here would have not only given HL relief but also taken abortion out of millions of other health plans.

      Instead, they sued solely on the RFRA. The scientific validity of the Bush Administration FDA’s conclusion had no bearing to the case. HL did not argue they should have relief because of a scientific or medical position, but that they had a speculative but sincere metaphysical religious belief. The science really didn’t matter and HL had no obligation to present any evidence other than their sincerity of their religious beliefs, in the same way a Hindu need not prove a cow is sacred, just that he believes it is sacred.

      • Thales permalink
        July 21, 2014 10:54 pm


        I haven’t apologized because I haven’t made any false assertions and I stand by what I’ve said. But I now see that I’ll have to walk to my assertions through some preliminary steps, because their applicability is not immediately apparent to you. (By the way, I see you haven’t apologized for your false accusations about my comment, but let’s not play that game. Instead, let’s together have a thoughtful discussion, and explore the HL decision.)

        I’d like to explore the HL decision. Liberals (and the Dem. leadership) have been decrying the HL majority decision, and lauding the HL dissent. I think that the HL majority decision is more in line with a civilized society, one that seeks to balance between the interests of government and the religious and conscience rights of citizens, making accommodations where possible and not making accommodations where necessary. And I think the HL dissent is extremely problematic, because based on its own internal logic, it would lead to the conclusion that no corporation (including non-profit corporations) should have the ability to object to oppressive government laws and regulations that violate their religious freedom.

        I asked you what if the HHS added the abortion pill to the health services that for-profit corporations would have to cover in their employee health plans. You cleverly answered that the HHS can’t do that because of current federal law and current executive orders. But that’s not really an answer — that is just a statement of the current political state of matters. Laws and executive orders can be changed. And future laws can be passed in the future. What happens when there is a new law passed that burdens a for-profit corporation in some new way? What legal standard should we as a civilized society use in weighing this burden? The HL majority’s rule or the dissent’s rule?

        So, let’s engage in a hypothetical: suppose that the Hyde amendment wasn’t renewed and Pres. Obama changed his executive order, and the HHS had the authority to, and did, add the abortion pill to the list. Does Hobby Lobby have a legitimate objection to having to cover the abortion pill?

        The HL dissent states that for-profit corporations like HL cannot engage in religious exercise, and thus cannot experience a violation of its religious liberty. That means that the HL dissent would conclude that HL could not object to having to cover the abortion pill. In other words, the HL dissenters (and liberals supporting the dissent’s position) are currently holding the position that they would have no problem with HL being forced to cover the abortion pill. My question is: what do you think? Would you have a problem with HL being forced to cover the abortion pill in its employee health plan? (I honestly am curious about this question, because maybe you wouldn’t have a problem with such a law.)

  17. Kurt permalink
    July 22, 2014 12:30 pm


    Seeming it is a minor matter if at all to you but it is a matter of serious objection for me that you breeze from saying “Democratic leadership taking the position…” and “Democratic leadership in response saying that…” to your more recent statement that “I think the HL dissent is extremely problematic, because based on its own internal logic, it would lead to the conclusion…”

    You may think that. You may see an internal logic that leads you to see a certain conclusion. You may even be on extremely solid ground in your perception of logic and your foresight of where actions will lead. However, that does not allow you with integrity to say that others haven taken the position or made a statement in support of the conclusion that you believe the first action leads to by your logic and foresight. Oh, and “but my logic is right and any contrary claims are illogical” is not a defense. You can accuse the Democratic leadership of a lack of logic. You can accuse them of not understanding where their positions logically lead to. But you cannot (if being honest) project on to them positions that they did not take or things they did not say because they are conclusions you believe are logical from their stated positions.

    Your more recent post has moved towards a legitimate topic of discussion. If you would simply withdraw your previous accusatory and inaccurate assertions, I would be happy to respond to your more recent and temperate post.

    • July 22, 2014 3:29 pm


      Late-term abortion isn’t like a secret menu item at McDonalds, where you can get one if you know the right codewords to use. I mentioned before that only four doctors in the entire United States perform late-term abortions.The ACA isn’t going to create a sudden supply of doctors willing to perform this procedure nor is it going to create a stream of women marching up to Catholic hospitals and demanding late-term abortions. An inability or unwillingness to get the facts right is one reason why I soured on the pro-life movement.

      • Thales permalink
        July 22, 2014 10:00 pm


        I don’t know why you keep talking about the number of late-term abortion doctors. That’s irrelevant to the discussion we’re trying to have. I was using “late-term abortion” in a technique used by people engaged in logic and argumentation. The technique is used when someone takes a position X that happens to be fundamentally flawed, even though it doesn’t appear to be so at first glance. In the technique, one points out that position X logically leads to offensive and problematic situation Y, which illustrates that position X must be flawed in some way. What’s funny is that you yourself used the technique earlier when you talked about “Scientologist choosing not to cover psychiatric drugs” and it’s a technique used prominently by the Hobby Lobby dissent. So put aside the baseless accusations of disingenuousness — it’s one reason why I’m soured on the pro-choice movement, ;) — and join me in a conversation.

        • July 23, 2014 12:16 am


          The number of doctors performing late-term abortions is completely relevant to the conversation, because we are discussing what is and is not likely to happen as a result of the Hobby Lobby case. I was being perfectly serious about a Scientology-owned firm not covering psychiatric drugs. There are quite a few of them, including many in the technology field, and they are run according to Scientology principles. I don’t see why these businesses would not take the opportunity not to cover medicines they deemed offensive if they’re bold enough to offer Scientology “tech” classes disguised as staff meetings. Like Hobby Lobby, these Scientology businesses appear “neutral” from the outside, so a non-Scientologist might not even know that he or she is working for such a company until they see L. Ron Hubbard literature piled up in the break room.

        • Thales permalink
          July 23, 2014 8:18 pm

          The number is irrelevant to my point inquiring about whether there is a violation of religious freedom or not. If there is 1 employer unjustly imposing a health care decision on his employees or 1000 employers doing so, it is still an injustice; or if there is 1 person making an unjust imposition on a religious employer or 1000 people doing so, it is still an unjust burden on religious belief… and we can still discuss whether such actions are an injustice or a burden, regardless of their number in actuality.

          (Besides the fact that number is irrelevant, you’re getting the numbers wrong. It’s not the number of late-term abortionists, it’s the number of possible women who would demand payment for their late-term abortions from their employers, which probably numbers more than 1000 per year, since there are at least that many late-term abortions a year. As for the number of Scientologist employers who would unjust deny certain health coverage for their employees, I would guess that number approaches 0, since there has never been such an example in the 20 years since RFRA was passed, or before.)

    • Thales permalink
      July 22, 2014 10:53 pm


      I find it strange that you don’t want to have a conversation with me. What are you so offended by? I said this: “the Democratic leadership taking the position that Hobby Lobby was wrongly decided, and that no one should be able to claim a religious freedom exemption from having to pay for “women’s health care.” ”

      Here is what Senator Murray said (at my link above): “Today’s decision by the Supreme Court sets a dangerous precedent and takes us closer to a time in history when women had no choice and no voice. When 99 percent of women report having used birth control at one point in their life, allowing their boss to call the shots about their access to this critical health service should be inconceivable in this day and age. Your health care decisions are not your boss’s business – period. Since the Supreme Court decided it will not protect women’s access to health care, I will. In the coming days I will work with my colleagues and the Administration to protect this access, regardless of who signs your paycheck.”

      Seems to me that my comment is a pretty fair summary of Sen. Murray’s position — in fact, it’s less troubling than Sen. Murray’s, who is accusing the Supreme Court of partially rolling back history to the time when women had no say in society and that the Supreme Court is somehow restricting access to ” women’s health care.” (It isn’t.)

      I mean, isn’t it true that, based on her statement, Sen. Murray appears to hold the opinion that no employer should be able to assert a religious freedom exemption with regard to its employees’ health plan? I don’t know why that restatement of her position is offensive to you.

      Let’s get back to our conversation, because I’m truly interested in learning where you stand on these issues. Maybe you don’t like the late-term abortion reference. How about this? Doesn’t the HL dissent’s position–that for-profit corporations cannot engage in religion — amount to saying that a for-profit Jewish deli cannot engage in religion, and thus has no ability to assert a religious freedom objection to a law requiring it to sell non-kosher food?

      • Kurt permalink
        July 23, 2014 7:05 am


        Re-read your own post above. You breeze from putting the words “no one” in Senator Murray’s remarks to then saying “no employer.” For profit employers are not everyone (well, maybe to some in the GOP they are everyone who counts in society). But Senator Murray and I both know that natural persons (citizens and non-citizens), as well as churches and other non-profit associations are some one. To paraphrase Jesse Jackson, “I am Somebody…even though I am not a for-profit corporation.”

        • Thales permalink
          July 23, 2014 8:22 pm


          So your complaint is that Sen. Murray was only talking about for-profit corporations, and I said that she was talking about “everyone”? I fail to see how that’s offensive, but setting that aside, your position is flawed on a couple of levels.

          1. First, how do you know that Sen. Murray is only talking about for-profit corporations? Nowhere does she discuss only for-profit corporations; instead, she says “bosses.” Reading her statement, it sounds to me that Sen. Murray would have a problem with ANY employer “call[ing] the shots about their [employees’] access to this critical health service,” whether that employer was a corporation or not a corporation. Say Hobby Lobby wasn’t a corporation but a sole proprietorship – that is, it was owned by one single “natural person” boss. Don’t you think that Sen. Murray would be just as bothered by John Smith, owner of sole-proprietorship-Hobby-Lobby, making the decision to not cover the 4 objectionable “contraceptives” for his employees?

          Related to this point is the reasoning of the dissent in Hobby Lobby. Yes, the Hobby Lobby case is about a for-profit corporation. But you have to remember that the dissent has a couple of different arguments for why Hobby Lobby should lose. The first one is limited to the issue of for-profit corporations – namely, that Hobby Lobby should lose because it is for-profit corporation and not a “person” and it thus isn’t protected by RFRA. But the dissent goes on to argue that even assuming that Hobby Lobby is a “person” protected by RFRA, it should still lose because the mandate is not a substantial burden on religious liberty. That second argument by the dissent is not limited to for-profit corporations; this reasoning would apply to any employer, including sole proprietorships, and even non-profit religious corporations.

          2. Your position that a non-profit corporation is a “someone” but a for-profit corporation is not “someone” is incoherent. Both are corporations. Neither is a living, breathing “natural person.” The distinction between them, in large part, comes down to a matter of tax categories. In your opinion, why can the non-profit corporation assert a right to religious freedom and the for-profit cannot?

          3. Let me repeat the question from my last post. Do you agree with the HL dissent that for-profit corporations do not have the ability to assert a religious freedom objection to a law? (It appears that you do, based on your latest comment that a for-profit corporation is not a “Somebody.”) If that is so, it appears to me that the necessary implication of your position is that a for-profit Jewish deli would be unable to object to a law requiring it to sell non-kosher food. Do you disagree?

        • Kurt permalink
          July 24, 2014 9:09 pm

          So your complaint is that Sen. Murray was only talking about for-profit corporations, and I said that she was talking about “everyone”?

          Yes. You falsely declared that the Democratic leadership says that “no one” should have a religious liberty claims while the Democratic leadership spoke narrowly to a finite element, namely for profit corporations. It is a clever trick, to make it seem that the Democrats want every individual to be denied the protections of the RFRA while in fact they only spoke to corporations.

          1. First, how do you know that Sen. Murray is only talking about for-profit corporations?

          Because I have read the bill she introduced and I know how to read legislation as that is what I do for a living.

        • Thales permalink
          July 25, 2014 5:06 pm


          1. You read legislation for a living? I think you’re doing it wrong, because I don’t see it. Read the bill again. There is a link to it on this page.

          By my reading, the bill doesn’t cover only for-profit corporations. It covers all “employers.” “Employer” is the operative term (follow the rabbit-hole of the different statute references, and you’ll see it is “employer” as defined by the ACA, which is as defined by ERISA.) I’m not an expert, but it appears to me that the bill would cover for-profit corporation, non-profit corporations, partnerships, sole proprietorships, and any other type of ERISA employer you can think of. The bill then has an exemption for “houses of worship” and an “accommodation” for “religiously-affiliated nonprofit organizations with objections to contraceptive coverage.” Doesn’t that language suggest that the bill imposes a mandate on, say, non-religious nonprofit organizations?

          2. Do you understand that the accommodation for “religiously-affiliated nonprofit organizations” in the bill is a political courtesy? In other words, do you understand that in the minds of Dem. leadership and of the Hobby Lobby dissent the mandate itself is not an unjust violation of anyone’s religious freedom and therefore the accommodation is not necessary or important to protect religious freedom (because, in their minds, there is no violation of religious freedom in the first place or the violation of religious freedom is entirely justified because of the “women’s health” interest)—- and that the accommodation is simply a gratuitous favor being extended to the objectors?

      • July 23, 2014 12:07 pm


        Your example of a kosher restaurant is a poor analogy. You don’t have to be Jewish to get kosher certification. Many, if not most, vegetarian restaurants are kosher certified, even though the owners themselves may be Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, or no religion at all. However, being kosher certified attracts observant Jewish customers who may have difficulty eating out at other places because of their dietary constraints. Even if you meant to use the example of a business that was owned by observant Jews, the analogy to Hobby Lobby still doesn’t work, because Jewish law is binding only on Jews. If the non-Jewish workers at a kosher deli that is run by observant Jews choose to eat cheeseburgers for lunch, the owners aren’t going to care, although they will probably request that the offending food items stay out of the shop itself so the restaurant stays ritually pure. Because Judaism isn’t a missionary religion (at least not anymore), I don’t think that Orthodox Jewish business owners would attempt to micromanage their employees lives in the same way that you see in Christian owned businesses like Chik-Fil-A or Hobby Lobby.

        • Thales permalink
          July 23, 2014 8:09 pm

          You’re misunderstanding my hypothetical. I’m not talking about Orthodox Jewish business micromanaging what their employees can or cannot do. I’m talking about the government imposing a law saying that all delis/restaurants are required to provide non-kosher food. Is that an imposition on the deli’s religious freedom?

        • July 24, 2014 10:10 pm


          Once again, you’re comparing apples to oranges. Other than to ensure some minimum level of quality control in the food supply, the government has no interest in whether a deli sells kosher food or not (and ironically, most “Jewish delis” sell non-kosher food items). What is going on with regard to the ACA is that for some bizarre reason, healthcare and insurance plans are usually tied to one’s employer, which gives business owners an undue influence in what benefits are or are not available to workers. Personally, I think that it’s ridiculous that our healthcare should be related to our place of employment at all; a single payer system would make much more sense, but that’s another story. Going back to the late-term abortion issue, what business is it of an employer to interfere in the health concerns of its workers at all? What about the freedom of religion for all of the people who work for Hobby Lobby? If a Muslim owned company tried to assert the same claims over a mostly Christian workforce, we’d never hear the end of it. If the Greens and others like them are so concerned about their employees doing things they don’t like, why don’t they just offer scrip instead of money that can only be used on pre-approved items?

          As I mentioned upthread, I don’t bring up the case of Scientologists to be facetious. Scientologists sincerely believe that psychiatric drugs are evil and that no one should take them. Just yesterday, I saw a true crime program about a Scientologist who tried to treat her son’s schizophrenia with vitamins and sweat baths, and the son ended up killing her during a psychotic episode. Similarly, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that blood transfusions are an abomination and refuse them for themselves and their children, even when they get in car accidents. In fact, I would say that Scientologists and Jehovah’s Witness are more sincere about their beliefs than the Green family, since they have shown a willingness to die for them and are at least consistent in what they believe. It’s hard to take the Green family’s claim that the ACA was oppressing their freedom of religion when 1. their plans offered the offending BC methods until the ACA was supposed to take effect 2. their retirement plans are still tied up in companies that make the very devices they now claim to oppose.

          Scientology owned companies have repeatedly tried to force non-Scientology employees to engage in Scientology practices:

          There have even been charter schools established as front organizations to get children into Scientology:

          If these companies haven’t tried to eliminate psychiatric drugs from their plans, it could be because they didn’t know they could. Hobby Lobby has opened the door for them to do so. I don’t know why refusing to cover contraception is seen as a logical stance to take, while the claims of more unpopular but equally sincere groups are considered to be too fringe to take seriously. The Quakers, for example, have been trying to request an exemption from having their taxes go towards the army and warfare since the colonial days and have never gotten it, although their peace testimony has been a crucial part of their belief system since the group started. I’ll believe that advocates of “religious freedom” really believe it when they let the Quakers and the other members of the peace churches get their exemptions.

  18. Thales permalink
    July 25, 2014 5:13 pm


    1. I respectfully suggest that you supplement your reading of liberal blogs with alternative perspectives. You’ve got a number of canards in your post that I don’t have time or space to respond to. But here’s an article (and by a person not generally considered a conservative) that responds to some of them.

    2. Why are you confident that a government would not regulate delis? Who can know what interest a government can think up? The government is regulating the size of sugar drinks and the content of school menus; it’s not implausible that it might want to regulate the content of food being offered in a deli some time in the future. Up until a couple of years ago, no one dreamed that the government had an interest in covering no-pay contraceptives in employer health care plans, yet here we are. And again, the fact that a government is not trying to regulate delis right now is irrelevant to the conversation. I’m proposing hypotheticals for the purpose of making an argument, just like you’re doing with the Scientologists, even though there are zero cases of a Scientologist employer actually denying psychiatric drug coverage. (I don’t have a problem with you using the Scientologist hypothetical to make an argument — please go ahead! It’s helpful to think up hypothetical scenarios in order to puzzle through the implications of a particular law or policy! I’m just pointing out that I’m doing the same thing as you’re doing, and that what we’re doing is a normal method of engaging in thoughtful contemplation about an issue.)

    3. Re: Quakers and exemptions from paying taxes. That’s a good example, but you need to read up on this topic of religious exemptions. Google the Supreme Court case of US v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252, from 1982, and read it. The Supreme Court has already figured out the “religious objection to taxes” example you’re bringing up. Let me try to explain briefly: we live in a civilized society, where there are conflicts between personal/conscience/religious beliefs and government interests. Our legal system see this, and tries to balance between the two sides, by making accommodations when possible and denying accommodations when they are unreasonable. Some considerations in weighing the two sides include how large the burden is on the religious person; how important the government interest is; and if there are less burdensome ways to achieve the same government interest without burdening the religious person as much as he or she is currently being burdened.

    So, in your Quaker and taxes example, yes, they are being burdened by having to pay taxes that go to wars. But our legal system has already decided (see the US v. Lee case) that it is unreasonable to give Quakers an accommodation, considering that the burden on the Quakers is relatively light and their connection to the evil of war is remote, considering that the government has an important interest in collecting taxes for defense, and considering that there really isn’t a less burdensome and still feasible way of collecting taxes as it would be chaotic if every person could object to their tax money being used in ways they didn’t like.

    On the other side of the spectrum is a military draft requiring everyone to fight in a war. The draft forcing a Quaker to fight a war would be another burden on his religion, just like the tax example above. But in contrast to the tax example, our society has decided that it is reasonable to give the Quaker an accommodation from being drafted for war: being forced to fight a war is a much bigger burden on a Quaker’s religious belief than taxes; and though the government has an interest in maintaining an army, this interest is not undermined too much if conscientious objectors are permitted an accommodation to not fight in the war.

    The same spectrum exists for abortion. I have a religious objection to paying taxes that go to cover abortions. But my religious objection about my taxes being used for abortions should not be accommodated (for the same reason as the Quaker’s tax objection is not accommodated, as described above). I also have a religious objection to being forced to participate in an abortion by being, say, the assistant handing over the scalpel. Fortunately, our society recognizes that my religious objection to being forced to participate in an abortion should be accommodated (at least for the time being), just like the Quaker’s objection to being forced to fight a war should be accommodated.

    But what about a situation in the middle? A rule that forces me to pay for someone else’s abortion? I’m still burdened — I’m not burdened as much as if I was forced to participate in an abortion, but I’m more burdened than if the government used my tax money for abortions. Should my religious objection be accommodated? Is the burden on my religious beliefs significant or not? Is the government’s interest in having the abortion-seeker be paid by me an important interest or not? Can the government’s interest in having the abortion-seeker be paid, be achieved through some other method that doesn’t burden me as much? I’m not asking you to answer these questions — I’m just illustrating that that is the current debate we’re now having (albeit, a little simplified).

    4. Since I’ve now explained in very general and inexact terms how religious accommodations work in our current society, let me pose a question, and let me put aside late-term abortion, since you have a problem with that. Let’s take the “least offensive” kind of abortion– first-term chemical abortion. If the government said that employers had to cover chemical abortions in their health plans, and a Catholic employer objected to it, do you think this objection would be justified? Or do you think the Catholic employer should be compelled to provide that coverage, just like the Quaker or the Catholic should be compelled to pay their income tax even though they object to how tax money is being used, or just like how Hobby Lobby should be compelled to cover contraception?

    • July 25, 2014 9:30 pm


      I read blogs and newspapers from all over the political spectrum and from different religious and philosophical positions. In fact, I don’t read that any liberal blogs precisely because I like to read up on opinions that I don’t agree with so I can try to learn something new. Plus, I live in a red state (not by choice, though), so I’m bombarded with the conservative position simply by virtue of my geographical location. Lastly, in a previous iteration of myself, I considered myself to be somewhat of a Catholic traditionalist, so I think I know what I’m talking about. I don’t think much has changed in that world since I left it, other than an increase in anti-Obama hysteria.

      I think that some regulation of the food supply is nessesary. Otherwise we would end up in a situation like this:

      I’m amazed that the same people who consider caloric information about fast food to be an unacceptable abridgment of their freedom have no problem with subjecting a woman to a vaginal ultrasound that she neither wants no asked for (I don’t know if you’re one of those people, but the point still stands). The current fracas over the ACA stems from Americans’ unreasonable fear of anything deemed “socialism,” so we have to come up with a needlessly complicated system that retains the employer as insurance-gatekeeper. There’s a reason that no other country in the world has this model for healthcare, because it makes no sense. Like I said before, if we had a single payer system, this entire conversation would be moot, because the employer wouldn’t have any input in their employees’ healthcare at all. I wonder why the bishops in Europe, where various forms of government healthcare are the norm, don’t raise up a stink about “religious freedom” like they do here. I assume it must be because many European countries still don’t have separation of church and state, so the churches still have a exalted position in society even if no one pays attention to them. With regard to religious employers I would say that if providing health care insurance is this much of an ethical problem for them, maybe they need to get out of the world of business altogether.

      Also, we won’t have this conversation about late-term abortions if we provided better access to contraception. Abortion is largely illegal in Western Europe after 14-20 weeks, precisely because contraception and first trimester abortion are freely available. The lack of such services in the US, especially among the poor is precisely what drives the demand for late-term abortions in the first place. The best way to prevent abortion is to increase access to contraception, as well as improve medical care in general. The experiences of Romania under Ceaușescu indicate that making contraception illegal makes abortion, whether legal or illegal, more likely to happen. This is also what happened in Japan (where oddly enough abortion has traditionally more acceptable than taking the pill), as well as in many modern-day Latin American countries (where abortion is criminalized but occurs on the DL).

      Another reason why I’m not fond of religious exemptions is because they were used during the 1950-70s as a way to fight against the Civil Rights Movement:

      To me, the exact same thing is happening today, but this time with different groups in the crosshairs; just wrap up your bigotry in religion and it’s beyond criticism. As I’ve said before, I don’t see why religious beliefs should receive preferential treatment when compared to other types of beliefs, especially when they make claims that are empirically false, as Hobby Lobby did when it claimed that the contraception methods in question were abortifacients. A good, non-Hobby Lobby example would be faith healing. If you withhold medical treatment from your child because you’re a drunk or because you decided to spend all day playing World of Warcraft rather than go to the emergency room, you go to jail, but withhold it because your sincerely held beliefs don’t include doctors and you can get off in many states. The child is dead either way, but mention god and that makes it okay, or at least not a crime meriting jail time. I believe that children have rights that are independent of their parents and should not be subjected to the whims of their parents beliefs, especially when said beliefs will have a deleterious effect on their health and well-being.

      Going back to the Hobby Lobby decision itself, I can’t say whether Scientologists will try to not offer psychiatric meds on their insurance plan, nor do I know if such drugs were ever part of their plans. Given that this is a high control group, it wouldn’t surprise me, but there’s no way of knowing for sure unless you’re an employee at a Scientology owned business. All I’m saying is that I don’t see why Hobby Lobby’s specious complaints about birth control are seen as reasonable and worthy of accomodation, while claims put forth by other groups are written off as too absurd to be contemplated. Much of the commentary I’ve read about this says, “Well of course the Scientologists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t be telling people what to do.” but why should we assume that? Is it just because these groups are relatively small, unpopular, and without political representation? The door has been opened, and there’s no saying who will walk through it at this point.

      • Thales permalink
        July 25, 2014 10:34 pm


        It’s as if you didn’t read my comment, or if you did, you didn’t understand it, because it was non-responsive.

        Religious belief and society’s policy or law always presents the potential for tensions. But I submit that a civilized society is one that permits religious accommodations if it is possible and reasonable under the circumstances, and it doesn’t grant an accommodation if it isn’t reasonable. So your parade of horribles — the situations where a person only has to mention God and he gets a free pass to do something outrageous — is simply not the current state of our law, as I’ve tried to explain to you earlier. But you apparently are convinced that this parade of horribles will happen if people can claim religious exemptions and thus you seem to be against all exemptions for religious beliefs — I submit to you that that is path to a barbaric society where people are forced to act against their consciences and religious beliefs, such as Quakers being forced to fight in wars and doctors being forced to perform abortions. In my opinion, that is not a world that is respectful of human dignity.

        • July 26, 2014 10:23 pm


          I think we have reached the limit of what we can reasonably hope to accomplish in this thread, since both of us feel like we are talking past each other. This is probably because we simply have two diametrically opposed world-views and have difficulty seeing things in any other manner. To bring this back around to the original point of this post, perhaps this is indicative that this country is developing fault lines that simply can’t be resolved. Or maybe the fault lines were always there, but it was assumed that they could be ignored or absorbed by the political process. As I mentioned before, even the South is changing in ways that would have been unthinkable even thirty years ago, and it’s quite possible that many key states could turn blue or at least purple. The gradual “browning” of the United States could be the key to resolving these opposing viewpoints.

        • Thales permalink
          July 27, 2014 4:27 pm

          I suppose you’re right — we don’t have a common premise, so we can’t have a productive conversation. But I’m still astonished that we can’t agree that a civilized society is one where individual consciences are accommodated from time to time if it is possible and reasonable under the circumstances (like pacifist conscientious objectors.)

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