October 26, 2017 § Leave a comment
A teenage girl from Central America entered the United States seeking asylum. She was apprehended by customs officials and detained, awaiting a ruling on her right to remain in the United States.
The girl was pregnant when she entered the United States. She concluded, based on her knowledge of her own ability and the circumstances in which she found herself, that it would be unwise for her to assume responsibility for raising a child. So she sought an abortion.
When she asked for the care of a doctor she was confronted with interference by the United States government, prompted and led by Scott Lloyd, appointed by President Trump to oversee the Resettlement of Refugees.
Mr. Lloyd had little or no experience to qualify him for that post but he did have a long record of expressing his Roman Catholic religious opposition to abortion. Based on the beliefs of that religious sect, he unleashed the power of the federal government to impose his zeal on the teenage girl and, heedless of her beliefs, force her to give birth to a child.
She was told she could abandon her right to seek asylum in the U.S. or abandon her right to abort her pregnancy. If she asserted her right to asylum, she would have to give up her right to abort her pregnancy.
The ACLU responded to this assault on the girl’s rights and, not surprisingly, obtained judicial relief for her. She obtained an abortion. This result was achieved, however, only after the girl was forced to watch a movie starring the fetus and enduring a harangue by one or more representatives of religious sects trying to impose their religious beliefs on her and warning her that, by asserting her right to abort her pregnancy, she was committing a sin.
The First Amendment to our Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” I know the key court decision guaranteeing a woman’s right tto abort a pregnancy was based on the “right of privacy” and not on this (to me at least) plain language of our Bill of Rights. The result delights me but the facts of this latest episode express, to me at least, eloquently and precisely why it is so un-American and disgraceful to subject a young woman to religious tests and forced shaming before she is allowed to make a decision about her own body.
To me the “free exercise” of religion means rejecting religion altogether is a right no less valuable than the right to choose adherence to any one of the myriad of religious doctrines commanding the devotion of men and women all over the world. I have no hostility toward religion and I am proud of our Constitution’s protection of its exercise. I do, however, regard forcing one’s religious choices on another person as a vile and evil practice with a history rife with examples of man’s ability and inclination to engage in cruelty and mass murder on a scale that beggars the imagination.
If any of my readers doubt the truth of this last statement, here is citation obtained by a brief Google search: https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/interview-converting-by-the-sword
The Importance of Language
I have so far expressed my outrage at the effort to impose a particular religious idea on a girl seeking an abortion. I now need to respond to those who dissent by expressing care and concern for the fetus who was the subject of the girl’s abortion.
First, I think it is useful to address the meaning of the word “person”. Here is the definition: “[a] noun : human being, individual, man/woman, child, human, being, (living) soul, mortal, creature; personage, character, customer; ,. . . .”
The absurd problem with which our laws now entangle us began with the judicial necromancy that equated the word “person” with a legal device designed to facilitate the organization of investors to pool money in a business enterprise and to limit their potential liability to the value of the device. The device is a corporation. A corporation has no pulse. It cannot be drafted or imprisoned. It can be terminated without judicial intervention. It cannot breathe. It has no pulse. It has no heart. In short it has no resemblance to a human being. Despite these facts, for more than a century, as a result of a feat of verbal gymnastics by the Supreme Court, corporations are deemed to be “persons”.
This kind of redefining words is the type of language abuse foreshadowed in Lewis Caroll’s Humpty Dumpty:
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”
Decades later, George Orwell warned us about allowing government to redefine words in his novel “1984”. He reminded us that our laws and our Constitution protect us only to the extent stated in their words. And when we loose words from their moorings and allow them to be redefined by power-seeking politicians, we endanger our freedom. Here is New York Times 2007 essay expressing this concern, one I fully share:
As a result of the above referenced Supreme Court decision conflating a corporation with the word “person”, when the government of the United States seeks to regulate the activities of a corporation it must do so within the confines of our Bill of Rights. It is my fervent hope that, sooner or later, our Constitution will, be amended to solve this absurdity with an amendment. We regulate the actions of motor vehicles on our roads and I am confident we will be able to regulate the activities of corporations without the pretense based on this nonsense.
One result of this misinterpretation of the word “person” is the Supreme Court decision that enabled corporations to engage in politics and finance candidates for election. In other words, a brainless, conscienceless zombie creation of one or more people has potential influence on the election of government officials equal to an actual human being.
Another pernicious result of this institutionalized ignorance is the notion, enthusiastically embraced by the religious zealots who feel divinely appointed to impose their religious doctrine on expectent mothers, equating a zygote to a “person” entitled to all of the protection of the Bill of Rights. [To appreciate the twisted interpretation of language this idea requires: Here is a definition of a zygote: “A fertilized female egg from which a baby will develop is an example of a zygote.”]
A zygote is not a person. A person is a living breathing animal who has been removed and disconnected from a woman’s womb. Confusing the meaning of words to blur this distinction leads to unnecessary intrusion into the rights of a woman while she cares for and nurtures her unborn child. It does not add protection to the child and it infringes the rights of the mother. Separating the rights of a mother from the rights of her unborn child enables meddling outsiders to interject themselves into what is the most personal and intimate relationship of our species: the relationship of a woman to her own body.
We now have members of various religious sects picketing clinics where abortions are performed; political efforts to make such clinics impractical for low income patients to access by locating them hundreds of miles away from population centers; requiring waiting periods requiring overnight stays, thus increasing the expense and, again, denying access to low income patients – the imagination of those hateful people intent on “protecting the unborn” while harassing expectant mothers is fueled by their self righteous zeal.
I know this effort is an angry one. I am angry. I have daughters, grand daughters and great grand daughters. The possibility that they can be bullied and defamed because of their personal religious ideas or their lack thereof outrages me. I know they, like he rest of us, may be prey from criminals who wish to harm them. That risk is part of living in a world with a diverse population.
That said, however, it makes me angrier that their safety and self respect may be threatened by religious zealots who presume to impose their ideas of morality on my family. I believe morality and religiosity are personal matters so long as they don’t infringe the rights of others. If a person’s religious belief is that abortion is wrong, he or she should discourage his family from engaging in it. If, instead, he or she believes his relationship with the God of his or her understanding empowers him or her to meddle into the beliefs of my family, then he or she loses my tolerance as I would expect him or her to react if I presumed to lecture him or her about my ideas about his or her religion. The idea that religious zeal entitles one to use the force of government to impose religious conformity on others is abhorant to the idea of America.
It is of no concern to me whether my neighbor chooses to worship God through the good offices of a Pope or through his own understanding of the Bible or through some pattern or structure he conceives for himself after solemn thought. I once knew of a man who, after reaching middle age without giving any serious thought to a belief in God, felt the need to add religion to his life. He finally elected to worship a palm tree in the South Texas town where he lived as the object to which he directed his prayers.
I sincerely respect the right of everyone to choose for himself or herself the object of religious devotion. I do not, however, have any tolerance for anyone attempting to recruit me into his or her religious sect by disparaging my conclusions or the conclusions of others about religion. I believe the choice of a religion and the choice of whether or not to give birth to a child are two of the most personal matters best left to the personal judgment and choice of each human being in a free society. Those choices should not be voted on. They should not be publicly shamed or disparaged. They should not be the subject of laws seeking to impose religious tests and doctrines. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. It is not a laboratory for experimentation and moral dictation by self appointed religious monitors.