Three social issues of great importance and significant disagreement include the right to abort an unwanted fetus within a certain period of time at a medical clinic (free from harassment or shame), the right to bear arms, and the rights of those who are gay and transgender to be free from discrimination in hiring and in the workplace. These are of importance because whenever a right is withheld in America, there needs to be a very compelling reason, Constitutionally and morally speaking. They are subjects about which there is fundamental disagreement (and not a little contention!) because they are thorny ethical, religious, and cultural issues. In the time of social media and political hyperpartisanship, the solution of these matters of great concern to society are matters of civil rights, and also of civil responsibilities. As well, with the resurgence of the radical Right, settled law (e.g., Roe v. Wade) is now being reexamined. This blog is about civil rights and civil responsibilities when it comes to three key issues.
Abortion is complicated and unfortunate whenever it occurs. However, it is a civil rights issue, and has been since the Supreme Court settled the cultural issue in 1973: women have a right to unilaterally choose whether to carry a fetus to term or not. Sometime before or at birth, the fetus becomes an infant, and deserves some protections because it then possesses civil rights as a human being. This viability question is at the crux of the ethical debate, and rational people can differ on whether or not a 6-month-old fetus is deserving of civil rights protections or if it is still considered a part of the mother’s body, subject to her decision-making. The majority of women who obtain legal abortions in America nowadays are white, married women, and that shouldn’t be overlooked. Again, this is a Constitutionally-protected right (at least it was until the current crop of extreme-right GOP Congresspeople “primaried” their more moderate and civil Republican counterparts) (and why don’t I just say Congressmen, because that is pretty much what we’re talking about). It can be argued from an ethical perspective, but let’s just agree that a 3-month-old fetus the size of a lime has no civil rights and can’t be considered a human being for that purpose.
Democrats – and moderate Republicans – now have woken up and found ourselves in an America ruled by people pushing forward intolerant, discriminatory policies – anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-civil-liberties – all in the name of God.
What muddies the water and makes this an issue (along with other forms of birth control and so on) is religion. America is probably the most religious Western democracy in the world. Founded by religious extremists, we never did reach the point where religion is thought of as either a pesonal matter, or a fascinating/frightening aspect of human psychology to be considered in its historical context. Catholics and evangelical Christians have been injecting dogma and inflexibility into various social/cultural/political debates for centuries. They gin up the abortion debate. And since Jesus never spoke on abortion, it’s quite curious to me. It smacks more of misogyny and patriarchy than a true desire to live more like Jesus would. In fact, most evangelicals pick and choose which civil rights they support and which they decline to support (for themselves, and here is my thesis: for others, too). Christians in America don’t just want Christmas to be celebrated, they want everyone else to celebrate it as well.
Here is an interesting tangent by David Leonhardt:
See if you can name this group of Americans: It is “one of the largest and fastest-growing demographic groups in the United States,” according to a recent Washington Post column. It suffers from substantial discrimination. About 40 percent of Americans say they wouldn’t vote for someone from this group to be president. By comparison, 7 percent say the same about an African-American candidate, 8 percent about a female candidate, 18 percent about a Mormon candidate and 24 percent about a gay candidate. Not one 2020 presidential candidate comes from this group. The group I’m describing? Atheists.”
As well, journalist David Sherman reports this having come from the mouth of George Herbert Walker Bush (in an untaped interview): “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.” And this is from a very careful and prudent politician who is generally considered to be one of the most civil men of the 20th and 21st centuries. You can imagine what comes out of the mouths of some televangelists, radical preachers, and megachurch founders.
So folks would deny civil rights to control their own bodies due to religious doctrine and severe interpretations from theists from the past. Vice-President to Franklin Roosevelt was a true-blue progressive, Midwestern farm boy made good. Henry A. Wallace, speaking in the 1930s, said this: “It may be shocking to some people in this country to realize that, without meaning to do so, they hold views in common with Hitler when they preach discrimination against other religious, racial or economic groups.” Gulp!
If we are to serve as a beacon for human rights, we must continue to perfect here at home the rights and values which we espouse around the world: a decent education for our children, adequate medical care for all Americans, an end to discrimination against minorities and women, a job for all those able to work, and freedom from injustice and religious intolerance.
There is a striking irony here: when it comes to claiming civil rights, the same group from which many abortion rights deniers are drawn (Southern evangelical Christians) has a vociferous wing: 2nd Amendment proponents. No, unlike abortion rights, which according to quite a few religious folks has no basis in a Constitutional framework, the right to bear arms is considered sacrosanct. The NRA has been an extremist political organization since the 70s or 80s, in large part due to black Americans wanting to carry weapons to protect themselves from rabid police officers in cities both North and South. It weilds enormous outsize influence on politicians, thanks to the system of legalized bribery that marks the American political system. In this case, civil rights for white Southern Christians is passionately felt and fought for. So much so that very little if any substantive gun legislation has taken place in the last forty years. With the uptick in suicides and mass shootings, this is a serious issue. As well, guns are stolen and used in street crimes and drug offenses often.
Michael Moore noted in Bowling for Columbine that no other country has this level of gun violence because a) they have fewer than 300,000,000 guns (like America) and b) far less racial animus. That is, he believes that whites fearing blacks is a significant reason for our superabundance of firearms in the hands of 10-20% of the populace. Throw in the militia and white supremacist groups which are decidedly anti-government, and it is mind-blowing. I believe that fear of black men and the mostly-irrational fear of government since has been growing since 1980 and which took on new life with the election of the very civil Barack Obama (the African American with the Muslim-sounding name). Not only did Obama not make great effort to pare back gun rights, but he didn’t really even talk about race. For 2nd Amendment rights, the Obama years were a nothing-burger.
In the Dred Scott case, Justice Taney declared, perhaps all too correctly, that he could not find in the Constitution of the United States any right a black man has that a white man is bound to honor.
Point is, Charleton Heston characterized the NRA position on gun rights for all eternity with his more-paranoid-than-patriotic “From my cold, dead hands!” demagoguery. No person on the political Right has gone that far to lobby for the rights of a woman to control her body and make medical decisions solely with her doctor. It seems that the ability to shoot people (be they robbers or government officials) riles up these folks much more than government dictating what civil rights a woman has. Hmm…
Finally, did you know that as of this writing, it is legal for employers to discriminate against an LGBTQ American citizen in hiring and employment? That is, “You’re gay? Sorry, the position has been filled.” I’m talking about, “She said what at the Christmas party? Her ass is grass come Monday morning…”. In many states in the South and the Midwest, not only is abortion becoming much more difficult (if not impossible), but you can be fired for saying you have a sexual preference. It’s wholly un-American. I don’t know where Righties get off trying to justify this: if not for a) religious fundamentalism and b) the benighted level of cultural development that plagues the South and much of the Midwest.
Too many Americans have fought too long and too hard for civil rights to be comfortable with two of these three divisive cultural issues. I am moderate about gun rights, I’m moderate about abortion rights, and I’m pretty black and white when it comes to employers discriminating against employees for something that is none of their damned business. The whole “Christian bakers refusing cakes to gays” and “Christian pharmacists refusing morning-after pills to women” examples are a bit more contentious than workplace discrimination. It’s as clear-cut to me as the outlawing of race when it comes to employment decisions, or handicapped status when it comes to housing rights.
Problems such as racism and sexism, which are based on long traditions of discrimination against blacks and women, exist in our culture, in part, because the majority of American adults are cultural relativists.
I know, some folks on the Right don’t like to hear of “protected statuses.” It makes them feel disenfranchised, ironically. You can see that in the countermeasures used against certain groups by the Right. Now, you hear of people like Trump complaining that whites don’t get a fair shake in this country. Every year you witness Christians claiming on Fox News that Christmas is under attack by Jews, Atheists, and Muslims. Affirmative action, gays in the military, and so on. It’s permissible now to be a victim if you’re a white person, a Christian, a political conservative. It’s a pernicious cultural development that we ought to be wary of.
With many issues that involve civil rights, it’s not a matter of principle for these folks, it’s simply a calculus of “What would I benefit from, and what am I scared of?” Rights are not just about you, they are about me, him, her, them, and those folks. We are talking about social justice. It is notable that hundreds of thousands of Americans who will fight to the death for the right to have semi-auto rifles with scopes and large magazines will not lift a finger to see that a woman has the right to choose or gays have the same rights that 95% of Americans do. Add in a lack of concern for Atheists, Jews, and liberals, and you’ve got yourself a major chasm that might as well be called “the values divide” in this country. The fact that other countries avoid all this hypocrisy and bigotry is not an irrelevant matter, I hasten to point out.
Due to cramped fingers and your attention span, I won’t get into voting rights suppression, the civil rights of prisoners, affirmative action, whether medical care is a matter of civil rights or privilege, and the most radical of these issues, Universal Basic Income. Stay tuned. Ω