Questionable Motives

May 7, 2014

Are ‘honestly held beliefs’ reason enough to justify legal discrimination?

can of wormsWell, let’s look at the principle upon which all of us expect to be treated fairly and impartially before and by the law, namely, that

“All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” (Article 26, UN covenant on political and civil rights)

To support legal discrimination in a particular case means you must provide a reasonable justification to the benefit of all for that particular exemption against the general principle. This can be (and is) done when that justification can be shown to enhance the public good. For example, we can legally discriminate against all of us who have not achieved the age of majority or all of us who have been shown to be incapable of being responsible for our actions. Legal discrimination is permissible without breaking the principle of the covenant… but the justification must be the same FOR ALL.

Now let’s consider the idea of ‘honestly held beliefs’ to be the metric for varying what equality rights mean. The question can be formulated this way: does an ‘honestly held belief’ by another person constitute a reasonable justification to the benefit of all in your mind for the loss of your own equality before the law and the loss of its protection to guarantee them? Are you willing to have your legal rights be subject and hostage to the variability of another person’s honestly held beliefs?

There are a couple ways to come at answering this.

The straightforward answer here is either Yes or No. There is no middle ground. You are either willing to allow others (based on their ‘honestly held beliefs’) to determine the quality of your legal rights or you are not. The metric at work here is belief, and rests in the willingness to have your legal equality rights rights rest not with you, not empowered in and by the law, but in the belief-based opinion of others.  This breaks the principle that currently supports legal equality for all of us… not just against those whose legal rights and protection you wish to limit for whatever beliefs you may deem important enough but your own. Supporting the notion that ‘honestly held beliefs’ is sufficient to devalue equality rights to personal preference of beliefs means that you do not support the principle that upholds your own.

The extent of privilege our societies grant to religious belief and the institutions and speakers who represent them is truly astounding. For example, returning to the UN covenant on political and civil rights, we find the following:

“Discrimination is allowed if it is based on genuine religious beliefs or principles. This includes the actions of religious bodies or schools.”

Take a moment and think about that. What does it really mean?

Well, it means that the previous principle for all has been replaced in practice by the beliefs of some. It means all people are not equal before the law; our shared equality rights are in fact subject to the religious beliefs (and principles contained within them) of others, others who would deny them first for ‘honestly held beliefs… before any other grounds of justification are introduced! Where is the universal justification for this discrimination that demonstrates its fairness and impartiality to the good of all? It’s absent; what we have are lot of assumptions and attributions and arguments and conclusions unsupported by compelling evidence. This is faith-based belief in action… simply presumed to be justified because it is religious.  And that’s religious privilege in action and it undermines the very principle of YOUR legal rights, YOUR legal equality, YOUR legal protections. This religious privilege buolt on faith-based beliefs is incompatible with the very principle of equality law.

Another way to understand and appreciate the scope of craziness needed to sustain the argument of privileging ‘honestly held beliefs’ over and above and preceding equality rights for all is to apply the same reasoning, the same privilege, the same lack of independent justification to some other area of public interest. We have a host to choose from but let’s take a public water supply for our analogy and see how well the justification works.

The management of that public water supply is based on the principle of providing clean water for all… and we are all in agreement that this water should be safe for all to drink because all of us drink from it! But let’s say some people in the management team decide that certain privileged exemptions to that principle are justified by the ‘honestly held beliefs’ of those involved with providing this service, making the water supply safe for some but not for others. When people complain that their water supply is, in fact, contaminated – because some people honestly believe that the addition of industrial waste products containing toxins and carcinogenics to this part of the water supply but not that part at the request of certain industries to eliminate their waste is a net benefit to all, while reassuring the rest of us that we will continue to receive only a clean water supply – how is it a justification that doesn’t directly undermine the principle of clean water for all? Would the same exemption be allowed, for example, if the quality of everyone’s water supply – including the captains of these polluting industries and the management team themselves – were to be subject to the same vagaries of who received what quality of water when? Or would we as a municipality stand united and insist that the water supply be kept clean for all? Sure, the industrialists might complain that they have a real problem with their toxic wastes, but why should the quality of our water supply be their solution… any more than threatening our shared legal rights of equality be the solution to the demands of these religious for privilege to exercise their bias and discrimination in the name of the public good?

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October 7, 2011

What’s wrong with a little bit of discrimination in the name of jesus?

A lot, it turns out.

Discriminating on the basis of gender and sexual orientation is illegal in Canada. Yet in spite of this clear law, some think that their personal religious beliefs outweigh the civil rights of others… beliefs supposedly ordained by the sometimes metaphorical/sometimes literal god and the sometimes metaphorical/sometimes literal scripture sometimes dictated/sometimes merely inspired. When the law is enforced to ensure equality under it, the outcry from many in the religious community is that religion (and the right to express it) is what’s under attack by those evil forces of darkness known as secularists. This is a clue for the rest of us: when up becomes down and black becomes white, we know we’re dealing with people who don’t care about what’s true and are comfortable in their hypocrisy. This is especially revealing when the religious embrace their hypocrisy and claim that their right to discriminate is violated by enforced equality-of-rights laws. The ability to appreciate irony in action is obviously lacking in such people.

A recent case in point:

The owner of the Trails End Farmers Market (in London, Ontario, Canada) was presented Saturday with a petition containing the signatures of more than 4,000 people. About 30 protesters arrived at the Market on Dundas Street East shortly after 11AM to personally present Ed Kikkert, who’s owned the market for 28 years, with their petition, asking him to reconsider a decision last month to ban transgendered employees from working at Trails End. Kikkert received the petition and thanked the demonstrators for stopping by, but indicated he was not interested in how many people had signed the document.

He said his petition, with one signature, carried more weight. When asked by one of the demonstrators who signed his petition, Kikkert replied “Jesus Christ.”

Note that the owner has no theological problem working on his sabbath in spite of clear scripture that this is a rather serious no-no. He probably picks up sticks on this day, too. We are left with the kind of intricate moral quandary that bible supposedly clarifies:  does god favour Ed’s father or brothers to stone him to death for these transgressions or should the wider community gather to carry out this enlightened punishment… in the name of jesus who upholds such a law, of course, whose decision should be the only one that matters apparently.

The absurdity of Ed’s hypocrisy in the name of jesus will be dismissed by other religious folk as being unrepresentative of christianity as a whole, that those who criticize the authority of scripture on the basis of such necessary hypocrisy do so only because they are unable or unwilling to appreciate a more sophisticated interpretation of god’s will in the matter (that is to say, unable to respect the correct cherrypicking of bits and pieces of scripture that agrees with a particular believer’s personal morality). But we can see how the claim to a higher authority derived from some personal religious belief like the kind Ed adheres to is in fact an unequivocal expression of a common religious belief that is antithetical to a shared acceptance of democratic and Enlightenment values and the equitable rule of law based on them. We can see that far from bringing people together to create a wider and more caring community so often advertised as religion’s central social contribution, religion just as easily can be used to drive a wedge between people, granting unearned and unjustifiable moral sanctity for some to discriminate against others only on the basis of cherrypicked religious belief.

As usual, we are left shaking our heads at how unreasonable and unfair some people can be while thinking themselves pious in their bigotry. But this kind of religious discrimination will never improve so long as so many of us continue to grant religious belief any kind of moral authority whatsoever in the public domain.

September 29, 2011

What is the fundamental error we make of religious scripture?

Presuming it’s true.

Once this fundamental error is made, there is a cascade effect that greatly impairs one’s cognitive ability to make later corrections for it; instead of simply correcting the original error in the face of mounting contrary evidence to its veracity, we see otherwise rational people perform amazing feats of mental gymnastics to accommodate its fundamental irrationality.

One of the most common ways for the believers to maintain the presumption of scriptural truth in the face of a contrary reality is to alter the language we use to describe that reality, and then shift blame for the obvious scriptural failure unto reality itself as some kind of dirty and obnoxious pollutant. This is where denial of reality finds sustenance in the religious community and offers aid and comfort to anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-rational proponents.

Surely such deluded and intellectually dishonest people as reality deniers must be at the fringes of society, wouldn’t you think?

Apparently not.

Consider the legal wisdom delivered by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during his recent lecture at Duquesne University Law School, a catholic university in Pittsburgh:

“The Rule of Law is second only to the Rule of Love. The here and now is less important than the hereafter.”

Now think about that for moment.

His priority as a Supreme Court Justice is not about the rule of law in the here and now but about love leading to something he calls the “hereafter”. This is religio-speak for obeying the authority of scripture first and foremost. This blind obedience to the vagaries of biblical scripture to outline appropriate religious behaviour is what Scalia calls love, and its purpose is to exchange the legal respect owed to the individual here and now to some earned eternal bliss… the fulfillment of a nebulous contract to be fulfilled by god after that individual’s death.

That’s an insane contract in any other connotation: for example, how big a fool must you be to seriously accept the contract to pay me all your money throughout your life on the promise that I will pay you back a thousandfold after you’re dead.  It’s an insane presumption based as it is on no evidence outside of its religious connotations that it might be true. Yet for anyone inside its religious connotations such a presumption is fine for a catholic Supreme Court Justice, no matter how nutty, how batty, how foolish, how flipping crazy exactly the same thinking is without the religious connotation. For many, it’s peachy that we waive the requirement for rationality in and respect for the here and now in the name of respecting religious gullibility and delusion about the hereafter.

It seems to come as a shock to some people that making allowance for the religiously deluded might actually carry some small cost when it comes to following and implementing scripture. But is it really such a small price to pay?

Surely that insanity, that irrationality, stops when it comes to practicing and implementing actual individual legal equality, doesn’t it? Well…

Scalia again:

“Our educational establishment these days, while so tolerant of and even insistent upon diversity in all other aspects of life, seems bent on eliminating diversity of moral judgment – particularly moral judgment based on religious views. I hope this place will not yield – as some Catholic institutions have – to this politically correct insistence upon suppression of moral judgment, to this distorted view of what diversity in America means.”

What is he talking about? He’s bitching about the requirement that student clubs that receive university support and backing must be open to all students, even gays. Exercising this legal equality on behalf of all students who pay the same tuition and fees, who attend the same classes as everyone else, who meet the same academic expectations as all, suddenly becomes – in the confused mind of Supreme Court Justice Scalia – the distorted suppression of a religiously acceptable yet bigoted moral judgement.

This catholic moral judgement is not understood to be just another example of religiously inspired bigotry; after all, it comes from scripture, which is presumed to be true. That means that correct moral behaviour is considered by the religiously minded like Scalia to be bigotry in action. And that causes him not the slightest intellectual discomfort. In his mind befuddled and addled by catholicism all other considerations – like legal equality – must first fit this faith-based model on what is moral under scriptural authority, and if that means abusing the language to do so – by presuming that a bigoted moral judgement is sanctioned by god through the authority of scripture – then legal equality must be an imposition indeed.

The blame for this imposition – this insistence on legal equality by the secular state – is flung back at reality, claiming that legal equality of diverse people is actually a distorted view under catholicism, clashing as it does with the presumption of scriptural authority that allows a special exemption for religious bigotry under the intentional misnomer of moral judgement. It’s as if to say it isn’t up to me as a Supreme Court Justice to judge legal inequality when it is upheld by the religiously deluded; my hands are tied by the religious view that god has judged this inequality to be right and proper on moral grounds. Bigotry becomes moral and is then brought forth from the wastelands of scripture into the confusing world of real people in real time where what should be a cut and dry legal issue of equality  becomes a confused religious issue about permissive legal bigotry sanctioned on theological moral grounds.

And Scalia is okay with this contorted pretzel of rationalizations in the service of maintaining the supremacy his religious presumptions even in his high public office. The fact that such a dimwit and badly confused idiot as Scalia could be selected and then promoted to the highest secular court in the land is damning evidence of just how in need of repair and support is the wall of separation between church and state… if you care about legal equality, of course.

And on that issue I shouldn’t presume…

March 26, 2011

When did bigotry become a fundamental human right?

Filed under: Bigotry,Catholic Church,Human Rights,hypocrisy — tildeb @ 10:13 am

When it was convenient for the church to claim it was so, of course!

Leave it to the catholic church to lead the charge in support of protecting bigotry from necessary criticism and legal sanction. We can’t have that. Bigots and the bigotry that defines their unjustified views must be protected, you see, and what better shield to use than claiming any criticism is an attack against human rights? Note that human rights are for all, whereas bigotry is to favour some over others. Hypocrisy has always had a long-standing and plush home in the rc church.

GENEVA (Reuters) – People who criticise gay sexual relations for religious or moral reasons are increasingly being attacked and vilified for their views, a Vatican diplomat told the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said the Roman Catholic Church deeply believed that human sexuality was a gift reserved for married heterosexual couples. But those who express these views are faced with “a disturbing trend,” he said.

“People are being attacked for taking positions that do not support sexual behaviour between people of the same sex,” he told the current session of the Human Rights Council.

“When they express their moral beliefs or beliefs about human nature … they are stigmatised, and worse — they are vilified, and prosecuted.

“These attacks are violations of fundamental human rights and cannot be justified under any circumstances,” Tomasi said.

Well, I am shocked – simply shocked – that bigotry is being stigmatized. This is an outrage!

Obviously we must protect bigotry from being vilified when expressed and prosecuted when it is enacted because it a fundamental human right… if you believe it is. If we don’t offer special protection for bigots, imagine the consequence: pretty soon those who are against gender equality may have to show good reasons why they hold the bigoted views they do. How unfair is that? And racists? Imagine the chaos if those dead set against racial equality were to be criticized for trying to codify their bigotry into law. Why, there would be  no end to the call for justifications for maintaining these bigoted beliefs and that would undermine the comfort such bigoted beliefs bring to those who hold them to be true.

November 25, 2010

What are the consequences of gay marriage?

Filed under: belief,Bias,Bigotry,Gay Marriage — tildeb @ 12:03 pm

(Hat tip to Ken)

June 11, 2010

Is there a social cost to atheism?

Filed under: Atheism,Bias,Bigotry,Morality,Religion — tildeb @ 9:53 am

Lauri Lebo has written an article over at Religion Dispatches that raises this question. Lauri is well known for having written the definitive book about the Dover trial in Pennsylvania (The Devil in Dover: Dogma vs Darwin in Small Town America).

The results of an online survey published in the latest issue of Skeptic Magazine show that atheists in America fear paying a high social price in coming out as a non-believer. “The Stigma of Being an Atheist: An Empirical Study on the New Atheist Movement and its Consequences,” written by Tom Arcaro, was based on the results of 8,200 people who identify as atheists or non-believers in God.

The survey, “Coming Out as an Atheist,” was posted live on the Atheist Nexus Web site for four months from September to December 2008. Respondents were asked various questions such as “In general, how stigmatized do you feel atheists are in your culture?” and “Do you feel that there would be any social repercussions if people in your [workplace/family/local community] found out the you were an atheist?”

By a wide margin, atheists in the U.S. were more likely to feel a sense of stigma, highest among those living in the south. For instance, 57 percent of U.S. respondents said they felt they would suffer at least minor social repercussions in the workplace if they came out as an atheist, compared to only 35 percent of respondents in Canada, 24 percent of Australians, 15 percent of residents of United Kingdom, and 12 percent of Western Europeans.

More than two-thirds of Americans said they would suffer stigma in their community and 61 percent said they would suffer stigma from their family.

But what do those numbers look like in someone’s life? Consider this comment:

It was not worth the trouble. My entire familiy , church, friends, wife, job… nothing left.. Nobody talks to me, nobody returns my emails, phone calls, nobodies says Hi…..At my fathers funeral, my mother had the pastor give a sermon about how the family will be reunited, except the son who will never see the father again.

I would have gotten a better reaction if I had announced I was communist Islamic Lesbian Satanic serial-raping Dark Lord of the Sith.

My advice is keep your atheism to yourself if you hate to be demonized and are surrounded by christian friends and family……christians cannot understand the truth of basic Reality, they certianly will never understand your Apostacy.
Christians will demonize their own mother into the devil to protect their fears.

I don’t agree with the advice; I think wider change for the better only happens when the bigotry over the false claims of atheist immorality is exposed for the lie it is. That exposure always carries a personal cost – sometimes sleight and covert, sometimes heavy and overt – but all we can do is push ahead and maintain our intellectual honesty in the face of the biased opinions and social shunning by unenlightened others.

May 30, 2010

Advocating for discrimination in Turkey – Does this make Rand Paul proud?

Filed under: Bigotry,civil rights,Media,Politics — tildeb @ 10:26 am
Tags:

From the Daily News:

Turkish public opinion continues to advocate for a total restriction of rights for atheists and homosexuals, according to recent study conducted by Boğaziçi University and the Open Society Association.

An astonishing 53 percent of participants strongly believed that the right to freely express a different sexual orientation should be restricted. Similarly, 37 percent of the people sampled denounced the right of believing in no religion, with 59 percent standing against atheists flaunting their lack of religion. Moreover, 28 percent denounced the right of non-Muslims to be open about their religious identity.

Well, that’s Turkey. Such advocacy could never happen here in the West. Could it?

In the US this week, Rand Paul, who beat an establishment-backed candidate in a May 25, 2010 GOP primary to win the Republican senate candidacy in Kentucky, appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show and, in a long exchange with the liberal host, repeated his belief in a limited government that should not force private businesses to abide by civil rights law. Maddow asked him, “Do you think that a private business has the right to say ‘we don’t serve black people’?” “Yes,” was Paul’s answer, although he tried to explain that in terms of freedom of expression. It was actually another attempt to explain his belief that a limited government that should not force private businesses to abide by civil rights law. In a 2002 letter Paul had written to a Kentucky newspaper, he argued that private individuals and businesses should have the right to discriminate, even if it is abhorrent.

Not only can it happen in the US,  it IS happening in the US with direct support from those who call themselves tea-baggers. Paul’s win is evidence for that support. Let us hope that the people of Kentucky will not elect him and his dangerous willingness to undermine civil rights legislation.

So why should we care?

If we don’t support civil rights laws and those who are willing to uphold them against people like the tea-baggers and their chosen candidates, then we open the door to once again to discriminate on the basis on race, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation, and so on. We can reasonably expect similar advocacy for discrimination against identifiable minorities if they are elected. Those who allow discrimination to flourish are not just the politicians once they are in power; they are us – the ones who give in to our fear and biases and  bigotries and cast our vote in that direction. And that vote can have a direct cost that creates victims – real, live people – out of our willingness to tolerant bigotry.

May 21, 2010

What does fear of gays look like in action?

From the CBC:

A judge in Malawi has found a gay couple guilty of unnatural acts and gross indecency after a trial that drew worldwide condemnation of that country’s laws on homosexuality.

Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa issued the ruling Tuesday. The couple could be imprisoned for up to 14 years.

Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, had been jailed since their arrest Dec. 27, when they celebrated their engagement with a party that drew crowds of curious and jeering onlookers.

Their hearings also drew ridicule, an indication of views on homosexuality in this traditional society — and elsewhere in Africa.

Homosexuality is illegal in at least 37 countries on the continent. In Uganda, lawmakers are considering a bill that would sentence homosexuals to life in prison and include capital punishment for “repeat offenders.” Even in South Africa, the only African country that recognizes gay rights, gangs have carried out so-called “corrective” rapes on lesbians.

What can I say? I was offended, so I wrote to the Malawi high commissioner:

The sentencing by this Malawi ‘court’ of Steven and Tiwonge is a mark of bigotry and shame that contravenes section 20 of your country’s constitution. And your government seems to be in full agreement with this ruling. When court rulings support populism, but break the spirit of guaranteed constitutional rights and freedoms for all, then all citizens lose. The fact that your government is satisfied with this ruling makes a mockery that human rights are respected and are of any legal value whatsoever in Malawi. On the world stage, your country has taken a giant step backwards into an age of superstition and fear about a victimless activity between consenting adults some in your country find offensive.

So what?

Unless and until the government of Malawi and its agents in positions of authority have the moral courage and political fortitude to step forward and accept that rights and freedoms for all outweigh popular superstition and bigotry against some, your country’s voice will be one of regressive and brutal bigotry codified and enforced by a bullying and ethically corrupt government that deserves nothing but condemnation and marginilization for it lack of intestinal fortitude. If your government can so easily discriminate against these two men because you find their behaviour offensive, then I see no reason why your country should not wholeheartedly agree to have its membership at the United Nations revoked and sentenced to 14 years of hard labour for offending the many people other governments represent who find your ruling so offensive. Simply put, your country does not belong at the same discussion table as civilized nations because your failure to act in this matter of Steven and Tiwonge is uncivilized and deeply offensive. Your government’s failure to intercede and insist that your courts enforce the law equally on behalf of these two men is at the very least a disgrace, an abdication of your government’s responsibility to all the people it represents like Stephen and Tiwonge, and I consider criminally negligent.

If nothing else, overturning the court’s decision on constitutional grounds would show the world that your government at least has the merit, unlike 37 other timid and scared African countries, of having grown a pair.

There. That feels better.

April 30, 2010

Faith-based sexual ethics: special sensitivity or outright bigotry?

Let’s ask a British judge.

The case brought to us by the Guardian and indented by us:

A marriage guidance counsellor’s bid to challenge his sacking for refusing to give sex therapy to homosexuals has led to a serious clash between the Christian lobby and the judiciary.

I can understand why a christian marriage guidance counselor  would not want to give sex therapy to homosexuals. Gay sex is so… so… icky, not to mention an act worthy of death according to certain writings dictated by an all loving creator.

In a powerful dismissal of the application to appeal, Lord Justice Laws said legislation to protect views held purely on religious grounds could not be justified. He said it was an irrational idea “but it is also divisive, capricious and arbitrary“.

Oh my. That’s hardly an appropriately apologetic position to take before dealing with actions based on religious intolerance. The nerve! What’s a good christian to do? Call in the theological Big Guns for support:

The former archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey had sent a statement to a judge hearing the appeal application by Gary McFarlane. The senior church figure called for a special panel of judges with a “proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues” to hear the case.

Yes, let us stack the court with judicial religious supporters. Then we’ll be see what an unbiased judiciary appropriately sensitive might look like in action.

I can’t help but wonder who might determine what the qualifications of “proven sensitivity’ should be? Perhaps religious Big Guns themselves? What a grand (and sensitive, not to mention almost unbiased) idea.

Lord Carey said recent court decisions involving Christians had used “dangerous” reasoning and this could lead to civil unrest.

Oh yes, very dangerous indeed… to those who wish to establish religious favouritism by the State. But hey, if the threat of religious violence works so well for Muslims, then isn’t it high time we see the same tactic by christians? It’s all about results in service to the lord… the supernatural one, that is, and not the judicial one. Not that violence has to actually be done, mind you… just the threat to help the judiciary to be a little more… sensitive.

Lord Justice Laws’s ruling said: “We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion – any belief system – cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic.

The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the state, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.”

What a remarkably clear and cogent argument. We cannot reduce the freedom of all citizens by using the state (through its laws) to make any one religious belief system ‘louder’ in a citizen’s life than any other.

Can we get this guy on the US Supreme Court? No? Oh well. He probably wouldn’t pass the religious test so heavily favoured by US senators in the vetting process anyway (shhh… not supposed to tell anyone about that).

Lord Carey said: “The description of religious faith in relation to sexual ethics as ‘discriminatory’ is crude and illuminates a lack of sensitivity to religious belief.

Well, it may seem crude and insensitive to a supporter who thinks sexual ethics is a branch of religious belief, but to the rest of us it’s still discrimination. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then calling it a duck isn’t really a question of sensitivity; it’s a question of accuracy and honesty.

The comparison of a Christian, in effect, with a ‘bigot’ (ie, a person with an irrational dislike to homosexuals) begs further questions. It is further evidence of a disparaging attitude to the Christian faith and its values.

Well, it begs no questions but may raise some.

Funny, isn’t it, how challenging a religiously inspired notion in the public domain is so easily characterized by religious supporters as some kind of attack – in this case a disparaging one – against religious belief in general rather than what it actually is: a legitimate public response to the threat against equal rights and freedoms of all from a religiously inspired  and biased imposition.

That any religion thinks itself justified to rule on what is and is not sexually ethical is itself merely an assumption of colossal arrogance and the obvious foundation for religious bigotry in this matter. Sure, anyone can have an opinion on the matter, but something more is required to elevate that opinion to a position of rule. Claiming favouritism by god may curry support from the devout for those religious leaders who would enunciate these rules on god’s behalf (He who always seems unable to speak for himself in these matters, somewhat surprisingly), but the assumption that religious leaders have any greater expertise than others offers us no reasonable justification of the unfounded claim. The medical expertise, the biological expertise, the social and philosophical expertise on sexual ethics may offer us some meaningful insight into the ethics of sex, but an Iron Age religious belief set unfettered by any need to justify and validate its assumptions? I don’t think so. Asserting as Lord Carey does that the belief set deserves special dispensation and sensitivity to have its rule on what is and is not sexually ethical be enforced by secular law in order to avoid violence by its adherents if that rule is denied, is a rationalization of the worst kind: it reveals a very disparaging attitude to the civil rights of all and does violence to reasoning itself.

That’s why faith-based sexual ethics is outright bigotry.

April 27, 2010

Why should we be ashamed of respecting religious belief in the public domain?

Canada is hosting a G8 summit and wants to promote a child and maternal health-care initiative for developing countries. But that will not include any money for funding abortion.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the health initiative should include access to safe and legal abortion. Why? Because safe abortions reduces women mortality – a fundamental concern when addressing issues about about child and maternal health-care. So access to therapeutic abortions is a health concern.

According to the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women by 189 participating countries and more than 2100 non-governmental organizations, the resolution passed that access to family planning, safe and legal abortion and maternal health, are essential to achieving gender equality. The UN Treaty Monitoring Bodies (TMBs) have recognized that access to these essential reproductive health services is rooted in international human rights obligations. The Beijing PFA (Platform For Action) highlighted the impact of unsafe abortion on women’s lives and health and the need to reduce recourse to abortion through expanded family planning services. It urges governments to review punitive measures against women who have undergone illegal abortions and calls for women’s access to quality post-abortion care. In turn, over the last decade, human rights bodies and regional and national courts have increasingly recognized that restrictions
on access to safe and legal abortion interfere with women’s enjoyment of their human rights.

So access to abortions according to the UN is a human rights concern.

But rather than follow this previously agreed to PFA, Canadian officials say they will instead focus the G8 plan on other measures aimed at improving the health of women and children in poor countries — including safe drinking water and vaccination programs, an important issue about child and maternal health to be sure. But why not therapeutic abortion?

Access to therapeutic abortion (outside of Canada) according to Harper and his Canadian government is about “clarifying family planning,” which simply does not include any discussion about abortion. One must wonder why when it is widely considered both a health-care concern and a human rights concern. According to Harper, it is not a concern at all and certainly not one open to debate.

This omission is a cop out, a capitulation not to the best practices of modern medicine nor furthering the human rights of children and their mothers. It is a tacit nod of agreement to the religious belief that abortion under any circumstances is wrong. By refusing to fund abortion outside of the country, the Canadian government’s inaction supports the bizarre idea that a zygote is of greater value than is the life of a fully developed mother. This position simply ignores (or at least finds perfectly acceptable) maternal mortality when therapeutic abortions are unavailable. What lies behind the politics of abortion is neither any kind of informed debate about why it is a necessary part of health-care or a necessary plank in furthering maternal human rights; it is a position in favour of appeasing religious sensibilities at home about this controversial topic. And how informed is that sensibility by comparison? I think not at all. It’s simply an uninformed, unjustified belief that has no place at the table of discussion about child and maternal health-care.

And do religious sensibilities stop in areas of public health care?

Umm, no. Are we surprised?

In January (2010), the Ontario government introduced changes to the sex education component of the public school curriculum: Grade 1 children were to be taught to identify genitalia using the correct words, such as penis, vagina and testicle, Grade 5 children were to be taught to identify parts of the reproductive system and describe how the body changes during puberty, and in Grade 7, the plan was to teach kids how to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Children in grade 7 are usually 12 years old.

CBC News reported the following:

Religious groups objected to the revised curriculum and raised a voluble campaign against it earlier this week. They promised a huge demonstration on the front lawn of Queen’s Park (the Ontario provincial legislature) to protest the sex education changes.

“It is unconscionable to teach eight-year-old children same-sex marriage, sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Charles McVety, head of the Canada Christian College. “It is even more absurd to subject sixth graders to instruction on the pleasures of masturbation, vaginal lubrication, and 12-year-olds to lessons on oral sex and anal intercourse.”

So we know what McVety thinks is unconscionable and absurd in sex education at these grades and seems quite content to oppose any curriculum that promotes healthy sexuality, counteracts schoolyard misinformation, prevents teen pregnancy, gives information that shows how to avoid STDs, and so on. What does he offer in return as an alternative that still meets the goals of informing ht epublic about these issues? Nada. On what, then, does he base his opposition? His religious belief. And how is that uninformed religious belief comparable to the kind of consideration to what informs best practices in education? On what basis of knowledge is a religious belief about sex education equally worthy of consideration than curriculum development done by professionals and informed by evidence?

Only because the public tolerates unjustified religious interference and unwarranted intrusions in the public domain does ignorance and bigotry of uninformed religious belief become a potent political force, enough to adversely affect informed public policy in education to the likes of the sanctimonious self-righteous morons like McVety and his ignorant ilk, as well as adversely affect funding for promoting the health-care and human rights of women in developing nations. That’s the ongoing gift (and legacy) of religious belief in action in the public domain: promoting ignorance over knowledge, belief over health, misogyny over human rights.

These weak-kneed governments should be ashamed of themselves for appeasing the ignorant and foolish among us (including those within these parties) for political gain. That political behaviour – supposedly done in the name of good governance – is what is  truly unconscionable and absurd. For when we grant guanocephalic clerics and their supporters a place at the table of determining public policy like education and foreign policy aid because of some warped idea that the representatives of the public owe respect to religious beliefs of the few, we are damaging the welfare of all.

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