Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Too Much Christ


Too Much Christ
by Ari Berman

We hoped to never write these words: John Kerry and Hillary Clinton are cosponsoring a bill with Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum. Its name is deceptively harmless--The Workplace Religious Freedom Act. But the practical effect could be an enormous boost for an emboldened religious right.

Take the current debate over so-called "Pharmacists for Life" who refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control pills or emergency contraception. Over 180 refusal complaints were filed over a six-month period last year, while "conscience clause" bills have been introduced in at least 12 states, in addition to four where the law is already on the books. Kerry and Santorum say their bill offers a compromise--a pharmacist could refuse to dispense certain medicines provided that another pharmacist in the same area will. Such an approach, in the face of fierce evangelical efforts to "Christianize the workplace," is rife with dangerous loopholes and unforeseen exceptions.

As a New York Times editorial points out, pharmacists can "berate, belittle or lecture their customers," refuse to guide them to alternative supplies of medicine and pressure other pharmacies to do the same when large megastores like Wal-Mart already refuse to stock the morning-after pill. The last thing a rape victim searching for emergency contraception in a rural area needs is some overzealous preacher-cum-pharmacist telling her to take her business, and her body, elsewhere.

The consequences of the Act may be felt far beyond your local drugstore. "Employers would have serious difficulty resolving instances where an employee posts a sign reading 'God hates fags' in his office or cubicle; where workers proselytize on the 'sins of the homosexual lifestyle' over lunch," the Human Rights Campaign wrote in a letter to members of Congress. Bullying minorities under the guise of religion happens all too often these days. The House recently exempted government funded faith-based organizations from following state and local laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Air Force is responding to allegations that its Christian cadets bullied and taunted Jews and other religious minorities.

So what's Kerry's excuse? Instead of pandering to the get-right-with-God crowd, he could instead follow the lead of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, who recently vetoed conscience clause legislation, and Illinois Governor Rob Blagoyevich, who ordered pharmacists to dispense the morning-after pill. Similar efforts to ensure access to all legal prescriptions have been introduced by Senators Barbara Boxer and Frank Lautenberg, and Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Chris Shays in the House. This is the gang Kerry should be running with.