What’s the 2014 election really about? Religious vs. women’s rights

By Bill Schneider
July 10, 2014

Demonstrators gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court for the "Not My Boss's Business" rally for women's health and rights in Washington

Religious rights versus women’s rights. That’s about as fundamental a clash as you can get in U.S. politics. It’s now at the core of the 2014 election campaign, with both parties girding for battle.

What generated the showdown was last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The decision instantly became a rallying cry for activists on both the right and left. Congressional Democrats are already proposing a law to nullify the decision. “It’s shameful that a woman’s access to contraception is even up for debate in 2014,” Senator Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) said.   Conservative blogger Erick Erickson crowed, “My religion trumps your ‘right’ to employer-subsidized, consequence-free sex.”

How did the issue become so big so fast? Because it touches some extremely sensitive nerves in the body politic.

Members of the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood attend a service in Ketchum, IdahoThe question that best predicts a person’s politics today is not about income or education. It’s religion: How often do you go to church? Regular churchgoers — including fundamentalist Protestants, observant Catholics, even many Orthodox Jews — vote Republican. Voters who rarely or never go to church vote Democratic.

President Ronald Reagan brought the religious right into the Republican coalition. The Reagan coalition is the Old America — and religious rights are a touchstone issue.

Democrats draw strong support from the unchurched: The steadily increasing minority of Americans — now about 20 percent — who are unaffiliated with any organized religion. They’re the people who, when asked if they are Protestant, Catholic or Jewish, say “I’m nothing.”  Democrats dare not claim them, however, because they would run the risk of being labeled “the godless party.”

The Old America has been losing ground politically. Older white men and religious Americans are a shrinking portion of the electorate. They remain holed up in their fortified congressional-district redoubts but no longer control a presidential majority. The Old America lost dramatically on the issue of same-sex marriage.  Now it’s turning to the federal courts for protection.  The irony is that the religious right used to complain bitterly about activist federal judges handing down decisions that violated their religious rights on issues like abortion, school prayer, evolution and gay rights.

On the other side, the cause that rallies the New America — the coalition that brought Obama to power — is diversity and inclusion. “Inclusive leadership is really what the 21st century is all about,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently.

Women’s rights is one key cause. The New America sees last week’s Supreme Court decision as a gross affront to women.  “There are politicians and now judges who are trying to drag us back to the 1950s,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, warned.

Anti-Proposition 8 protesters wave a rainbow flag in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in WashingtonTo the Old America, the 1950s are the good old days.  To the New America, the 1950s are the Dark Ages.

The abortion issue was central to the Hobby Lobby case. Religious employers object to paying for “morning after” contraception because they believe it aborts a fertilized egg. Many scientists disagree, though.

On most social issues like legalization of marijuana and same-sex marriage, public opinion has become more liberal. Abortion is the great exception. We haven’t seen any significant change in public opinion on abortion rights in 40 years.  The public was divided over the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, and they remain divided today.

And the “people” who are divided aren’t always actual people.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney drew ridicule for saying, “Corporations are people.” Well, guess what?  The Supreme Court has ruled they are.

It did so first in the 2010 Citizens United case, when the Roberts court ruled that corporations have free speech rights. Now the court is saying that corporations have religious rights, too. “A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote. “When rights . . . are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people.”  So if a private business is owned by a religious person who objects to abortion rights, the court said the owner can deny contraception coverage to employees.

The response from White House spokesman Josh Earnest: “President Obama believes that women should make personal healthcare decisions for themselves rather than their bosses deciding for them.”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl speaks with Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy as they leave St. Matthew's CathedralLook at the divisions on the Supreme Court. The five justices who handed down the Hobby Lobby decision were all nominated by Republican presidents. The four dissenters were nominated by Democratic presidents. The five justices who handed down the majority decision are all Roman Catholic. Three of the four dissenting justices are Jewish. The other dissenting justice, Sonia Sotomayor, is a Latina Catholic.

A few days after the Hobby Lobby decision, the court issued an order exempting a religious college from having to provide contraceptive coverage. Three justices forcefully dissented.  All three were women.

The Supreme Court is now as politically polarized as the rest of the country.  And along the same lines.

 

PHOTO (TOP): Demonstrators gather in front of the Supreme Court for the “Not My Boss’s Business” rally for women’s health and rights in Washington, March 25, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

PHOTO (INSERT 1): Members of the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood, where the Bergdahl family regularly attends, take part in a service in Ketchum, Idaho, June 1, 2014. REUTERS/Patrick Sweeney

PHOTO (INSERT 2): Anti-Proposition 8 protesters wave a rainbow flag in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, March 26, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

PHOTO (INSERT 3): Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, speaks with Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy as they leave St. Matthew’s Cathedral after attending the Red Mass in Washington. At right, Chief Justice John Roberts and his wife, Jane Sullivan, wait to depart, October 2, 2011. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

11 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Is it even proper to ascribe religious rights at all to closely held corporations?

The owners of these companies of course have their own religious rights as individuals – but how can those personal beliefs become obligations on employees (through restrictions on health plans) without trangressing the religious rights (not to mention free choice in the health marketplace) of those other individuals – en mass?

Worse, do churches and religious movements truly want their principles defined in the larger culture in terms of negation of the rights of others – denying health insurance for contraception to women, denying business services to LGBT, or whatever?

These issues have the potential to eliminate religious traditions in the USA and turn it into a European-style secular cutrue – by wiping out the credibility and authority religion has uniquely held in the US relative to the rest of the Western world.

Posted by DonD1977 | Report as abusive

What a load of crap. No one is denying women the right to contraception. Hobby Lobby pays for 16 different forms of contraception. Although for the life of me I still do not understand why insurance pays for any contraception. For instance, why can my wife get birth control pills paid for but I have to buy condoms myself? Anyway, the four forms that Hobby Lobby does not feel comfortable funding can still be obtained for little or no cost by their female employees. And absolutely no Catholic organization should be forced to pay for any birth control. Period. No, there is no war on women, only something for Democrats and Liberals to try to draw attention to so no one will think about the economy, immigration, the IRS, the VA, the ACA, foreign policy and a host of other Obama failures.

Posted by Tarheel72 | Report as abusive

There is a war on female rights. You can get penis pills but not certain types female contraception.

There is a war on the young. Old people get more from the health system than young people get in education or healthcare.

There is a war on minorities, Check out South Carolina where they will be sued for making it harder for the young and minorities to vote.

If you accept what I said, get ready to be abused by people who will not check the information.

If you don`t accept then “I think” you want bad things to continue and don`t want to help the weakest in society.

I think in general when US citizens THINK they EVENTUALLY do the right thing.

Posted by EoinNow | Report as abusive

Penis pills?

Posted by ConxernedCitizn | Report as abusive

Old America is an endangered species, unpredictable as it kicks and thrashes in its last gasps of life. My only hope is that people can be smart enough and civil enough to maintain a safe distance as Old America heads off to the grave. No need to add insult to injury.

We can show respect and maturity by offering up a few kind words in remembrance of all of the great things that Old America had to offer (despite all of its shortcomings). For example, I had a P.E. teacher in junior high school that was 1950′s to the core, a real tough SOB who made us run a mile almost everyday. While he was likely an intolerant, opinionated individual, set in his ways, he did impart a sense of toughness on the kids that is at times missing today – a good man, at heart, may he rest in peace.

Of course it goes without saying that corporations are not people, and that restricting birth control choices is not in the best interest of New America, yet we need to be less reactionary in shoving New America in faces of Old America and Old Americans, for it undermines our efforts. We can be confident that the tide is turning, and we must stand tall and radiate this confidence to those who are in fear of the inevitable changes, as they will only come around to New America through witnessing righteous positive outcomes of our new found social justice, like a committed gay couple of many years finally being able to marry.

Given the chance people can be empathetic, though for many these feelings only come when they feel completely safe. While every effort should be made to undo such artificial constructs as gerrymandered districts, we should remain hopeful of Old Americans choosing to accept our invitations to be part of a New America.

Posted by CanyonLiveOak | Report as abusive

I sure wish there was “the godless party”, it would give me hope.

Look, both religion and women use sex and related topics as tools for manipulation and control. The church will never change since it is a central tenet of there operations. Women need to get over their use of guilt of gender that they utilized during the early lesbian years of the womens movement. Look, if your looking for justice that’s fine, but if you come at us with the sex/sin/guilt crap of the churches you just make us think your greedy controlling jerks like the priests. So there hasn’t been much movement on abortion, I wonder why? Maybe the protagonists are not those that engender sympathy but rather create animosity. In my view the churches seek power and money through manipulative means, I think women are trying to use that game too. This is really why the title of this opinion piece is accurate, because they are competing for the same sheep to fleece. Greedy and manipulative, many people can see it you know.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

These comments presuppose that “religion” is evil and secular (profane) is good. The problems are not wrapped up in birth control being funded by employers, but social engineering by governance which it is not established to do.
This progressive stuff is power taken away from the individual and giving it to new bosses who hate the rights of people to be free.

Posted by Constantcy | Report as abusive

Modern religion is all about keeping women subservient to men. But what else is going on here is labor has no rights. The owners have all the power. That is where we’re heading. Backwards.

Posted by gardentroll | Report as abusive

If Corporations now have more rights than people Without also facing the same consequences does that make corporations “SUPER ENTITLED People” ??
REMOVE the protections afforded corporations and make the owners entirely liable for the corporations actions and maybe I would be more likely to agree with the new “rights” that have been given to corporations.
Let an irresponsible corporations owners be FULLY LIABLE for the actions of the corporations – otherwise al that’s been done is that corporations have gained BENEFITS WITHOUT CONSEQUENCE – something now REAL HUMAN has!

Posted by homespun | Report as abusive

So much for the “SUPER ENTITLED” giving corporations BENEFITS (disguised as rights) WITHOUT CONSEQUENCE is something NO HUMAN has been allowed.
So REMOVE the Protections afforded to “closely held” corporations and make their “owners” as LIABLE as any other PERSON!!
It’s only fair if the SAME REASONING is used!!

Posted by homespun | Report as abusive

[…] Reuters: What’s The 2014 Election Really About? Religious Vs. Women’s Rights Religious rights versus women’s rights. That’s about as fundamental a clash as you can get in U.S. politics. It’s now at the core of the 2014 election campaign, with both parties girding for battle. What generated the showdown was last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The decision instantly became a rallying cry for activists on both the right and left. Congressional Democrats are already proposing a law to nullify the decision (Bill Schneider, 7/10). […]

I am surprised that we haven’t heard from the Christian Scientists.
They won’t like the idea of paying for insurance that covers blood transfusions.

The solution is to have individuals purchase their own insurance.
Period.

Am I rare in my opinion we have too many people and not enough jobs.
Isn’t this obvious?

Posted by Moki10 | Report as abusive