Zero Degrees of Separation
Monday's Washington Post
informed us that at least 18 states are considering 36 bills that would "protect" and "shelter" pharmacists and other health care workers from providing care that conflicts with their personal religious beliefs.
About half of the proposals would shield pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control and "morning-after" pills because they believe the drugs cause abortions. But many are far broader measures that would shelter a doctor, nurse, aide, technician or other employee who objects to any therapy. That might include in-vitro fertilization, physician-assisted suicide, embryonic stem cells and perhaps even providing treatment to gays and lesbians.
In an exquisite touch of irony, the Post titled its story "Health Workers' Choice Debated" - because this is the one kind of choice that the Religious Right will defend.
"It's already a very hot issue," said Edward R. Martin Jr. of the Americans United for Life, who is advising legislators around the country pushing such bills. "I think it's going to get even hotter, for lots of reasons and in lots of places."
The flurry of political activity is being welcomed by conservative groups that consider it crucial to prevent health workers from being coerced into participating in care they find morally repugnant -- protecting their "right of conscience" or "right of refusal."
"This goes to the core of what it means to be an American," said David Stevens, executive director of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations. "Conscience is the most sacred of all property. Doctors, dentists, nurses and other health care workers should not be forced to violate their consciences."
The swell of propositions is raising alarm among advocates for abortion rights, family planning, AIDS prevention, the right to die, gays and lesbians, and others who see the push as the latest manifestation of the growing political power of social conservatives.
For the past few years so-called "conscience" bills have been a growing trend, introduced by religiously conservative politicians with the full support not only of the more socially acceptable faces of religious activism, but of more extreme factions such as Operation Rescue/Operation Save America that can be relied upon to take the crusade to the streets with a campaign of intimidation.
This what OSA looked like when it protested outside the clinic of Dr. Warren Hern in Boulder, Colorado last July.
"If we are silent about abortion, we are being silent about the gospel." -- Fr. Frank Pavone
Operation Save America's long-time friend and ally, Fr. Frank Pavone, from Priests for Life, described the last days of Terri Schiavo for OSA prolifers gathered at the Boulder Central Park bandshell this morning. He was blunt about her starvation and dehydration death, "Greer, Felos and Michael Schiavo are murderers!" he said.
Saints paraded with abortion signs through Boulder streets to what is probably the only clinic in the country with "Abortion" in its name, Boulder Abortion Clinic. This is where the infamous Warren Hern commits his crimes against unborn children and their mothers.
And this is what OSA affiliate Small Victories Ministries looked like when it protested outside a Walgreens in Illinois a few weeks ago.
Ten gentle Christians stood in the cold outside Walgreens in Glen Carbon, IL, where two of the four pharmacists suspended without pay had worked, and exposed the truth that Walgreen's policy towards God fearing pharmacists is wrong. Acts 5:29 "We must obey God, rather than men."
Walgreens has put these pharmacists on unpaid leave because they refuse to dispense the (Plan-B) abortion pill, because they know all life is sacred. One of the pharmacists is seven months pregnant and her maternity benefits are now in question.
According to the new law enacted by the most pro-abortion head of state in Illinois ' history, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, all pharmacies are required to dispense the drug. But, all pharmacists are not required to. So we are proclaiming that Jesus is Lord and His laws reign.
When OSA went to Boulder last summer, its operatives targeted Dr. Warren Hern with tactics of personal intimidation that inspired him to fight back. Dr. Hern took his case to the people of Colorado with a full page newspaper ad that contained the following statement.
The fundamentalist "Christians" who make up "Operation Save America" are fascists. "Operation Save America" is the face of fascism in America. Americans need to understand fascism. This is how fascists create an atmosphere of fear, suspicion, intolerance, hatred, bigotry, repression, destruction of individual lives, and the destruction of a free society.
It is right out of George Orwell's "Animal Farm" or "1984." "Big Brother Is Watching You." The name of this gang, "Operation Save America," is a fulfillment of Orwell's prophecy: a lie in the service of totalitarian repression.
How is "Operation Save America's hatred and demonization of abortion doctors different from the Nazi's persecution of Jews in the Germany of the mid-1930's? How is it different from how white racists and the Ku Klux Klan treated black people in the South before the lynching began? How is it different from the Salem witch-hunts, and how is it different from the hysterical anti-communist McCarthyism of the 1950's? How is it different from the Taliban's puritanical repression? It isn't.
If you think it's different, just give "Operation Save America" more power. Their friends are already running the federal government.
When Dr. Hern says that Flip Benham's friends are already running the federal government, it might be hasty of us to dismiss that as an exaggeration. Jeff Sharlet has an article in the current issue of Rolling Stone that is receiving a great deal of notice. It's an in-depth piece on Sam Brownback: "God's Senator."
Nobody in this little church just off Times Square in Manhattan thinks of themselves as political. They're spiritual -- actors and athletes and pretty young things who believe that every word of the Bible is inerrant dictation from God.
But on this evening in January, politics and all its worldly machinations have entered their church. Sitting in the darkness of the front row is Sam Brownback, the Republican senator from Kansas. And hunched over on the stage in a red leather chair is an old man named Harald Bredesen, who has come to anoint Brownback as the Christian right's next candidate for president.
Bredesen squints through the stage lights at Brownback, sitting straight-backed and attentive. At forty-nine, the senator looks taller than he is. His face is wide and flat, his skin thick like leather, etched by windburn and sun from years of working on his father's farm just outside Parker, Kansas, population 281. You can hear it in his voice: slow, distant but warm; a baritone, spoken out of the left side of his mouth in half-sentences with few hard consonants. It sounds like the voice of someone who has learned how to wait for rain.
"He wants to be president," Bredesen tells the congregation. "He is marvelously qualified to be president." But, he adds, there is something Brownback wants even more: "And that is, on the last day of your earthly life, to be able to say, 'Father, the work you gave me to do, I have accomplished!'" Bredesen, shrunken with age, leans forward and glares at Brownback.
"Is that true?" he demands.
"Yes," Brownback says softly.
"Friends!" The old man's voice is suddenly a trumpet. "Sam . . . says . . . yes!"
The crowd roars. Those occupying the front rows lay hands on the contender.
Brownback is unlikely to receive the Republican presidential nomination -- but as the candidate of the Christian right, he may well be in a position to determine who does, and what they include in their platform. "What Sam could do very effectively," says the Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical activist, is hold the nomination hostage until the Christian right "exacts the last pledge out of the more popular candidate."
Schenck's assessment could be right on the money. Sharlet's article details Brownback's longstanding involvement with the shadowy but powerful Fellowship, the group whose best known role is as host of the annual National Prayer Breakfast. But that public face hides a very secretive reality.
One of the little-known strengths of the Christian right lies in its adoption of the "cell" -- the building block historically used by small but determined groups to impose their will on the majority. Seventy years ago, an evangelist named Abraham Vereide founded a network of "God-led" cells comprising senators and generals, corporate executives and preachers. Vereide believed that the cells -- God's chosen, appointed to power -- could construct a Kingdom of God on earth with Washington as its capital. They would do so "behind the scenes," lest they be accused of pride or a hunger for power, and "beyond the din of vox populi," which is to say, outside the bounds of democracy. To insiders, the cells were known as the Family, or the Fellowship. To most outsiders, they were not known at all.
"Communists use cells as their basic structure," declares a confidential Fellowship document titled "Thoughts on a Core Group." "The mafia operates like this, and the basic unit of the Marine Corps is the four-man squad. Hitler, Lenin and many others understood the power of a small group of people." Under Reagan, Fellowship cells quietly arranged meetings between administration officials and leaders of Salvadoran death squads, and helped funnel military support to Siad Barre, the brutal dictator of Somalia, who belonged to a prayer cell of American senators and generals.
Additionally, Brownback's position as chair of the Values Action Team -- a "war council" dedicated to tailoring public policy to the pattern of the Religious Right, and a group that even Brownback's press secretary admits is "cloak and dagger" -- makes him the senator from whom all blessings flow. And the allegiance of other members of VAT -- such as Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the Eagle Forum, the Christian Coalition, the Traditional Values Coalition, Concerned Women for America and many more - ensures Brownback the power to give and to take away.
The VAT coordinates the efforts of fundamentalist pressure groups, unifying their message and arming congressional staffers with the data and language they need to pass legislation. Working almost entirely in secret, the group has directed the fights against gay marriage and for school vouchers, against hate-crime legislation and for "abstinence only" education. ... When it comes to "impacting policy," says Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, "day to day, the VAT is instrumental."
Since Brownback took over leadership of the VAT in 2002, he has used it to consolidate his position in the Christian right -- and his influence in the Senate. If senators -- even leaders like Bill Frist or Rick Santorum -- want to ask for backing from the group, they must talk to Brownback's chief of staff, Robert Wasinger, who clears attendees with his boss. Wasinger is from Hays, Kansas, but he speaks with a Harvard drawl, and he is still remembered in Cambridge twelve years after graduation for a fight he led to get gay faculty booted. He was particularly concerned about the welfare of gay men; or rather, as he wrote in a campus magazine funded by the Heritage Foundation, that of their innocent sperm, forced to "swim into feces." As gatekeeper of the VAT, he's a key strategist in the conservative movement. He makes sure the religious leaders who attend VAT understand that Brownback is the boss -- and that other senators realize that every time Brownback speaks, he has the money and membership of the VAT behind him.
Yes, Brownback has all sorts of friends. Here he is with Fr. Frank Pavone's emissaries from Priests for Life.
Just last week in Washington, DC, Pavone presented Brownback with the Pro-Life Recognition Award, " because he is one of the pro-life movement's best friends in Washington, DC. [H]e is not one who can simply be counted on to vote with us when the pro-life battles come. Rather, he goes forward pro-actively to seek the battles and to work to advance the cause."
Frank Pavone, of course, has a multitude of friends of his own - such as Flip Benham, with whom he collaborated in last July's assault on doctors and insufficiently religious universities in Colorado.
As the Washington Post and Jeff Sharlet make clear, at least there's one kind of choice that Brownback, Pavone and people like Benham can all understand.
Standing on his porch, [Brownback] thinks back to the days before the Civil War, when his home state was known as Bloody Kansas and John Brown fought for freedom with an ax. "A terrorist," concedes Brownback, careful not to offend his Southern supporters, but also a wise man. When Brown was in jail awaiting execution, a visitor told the abolitionist that he was crazy.
"I'm not the one who has 4 million people in bondage," Brownback intones, recalling Brown's response. "I, sir, think you are crazy."
This is another of Brownback's parables. In place of 4 million slaves, he thinks of uncountable unborn babies, of all the persecuted Christians -- a nation within a nation, awaiting Brownback's liberation. Brownback, sir, thinks that secular America is crazy.
The senator stares, his face gentle but unsmiling.
He isn't joking.
I don't think he's joking, either -- any more than I think it's the Pharmacists for Life who are in of need of shelter, shielding and protection.
Zero Degrees of Separation | 5 comments (5 topical, 0 hidden)
Zero Degrees of Separation | 5 comments (5 topical, 0 hidden)