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Fundamentalism by another name

Religious Liberty

According to some people, the state of Missouri last week began a determined slide back to the “Dark Ages.” The Dark Ages of 2011, that is. The legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon of Senate Bill 749, which exempts employers from providing reproductive services to their employees on the basis of religious scruples. The vote was decisive: 109-45 in the House and 26-6 in the Senate. Here’s the key paragraph of the summary of the bill:

“No employer, health plan provider, health plan sponsor, health care provider, or any other person or entity shall be compelled to provide coverage for, or be discriminated against or penalized for declining or refusing coverage for, abortion, contraception, or sterilization in a health plan if such items or procedures are contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of such employer, health plan provider, health plan sponsor, health care provider, person, or entity.”

For legalese, that sounds pretty straightforward. But here’s how Examiner.com, an independent freelance news agency, headlined the story: “Republicans vote to ban contraception in Missouri for religious reasons.” No wonder some of my Facebook friends were upset. Typical comments: “So now we see the religion of the legislators imposed upon all!” “Idiocy rules!”

In 1985, Canadian author Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian fantasy set in the near future (early 21st century) where Old Testament-style fundamentalists have taken advantage of catastrophic world events to establish control over North America. In the new “Republic of Gilead,” powerful men restrict women’s rights of movement, property, reproductive choice, and education. This overheated parable has resonated with aggrieved women ever since, and I wondered if anyone would mention the title in connection with the Missouri override vote. Sure enough, “This is Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid Tale coming to life right here in the Show Me State,” according to one university student with a literary bent.  

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So let’s see if we can get this straight: The right to free birth control, which wasn’t even on the radar screen two years ago, is now a basic principle of our democracy. And if I acknowledge the validity of another point of view, and grant an exemption to the holder of that point of view, I belong in a reeducation camp. And who’s the fundamentalist, again?

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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