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Opinion: Neil Gorsuch, Religious Freedom and Quilting: A Love Story

By Gillian Griffith

Donald Trump’s recent Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch (coupled with the current dialogue on reproductive rights AND the Muslim Ban) has me thinking long and hard about religious freedom. Specifically, about the two very distinct ways people tend to look at religious freedom.

Take the Hobby Lobby case, which has recently resurfaced in the limelight because of Neil Gorsuch’s opinions on the matter. In Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, the owners of Hobby Lobby, David and Barbara Green, opposed providing their employees health coverage for contraceptives—despite the fact that, under the Affordable Care Act, employment-based group health plans must provide certain types of contraceptives. (Damn you, Obama, for looking out for women and such.)

Gorsuch sided with Hobby Lobby stating, “No one before us disputes that the mandate compels Hobby Lobby and Mardel to underwrite payments for drugs or devices that can have the effect of destroying a fertilized human egg. No one disputes that the Greens’ religion teaches them that the use of such drugs or devices is gravely wrong.”

He also stated that U.S. Courts need “to give broad latitude to religious beliefs.”

Gorsuch’s written opinion in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby perfectly outlines the first way of looking at religious freedom: secular courts and secular rulings are a threat to and/or impede upon religious freedom. Courts have a duty to give “broad latitude” to religious beliefs. Think about that for a second. Broad latitude.

The notion here is that my religious freedom means I can practice and preach any religion I want, and the government can’t trample upon that right by forcing me to do anything I deem against my religion (i.e. provide coverage for birth control, which I’ve been taught to believe is murder-in-a-plastic-pink-pill-case, on my employees’ benefit plans). Fair enough, right? Eh, not really. For those of us who tend to look at religious freedom in a very different way, we say, hold up a minute—that’s not quite how religious freedom works.

Our way of looking at religious freedom goes something like this:

I’m all for religious freedom, but that doesn’t mean that I have to live my life according to your gospel.

It, in fact, means the exact opposite. It means that I have the right to believe in a very different God or a Beyoncé God (most likely) or no God at all or that the heavenly french fry I’m popping into my mouth as I write this is God.

Say I’m an employee of Hobby Lobby. I don’t believe that I’ve abandoned my parental post as a woman every time I have a period, or murdered a child every time I pop a birth control pill—yet I can’t have access to birth control because my employers believe those things to be true? Hobby Lobby doesn’t have to agree with the idea of birth control—but does that mean I’m not allowed to either because I work for them?

As I write this, I think about a recent conversation I had with a family member. I posted on Facebook (yes, I’m aware of the fact that that is precisely the moment I went wrong) a fiery rant on the Global Gag Rule, which Trump (while surrounded by his very white, very male group of advisors and aides) reinstated. Within ten minutes, I received a call from a white, male, Mormon family member who’d seen the post (disclaimer: he was adopted, so we’re not blood-related).

He proceeded to talk to (read: at) me for 37 minutes, explaining why my feelings on abortion were incorrect. His main reasoning behind his argument? All babies are a gift from God. He went on to state that, even in the case of rape, he believes God had a hand in bringing that life about and that—and here’s the real kicker—even if his own daughter’s life were at risk, he would “expect her to have the child.” Because, according to his religious beliefs, “abortion is an inherently selfish decision” regardless if the mother’s been raped and regardless if her life or life of the fetus is at risk. Because God, as we all know, works in mysterious ways.

In an attempt to soften the blow to my sensitive feminist gut, he prefaced his arguments with, “Now, this is just the world according to Joe*” (*no his name isn’t actually Joe; yes he spoke about himself in third-person). He must’ve said it five times on the call. “Again, this is just the world according to Joe.”

I was so fixated on his twisted and antiquated anti-abortion views (i.e. “I would expect my daughter to have the child if her life were at risk because God wanted that to happen”) that I spent my time honing in on these trivial points (No, abortion is not inherently selfish kind-of stuff) instead of arguing a much more broad religious-freedom stance. One that says, alright, totally sane person, let’s accept your argument that abortion is selfish and that God spends his days impregnating young women via rape. Cool. Awesome. Rad. BUT the thing is, being selfish isn’t a fucking crime. And, furthermore, while your religion teaches you that a fertilized egg is the equivalent of a life, mine teaches me it is not (at least the last time I consulted a Beyoncé album I didn’t hear anything about that).

Why on Earth should I be forced to live my life according to your religious doctrine?

Can’t we agree that, yes, you don’t have to like abortion. Yes, you’re allowed to think that it’s inherently selfish. You don’t have to agree with abortion; you don’t ever in your entire life have to have an abortion—but you sure as shit don’t get to stop me from having one based on your religious beliefs.

So, long-story-long, the two very distinct ways of looking at religious freedom go something like this: (1) Religious freedom? Cool! We can all do our own thing. (2) Religious freedom? Yay! I get to do whatever I want…and—plot twist!—what I want is to force everyone to do what I do.

The point is this:
Too often Christians use religious freedom as a guise for something that is the exact opposite of religious freedom: for imploring and, through legislation, requiring that everyone live life according to their God.

The point is also this: Too often Liberals are too concerned with being PC and/or not hurting the feelings of good, God-fearing folk to say what we really need to say: Not everyone has to believe in God and, more importantly, not everyone has to believe in your God. Atheism is a dirty, scary word in the world of politics but it shouldn’t be. Our right to believe or not believe in whatever God we want is what, after all, this nation was founded on.

The point is also this: We give religious freedom so, so, SO much space to breathe—because evangelical Christians are, after all, a frightening force to be reckoned with—that it ends up sucking all of the air of the room, leaving us non-believers (or Beyoncé believers) gasping for air. We’re so scared to step on their Godly toes, that we’ve confined our living space to a single square foot (where we sit, crouched down, covering our uteruses).

Or, another favorite metaphor of mine: religious freedom means everyone gets to walk around with their own special blanket. It does not mean, however, that you get to sew a massive country-sized quilt and lay it across my legs. Because, if we know one thing to be true, it’s that evangelical Christians are amazing crafters (duh, Hobby Lobby)—and, if we’re not careful, we’re going to have their purple-and-pink patchwork quilt all over our pussies.

(This article was originally posted at The Good Fight Collective.)

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