Wednesday, February 29, 2012

America Swings Like a Pendulum Do

America is the “land of the free,” or so the song says. But let us not kid ourselves; freedom is being eroded in this country by self-righteous moralists who would like nothing better than to make everything illegal unless it is sanctioned by them.

In 2010, the ideological pendulum took a hard swing to the right after flirting with a small swing to the left in 2008. The right-wing zealots are the ones that freedom-loving Americans and freethinkers should fear. For it is they who will rob everyone else of the freedom to practice their own beliefs in an unfettered manner. It is they who will restrict others from taking part in practices that many do not consider to be immoral, but which the right-wing zealots condemn.

The ultra-conservatives tell us that this country is going to Hell because of the erosion of our national moral fiber. They predict doom and gloom for this country as America heads farther and farther away from God and Christianity. They relish the chance to inform us at every turn that, “This country was founded upon Christianity.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. It was founded on religious tolerance and freedom. The Almighty is not mentioned anywhere in the U.S. Constitution. It is the only early American document that omits any reference to a deity. Many of the framers of the Constitution were not Christians at all, contrary to what the right-wing zealots would like us to believe.

But despite their dire warnings of moral decline, it is the religious moralists who have gained ground in the government. It is they who, just recently, passed a bill in Virginia that would force women considering an abortion to undergo an invasive procedure known as a transvaginal ultrasound without the permission of the woman or the approval of her doctor. It's a form of government-sanctioned rape. Ultimately, the people's protests caused the governor not to sign the measure, although he originally supported it.

So-called personhood bills are wending their way through state legislatures around the country, including in Virginia where this year's attempt finally died. The voters of Mississippi rejected a personhood amendment last year, but that hasn't stopped legislators there from trying again. Conservatives are running rampant across the country, trying to usher in the 15th century all over again. Contraception was a settled issue, but apparently not for some on the far right. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum wants states to be allowed to outlaw their use, saying the use of contraceptives might lead to having sex, or other unseemly behaviors.

Morality is not black and white. Reasonable and intelligent people can and often do disagree on what is moral and what is not. That’s why we have different brands of religion.

To many Catholics, killing unwanted sperm cells with a contraceptive is immoral. To most Baptists, contraception is not immoral. To most far-right Republicans, mandating insurance coverage of contraception is immoral. To most Democrats, preventing the poor from having access to contraception is immoral. Unfortunately, the right-wingers are the ones who are in power in many states, so they get to choose what is moral and good for their constituents.

Along another front, right-wing zealots have infiltrated local and state school boards across the country. They have found ways to slip their pseudoscience of Creationism into the public school classroom to make it look more legitimate. Most recently, Indiana tried to pass a law that would allow the teaching of Creation in science class. Fortunately, the Republican speaker of the House decided it probably wasn't worth the legal battle sure to follow.

And don't forget the conservatives' war on education. Santorum called Obama's desire to promote higher education for all "snobbish."

From school boards to medical research labs, and from the halls of Congress to the courts, right-wing moralists are having their way in this country. The measures they take are sometimes nothing short of draconian in their misguided attempts to make us all live up to their perceptions of what is moral.

The pendulum may eventually swing the other way, but as pendulums sometimes do, it may swing too far to the left. I can imagine rampant affirmative action and even ethnic quotas making a comeback. It’s too bad we can’t stop the pendulum altogether and let it come to rest on middle ground, where nothing is too extreme and everyone is free to participate in his own perception of morality, as long as one person’s rights do not encroach upon anyone else’s rights. Only then will we have a less contentious and ultimately more rational America.

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