We now have two new executive orders that blatantly challenge the concept of the separation of church and state. As written, one will allow a broad category of people—primarily business owners and employers—to discriminate, under the guise of religion, against LGBT people or women who want or have used reproductive health services, such as abortion or some forms of contraception. The other negates the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches from playing a role in politics, under threat of losing their tax exempt status. Taken together, they are obviously using Federal law to support one form of religion —fundamentalist Christians—over others who hold different beliefs. This has to be stopped. At the very least, if churches (and I include in that term the temples and synagogues of the various sects of the Abrahamic religions) may now participate in the electoral and political arena, it is time, to eliminate the right to deduct donations to religious institutions from taxable income. Churches’ tax advantaged status must be rescinded.
All of the Abrahamic religions—which include the religions most Americans are familiar with, from Baptists to Catholics and from Hasidic Judaism to Islam—have exerted a negative influence on women’s efforts to achieve economic and social equality for centuries. This effort starts with the teaching that women are somehow more liable for the woes of humankind because of a fairy tale about Eve and an apple (and very little about the fact that Adam was more than happy to go along with the apple idea.) It continues through generations of religious teachings (written by men) that portray women as somehow unclean, because we shed our bloody uterine lining—evidence of our ability to procreate—once a month. And it continues now in fundamentalist organizations assigning all responsibility for pregnancy and childbirth—the result of the sex act—to women, while ignoring the responsibility of men, who certainly play a serious role in that result. Women have had little voice in the development and spread of that canon; I call it condemnation without representation. Women now are “allowed” by some reform-minded church and rabbinical elders to participate as ministers and rabbis, but only in certain sects; in others, women are treated more like the women in The Handmaid’s Tale, little more than walking incubators.
It is not just their attitude toward procreation which is at issue. Religious institutions do not have to comply with many anti-discriminatory employment laws. Many churches are locked into the keep-women-at-home-barefoot-and-pregnant thinking prevalent in the 1950’s. A friend of mine who was working for a Catholic Diocese a couple of years ago discovered that a man who was doing the same job as she was doing was payed about $10,000 per year more than she was paid. She complained, but was told they would not equalize their pay, justifying the differential because “he had a family to support.” (So did she, by the way.) If churches had to comply with the same rules as any other organization, this sort of thing would not be allowed. Yet government regulations, like the EEO, excuse them from complying with employment laws meant to protect women and minorities, simply because they are a religious organization. The ability of women to compete in the economic arena will be greatly hampered if the only way women can control when and if they will have children is by abstaining from sexual intercourse entirely.
On top of the two Trump executive orders, the implementation of Trumpcare—the new healthcare-tax-break-scheme—would allow states to choose if they want to drop the requirement to cover any of the ten essential coverages that were delineated by Obamacare. In states controlled by fundamentalist Christians, they will no doubt drop the requirement that insurance packages cover family planning and maternity care, making this a three point plan to ban women from the workplace. Many states will leave out coverage for preexisting conditions, also, something that is a worry for moderate Republicans. But the GOP is creating a high risk pool subsidy to help out with this issue. No one is talking about covering women’s special health care needs with subsidies.
In recent decades the United States has used the tax code to reinforce social ideals like caring for the sick and needy and to discourage discriminatory practices, by allowing people to deduct donations to churches and certain religious organizations, for example, and by withholding Federal aid to segregated schools. If religious organizations were denied favorable tax status for discriminating against women, they might just find a way to accommodate the evolution of their attitudes toward women. (They might give a second look to the Gnostic gosples, for example, where the role of the priestly class was given less importance and that of female disciples was described more fully.) That was the strength of Title IX, the legislation that opened the doors of business schools and professional schools to women and helped me get a start in business. If schools didn’t comply, they lost federal funding. They suddenly found ways to accommodate women in graduate professional programs and sports. But the two Trump executive orders and the disregard for women made obvious by the new Trumpcare package, are moving our society backwards. The GOP will use tax subsidies for almost any other scheme going, but not if it involves women and their sinful bodies.
All-male synods pronouncing on women’s gynecological health issues, radio personalities calling sexually active women whores and sluts, blaming the victims of rape, politicians advocating against birth control… When we think of religious discrimination, many of us used to think of women in Saudi Arabia or Iran, unable to drive cars and trapped in burkhas. The products of our Judeo-Christian culture and Islam are different only in degree, not in kind; both characterize women, and the sex act itself, as something unclean, and assign a stigma to women that permeates our secular lives. And our tax code and these new Trump executive orders in effect say that’s just fine.
As women like me have fought to move upward on the business front, it is disconcerting to note that most men around us—whether at school, a party, or at work—carry with them a little piece of the negative messages about women that they have learned from the pulpit, now buried deep in their subconscious. Our religious institutions are not just not leading the call for gender equity; they are actually reinforcing it.And now the GOP would allow these arcane institutions to freely preach in favor of political candidates who think like they do. This fundamentalist stance toward women contradicts the core messages of fairness and justice found in the Old Testament as well as those of equality and love that prophets like the Buddha and Jesus preached. Yet now it will send its misogynist tentacles out to further infect the secular world.
For women to achieve true equality in this world, churches need another reformation. How liberating it would be if our religions—instead of being focused on arcane gender stereotypes, demonizing women’s sexuality and threatening punishment in an afterlife—highlighted instead our nurturing each other through the comings and goings through this world. And how exhilarating if our government would follow through on the separation of church and state that our founders called for, and leave religious beliefs or non-beliefs out of the equation.