Monday, October 22, 2012

Roger Williams' name besmirched in Texas

East Texas Baptist University President Dub Oliver
We all know that there's a difference between schools, hospitals and churches, right? Sure, doctors-in-training learn things at hospitals just like they do at school, and some people pray in schools just like they do in church, but on the whole we recognize that schools, hospitals and churches seek to serve very different functions in our society. At their best, schools seek to educate, hospitals seek to heal and churches deal with souls and gods and other nebulous stuff.

Because religion is such a contentious and personal issue, the Constitution of the United States wisely follows the logic of Rhode Island Founding Father Roger Williams in establishing a separation of church and state. This allows our secular society to do what it does without the interference of random religious beliefs and prohibitions even as it allows people of particular religious beliefs to indulge in whatever fantastical whimsies their religion may require, as long as they do not impinge on the rights of others. It's a wonderful, brilliantly crafted idea.

It should surprise no one then that two religious based universities in Texas, East Texas Baptist University (ETBU) and Houston Baptist University (HBU), have decided to sue the secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of the Treasury over the HHS mandate, that "would require the faith-based universities to provide female employees all Food and Drug Administration-approved preventative birth-control methods…"

Representatives of these schools are arguing that their religious liberties are being undermined because they can't dictate to others how to live their lives. How else can the complaint be understood? What the mandate requires is that women who work for your company be granted the same rights to access birth control through their health care provider as any other woman working for any other company. When a church conducts church-y business, they can follow different rules, but when they conduct secular business, like hire teachers and janitors for their schools, they have to follow secular laws. But ETBU and HBU don't like this, and they are willing to throw a fit to court to make sure we all know it.

My heart goes out to any women who through circumstances beyond their control are working for these institutions and simply want to be treated fairly. But what personally offends me is the idea that the schools in question are using the name of Rhode Island's Roger Williams to shore up their weak attempt at theocratic bullying.

According to, where I found this story, the schools in question are being represented by the odious Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, whose deputy general counsel Eric Rassbach said:
Baptists in America, by virtue of their history, are particularly sensitive to coercive government actions that infringe on religious liberty. America’s first Baptist leader, Roger Williams, had to flee Massachusetts and found a colony in Providence, Rhode Island, because his religious beliefs were not tolerated by the laws of Massachusetts. We shouldn’t have to fight for that same right today.
What a load of crap. To compare what Williams went through in Massachusetts in 1635 when his very life and freedom were threatened to the idea of making contraception available to women who want it is imbecilic. Roger Williams championed a concept he called "soul liberty" which placed the freedom of the individual conscience over that of institutional churches. Williams believed that each person made his or her own decisions as to how to worship or not worship God, and that no institution on Earth, including governments and kings but also Baptist universities in Texas, had the right to coerce behavior or belief. Also, Roger Williams may have been a Baptist minister, but only briefly, a matter of months. After founding the first Baptaist church in America he left it, because he did not believe that any churches on Earth were truly Christian, and refused to align with any of them until Christ's return.

The dishonesty that marks the campaigns against the HHS mandate (there are more than thirty suits pending or dismissed so far) by redefining what religious liberty means are based on poor interpretations of law and outright lies about the history of our country. Those bringing these suits want to control, as best they can, the reproductive choices of women. They are not interested in liberty, they are interested in theocracy. They are not interested in freedom, they are interested in forced worship. To get what they want they will say anything, even going so far as to besmirch the reputation of one of the great religious thinkers of the colonial period. They have no shame.

1 comment:

  1. And if we really want to talk about it, the Catholic church in RI interferes in the legislative process on a regular basis.

    So I think we need a stronger separation of Church and State. One with teeth - perhaps one that says all tax exemptions granted are nullified when a church starts lobbying.