Obgerfell v Hodges, Deeply held beliefs and religious wars

Deeply Held Religious Beliefs

Obergefell v. Hodges is a month old now, and predictably all hell has broken loose; fundamentalist Christians are demanding that they be exempt from serving the demon LGBT community, saying their “deeply held” or “sincerely held” religious beliefs protect them from dismissal or legal action. Republican presidential hopefuls are whipping up a frenzy, demanding legislation to protect the right to discriminate. Personally I think we’re going about this all wrong; we need to pass legislation allowing discrimination based on deeply held beliefs, religious or otherwise. But we need some guidelines, and I propose the following (as talking points, of course):

First, we can’t have any litmus test for blasphemy or hypocrisy. Most religions teach that judgment is a right reserved for God, and it’s sinful and arguably blasphemous for people to demand authority reserved for God. As far as hypocrisy goes, “born again” county clerks who have been divorced, wear any jewelry or outfits with two or more materials really shouldn’t be judging anyone at all (yes, all those are in the Old Testament – I’m not sure on the two or more materials, does that mean it’s an “abomination” to wear a cotton shirt with wool slacks, or does it also outlaw cotton/rayon blend blouses? Maybe – probably both.). Can’t enjoy shellfish either, eating shrimp is an “abomination”, and anyone enjoying a lobster dinner to celebrate the successful persecution of a lesbian, or would enjoy a nice bowl of clam chowder on a cold winter day, wouldn’t be given the protection of a “sincerely held religious belief.” Christians and Jews can’t eat pork or touch a pig’s carcass either (that’s in Deuteronomy). So, born agains don’t have to issue marriage licenses to LGBTs, especially if they find out shrimp cocktails or ham would be served at a reception. By the way, evangelicals, you might want to think twice about that Easter ham tradition, and on days when you’re going to discriminate based on your beliefs, you probably shouldn’t have that sausage McMuffin on the way to work.

We can’t stop with the above, we’re just getting warmed up! Firefighters and cops won’t have to help anyone they deem “unworthy” in their definition of God’s eyes. If a paramedic sees someone in the agonizing throes of a heart attack and that person has a tattoo, they’re as good as dead. Yep, that’s in the Bible too. Muslim county clerks won’t have to issue marriage licenses to gays or lesbians, Islam is homophobic too. But Muslim clerks can issue marriage licenses to one man and as many four wives, Islam allows that, and the Old Testament doesn’t place any limit on the number of wives and “concubines” a man can have. The hell with secular law, the Bible rules supreme, doesn’t it? Or in some cases the Quran.

Maybe we should codify who can do what to discriminate (hate) whom. Mormons can hate Catholics because they use wine in the sacrament. Catholics can hate anyone they want, they can cover themselves with confession and acts of contrition, and they’re absolved. All self-professed Christians can be intolerant with Mormons because of false prophets and the Book of Mormon. Mormons also have that whole history thing with polygamy (technically “polygyny”) but we’ve resolved that; it’s cool. We can all discriminate against Jehovah’s Witnesses because of that door to door thing with “The Watchtower”; ever notice how the timing is always terrible? It pisses me off if I’m just sitting down to eat and they ring the doorbell, or there’s a really close sporting event that I’m watching. The worst timing is when I’m enjoying something intimate with someone (likely considered “perverse” or “sinful” by one religion or another, or more than one). And we should all discriminate against Scientologists, that religion is as bat shit crazy as its founder.

We have a place to start; eventually we can get around to repealing suffrage (most religions relegate women to quiet, subordinate roles), and we can do away with child abuse laws for parents; according to the Old Testament, disobedient, disrespectful children should be stoned to death. So should adulterers – does that apply to divorce and remarriage? So we’ll have years of legislative fine tuning and a whole new area for lawyers; “deeply held” religious hate crimes. For now, maybe it would be a good idea for businesses who don’t wish to serve the entire public to post signs at the entrances; “We endorse the Westboro Baptist Church”. Or maybe, “Go Taliban!” I see strong similarities, hate and intolerance being the common element.

I find myself in the fortunate position of not being able to avail myself of the proposed religious non-freedom proposed above; I’m an “unwashed” (never baptized or christened) heathen and I don’t follow any religious doctrine that involves judging others, or hating anyone for our different beliefs. I’m neither atheist nor agnostic, I just think God is too busy to micromanage our lives, She’s interested in really big things like managing a universe that’s around 14 billion years old, and coming up with really neat stuff like gravity and inertia and black holes – how cool are those?! Even cooler, from a human perspective – hearing a child laugh with delight at learning something new and knowing children are born without hate, and the amazing feeling of loving someone who loves us back, regardless of gender or genital equipment – or number. And when God is really in a playful mood She gives us really bizarre shit like the duck-billed platypus and Donald Trump. I guess I’m a Contrarian, I say and believe things that generally piss off religious fanatics. And I know that means that according to most beliefs I’m going to hell. Who isn’t? According to just about everyone else, if you don’t believe as they do you’re evil, and you’re screwed. Heaven is probably reserved for really good folks like the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Gandhi, people who really tried to get us to accept each other and work on our own shortcomings without judging and hating everyone else for theirs.

So bring it on, Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry, and all the other 87 or so Bible-beating current and possible Republican presidential candidates; keep telling the “big lie” that Christians are being persecuted, they’re actually inflicting the persecution; keep insisting there’s a sinister progressive/liberal/socialist/LGBT+Q and P conspiracy. That “conspiracy” consists of nothing more than wanting to be free to live life as we choose, to stand equal before the law and in society. We are not the enemy, you are with your bullshit religious war.

The Right to Choose

Public Controversy, Private Decisions

Roe vs. Wade: 42 years and more of controversy, cowardice and control

Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision that struck down some of the restrictions placed on abortion, is being lamented by some as the end of civilization as we know it and lauded by others as a key decision regarding privacy and a woman’s right to control her own reproduction. A recent New York Times/CBS News Poll indicates that this nation is deeply divided over the issue, which should come as no great surprise to anyone even slightly aware of what’s going on in society.

The Times/CBS poll asked the wrong questions of the wrong people, and I would suggest that a new poll be conducted, one that more accurately reflects the issues that make up the abortion controversy:

First let’s limit our sample. We won’t ask any men how they feel about abortion, because they won’t ever be faced with having to make the decision. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Catholic priests and Southern Baptist ministers won’t have any say on the issue, not because they’re clergy and have already announced their own moral choices, but because they’re men. We won’t poll women who aren’t of child-bearing age, so middle-aged nuns and post-menopausal female members of Operation Rescue won’t see the poll, not because they demonstrate outside abortion clinics, but because they won’t have to face the decision themselves. We won’t ask children, male or female, because they’re too young to understand the issues, even though too many girls are impregnated when they’re still too young to understand what having a child will do to their lives, or to the child’s.

Our sample will be limited to girls and women ages between, say, 14 and 50. We could lower the age limit to include 12-year-old girls, but we won’t put any medical requirements on the poll – 12 to 50 is a good cross-sample. No woman will have to prove that she can or cannot have children, and we can eliminate Susan Carpenter MacMillan, not because she’s had two abortions and is now making a nice living as a spokesperson for the radical anti-choice movement, but because she’s outside the age bracket.

Now we have to phrase the questions.

“Do you think a government agency should have the authority to require women to carry a pregnancy to term?” I can imagine what the response would be if we ask a group of mid-20s women who have completed college and are starting careers, and face unexpected pregnancies because their birth control failed. Probably about the same kind of response we’d get if we ask women who already have children and find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, whether those women have jobs or careers outside the house, or if they have chosen careers within the home.

“Are women capable of functioning as competent moral agents independent of government regulation and social expectations, and therefore able to make rational decisions about reproduction?” The hell with the Promise Keepers – I hold to the idea that women are at least as competent at moral decisions as are men, including the men who hold the reins of authority and power.

“Should parents be notified if a minor seeks an abortion?” Let’s ask the 15-year-old girl who has been molested by a male relative or family friend and finds herself pregnant.

“Should there be a required ‘waiting period’ before an abortion can be obtained?” Can any pregnant woman forget for one moment that she’s pregnant, whether she wants a child or not?

“Should abortion restrictions apply in the second or third trimesters of pregnancy?” Let’s ask a woman, six months pregnant, who has just found out that her child, if delivered, will be anencephalic and will never have brain function. Or the woman who has been told that if she carries her pregnancy to term she will put her life at risk, or could destroy her ability to have children in the future. (It should be noted that the issue of “partial birth abortions” is a grotesque misnomer – no woman can have a partial birth anymore than she can be partially pregnant, and the procedure does not involve using a syringe to “suck out the brains” of a living child.)

“Does a woman have an inherent right to make private decisions regarding her own body and to control her own reproductive choices?” Wanna bet what kind of response this question would get from our sample group?

When the Chinese government adopted a policy of requiring abortions for women who have already had a child, American criticism and opposition were nearly universal. Now we see an increasing number of Americans who would mandate that some women, perhaps all, be required to carry all pregnancies to term. These aren’t opposite sides of the issue; the two positions are part and parcel of the same controlling, authoritarian presumptions that have relegated women to second class citizenship for millennia.

Until all restrictions are removed regarding a woman’s inherent right to make her own reproductive decisions privately, with the help of a doctor who will not be placed on a “wanted list” and with full access to a medical facility that is not targeted for violence or blockaded by fanatics, this nation will not have approached the promise of equality and justice. Every woman must have complete authority to define her pregnancy in her own terms, and that means abortion as well as reproductive information must be available, regardless of any woman’s social, ethnic, religious or economic standing. Women are not simply life support systems for uteri – the ability to bear children is only part of what a woman is, and must not be subject to majority presumption or government regulation.

A woman has an absolute right to say “no” at any point during sex – she also has the right to say “no” at any point to the result of sex.

Holocaust Revisionists

History denied is history repeated

There will always be among us those who listen to their own hatred, those who are slaves to ignorance and intolerance, and those who choose to ignore history and its implications. Such is the case with the Holocaust – there are individuals and organizations determined to downplay or simply ignore what happened in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe preceding and during World War II.

Catholic bishops in Germany, Poland and France have issued formal apologies to Jews for the Church’s silence in the face of the “Final Solution.” Survivors of that “solution” have told their stories, detailing the horrors of what happened. Allied troops who liberated the Nazi camps near the end of the war have described what they found, and miles of film was shot so that the world could at least see, though not experience, what happened.

At the Nuremberg trials surviving Nazi war criminals did not defend themselves by claiming that the Holocaust did not happen – their defense was that they were only “following orders.” There exist records of German railroads transporting millions of people to concentrations camps. Those records were found by Allied troops after the war, and contrary to popular opinion and the official name of the Nazi party, Nazi Germany was not socialist. Railroads were private enterprises that billed and were paid for shipping human beings in cattle cars – they were listed as freight, not passengers, and the trips were one way.

German industry developed more and more efficient crematoria for disposing of the millions of bodies that were the result of German policy. Zyklon B was developed to make gassing human beings cheaper and more efficient. Swiss banks collaborated with German officials to loot Jews and other victims of what happened, and to profiteer from German atrocities. Only recently have Swiss banks begun to be held accountable for their actions and admit their participation in the Holocaust. They will never be able to atone for what they did, just as private companies around the world will not be held adequately responsible. Some of those companies were American.

With all the above proof there is no rational reason to doubt that the Holocaust occurred, or that it was vastly more horrible than the worst accounts could ever portray. I’ve long been aware of the proof that exists about the Holocaust, about international cooperation or at least acceptance of it at the time, and of world powers hiding Nazis after the war, in some instances because governments agreed with much if not all of what happened, in other instances to gain political advantage against Cold War enemies. The United States was certainly one of the primary beneficiaries of what Nazi war criminals had to offer, in intelligence operations against the Soviet Union and in its rocket and space programs. But long before I know of all the proof, long before I’d seen any film footage about the camps or read the accounts of survivors or liberators, I knew the Holocaust happened. I knew so because of a conversation I had with a young woman when I was still a teenager more than thirty years ago.

My family lived in a suburb of Los Angeles, California, and my mother was and remains a friendly, outgoing person. She had several friends in the neighborhood, and seeing her sitting in the kitchen talking to friends was a common thing. One of those neighbors stands out in my mind. She was ten or twelve years my senior, married and had children. I had noticed she had a pronounced and unusual limp, and I wondered about it. One warm summer day she was sitting at the kitchen table with my mom, and I sat down and joined in the conversation. Before long I asked her how she had come to have the limp.

My mother was aghast at my asking the question, but something I learned that day and have remembered ever since is that people are not generally offended or angry when asked an open, honest question, so long as the questioner is willing to listen to the answer. I was not prepared for the answer I got that day, but I did listen – I was mesmerized. It’s something that has remained with me ever since, though I don’t remember the neighbor’s name nor do I know what happened to her or her family.

She was born in Europe, though I don’t know if she told me what country. She had an accent, though I don’t remember, or maybe I couldn’t recognize, what kind of accent it was. It could have been German, Polish, French or from another of the countries the Nazis conquered and occupied. She was Jewish, and that’s what mattered most in those dark, horrible times. She was born in the mid-30’s, and her family was eventually sent to a concentration camp. She was the only survivor from her family, something not uncommon because of the murderous efficiency of the Nazis.

Maybe her government found her family and condemned them, maybe her neighbors reported them to the Nazis. What happened in Europe was not done without the knowledge and complicity of countless people who betrayed their neighbors and tolerated the actions of the murderous psychotics to whom they surrendered control of their lives. What mattered was that her family was killed and she found herself the victim of “medical” experiments carried out on countless children in many of the camps.

She may well have been one of Mengele’s victims – if she knew specifically who did such terrible things to her, she didn’t tell me. But she did tell me that her legs were repeatedly broken in an effort to find out how many times bones could be fractured before they would no longer heal. Both of her femurs were broken again and again, and finally they could not heal properly – that was the cause of her limp. She was to be murdered by her captors – “disposed of” or other euphemisms are inappropriate descriptions – but the camp was liberated shortly before the action could be carried out. Ultimately, the Nazis were so overwhelmed by victims that they could not hide the evidence.

When our neighbor told me what had happened to her, she didn’t have anger in her voice or even in her heart. She had an aura of amazement, still unable to understand how it could have happened. She didn’t hate Germans or anyone else – she was primarily concerned about her children and her husband and her new life. Until the day I die I will always be able to see her eyes while she talked to me and described what had been done to her and to her family.

She didn’t lie, she didn’t exaggerate. She told me the honest, simple truth – the truth that makes the Holocaust real. When a government commits such atrocities, when people permit a government to do such things to one child or to millions of people and the rest of the world stands silently and watches, there is no defense, no refutation that will stand up. When people accept hatred and put it into practice, when neighbor betrays neighbor, when the slight differences among people are punishable by death, torture or even denial of equal dignity or rights, it happens again and again.

The genocide committed by the Nazis was not the first example of genocide, nor was it the last. It was, however, the most efficient and determined example in human history. Spare me the “revision” of that history, I know enough of history. And I know that as long as hatred and bigotry are tolerated and used to rationalize cruelty and violence against Jews or anyone else, it will happen again.

The Cost of War

The Price of Freedom

The Cost of War

Every time I hear the claim that U.S. armed forces are protecting my freedom, I get irritated.  Really irritated.  Under the best of circumstances in a noble war, only my security is protected by the military.  The Iraq war does not qualify under the best of circumstances because this country has never waged a more ignoble war, never fought a battle with less moral justification, and rarely behaved with such dishonor.

When this debacle started we were told we had to invade a sovereign nation because that nation had weapons of mass destruction (wmds) that were a threat to our security, and because that nation had ties to terrorist organizations and actively supported Al Qaeda.  Whatever wmds Saddam Hussein had were exhausted against Iran and his Kurdish countrymen – there were no wmds found, and if Iraq had possessed them they would most certainly have used them against invading American troops.  What an appalling way to see if an enemy has horrible weapons – send brave young people into harm’s way and see what happens.  It should also be noted that there was never any proof provided that Hussein or Iraq were in any way involved with Bin Laden or Al Qaeda.  But the Bush administration was determined to go to war, so off to war we went.

I’m not so cynical that I believe this war was started for oil profits or because Haliburton was slated to be the biggest contractor hired to “rebuild” the damage we did in Iraq, in spite of the fact that the Bush family made a lot of money from oil, or that Dick Cheney has ties to Haliburton.  War always creates profiteers, for opportunity is where you find it, and when it comes to opportunities, the beat of martial drums can often be that rapid knock at the door.  But Bush ignored the intelligence community who knew the two major premises of this war were specious at best, outright lies at the worst.  And because of this imperial presidency we’ve seen thousands of brave young Americans killed or physically and spiritually maimed, we’ve killed and maimed tens of thousands of civilians and we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars we can’t afford to spend, borrowing from the future and making the United States the world’s largest threat to peace.  Apparently we learned nothing from Vietnam, though in all fairness it’s hard to see how this administration could have, since virtually none of it served in that appalling mistake called a war.

We’ve tossed out the Geneva Conventions, even though we are signatories to those agreements.  We insist it’s our right to humiliate and torture prisoners, and display their dead, captured and wounded as part of our propaganda, then deny them due process, all in the name of fighting a war on terrorism.  We hire “contractors” to provide security, when in fact they are mercenaries, hired guns who answer to no one, often working for foreign companies, or American companies with foreign subsidiaries, so they can’t be held accountable.  Those mercenaries have added to an atmosphere of terror that’s the perfect breeding ground for new “terrorists” determined to drive Americans out of the Mideast.  I’ve often heard the Bush administration called inept, but they certainly excel in one area – they never screw up just a little bit, they do it on a grand scale.

Were this disaster limited to the above it would be bad enough, but the scale is far beyond what’s happening in Iraq.  The idiocy has carried over to the domestic side; the Bush administration seems to have convinced itself that their self-proclaimed “war on terror” should be expanded to include waging war on Americans.  The military was recently found to have been spying on people and groups opposed to the Iraq war, in spite of federal laws specifically precluding that.  The military should never be concerned about political opposition to a war – their job is to fight it to the best of their ability and with as much honor as they can muster.  Federal agencies have been “data mining” information from and about Americans, including monitoring international phone records, Internet access and even demanding access to library records to see who checked out what books.  Recently a Bush apologist asked me, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, why would you object to the government investigating you?”  My response was, “If I’m not doing anything wrong, how dare my government presume the authority to investigate me?”  An even bigger issue is that this government has usurped the ability to define what’s “wrong” without ever examining its own actions.

So when someone tells me they’re protecting my freedom by fighting or even being willing to die in Iraq, I’m just going to give them one of my favorite quotes:

“The Establishment center… has led us into the stupidest and cruelest war in all history. That war is a moral and political disaster – a terrible cancer eating away at the soul of our nation.”

George McGovern, referring to the Vietnam War.  A better George than the one we recently endured, about a war no worse than our current one.

Gay Rights

A Matter of Human Rights

A few nights ago I had a terrible dream, so real and so intense it woke me up. In that dream I found myself living in a land where I wasn’t allowed to decide who I could love, or how I could express that love – no one had such a right. The people in that benighted place were only allowed certain choices, their options limited by what a majority of their fellow citizens would allow.

When I awoke from the dream I couldn’t go back to sleep. It was early in the morning, probably around 4:00 or 4:30, and I laid there in the dark, thinking about the dream and how it made me feel – and how it would make anyone feel. And I came to realize that I do live in such a society, a place where the quality and strength of anyone’s love is not so important as the choice of whom that love is for.

You think I’m wrong? Let’s consider a few things: If I choose a partner who has a different religious background than mine I’ll certainly face opposition and criticism. If I choose a partner who has a different cultural heritage the same sentiments apply, and it would be compounded if that partner were from a different ethnic group. If you have any doubt about that contention think about how most people react to a racially mixed couple, especially an African American man with a white woman – at best there’s a very thin social veneer of politeness covering discomfort with such a pair, and until recently several states had laws against “interracial” marriages, putting the official stamp on bigotry.

“But those laws are all gone now – we aren’t allowed to discriminate against people because of race, religion or creed. And you can’t change people’s opinions just by changing a law.” I’ve heard all that many, many times. Some very bad laws have been repealed and other laws have replaced them, new laws that ban discriminating against me if I love a woman from a different religion or who has a different level of skin pigmentation. But what if I love another man?

There is a growing movement in the United States, a movement that condemns and calls for discriminating against homosexual men and women. An increasingly loud and determined percentage of Americans would deny to gays and lesbians equal protection under the law, and encourages discrimination in employment, housing, health care and many other areas. Some of the more extreme voices in that chorus condone, implicitly or even explicitly, open, violent hatred against homosexuals. It is these voices of hatred and intolerance that have caused a rapid increase in crimes committed against people perceived to be gay or lesbian.

Many gay-bashers claim that “only” one percent of the American population is gay or lesbian. That one percent is two and one half million people, or roughly the equivalent of the populations of Houston and Dallas combined. There would be no moral authority for telling everyone in Dallas and Houston that they could never have a job teaching children because they would “recruit” children into the Texas “life-style”. There would be no right to deny those same people equal access to health care because being from either of those cities is an “offensive and unnatural” way to live to the majority of us who don’t live there. The gay and lesbian percentage of the population of America may be as high as ten percent and, if so, what’s going on is the equivalent of telling everyone from Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana that they are diseased, undesirable and contemptible simply because they were born in one of those states or choose to live there. What is immoral, plain and simple, is to deny anyone the right to love whom they please as best they can simply because some people don’t understand, approve of or accept that choice.

The issue is not one of “gay and lesbian” rights or “homosexual” rights – it is an issue of human rights. Each of us individually and all of us as collectively must be concerned that we live our own lives to the best of our abilities and give others the right to do the same. If I choose to love another man it’s no one’s concern but his and mine, and if my neighbor loves another woman, she must be given the absolute right and the unwavering protection of the law to do so. Love is not so cheap a commodity that any honest expression of it should be denied simply because the bigoted and judgmental among us don’t understand it.

It doesn’t matter if twenty-five million people or two and one half million people or only two people are gay or lesbian – it’s time to end the nightmare for everyone who is guilty of nothing more than loving another human being.

Freedom of (and from) Religion

Free to Believe

Going to church was something I looked forward to when I was a kid. My mom’s family was Baptist and my dad’s family was Assembly of God, and for the most part I liked both churches. By and large, church was a nice place to go on Sunday mornings. First came Sunday school, then the sermon, then hanging around with people. Church provided a nice sense of community, of belonging to something that other people were a part of. Then, when I was eight or nine years old, something happened to change that.

We’d been attending a Baptist church. It was close and convenient, and had a large congregation. I can remember hearing my parents talking about how much they liked the church and its pastor, but that changed. Somehow the issue of baptism came up, and my dad and the preacher got into an argument about the relative merits of baptism by sprinkling versus baptism by immersion. My dad had been baptized one way and insisted that he need not be baptized again, but the preacher insisted that the only valid way was the other. I really don’t remember who advocated what, but I do remember that the argument became very heated over the course of a few Sundays.

The argument escalated to the point that one day I thought the pastor and my dad were going to come to blows. Here were two men, both of whom I respected, though obviously in different ways and to different degrees, who were so rigid in their beliefs that there was no room for the other’s opinion. I’d been going to church long enough that I felt I knew that the most important thing was to accept Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior. Both men had done that, and both men, as far as I could tell, worked very hard to live their lives according to what Christ taught. And both were unyielding in their positions. We never went back to that church again.

I began to question the beliefs I had been told were the unquestionable word of God – both sets of beliefs. It was and remains an ongoing process, but at a very early age I came to the conclusion that whatever relationship I have with God is between me and God. When I hear intolerance about religious differences, when I see judgment passed on faith of a “lesser” quality, I feel the anger start to boil within. Over the past several years, that anger has been a more and more common companion of mine.

At the 1992 Republican convention Pat Buchanan gave a speech wherein he proclaimed that this nation is in a “religious war.” He’s right – and he’s one of the primary instigators of that war. Buchanan, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Robert Simonds, D. James Kennedy and an ever-growing list of fanatics, liars and hucksters are leading ambushes on religious freedom in America. They and their followers are out to convert you and me to their beliefs, and they have vowed to take no prisoners. They decry the separation of church and state, sometimes claiming that it has never existed, other times calling out to “tear down this wall.” They want obligatory religious faith, legislated religious conformity and mandated piety, with severe penalties for those of us who might waiver.

The legislation they demand cannot create faith, it can only coerce shallow and insincere lip service to faith. Government cannot codify and define God in a way that everyone will accept, and it has no moral authority to attempt even that. When I consider issues of faith and conscience, something I’ve done very often for more than forty years, sometimes in the dead of night, I know that I have the absolute and inalienable right, and I would argue a responsibility, to come to terms with my own relationship with God as I see that relationship and that God. I allow for no government stamp of approval or participation in that process, and I will not submit to a “litmus test” of faith to judge my worth as a citizen, a person or a man. I am free to condemn myself to hell or seek salvation by any means my mind and soul can devise, and I will do so without the intolerance and condemnation of the zealots who are currently seeking political influence in the name of God – their god.

Break the Silence on Domestic Violence

BREAK THE SILENCE

If you take a couple of minutes to read this, maybe while you enjoy a Sunday morning cup of coffee, you should know that while you’re reading and sipping, thirteen women will be physically abused in America. Two of those women will be raped, one or both of them by a man she knows. Eight or more of those women will resist the attacks, verbally and/or physically.

Half the women in America will be in abusive relationships during their lives. Women are nine times more likely to be attacked at home than on the street, and they’re more likely to be raped by someone they know than by a stranger. When they know their attackers they’re more than twice as likely to suffer injuries as they are when they don’t know them. Many of those injuries will be so severe the victims won’t be able to drink coffee for a long time, if ever again. Put your cup aside and I’ll tell you how I know these statistics: I have had the pain and the awakening of seeing the Clothesline Project on display.

The National Clothesline Project was started in 1990. It consists of t-shirts created by women who have been the victims of violence, or by their surviving family or friends. There’s a color scheme to the shirts, though it’s not rigidly followed: yellow or beige is for women who have been battered or assaulted; red, pink or orange is for women who have been raped or sexually assaulted; blue or green is for women survivors of incest or child sexual abuse; purple or lavender is for women attacked because of their perceived sexual orientation; black is for women who have been gang-raped; and white is for women who have died as a result of violence.

The Ventura County Clothesline Project currently has fifty-five shirts, all made by local victims, or by their families. I assure you that every color and category listed above is included in the display. I have never in my life experienced a more moving, more haunting, more shaming feeling than what I felt while I stood before the silent cloth witnesses to what is happening to women and girls in this nation. In fact the point, the purpose of the Clothesline Project, nationally and locally, is to “Break the Silence” and put an end to this cycle of cruelty.

More than 58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War. During that war 51,000 American women were killed in the U.S. by men who supposedly loved them. We built a wall to honor those who died in Vietnam, a long, black slash across the national conscience, so that we would not forget those who gave their all. But we have built no such wall, no monument, to the women who died and continue to die in such awful numbers, or to so many more women who suffer emotional and physical injuries yet somehow survive. We hope that as a nation we learned something from Vietnam, but there is no indication that we have learned what a price we all pay when we continue to allow this epidemic of violence.

Stand before the clothesline, read the stories the t-shirts tell. They’re all graphic and compelling, regardless of the words used to describe what their creators went through. Those women, and all the women who have created shirts, all the women who have been victims of violence, are as courageous as any decorated combat veteran, any soldier who stood before an enemy, any Medal of Honor winner – they were all those things and more, because they too often had to stand alone.

One definition of society is “The institutions and culture of a distinct self-perpetuating group.” We are certainly a society, markedly so when we realize that the institutions and culture with which we surround ourselves seem so intent on perpetuating violence against women. But no society can rightfully call itself a civilization, civil being the operative part of the equation, so long as it allows such violence to continue, or depends on the victims of that violence to stop it. It’s time to “Break the Silence” and become a civilization. You can help do so by seeing the Clothesline Project, and by supporting it. For information on how you can do both, or if you need help with this issue, contact a domestic violence hotline or the National Organization for Women (NOW).

Make a difference, and your coffee won’t taste as bitter as it does right now.

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This was written and posted in 1994 and has been updated.