Once, a very long time ago, in a faraway kingdom called Jolly Olde England, there lived a newly crowned queen by the name of Elizabeth I. Now Elizabeth wasn’t just any queen. She was the result of a revolutionary break with the established church just because her dad wanted to divorce his first wife in order to marry this really gorgeous other woman who would (hopefully) give him sons and heirs to the kingdom. But we all know what happened with that. And we all know what happened when her sister, Queen Mary, brought England back to the Catholic Church; she wasn’t called Bloody Mary for nothing.
And Elizabeth knew this, too. Now keep in mind that while Elizabeth was extremely intelligent to begin with, she had also been through a lot of shit in her life before she was crowned queen. This gave her a sort of survival instinct, a sort of shrewdness and pragmatism that stayed with her throughout her lifetime. And she used these to her advantage. And guess what? The people of Jolly Olde England saw quite a bit of benefit from it.
So what was one of the biggest moments of Badass Queenery? Well, it happened during the first year of her reign. The Act of Supremacy of 1599 established England’s break with the Church of Rome and named Elizabeth as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and the Act of Uniformity established the practices of the Church itself, including the publication of the Book of Common Prayer. Elizabeth and her awesome Prime Minister Sir William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, added other provisions to the acts, many of which tried to incorporate the different practices of Catholicism and Protestantism so the population wouldn’t be too upset or confused. They knew that they couldn’t keep everyone happy, but they tried, which, in an era during which most religious freedom was restricted, meant a lot.
But here is the kicker: When concerns were brought to her by her lords, Elizabeth said this: “There is only one Christ, one Jesus, one faith; all else is trifles”¦ I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls.” So it’s a nice quote”¦ a little bit of a precursor to religious freedoms in a time when they were almost nil.
Fast forward to February 2012. Guess what we have now, in the United States of America?
We have people trying to make windows into women’s uteruses, many times motivated by religious institutions and what these institutions teach. Yet when the Obama administration announced that all businesses in the United States would be required to have health insurance that covered and paid for contraception for women patients, religious institutions got upset about this and claimed that the government was trampling on religious freedoms. So the Obama administration came up with a Plan B: religious institutions wouldn’t have to pay for the contraception themselves, but the insurance companies would have to pay for it. Still a lot of people are against this policy, and there has been much political posturing over it. Speaker of the House John Boehner–who just likes to run his mouth anyway regardless of whether or not he sounds intelligent–has bellowed that such a policy is trampling over the religious rights of those who believe and practice otherwise. The House of Representatives has gone so far as hold hearings and hear testimony from religious leaders as to why it does and from others who say why it doesn’t. Yet when a young law student from Georgetown wanted to make her voice heard as to why it didn’t trample on religious rights and why it was important, she was banned from testifying. Because her voice wasn’t important enough.
Excuse me? Since when did we live in some Margaret Atwood dystopian tale? “Oh, yeah, we’re going to have a hearing about how contraception is bad and how it violates the rights and beliefs of so many. But even though you’re someone who might represent about fifty percent of the population, sweetie, you don’t count and we don’t want to hear it. So let the men do their job and don’t worry your pretty little head about it.”
Here’s what I think the reality of the situation is.
The Obama administration is not trying–at all–to make windows into men’s souls or keep people from practicing whatever religion they fancy or believing in whatever they wish. What it is preventing is religious institutions from making windows into everyone’s souls or from enjoying their other favorite hobby: making windows into women’s uteruses. It is preventing religious institutions who have freely chosen to do business in the United States from using their beliefs to openly flout the law. It is setting a minimum standard by which every business must abide. Moreover, it is reasserting principles upon which this country was founded: the separation between church and state, the prevention of the government giving preferential treatment to one religion over another, and the prevention of religious persecution. And it’s reasserting the belief that all citizens are equal and are deserving of equal rights and privileges, which, in this case, is the equal access to adequate health care regardless of gender.
And here’s the other thing: prevention of gender discrimination is not trampling on religious beliefs. It’s not the government’s fault that some religious institution chooses to still believe that women are fundamentally inferior to men because their version of God–or their power-hungry authority figures–said so. And religious affiliation doesn’t put anyone above the law, either, particularly if it’s a law meant to bring equality of care to people. And isn’t part of Christianity making sure that people are treated equally? Since when does having a uterus make one person less of a human being than a person who doesn’t?
So how do you fix the problem? Well, in the ideal world of Linotte, President Obama would make a call to Dr. Who or Doc Brown. One of them could go back in time to Jolly Olde England and bring back a young Queen Elizabeth, maybe bring along Robert Dudley for good measure. Have her go in front of both branches of Congress and deliver that humdinger of a quote while Boehner has a fit wondering how they got one of the greatest queens of England to come testify in front of Congress. Then whisk good old Bess and Robin off to the destination of their choice for a week. Disney World, New York City, California wine country, wherever. Then take them back to England and no one knows different. At least that is how it would work in my fantasy world.
Or simply get on national TV, Mr. President, and tell the story of Elizabeth Tudor not wanting to make windows into men’s souls. And end it with this: “As a nation, we wish to preserve religious freedom. Yet we are also a nation of laws and a nation which seeks to protect the equality of all of our citizens, regardless of gender. When forced to make the choice, we will choose the latter. And so I request this of you: Respect the laws of our nation, and respect the people in it. If you don’t try to make windows not only into men’s soul’s, but into women’s uteruses, we will respect the things you believe. But if you try to use your religion as an excuse to discriminate against people for dumb reasons and break the law, then yes, you will be on the shit list.”
I think that’s the best ending, don’t you?