Why Jews and Muslims Might Claim a Religious Liberty Exemption to the Alabama Abortion Bill

Abortion Alabama

Steven Waldman, author of a new book titled Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedommakes a fascinating argument in a recent op-ed at Newsweek.  What happens when a pro-life position on abortion clashes with religious liberty?  Jews believe life begins at birth, not conception.  Muslims believe that life begins around the fourth month of gestation.  Are these deeply-held religious beliefs?

On the Christian Right, where anti-abortion legislation and religious liberty drive the political agenda of its members, heads are exploding.  What happens when religious liberty clashes with anti-abortion laws?

Here is a taste of Waldman’s piece “Alabama Abortion Law: Should Jewish and Muslim Doctors and Women Get Exemptions For Religious Freedom?:

There may be a strange, implied loophole in the Alabama anti-abortion law—that abortions can be performed … if the doctor is Jewish or Muslim.

Here’s the logic.  We are in a moment of history when the courts are leaning in the direction of providing religious exemptions to secular laws. This was the thrust of the Sisters of the Poor case, when a group of nuns said they should be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for contraception coverage. They argued that the rule violated their religious beliefs so they shouldn’t have to participate. The “Bakers of Conscience” have made a similar argument—that they should be allowed to avoid making a cake for a same-sex wedding without being prosecuted under anti-discrimination laws—because their beliefs are grounded in religion.

The drafters of the law were at least partly motivated by their faith. “When God creates the miracle of life inside a woman’s womb, it is not our place as human beings to extinguish that life,”  said Clyde Chambliss, a sponsor of the bill.

So the question becomes: does the law infringe on the religious beliefs of the woman or the doctor?

Though there are many interpretations in the Jewish tradition, the most common is that life begins at birth, not conception. Reform Rabbis have decreed that abortion is permitted if there is a  “strong preponderance of medical opinion that the child will be born imperfect physically, and even mentally.” If you’re a Jewish woman, you could argue that this law forces you to abide by a different definition of life (with roots in Roman Catholicism). 

If you’re a Jewish doctor who has sworn the Hippocratic oath—to perform medically appropriate procedures without discrimination—then it may be your religious belief that you have a duty to provide a Biblically-sanctioned abortion. By blocking you from offering that service, the law is forcing you to violate your Hippocratic oath and the guidance from your religion.

Read the rest here.

Alabama Governor Signs Anti-Abortion Bill One Day and Plans to Execute Someone on the Next Day

Alabama Governor

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey

Today I had a long conversation with New York Times reporter Adeel Hassan.  He was trying to figure out how Alabama could execute a convicted murderer on the day after the state passed a very extreme abortion law.  Here is his report:

A scholar of evangelical Christianity said that most evangelicals in Alabama probably feel no tension between support for the death penalty and opposition to abortion.

“Most conservative evangelicals wouldn’t think twice about executing someone and then going to a pro-life march the next day,” said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College. He said their views have often been shaped by the political battles that have raged over social issues in recent decades, so that, for example, they also tend to oppose spending tax money on government programs that might reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

Progressive evangelicals see the issues differently, Mr. Fea said, but “they are a minority in the state of Alabama and most of the evangelical South.”

Read the entire piece here.

Trump is Signing Bibles in Alabama

trump Bible

Some of my thoughts on this story can be found in Sarah Pulliam-Bailey’s coverage at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

John Fea, a historian at Messiah College, a Christian school in Pennsylvania, said he has never heard of any president signing Bibles before. The American Bible Society, he said, produced a Bible commemorating President Dwight D. Eisenhower, but it came out after his death. There’s a tradition in many families that generations would sign a Bible.

Trump’s actions, Fea said, fit his appeal to many white evangelicals in the South.

“The fact that people are bringing Bibles to him says a lot about them,” Fea said. “It seems to imply that they see him not only as a political leader but a spiritual savior for the nation.”

Trump has appealed to them as someone who can protect them from the decline of a Christian nation, Fea said.

“The message of the Bible represents for many white evangelicals a source of spiritual comfort in the midst of suffering,” he said. “It says volumes about how evangelicals see … Trump as a figure sent by God to protect them from all storms of life.”

Read the entire piece here.

It is worth noting that Trump is signing a Bible distributed for disaster relief by the American Bible Society.

Oh the irony of it all!

Evangelical Fear in Alabama

Luverne

Check out Stephanie McCrummen‘s Washington Post excellent piece on a Southern Baptist, Trump-loving church in Luverne, Alabama. Many of the members of this church fear immigrants, think Obama is a Muslim, and hate Hillary Clinton because they claim that she hated them.  It is also worth noting that most of the pro-Trumpers in this church appear to be over the age of 60.

 

Two New Sites Dedicated to the History of Lynching Open in Montgomery, Alabama

Lynching

April 26, 2018 marks the opening of two public history sites in Montgomery, Alabama:  The Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.  Both sites are operated by the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson’s non-profit organization dedicated to providing legal services to prisoners who may have been wrongfully convicted of crimes.  You can learn more about Stevenson here.  He is perhaps best known for his book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

Here is a round-up of articles devoted to the grand openings of these two sites:

NPR

Washington Post

New York Times

Los Angeles Times

The Conversation

VOX

Time

Montgomery Advertiser

CBS News

Someone Give the Governor of Alabama a History Lesson

We need historians more than ever.  Yesterday Kay Ivey, the Republican governor of Alabama, released this campaign ad:

Ivey says “we can’t change or erase our history.”  She is correct.  But just because a particular community has a past doesn’t necessary mean that the celebration of that past is the best way forward.  Sometimes our encounters with the past should shame us.

She adds: “To get where we are going, we need to understand where we’ve been.”  Again, this is true.  But I don’t think she means that we need to “understand where we’ve been” because “where we’ve been” was racist and because it was racist we must repudiate it. Let’s remember that we are talking about monuments to white racists here.  Ivey is telling us that the best way for Alabama to move forward is to celebrate a history of slavery, racism, Jim Crow, and segregation.  Ivey’s usable past is a past of white supremacy.

After the ad was criticized, Ivey defended it.  According to The Hill, she called out “folks in Washington” and “out of state liberals” for trying to take away Alabama’s Confederate monuments.

Here we go again with the “outside agitators” coming into racist Alabama and trying to change their precious way life.  This is what they said about the so-called “carpetbaggers in the 1860s and 1870s and Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1950s and 1960s.

Someone get Governor Ivey a copy of King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

Jeff Sessions Gets It Right on the Cause of the Civil War (Yes, you read that correctly)

I did not hear the entire speech so I don’t know the larger context, but it does appear that Attorney General and former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions knows a thing or two about the cause of the Civil War.

Here is Yoni Appelbaum‘s tweet:

Also this.

80% of White Evangelicals in Alabama (who voted) Voted For Roy Moore Last Night

Doug Jones

Exit poll data

In my view, the “values voters” in this election were non-evangelicals and African-American evangelicals.  The embarrassment for white evangelicals continues.

A few tweets from last night:

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Roy Moore and the “Invisible Religious Right”

Roy Moore,Patricia Jones

The phrase “court evangelicals” has made it into in a New Yorker article.  Read Benjamin Wallace-Wells’s piece here.

A taste:

As Trump became more prominent, a few significant figures from the religious right arranged themselves as what the historian John Fea, of Messiah College, in Pennsylvania, calls “court evangelicals.” These figures—such as Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell, Jr., or the Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress—were willing to cheer on the collapse of distance between the evangelical grassroots and the Republican Party. A few weeks ago, Jeffress welcomed Sean Hannity to his church. The young Alabama pastor I talked to had watched Hannity’s appearance, and thought of the liberal who might have entered the church that day on a spiritual quest, only to be alienated by Hannity’s rhetoric. “Then I had a second, more horrifying thought,” the pastor told me. “What about the lost person who comes in because he watches Hannity? He assumes he’s already a Christian. He’s not looking for grace, because he doesn’t realize he needs it.”

Also this:

One view that I heard from evangelical intellectuals is that Trump and Moore represent a last, furious spasm of the culture wars. John Fea, of Messiah College, pointed out to me how thoroughly the Trump and Moore campaigns were invested with a baby-boomer mixture of nostalgia and fear. “It’s like Pickett’s Charge,” Fea said. “The next generation may reject these political power plays among Christians.” But no such rejection had yet happened. The Roy Moore campaign in Alabama has not so much seemed like a battle in the culture war as a reunion of some of its most devoted veterans. “I am loyal to my friends,” Gonnella, of Magnolia Springs Baptist Church, told me, in explaining why he had stood by Moore. “I don’t desert them.”

Read the entire piece here.

Yes, I did teach the Civil War this semester.  This probably explains why I made the “Pickett’s Charge” reference.

I wish I had more time to blog about this whole Roy Moore mess, but I have been too busy with this.

Quote of the Day

From Heather Wilhelm in The National Review:

I’ll get this out the way: If you’re in Alabama and you want to vote for Roy Moore, vote for Roy Moore. But let’s at least try to keep things real: If you vote for Moore, you’re doing it because he’s not a Democrat, rather than because he’s some holy soldier on a special mission for God.

Bizarrely, many high-profile Christian leaders seem hell-bent on convincing America that Moore is just that. Jerry Falwell Jr. recently threw in his support for Moore. Radio host and author Eric Metaxas has vigorously promoted theological defenses of why Christians can vote for Moore. Franklin Graham, who took the time to rip Matt Lauer for his “sin” on Twitter, is decidedly more sanguine in his defense of Moore: “Whoever is without sin, let them throw the first stone.”

Read the entire piece here.

Roy Moore Reminds Us When America Was “Great”

Moore RoyIt was during the era of slavery.

Read all about in this piece at VOX.

A taste:

Alabama’s Republican candidate for Senate, Roy Moore, says America needs to be a bit more like it was when it had slaves.

This is not a joke or exaggeration. When asked earlier this year when America was last great, Moore acknowledged, according to the Los Angeles Times, that the country had a history of racial tensions. Then he answered the question: “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another. … Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”

The quote comes from a Los Angeles Times report published in September, but it was recently resurfaced by a viral tweet from former Obama administration official Eric Columbus.

There are so many problems with this remark that it’s hard to know where to start.

Read the entire piece here.

A Few Quick Thoughts on the Alabama Senate Race

Roy Moore,Patricia Jones

I contributed to this article at AL.com.  Also good to see Believe Me get its first plug.

Here is a taste:

At least two professors who are carefully watching the Senate race believe that let’s-just-win politics is taking a toll on evangelicals.

“I do think nationally, the Trump/Moore candidacies have hurt the reputation of evangelicals,” said Jason Roberts, a Falkville native who’s a political science professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “It is not so difficult to respect a differing viewpoint if it is ground in core values like religion. … But I do think the continued support for Moore/Trump among religious leaders have made people realize that this support is not clearly grounded in religious differences.”

John Fea, chairman and professor of history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, goes further. He’s written a book, “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” to be released in the spring.

Fea said the efforts among Christian conservatives to “win back the culture from the forces of secularization” have been ongoing since the late 1970s. He calls it the evangelical’s “political playbook.”

The strategy, in short: Elect a president and members of Congress who will pursue laws aligned with evangelical views, and who will approve like-minded Supreme Court justices.

“The 2016 election put this playbook to the ultimate test,” said Fea, who describes himself as evangelical. “The playbook survived its greatest challenge, but only by separating the political agenda of the playbook from the necessity of Christian character.”

He said, “The political playbook has taught conservative evangelicals that they must maintain power at all costs, even if it means looking the other way when multiple women accuse a candidate for the U.S. Senate of sexual molestation and harassment.”

“First, it tells the world that Christians are in the business of forcing their views on others through legislation and executive actions,” said Fea. “Second, it neglects to remember that Christians follow a savior who relinquished worldly power even to the point of giving his life. Yet, my fellow evangelicals do not seem to see Jesus’s example as a model, or at least a starting point, for thinking about their engagement in the world.”

Read the entire piece here.

Why the Allegations Against Roy Moore May HELP His Political Career

Roy_Moore_2017_logo40% of Alabama evangelicals are now more likely to support Roy Moore after allegations that he sexually molested young girls.  Here is a taste of Carlos Ballesteros’s piece at Newsweek:

Talk about loving the sinner!

Nearly 40 percent of Evangelical Christians in Alabama say they’re now more likely to vote for Roy Moore after multiple allegations that he molested children, even as voters across the historically red state now seem to be punishing Moore for his past actions, a new poll shows.

A plurality of evangelicals — 37 percent — described themselves as more likely to support Moore because of recent sexual assault allegations levied against him, while only 28 percent were less likely to do so. Thirty-four percent of the supposedly devout Christians said that the allegations reported last week in the Washington Post made no difference in their support for Moore.

Read the entire piece here.

Gerson: Roy Moore Embraces the “Shabby, Third-Rate Gospel of Stephen K. Bannon”

MooreIn his most recent column, Michael Gerson, the conservative evangelical columnist at The Washington Post, explains the Christian nationalism of Judge Roy Moore:

But Moore represents a peculiar challenge to the GOP future. He holds to a particularly rigorous vision of a Christian America, ultimately ruled and legitimated by “biblical law.” In his conception, the freedom of “religion” in the First Amendment is limited to the Christian (and presumably Jewish) version of the creator God. So the protections of the Constitution do not extend to, say, Buddhism and Islam. “Buddha didn’t create us,” explains Moore. “Muhammad didn’t create us. It’s the God of the Holy Scriptures.”

The absurdity of this claim is just stunning. Moore is contending that when the First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” the document was actually intending to establish a religion. This indicates a type of zealotry willing to call night day and day night.

Stunning indeed.  I need to do some checking, but I think Moore’s position is an even more consistent Christian nationalism than the stuff peddled by David Barton.

Gerson argues that Moore is less theonomist and more Bannonist:

It is easy to imagine Moore sleeplessly considering American decadence, because his version of biblical law is ceaselessly violated. It is worth asking: What is his limiting principle in enforcing the voice of Heaven? The Ten Commandments set aside the Sabbath for rest. Should that be mandated? How about Old Testament recommendations of the death penalty for adulterers, apostates, blasphemers and incorrigible children? Why not enforce the Apostle Paul’s admonition against “foolish talk”? But that would leave Moore speechless.

No, Moore is not really a theonomist. The boundaries of his worldview, it turns out, almost exactly coincide with those of the Breitbart agenda. Moore’s study of divine law has led him, in the end, to the shabby, third-rate gospel of Stephen K. Bannon.

Read the rest here.  I also wonder how much longer we should call Gerson an “evangelical” or a “conservative.”

More on Judge Roy Moore

MooreRoy Moore is going to keep people like me busy.  If he wins the Alabama Senate seat in December he will go to Washington and continue to make his historically misinformed Christian nationalist claims.  But in terms of politics, I don’t think it really matters that Moore is probably going to the Senate instead of Luther Strange.  Both men will vote the same way on most issues.

Here is a taste of Rachel Chason’s Washington Post piece on Moore’s brand of Christian politics:

Roy Moore’s reading of the Bible has long informed the way the former chief justice of Alabama interpreted the law, and it promises to continue to do so now that he has won the Alabama Republican primary.

Moore, unlike any other Senate candidate in recent history, made his belief in the supremacy of a Christian God over the Constitution the cornerstone of his campaign.

“I want to see virtue and morality returned to our country and God is the only source of our law, liberty and government,” Moore said during Thursday’s debate with incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, who was backed by President Trump and the Republican establishment.

The central argument of Moore’s campaign, The Washington Post’s Michael Scherer reported, is that removing the sovereignty of a Christian God from the functions of government is an act of apostasy, an affront to the biblical savior as well as the Constitution. He even carries a pocket pamphlet that he published with a legal theory of God’s supremacy.

Read the entire piece here.

“Faith Facts” on Roy Moore

Roy Moore,Patricia Jones

He may be the next senator from Alabama.  Over at Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron provides five quick “faith facts” about Roy Moore:

  1. He is a Christian nationalist
  2. He was removed twice as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court because of conflicts between his religious convictions and the law
  3. He is a Southern Baptist
  4. He believes Islam is a “false religion.”
  5. He does not believe in evolutio

See how Shimron unpacks these points here.

I was happy to contribute background to Shimron’s piece, especially on point #1 above.

Alabama Republicans May Have Just Sent a Christian Nationalist to the Senate

Judge_Roy_MooreIf Judge Roy Moore is able to defeat his Democratic opponent in December, his ticket to the United States Senate will be punched.  Last night Moore defeated Luther Strange in an Alabama special election to fill Jeff Sessions’s old Senate seat.  The election has been getting a lot of attention because Donald Trump backed Strange, the GOP “establishment” backed Strange, and most of Trump’s supporters in Alabama supported Moore.  But let’s also remember that Moore believes that the United States was founded as, and continues to be, a Christian nation.

Moore made national headlines in 2001 when he was removed from his position as the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court because he refused to take down a monument of the Ten Commandments.  Moore was elected to Alabama’s highest court again in 2013, but was suspended in 2016 when he told probate judges under his authority to continue to enforce the state ban on same-sex marriage.  He resigned in April 2017 and soon after started his Senate campaign.

In August 2017, VOX reporter Jeff Stein interviewed Moore about his God and country beliefs.  Here is a taste of that interview:

Jeff Stein:

…Where should the limits be between religion and public life if you could?

Roy Moore:

You have to understand what religion is — the duties you owe to the creator.

And then it starts there first. You have to understand it was the duty of the government under the First Amendment, according to Joseph Story who was there for 37 years and wrote the stories on the Constitution.

It was the duty to foster religion and foster Christianity. He said at the time of the adoption of the Constitution that “it was the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America that Christianity ought to be favored by the State so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience.”

Read the entire interview and Stein’s accompanying article here.

Education or Indoctrination?

This story is a week or two old at this point, but I just came across the summer reading list for Gene Ponder’s AP Government class at Spanish Fort High School in Baldwin County, Alabama:

Conservative Reading List

What shocks me the most about this story is that Eddie Tyler, the Baldwin County School Superintendent, said his decision to pull the reading list had nothing to do with its conservative content.  Apparently Ponder did not submit the list for vetting and approval before giving it to students.

If this is true, there is some serious educational malpractice going on in Baldwin County, Alabama.  This list represents an attempt to indoctrinate students in a certain brand of conservative politics.

Frankly, this list would work very well in a college or graduate course on conservative politics in America.  If I were teaching this course I would assign most of the books on the list as primary sources.

The Birmingham Bible-Reading Crusade of 1946

Bible Cause CoverAs our Civil Rights history tour leaves Birmingham and heads to Memphis today, I recalled the story of Birmingham’s Bible Reading Crusade of 1946.  I wrote about this crusade in The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible SocietyHere is the pertinent passage:

As the ABS experimented with different ways to bring the Bible to the world and raise the necessary funds to do so, they continued more traditional means of extending the Bible Cause at home.  In several American cities, the Society held “Bible Reading Crusades.” The largest and most influential of these crusades was conducted in 1946 by the Atlanta Division of the Agency Among the Colored People of the United States (at this point it was called The Haven Agency). The crusade was focused on the African American coal miners and plant workers of Birmingham, Alabama. Daniel Stanton, the senior secretary of the Haven Agency, inspired the crusade. He wanted to meet the spiritual needs of the more than 100,000 African Americans living in the city.  Stanton had spent most of his time in Birmingham gathering informally with these laborers, mostly on weekend afternoons on 4th Avenue North between 16th and 18th streets, to share the Gospel and teach them the Bible. “These milling throngs,” he wrote, “were ‘making a living’; but the pace of the wheels of industry gave them little time to think about ‘making a life’.”

African American businessmen in the city drafted A.C. Gaston to lead the crusade and serve as its primary organizer. Gaston was the grandson of a former slave, a World War I veteran, a layman in African Methodist Episcopal Church, and a Birmingham businessman who made his money in insurance, banking, and the funeral services industry.  He was the wealthiest African American in Birmingham and was known city-wide for providing jobs for out-of-work blacks.  He also built the A.G. Gaston Hotel in 1954, an important civil rights landmark where Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and other Civil Rights Movement leaders stayed free of charge.  As racial tensions broke out in Birmingham in the 1950s and 1960s, Gaston became an advocate of working peacefully with the city’s white businessmen, even at times disagreeing with the approach of King.  It is not too much of a stretch to say that the significant role that Gaston played in Birmingham’s civil rights movement had roots in his leadership of the city’s Bible crusade in 1946.  Gaston was well known, but this was one of his first efforts to organize a citywide event of this scale.

One of Gaston’s first moves was to get the support of Birmingham’s Negro Business League and African American ministers.  He then set a goal of getting 50,000 people, roughly half of the African American population, to read the Bible together on May 12, 1946, the first day of the weeklong crusade.  The black community of Birmingham responded in a way that far exceeded expectations.  Stanton arranged for 40,000 copies of the Gospel of John to be distributed before the crusade so the city would be ready for the mass meeting.  The success of the first day reading prompted Gaston’s committee to change its distribution goal to 75,000.  Gaston purchased 15,000 more copies of the Gospel of John from Stanton and created a subcommittee to provide one for every high school in the city.   Local businessmen turned their stores and officers into what the ABS described as “centers for stimulating an interest in the reading of the Book.”  Volunteer workers distributed Bibles in every industrial plant in Birmingham that employed African Americans.  Others brought scripture portions into the “dark mines and into the lives made darker still by sin.”  In the end, over 101,800 copies were distributed in the city during the week.  The ABS ugranted 62,000 of those Bibles, its largest donation to an organization or denomination in the two decades following the end of World War II.

Last night I asked Carolyn Maull McKinstry if she remembered this Bible reading crusade.  She did not, but she also wasn’t born yet. When I wrote The Bible Cause I did not explore this event from the perspective of local records or from the Birmingham African Americans involved.  But this civil rights bus tour has challenged me to think about this story in new ways.  I wonder if there might be some connections between the Bible Reading Crusade and the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham.

Perhaps I will return to this story one day.