John Seven: Religious exemptions a scary trend


NORTH ADAMS -- When last week the words "Hobby Lobby" were on so many people’s lips, I noticed that many of the protests focused mostly on the issue of women’s reproductive rights in the form of contraception and not on one other troubling and wider-reaching aspect of the case -- the right of religious exemptions from the rule of law.

Oh, don’t worry, I recognize entirely that this is an attack on women’s reproductive rights and I completely agree that is something that should concern everyone. However, the ammunition in the attack was religious exceptionalism that has made its mark on so many other social, economic, safety, public health and science issues.

Far-right Christians have been waging an almost constant battle to win the right to make the secular laws of our country reflect their religion, and barring that victory, giving themselves the right to opt out of the law, even if it harms those outside their faith. They have now done that, largely thanks to a Supreme Court that has been packed with judges of the very same faith they are making decisions about, and if a governmental theocracy is no longer quite on the table, a societal one run by the religious whims of businesses is looming large. The Hobby Lobby victory is the first major one the effort to create a separate system of regulations ruled by cherry-picked religious beliefs.

Cherry-picked because radical conservative Christians are very careful when selecting which rules of the Bible and sayings of Jesus to claim as mandatory. It’s clear that the preferred Biblical edicts are the ones that give them political advantage and a level of control.

This is an inevitable outcome of religion commandeering politics. Religious thought of any stripe typically requires no proof; only faith. From creationism to climate change, fundamentalist Christians have presented their beliefs as data.

It’s that same battle plan with not only women’s reproductive rights, but also same-sex marriage, gun control, health care for everyone, poverty, war, security and so much more. If they can whittle and weaken the opposition just a little, that makes the opposition less able to fend off the next explosive attack.

It’s created a mess with bigger messes to come. This is about so much more than women’s reproductive rights. Name your concern and you’ll find a religious component behind the threat. One of them is bound to affect you.

Does this mean all religions will have this option? Probably not unless they stack the Supreme Court decks, too. While it might be a delightful comeuppance to have Muslim businesses exhibit the same right as Christian ones to ignore laws, I don’t think any religion should be able to do that.

It doesn’t matter that Public Religion Research Institute has shown that most Americans disagree with the Hobby Lobby decision and that religious organizations from left-leaning Christian ones to Jewish organizations publicly opposed Hobby Lobby pursuing the case.

What matters is that businesses are already petitioning Obama to include a religious exception to the upcoming LGBT anti-discrimination act, ENDA. They are already trying to find new ways to hurt other people by being above the law. That’s all religious exemptions from the law comes down to -- hurt and punishment for not holding the same spiritual and moral beliefs.

Every Christian and every member of any other religion has a right to refuse what offends their delicate gods, but they don’t have any say in what the rest of us do. They’re trying to commandeer our future. Teach your children that their bodies, lives, minds and souls are their own before it’s too late.

John Seven, a writer, lives in North Adams. He can be reached at or at


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