Will Court's Abortion Overreach Galvanize Religious Americans Who Prefer Secular Society?Roundup
tags: secularism, abortion
Jacques Berlinerblau is a professor of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University. He has written numerous books on the subject of secularism, including the recent Secularism: The Basics (Routledge). His research concentrates on the nexus between literature and comedy on the one side, and cultural conflicts on the other.
In April, Florida enacted a law that sharply restricted abortion access in the state and banned most abortions after 15 weeks. That law, known as HB 5, is now encountering some exciting and innovative legal opposition, not only from groups that fight for civil liberties and reproductive freedoms, but from religious groups as well. The challenges in Florida — and somewhat similar ones in Kentucky and Indiana — may signal subtle but significant shifts in how activists across the country are contesting a recent string of conservative Christian legislative triumphs.
Even if these cases don’t immediately succeed, the plaintiffs are helping to transform the debate on the meaning of secularism in America by exposing a false division between “religious” and “secular” citizens. Ideally, these interventions will foster a much more sophisticated political dialogue about the promise of secular governance. For at some point these cases are going to force a district or circuit court judge, or maybe even a gaggle of United States Supreme Court justices, to confront some of the neon-light-blinking religious inequalities that HB 5 and similar laws create.
The reality is that abortion restrictions don’t just infringe on the rights of secular people — they also suppress the rights of many religious people outside the Christian right.
For decades, the Christian right has been ingeniously framing, weaponizing and us-vs.-them-ing the religious-secular divide. The “us,” as far as their rhetoric goes, are religious people — all religious people. Of all stripes. Of all theological persuasions. As if “religion” binds together in hand-holding fellowship every pious American from Maine to California.
The diabolical “them” are “secularists.” This cohort is hellbent on whisking God, school prayer and “Merry Christmas!” salutations out of public life. “They,” so goes this argument, want to subject you to state-sponsored atheism and your kids to read V.I. Lenin’s “What Is To Be Done?”
Absurd and reductive as this dichotomy may be, it has been devastatingly effective. Demagogued to perfection by conservative commentators, it insinuates that a minority of nonreligious “secular” Americans are subjecting a majority of religious ones to apartheid-like rule.