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I hope you all took note of the letter to Governor Nixon from the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO urging him to veto SB749 – the latest slap at women’s reproductive freedom mounted by our state legislature. If you haven’t, Michael Bersin has posted its text here at SMP. The letter cogently outlines the basic threats posed by this legislation.

The AFL-CIO is not alone in its objections to a law that would permit religious organizations and individuals with public functions to penalize those whose beliefs do not coincide with theirs – which is exactly what SB749 would do. Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club have mobilized against it (you can send a letter to Governor Nixon via the Sierra Club urging him to veto SB749 here). According to the Kansas City Star, as of last Saturday letters urging the Governor to veto the bill outnumbered those in support of it by two to one.

Such pressure is very important in this case since Governor Nixon has a record of letting obnoxious bills intended to restrict reproductive rights become law without his signature, evidently hoping that by not taking a stand, he’ll anger fewer people overall. The sweep of this bill is so wide and so unfair, though, that we cannot allow our leaders to ignore its consequences – particularly since the supporters of SB749 are determined to ensure that politicians take note of their ability to pack a mighty wallop. The two to one ratio of anti vs. pro letters could easily shift.

The folks who have drummed up this whole “religious freedom” frenzy, a group of politically conservative Catholic Bishops, kicked off their counter campaign, the so-called “Fortnight for Freedom,” yesterday. In Missouri the action took place at a rally at the Capitol:

More than an estimated 1,000 people, nearly all of them wearing red, crammed into the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday in Jefferson City. Their intent was to rally for religious liberty and protest President Barack Obama’s policy requiring insurance companies to cover the costs to provide free birth control to women working at religious-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and colleges. Numerous religious leaders addressed the crowd, drawing cheers and loud applause and several “Amens” throughout the rally.

Although drawing upon the usual, crazed anti-abortion, right-wing protestants to swell their ranks, the locus for this piece of churchly agit-prop is a 12 page document, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Administrative Committee in March. While it contains a few points that might give those cooperative. right-wing protestants pause – it also singles out immigration laws such as Alabama’s that would punish religious people for sheltering the undocumented, for instance – it, for the most part, attempts to puff up the anti-sex and anti-women hysteria of the bishops into a dignified religious crusade.  

Further, this crusade has as its goal political extortion of the sort that resulted in Missouri’s SB749.  And it’s well enough funded so that it can come down on politicians with sufficient force.  Expect to see TV ads, Facebook campaigns and lots of hoopla The source of the funds to pay for all this outreach, however,  while not entirely clear has been questioned in the context of partisan politics.

Lest you doubt the motivation, just consider what it is that the Bishops are wailing so vociferously about. The source of all this angst, the Obama birth control mandate, does not extend to church affiliated bodies that are strictly religious in their activities, or that are not supported in whole or part by U.S. tax dollars. If the Catholic Bishops object to their affiliated educational, medical and charitable organizations following  the same  rules as  every other tax supported entity and wish to continue asserting their intrusive religious authority,  all they need to do is stop taking our  tax dollars. Voila! – a solution that preserves their “religious freedom,” such as it is.

But don’t wait for the bishops to give up all those dollars by taking a real stand for conscience. Nor do I expect to see anyone challenging the Church’s tax-exempt status on the basis of the overtly political nature of the bishops’ campaign. What we can do, though, is keep track of how much noise they manage to generate on the topic of SB749 with their “Fortnight for Freedom” – and make sure that we keep on making our own noise in return.