Forum Left, 2/14/12

Who Dictates Your Standards?

By Ben Tompkins

Maybe even as recently as six months ago I would have dismissed this issue entirely on the grounds that any law that compels people of faith to submit to a state-mandated miscarriage of their otherwise semi-harmless beliefs is generally frowned upon by the Constitution.  I don’t like that kind of thing, and I think most people agree.

But recently, I’ve been developing a fundamentally different philosophy towards public concerns and private belief.  It seems to me that we often treat fundamental rights as if they exist wholly outside the bounds of public reality and as if requiring individuals to financially participate in public needs that don’t line up with their personal beliefs is tantamount to using the Bill of Rights as toilet paper.

I find this to be an inherently selfish, bitter view of civil rights.

Our civil rights are in place because our founding fathers believed that individual freedom is a vital, cherished ingredient for the functioning of a great society.  However, freedom is not a suicide pact.  The end goal of the Bill of Rights is not to establish a wildlife preserve of personal solidarity at every fenceline, it’s to allow us to create a more perfect society.  The entire premise is that we have to live together.   As a result, every single civil right you have is curtailed to some degree or another to allow for a larger public good.  All of them.

Since I already talked about toilet paper, let’s take shit as an example.  Our tax dollars pay for public sewers.  Now a true conservative philosopher will say that sewers should be a free market enterprise, because people should be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not sewers are a good thing for their town.  They then argue that most people would support it anyway and the free market accomplishes the same goal as government control but in an ethically superior way.  But realistically?

Not everyone will support the sewer.

Some people, ostensibly some whole communities, would decide that they may as well throw their shit into the gutters.  Of course, most of us wouldn’t want to live there, so the free market should solve that problem.  Except for the kids who grow up in that town and the people who can’t afford to move away.

And you too.

You can smell that town from your clean, sewered-up community when the wind changes, can’t you?  Usually it means there’s a storm coming.  And hey, did you ever notice that you pay more in taxes to subsidize their unpaid shit-related hospital bills?  Wait, what?  You can point to those taxes as evidence that their freedom of choice is resulting in tangible harm to you and we should compel them to build sewers for the larger public good?

No.  This is America, and in this country we subsidize the rights of other members of our society to sacrifice the rest of us on the altar of their freedoms.

I know Obama backed off the birth control mandate bit by shifting the responsibility to insurance companies rather than the religious institutions themselves, but frankly, I don’t think he would have or should have if this weren’t an election year.   I understand that abstinence is a “solution” to this country’s issues with pregnancy and women’s health, but it’s a solution the same way that communism creates a perfect altruistically driven society.  Both are wonderful in theory and create shitty societies.

Now we can argue about the difference between socialism and reasonable standards of public health, but there is no debate about the impact of abstinence-only policies (which, by the way, my tax dollars pay for but I’m still willing to pay my taxes) on the general health of a population and, more dramatically, women.

Thankfully in this country, a company deciding it knows what’s morally best for its employees only results in higher taxes for everyone else to subsidize all kinds of pregnancy and women’s health related issues, orphanages, welfare and all manner of other problems.

Look, Obama has been trying for the last three years to convince us to take ownership of the issues of health care, and part-and-parcel with that understanding is that, in 2012, birth control is a basic standard of preventative care regardless of your 11th century religious beliefs.   Seriously, does a Scientology-run company get to exempt antibiotics?  Does a Waldorf school get to exempt immunizations?

The bottom line here is, it’s not going to force anyone to use it, it’s not going to force anyone to tell their employees to use it, but we should require that it be offered as fundamentally as any other basic standard of care.  Not everyone on earth should be subject to Catholic morality simply for want of a job.  Allowing a religious institution to impose its morality on public health beyond individual choice will leave our society downwind of a righteous cesspool of social ignorance.

Benjamin Tompkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue. Reach Ben Tompkins at

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Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

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