I am writing to you because you are my last hope.
Let’s understand each other. I am an atheist. I believe that if all fundamentalist religions disappeared tomorrow, we would be in a better place the day after. That said, I think it’s possible for atheists and the Christian right to put aside our mutual antipathy and join in common cause to protect the sanctity of human life.
The idea for this unlikely collaboration came from a recent New York Times op-ed piece written by James Dobson of Focus on the Family. He wrote about a meeting in Salt Lake City at which he and fifty other Christian right leaders voted unanimously to join in supporting a minor-party candidate “if neither of the two major political parties nominates an individual who pledges himself or herself to the sanctity of human life . . ..”
In the 35 years since Roe v. Wade made abortion legal, your side has been tireless, some would say ruthless, in the defense of the sanctity of potential life. Along the way, you have acquired the clout that makes politicians ask, “How high?”
No more than a cursory glance at your accomplishments is sufficient to convince the most skeptical atheist of your worth as an ally.
You have succeeded—in many states—in dismantling reproductive rights in all but name. Your muscle has pushed politicians to pass legislation allowing health care providers to refuse a patient legal services related to abortion, sterilization, and other forms of contraception. Even in cases of rape and incest, you have supported laws that allow medical personnel to refuse victims access to emergency contraception for religious reasons.
You have been successful in replacing comprehensive sex education programs in public schools with faith-based, platitude-laden, abstinence-only programs, which study after study have shown to be ineffective, if not counter-productive. More to the point, you have convinced the government to fund these religious programs exclusively.
By far your biggest success to date has been cowing the Bush administration into recognizing the “rights” of a blastocyst—a mass of undifferentiated cells—over those of human beings suffering from Alzheimer’s or spinal cord injuries or any number of diseases whose treatment and ultimate cure may be enhanced by stem cell research.
In your battle to protect the sanctity of life, you have often triumphed where reason and basic humanity would have dictated otherwise. Now you have the opportunity to use your considerable clout to accomplish something that any reasonable, humane person would consider categorically good, though we’ll need to tweak your no compromise definition of life to include postpartum humans of all ages and races and nationalities to be successful.
What I am proposing is nothing less than a constitutional amendment. We’ll call it the “conscience clause”— think rape victim and emergency contraception and religious beliefs.
It reads as follows:
Section 1. No citizen of the United States shall be forced to support, through taxation or other levies, any government agency whose actions disregard the sanctity of human life, if said action is contrary to that individual’s religious beliefs or moral convictions.
Section 2. Citizens of the United States shall have the right to allocate their tax dollars to government agencies proportionately as their conscience dictates.
What this amendment would mean for Americans who value the sanctity of human life regardless of race, creed, national origin, or neocon ideology is that they could choose to redistribute the 27 percent (a conservative estimate) of their federal income tax now going to the military—and its life-threatening mission—to a government agency whose mission is life-enhancing.
To get a visual of the impact this amendment could have, go to the interactive tax chart at www.nationalpriorities.org. If you paid $15,000 in federal taxes last year, $4080 was dedicated to the destruction of human life, $675 to education, $390 to nutrition programs, $225 to environmental protection, and $285 to housing. Now, reallocate your tax dollars according to your conscience.