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The Blunt Amendment: When Pigs Fly

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As I was finishing this article I learned, a mere ten minutes ago, that the Blunt Amendment was defeated in the United States Senate by 51:48.

We should breathe an enormous sigh of relief but we also need to understand that the forces that would dare to engineer such nightmarish legislation have only lost a battle but not the war. They will be back, rest assured of that. They have no intention of stopping their headlong attack on every aspect of civil liberties.

The Blunt Amendment represents one scary form of social control; it far exceeded in its potential for tyranny any provisions in the Patriot Act or the NDAA. Think I'm kidding? Think again. Senator Roy Blunt's rider to a Senate transportation bill was crafted to override President Obama's contraception coverage rule and allow any employer to refuse to cover any kind of health care service for religious or moral reasons.

Republicans and their co-religionists argued the Blunt Amendment would protect the religious liberty of employers and have no significant effect on employees. Senate Democrats and women's rights groups argued that the "religious freedom" argument proffered by the Republicans was part of a broader attempt by social conservatives to restrict access to birth control. The first argument is utter nonsense and the second fails to address the full extent of the bill's nightmarish consequences.

What the Blunt Amendment really intended to do was dynamite open a door that has been legally padlocked in the workplace for decades. It was an attempt to allow employers to exercise all manner of discrimination and control over working American citizens. The Blunt Amendment would create an extremely dangerous slippery slope leading directly to the unraveling of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Besides prohibiting employment discrimination based on religion and sex, Title VII prohibits discrimination based on race, color, and national origin. Rest assured that if the Blunt Amendment were law that somehow, someway, discrimination against "race, color, and national original" would follow.

It is not a fanciful stretch to see how this would happen. If employers are granted a legal right to refuse to provide insurance coverage for medical procedures or drugs they believe violate their own narrow creedal or moral beliefs then logically it will not end with contraception and other reproductive medical treatments or interventions. The Blunt Amendment not only would grant the Catholic Church an ability to deny contraception to women, it also would permit any religious employer, as well as employers who are not specifically religious but who claim a "moral" antipathy to something, a right to discriminate in the workplace on personally-held moral grounds as well as institutionalized religious beliefs.

It is only logical that it would allow Jehovah's Witnesses to refuse to provide insurance coverage that provides employees and insured dependents with whole blood and blood products such as plasma, albumin, Erythropoietins, vaccines, immunoglobins, and life saving transfusions, hemophiliac treatments and stem cells. Of course, this would also have a chilling effect on the ability to receive routine surgeries requiring blood products. Would a patient be expected to negotiate for their own blood products separately when scheduling surgeries? How would they do that if they were fighting for life in the ER? Perhaps Republicans who so cavalierly support the Catholic Church's alleged right to deny female employees contraception could just as cavalierly suggest that people who need blood transfusions stop off at Wal-Mart en route to the hospital and grab a cold pint of O-negative universal donor blood. Shouldn't everyone keep frozen packed cells next to the chicken in the freezer?

Southern Baptists, Mormons and other teetotalers could refuse to provide in-hospital or outpatient treatment for alcoholism or substance abuse dependency. Christian Scientists could argue that since their faith rejects all medical interventions, it's legal for them to simply refuse to provide any medical insurance at all. Any number of religious institutions could terminate unwed mothers for pregnancy or conversely fire women for terminating pregnancy. Perhaps before a woman would be allowed to return to the workplace after she's taken sick time to heal from a miscarriage her employer could require her to produce a statement from a physician attesting that her miscarriage was not an abortion.  

God knows the Catholic Church has a long list of dogmatic beliefs and prohibitions; not only does it forbid homosexuality, divorce, tubal ligations and vasectomies as well as abortion and contraception, it also denounces Ouija Boards, astrology, and Tarot cards. It's only logical that if the Catholic Church cannot be forced to pay for contraception -- and doesn't even want an insurance company to provide it to its employees when it's on the insurance company's dime -- that it could argue it should not be forced to compensate through payroll wages Catholic employees (perhaps any employees) who are divorced, homosexual, have been voluntarily sterilized, or read their daily horoscopes in the daily paper.

Why does this seem any more absurd than contraception? It's not. Consider that there is a significant arm's-length distance between the Catholic Church and its employees when an insurance company is inserted in the middle to provide contraception and yet the Catholic bishops have rejected even this compromise. Therefore, if they are allowed to reject an agreement where there is no nexus between the Catholic Church and the delivery of contraception, how is it NOT then possible for them to eventually argue that they have a far more vested interest in how their own payroll dollars are used?

Obviously, there is a direct financial relationship between employers and employees; it is a much closer relationship that the relationship between an insurance company and its named insured. It is not much of a leap for the Catholic Church to argue that it has a religious right to refuse to subsidize through its payroll dollars the lives and lifestyles of people who do not adhere to all Catholic dogma. If the Blunt Amendment becomes law, by some weird logic that seems to drive the far religious right's various arguments, the Catholic Church would almost of necessity be forced to discriminate against those who are divorced, homosexual, voluntarily sterilized, or believe in the occult. Doing so would only prove it is a FAIR and BALANCED employer. It could argue it doesn't only single out sexually active fertile women for discrimination, it also singles out nearly everyone for discrimination -- and it would be admired by the religious nut jobs in America for doing so.

The Blunt Amendment would make it possible for lifestyle itself to become a perfectly reasonable condition precedent to hiring as well as for dismissal. Employers could ask pre-hiring questions they have never been allowed to ask under Title VII concerning marital status, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and personal life style. Religious groups or even individual employers of no religious affiliation could argue that drinking, smoking, and gambling are against their religious or moral beliefs and it would then logically flow that they have a right to ask job applicants to disclose their own habits and beliefs in those matters. Can you envision a day when Human Resource Departments have sections devoted to investigating and monitoring the private lives of their employees? People have already been terminated for indiscretions on Facebook; imagine how employers could have free rein if the Blunt Amendment takes effect.

It is perfectly logical to assume that religious employers could create "Moral Reviews of Character" components as part of their annual employee appraisal and salary review processes. Under any law like the Blunt Amendment an employer would not even need to be a religious organization per se to exercise this type of control; private employers would be granted wide discretion to apply their own private morality on the American workforce.

Imagine how convenient it would be for employers who wish to punish or fire employees to trump up charges for dismissal on the grounds that an employee's outside conduct, that their own private beliefs and actions, violate an employer's religious or private moral convictions. This would create the perfect end-run around unions, the NLRB and long established legal precedents in labor law but  in the upside down world of Orwellian Fox News, Right Wing Religious Fundamentalism and Republican Politics laws like the Blunt Amendment are said to make us free and our democracy stronger. 

Of course they will.. when pigs fly.  


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Maureen Gill is an educator, author, blogger, and public speaker known for her insightful historical analyses, biting political commentaries and riveting fiction. Maureen is an OpEd columnist at and York County Journal Tribune in (more...)
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