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Religious Discrimination

Here in the United States, it wasn't that long ago that pro-lifers were discriminated against on the basis of their religious identity.

UC Berkeley law professor John T. Noonan, Jr., a Catholic, describes the discrimination pro-lifers faced from fellow Christians as well as from mainstream secular American society in his 1979 book, A Private Choice: Abortion in America in the Seventies.

In her essay "Life and Peace," Juli Loesch wrote that when she spoke out against abortion at an antinuclear gathering, she:

"...tried to present a meticulous *secular* case against abortion. I marshalled all the scientific evidence... I followed it up with the most basic principle found in every human ethical system... do not do to others what you would not like done to you.

"This was rewarded by a brief silence, which was broken by a single question:

‘Are you a Catholic?... Well, then. You’re imposing your religious beliefs...’

"And, therefore, I suppose, I lose."

Pro-life literature similarly relates that in the late 1970s, Bill Moyer, a Christian minister, who after Walter Cronkite is perhaps the most trusted name in television journalism, was doing a special on abortion for Public Television. He spoke about a shrill minority trying to impose their views on the rest of our pluralistic society -- a secular democracy. Behind him loomed a statue of Jesus and a Catholic church, but it could just as easily have been a born again church or a fundamentalist church.

In 1986, on USENET, John Morrow, a student at Rutgers University, was making secular arguments on behalf of the unborn, like, "Would you kill someone in a coma if you knew within nine months he or she would be awake?"

When it was revealed that John Morrow was a *Christian*, Russ Cage, one of John's most visible pro-choice opponents on USENET said, "The truth is out! John is a Christian!" as if John Morrow's religious identity somehow discredited his views.

In the late 1980s, on the police drama Cagney & Lacey, the character of Christine Cagney (played by actress Sharon Gless) expresses her opposition to abortion as a Catholic. At the end of the episode, the police detectives discover a woman that died from self-abortion, and Christine Cagney realizes whatever one's own personal religious beliefs might be, abortion must be kept legal at all costs, because without access to safe, legal abortion, women die.

(Whether legal or illegal, the unborn children always die in abortion.)\The abortion issue was repeatedly framed NOT as a secular and nonsectarian civil rights issue -- the possible rights of the unborn -- which applies to all of mankind -- including atheists and agnostics -- but dismissed as someone's "religious belief."

Now that pro-lifers in the United States have some political power, they're dismissing animal rights as someone else's "religious belief."

Animal rights are a nonsectarian civil rights issue that applies to all of mankind -- including atheists and agnostics. Pro-lifers are intellectually dishonest when they frame the issue of animal rights as someone else's "religious belief" which they think doesn't apply to them... they fail to realize many people see opposition to abortion as someone else's "religious belief," too!

Juli Loesch in her essay from the '70s, "Life and Peace" made a secular case against abortion at an antinuclear gathering, and rather than respond to her argument, they focused solely on her religious identity, as if to discredit her.

Similarly, I can cite data from John Robbins, Jeremy Rifkin, PETA, the Worldwatch Institute, etc. but rather than respond to the facts and figures being presented, I'm questioned about my religious identity: do we "work" for our salvation, do we worship in churches or temples, do we refer to sinners as "dogs" or with half a dozen different animal words, etc.?

Animal rights should not be solely aligned with a particular political party. Neither should they be tied to a particular religion.

As I told Dr. Richard Schwartz (author, Judaism and Vegetarianism) via email in 1997: arguing as some Christians do that animal rights and vegetarianism are solely "Jewish" concerns is like saying, "It's only wrong to own a slave if you're a Quaker."

No. Suffering and injustice concern us all. Like the abolition of slavery or the emancipation of women, animal rights and vegetarianism are moral absolutes and apply to everyone, including atheists and agnostics.

Richard agreed with me that churches should have animal issues at the top of their agenda as well.

Adolf Hitler thought Albert Einstein's scientific discoveries were mere "Jewish science" and thus not applicable to gentiles. This is the mentality of meat-eating Christians towards vegetarianism, which they regard as a sectarian (like circumcision) dietary restriction (like "keeping kosher"), rather than as a universal ethic for all mankind (like abstaining from cannibalism).

Meat-eating Christians relegating animal rights and vegetarianism solely to Judaism are thus as bigoted as Hitler.

The sad irony here is a lot of liberals see abortion as sectarian, too! They dismiss it as a "Catholic issue" or a fundamentalist Christian issue or say if you're not born again, you don't have to be pro-life.

If vegetarianism were solely about "fit" or following a peculiar set of "dietary laws" why would pro-lifers be offended by pro-choice vegetarians and vegans?

They're offended because THEY KNOW vegetarianism involves the animals' right to life, and thus these pro-choicers appear to value animal life over human life under some circumstances.

And issues like animal experimentation, circuses, and fur have nothing to do with diet, eating, nor food, but DO involve the animals' right to life.

Sometimes being lighthearted gets the point across to Christians that vegetarianism is not about "dietary laws" but about the animals' right to life, like Steve Martin in the '70s asking, "How many polyesters did you have to kill to make that suit?"

Leonardo Da Vinci, Count Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, George Bernard Shaw, Percy Shelley, Susan B. Anthony, etc. were all vegetarian, and none of them were Jewish.

At the end of 2007, shortly before moving to Israel, Pete Cohon of Veggie Jews in San Francisco said to me, "PETA's not Jewish."

When I told Jim Frey of Berkeley Pro-Life that animal issues are secular and nonsectarian and thus applicable to *everyone* including atheists and agnostics, he said, "Well, just like with abortion."

Pro-lifers must not play a sectarian game with animal activists. Saying, " *Your* religion says it's wrong to kill animals, mine doesn't..." is pointless when someone from a differing denomination could just as easily say, "Your religion says it's wrong to kill the unborn, mine doesn't." There are pro-choice Protestant denominations, like the United Church of Christ.

As an animal advocate and a secularist, I've never understood the attempts of pro-life Christians to unsuccessfully deflect the issues of animal rights and vegetarianism by depicting them solely as someone else's "religious belief" which they think doesn't apply to them.

A lot of people look at abortion that way, too, you know!

Claiming, "Your religion says it's wrong to kill animals -- mine doesn't..." is pointless when someone from another denomination could just as easily say, "Your religion says it's wrong to kill the unborn -- mine doesn't..."

On the other hand, perhaps pro-life Christians *do* see the abortion issue as sectarian.

My friend Ruth once told me when she was doing sidewalk counseling outside an abortion clinic with a couple of other Christians, these Christians were saying to her:

"We only want to prevent *Christian* women from having abortions..."

"I guess that leaves me to minister to the pagan!" said Ruth lightheartedly.

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