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Religious zealots fizzle Wisconsin’s fireworks

Two events surrounding July 4 speak volumes about the perils facing freedom.

On July 5, one day after we celebrated our founders’ vision of a society based on individual liberty, Gov. Scott Walker signed into law one of the most flagrant abuses of personal freedom the state has seen in decades. Senate Bill 206 stipulates that doctors performing abortion procedures must have admitting privileges with hospitals within a 30-mile radius. Since such privileges were not required in the past and since hospitals run by religious denominations (including three out of five of Milwaukee’s largest hospital systems) will not provide them for birth-control services, access to abortion has been severely curtailed where it hasn’t been eliminated altogether in the state.

SB206 effectively shuts down all but two abortion clinics in the state through a maneuver giving huge medical decision-making power to clerics.

The bill also forces women to undergo medically unnecessary ultrasounds, including a procedure that requires invasive vaginal probes, prior to terminating unwanted pregnancies. The law even forces doctors to describe the ultrasound to women.

Many Republicans who pushed this bill onto a state that doesn’t want it cited their reading of the bible as a major factor. Never mind that the bible not only doesn’t address abortion but also describes incidents in which God orders the Israelites to slay children and pregnant women. In fact, biblical law orders a mild sentence for a man who causes a woman to miscarry but a death sentence for him if the woman dies in the process. Clearly the bible puts a woman’s life above that of a fetus, just as it defines life as beginning at the moment of breathing, since the ancients knew nothing of the reproductive process in utero.

But this is not a nation where one religious sect can enforce its unpopular views on everyone else no matter what they think the bible says. Just as fog fizzled the fireworks along Milwaukee’s lakefront, SB206 obliterated the meaning of individual liberty from religious dogma.

While fundamentalists in Wisconsin were taking a wrecking ball to our democracy, Egyptians were amassing to eliminate religious control of their fledgling democracy. They’ve quickly discovered that religious fanatics might be elected to power through the democratic process, but they inevitably will demolish that process and enshrine religious law once they gain office.

Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks took heat for describing radical Islamists as incapable of running a modern government due to their apocalyptic, absolutist mind-sets, which lead them to dismiss the people’s interests in favor of what they perceive as divine commands. “It’s necessary to investigate the core of a party’s beliefs, not just accept anybody who happens to emerge from a democratic process,” Brooks wrote.

But those words accurately describe all religious zealots in public office. And they’re scary words for Wisconsin, where the Christian fringe has taken complete control of the Legislature through an undemocratic process of gerrymandering that cannot be undone until 2020 at the earliest.

Where is the outrage over Wisconsin’s version of the Muslim Brotherhood? Will our Tahrir Square uprising come only after we’ve suffered as much as Egypt has?

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