May 28, 2005 | Graham

Christian Right the morning after

The latest fantastic obsession of the left is the imagined dominance of the religious right in the US, which is then projected to be on the verge of engineering the same feat here. Thus the last but one edition of the Griffith Review Weekly tackled the issue of fundamentalism by splashing the photo of an attractive young girl holding her hands high in the air at a charismatic church service.
Knowing church goers as I do, it’s just as likely that she was there because she was keen on some guy, or that her kids are in the play group, than that she is a dangerous fundamentalist. But I guess, if Islam has its extremists, it would be backward of us if Christianity didn’t as well.
Further evidence for my skepticism of the idea that we are sitting in the middle of a Christian fundamentalist heist of civilisation is contained in a survey from the US.
Should pharmacists should be compelled to fill a prescription for the “morning after pill”, even if they morally disagree with it? The US pharmacists association says it’s ethical for them to refuse, but only if they make arrangements for the patients to get the medicines from someone else. They can outsource their violation of their own ethical standard. But secular feeling is so strong in the US, that everyone, except self-identifying “Conservatives”, believe pharmacists should be forced to fill the scrips. That includes 70% of Catholics and 68% of Protestants. Interesting that on this matter of birth control Catholics are more liberal than Protestants. Conservatives are apparently the only group where a majority is opposed – 69%. Which means there must be a lot of Christians who aren’t Conservatives.
So, if there is a Christian fundamentalist takeover in the US, it’s falling on barren ground.
Here’s the press release for any who are interested:

Americans Say Pharmacists Should be Required to Fill “Morning After Pill” Prescriptions
— Views Similar Among All Religions —
New York, NY, May 13, 2005 – Results of a national survey of 1,200 Americans revealed that a clear majority (73%) believe that pharmacists should be required to fill prescriptions of the “morning after pill” even if they are personally opposed to it.
The study was conducted by the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Social and Religious Research at The Jewish Theological Seminary and HCD Research in Flemington, New Jersey, from May 10-11, in response to recent reports of pharmacists who refused to fill prescriptions of the “morning after pill” for religious reasons. The study was conducted as part of a continuing investigation of the social, political, and economic issues confronting the U.S. health care system. The margin of error for the study was plus or minus 3% at a 95% level of confidence.
The responses were analyzed based on the religious affiliation and the participants’ self described affiliation. Among the findings:
A majority of responders (74%) representing all major religions agreed that state laws should require pharmacists to fill prescriptions despite any religious objections that pharmacists might have.
Majorities of both Catholics (70%) and Protestants (68%) side with the right of patients to receive legal drugs over pharmacists’ right to refuse dispensing them for reasons of conscience.
By political affiliation, more than half of conservatives (59%) believe th! at pharmacists should not be forced to violate their consciences. A clear majority of moderates (81%) and liberals (87%) side with patients’ rights, as did respondents who were unsure of their political standing (76%).
“These findings are not encouraging from the point of view of religious liberty,” said Dr. Alan Mittleman, Director of the Finkelstein Institute. “Conservatives more than other groups have the highest sensitivity to the religious liberty dimension of this scenario.”
“These results are similar to national polls related to the Terry Schaivo case,” commented Glenn Kessler, co-founder and managing partner, HCD Research. “It seems that on controversial medical and ethical issues the general public’s views are supportive of carrying out physician directives.”
The policy of the more than 50,000-member American Pharmacists Association states that druggists can refuse to fill prescriptions if they object on moral grounds, but must make arrangements so that patients can get the medicine. However, some pharmacists still refuse to hand the prescription to another druggist to fill.
Recent media reports indicate that some pharmacists have refused to fill prescriptions for contraceptives on moral grounds. States are alert to this dilemma. Mississippi enacted a sweeping statue that went into effect last July that allows health care providers, including pharmacists, not to participate in procedures that go against their conscience. South Dakota and Arkansas already have laws that protect a pharmacist’s right to refuse to dispense medicines, and ten other states considered similar legislation this year.
On the basis of this survey, however, it appears that the public may not have sympathy for such conscience-based exemptions.
To view results and data conducted for this poll, please go to:

Posted by Graham at 11:13 pm | Comments (5) |


  1. Those sort of polling figures don’t preclude the religious right being able to have a strong influence in the US – particularly given their undemocratic voting system and low voter turnout.
    I agree there is a lot of exaggeration at the moment in Australia about the potential impact of a fundamentalist Christian right-wing. However, it’s not that different to the mutterings people have habitually made about Brian Harradine’s influence on ‘moral’ issues with the current federal Government. I’ll watch Family First as I do with all parties and political actors, but I’m not very concerned about their having any major impact as some sort of spearhead for the religious right.
    One area in Australia where I am getting more apprehesnive is the apparent growing strength of the hardline right-wing/conservatives in the Liberal Party in a number of states (most significantly in NSW of late, but Tasmania also springs to mind). Dark mutterings about Opus Dei never impress me much, as they mainly come from people whose understanding of the Catholic Church extends about as far as reading the Da Vinci Code, but it does seem that some of the key people behind this push within the Liberals are consciously targetting religious ‘moral-majority’ types.
    Do you have any views on this Graham? My perceptions of it mainly come through mainstream media reports, which means I am somewhat unsure of their veracity. I know battles between ‘right’ and ‘left’ in any party are par for the course, but are so-called religious ‘values’ playing much of a part in some of the internal Liberal pushes of late?

    Comment by Andrew Bartlett — May 29, 2005 @ 12:06 pm

  2. Andrew, my understanding is that there is a significant element of religion in the current right-wing push in New South Wales, but I’d be surprised if it was exclusively that. Like you, I’m not really close enough and have to rely on sources that are not entirely disinterested and newspapers.
    While there has always been some jostling in the Liberal Party, battles when I first joined were rarely about ideology. The party was broadly fairly tolerant. Judith Brett offers some possible answers as to why in her book about Menzies and the moral middle class. Essentially the Liberal Party membership saw themselves as being there to achieve temporary ends, so they were very pragmatic and issues-driven in their approach rather than ideological.
    What the ideological battle has done is to push out ordinary citizens, who aren’t interested in branch stacking etc. and is changing the nature of the party.
    The party used to have a religious side to it, but non-denominational and mainstream. When protestantism was in the ascendant it was comfortably protestant. There is a fair bit of catholic influence, and catholics do tend more to think of themselves as a group, and then some of them came indirectly courtesy of the DLP split and have NCC type affiliations.
    So, what right-wing Christian influence there is tends to be Catholic, rather than protestant.

    Comment by Graham Young — May 29, 2005 @ 9:48 pm

  3. “Interesting that on this matter of birth control Catholics are more liberal than Protestants”
    This is almost exemplefied in the Monty Python movie the meaning of life. The Catholic family have dozens of children because they don’t belive in contraception. The Protestant couple sneer at the catholics for their backwardness and anti-libertarian attitude, the husband then goes on a tirade of sexual liberation and in the process gives every nick name that a condom is known by.
    Some more and the punchline you can probably remember, “Well we have two children and we’ve only had sex twice”.

    Comment by Benno — May 29, 2005 @ 10:01 pm

  4. My favourite scene from that movie is the spoof of Oliver with kids jumping out of every cupboard and nuns cartwheeling down the street while the chorus goes “Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great, and when a sperm gets wasted, God gets quite irate.”

    Comment by Graham Young — May 29, 2005 @ 10:16 pm

  5. Perhaps we should take a moment to remember that theology and politics are inseparable. When one engages in theology, one also necessarily engages in politics. This is not a cynical position of theology (as are many comments about the interaction between Church and State), it is the unavoidable consequence of any theological pursuit. Any political movement (formal or informal) with an explicit or implicit theology cannot be understood without understanding its underlying theology (e.g., al-qaeda, Moral Majority, Family First, Sojourners Magazine, etc.).
    It’s also important to understand, I think, that the political acitivities of religious groups are not always designed to have political clout. Instead, they often do little more than reinforce the perception of the religious supporters that they are engaged in a struggle between good and evil. Once a leader can convince his followers of this, the donations and loyalty will not stop flowing. The last federal election demonstrated this perfectly in the battle between Family First and the Greens. Both called the other “extreme” while vigourously defending against the same charge. Now, few members of an AOG church are bold enough to want/confess membership in the Greens party; neither are Greens members likely to choose/admit membership in an AOG church. The political activity serves to strengthen the internal perception more than it serves to effect genuine social change according to a theological agenda.
    And personally, I prefer The Life of Brian to The Meaning of Life. Notice how every event immediately becomes reason to justify the existence of the semi-religious struggle against the Romans. It’s self-perpetuating.

    Comment by Andrew Smith — May 31, 2005 @ 3:10 pm

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