Love of Independence on International Women’s Day
Last night, I attended a church service and anti-abortion meeting at the local high school in Grayson County, Virginia – an event that clearly violated the separation of church and state under Article I, Section 16 of the Virginia Constitution. I attended wearing my “hat” as lead minister at Oracle Temple, an interfaith church dedicated to a gender-balanced Godhead.
The thrust of the meeting was to turn Grayson County into a “Sanctuary City for the Unborn.” After the preacher sermonized on why abortion is a sin, the main speaker took the podium – a young man named Mark Lee Dickson, East Texas Director of Texas Right to Life. His goal: to get rural towns across the nation to pass Ordinances which ban abortion, criminalize those assisting an abortion, and outlaw the sale and receipt of abortion pills.
I’m a retired attorney, though I’ve been known to brush the dust off my legal credentials when needed. Twice, I've had to commence legal proceedings against the Grayson County Board of Supervisors. The first suit was over the proposed placement of a state prison along the New River directly across from Oracle Campus. The prison was a pork-barrel project by a Halliburton subsidiary, and the county decided to move the prison after seeing a draft of the lawsuit.
The second lawsuit was over the denial of our permit to build the Peace Pentagon – a denial based on religious grounds. We were assisted by the Rutherford Institute, a legal foundation in Charlottesville, Virginia. A week before trial, Grayson County granted the permit and thereby avoided a national scandal.
During the Q&A at the end of Mr. Dickson’s talk, I asked to speak as an interfaith minister representing other faith-based people in our county, but (i) I was denied the right to speak and called a devil-worshipper; (ii) my questions about women’s health were ignored; and (iii) I was removed from the meeting by the police.
Had I been given the opportunity to talk, here is the speech I had prepared:
I am speaking tonight because I love our home – I love Independence. I think everyone here loves the town of Independence and Grayson County, except perhaps our guest speaker. Independence is not just a place we share, the ground itself, but also a valued principle.
I also have no doubt that everyone here cherishes their freedom, liberty, and the other founding principles of our nation. The United States of America was a precious dream and an experiment that our fore-fathers and mothers fought to give us. Who were these brave and brilliant souls? MOSTLY VIRGINIANS!
In June of 1776 – before we were a nation – VIRGINIA farmer George Mason drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Section 16 of the Declaration recites Freedom of Religion.
A month later, VIRGINIA polymath Thomas Jefferson introduced the Declaration of Independence. A year later in 1777, he penned the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom – still the law in Virginia and the formal mission statement of The Oracle Institute, the charity I serve. Jefferson’s goal was to make clear that Virginia would have NO state-sponsored religion. In fact, Jefferson was so proud of this statute, he instructed it be noted on his tombstone.
Next in 1781, VIRGINIA General George Washington defeated the British monarchy and obtained a full surrender. Where did this miraculous victory take place? In Yorktown, VIRGINIA.
Meanwhile, VIRGINIA statesmen James Madison was completing drafts of the U.S. Constitution, which was formally adopted in 1789 – the same year George Washington from Virginia became the first President of the United States. Madison also drafted the Bill of Rights to further ensure and enshrine the rights of the people. Religious Freedom was deemed paramount and was listed at the 4th Right. After debate, the Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791.
And which of the enumerated rights was agreed upon first by Congress? FREEDOM OF RELIGION! That is why it is the First Amendment – deemed the most important and least controversial. In sum, there is no doubt – no doubt whatsoever – that our Virginia gentlemen wanted this state and our nation to be free of religious prejudice and zealotry.
Now let’s compare the contributions the state of Texas has made to the health of our democracy, as well as the blatant religious motivations of our guest speaker, Mr. Dickson.
- Rather than preach UNITY – as is the custom of Virginia – Texas prefers to sow DIVISION.
- They politicize damn near EVERY issue facing America: from immigration reform, to gun control, climate change, healthcare, medicare, and education (they LOVE to ban books).
- Rather than help the nation solve problems, they threaten succession every few years – bold talk for the state ranked ONE OF THE WORST places to live - as reported by FOX NEWS!
More to the point, Texas is pushing a Christian Nationalist agenda, while violating the tenants of the very Holy Book they claim to honor. They judge the private lives of others – especially women. They steal human rights, criminalize sacred freedoms, and impoverish their most vulnerable.
Texans aren’t Christians; they’re hypocritical bullies. I dare say that Jesus would have a field day calling out their hypocrisy, just as he called out the religious hypocrites of his day.
You want to know how well Texas treats their children?
- Texas is the 12th poorest state in the nation, despite being oil rich, and Texas ranks 4th in the nation for child poverty.
- 22% of the children in Texas are food insecure.
- Texas ranks 3rd in the nation for the number of kids in foster care.
- And here’s some more cheery news: Texas ranks 2nd for the number of children ABUSED in foster care.
Yes, Texas really loves its children, and it loves its women in much the same way:
- Texas is 8th in the nation for maternal mortality rates – with childbirth-related death increasing since they banned abortion, a medical necessity for some mothers.
- For prenatal care of mother and child, Texas ranks 49th in the nation.
- Texas ranks dead last for Women’s Health insurance, leaving 23% of its women uninsured.
- For low-income women, Texas does even worse – if that’s possible. Again, Texas is dead last in the country, with 41% of its poor women lacking health coverage.
And Neighbors: Please do NOT believe Mark Dickson when he tells you Texas has an abortion “exception” to protect the life of the mother. Just today, 5 formerly pregnant women sued Texas claiming that their lives were at risk and they still could not get an abortion. And I quote:
“Married, and some with children already, the women rejoiced at their pregnancies, only to discover that their fetuses had no chance of survival — two had no skulls, and two others were threatening the lives of their twins. Though they faced the risk of hemorrhage or life-threatening infection from carrying those fetuses, the women were told they could not have abortions. The women found themselves furtively crossing state borders to seek medical treatment outside Texas, worried that family and neighbors might report them to state authorities. In some cases, the women became so ill that they were hospitalized. One plaintiff was told she was not yet sick enough to receive an abortion, then twice became septic, and was left with so much scar tissue that one of her fallopian tubes is permanently closed.”
In closing, let me say again that I love Independence – the Town and the Sacred Principle. I also cherish my freedom. How dare people who don’t know me or the personal lives of other women claim that their minority religious view trumps our religious beliefs AND our freedom.
I am weary of extremists on the far-Right AND far-Left dividing our nation. I’m sick of the Red-state, Blue-state crossfire, and I’m tired of fear-based white men trying to dictate to and dominate the women of this nation under the guise of – the LIE of – protecting fetuses who they readily abandon once they reach the point of becoming living, breathing, REAL humans.
Rather, let us come together, good people of Independence, to focus on our common ground, the common good, and the ideals which unite us: Religious Freedom, the Right to Privacy, and to personal Independence. Let each of us commune with the God of our conscience to arrive at family-planning decisions … and allow each other this same dignity and respect.
There’s good reason why our town was named Independence. May the name remind us to honor and trust each other's personal rights and choices. Certainly, we don’t need someone from Texas coming here telling us right from wrong.