Freedom of religion? Not for women from fundamentalist sects

I copied this essay from today’s Daily News opinion pages.

I fully appreciate it — especially because it’s one woman’s personal story. Everyone should read it.

The limits of religious freedom

By Torah Bontrager

When Pastor Robert Jeffress, a member of President Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board and the White House Faith Initiative, recently dismissed climate activist Greta Thunberg by saying that rainbows are evidence that polar ice caps aren’t melting, my heart sank.

Freedom of religion and freedom of speech allow people to believe and say what they want in this country. But I know from firsthand experience that religiously driven myths reinforced by leaders can harm children’s lives and thwart their potential.

Like many Christian children, my Amish upbringing instilled in me the belief that Jesus’ return would be preceded by devastating conditions including floods, earthquakes, droughts, tornadoes, crop failures and fires — basically all the things climate change is unleashing. With no adequate education to temper these beliefs, fear of the coming apocalypse traumatized me. Had I stayed in the religion, recent weather patterns would no doubt have had me praying doubly hard.

When I escaped my community in Michigan in the middle of the night at age 15, I arrived in mainstream society laden with fears that had been reinforced through a limited Amish education that ended at the eighth grade. I’d acquired little secular knowledge thanks to a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case Wisconsin vs. Yoder, which found that Wisconsin’s compulsory school attendance law was unconstitutional because it violated Amish parents’ rights to exercise their religion. As a result, I had no knowledge of science, sex education, or any subject contrary to Amish religious views. Had I not escaped, the Supreme Court ruling would have sealed my fate: becoming an ignorant Amish housewife.

My hunger for empirical answers to allay my fear of hell drove me to earn a high school equivalency diploma and eventually apply to America’s top schools. Upon entering Columbia University, I was shocked to learn that many of my professors weren’t aware that the highest court in the country had set a precedent in favor of extremist religion over my basic rights. Over and over, I’ve seen how the system regularly protects religious sects as they harm children –– from a failure to educate them to a failure to physically protect them.

For example, in New York City, Mayor de Blasio has failed forcefully to stand up to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas to ensure that these schools provide Hasidic children with a state-mandated secular education. Most recently, 30 members of the New York City Council signed a letter spearheaded by Council Members Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger in opposition to regulations proposed by the New York State Education Department to provide the bare minimum general education to which they are entitled under state law.

And last month, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion by congressional leaders to defend the constitutionality of a ban on female genital mutilation after a doctor from a Muslim community was charged with cutting the clitoral hoods of nine 7-year-old girls who cried and bled as a woman restrained them.

Whether fundamentalist Islam, ultra-Orthodox Jewish, Amish, or any other religion, all insular religious communities use a range of tactics to exert power and control over their members, starting at birth. Many of those tactics are steeped in utter fictions that serve to keep children from fulfilling their potential.

That’s why I’m working with ex-Hasid Malkie Schwartz, founder of Footsteps, and ex-Muslim Sarah Haider, co-founder of Ex-Muslims of North America, to generate a national conversation about the growing tension between individual rights and religious freedom.

We begin today with a conference to be held at Columbia.

Yes, religious leaders can say what they want. But society must help minimize the harm. While Jeffress has the right to make outlandish claims about rainbows, children should have the right to a federally-mandated adequate education that would give them the tools to assess the veracity of those claims.

There’s something deeply disturbing, if not quite apocalyptic, about a society that again and again mistakes religious control over people’s lives for religious freedom. It’s time to turn the tables.

Bontrager is the founder of Amish Heritage Foundation.

Posted in American war on women, The Facts of Life, The god problem, Trump Stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Animal news: meet Sammi the Chicken!

From West Side Rag. Here’s the link in case the picture doesn’t tell you as much as you want to know.

And, yes, that’s a leash.

And, yes, that’s in Central Park.

Posted in Animal news, The Facts of Life | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Animal power on the rise! And more on Molly, the gun-toting Lab

Harper’s is getting me suspicious that animals are thoroughly fed up with what’s going on and, under the cover of their, uh, animal appearance, are trying to rectify our calamity:

A man in Schererville, Pennsylvania, called the police after being cornered in his garage by wild turkeys, and groundhogs in Belleville, Illinois, bit two people, took over a historic district, and climbed trees.

…in Billings, Montana, a team of sled dogs escaped from a training session and led police on a low-speed chase.

And although you’ve seen this one previously, there’s an addition, in the form of dialog with the dog:

…an Oklahoma woman was nonfatally shot in a pickup truck when her dog stepped on her gun; in a recording of the 9-1-1 call, the driver could be heard telling the Labrador retriever, “Oh, Molly, you’re the one that pulled the trigger. Don’t give me no shit.”

Posted in Animal news, The Facts of Life | Leave a comment