This month we celebrate the Fourth of July with rounds of festivities marking America's 238 years of independence.
People will be singing the "Star-Spangled Banner," reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, reenacting the Continental Congress of 1776, or simply watching reproductions of the "rockets red glare" and "bombs bursting in air." All of this and more will be done on a grander and highly commercialized scale to show us, and the world, our mettle in the aftermath of 9/11. And all this as our American troops continue to soldier on.
But America's need to showcase her indomitable spirit of heroism on this July 4th celebration is marred by two recent decisions of the Supreme Court -- both highlighting a "war against women."
The first salvo was the decision rendered in the McCullen v. Coakley case.
The Court unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law that established a 35-foot buffer zone in front of abortion clinics, on the grounds that it violates protestors' First Amendment Right of free speech. But Massachusetts' 2007 abortion buffer-zone law was simply to protect the reproductive rights of women headed toward clinics without interference, intimidation, false medical counseling, judgment, violence, or physical confrontation from zealous and self-righteous pro-lifers known as "street counselors."
"The hypocrisy, mean-spiritedness, and insult to women exhibited by the U.S. Supreme Court are what we would have expected during Reagan's tenure. I woke up with nightmares of being back in front of the reproductive health care clinics to literally keep them open by putting our bodies/lives on the line." stated, Toni K. Troop, Director of Communications at Jane Doe Inc.
The even bigger shocker for us women's advocates was the position the women on the Court took. Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, Breyer, and Ginsburg voted down the law along with their six brethren, with Ginsburg - who would have been best served as a dissenting voice - that one "doesn't know in advance who are the well-behaved people and who are the people who won't behave well."
The second blow was the decision rendered in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. case.
In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that family-owned corporations citing religious objections could now opt out of the requirement in President Obama's Affordable Care Act that employer insurance plans must cover certain contraceptives for women.
These two Supreme Court decisions are game-changers in the worst way, harkening back to antiquated laws and misogynistic beliefs that women do not have a right to decide what to do with their bodies, and that our "biology is destiny." Sadly, little is understood about the harsh reality of domestic violence and unwanted pregnancy that women confront when access to contraceptives is prohibited.
"I woke up worrying about the rape survivor who needs access to emergency contraception, an abortion, or HIV and STD testing. I woke up angered that the reproductive health of all of us - LGBQ/T, straight, cisgender - is not valued and our rights not ensured," Troop continued to tell me.
Citing "religious freedom" has become a catchphrase to discriminate in our present-day culture wars concerning reproductive justice, marriage equality, immigration reform, and the yearly kerfuffle from the right about the alleged "war on Christmas," to name a few.
For example, Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly talked up boycotts of retailers-like Walmart and Target - because they didn't use the words "Merry Christmas." And as a matter of fact, a customer looking to purchase Hanukkah items at one of the Hobby Lobby stores in New Jersey was told, "We don't cater to you people."
While some gay males rejoiced in thinking the two recent Supreme Court decisions do not encroach on our community, it does -- the women in our lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities.
However, this is not be the first time America's Independence Day celebration has overlooked a sector of its population.
I am reminded, for example, of the African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass' historic speech, "What, to the slave, is the Fourth of July?" In it he stated to a country in the throes of slavery:
"What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence. . . I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. . . This Fourth of July is yours, not mine."
One of our most famous American heroes is Patrick Henry, who we all know for his famous words, "Give me liberty or give me death." Henry spoke those words on March 23, 1775, during a speech in which he explained how he views himself as the "other."
"No man thinks highly than I do of patriotism . . . but different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs."
As the "rockets red glare and bombs burst in air" this July Fourth, American women still do not have the unfettered right to decide what to do with their bodies - a very American core value inextricably linked to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Fireworks photo by E. Wintersong Tashlin.