Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Separation of Church and State

A few months ago I did a post on an Iranian woman who'd been horribly disfigured by acid because she'd refused a marriage proposal. Her attacker had been sentenced to the same fate, and so it seemed justice had finally taken a more fair right turn in that particular case in the Arab world. Or so I thought. Was that sentence a separation of church and state? I know little of the Muslim faith, but if I were wool gathering I would bet that judge's ruling had more to do with public opinion and their religious dogma than the government of Iran enforcing the laws of the land. Because the two are intertwined in many Arab countries.

In Saudi Arabia, a top cleric refused to annul a forced marriage between an 8 year old and a 47 year old man, as long as the man agreed not to have sexual relations with the girl until she'd reached puberty - whatever that means.

"It is incorrect to say that it's not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger," Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, the kingdom's grand mufti, said in remarks quoted Wednesday in the regional Al-Hayat newspaper. "A girl aged 10 or 12 can be married. Those who think she's too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her."

Christoph Wilcke, a Saudi researcher for Human Rights Watch said, "We've been hearing about these types of cases once every four or five months because the Saudi public is now able to express this kind of anger -- especially so when girls are traded off to older men," Wilcke said.
Wilcke explained that while Saudi ministries may make decisions designed to protect children, "It is still the religious establishment that holds sway in the courts, and in many realms beyond the court."

In another case in Saudi Arabia, a 75 year old woman was sentenced to forty lashes for having her nephew and a friend of his bring her a loaf of bread. Forty lashes!! For having a non-immediate relative visit her of the opposite sex. What about those men I wonder, were they also convicted? Of course not, it's always the woman's fault, no matter her age.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, in Brazil a 9 year old girl who'd become pregnant with twins after being abused by her step-father was allowed to have an abortion - it's legal in Brazil in the case of rape or medical emergency - and what did the Catholic Church do? They excommunicated her mother for allowing it and the doctor for performing the procedure! Even though the child and the twins would've most likely died if allowed to continue to term. What of the vagabond who impregnated her? The church is still mulling over his case because being a rapist isn't as bad apparently.

With the Bernie Madoff's, the Governor Blagojevich's, and more than one case of corrupt judges, I am more than grateful we live in a country where church and state are supposed to be separate. But we must be vigilant. One must only take a brief look around us in other parts of the world to know what can happen if our rights are challenged, or taken away by corrupt people right here at home.


Ben and Christina said...

Very interesting piece. It becomes a little muddled in the US when religion sets as standards things that are against the law. Polygamy being one example, but also forcing pharmacists to sale morning-after pills even if it is against their religion. I guess we try and keep it as separate as possilbe- which I believe is essential for the both the success of relgion as well as politics- but some things can be gray. I am, however, quite grateful to not live in a country like the ones you described!

Lula O said...

The morning after pill is a good example. I have a friend who after an early amnio with one of her pregnancies, found out the baby had horrible problems and her doctor recommended she terminate the pregnancy with one of those pills. She decided to do it, but the pharmacist, knowing absolutely nothing about her case, refused to give her the pills. It was a mortifying experience for her.

So my moral dilemna is - I don't want anyone to be forced to do something they are morally against, but at the same time is it for them to judge, as this pharmacist did to my friend, what is best for each person. Should my friend have been forced to give birth to a diseased, deformed child because these people refused to dispense the proper medication. Is it their decision? That's the question.

Ben and Christina said...

Hmm...good question, and I am interested to hear what others have to say. I guess in my opinion I think the pharmacist should be able to deny giving the pills- but, he doesn't have to be rude or condescending about it. He can simply say, "We do not dispense that particular medicine" and leave it at that. He could even have a policy statement that he could hand out to customers about that decision. I guess I think this because I do think it is wrong to force doctors to perform abortions even if it is against their personal beliefs, as the FOCA bill apparently would require as I understand. It seems there would be plenty of other pharmicists who would provide the pills so that she could get the medicine, but the one pharmacist could still uphold his religious beliefs.
Some quick thoughts- but I am certainly open to hear others!!!

Lula O said...

I agree in that I want no one to be forced either, but it should be made known up front, perhaps with a sign or something, so as not to make a possibly already horrible experience for the mother somehow worse by her pharamicist acting like a jerk to her as well. There are sometimes legitimate reasons for that pill - after rape or incest being one, and if the fetus has unfixable problems (again the parents call), or if the mother is gravely ill. Perhaps a list of pharmicists would be best, that provide this service for those that truly need it, thereby preventing an upset pregnant woman who is already distraught about her decision, from driving all around town trying to find someone to fill the prescription.

Bryce and Mandy said...

What crazy stories. A pregnant 9-year old! Married at 8! Makes me glad, once again, I live where I do.

I'm torn on the issue of the pharmacists. But, I agree with Lula that the best way to solve the problem would be to allow the pharmacists to do what they feel is right for themselves but there should be a list of places you can get the pill to lessen the problems that happened to Lula's friend.

Lula O said...

Another thing about the 9 year old in Brazil that made me think of church and state, is what if that country was run, like in the Arab world, by the dominant religion? Would that girl have been forced to give birth even though it would have meant certain death for her and her children? That's why I felt that story fit with the post. These things must be kept separate.