Your Way or the Highway

Many years ago, when my wife and I moved to southwestern Utah, we encountered a number of, shall we say, “cultural” practices based on the prevailing religion. Some of them were understandable, if somewhat restrictive, such as the de facto practice of not scheduling university concerts, performances, or recitals on Sundays, even if that was an imposition of a religious belief on a public institution. Some were less acceptable to a public academic institution, such as the insistence that no performances, lectures, classes, or other activities be scheduled on Monday evenings, because the prevailing religion had declared Monday evenings as “family home” evenings.

Those who protested were often told that, if they didn’t like it, they should move, which non-members of the prevailing faith called “My Way or the Highway.”

Over the years, the more onerous attempts to impose religious cultural standards on the university have diminished, but not totally vanished. From what I’ve seen, this sort of local/religious parochialism that restricts the rights of non-believers exists in far more places than southwestern Utah, as does the attitude that “if you don’t like it, then leave.”

The first problem with this attitude is that the United States is a nation, not a confederation. The Founding Fathers tried the confederation approach and discovered it didn’t work. Even “accommodating” slavery in the South didn’t work, because the ramifications of doing so adversely impacted the North and the West.

Segregation didn’t work all that well either, and its legal abolition, particularly in the South, resulted in economic and social improvements in the areas that practiced it.

As a matter of equality, why should individuals face a situation where they must choose between a job for which they’re qualified or having their rights circumscribed because of the religious/social tenets of the area in which the job is located. This isn’t a theoretical question; it’s one that exists in many parts of the United States.

Abortion is just the most obvious example. In the case of abortion, current state laws: (1) create unequal rights for women based on geography; (2) discriminate against poorer women; (3) close off or limit economic opportunity for women unless they are willing to accept fewer rights.

Making abortion legal throughout the nation and where the choice is up to the woman (along a structure similar to Roe v. Wade) does not deprive those who are opposed to abortion of their rights. Criminalizing abortion does deprive women, as well as health care professionals, of rights.

That means, effectively, that the United States, as a nation, must agree on what constitutes basic human rights, on a secular basis, based on known fact, not upon belief, no matter how fervent, and in the case of those rights, the majority needs to prevail. Obviously, there are always instances where the situation may not fit within the legal structure, but to define basic legal rights in different ways in different states is not only setting a precedent with effects similar to other forms of legal discrimination, but also creating a possible recipe for legal and civil chaos, violent unrest, and civil war.

7 thoughts on “Your Way or the Highway”

  1. KTL says:

    Interesting perspective. I can also relate, as I have lived in a midwestern state now since 1987 with all that goes with that. Well, when my wife and I arrived here the blue laws were entrenched – mostly around buying or serving alcohol. When our daughter was born, we had a lot of difficulty enjoying a meal at a restaurant where liquor was served (and also where smoking indoors was ubiquitous). Here, at that time, a minor could not be ‘in line of sight’ of the bar within an establishment and also be served a meal. That, indoor smoking (mostly), and some of the other blue laws have eventually given way. Why? My guess is that commercial/business interests eventually persuade local politicians to change (not losing business to neighboring states can be a powerful incentive) and give up their so-called moral high ground.

    If it’s the almighty dollar that moves us in a progressive direction, then so be it. My hope is that those commercial forces come increasingly to bear on state legislatures and governors’ mansions. Yes, Disney, I’m standing with you. 🙂

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    The national majority (as perhaps contrasted with state or local majorities) was never intended to automatically prevail; that’s why the Senate was originally indirectly elected by state legislators – so that it would represent the interests of states rather than individuals, and at least part of why the Electoral College was created. (the other was as with the Great Compromise, I suppose, that small states didn’t want to be overwhelmed by a large state driven majority).

    Moreover, the Founders were IMO _not_ elitist to suppose that the majority was only to be empowered up to a point; majorities can be swayed relatively quickly, but will tend to oscillate around a more slowly moving point, which is disruptive if they’re followed too closely.

    All laws and customs impact people’s rights, and to some degree do so unequally. Unless it rises to the level of slavery or segregation, I do not see that that justifies nationalizing a law for uniformity; and even if it did, the federal government is supposed to be constitutionally limited to enumerated powers and those clearly implied to carry out enumerated powers, and nothing more; everything else is left to the states (see the 10th Amendment, never repealed!). You can amend the Constitution of course, but that rightly is difficult (pick your favorite Constitutionally protected right, and be aware there are those who would like to restrict it more than it already is), needing multiple supermajorities at different levels. The Constitution was and had to be amended to eliminate slavery and involuntary servitude, extend the vote to women, eliminate poll tax, and extend the vote to citizens 18 and up.

    Extremes of egalitarianism can also become tyrannical. “Animal Farm” comes to mind, esp. since those in power will always want to be “more equal than others”. Orwell was a socialist by the standard of the times, but still warned against the extremes of the far left.

    Notwithstanding attempts at some uniformity given a model to follow, the definition of death is not uniform between states, as some do not recognize brain death as an alternative, but only cardiopulmonary failure that cannot be (or by properly executed DNR paperwork, should not be) resuscitated.

    So it is not particularly strange that not all states will agree on when life begins; some may prioritize a woman’s absolute control over her body up to the moment of birth, some may set it at roughly the point of viability in neonatal intensive care (somewhere around 24 weeks I think, but tending to get earlier with improved medical tech and procedures), and some may set it even earlier. That is a difference that does not require blaming religious belief; there are certainly atheists and agnostics who do not agree on a single point at which in a practical sense, life begins.

    It does not seem extreme to me (but rather a protection of the utterly vulnerable, who at LEAST need an advocate!) nor exclusive to religion to suppose that a fertilized and implanted egg cell, with its unique combination of genetic information which if normal development occurs and is not otherwise impeded, will become by any standard a specific human being, should be allowed to do so UNLESS it presents a clear hazard to the life that until separately viable, it depends on.

    That’s just one example. Take that university as another: I gather about 2/3 of the Cedar City area is Mormon. If that roughly means that 2/3 of a potential audience is prioritizing Sunday services and Monday family night over other events, then attendence would be dismal at those times even if more than the usual amount of non-Mormons showed up (not to mention that those participating in the event are probably also Mormon majority); so honoring local custom (whether driven by religion or by anything else) is simply practical.

    As for blue laws, even if they were not there, highways are empty on Easter and Thanksgiving, and most stores and even restaurants are closed, and even grocery stores and drug stores have reduced hours. Why? Because employees have families too. I LIKE that we’re not 24/7 everything (although I admit that I also like having a few 24/7 restaurants and maybe even a 24/7 Walmart or hardware store within 50 miles, of which there are less after COVID, some of which won’t return to 24/7 because it was always economically borderline).

    1. Except… in the case of abortion, prohibiting it effectively enslaves women to the views of a minority.

      1. R. Hamilton says:

        No state proposes prohibiting it when medically necessary to save the woman’s life.

        Not all states have tightened restrictions at all, and not all that have, have done so as much as possible.

        How is the absence of elective (not medically necessary) abortion any kind of slavery? There remain ample options for not getting pregnant, the best of which is don’t have sex if you’re not presently willing to be a parent, although for someone in a stable relationship, there are plenty of other preventative options, and no state proposes banning all of those either. And of course one can always voluntarily get a sterilization operation as another option, some of which for women have a reasonable chance of being reversible (compared to a much lower success rate reversing a male vasectomy, given the microsurgery needed; another reminder that however much we may wish to advance equality, nature itself is NOT egalitarian).

        The best option for controlling one’s body is controlling one’s conduct and/or planning ahead.

        Would banning tattoos or body piercings be enslavement? I don’t think so. I think most procedures that are elective and not reconstructive or corrective should be at least discouraged, along the lines of measure twice cut once, except more so. The Hippocratic Oath doesn’t mean much anymore…

    2. KTL says:


      My point is that those blue laws have mostly fallen in these 3 decades or more that I’ve lived here. They have also fallen elsewhere. There are good reasons for that. Life and views on social norms change. That’s called progress. Efforts to drag the populace back in time are mostly made by those holding back others rather than any real belief that they themselves have been impacted.

      1. R. Hamilton says:

        If you look at lists of silly laws, there are plenty that have no obvious relationship to religion.

        I mostly agree that laws that serve no compelling interest should be repealed, but I’m sure I have a very different idea than any leftist or even some self-declared centrists what does (and does not!) constitute a compelling interest. I’d err on the side of if it MIGHT be human, protect it to some degree; and local customs whether of secular or religious majority can limit nonessential activities some days; and otherwise just leave me alone if I’m not bothering anyone. 🙂

        “Progress” is IMO NOT social transformation (aside from big things like the end of slavery and segregation) nearly so much as it is either internal (good luck with that given the failure of education with the basics) or technological. People who imagine an ideal society constantly forget that most of those in it are fallible, but it has to be robust enough to survive them, so enforce vigorously a relatively few laws, and otherwise leave people to their fates. Unless there is a God and he/she/other shows up to rule personally (all opinions either way on that being unprovable), there will NEVER be a Utopia, and any attempt to create one will be even more dystopian.

  3. R. Hamilton says:

    If all that constitutional talk sounds oppressive, here’s an interesting quote that may be familiar:

    “I would agree. I would also say that a land that does not live by its laws will not long endure. It may change those laws, but to flout them will destroy it far more quickly than following bad laws.”

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