Rules Are for Schmucks: Is St. Louis “Orwellian”?

Dan, a grocery clerk, tells his boss he needs to take a day off because he’s having a vasectomy. His boss replies, “Take the rest of your life off—you’re fired.”

Amy asks her landlord if there are any larger units available in her high-rise, because she has a baby on the way. Her landlord says there are plenty of vacancies available—but not for her, because unwed mothers are not allowed in this building. In fact, she needs to clear out immediately.

Monique, a registered nurse, applies for a job at a hospital. The hospital uses a nifty new AI tool to compare her photograph to a database of pictures taken by local volunteers of women entering a pregnancy clinic known to perform abortions. Application denied.

These cases are fictional. But folks on the St. Louis City Council know they’re not at all farfetched, especially in a state like Missouri where God experts lie awake at night dreaming up new ways to aggrandize their power at the expense of ordinary people.

They knew about the case of Apryl Kellam, fired by her Virginia church employer for the crime of becoming pregnant before her wedding day. They knew about the case of Shaela Evenson, fired by her Christian school for having an IVF baby. They knew about the Catholic bishops in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Honolulu, and Oakland adding clauses to teachers’ employment contracts listing the do’s and don’ts of permissible genital behavior. They knew about the even tougher new faculty handbook for Catholic school employees in San Francisco, banning the “gravely evil” practices of adultery, masturbation, pornography, and (gulp) gay sex. They didn’t know yet, because it hadn’t happened, about the high school girl with the 4.0 GPA punished by her Christian school for being pregnant—but I’m sure it came as no surprise to them when they found out  about it.

And so last February they said, “Not here. In St. Louis, everybody is free to make their own choices about their own private parts. If you haven’t broken any laws, then neither your employment nor your living arrangements can be affected by whatever reproductive healthcare choice you do or don’t make.” The new law’s sponsor, Alderwoman Megan Green, puts it quite simply: “Employers can have their own beliefs. But they shouldn’t be able to impose those beliefs on people or fire someone because of those beliefs.” Mayor Lyda Krewson agrees: “As a city, we don’t support discriminating against anyone.”

With all respect to St. Louis, they didn’t come up with the idea of writing such a law. Boston, Washington, DC, and the state of Delaware all beat them to it. But God’s legal team waited until a law was passed in Christian-dominated Missouri to launch a full-court press legal challenge, which they did last week, amidst typical God lobby hysteria.

The governor of Missouri, for example, solemnly proclaimed on Facebook that “We need to send a clear message: the people of Missouri do not support Abortion Sanctuary Cities.” I’m not sure what an “abortion sanctuary city” means in a country where most abortion is perfectly legal, but I guess the rhetoric helps fire up the right-wing base. Anyway, the bill has nothing to do with providing sanctuary for the practice of abortion. It just says if you ever chose to have—or to not have—an abortion, an IVF baby, or whatever, you can’t be kicked out of your job or your apartment for it. (This governor, by the way, is the same guy who recently defied the plain language of the Missouri constitution by handing over tax money to a religious school—his grasp of the law is not too tight.)

A prominent Catholic housing provider whose company is party to the new lawsuit whines that the ordinance requires them “to house women who intend to have an abortion. … This forces us to be complicit in that decision.” So now keeping a roof over someone’s head makes you “complicit” in whatever that tenant does? How about selling someone groceries? Or driving the bus on their morning commute? Or letting them pass by on the sidewalk without shoving them off? These plaintiffs are making a mockery of the whole idea of “complicity” for their own selfish ends.

Not to be outdone, St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson boasts: “Let me be perfectly clear: The Archdiocese of St. Louis will not comply with this ordinance.” Do you think he came up with that all by himself? Or did he consciously copy it from the religious white supremacists of the 1950s, who vowed “massive resistance” to court decisions banning the type of discrimination that was more prevalent then? Like George Wallace, Jerry Falwell, et al, the archbishop demands the religious right to discriminate against whomever he wants, whenever he wants.

Then there’s the plaintiff’s attorney Sarah Pitlyk, who fulminates that “It’s like a page right out of George Orwell’s 1984, in which people could be prosecuted for ‘thought crimes.’” Apparently she’s referring to the part of the law forbidding the modern equivalent of a “Colored need not apply” caveat in a job or apartment listing. If that’s a “thought crime,” then I guess we have quite a few of them on the books—thank goodness.

If Pitlyk wants Orwellian, she need look no further than the “Witness Statement” that, according to the National Catholic Register, job applicants in the St. Louis Catholic school system (the one Secretary DeVos wants to shovel your money into) have to sign. The statement stipulates that the applicant won’t take a public position contrary to the Catholic Church and will conduct his or life in a manner consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Presumably, this refers to its teachings on contraception, divorce, abortion, gay sex, IVF, vasectomy, tubal ligation, the exorcism of demons, and the prophecies of Fatima, to name but a few.

If the National Catholic Register is correct, it seems to me that every time a person applies for a job in the St. Louis Catholic school system and is confronted with this witness statement, a separate violation of the new ordinance will occur. If the archbishop keeps his promise and the city gets to collect a fine from the church for each one of these violations, the city should soon be rolling in cash.