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Posted: 04/10/2012
By Roy Speckhardt - Executive Director, American Humanist Association

Today's political climate makes it abundantly clear that American women need to have their rights and freedoms permanently protected through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. New laws and regulations being pushed by the Religious Right are an open violation of every woman's basic dignity by forcing them into a position where they can be legally mistreated.

Several bills were recently introduced by religious political extremists in Congress to restrict women's access to necessary health services, such as the one introduced by Senator Roy Blunt which would have exempted employers from providing contraceptive care to their employees for religious reasons. While Senator Blunt was unsuccessful, additional legislation would defund reproductive health services and elevate the rights of a fetus over that of a woman. And in Wisconsin, several bills just passed that repealed the state's 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act and degraded health services for women. Members of the Religious Right have cheered at these and other measures which are predicated on an assumption that women are inferior.

It appears as though religious fundamentalists and their allies in elected office are committed to legalizing open discrimination against women, who are now a major focus of presidential and congressional campaigns as members of the political establishment spar over women's rights and jockey for votes.

In this modern era, one might think that any form of gender prejudice or discrimination would be widely rejected. However, in addition to the new attacks on women's rights, pay inequity and other forms of institutionalized discrimination continue to plague women, who are often relegated to second-class status by employers. Now that the basic health requirements of women are also under attack, it is essential to step up and guarantee the equality of women in America once and for all.

Thankfully, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) did just that when he introduced a joint resolution initiated by Carolyn A. Cook and United 4 Equality to remove the deadline for the states' ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA, which was originally presented to Congress in 1923, would ensure through a constitutional amendment that all citizens are afforded the same civil rights and liberties regardless of gender. A constitutional amendment like the ERA would be a strong safeguard because it couldn't be repealed without both chambers of Congress, as well as the legislatures of at least 38 states, approving with a two-thirds majority.

Humanists have a long history of consistently supporting the ERA and advocating for its ratification, often against opposition by religious and conservative groups. Now that these same groups and their intellectual offspring are on the offensive again in regards to discrimination against women, humanists and religious allies are determined to see the ERA finally passed.

The largest obstacle that hinders the passage of this amendment is the deadline by which individual states must ratify the amendment after it has been approved by Congress. This deadline blocked the passage of the ERA in 1982, 10 years after the amendment was initially accepted by both houses of Congress and by President Nixon. It is essential that we remove this unnecessary deadline through passage of Senator Cardin's joint resolution and allow previous ratifications by states to apply in the ongoing ratification process.

If America wishes to serve as an international example of liberty and just governance, we must ensure that all citizens are afforded the same rights and that institutionalized discrimination is made illegal. We must all come together, regardless of religious beliefs or political opinions, in order to guarantee equal treatment under the law and the end to gender discrimination.