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Bobby Jindal: The Governor who stole Christmas

For a number of years now, the so-called “War on Christmas” has been a favorite meme of the Christian Right in the United States. As the title of Fox commentator John Gibson’s book goes,we should all be vigilant against The War Against Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought.  Liberals, you see, are plotting to ban Christmas. Down here in Louisiana, there’s not a few people who hold this belief.

But as the eyes of the world are once again on Louisiana with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, other important, if less calamitous, noxious political spills are running through the Pelican State. As the state House sits, a number of bills have recently been proposed with religious motivations and implications that bring out the inconsistencies in the conservative worldview dominant in Louisiana politics, most notably that of the notoriously evangelical Republican Governor Bobby Jindal.

Faced with a budget deficit of $238 million this year, Governor Jindal is cutting programs across the board, a not uncommon necessity these days. Health, education and the arts are feeling the pinch hardest, but it is a bill currently in the House that is most suggestive of the dubious priorities of the Republican administration. House Bill 1478 a bill that would, as the Advocate reports, “allow Gov. Bobby Jindal to force state workers to celebrate Christmas or other holidays without pay.”

That’s right, in Louisiana, the Governor wants to have the power to take away Christmas for state workers—or at least, make them celebrate the holiday without pay. For those at the top end of the public service, missing thirteen days of pay annually may not mean much. But for those at the lowest rungs, rather than being a time for family and rest, each public holiday is a potential nightmare. The bill as stands gives workers no options to work the day and thus retain that day’s crucial pay. For many state workers, each unpaid “holiday” will represent an electricity bill not paid, a rent check missed. In December, which has three public holidays, many families will struggle to pay bills, let alone purchase presents.

After some cautious rewrites by state Rep John Schroder (R-Covington), the bill has been curtailed to only being a possibility when the state is in an officially declared downturn. Clearly after the recession of 2008, we are in a downturn now. But as anyone who has ever spent time in Louisiana will tell you, the state, one of the poorest in the nation, is almost always in a downturn.

But if this sounds downright unChristian, compare this to several of the other bills under review in Louisiana. Recently, a State Senate committee has endorsed a bill that requires women to receive an obstretics ultrasound before having an abortion. Unbelievably, this bill was watered down significantly. The Advocate reports:

“Senate Bill 528 originally required the ultrasound screen to be in plain sight of the woman and would have required a detailed explanation that included whether arms, legs or internal organs were visible. The woman also would have been required to receive a photograph of the ultrasound.”

The idea of this bill is, of course, to deter women from having abortions. By looking at the ultrasound and having the fetus’s development narrated by the doctor, the fetus will be perceived as a person, and thus the woman’s mind will be changed. The original requirements of 528 bear a striking similarity to the infamous bill passed recently in Oklahoma (which has been temporarily blocked by an injunction order and will inevitably undergo legal challenges as to its constitutionality). Another bill is currently in the House in Florida, where women will be not only required to undergo an ultrasound but to pay for it, while in Nebraska a bill has been passed banning abortions after 20 weeks. Blogger Melissa MacEwan calls this the “chip, chip, chip” strategy of anti-abortion activists, a slow, steady movement across the country to make access to abortion infinitely more restricted, more expensive, and more inhumane and distressing for the woman involved.

Yet, rather than a lack of attention to the humanity of the fetus, research shows that most abortions are motivated by financial need. As a 2005 report from the Guttmacher Institute [PDF] found, the most common reasons for having an abortion are that a child would interfere with a woman’s education, work or ability to care for dependents (74%) or that the woman could not afford a baby now (73%).  This is the kind of financial hardship produced by, among other things, the free-market absolutism of the neo-conservative era that Republicans like Jindal still cling to even after bringing the country to the brink of financial ruin.

In Louisiana, Christianity is an ever-present reality, from the Baptists in the north of the state to the Catholics in the south, and never more so than in the politics. The pro-life position is very close to state sponsored—for instance, you can purchase pro-life number plates for your car, but not pro-choice. The religious roots of the pro-life movement have been extensively documented, and here it almost goes without saying that a politician is pro-life.

Yet it appears that some forms of Christianity are more important than others. The ability to celebrate Christmas, to spend holidays with your family, these are evaporated by the Christian Right’s free-market absolutism. While the Right on the one hand seeks to push a particularly restrictive conservative Christian interpretation onto women’s bodies, with the other it takes away the ability of families to celebrate the very foundation of Christianity—Jesus’s birth. And there is very little that is less Christian than that.

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