Punishment As Love: Correcting Our “Sins” Through The Criminal Code

By: Lessa Leigh

The “culture wars” have been a part of our societal landscape for decades. We’re aware of how the inaccurately named Christian Right attempts to pull us all back to 1820’s America, when white men were in charge and the rest of us were property. Oddly enough, a large percentage of “the rest of us” object to this goal and fight daily to prevent it from becoming our reality again.

What we might not realize, unless we grew up in a strict Christian home, is how punishing supposed wrong-doers for their transgressions works. Certainly, in terms of patriarchal systemic structures (including supremacy, white nationalism, Christian nationalism, and rape culture) punishment is a key way to keep the masses in line and behaving. Fear is a motivator, and shame is a deterrent. You can see this in regards to women’s reproductive justice. Between the slut shaming and the contraction of services to help women prevent unwanted pregnancies, Christian Right lawmakers tamp down on abortion access, reproductive healthcare, contraception, sex education, and services to aid new mothers. These positions, whether dismantling part of the Affordable Care Act that provides free contraceptive care or refusing to legislate substantive paid family leave for new parents, are meant to punish. The unspoken rebuke is that you failed because you didn’t plan better, do better, or think better. You are, in fact, in trouble because you failed to be a better Christian.

Lest you not believe that punishment through the criminal code is the goal to shame us all into being perfect in Jesus’ eyes, consider two very recent trends run counter to civil liberties. The first trend is to punish women, who miscarry or who deliver a child through in-vitro fertilization. The second trend is to punish protesters, who are in the way.

There’s nothing surprising about the first trend. It’s disturbing. It’s wrong. It’s also par for the course in our patriarchal society that views a woman’s uterus as public property. Making women go to the expense, both emotional and financial, of burying their miscarried fetuses sounds ludicrous, but it’s the shame of having to wear a metaphorical scarlet letter that lawmakers want to enact. The punishment is based on not being “enough” of a woman to carry a healthy fetus to term. The idea is to say, through legal means, “You’re a failure.”

The same rationale and “logic” applies to writing a law that prevents children born of IVF from being considered legitimate. Clearly, a woman had to reject “God’s plan” for her, if she was unable to get pregnant without the help of science. In this case, the use of science to create human life probably is what really stings the Christian Right. #AllLivesMatter and “It’s a baby, not a choice” but heaven forbid you go about bringing a life into this world, if it wasn’t created after thirty seconds of vigorous missionary position humping.

The second trend, however, is a shock. It’s a strong step away from freedom and toward an authoritarian regime. Ostensibly, the laws allowing motorists to hit protesters only apply if the protester is blocking the road and the motorist has no other choice. It’s impossible to know how these laws will hold up in court, but to codify a driver’s right to use a motor vehicle to hit any pedestrian is disturbing.

Unlike what many supposed “patriots” believe, our First Amendment rights are our strongest defense against tyranny. There’s a reason the Founding Fathers put the right of citizens to speak out against the government without repercussions first and foremost. When we have the right to speak freely and protest our government’s actions, our Second Amendment rights are less necessary in the well-regulated militia sense. The First Amendment is the one right guaranteed to all Americans regardless of race, gender, age, religion, wealth, education, creed, ability, criminal record, physical or mental health. We have a duty as Americans to exercise our First Amendment rights actively and without fear. If we cannot speak to the wrongs of our government, perceived or actual, how can we live in a representative democracy? How can we have freedom of any kind?

It’s also ironic that the people, who scream so loudly about right to life, are the ones so eager to potentially take an actual life because someone is saying something they don’t like. One wonders what would happen if a motorist hit a person crossing a street near a protest. Are they a protester? Were they in the way? Were they leaving or arriving to the protest? Does it matter if they had a criminal record? Does it matter if they were unemployed? Does it matter if they were disabled? When did our right to move forward in a vehicle take precedence over a person’s right to speak? Sadly, the answer from the Christian Right will be that the protester deserved it for disobeying the law or that it was God’s will for the motorist to act by hitting the protester.

There will be plenty in the next few weeks or months to show us how we are to be punished for our sins. Whether we associate with the wrong people or we earn our money in the wrong ways or we visit the wrong countries or we worship in the wrong places, the odds are good that we will see more laws to codify our conduct. Just remember, it’s all being done out of “love”.



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