We’re F**ked

Several years ago, I published a blog, “Rev. Prep” as my personal, public statement affirming that one can be religious and gay and sexual and engaged in promoting safer sex.  Although I use a different medication now (Descovy), I am still on and committed to PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis i.e. anti-HIV medication) as a non-gendered, non-political, non-sexual orientation based strategy to reduce HIV in the world.  I’ve included a link to the earlier blog HERE as a counter narrative to what feels like the opening salvo in a return to the trenches of the war on sex, sexuality, embodiment and health care that we fought in the first wave of HIV in the 1980s and 1990s.

With the Texas ruling that exempts employers from providing HIV prevention medication (PrEP) based on religious belief (read the ruling HERE), a judge who has no medical or religious training (that I know of) is legislating what it means to be a human being.  Ask anyone outside of the United States and they will tell you that HIV is not about sexuality; it is about humanity.  But we live in a country that has a long history of trying to criminalize the sexuality and various lifestyles of its citizens on a religious basis.  The ruling includes the following language claiming that the ACA’s provision for preventive care:

“violated [the plaintiffs’] religious beliefs by making them complicit in facilitating homosexual behavior, drug use, and sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and woman”[1]

The last time I checked, all human beings have blood and blood didn’t have sexual preference, nor could blood get married.  HIV only cares that you have blood and that you are in a living human body.  The idea that any law designed to protect any and all embodied human beings (I.e. health care) is subject to a religious test is terrifying…and it is not surprising.  The Supreme Court did this in the recent Dobbs decision on abortion by codifying the religiously driven language of “unborn human” in the decision, making what several religious traditions consider a judicial decision about what and when constitutes human life.  (M. Cathleen Kaveny’s article in Religion and Politics offers some insight.)

Many secular advocates (Center for HIV Law & Policy, ACLU, etc.) have been working tirelessly to resist this tide.  Their work has largely kept things at bay, but it is not enough.  The direction that our courts and laws are heading is being driven by a fairly small, radically conservative portion of the population that recognizes a gap in the wall of “separation between church and state.” [2]  That gap is where liberal and progressive people of faith could be.  But too many are worried about not offending anyone, and building consensus, or tearing apart their families that include religious conservatives.  Too many are just sitting there wringing their hands and then heading to brunch.

If socially liberal people of faith don’t make a bigger stink about the slow march to theocracy and find some guts to put skin in the game, we will have no choices.  We will be back in the 18th century dealing with laws that criminalize fornication or worse that allow for someone accused of “witchcraft” to be put to death.  Oh, wait…we still do that.


God forbid should this map ever include 50 states that criminalize HIV.  But, if more liberal religious folks aren’t willing to get out of their comfort zones, we’re f**ked.


[1] – https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/sep/07/texas-employers-hiv-prevention-prep-drugs-ruling

[2] – https://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.html

Liberty and Equity

“Liberty is not liberty when it functions at the expense of equity.”

Liberty is not liberty when it functions at the expense of equity.  This is the basic premise of my research.

My field is ethics with a specific focus on how religion and equity interact with individuals and society.  Considering the volatility of our current political climate, it seems clear that I have a great deal of work ahead of me.  The more I learn about the basis for the ideas and principles on which the framers of the Constitution were working (albeit in within the context of their highly limited world views), the more I recognize how true this statement must be in order for our democratic republic to function properly.

The religiously conservative direction our national abortion policy has now convulsed is one example of a direct contradiction to this spirit.  The contradictions will only continue to grow and be normalized if we allow sectarian doctrine framed as “Religious Liberty” to work against gender and sexuality rights as well.  This strategy of weaponizing individual liberty against shared equity is also evident when examining policies related to policing, gun rights and health care.  There must be a better working analysis that resists pitting “conservative” against “progressive” and instead works for a sustainable equilibrium between differing concepts of what individuals need to feel safe and whole.

‘Liberty cannot function at the expense of equity’ is also the basic principle behind why I believe the former President must be held to account.  Whether or not you agree with his policies, like him or dislike him, a rational society must recognize that his individual liberty, while it needs to be respected, cannot be weaponized as a political tool. Neither can his liberty be accessed as an opportunistic platform nor can it elevate him above the same standards to which the rest of our society of order is held.  I’m not the first person to point out that justice is equity in action and that individual liberty cannot be used as an exemption or a literal “get out of jail free” card.  This nation’s history of slavery, native erasure and other sometimes violent marginalization reminds us that liberty as a tool of oppression and privilege is the worst kind of perversion of the principles on which the United States was formed.

Our challenge in the United States, in our time of fractured politics and dysfunctional government is to remember that our commitments to precious individual liberties must be held within our commitments to enriching community equities.  Without this balance, the American experiment will always fail.