By Clayton Crockett | LSU Student
A tense religious debate over the role religion plays in social politics ensured during the final installment of Louisiana State University's Election 2012 Forums.
"There's nobody with clean hands when it comes to these kinds of issues," observed associate professor Alecia Long, specialist in Louisiana history and gender studies.
Long's comment set the tone for the Thursday night event in the LSU Business Education Complex rotunda, as the blame for various social ailments — from mandated access to contraceptives in the Affordable Care Act of 2010 to same-sex marriage — shifted patriarchal political cultures to religions' influence in politics.
Elaine Maccio, associate professor in the school of social works, focused most of her talk time on gender law and equality, particularly in regard to contraception.
"Since when does what somebody else believes dictate the treatment you receive?" she asked, arguing birth control gets a bad reputation for being used as a contraception when the drugs may be used for numerous purposes.
Birth control should instead be thought of as "the drug that does a lot of things but sometimes prevents pregnancy," Maccio said, adding that the blame for this sort of preventative legislation is "set up by a male-dominated system called the Vatican."
Religious studies assistant professor Michael Pasquier noted an imbalance in the religious community among those who fight the use of contraceptives and those who partake.
"By requiring Catholic organizations to not be Catholic in how they supply health care, the argument is that it is against the religion freedom of that institution," Pasquier said. "If we want to add some nuance to it, we have to recognize the fact that many Catholics, perhaps most Catholics, are not incredibly bothered by the mandate."
Brandon Smith, community affairs liaison for the university and ordained minister, argued for the necessity of secular participation in religious organizations such as hospitals. "You can't run a hospital on a theology degree; you need people who come from all walks of life in a hospital. It's a responsibility to flip the question on its head."
Other topics discussed included same-sex marriage, abortion — particularly in the case of rape — and Baton Rouge's HIV and AIDS dilemma.
"It's not just religion," Maccio said in reference to Baton Rouge's placement as No. 1 in the nation for HIV and AIDS contractions. "There are other things going on in this state that contribute to that abysmal rating."
And although the discussion largely focused on the coming election, Pasquier reminded the audience that the same standards should apply to Louisiana's governor.
Some audience members raised objection to the panel, whether about the necessity for pregnancy support as an alternative or the ability of condoms to prevent AIDS, which one audience member deemed false.
"Helping a person through their pregnancy is not an alternative to pregnancy — it is pregnancy," Maccio said. She also stressed that Planned Parenthood, though typically spoken of in regard to abortions, offers many degrees of support for women with unplanned pregnancies, not just abortion.
Julie Mickelberry, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, attended the panel.
"We have a lot of educating to do in Louisiana about what Planned Parenthood does," she said, referring to the organization's work to provide tests for sexually transmitted diseases. "It's important for people to be educated about prevention. Condoms do help prevent numerous STDs and HIV."