July 23, 2014

Religious Liberty: Special Interest or Constitutional Right?

The recent Supreme Court cases that dealt with Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) revealed the nasty side of activist progressives. That private companies would refuse to insure four kinds of birth control amounted to a return to a brutish, woman-hating era (if the Twitterati are to be believed). “War on women” and “5 men are telling women what to do with their bodies” were the outcries of the digital streets.

Now the President has taken it upon himself to sign off an executive order that “could institutionalize federal discrimination against all religious groups and persons affirming natural marriage, traditional sexual ethics and the biological reality of gender.” Much has changed since the Clinton era, when groups across the political spectrum came together after a Supreme Court decision in order to protect the First Amendment with the RFRA. It is becoming normal to hear LGBT activists, feminists, and their ideological allies demand an end to the law.

What will be left of the First Amendment in this brave, new, sexually-liberated world?

The demands and teachings of traditional faiths are heretical according to feminism and LGBT social policy. The sexual liberation groups have entered a state that resembles religious zeal: moving testimonies of “coming out” either as LGBT or as an ally, apocalyptic overtones regarding Catholics and evangelicals, strident condemnation’s of an opponent’s morality and motives, a utopian eschatology, and (worst for the rest of the nation) a take-no-prisoners fervor. In this calculus of freedom and demand, religious faith and sexual self-expression are at loggerheads. Guess which one is on the chopping block for the  progressive media, the permissive university, and the generation that those institutions have raised?

Perhaps most troubling of all is the shift in ethos and rhetoric regarding religious freedom. In short, policy makers, administrators, and analysts are beginning to speak of religious liberty advocates as a special interest group. At least since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, bureaucrats and politicos have increasingly seen their task as one of management. Unions, contractors, big businesses, and other lobbying arms demand a slice of the government pie. These groups jockey for more favor while the government must balance out the requests. Now evangelicals, Catholics, and other religious groups have been added to the list to vie for the government’s favor.

This should strike all American citizens as perverse. Religious freedom was written into the Bill of Rights as a primary constitutional right. But equality has trumped liberty. Anti-discrimination laws and cultural animus militate against the hiring procedures of religious groups in a way that endangers religious identity. Demands for insured birth control—a pillar for the women’s equality movement—trumps the convictions of business owners and even faith-based nonprofits. These government guarantees of equality (among others) attack freedom.

Which do Americans want more: freedom or equality? At present, activists and policymakers are cobbling together both concerns. However, will the next generation of Americans err on the side of liberty or egalitarianism? I think the answer one would receive from Millennials—even evangelical ones—would be troubling for many traditional American Christians.

Government officials and voters alike have been trained to politically concern themselves with the individual and the state. The problem is that people actually have an entire web of authorities and commitments, some of which may trump their own desires or the demands of the state. Now it has become politically blasphemous to hold more loyalty toward one’s family, faith, or local community than to the state. We can look at the case of Antigone or Robert E. Lee to see where such commitments end up. The increasingly progressive United States federal government does not like or want such characters. They are far too undemocratic.

Power seeks more power. Networks of authority diffuse power into smaller groups, thus preventing tyranny. As Bertrand de Jouvenel once observed, the church, the family, and other various associations are “makeweights” against central state power; they are a check and buffer. As a center of power, the state will do its best to remove those makeweights in order to achieve more power. If the individual can be isolated from other authorities save the state, the individual really has little chance to effectively resist political encroachment.

American history is filled with important strides toward increased centralization. In the religious freedom fight, we may now be seeing one of the most aggressive moves toward the dissipation of makeweights in the United States.


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One Response to Religious Liberty: Special Interest or Constitutional Right?

  1. Pudentiana says:

    Your reference to the millennial mindset is very telling. The public education system has been promoting “group think” for decades and the bitter fruit is now ripe. The new knowledge will support this new perspective on the power of the state as opposed to the power of the power of the truth. The mist of postmodernism is falling like a fog upon the minds which once could comprehend right from wrong, truth from lie, and even justice.

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