Recently, several sites have reported a poll demonstrating that a vast majority of Americans want to protect religious freedom and believe that there exists a solution which both religious freedom and LGBTQ rights are protected. Of course, recent news of conscientious florists, bakers, and wedding venue owners being forced out of business and/or subjected to massive fines demonstrate that the courts have, by and large, failed to find or embrace such a solution. While this recent poll might give reason for hope, cautious distrust remains the best posture towards those on the political left and to the accommodation of “LGBTQ rights.” This distrust is legitimate because it springs from the demonstrated prejudices of liberal democracy towards equality over freedom, the consistent misrepresentation of Christian behavior towards LGBTQ persons, and the inconsistent response of those on the political left towards a robust protection of religious freedom.
As early as the 1830s, the famed French political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville noticed a tension between freedom and equality within democratic societies. He notes in his 1835 classic Democracy in America that “The taste which men have for liberty and that which they feel for equality are, in fact, two different things; and I am not afraid to add that among democratic nations they are two unequal things.” He argues that equality – or at least the fervent desire for equality – is more foundational to democracy than a love of freedom.
Freedom has appeared in the world at different times and under various forms; it has not been exclusively bound to any social condition, and it is not confined to democracies. Freedom cannot, therefore, form the distinguishing characteristic of democratic ages. The peculiar and preponderant fact that marks those ages as its own is the equality of condition; the ruling passion of men in those periods is the love of this equality. Do not ask what singular charm the men of democratic ages find in being equal, or what special reasons they may have for clinging so tenaciously to equality rather than to the other advantages that society holds out to them: equality is the distinguishing characteristic of the age they live in; that of itself is enough to explain that they prefer it to all the rest.
Equality, unlike freedom, does not require sacrifice; this only increases its appeal. “Men cannot enjoy political liberty unpurchased by some sacrifices, and they never obtain it without great exertions. But the pleasures of equality are self-proffered; each of the petty incidents of life seems to occasion them, and in order to taste them, nothing is required but to live.” Tocqueville closes with a stern warning:
But political liberty is more easily lost; to neglect to hold it fast is to allow it to escape. Therefore not only do men cling to equality because it is dear to them; they also adhere to it because they think it will last forever….
I think that democratic communities have a natural taste for freedom; left to themselves, they will seek it, cherish it, and view any privation of it with regret. But for equality their passion is ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible; they call for equality in freedom; and if they cannot obtain that, they still call for equality in slavery. They will endure poverty, servitude, barbarism, but they will not endure aristocracy.
This is true at all times, and especially in our own day. All men and all powers seeking to cope with this irresistible passion will be overthrown and destroyed by it. In our age freedom cannot be established without it, and despotism itself cannot reign without its support. [emphasis added]
This power of the exultation of equality over liberty is demonstrated by the consistent and universal misrepresentation of the actions of Christian businessmen who decline to provide services for same-sex weddings. Many of those businessmen had provided services to the couples for some time preceding the wedding, had no problem serving LGBTQ clients, and did not discriminate on the basis of the person they were serving. Rather, when asked to assist in promoting a message they found objectionable – on the basis of sincere and deep religious convictions – they declined to provide a particular service to that message, not to the persons involved. LGBTQ activists and the press in general have consistently likened this behavior to that of businessmen in the Jim Crow era who discriminated against African Americans by refusing to serve them. This is inaccurate on its face. A better analogy would be a Jim Crow era restaurant that served African American and White Americans equally, but refused to hose a Black Panther or white supremacist meeting. In both those examples – like the cases in the courts today – we see businessmen refusing to provide services to particular messages, not to specific groups of people.
LGBTQ activists, and their supporters in the press and government, have understood Tocqueville’s warning that equality is the highest value of a democratic age. Exploiting the just push of the civil rights movement for social and political equal treatment, LGBTQ activists demand not personal equal treatment, but that anyone who fails to celebrate their lifestyle be financially ruined and socially reviled. It is foolish and dangerous to believe that freedom and this false equality can long co-exist.
Returning finally to the Calddell Associates poll, we are told that 71% of those polled believe there can be “a common sense solution that both protects religious freedom and protects gay and lesbian couples from discrimination.” Similarly, only 18% think that “Federal and state governments should be able to require by law a private citizen to provide a service or provide their private property for an even that is contrary to their religious beliefs.”
Interestingly, while 71% of self-identified Democrats polled were confident that a common sense solution could be found, only 60% of Republicans concurred as did only 60% of Evangelicals. This lack of enthusiasm seems warranted when only 66% of Democrats think that it is not up to the federal government to determine what constitutes religious beliefs, compared to 85% of Republicans. Only 52% of Democrats polled thought the government should not be able to force citizens to provide services for an even contrary to their religious belief; Republicans supported religious freedom by 79%. Only 72% of Democrats thought a Christian photographer should have the right to decline a same-sex wedding, while 93% of Republicans would protect that freedom.
54% of Republicans thought protecting religious liberties was more important than protecting LGBTQ rights, while 39% thought both were important. Only 22% of Democrats thought religious liberties deserved more protection. 77% of Democrats thought protecting religious liberty was important while 93% of Republicans do. The left’s disparity between the lip-service it gives to religious freedom and the exultation of LGBTQ rights over everything in practice is reflected in this poll and in the actions of the courts punishing Christians for refusing to serve same-sex weddings. This disparity is exactly what Tocqueville would have expected given his warnings about the democratic love of equality and the false claims of LGBTQ inequality that have entranced the United States government and press. If religious freedom – the freedom that is foundational to all others – is to persevere, we as a nation must reject false narratives of inequality and reorient ourselves towards freedom.