In an Orwellian inversion, “freedom” is now a tool for controlling others.
It wasn’t just that they didn’t get the result they wanted, but that in DOMA the Court’s majority simply didn’t buy the argument that homosexuality represents a threat to society. Neither does the general public, which supports that decision 56%-41%. (The margin under age 40 is 67%-30%, with 48% approving strongly.) The big post-DOMA public demonstrations expressed joy, not anger.
Just a few years ago anti-marriage-equality referendums were winning in states all over the country, but in 2012 one failed in Minnesota, while referendums legalizing same-sex marriage won at in Washington, Maryland, and Maine. Ten years ago, the first legislatures to make same-sex marriage legal were dragged by their state courts, but this year Delaware, Rhode Island, and Minnesota went there voluntarily, bringing the number of states where same-sex marriage is legal (as of August 1) to 13, plus the District of Columbia. (I’ll guess Oregon and Illinois will go next.)
It’s even clear why this is happening: Because gay millennials are not in the closet, everybody under 30 has gay and lesbian friends who dream about meeting their soulmates just like straight people do. To young Americans, laws blocking that worthy aspiration are pointlessly cruel and ultimately will not stand — not in Alabama, not in Utah, not anywhere.
The new face of bigotry: “freedom”. Fortunately for them, there’s a well-worked-out back-up plan: religious “freedom”.
Accept the inevitability of gay rights, advises Ross Douthat, but “build in as many protections for religious liberty as possible along the way.” Here’s the idea: If your disapproval of certain kinds of people can be rooted in church doctrine or a handful Biblical proof-texts, then forbidding you to mistreat those people violates the “free exercise” of religion you are promised by the First Amendment.
To make this work, conservative Christians need to divert attention from the people they are mistreating by portraying themselves as the victims. And that requires cultivating a hyper-sensitivity to any form of involvement in activities they disapprove of. So rather than sympathize with the lesbian couple who gets the bakery door slammed in their faces, the public should instead sympathize with the poor wedding-cake baker whose moral purity is besmirched when the labor of his hands is used in a celebration of immorality and perversion.
There’s a name for this tactic: passive aggression. It’s like on Sanford & Son when Fred would clutch his heart and start talking to his dead wife because Lamont planned to do something he disapproved of. Passive aggression is the last resort of people who have neither the power to get their way nor any reasonable argument why they should.
In fact the baker will be fine, as Willamette Week demonstrated by calling two such religious-liberty-defending bakeries and ordering cakes to celebrate a variety of other events conservative Christians disapprove of: a child born out of wedlock, a divorce party, a pagan solstice ritual. The bakers did not object, because their hyper-sensitive moral purity is an invention, a convenient excuse for treating same-sex couples badly.
But Jim DeMint insists that
And Matthew Franck is horrified that religious universities will have to provide same-sex married-student housing; religious “schools, universities, hospitals, hospices, and clinics; social service agencies, retirement homes, eldercare and childcare facilities, food pantries, and soup kitchens” who employ “teachers, doctors, nurses, psychologists, counselors and clinicians, caregivers, food-service workers, housekeeping and grounds staff, even pool lifeguards” won’t be able to refuse employment to people with same-sex spouses. Adoption services, marriage counselors, divorce lawyers, artificial insemination clinics etc. will have to deal with gay and lesbian couples … as if they were real human beings or something.
The race parallel. We worked this stuff out during the civil rights movement, because all the same ideas show up with regard to race.
Plenty of people claim a sincere religious belief in white supremacy, and root it in Biblical texts like the Curse of Ham. (This goes way back: American slave-owners found Biblical license for keeping their “property”.) But the law does not honor these claims, and somehow religion in America survives.
Here’s the principle that has served us well: In private life, you can associate with anybody you like and avoid anybody you don’t like. But if you offer goods or services for sale to the public, you don’t get to define who “the public” is. So when you’re making lunch at your house, you can invite anybody you like and snub anybody you don’t like, but if you run a lunch counter you have to serve blacks.
We’ve been living with principle for decades, and (other than Rand Paul) no one worries much about the racists’ loss of freedom.
That should apply to same-sex couples now: If your chapel is reserved for members of your congregation, fine. But if you rent it to the public for wedding ceremonies, same-sex couples are part of the public just like interracial couples are. You don’t get to define them away.
If that makes you reconsider whether you want to be open to the public, well, that’s your decision.
The sky will not fall. We just went through this with the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, which supposedly would violate the religious “freedom” of evangelical military chaplains (who apparently had never before needed interact respectfully with people they believed were sinners). The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins predicted:
You have over 200 sponsoring organizations that may be prevented from sponsoring chaplains because they hold orthodox Christian views that will be in conflict with what the military says is stated policy.
That stated policy was: “All service members will continue to serve with others who may hold different views and beliefs, and they will be expected to treat everyone with respect.”
AP went looking for chaplains who couldn’t live with that and found “perhaps two or three departures of active-duty chaplains linked to the repeal.” A Catholic priest overseeing 50 other chaplains reported “I’ve received no complaints from chaplains raising concerns that their ministries were in any way conflicted or constrained.”
If any of Perkins’ 200 religious organizations has stopped sponsoring chaplains because DADT is gone, I haven’t heard about it. The chaplains’ hyper-sensitivity to openly gay soldiers was imaginary, and went away when the government refused to take it seriously.
The abortion parallels. The reason the Religious Right believes their passive-aggressive “religious freedom” approach will work on same-sex marriage is that the same approach is already working on reproductive rights.
It all started with a reasonable compromise: After the Religious Right lost the battle to keep abortion illegal, laws guaranteed that doctors who believe abortion is murder can’t be forced to perform one. This is similar to letting pacifists be conscientious objectors in war, and I completely support it.
But from there, Religious Right “freedom” has become a weapon to beat down the rights of everyone else. Since 1976, Medicaid has not paid for abortions — at a considerable cost to the government, since birth and child support are far more expensive — because pro-life taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund something they think is immoral. There’s no parallel to this anywhere else: The taxes of pacifist Quakers pay for weapons; the taxes of Jews and Muslims pay the salaries of federal pork inspectors.
And conservative special rights keep growing. The argument for defunding Planned Parenthood is that public money not only shouldn’t pay for abortions, it shouldn’t even mix with money that pays for abortions. (“Giving taxpayer funds to abortion businesses that also provide non-abortion services subsidizes abortion,” says one petition.) I had a hard time imagining a parallel, but I finally came up with one: What if Jews were so sensitive to violations of the kosher rules that Food Stamps couldn’t be used (by anyone, for anything) in groceries that sold pork?
That would be absurd, wouldn’t it?
In some states, medical “conscience” laws now protect anyone in the medical system who wants to express their moral condemnation: If the pharmacist disapproves of your contraceptives, he doesn’t have to fill your prescription. One of the examples cited by the model conscience law of Americans United for Life as something that needs to be fixed is “an ambulance driver in Illinois being fired for refusing to take a woman to an abortion clinic”.
Clearly that ambulance driver’s immortal soul was at risk. The hyper-sensitive pro-life conscience needs to be protected from any contact with women making use of their constitutional rights.
Religious “freedom” and contraception. The other front in the religious “freedom” battle is contraception.
The Obama administration has had a lot of trouble finding the proper religious exemption to the contraception provisions of the Affordable Care Act. That’s because it’s hard to find the “right” version of something that shouldn’t exist at all. Contraception coverage does not violate any legitimate notion of religious freedom for any religious organizations, religious affiliated organizations, or religious individual employers. Their claims should be rejected without compromise.
The principle here ought to be simple: The employer isn’t paying for contraception or any other medical procedure; the employer is paying for health insurance. Health insurance is part of a worker’s earnings, just like a paycheck. And just like a paycheck, what the employee chooses to do with that health insurance is none of the employer’s business. If I’m the secretary of an orthodox rabbi, his religious freedom isn’t violated when I cash my paycheck and buy a ham sandwich. Ditto for contraceptives, health insurance, and the secretary of the Archbishop of Boston.
Religious organizations’ hyper-sensitive consciences are pure passive aggression. The classic example here is Wheaton College, which couldn’t join other religious organizations in their suit against the ACA because it discovered that it had inadvertently already covered the contraceptives that the tyrannical ACA was going to force it to cover. This was such a huge moral issue for the college that nobody there had noticed.
Worst of all is the Hobby Lobby lawsuit, which got a favorable ruling on an injunction recently. The Hobby Lobby case is the mating of two bad ideas — corporate personhood and employers’ right to control the medical choices of their employees — to produce something truly monstrous. HL’s case hangs on its claim that it is a “person” with regard to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, and so its corporate “religious freedom” allows it to restrict its employees’ access to contraception.
Persecution or Privilege? Here are the kinds of sacrifices I make for my readers: I listened to the full half-hour of James Dobson’s post-DOMA radio show, where Dobson, Perkins, and Bill Becker threw around phrases like “the collapse of Western civilization in one day” and “the whole superstructure … can come down”. They described Christians as “an oppressed minority” and agreed that “persecution is likely in the days to come”.
But what is “persecution” exactly?
Tony Perkins expresses the challenge like this:
Do you believe God’s word is true and therefore you’re going to live your life based upon that truth, or are you going to shrink back in the fear of man and of them calling you bigots.
Whenever Christians discuss their “oppression”, fear of being called bigots plays a central role. According to CNN’s Belief Blog,
[Peter] Sprigg and other evangelicals say changing attitudes toward homosexuality have created a new victim: closeted Christians who believe the Bible condemns homosexuality but will not say so publicly for fear of being labeled a hateful bigot.
In other words: Christians are oppressed unless they can express their moral condemnation of others without being subject to moral condemnation themselves.
Why would anyone imagine the existence of such a one-sided right? Simple: In practical terms, that’s a right they have had until recent years. Not so long ago, the James Dobson types were so intimidating that they could preach any kind of vicious nonsense about gays and face no response.
So what they are experiencing now isn’t persecution, it’s privileged distress, the anxiety a privileged class feels as its privileges fade and it slides towards equality with others. And rather than try to get over their distress and soothe their anxiety, they are intentionally pumping it up in a passive-aggressive attempt to claim victimhood and control the rest of us.
That bubble needs to be popped.