A campaign against religious freedom – the central purpose for which America came into being – had been underway for some time before the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the same-sex marriage case, on 26 June. But the campaign went into overdrive with the news of that ruling, and it’s becoming increasingly furious and determined.
The principal method of the anti-freedom campaign is owning the terms in which it is discussed. The anti-freedom contingent insists, in essence, that what traditionalist Christians want is not legitimate freedom, but a license to hurt people.
Fascist collectivism always makes its arguments in these terms, and the campaign against religious freedom is no different. It picks a specific demographic target and vilifies the members of it, based on a garbled and inverted premise about social harm.
The effect is devious, but inevitable. There are actually plenty of people other than traditionalist Christians who don’t buy into every goal of the radical “gay rights” movement, which is now bearing down on things like “work place equality” for transgender and cross-dressing individuals; a push that is bound to become controversial in – just for starters – the public schools. Millions of parents who’ve never been traditionalist Christians will reject the idea that their 6- and 8-year-old children should have to be in classrooms with cross-dressing teachers, or teachers in various states of “gender fluidity.”
But those same parents have stood aside as the path was laid out for the “equality” push – because, after all, they aren’t the despised “Christians” who want to treat people unequally. Those recalcitrant Christians are someone else, and their religious freedom is just an excuse to hurt people’s feelings.
Dividing the people up for selective vilification is a classic approach of fascist demagoguery. It’s what we’re seeing today with the endlessly repeated theme that a corrupt and evil-minded demographic of “homophobic” Christians is waving the religious-freedom banner on false premises.
This approach pulls the rug out from under everyone’s discretion over his intellectual choices. But it’s framed as a public emergency caused by one group. In just such ways did Soviet authorities vilify property owners and “intellectuals” as enemies of the people – and then run around accusing anyone they liked of falling into those demonized categories.
We can see how the campaign against religious freedom has gone to high warble in the last week through the prism of three particular developments. There are others, but these three are illustrative.
1. The National Education Association’s resolution against laws that protect religious freedom. This resolution, passed by the NEA on 3 July at its annual convention, will have far-reaching consequences. It isn’t just a feel-good statement on the part of convention delegates; it’s a call to campaign against religious freedom in the schools. This is what the NEA agreed to:
The NEA will develop educational materials for its state affiliates and members about the potential dangers of so-called “religious freedom restoration acts” or RFRAs, which may license individuals and corporations to discriminate on the theory that their religious beliefs require such actions. The materials will describe the current legal landscape at the federal and state level, provide model state legislative amendments to modify existing laws to prevent such discriminatory applications, provide talking points for advocacy, and link to existing resources for members and state affiliates to use in efforts to prevent the use of such laws as a license to discriminate.
In other words, the NEA intends to propagandize children against religious freedom as early as possible in the education system. It’s obvious from the language in the resolution that children are to be given no opportunity to consider the philosophy of religious freedom in a different, more favorable (or even balanced) light.
2. The gagging of Oregon bakery couple Aaron and Melissa Klein, who have just been ordered by a state commissioner (a commissioner of labor, in the executive branch) not to speak publicly about why they didn’t want to bake a cake for the celebration of a same-sex union. The pair are Christians who believe that same-sex unions are wrong; their case is presumably well-known to most readers.
This is the most forthrightly Orwellian case of the three. The bottom line of the gag order is that Oregon has decided it’s illegal to explain why you have a conscientious objection to something Oregon law is held to demand that you do. Oregon’s reasoning is that explaining it, and not renouncing your conviction, amounts to indicating the intent to keep doing it. That intent is made illegal by Oregon law.
This formulation is of course a burden, in the case at hand, on religious speech. But in other cases, it might be a burden on other kinds of speech, which also ought to have protection. In the Oregon bakery case, it’s religious speech that’s being gagged.
The letter of Oregon law certainly appears designed to silence principled objections to state laws, if you can’t talk publicly about the reasoning behind your choices. That’s one Orwellian aspect of this case – and it should alarm all of us. Religion is just one of the reasons we want to be able to speak our minds about law, government, and the dictates of our consciences.
The other Orwellian aspect is a rush from the left to defend the Oregon Labor Commission and argue that gagging the Kleins somehow isn’t really “gagging” the Kleins. Mark Joseph Stern made this tortured attempt at Slate on Monday, his thesis appearing to be that it can’t really be “gagging” if the law says you’re not supposed to talk about something.
But gagging, of course, is gagging, regardless of which arm or tool of the government has imposed it on you. Whether the written law silences you, or a specific order from a judge or commissioner, you’re still being gagged by the state.
The gag order in the Kleins’ case poses a danger to everyone’s freedom of speech about everything. If you can’t express an opinion without that being taken as the intent to commit a crime, the basis of all freedom of speech is lost. If you don’t see that this applies to you, regardless of whether you think you’ll ever want to express a traditionalist Christian opinion, you are already conditioned to the loss of your freedoms.
3. The mocking challenge to Indiana’s religious freedom law from the “First Church of Cannabis.” This is where the hint of a quasi-demonic insolence about religious freedom begins to emerge – as if it’s all just a big joke, rather than religious freedom being one of the Judeo-Christian West’s hardest-won moral principles, and the irreplaceable cornerstone of the American idea.
The “First Church of Cannabis” was “founded” in Indiana on 29 March 2015, the same day Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law. The purpose is to challenge the Indiana RFRA, by claiming to do something illegal – smoke pot – as an exercise of religion.
Its first “service” was held a week ago, on 1 July, in Indianapolis. Unlike people with actual religious convictions, the congregants ended up deciding not to puff on real joints, while police were gathered nearby waiting for illegal activity to break out. Instead, those in attendance joined their leader, who styles himself the “Grand Poobah,” and pretended to pass joints and smoke them.
What a hilarious joke. This week, the “church” filed a lawsuit against the state of Indiana alleging that its rights under the RFRA law are being violated.
Presumably, the next “challenge churches” will be those of Prostitution, Pedophilia, and Incest.
Resist the temptation to dismiss this as sophomoric nonsense. The purpose of it is to get you thinking that way; to make you feel cynical about the whole topic; to cloud your judgment about the importance of religious freedom, and its centrality to your moral dignity and your prerogatives against the state.
Religious freedom is not a joke. It’s not a perverse or hypocritical concept, and it’s not a thin excuse to be mean to people. It’s the most basic freedom there is: everything about the limits the armed state is morally obligated to observe in its relationship to you maps back to it. If you don’t have the right to religious freedom, the state can make you do anything, and can take anything from you.
Four hundred years ago, our ancestors had learned this lesson well. They knew religious freedom was no joke, and that it could not be compromised without destroying the basis for all freedoms. Religious freedom is under concerted attack again, and there’s an edge of shrieking frenzy to the assault in 2015 – things happening that wouldn’t have happened even five years ago in America. We must not give religious freedom up. We court only state terror and bloodshed if we do.