Not long ago, I noted in the Press and Journal that the cultural clash over same-sex marriage was won. The side in favor gay nuptials was victorious. Cultural conservatives, for all the ire and fist-shaking, lost the fight for traditional marriage in America.
The best we could hope for was, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat put it, the “terms of our surrender” would be respected.
Well, we can now officially say that battle is lost. The recent hullabaloo over Indiana’s passing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is symbolic of liberal triumphalism taken to an extreme degree. The left isn’t just taking a victory lap; they are pounding their ideology into all nonbelievers. The outrage is borderline epileptic.
Here’s what I mean. Time columnist and former professional basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar described the Indiana law as ushering in an “American version of Sharia law.” Forbes writer Ben Kepes likened the law to Kristallnacht. Various big-name businesses are threatening to boycott the state over the measure. Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy went as far as to sign an executive order barring state-funded travel to Indiana, stating that the law “turn[ed] back the clock on progress.”
Apple and the National Basketball Association have also jumped into the fray. Apple CEO Tim Cooke, an openly gay man who does business in countries that murder homosexuals with impunity, said he was disappointed by Indiana over Twitter. The National Basketball Association, which allows sexual predators and violent men to play, promised further “inclusion” in the face of the law.
When major corporations and celebrities are teaming up to snuff out a problem, you can bet the media will be on their side. And as we’ve seen, reporters have thrown out all objective standards in a concentrated effort to make Indiana synonymous with the Third Reich.
Headline after headline described the RFRA as “legalized discrimination” and “anti-gay.” But how true are these generalizations?
First of all, let’s define what discrimination really is. I won’t bore you with the dictionary definition. Casually, when we reference discrimination, we mean making distinctions based on certain characteristics. The result entails favoring one thing over another.
For instance, if I’m hungry for steak, I’ll discriminate against restaurants not serving steak. If I’m dating a girl, I discriminate against all other females by not offering the same companionship.
That’s discrimination. We all do it, knowingly or not. Where things get testy is when people give preferential treatment based on skin color, sexual identity, or ethnicity. This behavior is understandably seen as unjust.
But the issue at hand is whether government should use coercion to reduce discrimination. And whether such measures interfere with freedom of conscience and private property rights.
Personally, I’m of the old-fashioned view that property is close to absolute and interfering with its use is unethical. Business owners have the right – not should have, mind you – to operate their enterprises how they see fit, even in the public square.
But pragmatism rules in our government-centric society, and business owners no longer have that right. So the issue of religious freedom and commerce must be approached in a more practical manner. Facts are a good place to start.
For one, when it comes to bills like the RFRA, there are zero cases of Americans being exempted from anti-discrimination laws based on religious grounds. Second, 19 others states (including Connecticut) have passed religious freedom laws similar to Indiana. And third, Bill Clinton, that paragon of ugly conservative bigotry, signed a federal version of the Indiana bill into law as president. That law – the Religious Freedom Restoration Act – had enormous support from Democrats. It was first used to ensure Native Americans could smoke peyote in accordance with their religion – not give free reign for Christian fundamentalists to toss gays out of their businesses.
So why all the wrath over Indiana? Critics maintain that religious freedom is a just a thin veil for legalized discrimination. But what does the bill actually say? There is no language about Christian bakers refusing service to homosexuals. To the contrary, it requires the government to prove compelling interest before forcing someone to violate their religious code. It is not a de jure right to discriminate. You wouldn’t know that by reading the indignated news stories though.
Those throwing a fit over Indiana’s RFRA law don’t believe in live and let live. The media freakout is a desperate attempt to cow people who object to homosexuality into keeping their traps shut. They can’t, or won’t, fathom the idea that orthodox Christians, Jews, and Muslims disagree with the gay lifestyle. Simple as that.
The Indiana debacle is part of a larger trend in increasing intolerance within the political left. More and more, liberals are abandoning the principles of free speech, pluralism, and tolerance.
At the time of writing, it’s looking like Indiana Governor Mike Pence will capitulate to the demands of the liberal mob. The RFRA will likely be watered down, if not scrapped entirely. It’s a shame, but so it goes in politics. In a democracy, mass opinion often overrides reasoned thought.
The Indiana situation will pass but it will not relieve the internal tension at the heart of the culture wars. Christians – and to a certain extent Jews and Muslims – are called by their faith to spread the Good News in the public square. They are also taught that while loving their neighbor is necessary, there is no love without truth. These beliefs do not mesh nicely within a hyper-secularized society.
Religious liberty in America cannot exist if public displays of faith are pushed back into the closet. One side has to give. And increasingly, it’s looking like the forces of modernity will have their way.