Monday, August 8, 2016

Failure of moral imagination

.... Another factor favoring anti-discrimination laws over religious liberty is that the left, which traditionally fought for both religious liberty and non-discrimination, has made a virtual religion out of the latter while largely abandoning traditional religion. The left also once enjoyed a substantial religious base; today it has become dominated by secularists who simply fail to understand the perspective of religious traditionalists.

Many secularists see adherence to longstanding moral teachings as compelling evidence of irrational animus. Secular liberals seem unable to discern why—unless out of a prejudiced hostility to women’s rights—a Catholic university should decline to provide its employees with insurance coverage for birth control. This failure of moral imagination is quite staggering, especially given that progressives consider themselves to be exceptionally open-minded and tolerant of diversity.

Still another, related factor in the rout of religious liberty is the unwillingness of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other one-time supporters of the free exercise of religion to defend the rights of traditionalist Christians lest, by doing so, they fall on the wrong side of the culture wars. It was one thing for the ACLU and like-minded groups to have historically defended politically inconsequential minorities like peyote-smoking Indians and Sabbatarians (as well as Orthodox Jews) whose free-exercise rights were threatened by the mainstream Protestant majority. It’s quite another thing today to defend evangelical Christians when they object to aspects of modern anti-discrimination law. ....

Once it became clear, however, that the primary beneficiaries of RFRA were not going to be the aforementioned peyote-smokers and Sabbatarians but religious Christians seeking to repel the advance of secular, progressive values into their lives, the ACLU and many other left-leaning groups and individuals became strong opponents of religious-freedom laws at both the federal and, later, the state level.

Indeed, in a remarkable spectacle, governors of states that in the 1990s had passed still-extant religious-freedom laws are now boycotting states that have passed similar or almost identical laws in the 2010s. Thus, in 2015, the Connecticut governor Dan Malloy signed an executive order banning state travel to Indiana on account of that state’s newly passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which actually afforded narrower protection to religious liberty than does Connecticut’s RFRA.

The reason for such contortions: religious freedom is now seen as code for “discrimination against sexual minorities.” As Louise Melling, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, has put it, RFRA needs to be limited (she uses the term “amended”) “so that it cannot be used as a defense for discrimination.” More broadly, she argues, “religious liberty doesn’t mean the right to discriminate.” Actually, however, it does mean the right to discriminate, or at least it can—unless one were to adopt the old Soviet line that religious freedom means you are free to believe whatever you want so long as you don’t act on those beliefs. .... [more]