Sunday, September 6, 2015
Kim Davis and the Decline of Religious Liberty
Do you believe in religious liberty and freedom of conscience? Do you believe American law is obliged to protect citizens’ religious liberty?
A test case: Let’s say there’s a Muslim-owned print shop in Illinois and a man comes in wanting to print 500 copies of a pamphlet he wrote. Rashid, the owner of the shop, sees that the pamphlet attacks Islam as a false religion and specifically attacks Muhammad as a false prophet. The shop owner refuses to print the pamphlet, saying it is blasphemous.
“Get your pamphlet printed somewhere else!” Rashid says. “It’s against my religion and my conscience to take part in spreading such blasphemy.”
Do you support Rashid’s right to refuse to print that pamphlet? I do. Were our laws to force him to print it, I’d consider it an offense against his dignity and an offense against our American idea of religious liberty.
Would you say Rashid is unjustly discriminating against the man who wrote the pamphlet? Though I strongly believe in freedom of speech, I wouldn’t consider this a case of unjust discrimination. Rashid isn’t saying the man has no right to print his pamphlet, only that he, as a Muslim, refuses to take part in such printing.
Last week a Christian woman in Kentucky went to jail because she refused to take part in licensing same-sex marriages. I’m not personally a fan of Kim Davis’ way of making her stand, but I do believe strongly that our law should allow some route for people such as Ms. Davis to recuse themselves from taking part in gay marriages. That she ended up in jail is an offense against religious liberty.
Though same-sex marriage has great support at present in many Western countries, the fact remains that there are tens of millions of citizens who firmly believe such marriages are an offense against God’s law. One can work to convince these believers they are wrong to think as they do, but one cannot simply discount their convictions, which are clearly grounded in long-standing religious traditions.
In Kim Davis’ mind, her taking part in legitimating same-sex marriages would be a form of blasphemy--hardly different from Rashid’s printing of anti-Muslim pamphlets. You can think Kim Davis is being petty or silly or even bigoted for believing such blasphemy is real, but that is the thing about religious liberty: It’s not up to you to decide what is and isn’t valid in her religion.
If you support Rashid’s right not to print those pamphlets, you should likewise support laws defending the rights of religious bakers, caterers and even county clerks in their refusal to take part in legitimating or providing work toward the celebration of same-sex marriages.
Really, the two cases, that of Rashid and that of the Christian marriage traditionalist, are almost precisely similar. But for some reason, in our current cultural climate, it's become impossible for otherwise intelligent people to see this.
Why is it so difficult for people to see that religious liberty is being offended against when bakers and florists get run out of business or when county clerks are not given a legal route to recuse themselves from taking part in gay marriage?
Too many liberals, weighing in on this issue, show no sense of balance. There's a rising liberal fundamentalism, which, if its proponents had any historical sense, they'd recognize as a contradiction in terms.
Were a customer to come into that hypothetical Muslim print shop asking to print menus or pamphlets on zoology, and were Rashid to proclaim “Get out of here! I don’t serve atheist Jews!”--that would be a case of illegal discrimination. And the customer would be right to take Rashid to court. Likewise were a restaurant owner to refuse to serve a gay customer simply for being gay, we would be talking about real and harmful discrimination. But Rashid, and the Christian bakers too, have the right to refuse to take part in things they consider blasphemy. It's as simple as that.
American liberals are committing egregious mistakes in the way they're trying to integrate same-sex marriage into the culture. What we need are sane and balanced RFRA laws. We need them now.
(Personal note: As a Catholic with great respect for my Church's teachings, but also with an active and critical intelligence, I would not define myself as "opposed to" gay marriage. At the same time, however, I am definitely not a fan of the absolutist tactics of the marriage equality movement, which is now cheerleading one witch hunt after another. I remain engaged in the theological debate over the issue and see routes for changing doctrine, and I'll pursue these routes in dialogue with fellow Catholics. But simultaneously, the sight of so many liberal friends eager to betray fundamental liberal principles is depressing to say the least.
As a strong pluralist, I would insist that America is failing here. There is room for everyone under the tent, and our law should be protecting both sides in this important debate. Because, regardless of the Obergefell decision, the debate is far from over.)