At times, both LGBT progressive activists and religious conservative activists seem to uphold the above sentiment. It puts both groups of zealots at odds with the majority of Americans—including those of traditional faith and gay Americans, who would find better ways to accommodate with one another, if the activists would let them.
Consider the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act (MRFA), a House bill introduced last week by Republicans that, the conservative Washington Times reports, “seeks to protect the religious freedom of individuals, institutions and businesses that are increasingly being punished or harassed for their beliefs on marriage.” MRFA is intended to “prohibit discrimination through the federal tax code” against citizens and institutions who think marriage is the union of one man and one woman, said Rep. Raul R. Labrador, Idaho Republican.
The paper notes that the bill would not have affected, for example, recent state actions against the New Mexico photographer or the Oregon bakery that each refused to provide services for gay marriages, based on the small business providers’ religious faith.
However, the push for the bill nevertheless is clearly a response to such actions. What the bill would do is “ensure that individuals who want to donate to a church that holds to the traditional teaching on marriage would not see their donations challenged” by the IRS. Religious conservatives fear that such moves are being pondered against Catholic and other religiously affiliated schools that won’t hire openly gay or lesbian faculty, for instance (there is currently a push in California to revoke the Boy Scouts’ state tax-exempt status over the group’s refusal to hire openly gay scoutmasters).
MFRA also would shield companies and nonprofits from “adverse actions” by the federal government, such as denying federal grants, contacts, certifications and employment based on opposition to gay marriage.
MFRA is bad legislation, but another bad idea would be limiting the moderate religious exemption in the proposed Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which if passed would outlaw workplace discrimination against LGBT people. The Washington Blade reports that Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, which spearheads marriage equality campaigns, said he:
shares the “grave concerns” expressed by the American Civil Liberties Union over the religious exemption—which he said would “carve coverage by certain kinds of entities for LGBT people.”
Those “entities” being religiously affiliated institutions, including private schools. In their zeal to force faith-based organizations and small business owners who hold traditional religious beliefs about marriage to hire gay people or provide services (including those of an artistic nature) to lesbian or gay weddings, LGBT zealots are firing up a backlash that might come back to haunt all of us. Even worse, they are seeking to use the power of state coercion to force others to engage in actions that violate their religious beliefs, an ugly thread that runs throughout too much of human history.
An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal favoring religious freedom recently noted that:
Some 97.6% of religious adherents in the U.S.—more than half the population—belong to religious bodies that affirm the traditional definition of marriage, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. For those Americans, tolerance isn’t turning out to be a two-way street.
The author, Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, a “committed Lutheran” and contributor to Christianity Today, doesn’t aid her case when she goes beyond defending the rights of small business owners, arguing that government employees such as dissenting county clerks should be exempt from providing services to marrying gay couples. The state is different from civil society (or what’s left of it), something that progressive activists won’t acknowledge, either. In this misconceived view of state supremacy, religious conservatives and progressive activists are beholden to the same misconception.
More. Some activists have responded with, “well, that’s the law; they have to abide by the law.” What mendacity! As if these activists didn’t spend much of their time otherwise opposing bad laws. Moreover, the civil rights laws were enacted to remedy systemic employment discrimination against African-Americans, who often couldn’t find decent and equal employment anywhere (and often because of state “Jim Crow” laws). To apply the same government power to punish a tiny number of independent service providers with sincere religious objections to same-sex marriage is not only petty and cruel, but speaks to a lack of comprehension about the nature of religious conscience and why government should safeguard it, not coercively force individuals to violate their religious beliefs. But if you don’t take religious conviction seriously (hey, “it’s the law” and “they’re bigots; they should be forced to photograph the wedding; serves ’em right”), then you really are slouching toward totalitarianism.
Furthermore. Walter Olson replies to Mollie Ziegler Hemingway:
Many of the conscience cases she cites involving private businesses arose in jurisdictions that don’t recognize gay marriage, and most would reach the same legal result so long as local antidiscrimination laws remain in place, whether or not the law on marriage has changed. Libertarians have consistently worried about the tendency of anti-discrimination laws to erode individual rights of association. Modern progressives have consistently sought to dismiss or minimize such worries. Many conservatives from outside the libertarian tradition, such as Ms. Hemingway, do not seem to have given much attention to the issue until it gored their particular ox.
And from a posted comment at the Wall Street Journal site to Walter’s letter:
The florist in question did not “refuse to serve” gay clients. No one was turned away from her shop or denied service. Rather, she declined a solicitation to provide flowers to an event, namely a gay wedding… It’s the same thing as if a black florist sells flowers to KKK members who come into the shop, but refuses to supply flowers to a KKK function.
How many of the progressives who favor forcing small businessmen and women to bend knee to them would approve of forcing the black florist to decorate a Klan rally? [Added: Not so far-fetched, which is why a recent parody rings true.]