April 05, 2015

The Future Of Religious Freedom in America -- The Coming Persecution

This week's Watcher's Council Forum question asks if religious freedom is seriously threatened in America. Sadly, I believe it is, despite the clear promise of the Bill of Rights that free exercise of religion is a right guaranteed to every American. The reality is that this particular liberty has been under assault for some time, and that it will only get worse.

Who is leading the assault? Secular leftists and those ostensibly a part of religious communities (often in leadership positions) who have been co-opted by the siren call of progressive ideology. The Secular Left has long been contemptuous of people of faith. Want an example? Just look at the "bitter clinger" rhetoric of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Listen to entertainers like Bill Maher, John Stewart, and Stephen Colbert. Consider the manner in which our elite institutions treat religious believers, especially Christians.

Sadly, though, the weapon they wield is one placed in their hands by a conservative man of faith -- Justice Antonin Scalia. His opinion in Employment Division v. Smith overturned several decades of Free Exercise jurisprudence that had shown deference to freedom of conscience and required that government show a compelling interest before it burdens the free exercise of religion. The long history of both legislative and judicial accommodation of religious belief and conduct was therefore jettisoned in the name of what was deemed to be an originalist interpretation not particularly supported by either the text of the Constitution nor the writings of the Framers. Indeed, it is not unreasonable to speculate that Scalia's decision was based more on an antipathy to drug use than fidelity to the text of the First Amendment or longstanding precedents.

Initially, religious believers of all stripes united to see that the customary religious protections were written into statutory law. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and later the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), were efforts designed to see that the law respected religious freedom. But when the principles of religious freedom the two sides agreed upon ran into the liberal desire to see gay marriage and government mandated health insurance become a part of America's social landscape, the demand that traditional religious believers be free to opt out of participation in elements of both that offended their faith led the Left to reject Free Exercise outside of the confines of church buildings and the privacy of one's home.

This past week we saw this matter come to fruition, as activists in two states forced changes into state RFRAs that will guarantee that Christian (and Muslim and even some Jewish) businesspeople choose between honoring their faith and honoring the law. Nobody is talking about banning members of any protected class from their businesses -- they are simply seeking to opt out of participation in specific events that offend their religion. But in the name of non-discrimination, those who believe as a matter of faith that homosexual marriage is an abomination before God will be forced to participate despite the fact that they view doing so as endangering their immortal soul -- and failure to do so could cost them their businesses and their life savings, and perhaps even result in their incarceration.

Unfortunately, the same "civil rights" laws that require these people of faith to accommodate sin are not reciprocal. Just last week, in the midst of the dispute over RFRAs in Indiana and Arkansas, the state of Colorado ruled that it was not an act of unlawful discrimination for a baker to refuse to provide a cake expressing traditional Christian beliefs on marriage.

DENVER - Colorado's legal battles between religious freedom and gay rights continue to play out in the not-so-sweet arena of bakery cake requests.

Last week, the Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled that Denver's Azucar Bakery did not discriminate against William Jack, a Christian from Castle Rock, by refusing to make two cakes with anti-gay messages and imagery that he requested last year.

* * *

The agency's decision found that the baker did not discriminate against Jack based on his creed. Instead, officials state the evidence shows Silva refused to make the cakes because the customer's requests included "derogatory language and imagery."

The baker said "in the same manner [she] would not accept [an order from] anyone wanting to make a discriminatory cake against Christians, [she] will not make one that discriminates against gays," according to the decision.
"The evidence demonstrates that [Silva] would deny such requests to any customer, regardless of creed," the civil rights agency's decision stated.

Now we all know that the state would not have accepted the argument that a baker would not serve anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, who sought a cake for a same sex wedding. The reality is that the agency is allowing someone a way out of complying with non-discrimination law that they would allow in no other situation. Thus there is no longer equal protection of the law when it comes to matter of non-discrimination law, and the deck is stacked against believers.

We know what is coming next. Ross Douhat asked a series of questions about how far conformity should be enforced on matters of gay marriage. Should people be denied employment or lose employment for holding the wrong view? Should religious institutions that reject gay marriage be legally disadvantaged for that belief? Should attempting to pass on traditional views on sexual morality be deemed child abuse and result in the loss of parental rights? In other words, should the holding of religious beliefs that were mainstream and consistent with the law a mere two decades ago become an offense under the law? Sadly, many of the commenters on his piece were supportive of undercutting religious freedom.

The more I've looked at this matter over the last week, the more I have come to realize that for Christians the future may come to look very much like the situation that faced the first followers of Christ in the decades following the crucifixion until the time of Constantine.


And sadly, the same will be true of our Torah-believing Jewish brethren -- the days of Antiochus Epiphanes will be revisited upon them by the Progressives, cheered on by the their secular Jewish cousins. But this will not, I would suspect, be the case for the followers of Islam, which has come under the special protection progressives due their shared value of anti-Americanism.

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