Yesterday we bounced off of a recent book and post by Ross Douthat (and also Diana Butler Bass), and today Douthat is back, and this time he’s complaining about a lack of a sense of genuine religious freedom among what he calls the “leadership class”:
What do you think? Do you believe some of the President’s and America’s actions are violations of rights or do you think these have been the inevitable to-and-fro of balancing rights and toleration?
THE words “freedom of belief” do not appear in the First Amendment. Nor do the words “freedom of worship.” Instead, the Bill of Rights guarantees Americans something that its authors called “the free exercise” of religion.
It’s a significant choice of words, because it suggests a recognition that religious faith cannot be reduced to a purely private or individual affair. Most religious communities conceive of themselves as peoples or families, and the requirements of most faiths extend well beyond attendance at a sabbath service — encompassing charity and activism, education and missionary efforts, and other “exercises” that any guarantee of religious freedom must protect.
I cannot improve upon the way the first lady of the United States explained this issue, speaking recently to a conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. “Our faith journey isn’t just about showing up on Sunday,” Michelle Obama said. “It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well … Jesus didn’t limit his ministry to the four walls of the church. He was out there fighting injustice and speaking truth to power every single day.”
But Mrs. Obama’s words notwithstanding, there seems to be a great deal of confusion about this point in the Western leadership class today….
It may seem strange that anyone could look around the pornography-saturated, fertility-challenged, family-breakdown-plagued West and see a society menaced by a repressive puritanism. But it’s clear that this perspective is widely and sincerely held.
It would be refreshing, though, if it were expressed honestly, without the “of course we respect religious freedom” facade.
If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms. Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.
There, didn’t that feel better? Now we can get on with the fight.