Is Religious Freedom Threatened? Duhhh … Is This a Trick Question?

Is Religious Freedom Threatened? Duhhh … Is This a Trick Question? March 27, 2014


When the roll is called down yonder, we’ll all line up according to our politics.

At least that appears to be the situation regarding the answers to the question of whether or not religious freedom is threatened.

There’s a lot of gas expended on this question, and most of it falls so predictably into political camps that the answers look more like responses to a roll call than genuine thinking.

Liberal Democrats, say no, of course not; only ignorant fools think so. Liberal Protestants, who are also almost entirely liberal Democrats, say no; only bigots who want to cling to their bigotry say yes. Conservative Republicans say yes; only liberal flat-liners who’ve sold this country out doubt it. Conservative Protestants, who are becoming more and more a solidified conservative Republican front, say yes; only weak Christians think otherwise.

Catholics? As the religious group that is Liberal Democrats, Conservative Republicans and every single thing in between, all sitting around the same table, we answer, yes/no/what did you say? and whatever.

So what do I, a decidedly liberal Democrat who is also a decidedly devout Catholic, say?

Before I answer that, I’m going to narrow that question to whether or not religious freedom is threatened in United States of America. I think the answer for much of the rest of the world is so obviously yes that those who doubt it fall into the same intellectual space as holocaust deniers.

Even when I narrow the question to the United States, I am tempted to reply … Duhhhh … Is this a trick question?

Rather than go for the golden one-word/one-off, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding answer, let’s review the obvious, public and undeniable facts.

What did the Supreme Court do this week?

It heard three cases brought before it by people who feel so strongly that their religious freedom is being violated that they are willing to risk their businesses and life’s work to stand against it. These are not rabble rousers. They are stable, quiet, pillars-of-the-community types, who normally eschew both litigation and the spotlight. They are the people who are the foundations of this country.

These people didn’t want to be part of a Supreme Court case. They were backed into this position by an overweening government that is so bent on enforcing an agency regulation that infringes on religious liberty that it is willing to precipitate a Constitutional crisis to do it.

What is happening in court rooms all over this country? We have mom and pop businesspeople — again quiet, apolitical, non-litigious, pillars of the community types — who are being forced to risk their livelihoods rather than violate their religious beliefs. This is happening because of overweening government force.

Not one of these people wanted to do this. Not one of them is the type who loves standing in front of microphones and sounding off. Every single one of them is putting their livelihoods on the line to stand for what they believe against a government that has taken hubris as its operating standard.

According to court testimony by administration attorneys, the fiction that is driving these government attacks on religious liberty is a deliberate narrowing of the First Amendment. Instead of religious freedom that applies to every man, woman and child in this great nation, the Obama Administration is seeking to shoe-horn it into the box of a narrow “freedom of worship.” In other words, keep your faith behind the closed doors of church sanctuaries, or suffer government-mandated penalties.

The standard argument against all this is either a stubborn sophistry which simply denies the obvious, or an insulting version of the hayseed argument. The hayseed argument goes like this: We sophisticates in the know understand that these hayseeds out in the hustings are deluded fools for thinking that their rights are being violated. We morally superior denizens of right-thinking also know that the hayseeds in the hustings are so blighted morally that their outdated ideas of religious fealty need to be shut down for a greater good that is defined by — you guessed it — us.

The hayseed argument, stupid and arrogant as it is, is actually the driving argument behind all these initiatives against individual freedom. It is the insider’s view of what they think is outsider foolishness for opposing the obviously higher morality and wisdom of their betters.

A slightly different version of the hayseed argument is the moral ingrate argument. It goes something like this: Moral imperatives which have been discovered in the last five years require that the moral ingrates of this country abandon their claims to religious freedom in order to serve the higher morality that we sophisticates have fashioned for ourselves and which we are going to use government force to enforce on everyone else.

The hayseed and moral ingrate arguments often overlap in actual practice. Sometimes they merge. The subtle difference between them is that one appeals to the pretension of moral superiority on the part of those who purvey it, and the other feeds their pretensions of intellectual superiority. Both arguments are at base a pose and a sham that have far more to do with bell-jar/echo-chamber thinking than anything approaching reality.

There is one other argument that surfaces in these discussions. That is the every-kid-in-China argument. This one is familiar to mothers of previous generations who were faced with recalcitrant children who wouldn’t eat their veggies. You know: The every kid in China would love to have that spinach on your plate, so you’d better eat it argument.

Applied to the question of attacks on religious freedom in America today, it goes something like this. Christians in other parts of the world are suffering real persecution. They are being burnt, beheaded, raped, imprisoned and tortured. So how dare you complain about government oppression of your little rights?

The irony is that this particular argument is usually advanced by someone who, in other contexts, does everything they can to deny and minimize the horror of Christian persecution.

I’m going to circle back here and take another look at the original question: Is religious freedom threatened in America today?

The answer is, of course. That’s obvious. The parsing — and that’s all it is — runs along lines of party affiliation and prejudice.


Note: This post is my reply to the discussion about Patheos’ Public Square Question: Is Religious Freedom Threatened? 

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12 responses to “Is Religious Freedom Threatened? Duhhh … Is This a Trick Question?”

  1. “They were backed into this position by an overweening government that is
    so bent on enforcing an agency regulation that infringes on religious
    liberty that it is willing to precipitate a Constitutional crisis to do

    You can back up the overweening even further. That agency regulation was all started by a gov commission declaring contraception to be a preventive service that MUST be made available to all women by all medical insurance companies. A purely political decision that is medically false. They essentially declared pregnancy to be a disease by lumping it’s prevention mandate in with vaccinations, PAP tests, mammograms, etc. Now that’s some crazy s**t but everyone just ignores it now. Once you drink the kool-aid that contraception and abortion belong in the same category as vaccines and colonoscopies, well you just took the big leap off the slippery slope into all kinds of crazy and we’re on a roll now!

  2. What’s more, the “Institute for Medicine” was stacked with members from Planned Parenthood. That’s how they came to the absurd conclusion that “preventive Care” MUST include contraception.
    Obama, knowing the congress would never vote for free contraception for everyone, sneakily tries to force all private insurance companies to provide it under Obamacare regulations. And Catholics must be forced to participate, no matter what. Note they are also attacking Catholic hospitals now. They previous attacked Catholic Adoption agencies.

  3. I so appreciate your comments! I am so grateful when medical people speak up on these fallacies–especially regarding better treatment options for endometriosis and others.
    I wish more of my fellow liberals would follow the money back to greedy drug companies and see not only the health risks but environmental toll. Many women are waking up to these fact.
    We can’t compromise our freedoms this way without hurting everyone regardless of political party or faith background. I am catholic because of the fullness of truth and love in Him and His Church and will gladly defend religious freedom that is the cornerstone of our democracy.

  4. Yes, this is not about the government forcing others to violate their conscience to provide something that can be obtained for free at any Planned Parenthood, or for less than $5 at a local drug store. Its’ about paid government abortions.

    The fact that this subject, has advanced to the Supreme Court, (it should have been thrown out) is telling that Religious Liberty has already slid, and may be about to go South.

    We are witnessing the most pathetic presidential administration this country has ever known.

  5. But company’s don’t pay for people’s vegetables either, through insurance or directly, so are companies guilty of contributing to starvation???!!! OMG!! Has anyone mentioned this anyone in power?
    Actually, they don’t pay for our mortgages either so they’re contributing to homelessness? OMG This is spinning out of control!
    Solution? Let me know if this is “over board”: we either “nationalize” all companies OR they set up stores, in which they pay us with their goods, like food and housing and medical care, we could call them “company stores”? YES, that’s it!
    Someone please alert the DNC!

  6. Actually the free speech amendment was originally the third. The original first amendment had to deal with how to count populations for representation in the house, while the original second was about congressional pay. Out of the ten that did pass, the due process ones are actually the most important, since that was the first time a country set about a court system in that type of organization. The right to a jury, the right to not self incriminate, the right to not be tortured, the right to a lawyer, were all innovative.

    You also have to remember that the Bill of Rights was a ad hoc add-on to the Constitution after states pressured the constitutional congress to add rights.

  7. You are a very silly person. In every human activity, what matters is not what was envisaged at the start, or one quarter of the way across, or half the way across: it is what was finally determined on – after the reflection, the work, the rethinking, the various impacts of reality, the criticism, the opposition, the negotiations. It is what people AT THE END OF THE PROCESS have found right. And at the end of the process of debate, the writers of the Constituion agreed that the first freedom was the freedom of thought, self-expression, publication, religion, and argument.

    (And thank goodness, because it means that people like me are still allowed to think and say that people like you are very silly.)