Elizabeth Scalia had a great piece on the mob fury mounted against fast-food seller Chick-Fil-A after a bout of hostile news coverage last week. She points out that Chick-Fil-A's accusers are using the methods of fascism, and she's right. Self-appointed advocacy groups and public officials posing a litmus test on beliefs for a commercial company, as a price of doing business, is a quintessential pattern of fascism. (Samples of the threats to Chick-Fil-A's business options are here and here. Fortunately, Mayor Menino of Boston acknowledged a day later that he doesn't have a basis in law for demanding a social-issues litmus test for business owners. A Chicago city alderman, on the other hand, is doubling down on that theme.)
Elizabeth is also right that there is no "tolerance" in demanding uniformity of opinion. The premise behind the political anger being stirred up against Chick-Fil-A is basically from kindergarten: if you don't agree with me, you're hateful and you hate me. But in the world of adult responsibility, the very basis for freedom of conscience—intellectual and religious freedom—is freedom of contradictory expression. What demagogues today call "hatred" and "intolerance" is actually the essence of freedom: people being able to hold and advocate their own views, unmolested, no matter how much others dislike those views.
The main requirement for this freedom is a societal agreement—one arising from a salutary humility—that we cannot dictate to others what they will believe, and that we understand and expect the environment of dissent that will naturally ensue. We won't all believe the same things. We will instead dispute them. That's OK.
I don't really believe that the media and advocacy groups are accurately depicting the mood of American debate on contentious social issues. Most average people—whether on the left or the right—are not slavering to demonize or frog-march the opposition. But increasingly, that's the picture conveyed by the media on political issues. It encourages politicians who want to demonize their opponents' speech and beliefs, and it discourages those who love freedom and genuine tolerance. This depiction, which I believe is mainly false, needs to be overcome, in our shared ideas as well as in our individual minds.
That suggests we have a thinking task ahead of us. Today's lovers of freedom need to parse this situation with clarity. The first thing to understand is that there is no peace, for Christians or anyone else, if there is not freedom of conscience. We must protect that freedom. Since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of global communism, we have largely forgotten that—or have refocused our concerns toward certain repressive regimes in the Islamic world. But the dangers to Christianity (and freedom of religion in general) come from the evil in fallen humanity, which is always trying to reemerge wherever it can. No one is immune from the destructiveness of evil human patterns.
The Christian world itself went through a centuries-long paroxysm of blood and hatred over doctrinal and leadership disputes. Wherever men try to forcibly dictate beliefs (as opposed to punishing a basic set of harmful actions, like murder and theft), men's relationship with God is menaced, distorted, and corrupted. We cannot try to forcibly dictate beliefs to others and remain in God's will.
This doesn't mean that churches can't have statements of belief and doctrine, nor does it mean that nations can't adopt laws that reflect certain beliefs. As regards the latter, however, it does imply what America's Founders wisely believed: that smaller government—government that doesn't attempt to rule on and decide everything for the people—is the most salubrious for the public weal. The Founders believed there were few, if any, social issues on which the national government should proclaim a position. Such issues belonged at the level of local government, if government was to take them up at all.
In the last 40 years, we have forgotten a lesson of history: that an attitude of enforcement over other people's minds and hearts is inherently corruptible and always works against the principles of Jesus Christ. It cannot work for them, because coercion is not Jesus' way. He rules hearts through our voluntary submission; he doesn't rule public policy through coercion against people's consciences. Trying to use his name for that purpose didn't work in the upheavals of the Renaissance and Reformation. No other source of authority can possibly make coercion of the conscience work. It is an inherently evil process that cannot produce good.