In America, We Don’t Have Guns to Our Heads, But We Have Lawyers at Our Throats
If Trump signs an executive order on religious liberty, we'll have hundreds of new experts telling us the Constitution says what it doesn't say.
He’s a shrewd one, Hunter Baker. “If we do get that religious liberty executive order,” he wrote on his Facebook page, “prepare for a flood of journalists (not to mention facebookers and tweeters) who have suddenly become experts on the religion clauses (especially the establishment clause) of the constitution.” Most will declare that it doesn’t mean what President Trump thinks it means.
If Trump issues an executive order defending religious liberty, we will see: 1) lots of instant experts who 2) have a very negative view of religious rights and 3) try to define those solely in terms of individuals and not institutions.
Most (this is me, not Hunter) will insist on a very expansive reading of the separation of church and state the First Amendment doesn’t support. They will say, in essence, that in public matters what the state wants, the state gets. Letting religious bodies disagree with the state will violate the separation of church and state. And the state must punish any church action the state has labeled discriminatory.
Another thing they’ll do, as a friend of Hunter’s wrote, is aggressively redefine religion “in terms purely of the individual experience and conscience.” They’ll deny the reality of religions “as distinct individual traditions embodied in concrete institutions.” If they recognize them, they’ll dismiss them “as instruments of injustice and History’s losers.” He says that they won’t argue for this, they’ll just assume it. Even though they’ve claiming something pretty new, they’ll dismiss those who appeal to the actual Constitution as right-wing bigots.
What We Will See
So if Trump issues an executive order defending religious liberty, we will see: 1) lots of instant experts who 2) have a very negative view of religious rights and 3) try to define those solely in terms of individuals and not institutions. They will say to us:
You may do all the religious stuff you want in church. Pray, sing, do whatever else you want to do, because, let’s be honest, all that stuff doesn’t matter. That’s your private life, no concern to us. And you may certainly do good works like run soup kitchens and orphanages. That’s useful and makes up for the gaps in social services. Helping the government, that’s cool.
But you may not decide what your insurance plan will cover, or separate your restrooms by sex, or fire employees for having sex without being married, or run an orphanage that won’t give children to same-sex couples. The state doesn’t like that, therefore you can’t do it. You don’t have the freedom to be bad as we define bad.
Don’t worry, you have your religious freedom, because you can do whatever you want in church. You should thank us. Pray, sing, preach, dance, sit in silence, do all that weird mumbo jumbo stuff. Feel free. It’s in the Constitution. And so is the right to contraception, using any bathroom you want, free sex, and adoption, whether you guys like it or not. We have to make you obey and punish you if you don’t, ’cause you’re bigots.
The Catholic Lite New Standard
Hunter, his friend and I aren’t guessing. We’ve already seen the way cultural liberals talk about religious freedom. They’re always trying to restrict it. Here’s an example from a small city newspaper. Other writers will make different arguments, but this shows the typical way cultural liberals dismiss concerns for religious freedom.
Tracey O’Shaughnessy is a columnist for the Waterbury Republican-American. She’s also a Catholic, if one who doesn’t seem too keen on some of her Church’s teaching. In a recent column titled “Real religious persecution is flourishing in the world,” she begins by describing the horrific persecution Christians suffer in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and China. So far so good.
But that’s only a set up. She then says: “Lately, I have been told that my religious freedom is under attack. It is under threat by laws that force me to pay to cover medical interventions to which my church objects.” Then she gets to her point.
I think about those Yazidi girls, sold for $18 and raped by men who shout “God is good” before assaulting them. I wonder if there isn’t a broad chasm between governmental effrontery and religious persecution. I look around at the empty seats in my congregation and remember the days when men’s fedoras sat on windowsills under the stained glass windows, like rows of proliferating mushrooms. Is there a difference between persecution and conscientious objection? Discrimination is not slaughter. It demeans those who are butchered to suggest their equivalence.
In an earlier article making the same point, she’d written, “I attend Mass every weekend without incident. No one meets me at the door with a semi-automatic weapon or a sword.” She concludes this article: “Before we invoke loaded terminology like ‘persecution,’ we might want to raise a prayer to those whose expressions of Christianity have cost them their life.”
A Little Confused
So, basically she’s saying — if I understand her right, because she’s not entirely clear — that those people suffer real persecution while American Christians have it easy, so just stop complaining, you petty, spoiled, whiny Christians. You can go to church without getting shot, so what are you worrying about?
It’s a cheap trick. Being sold and raped for not being Muslim counts as religious persecution of the worst sort. We know that. But being forced to pay for actions you think objectively immoral, that also counts as religious persecution. You may be sentenced to one year in jail or twenty, but you’re still going to jail. You may have stage one cancer or stage four, but you still have cancer. A Christian may be shot or sued, but he’s still persecuted.
In America, we don’t have guns to our head, but we have lawyers at our throats. Better lawyers than guns, sure. But the Constitution read as the Founders intended would mean no lawyers either. Or just a few, in the genuinely difficult cases. That’s an argument we’re going to have to make over and over if Trump signs an executive order on religious liberty. We’ll have all the new experts telling everyone that religious freedom doesn’t mean much.
UPDATE: On a friend’s Facebook page, the former head of the American Catholic bishops’ pro-life department, Richard Doerflinger, commented: “When The Nation published the ‘leaked’ draft religious freedom order on February 1, it quoted various “experts” to say how broad and ‘sweeping’ and ‘staggering’ it was. One law professor pointed to the order’s ‘very sweeping’ definition of religious exercise, and said he thought President Trump didn’t have the authority to implement such broad protection given the Constitution and the existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Turns out the text he was attacking was a DIRECT QUOTE from RFRA. An expert who has not read the law he pontificates on.”
I thank the head of the Family Institute of Connecticut, Peter Wolfgang, for bringing my attention to Tracey O’Shaughnessy’s article. He responded to it in a letter to the editor published Monday. His exasperated response: “Seriously? Is this the new standard for religious liberty from the Catholic Lite crowd?”
Follow David at @DavidMillsWrtng.