US Gov’t Report: ‘Religious Freedom’ a Code Word for Intolerance

In his intolerance of conservative Christianity, Martin Castro descends into a morass of self-contradiction.

By Tom Gilson Published on September 9, 2016

The Washington Times is reporting that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has released an official report calling “religious freedom” a code word for intolerance.

The 307-page document has a harmless enough title: Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties. But the report itself is anything but harmless. “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance,” comments commission chair Martin R. Castro, who was named to his position by President Obama in 2011. “Religious liberty was never intended to give one religion dominion over other religions, or a veto power over the civil rights and civil liberties of others.”

On his telling the term “religious liberty” is a code word for a pretty despicable list of characteristics, bad enough that on hearing them any defender of religious liberty may be tempted to duck and hide. But a slower reading reveals a lot more about contemporary culture’s misunderstandings than it does about religion. And it says a lot about Martin Castro himself. It’s doubtful he understands the first thing about religious freedom in America.

Castro’s List

Hypocrisy. I’ll save that one for the end. It’s the one Castro stumbled on most badly.

Discrimination. Discrimination is wrong when it’s unjust discrimination, discrimination for irrelevant reasons. Skin color is always (except for, say, some acting roles) irrelevant. Therefore racial employment discrimination is wrong. But discrimination is good if it’s based in relevant reasons. I’ve had four foot surgeries, and I was very discriminating as to who I let do them.

Moral character and practices are often highly relevant, and that includes sexual morality. History teaches us with complete consistency that when great nations and cultures begin to tolerate rampant immorality they crack and crumble, and will eventually fall. The long-term survival of the nation ought to be considered relevant, especially to our national leaders.

Intolerance. This word has been made worthless by selective and self-contradictory usage. Castro tells us, in essence, that he will not tolerate “any form of intolerance,” and doesn’t even realize he’s tied himself in a self-refuting knot.

Racism. Fine. If and when “religious freedom” is used as a code word for racism, that’s a problem. Castro didn’t get every word wrong on this list.

Sexism. If Castro means that it’s sexist to acknowledge any substantive differences between man and woman, husband and wife, mother and father, then I do have a problem. Acknowledging reality isn’t sexist. Also, the major religion that is peddling a particularly virulent form of sexism is Islam. Is Castro declaring war on Islam’s awful treatment of women? I’m guessing Islam gets a pass in his book. All the same, I doubt Muslims would think his official opinion on “sexism” would pass his own test regarding Islamophobia.

If instead Castro means sexism inside the church, then this amounts to an official fiat pronouncing the government’s view on a theological question Christians have been debating for generations. That’s not his job (more on that below).

Homophobia. The suffix “phobia” generally refers to an irrational fear or aversion that reaches medically significant levels. In “homophobia,” however, it’s used to medicalize and stigmatize any hint of disagreement with the gay agenda. The use of “homophobia” is thus a shaming tactic that shuts down debate. For purposes of developing thoughtful public policy based on hearing all sides of an issue, it is a tactic that should be treated as shameful itself.

Islamophobia. See above on “phobia.” But just what is his point here with respect to religious freedom, anyway? Is he saying there is no freedom to disagree with Islam? Then religious freedom is obliterated beyond hope of recovery. Yet I doubt he would deny Muslims the right to disagree with Christianity, so this amounts to giving one religion preference over another — and it’s the government doing it! (Again, more on that below.)

Christian supremacy. It’s not clear what Castro means by the phrase, but if  he is talking about Christian supremacy as a theocratic movement to place culture under the control of the church, he needs to open his eyes. Christian supremacy is a fringe movement among Christians. Most Christians consider it kooky and frightening. Islamic supremacy, on the other hand, is right at the heart of the Muslim religion.

Civil rights or civil liberties. The idea of civil rights arose through Christian influence on political thinking. The case for that would take too long to lay out here, but there’s a strong quick hint of it in the first line of the Declaration of Independence. If rights do not come from our Creator, then what human delivers them to us, and who will be there to argue if that deliverer decides to takes them away?

Now Castro is probably concerned especially about civil rights for sexual minorities: gay rights, in other words. But civil rights are rights that belong to all humans simply because they are human. The 20th-century civil rights movement wasn’t a “black rights” movement, it was a movement to stop denying human rights to blacks. Today’s gay rights movement, in contrast, really is a “gay rights” movement — which makes all the difference. Granted, some rights gays have sought really are civil rights — the right to live peaceably in their communities, for example — but activists haven’t stopped there. They’ve gone for more, like the “right” to force bakers and florists to serve their weddings against their will. That’s not a human right, it’s a gay special privilege. Calling privileges “rights” doesn’t make them so.

Hypocrisy

So here you have the list of things Castro wants to protect from religious encroachment. Our slow read shows it’s largely incoherent and even self-contradictory bluster.

But let’s not forget the word I skipped by at first.

Hypocrisy. To be hypocritical is to act contrary to one’s stated beliefs. Yet it’s also what Martin Castro calls Christians who are acting according to our stated beliefs. How does that work? The notion doesn’t even work if our beliefs are wrong. To act according to wrong beliefs may indeed be wrong, but it isn’t hypocrisy; it’s another kind of error.

No, Martin’s label here only makes even a little sense if he’s sure there’s something wrong with our brand of Christianity — if our doctrine itself is upside down and hypocritical, perhaps because it disagrees with his idea of what “Christian” really means, or because it disagrees with contemporary civil religion.

Either way, he’s making a theological assessment. He’s pronouncing conservative Christian doctrine wrong. That’s not his job. Apparently he doesn’t know that the First Amendment was written to prevent governmental officials from giving one religious doctrine preference over another.

If he doesn’t know that, then he literally doesn’t know the first thing about American civil liberties, and he shouldn’t even be talking about religious freedom, much less setting policy on it.

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