I said in the previous entry that watching the depressing GOP debate tonight, in which Santorum and Romney, one of whom will be the GOP nominee, fell all over themselves to declare themselves ready to attack Iran, it seems that for me, this election is coming down to voting to protect religious freedom, or voting for war. Let me explain what that means.
A vote for the Republican nominee is a vote for a bellicose foreign policy conducted by a president and a party that learned nothing — nothing! — from the Iraq experience. I find it very, very hard to imagine voting for such a candidate. It must be admitted, however, that Obama has not ruled out war against Iran either, though it is reasonable to believe he would be much less willing to cross that line than either Santorum or Romney.
I would have been satisfied to sit this race out, or to vote third party — or, in an extreme case, vote for Obama to keep someone like Newt Gingrich from the White House. But the religious freedom fight over the HHS rule changed that. I am not against contraception, but I found the position the administration took, and the way it handled the controversy, chilling. It told me that when it got right down to it, the Obama administration would stick a shiv in the back of religious institutions to please the cultural left. Given what I take to be the likelihood that the Supreme Court will mandate same-sex marriage at some point in the next eight years, I am genuinely worried about the impact that will have on the liberties of religious schools, houses of worship, and other institutions that dissent on gay marriage. And don’t start with this nonsense that there is no substantial religious liberty questions at issue here. As Thomas Berg wrote on the SCOTUS Blog:
Unfortunately, courts that have found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage have been blind to the range of religious-liberty issues. Like Judge Walker, the California Supreme Court in In re Marriage Cases (2008) found that same-sex civil marriage “will not impinge upon the religious freedom of” anyone, for two reasons: “no religion will be required to change its religious policies or practices with regard to same-sex couples, and no religious officiant will be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs.” The first reason overlooks the reach of antidiscrimination and public-accommodations laws; the second indefensibly limits religious-freedom concerns to the church ceremony and the clergyperson.
It’s understandable that judges ruling on gay marriage would avoid opining on the whole range of possible conflicts with religious liberty. Courts by nature discuss only the precise issues before them. But the narrow judicial references also reflect that constitutional doctrine on the free exercise of religion has become quite weak. Both the U.S. Supreme Court, in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), and the California Supreme Court, under the state constitution, have held that courts should not order an accommodation from “laws of general applicability” that are formally neutral toward religion. Presumably, this includes laws prohibiting discrimination against same-sex couples.
Therefore, once the California Supreme Court ordered same-sex marriage, voters could understandably lack any confidence that religious-liberty concerns would ultimately be addressed and given weight.
After HHS, it is not irrational to be concerned that in its policies, and in the judges it appoints to the federal bench, the Obama administration will give little or no weight to religious liberty concerns. And for the religiously observant, that’s not nothing. I find it hard to imagine minimizing this concern in my mind when election day rolls around.
But war with Iran is not nothing either.
UPDATE: Here’s a thought experiment for you. Let’s say that the Republican presidential candidate this fall had a Ron Paul view of war, and was clearly the candidate far less likely to go to war with Iran, if elected. But he also had a strong view on gay marriage, and was likely to appoint judges, to the Supreme Court and throughout the federal system, who do not see a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. A vote for this Republican would mean a significantly lower chance of war with Iran, but a significantly higher chance that same-sex marriage would not become the law of the land for decades.
Would it be worth it to you to vote for this Republican, then? Would you sacrifice the prospect of full “civil rights” for gay folks for the sake of avoiding war with Iran? If not, why not?
If this is in any way a difficult issue for you to think through, then you might be on your way to understanding what religious conservatives are facing. We are looking at the possibility of taking enormous and significant and permanent hits to the liberty, even the existence, of our religious institutions, and, in turn, the way traditional Christianity is regarded in the public square. It is not a mere inconvenience, as so many of you seem to think. I encourage you to answer my question posed above.