Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Conservative Silence On Religious Liberty

Shocking numbers of US Christians are clueless about the current threat to religious liberty. That must change

I realize what a small intellectual world I inhabit whenever I talk about religious liberty to people I’m not in touch with online. Very few people — I’m talking Christians here — have any clue about what’s happening on that front. When I bring up cases, and talk about the direction of jurisprudence and legislation, inevitably they evince shock. Really? That’s happening in this country?

Yes, that’s happening in this country. Right under your noses, Christians, without a peep from you. Did you know that the California legislature may be about to pass a law that will either compel the state’s many Christian colleges and universities to violate their consciences on LGBT matters, or, in effect, shut them down. Do you care? You had better, because what happens in California does not stay in California.

Last night a theologian friend shared with me news about someone close to him who is a senior local school official in one of the most liberal, hostile states to religious liberty. He is on the verge of resignation, because the law there now compels him and every orthodox Christian in the school district to violate their consciences, in part by teaching and implementing gender ideology. If he remains and fights, he has been advised by lawyers that he opens himself up to personal lawsuits, and that the school system won’t defend bigots like him. He worries about losing everything to fight for the right of conscience. Among his worries is not just that continuing to fight will ruin him financially, but that his presence as a faithful Christian known to hold the views he does will give other Christians in his district a false idea about the threat the new order in public schools pose to their children and their beliefs.

I told the theologian who shared this story with me that the man ought to resign, because the state will grind him down, and LGBT activists will find a way to use the courts to take every penny he has and destroy his reputation. But what he should do is resign with a detailed public letter saying exactly what has happened there, and what the stakes are for religious liberty and coercion in this country. Because people — especially Christian people — don’t know, and, I fear, don’t want to know, because they don’t want to disturb their own peace and complacency.

Pete Spiliakos has a great short piece about this in First Things, decrying Christian silence as their own liberties are seized. He talks about how difficult it is to talk about religious liberty in the US media, because the media are so over-the-top hostile to this kind of thing. Easier to just shut up. And conservative politicians do.

Spiliakos talks about how foolish Christian donors are to give money to useless Republican politicians like Ben Carson and the usual crowd of right-wing PAC hucksters. More:

The crime is not the wasted money as such. The crime is the wasted opportunity—an opportunity to improve the media ecology experienced by the average American. For the 100-plus million dollars that were wasted by conservative scamPACs, tens of millions of Americans could have learned—in one-minute or thirty-second clips—what the Little Sisters of the Poor do and how the Obama administration is harassing them. They could have learned about the Gosnell murders and the horror of late-term abortion.

A campaign of this sort would have a cumulative effect on electoral politics. Since apolitical Americans would have more (and better) context for contested social issues, conservative-leaning politicians would be more inclined to talk about them. This new media ecology would place every discussion of religious liberty, every discussion of abortion, in the context of liberal extremism. Improving our media ecology would make conservative political activism easier and raise the political cost of liberal extremism.

Read the whole thing.  I’m not sure which organizations would be best to donate to, or even if the right organization exists (nota bene, we at TAC would love to receive your donations to fund our journalism; your generosity pays for posts like this one). If they don’t exist already, conservative Christians need to invent them. Don’t give your money to right-wing politicians and PACs who want to do nothing more than maintain the status quo. Spiliakos is right: we need people, either within existing credible organizations or in new ones, to spearhead an information campaign to tell the real story about what’s happening to religious liberty in America.

How can we tell our urgent and important story to Americans of good will when we can’t even tell it to our own people?