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The War On Religious Liberty

Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin today: there are no threats to religious liberty from the Equality Act, and when they come true, you bigots will deserve them (Source)

A reader who watched the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Equality Act today said:

Senator Durbin’s closing statement struck me as a classic example of your law of merited impossibility.

In response to the religious liberty concerns aired at the hearing, he first says that he just doesn’t believe that the Equality Act will actually cause some of the scenarios identified by the witnesses and by Republican Senators.

But he then says the following:

I do believe that people who want to blatantly discriminate and use religion as their weapon have gone too far. We have to have limits on what they can do. I might remind us in history that the Ku Klux Klan was not burning question marks. They were burning a cross. They were making some distorted connection with a religion. And God forbid that anybody would buy that. We don’t need that in America regardless of the times, regardless of the organization, wherever they come down on the political spectrum.

Here it is, cued to that moment:

 

You might recall back in the first decade of this century, when the public arguments over same-sex marriage were raging, that it was very hard for opponents to get a hearing in the media. The news media were all-in on advocacy journalism. There were no two sides to this issue. I was there; I remember it. Opponents of same-sex marriage, when they weren’t ignored, were all treated like slack-jawed bigots. When people like me would talk about how religious liberty, and religious institutions, would be impacted, we were dismissed. “How come nobody can explain to me how my gay neighbors’ marriage affects mine?” was the usual line. Well, there was a good explanation, having to do with what marriage means in law, and the secondary and tertiary effects of changing marriage laws.

But of course nobody wanted to hear it. As a fellow journalist said to me when I complained that our newspaper was totally biased against traditionalists, “Do you think that back in the Civil Rights era, we had an obligation to give equal time to the Ku Klux Klan?” That’s how journalists thought back then. That’s how Sen. Durbin thinks now.

They have run the same playbook on transgenderism. Ask yourself how often you have read, heard, or seen opposition to trans rights claims explained. I’m not asking how often you have heard them convincingly explained. I am asking how often you have heard them explained at all. What I call The Law Of Merited Impossibility is very much in effect here: “It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.” That is, the advocates for radical social changes minimize the chances of bad things happening as a result of what they demand, and when it becomes obvious to everybody else that they were lying, they will say that’s beside the point, that bigots had it coming.

Now the Equality Act is closer to passage than it has ever been. The threat to religious liberty in this country is immense. As Albert Mohler explains today:

The legislation known as the “Equality Act” represents the greatest present threat to religious liberty in the United States. The House of Representatives has passed the legislation twice—in 2019 and again in February of this year. The Democratic majority in that chamber has forwarded the bill to the Senate, which is soon to begin debate over the bill. President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to sign the bill, and his administration is working hard to see the bill approved by the Senate and sent to his desk for signature.

The Equality Act represents a defining issue for the entire nation. The act would amend the Civil Rights Act to add sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity to protected classes covered by the bill. The scope of the bill is vast, covering housing, employment, public accommodations, education, credit, and all programs receiving federal funding. No aspect of American public life would be unchanged, and the bill would invade the private sphere as well.

Beyond the direct legislative reach of the bill, the Equality Act would send a clear moral message throughout the culture, with both national and international consequences. The forces pushing for the passage of the Equality Act clearly intend these consequences. A moral message will be telegraphed throughout society, normalizing virtually everything comprehended within the ever-expanding categories of LGBTQ.

Yet the Equality Act is not merely a message. It is a draconian threat of legal, political, financial, and cultural coercion, and the coercive powers of the new moral order will be directed—as the Equality Act makes clear—against any resistance. Make no mistake about it: That coercion will be brought against religious schools, ministries, non-profits, and all religious institutions. The bill does not even acknowledge the sacred rights of religious congregations and denominations. Individual believers too will be coerced into compliance with the new moral regime, which is coming with a vengeance.

I wouldn’t normally quote so much from another article, but as we know that people rarely click through to read more, I’m going to post this below, because it’s so important:

The lead sponsor of the Equality Act in the House of Representatives is Rep. David Cicilline [D-RI], an openly gay congressman who is confident of ultimate victory in the current Congress: “This is going to be a vote that’s going to be remembered in the history books, and I think people are going to want to be on the right side of history.”

When he was asked about the threat the Act would present to religious institutions and their right to operate by their own religious convictions, Cicilline offered these chilling words: “The determination would have to be made as to whether or not the decisions they are making are connected to their religious teachings and to their core functions as a religious organization,” he explained, “or is it a pretext to discriminate?”

The determination will have to be made. With those words, every religious congregation, denomination, and institution is put on notice: The government will determine if your hiring and housing and student conduct and employee policies are truly “connected” to your religious teachings, or if you are merely using a claim of religious conviction as a “pretext to discriminate.”

These words mean the effective death of religious liberty, for the burden of proof will now fall to each religious institution to prove to the government’s satisfaction that its convictions are authentic.

Furthermore, the United States government would be effectively transformed into an anti-theological state. Note carefully that the specific forms of religion that are targeted by the Equality Act share one major theological distinctive. Each, in its own way, makes a claim to written revelation. Each of those religious texts defines sexuality, marriage, and gender in explicitly theological terms. The Torah, the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, and other religious texts are recognized as divinely inspired by American citizens and their religious bodies ranging, according to theological convictions, from Orthodox Judaism to Roman Catholicism to Evangelical Protestantism to Islam and Mormons and Seventh-Day Adventists and more.

Evangelicals and Catholics, Orthodox Jews and Muslims, Seventh-day Adventists and Mormons all understand the radical theological differences that separate us. But the factor common to all is the claim of an authoritative scripture. That is actually the central fact that explains the antipathy of the moral revolutionaries and their willingness to deploy the coercive powers of the state against believers. Those religious texts are incompatible with the normalization of LGBTQ identities, behaviors, relationships, and gender confusions.

The Equality Act, therefore, represents the threat of government coercion against a certain structure of theology, doctrine, and morality. This means the threat of the state directed against any claim of divine revelation that contradicts the new morality, the newly minted definition of marriage, and the newly constructed “rights” of the LGBTQ revolution.

Visible before our eyes is the threat of an anti-theological state and the end of authentic religious liberty in America. Don’t take my word for it—just take Congressman Cicilline at his.

This is what I talk about in Live Not By Lies — it’s here. Our government is about to array itself decisively against religious believers whose faith cannot live by what it considers to be lies regarding human nature and moral truth. It will be coercive. Most Christians (and others) will be shocked, because they didn’t see it coming. The media have not prepared them for it. Nor have their leaders. In fact, I would guess that most Christians have no idea what’s coming, because they have been under the assumption that as long as they are nice, no bad thing can happen to them.

They are about to learn otherwise.

It is possible that the Equality Act won’t pass this time. It has passed the House, but it will have problems in the Senate. If it passes there, though, it will be law, because President Biden has said he will sign it.

If the only reason this law doesn’t pass is the prospect of a Republican filibuster, then you can be pretty confident that religious liberty is hanging by a thread. Be honest: do you think there is anything in this culture that suggests that the forces pushing the Equality Act are going to stand down in the years to come?

The Washington Post has a piece today about the Equality Act, and the clash between LGBT rights and religious liberty. Excerpts:

Jesse Hammons, a transgender man, is suing the University of Maryland Medical System after his gender-affirming hysterectomy was canceled by a Catholic subsidiary.

“There are some people who say we need to compromise. But I don’t know how to compromise on existing. I’m asking to go to a hospital that already provides the health care I need and provide me the same care that they would provide any other patient,” he said.

The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It would include, among other areas, employment, education, housing and public accommodations — a category it would alsobroaden. What makes it more sweeping than past anti-discrimination measures is it explicitly overridesthe Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which prohibits the federal government from “substantially burdening” individuals’ exercise of religion unless it is for a “compelling government interest.”

“His gender-affirming hysterectomy” is a phrase that has never before occurred in the history of forever. But here we are. If the Equality Act passes, the Catholic hospital would be forced to remove the uterus from a woman because she demands it, so she can live as a man.

Notice this:

The Equality Act matches Americans’ fast-moving rejection of discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. More than 6 in 10 Americans say business owners should not be allowed to refuse services to LGBTQ people on the basis of religion.

However, the Equality Act would reframe the legal nature of religious spaces, said Dan Balserak, director of religious liberty at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “The Equality Act takes these spaces that have traditionally been regarded as privately operated enterprises and brings them in reach of this statute that was intended to combat race discrimination,” he said.

That’s exactly the right comparison, say the act’s supporters. Any challenges experienced by religious institutions and people will either be worked out in court or should be set aside so that LGBTQ people can have full equality, they say.

It is extraordinary, the incursion on religious liberties. But there are religious people — the Post found them, of course — who are happy to see the liberties of their churches and institutions taken away to promote LGBT rights:

Sister Simone Campbell, an attorney who heads the liberal Catholic advocacy group Network, brushed off conservative faith groups’ concerns, saying the Supreme Court will ensure proper exemptions if needed.

“The frustration is, it seems to me we’re being called to be more pastoral and less bureaucratic,” she said. “My problem is: Why do you want to exclude? In my tradition, Jesus included everyone.”

This liberal nun is either lying to herself, or lying to everyone else. She knows, or should know, perfectly well that this is not about “inclusion.” This is about forcing Christian hospitals to perform surgical interventions and other medical acts that they believe to be gravely immoral. But she doesn’t care. (Similarly, in Austria today, 600 Catholic priests have signed a petition refusing to obey the Vatican’s order that they cannot bless same-sex unions. It’s open schism. Of course nothing will happen to them.)

More from the Post story:

Sam Ruff has a personal stake in fate of the Equality Act. He is president of the LGBTQ student club Refuge at Wheaton College, a Christian school where all community members must commit to no sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage. If the Equality Act passes, he understands the school could lose public funding and have to downsize. But he said it’s still worth it for the act to pass.

“It’s a false dichotomy to separate faith from LGBT protections. I definitely think any sort of discrimination against queer people is unacceptable, and as Christians there’s no reason we should be doing so,” he said.

No reason at all? Is Sam Ruff really that shallow? There are many, many reasons. They may not convince Sam Ruff, whose sexual identity is more important to him than the liberty of the Christian institution he has chosen to attend. It is not a false dichotomy at all. Ruff is, apparently, the kind of Christian who is willing to throw aside the clear witness of Scripture, and 2,000 years of Christian tradition, so he can get what he wants. And he doesn’t mind seeing the Christian university he has chosen to attend suffer so he can get it.

In Senate testimony today, Abigail Shrier, an Orthodox Jew, testified:

“If S393 merely proposed to extend employment and public housing rights to gay and transgender Americans, I would be supporting this bill instead of testifying against it,” Shrier explained. “I am here today because the bill does much more. And no one who wrote it appears to have thoughtfully considered what it would mean for women and girls.”

Not only did Shrier note that the bill would hurt female athletes whose hard work and achievements in sports could be usurped by a biological male who identifies as a woman, but she also raised questions about the risk associated with housing biological males with females in correctional facilities and domestic violence shelters as well as allowing male teachers who say they are female to accompany young girls to the bathroom in schools.

“Does that strike anyone in this room as safe or sensible?” Shrier asked. “The plain truth is that it is not sensible, not safe, and certainly not just to end these hard-won protections for women and girls in the name of equality.”

This legislation, Shrier explained, has “nothing to do with transgender people and everything to do with opportunistic self-identification by violent male felons” who will take advantage of instances such as when the Washington Correctional Center for Women allowed prisoners to live in certain facilities based on their gender identities, resulting in the rape of at least one female.

“If you pass this bill, you can expect hundreds more victims, like this one,” Shrier warned.

Instead of supporting the protections for biological sex outlined in Title IX and established by women such as the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Shrier said congressional proponents and supporters of the Equality Act are “concerned about the progressive groups that will call you a transphobe or a homophobe if you don’t do exactly as they say and abandon women and girls.”

“I have probably interviewed more transgender Americans than any person in this room, and I can honestly say that, excepting political activists, most do not want to obliterate women’s rights and safe spaces,” Shrier said. “Most would never think of stealing women’s scholarships by forcing young women into demoralizing contests with male bodies. But gender ideology, which is at the heart of this bill, is misogyny in progressive clothing. Gender ideology tells women and girls that they are not entitled to their fear or their sense of unfairness as their protective spaces are eliminated.”

Watch and listen closely to see how the media cover Shrier’s testimony. She’s not talking about religious liberty, but she’s talking about an extraordinary loss of liberty for girls and women. What has happened is that activists have plugged the Civil Rights template into the LGBT issue, and completely elided past the fact that sex is not the same thing as race, or even the same kind of thing as race. This is why the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman can make the outrageous claim that religious beliefs that are common around the world, and were overwhelmingly shared by Christians in this country until starting about twenty years ago, are akin to Klan ideology.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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