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Religious Liberty Vs. Building Progressivism

Freedom of religion only means freedom of worship? We've heard that before, in Czech

Classic progressive anti-religious prejudice, this in a New York Times op-ed by Margaret Renkl:

Likewise, if you’re a baker whose religious convictions prevent you from baking a wedding cake for a gay couple, then you need to find a line of work that doesn’t involve selling wedding cakes from a public storefront. You can take your chances with natural family planning if that’s what your religious faith calls you to do, but you’ll still be required to offer your employees health insurance that covers birth control. Before you ask an entire student body to bow their heads and pray, remember that banning prayer in public school never stopped any child from praying. It just prevents students who don’t belong to the dominant religion from feeling ostracized.

Religious faith is a private matter between a believer and God. But how a believer lives in community with other people is something different altogether. It’s time to stop giving believers a pass just because their beliefs happen to run counter to the laws of the nation they live in. Human lives may depend on it.

She spends much of her op-ed criticizing religious believers who have not vaccinated their children against measles. I agree with her on that — but that is a serious public health matter. Mandating vaccination against communicable diseases is not the same thing as compelling a religious baker to bake a same-sex wedding cake, or a religious employer to offer contraceptive coverage. It’s an absurd comparison. Contrary to progressive medical opinion, measles and Christian cooties are not the same thing.

Religious liberty, like free speech, is not absolute. But we ought to have a strong bias in favor of not burdening the exercise of First Amendment rights. Is it really the case that most gay couples in this country will have to do without a wedding cake if a particular baker cannot bake one without violating his or her conscience? Is it really the case that contraception is unavailable to people in the absence of a law compelling their employer to pay for it? Of course not. That’s absurd. People like Margaret Renkl flat-out want to force religious people to live by her standards — this, even though she writes in this piece, “Conservative Christians are forever trying to inject their personal religious beliefs into the public sphere.”

As is often the case with progressives, they think their own views reflect a neutral attitude to the public square. They have their own blasphemy laws, you know. Use the “wrong” pronoun or honorific for a gender-nonconforming person in New York City, and the city can compel you to pay from $125,000 to $250,000 in fines.  Ah, but you know progressives (both secular and liberal): forever trying to inject their personal beliefs into the public sphere.

I’m writing you from the Philadelphia airport, where I’m waiting to take a connecting flight to New Orleans. If you’ve been following this blog for the past week, you know that I’ve been in Slovakia and Czechia doing interviews with anti-communist dissidents for my new book project. Among Slovaks, that dissent was primarily carried out by Christians (the Czechs were and are far more secular). My Slovak friends sent me off with an English translation of a prison memoir by the late Dr. Silvester Krcmery, who was one of the greatest heroes of the anti-communist resistance. He was imprisoned for his work as a Catholic lay evangelist. (I wrote about him here.)

Krcmery writes that the Communist regime always argued that Czechoslovaks were guaranteed religious liberty by the constitution — but that they (the Communists) believed that religious liberty consisted in being permitted to worship, and only that. Krcmery wrote:

But Christ did not come into the world only so that people would go to church! “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). To live their faith: that is what religion and the Church are not allowed to do!

Under Communism, he meant. In one of the appendices of his book, Krcmery publishes the full verdict of the court in his 1954 trial. The Czech court said in the decision that freedom of religion cannot be understood as anything “that would slow down the building of socialism.”

It’s always the same with progressives. Today in America, religious liberty cannot be understood as anything that would slow down the building of progressivism. Even though same-sex marriage is legal and widely popular, progressives like Margaret Renkl cannot bear the thought that somewhere, the state is failing to rub the nose of a dissident Evangelical baker in the fondant.

There is an urgent and compelling public health reason to deny religious liberty claims when it comes to vaccinations. There is not remotely an urgent and compelling reason to compel the baking of same-sex wedding cakes or the provision of contraception. Look, Supreme Court jurisprudence on whether or not certain actions by religious people (as distinct from beliefs) are protected by the First Amendment waxes and wanes. What I’m saying here is that the line ought to be drawn as far as is possible on the side of protecting the rights of religious believers — Christians and otherwise — to live their faith.

The question I have for progressives: Do you believe that there are any cases in which defending First Amendment guarantees of religious liberty should take precedence over the building of progressivism? If so, what are they? If not, how, exactly, does your view of religious liberty differ from that held by the totalitarian regime that threw people like Silvester Krcmery into prison?

I take it that you don’t want to throw dissenting religious believers into prison. Running them out of business or destroying them with punitive fines seems to satisfy you. For now.