26 September 2016

Real Discrimination Means Banning People from Practicing Their Faith

Discrimination Against the Faithful
Several news reports and coverage in the United States centered on the battles over religious liberty — or "religious liberty," as many media reports term it. But what does it mean exactly?

The first freedom in the First Amendment of the Constitution regards the free exercise of religion — not freedom of "worship," as some politicians have recently tried to re-cast it. What is the distinction? Worship concerns the activity of persons, individually or separately, directed toward God. Religion is wider than worship and includes it. Religion involves a worldview, a set of principles that one holds to be true and that govern one's actions.

For Christians, the imperatives to tell the truth, protect the unborn, care for neighbors, and pursue peace (to name a few) are all rooted in the notion of the dignity of every human being as an image of God.

Secular human rights activists have a hard time generating a foundation for universal human equality, which is why they tend to treat the unborn, ill, and elderly so poorly. As Archbishop William Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chair of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, notes, these are the beliefs that drive the churches to open hospitals, adoption agencies, and schools.

When Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the Casey v. Planned Parenthood decision that "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one"s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life," this was the idea that his muddled phrase groped toward. Americans have the freedom to live according to their principles, provided those principles are not manifestly immoral.

Many would argue that this is precisely the point at issue — whether traditional Christian notions of sexuality and identity are immoral after all — but the point is that the Christian tradition has principled reasons supporting its viewpoint. It is not merely a blind hatred or "animus," as Kennedy charged in his Obergefell opinion. Yet this increasingly is being denied.

American society, in this sense, is becoming less tolerant, despite its many protestations to the contrary.

The First Amendment prohibits the government from establishing a religion. But when the federal government declares ideas that everyone held until five minutes ago, supported by reason and lived out with compassion, as de facto hateful and criminal, then the government is essentially creating a new public faith and forcing everyone to adhere to it.

As Lori noted, "a pluralistic society, there will be institutions with views at odds with popular opinion. The Chairman's (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights) statement suggests that the USCCR does not see the United States as a pluralistic society. We respect those who disagree with what we teach. Can they respect us?"

If not, Americans may be witnessing the instantiation of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s "Rationalia" or a resurrection of the French Revolution's Cult of Reason. The current administration’s hostility toward Christianity is clear, and Christians must be prepared to face it. Some propose hunkering down and weathering the storm, as in Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option (which has its merits). Others like Lori intend to stand and fight.