Politics & Policy

Religious Freedom Is Not ‘So Called’

A memo to Chuck Todd

On July 2, 1964, the United States enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination in “places of public accommodation” on the basis of “race, color, religion, or national origin.” It also barred practices aimed at keeping blacks from voting and required the desegregation of public facilities and public education.

Conservative radio talk-show host Paul Harvey, already well known for his The Rest of the Story segments on ABC radio, offered his own commentary on the law, at one point noting that “this so-called civil-rights legislation has divided the Democratic party.”

In his commentary the following Monday, Walter Cronkite, who less than a year earlier, in his first broadcast as anchor of the newly named “CBS Evening News,” reported on Alabama governor George Wallace’s effort to block black students from registering at the University of Alabama, reacted angrily to Harvey:

That such a highly regarded figure as Mr. Harvey should denigrate the most important progress in America since the Civil War toward freedom and equality by referring to it as “so-called civil rights legislation” demonstrates an intolerable cynicism about what every schoolboy and schoolgirl knows is at the heart of this nation’s mission and purpose.

Neither Harvey’s statement nor Cronkite’s response happened; I invented them. But if the exchange had been true, most Americans, Democrats as well as Republicans, would have joined Cronkite in objecting to the word “so-called” to describe a law guaranteeing the protection of constitutional rights.

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Yet such is the weak historical memory and strong cognitive dissonance of oh-so-tolerant American liberals that Chuck Todd, the current host of NBC’s Meet the Press, promoted last Sunday’s show by announcing that there would be discussion of “the fight over those so-called religious liberty laws that are splitting the Republican party.”

If you think that the demeaning characterization of Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) laws was just a slip, note that this is how Todd introduced the RFRA-related segment of the program: “This week, the debate over so-called religious liberty, or freedom, legislation in Indiana and Arkansas . . . ”

Todd may not value the free exercise of religion — a right explicitly protected, along with freedom of speech, assembly, and the press in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution — but that does not justify his suggestion that it is not a true, indeed a fundamental, right.

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#related#Like most Washington correspondents desperate to be invited to all the right cocktail parties, Todd missed the fact that a recent AP-GfK poll found that 57 percent of Americans, most of whom live outside his Beltway bubble, support the right of “wedding-related businesses with religious objections . . . to refuse service to same-sex couples.”

But even if most Americans object to a true right, they may not extinguish it — not through a vote of the people, and not through their elected representatives. As John Adams warned, “that the desires of the majority of the people are often for injustice and inhumanity against the minority, is demonstrated by every page of the history of the whole world.”

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Whether or not they are currently, or are on any given issue, a majority, who should more instinctively recognize the dangers of a tyranny of the majority than civil-rights and gay-rights activists who have spent years fighting on behalf of “oppressed minorities”?

Much like the “guards” in the famous Stanford prison experiment, giving the Left a hint of power and the scent of victory has brought out a viciousness and a deplorable willingness, demonstrated repeatedly throughout history, to use force to achieve their wishes.

Since the Left cannot, despite the rapid cave-ins of governors Pence (Ind.) and Hutchinson (Ark.) on RFRA, simply impose their view that a claimed “right” to buy from a particular baker (or photographer or even pizzeria) trumps a true and long-recognized foundational American right to the free exercise of religion, they resort to disparaging measures designed to protect religious freedom as “so-called religious liberty” laws. They have been masters of so controlling the language for at least the past century.

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Chuck Todd is the personification of the liberal self-righteousness that denies one of our nation’s most fundamental rights and demeans those who would exercise it, demanding a version of “tolerance” that turns the meaning of the word on its head and instead creates what are little more than thought crimes.

RFRA laws are no more “so-called” protections of religious liberty than the Civil Rights Act of 1964 embodied “so-called” protection of the rights of black Americans to participate in civil society. (That’s not entirely true; the “clarification” requested by Pence did in fact weaken Indiana’s RFRA enough that devout Christians arguably have less protection than they did before the law’s passage. So Todd may accidentally have a point; it’s just the opposite of the one he thinks he’s making.)

Chuck Todd’s insulting language says much more about him than it does about Indiana’s unnecessarily controversial law. It also says a lot, and none of it good, about the philosophical unmooring of the Fourth Estate from principle.

Unfortunately, many Americans, hanging on Todd’s principle-free words and on words like them, fail to see that they are like dinghies tied to the back of NBC’s ship as it sails along, blissfully ignorant of the despotism that its employees enable and powered by the foul winds of progressive double standards, toward the Charybdis of so-called freedom.

In a remarkable shift in public opinion over the past decade, those supporting gay marriage now constitute a majority and they are feeling their oats. To return to our Founders, as Todd never does: Thomas Jefferson reminds us that “the majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society.”

One can hardly imagine Jefferson — or any of those who pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to defend America’s noble conception of individual rights — stooping to such rhetorical pusillanimity as “so-called liberty.” But then what do you expect from a so-called journalist like Chuck Todd?

— Ross Kaminsky is a self-employed financial-markets trader and investor and a senior fellow of the Heartland Institute. He hosts The Ross Kaminsky Show on Denver’s NewsRadio 850 KOA and fills in for radio talk-show hosts across the country. You can reach Ross by e-mail at rossputin@rossputin.com.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece has been amended since its original posting.

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