Politics & Policy

The Left’s Attack on Religious Liberty Could Break America

(Andreykuzmin/Dreamstime)

Late last week, The Atlantic convened an “LGBT Summit” designed to discuss the “unfinished business” of the LGBT community in a post-Obergefell world. Underwritten by the American Federation of Teachers, the consulting firm, Deloitte, and the giant utility, PG&E, the conference collected the leading lights of mainstream LGBT thought to share, among other things, their vision for the future of the movement. As Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown observed, “nothing about this event could be described as remotely ‘fringe.’”

And what do mainstream LGBT activists think of religious liberty? They’re opposed — so opposed that a man like Andrew Sullivan (one of the intellectual and cultural fathers of gay marriage in the United States) found himself well to the right of the gathering in his respect for religious freedom. The consensus was clear: “Again and again, people scoffed at the ideas of religious liberty and of furthering LGBT equality via non-governmental means.”

To understand the level of contempt for religious liberty, consider — for example — the words of Chai Feldblum, a commissioner of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, whose message for those who seek to exercise their religious freedom in the marketplace was chilling: “When someone has not been educated [about tolerance of LGBT individuals] and wants to keep discriminating . . . there is only one federal government, there is only one state government, one local government that can say: We will not tolerate this in our society.”

Moreover, Feldblum’s words betrayed how little she comprehends the actual practice of religious faith in the United States. Consider her little riff on funeral homes, as described by Brown:

With a religious exemption to non-discrimination laws, the funeral home owner “could say, ‘well, actually, we’re religiously based,’” said Feldblum, raising her arms high and rolling her eyes. “It’s a funeral home! We do not want to allow that and the only thing that can protect us is a law that doesn’t have [a religious] exemption.”

Really? She finds it difficult to believe that an entity dedicated to serving people in the midst of the most intense spiritual suffering of their lives could have a thoroughly faith-based identity?

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I could write thousands of words about how the radical has become mainstream, and the Left now views orthodox Christians and Jews as the equivalent of Bull Connor leading a gang of sheet-wearing Klansmen, but that piece has been done to death. Everyone who’s been paying attention knows the Left’s motivation and the Left’s endgame, where Christianity either changes or finds itself consigned to the outer darkness, occupying the same cultural and political space as white supremacists.

#share#But here’s what the Left doesn’t understand: It will break America before it will destroy the church. Flush with victory at the Supreme Court and cheered by polls showing a sharp rise in “nones” — Americans who choose not to affiliate with any religion — the LGBT Left is convinced that history is on its side, and that it merely needs to press harder and Christianity will change.

Yet the Left is misreading the church, it’s misreading America, and it’s misreading history. While it’s true there are sharp increases in “nones,” the Evangelical church is also growing. In fact, if one extrapolates out from current trends, America looks to become both more religious and more secular, with increases in “nones” counterbalanced by the continued growth of Evangelicalism. The people who are fleeing the church tend to be mainline Protestants (who gave up on orthodoxy long ago) and casual Catholics. The ranks of committed believers, by contrast, continue to expand.

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Moreover, if one views history as teaching lessons rather than taking sides, the clear lesson of history is that the church perseveres. God implanted eternity into the hearts of men, and the spark of devotion to Him is not so easily extinguished. While we do not (yet) have the spiritual resolve of, say, the Pilgrims, we serve the same God, and He has the same zeal for His church. History may not take sides, but God does.

Yes, the church in Europe is struggling, but those who look to replicate Europe in the United States neglect to remember our profound differences. In many ways the United States was founded as an anti-Europe, in large part because of our respect for religious liberty. Moreover, much of our population growth is occurring in the precise communities — Latin American, Asian, and African — where the church is experiencing its most vibrant growth.

The secular Left and religious Right can live together, but only if the faithful are allowed to truly live.

With tens of millions of Americans of deep religious faith exercising extraordinary cultural and political influence in dozens of states, oppression and the systematic denial of religious freedom simply won’t stand. Yes, the liberal enclaves will be as oppressive as they want to be, but good luck turning Tennessee into San Francisco or Utah into Vermont.

The American Christian community is sometimes slow to comprehend existential threats. After all, most of us live in communities where belief in God is strong, our schools are thriving, and political oppression happens to other people, in other communities.

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So Christians fund legal organizations to defend those in need (to the tune of well over $100 million per year), elect local politicians who share their faith, and then they think of other things — like paying the mortgage, taking care of a sick relative, or teaching their own children reading, writing, and arithmetic. But if their own schools (or home schools) are under threat, if their own church ministries face legal sanctions, things will change.

#related#In fact, the change is already coming. Since Obergefell, the Evangelical community has redoubled its commitment to orthodoxy. Those Christians who’ve fought back against domestic political repression — especially on college campuses — tend to emerge from the fight spiritually revitalized. A sense of resolve is spreading across the Evangelical world, a resolve every bit as strong as the resolve on the LGBT Left.

We can either reaffirm our historic commit to accommodating religious faith, or we will face profound divisions. Religious faith is ultimately too strong to be subordinated to the demands of the state. The secular Left and religious Right can live together, but only if the faithful are allowed to truly live — and that includes exercising a religious faith that is more important than even national identity. The stakes could not be higher. Accommodate or separate. That’s the choice we face.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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