Politics & Policy

Capitulation on Religious-Liberty Laws Is Shameful and Shortsighted


One year after a coalition of corporations and progressive activists bullied Indiana governor Mike Pence into “clarifying” an already perfectly transparent, and defensible, religious-freedom law in Indiana, Georgia and North Carolina are under siege.

In Georgia, a coalition of liberal corporations — including Apple, Disney, Salesforce.com, and the NFL — successfully placed immense pressure on Governor Nathan Deal to veto a religious-liberty bill that would have provided the most modest of protections for religious liberty: protecting the right of clergy to perform only those marriages consistent with the tenets of their faith, protecting the right of narrowly defined faith-based institutions to hire and fire based on religious belief and practice, and protecting the free-exercise rights of individuals so long as they didn’t engage in “invidious discrimination” in violation of state and federal law.

In North Carolina, a similar coalition arrived after the legislature passed and Governor Pat McCrory signed into law a religious-freedom statute. So they’re trying to force repeal. The North Carolina law mandates that individuals using single-sex, multiple-occupancy bathrooms must do so according to the gender identified on their birth certificate, and it establishes a uniform state non-discrimination law, effectively barring local municipalities from passing the expansive non-discrimination regulations that most often conflict with religious freedom and rights of conscience. Not only have multiple large corporations attacked the North Carolina law, the state’s Democratic attorney general has indicated that he won’t defend it against any legal challenges.

Georgia and North Carolina are only the latest states attempting to strengthen religious believers’ First Amendment rights amid the cultural and legal sea change that has resulted in — to consider just a few examples — Christian student groups being forced to open themselves to non-Christian leadership or face expulsion from campus; Christian adoption agencies being forced to close unless they’re willing to place children with same-sex couples; and Christian bakers, florists, and photographers being forced to lend their artistic talents to help celebrate gay weddings.

#share#Obviously, protecting religious liberty does not mean denying gay people their newly found right to marriage or gay couples the ability to adopt. It doesn’t mean prohibiting gay individuals from purchasing wedding cakes or barring gay students from forming clubs that express their point of view. But weddings and adoptions are available without coercing religious participation. Protecting religious liberty merely means protecting and accommodating the right of religious dissent.

Alas, religious dissent is unacceptable to progressives, who now see the law as an instrument of state-enforced morality, where any person who seeks to enter the marketplace (or, at colleges, the marketplace of ideas) has to conform or leave.

With each new capitulation, progressives grow bolder and conservatives grow more bitter.

Meanwhile, progressive corporate scolds mount their pressure campaigns from a precarious moral position. Many of them — Apple, Disney, and Salesforce.com — threaten economic sanctions against American states while at the same time operating (and investing billions) in nations like the People’s Republic of China, which systematically oppresses its citizens, forcing abortions, persecuting religious believers, and suppressing dissent. Yet again and again Republican governors capitulate, vetoing or forcing modifications to religious-liberty bills often passed with overwhelming legislative majorities.

With each new capitulation, progressives grow bolder and conservatives grow more bitter. Elected officials are abandoning their independent duty to protect the constitutional rights of the citizenry, punting all conflicts to a liberal judiciary that has repeatedly proven hostile to the faithful. This is not leadership.

It is now the responsibility of conservative legislators to try again — to send more bills to their governors’ desks — and it is the responsibility of the electorate to make sure that their voices matter more than Tim Cook’s or Roger Goodell’s. Progressive corporations should not be permitted to govern conservative states.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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