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Politics & Policy

Ryan Anderson’s Flawed Appraisal of Religious Liberty

Last weekend, Ryan Anderson of the Ethics and Public Policy Center published a piece in the Wall Street Journal called “Religious Liberty Isn’t Enough.” He wants religious conservatives to shirk the defensive political posture he feels they’ve been trapped in. Instead of simply arguing that they have the legal right to practice their faiths in all their fulness, Anderson wants religious conservatives to argue for the merits of these practices. In short, religious people should make fewer appeals to the forms of religious freedom in America and more appeals to content of their faiths itself and the inherent justice thereof. They also need to make content-based, rather than procedural, criticisms of left-wing social ideology.  

Referencing issues such as abortion and gender ideology, Anderson writes: 

Even when it makes sense to argue these issues as matters of religious liberty, conservatives shouldn’t pretend to be agnostic about the truth of our perspective. We’ll have the best shot at winning fights over abortion restrictions or child sex-change procedures when conservatives are willing to assert that their beliefs are true, not merely protected in law.

This is true, of course, but it’s also redundant. Who are these religious conservatives Anderson writes about, who are not “willing to assert that their beliefs are true,” but instead “merely protected in law”? 

I’ve never met any Christians who, when asked why they believe in Jesus Christ, respond by saying, “Well, I believe in Jesus Christ because I’m permitted to do so by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.” Nor have I ever heard a priest or a pastor argue for the historicity of the Resurrection by opening Locke’s Second Treatise and demonstrating conclusively from the text that we are permitted to believe that such an event once occurred. Perhaps Mr. Anderson has met the acquaintance of these people and he writes from experience. If he has, I would love to be introduced to even one of them. 

A vanishingly small number of religious conservatives (if any at all) are “agnostic about the truth of [their] perspective.” Ask a pro-life Orthodox Jew why abortion is wrong. She won’t shrug or start asserting her right to believe such a thing under the American constitutional order. That would be a rather baffling non-sequitur. No, she’s much more likely to speak about the anthropology of the Book of Genesis or the Psalms. 

Similarly, does Mr. Anderson really believe that he if asked any conservative evangelicals in America why they opposed transgender orthodoxy, that such people would completely avoid discussing the theology of gender and simply pivot to First Amendment jurisprudence? Maybe I’m overstating my case, but I seriously doubt that the type of religious conservative Mr. Anderson pretends to address in his column actually exists.   


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