Some would have us believe that war is peace, ignorance is strength, and the best way to protect religious liberty is by chasing religious expression out of the public square entirely. Which is obviously complete balderdash. And yet, that’s the argument being made.
Religious values have a long and positive role in Western society. John Adams famously said,
[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
And indeed, we’ve seen the major social movements of our time – abolition, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Civil Rights movement – fueled and furthered by religious leaders. In a speech given at Chapman University School of Law, former Utah Supreme Court Justice and current LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks said,
I submit that religious values and political realities are so inter-linked in the origin and perpetuation of this nation that we cannot lose the influence of religion in our public life without seriously jeopardizing our freedoms.
Despite this, attempts to push religious views out of the public square have been increasing. In countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Singapore, governments have been aggressive in prosecuting those who have publicly expressed their religious beliefs. Unfortunately, this persecution has extended to the United States, as well:
- A New Mexico photographer was fined $6,000 for refusing to photograph a gay wedding
- The United Methodist Church was penalized by New Jersey for not allowing gay marriages on their church owned pavilion.
- Professors at state universities in Illinois and Wisconsin were fired or disciplined for daring to say they believe homosexual behavior is sinful.
- A Bakery in Oregon was fined for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay wedding and then faced a concerted effort to blacklist them.
- More recently, an Idaho wedding chapel is being assessed daily fines for not performing gay marriages.
Does any of that sound like a free exercise of religion, as protected by the First Amendment? In no reasonable world can the answer to that question be ‘yes.’ Yet, when presented with the long list of people being persecuted and silenced for the public expression of their views, the resounding response has been, “good, they deserved it.” This is extremely troubling to those who care about religious liberty.
The Orwellians who argue that to save religion we must keep the religious silent, argue that allowing the free exercise of religion will somehow destroy religious liberty. Notice their language – they claim to support religious “belief,” but the First Amendment doesn’t just guarantee a belief. It guarantees religious expression. And it’s the expression that is under fire. Don’t want to bake a cake for a gay wedding? Lose your livelihood. They would even persecute those who, out of religious conviction, refuse to officiate a gay wedding. What they’re really saying is, “believe what you want, but don’t express that belief or the Ministry of Truth will pay you a visit.”
How far will this encroachment upon religious expression go? Activists claim they’re only after public expression, and that private religious ceremonies are exempt from their crusade. But again, note their language. They argue you can believe what you want, but when you act as a business or on behalf of the government you are no longer allowed to express your belief.
Marriage is not just a religious ceremony. It is a civil one, as well. Ministers, when performing a marriage, are acting on behalf of the government. In a world where you no longer have the freedom to bake cakes, it’s not hard to see where the contempt for religious expression will lead.
But what of discrimination? Certainly legal gay weddings shouldn’t be deprived of products or services because of someone else’s religious beliefs. Fortunately, there has been no shortage of gay wedding cakes or photographs. In fact, out of fear of discrimination Salt Lake City passed a non-discrimination ordinance five years ago, making it illegal to deny a gay person employment or a roof over their head. No one should be denied these things. And as we’ve seen, no one has. In five years there have been a total of three complaints, none of which were found to have merit and zero complaints in all of 2013. Other areas with similar laws, Salt Lake County, Grand County, Ogden, and West Valley City have not had any complaints either.
Far from ushering in a new era of Jim Crow, First Amendment protections of the exercise of religion expand liberty, not contract it.