When "Religious Freedom" Is Blind

When I was a lad, Christians of the highest standing condoned shutting blacks from restaurants and hotels. They did so because in large measure they had been led to believe God meant it to be that way. It had the patina of a religious calling. Many became violent when it became illegal.

More recently, gay and lesbian people could be scourged and publicly shamed under similar premises. The "deviants" were considered anathema by the Almighty whose followers were therefore commissioned to punish them. 

Oh, one other thing. Where I lived in New England, and elsewhere, you could be prosecuted for using artificial birth control because, why? You guessed it. And Blue Laws made darned sure Jews and other non-Christians couldn't buy liquor or attend movies on Sunday.

I think of those examples of how the Christian establishment, heavily Protestant for most of our history, had its way with the public through the laws and habits that set the boundaries of acceptable behavior. As that establishment continues to lose sway in a more secular, pluralistic culture, those who were so accustomed to bossing everyone else around in the name of the Lord are in a foul mood. Their "rights" have allegedly been violated. The morally unfit were become eligible for equal treatment.

In the unfathomable presidential campaign, remnants of the Old Order, when everything was in its place, are grousing (I like that word because it sounds so much what it is) because the laws in many places deprives them of their privileged roles as moral deciders. This equal treatment business is being interpreted as meaning that their cherished beliefs in moral inequality are being stomped on. Under these new rules, Bible-believing bakers of boutique cupcakes would be expected to take orders for a same-sex wedding reception. A pious undertaker might be expected to accord the same respect to a partner in one of those marriages and a born-again song-and-dance entertainer might be held to the same standard if she were asked to perform at the birthday party of a Planned Parenthood counselor.

Never mind that the same questions were never asked of merchants who regularly served well-known philanderers or tyrannical employers. No problem. But there have been precious areas that needed protecting, even if the morality behind them hadn't been explored beyond blunt doctrinal or biblical fiat. Homosexuality and apostasy were clear sins in nearly everyone's minds because they conjured images of eternal damnation and were relatively easy to control.

Now the distraught evangelicals and Catholics who cling to these simplicities are yelping because their easy entitlements are slipping away. They wail that neither political party is batting for them. No matter that they've been content to be sold out by Republicans at least since Nixon. The GOP knew gullible customers when they saw them. Promise them all sorts of things like the end to abortion, prayer back in schools, "law and order" on the racial front, and virtually dump them when the campaign was over.

It apparently never occurs to the home folk who are lamenting their betrayal by the power brokers that the fault may largely be within themselves. They had counted on the state to buttress their church-given assumptions. Now that the society doesn't automatically mirror their preferences, they are summoned to think again about the soundness of their reflexive moral dictates and how they might exist instead as a minority viewpoint within a highly diverse culture. They may want to ask why they haven't been able to persuade a larger public of their convictions. How dismaying it is when, in a democracy, a feisty minority can expect the majority to cater to it. If you want to win favor for your viewpoint, you have to convince people who don't necessarily believe you've got it right.

This lopsided expectation is blatantly in evidence in the seemingly disingenuous effort by some Catholics, including the University of Notre Dame, to refuse to allow even non-Catholic employees to obtain birth control services on grounds of their moral objections to artificial contraception, free of any charges to those Catholic institutions. Given that 80 percent or more of Catholics in America approve birth control, are we to believe that most Catholics and others on Catholic campuses hold the opposite position and support the administrations. Or is it just stubborn refusal to accept the loss of its control over something it has had no control over for a long time. A lost entitlement but salute of loyalty to Rome where it may not even matter?  

Such whining makes a mockery of real religious persecution. Of Muslims in America. Christians in the Middle East. Buddhists in Tibet. And so on.

The polls indicate that 3/4 of white evangelicals and a sizeable chunk of white Catholics back Trump. The revenge of those who believe they've lost privilege is on the rise. The evangelicals overlook the Bible they purport to depend upon because, quite frankly, they don't read it nearly as much anymore and don't seem to grasp its powerful challenges to racism, sexism and justice. For the Catholic supporters, I'm guessing that the allegiance to the set of entitlements embedded in the term "American Way of Life," has eclipsed Catholic Social Teaching by a long shot.

Religious rights include Christian rights -- and that calculus isn't always easy -- but must encompass more than the version of Christian rights defined by earlier times when inimical social mores brushed aside the Sermon on the Mount.
















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