The free exercise of religion has been called the first freedom, that which originally sparked the development of the full range of the Bill of Rights………What this law basically says is that the government should be held to a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone’s free exercise of religion. This judgment is shared by the people of the United States as well as by the Congress. We believe strongly that we can never be too vigilant in this work.–An excerpt from President Bill Clinton’s remarks upon signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the White House on November 16, 1993.
In addition to this federal law signed by Bill Clinton over 20 years ago, 20 states now have similar versions of this legislation on their books, which became necessary primarily because in 1997 the Supreme Court ruled that the federal RFRA was too broad and could not be applied to the states. The Texas version of the law was signed by Governor George W. Bush in 1999 and, when the bill’s sponsor, then state representative Scott Hochberg (D-Houston), was recently asked about its impact by a Dallas Morning News reporter, he was hard-pressed to remember one insignificant case in which it has been invoked. Of course, the most recent addition is Indiana, and what a firestorm and what a different atmosphere than the one that existed in 1993.
You ask why? It’s simply for two reasons: One, the radical gay rights community and their fellow travelers have become so aggressive that tolerance of the LGBT lifestyle is no longer acceptable; there must be unexceptional affirmation of it in every social aspect, and two, because the political left in this country has become so hardened in its intolerance that any cultural dissent or deviation from its secular progressive dogma must be met with all-out war.
If you have any doubt about the radical gay rights agenda, note this: A leading gay rights advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, recently released a lengthy document, Beyond Marriage Equality: A Blueprint for Federal Non-Discrimination Protections, in which it outlines an agenda that advocates the application of the full range of current civil rights law to sexual orientation and gender identity. In other words, a complete emulation of the racial civil rights campaign of the 1960s, as if there is any analogy of today’s militant sexual identity politics with that noble cause of a half-century ago that makes sense.
It is clear that the sweeping changes in public opinion on gay rights have been unlike any such phenomenon we have seen in our lifetimes and that, in all likelihood, for example, same-sex marriage will ultimately be validated by the Supreme Court, a major turnaround in attitudes in a relatively short period of time.
But there is no more important current story or anything to match in all of its implications the lynch mob mentality that has permeated the hard-left totalitarianism that has greeted the new Indiana law. There is nothing else to call it, and the most disappointing aspect is the stampede of weak-kneed corporate CEOs and business associations, who are supposed to be among our most reasoned policy leaders, willing to throw our foundational right to free religious exercise under the bus of the intolerance of the secular progressives. One of the most egregious examples of selective indignation is Apple CEO Tim Cook, who condemns the Indiana law while investing heavily in countries like Saudi Arabia, which stones homosexuals, and China, not exactly a model for human and civil rights. Wal-Mart is another disappointing embarrassment, among others.
Of course, much of this issue boils down to the long-standing objective of the secular left to squeeze the religious freedom guarantee down to freedom of worship confined to private faith commitments limited to exercise in religious institutions; in other words, “the naked public square”. And the reason we can’t come together on key wedge social issues in this country is illustrated by this very issue–we are required by the rules of the “procedural republic” that we have become to bracket any moral issue from public policy debate and to deal with it as autonomous players unencumbered by choices we have not made for ourselves. Unfortunately, the courts have made it almost impossible for representative democracy, or even majoritarian democracy, to find our way out of this procedural box and restore the civic republic we once were. But we had better choose some leaders who won’t be intimidated and are willing to find a way, and soon.