Religious freedom was under attack last week as straightforward Religious Freedom Restoration Act legislation in Indiana and Arkansas created controversy. One effect was that it clarified the dividing lines in the debate over religious liberty. Here are five things we learned from last week’s RFRA disaster:
1. Sexual freedom vs. religious freedom: Last week confirmed that the fundamental threat to freedom of conscience is the ongoing rivalry between sexual liberty and religious liberty. Those who champion the advance of LGBT inclusion will stop at nothing to advance their sexuality, even if it means paving over the conscience of Americans.
2. Big business vs. social conservatives: What may have surprised many people was the way that big business aligned with social liberals to battle against social conservatives. With Tim Cook of Apple criticizing Indiana and Wal-Mart objecting to Arkansas, pro-business Republicans have a difficult time standing firm in the midst of economic risks for their state. When there is a threat to the bottom line, it often drives leaders to place their social convictions on the bottom shelf.
3. License to discriminate vs. freedom of conscience: Despite the fact that RFRA legislation has existed for more than 20 years with no pattern of prejudice emerging, the left successfully messaged the bill as a “license to discriminate.” Through misinformation and exaggeration, they convinced many in the general public that a bill designed to uphold freedom of conscience was instead the modern day equivalent of Jim Crow laws.
4. Lust vs. greed: Last week revealed, as Rod Dreher pointed out, an inter-party political rivalry between two of the seven deadly sins. With the democrats, you have the party of lust who will do anything to protect and advance the license for sexual freedom. With the republicans, you have the part of greed who will do anything to protect and advance their business interests.
5. “Religious freedom” vs. religious freedom: Perhaps most troubling of all, last week helped to turn religious freedom from an issue with widespread support and constitutional protection into a new culture war wedge issue. One indication of this change is the frequent use of “religious freedom” in scare quotes, suggesting that it is merely a cover for something more malicious. Danger arises when our first freedom becomes a second-class culture war issue.