By Joe Newby
On Nov. 16, 1993, then-President Bill Clinton signed the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, calling religious freedom, “the most precious of all American liberties.” But things have changed considerably since then.
In the 20-plus years since that law was signed, “gay rights” and all the issues surrounding it, including same-sex marriage, have managed to trump the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta and at least 6,000 years of human history. Religious freedom is no longer “the first freedom “ as Christians across America have learned the hard way.
Consider, for example, the recent media-generated witch-hunt against Memories Pizza. When the owner told a reporter she would not cater a gay wedding if asked, the rabid pro-gay left sprung into action. The fact that the restaurant was never asked to cater a wedding and the fact that owners had never refused service to anyone didn’t matter. The store was besieged by what many called the “Gaystapo,” a term recalling the dictatorial Nazi regime.
The reaction from the pro-gay left was so visceral that for a time, the phrase “gays are the new ISIS,” began trending on Twitter. Liberals on Twitter even demanded President Obama attack Indiana with nuclear weapons.
After receiving death threats and threats of domestic terrorism, the O’Connors closed the store, fearful for their lives. A GoFundMe page was set up to help them weather the brutal attacks and thousands responded, resulting in a windfall of more than $840,000.
The attacks, however, continued, with the left-wing Salon issuing a tweet saying that Memories Pizza deserved the death threats and threats of arson. The tweet was deleted, but not before being captured for posterity. In short, Salon argued, those who disagree with gay marriage on the basis of their religious views deserve death threats. Unfortunately, far too many on the left agree.
But the assault on the freedoms of religious people does not end there. A New York Times op-ed suggested that Christians be forced to accept what liberals call “morals,” even if they conflict with biblical teachings.
Some, like Florida teacher Jerry Buell, have had their jobs threatened for disagreeing with gay marriage. HGTV canceled a show because the hosts expressed support for conservative Christian principles.
Others have seen their First Amendment free speech rights curtailed simply because of Christian content.
The problem has also infected the military. In December 2013, retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely said the military is purging Christianity while promoting an understanding of Islam. The situation has only gotten worse.
“Christians are leaving the U.S. military or are discouraged from joining in the first place because of a ‘hostile work environment’ that doesn’t let them express their beliefs openly, religious freedom advocates say,” the Washington Times recently reported.
Douglas Lee, president of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, told the Times that many are opting out of the military due to what he called “a culture [of] hostility [toward] religion in the military…”
Others, like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, have suggested conservative Christians should be excluded from politics. Actor James Morrison once said Christians should not be allowed to run for public office, and Mike Dickinson, a Virginia Democrat who once sought the seat formerly held by Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., promised to “decimate” Christians if elected.
It’s almost enough to make one think some want Nero-style persecution of conservative Christians.
Writing at the Christian Post, Karen Kramer said religious liberty is the central theme of what she called “the new civil war.” Moreover, she said Christians are partly to blame for not standing up for their rights.
Pro-gay liberals claim religious freedom laws are designed to allow discrimination, but the reality is that these laws ensure people of faith can provide a defense in court if necessary.
“The bill would establish a general legal standard, the ‘compelling interest’ test, for evaluating laws and governmental practices that impose substantial burdens on the exercise of religion,” Daniel O. Conkle, a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, wrote of the Indiana law. “This same test already governs federal law under the federal RFRA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. And some 30 states have adopted the same standard, either under state-law RFRAs or as a matter of state constitutional law.”
“Under the Indiana RFRA, those who provide creative services for weddings, such as photographers, florists or bakers, could claim that religious freedom protects them from local nondiscrimination laws,” he added. “Like other religious objectors, they would have their day in court, as they should, permitting them to argue that the government is improperly requiring them to violate their religion by participating (in their view) in a celebration that their religion does not allow.”
But, he added, the law does not automatically mean that Christian-owned businesses have a license to discriminate as many on the left falsely claim. It simply gives those businesses the ability to argue that the government is forcing them to go against their religious beliefs.
Stanford law professor and former appellate court judge Michael McConnell agreed. “In the decades that states have had RFRA statutes, no business has been given the right to discriminate against gay customers, or anyone else,” he wrote.
But facts no longer matter in today’s political environment. All that matters is the agenda.
The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech, the right to a free press and freedom of religion. Forcing people at the point of a gun to reject their religious views to appease those with a political agenda is not freedom. It’s tyranny. And it’s the reason we need religious freedom laws. But maybe tyranny is what some really want – especially if it’s applied against conservative Christians.
Joe Newby is an IT professional who also writes as a conservative columnist for Examiner.com covering politics, crime, elections and social issues, and offers hard-hitting commentary at his blog, the Conservative Firing Line.
You write: “Forcing people at the point of a gun to reject their religious views to appease those with a political agenda is not freedom. It’s tyranny.”
Gunpoint? Death threats aren’t okay, to be sure, but this phrasing amps up the drama even more, presumably to further your “agenda.” Furthermore, equal rights for a historically oppressed minority that still faces all kinds of violence and openly expressed hatred isn’t just a “political agenda,” it’s basic American principle. The more I hear about the Oppressed American Christian, as a Jew whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors (and who lost many other family members in the Holocaust), the more ridiculous it sounds.
A couple of things jump out at me:
1. Anyone who uses the term “gaystapo” should stop immediately. Not only is it offensive due to the fact that Nazi’s actively persecuted LGBT individuals (hence the pink triangle), but it does a disservice to those who had to live under Nazi tyranny. Death threats of any kind are unacceptable, but let’s not confuse Twitter trolls for systemic genocide.
2. Someone not getting an HGTV show because of push back from the public is about the most privileged form of “oppression” I’ve ever heard of, if we can even call it that. I’ve said it numerous times: you absolutely have a right to say what you want, you don’t have a right to be free from criticisms or consequences of your speech. If I were to say something racist, sexist or otherwise ridiculously offensive, I would expect to lose my job. That’s why it’s called “at-will employment.”
3. Accusing the military of being “anti-Christian” is one of the funniest things I’ve read in ages. Ideologues like Klingenschmitt give great fodder to Evangelicals, but the problem is… It isn’t true. None of the incidents that Evangelicals cite constitute anything close to anti-Christian bias. In Klingenschmitt’s case, he violated a well known military rule. Yet he somehow holds sway in some circles.
4. The bigger problem with the situation in Indiana is that the LGBT community has no protections as it is. They’re not covered by the states non-discrimination law. So discrimination is occurring regardless.
5. The Federal RFRA was actually passed to protect minority religious rights: the Employment Division v Smith case that was a catalyst for the federal law involved two Native Americans who were refused unemployment benefits due to testing positive for one of the key compounds of peyote. In contrast to this… The impetus for passing a state level RFRA in Indiana was because… Well, I don’t know. It was clear that they were reacting to what is likely to be a Supreme Court ruling that strikes down marriage equality bans, but apparently they don’t understand much about non-discrimination law.
Conservative Christians are experiencing oppressive tyranny? Where? In Bizarro World?
You could call it chutzpah, except they’d probably claim that word oppresses them: Conservative Christian film production companies are making not one, but two movies this year called Persecuted, to promote the myth that conservative Christians have reason to fear they are being oppressed by an evil, secularist government. At least one
of them is set in the Soviet Union (clearly analogized to the modern United States), but the other is a stretch that puts even the goofiest science fiction to shame, featuring an imaginary American government that requires religious broadcasters to “present all religious points of view when presenting their own point of view.” (There are over 4,000 religions, easily, in the world, to give you an idea of how little thought went into this script.)
It’s easy to laugh at how ridiculous these fantasies of persecution are, but what other choice do they have? Attempts to create real-life examples of anti-Christian or anti-conservative oppression are, if anything, even more laughable than the lurid attempts to come up with
hypotheticals. Indeed, looking over conservative complaints about persecution, either against Christians or just against conservatives, one gets the distinct impression that what oppresses them the most is other people having basic human rights or just doing their own thing without asking conservative permission.
Here are some examples of who or what the right is claiming is oppressing them these days.
1) Gay people who want to give you their money.
The past month or so saw a surge in bills racing through Republican-controlled state legislatures that would dramatically expand the protections for businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation, by basically making illegal for people to sue. Conservatives defended these laws by invoking images of bakers and wedding photographers being forced, over their religious objections, to provide services for same-sex weddings, but the truth is that the laws were broad enough that they would have permitted things like refusing hotel accommodations or restaurant service to people perceived as LGBT.
The accidental reminders of the days of Jim Crow was enough to kill off this round of legislation, but all that did was kick off a round of whining about conservatives being so oppressed. Ross Douthat of the New York Times went into full-on whining mode.
He denied he was calling it “persecution,” but that was the basic gist of his argument: Being able to berate and humiliate gay customers who try to give you their money is nothing more than “protections for dissent.” “If your only goal is ensuring that support for traditional
marriage diminishes as rapidly as possible, applying constant pressure to religious individuals and institutions will probably do the job,” leaving no doubt that he believes religious liberty is about more than being able to believe what you want and speak your mind, but also about depriving other people the basic right to equal treatment on a
2) Johnny Weir’s clothes.
Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski made a splash as ice-skating commentators
at the Sochi Olympics because of their insight and talent, but their often-coordinated and daring outfits also garnered a ton of positive press. Except, of course, in the right-wing media, where Weir’s willingness to wear bold, fun clothes aggravated Quin Hillyer of the National Review.Feeling oppressed by Weir’s preference for statement jewelry and
vintage blazers, Hillyer whined, “The problem is not that he’s homosexual; it’s that he advertises his sexuality to the extent that it makes him (his choice of makeup, jewelry, and extravagant dresses or furs) more of a story than the athletes he is supposed to cover.” As if
figure skating is a sartorially somber event with nary a sequin or bright color to be seen. Hillyer also felt oppressed by Michael Sam and Jason Collins being open about their sexuality, as if no straight athlete in history ever dared bring a girlfriend or wife around, much less ogle a cheerleader.
Christian conservatives have graduated past arguing that they are oppressed by
women using their own insurance to buy contraception and have moved into saying that they’re oppressed by signing paperwork attesting that they feel oppressed by said women. The federal government allows some religiously affiliated organizations to get out of offering health insurance that covers contraception, but they do have to sign a piece of paper granting them that exemption. Some organizations have filed suit, saying the mere fact of the paperwork offends them, because it would allow their employees to get contraception coverage elsewhere. At this point, it’s becoming hard for the right to deny that they seem to think employers have some kind of ownership over their employee’s private sexual choices, and that any tactic, even throwing a fit over signing a piece of paper, is acceptable to keep that ownership. If only we could all argue that simply signing paperwork was some kind of horrible violation of our human rights.
4) Hipsters who think they are so cool.
Greg Gutfeld is a “libertarian” and doesn’t hold himself out as a member of the Christian right. But he’s happy to pander to right-wing persecution fantasies anyway, with his new book Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War on You.How are hipsters oppressing conservatives? Apparently, those meanie hipsters are being cool at conservatives and oppressing them by making them feel like they’re maybe not as cool. You may think your Fluevogs and vinyl copy of Chromeo’s new record are just things you like, but apparently, your mere permission of these items persecutes conservatives who prefer to wear Crocs and listen to bro country. Cool people are, according to Gutfeld, destroying America “from within,” because “each day they pass judgment on those who don’t worship at the altar of their coolness.” That, or they aren’t even bothering to spare a thought for their less cool
conservative brethren, but ignoring them is probably a form of persecution, too.
5) People who do what you asked them to do.
Conservatives are forever on about how President Obama and liberals in general are
supposedly failing young men of color by not lecturing them enough about family values and the value of hard work and taking responsibility. Then President Obama started a new initiative called My Brother’s Keeper that is meant to address many of the ways young men of color are lagging behind. For better or worse, President Obama focused on that conservative hobbyhorse of the importance of fathers when he introduced the initiative, saying, “We know boys who grow up without a father are more likely to be poor
and as a black student you are less likely to read as proficient in the fourth grade.” You’d think conservatives would be ecstatic that Obama overlooked some of the complexities and implied, probably incorrectly, that there’s a causal relationship, but no. Obama taking them at their word and doing what they asked is the new form of persecution.
Jennier Rubin of the Washington Post exemplified the whininess, arguing that the program,
which is an alliance between non-profits and business instead of some kind of specific government program, is racist because it focuses on young men of color. After setting up the argument that young white men are being persecuted because they don’t get to be included in a group that has higher arrest rates and lower employment rates, she then
complained that the program “uses victimhood as a political weapon.” Victimhood only counts, apparently, if it’s wholly imagined.
As Alex Ruthrauff at Wonkette pointed out just last year, this same Jennifer Rubin was complaining that the Obama administration was not talking about “kids who grow up without fathers” because he’s too busy talking about “slavery or Jim Crow or whatever.”
Now that he’s doing what she asked, she’s screaming bloody murder. It turns out that the best way to persecute conservatives is to do exactly what they ask of you.
In many areas of the world, religious persecution involves forced conversion, mob attacks and genocide by violence or by neglect.
In America, an employee might be able to use health insurance, for which you pay a part of the premium, to get an IUD.
American conservatives who inveigh against the erosion of their religious liberties are crying that they’re the oppressed minority: not because they face forced conversion or death, but because they’re not getting their way for the first time in history regarding same-sex marriage or the Obamacare contraception mandate (though the US supreme court’s conservative, male majority did side with them in the Hobby Lobby contraceptive access case).
Your Christian group equates not getting your way in the political sphere – not being able to impose your idiosyncratic religious views on others with the force of law – with brutal and unjust persecution.
As America becomes more diverse and less religious than ever, conservative Christians are losing their disproportionate influence on politics and because they think of themselves as the natural and deserving custodians of that power, having to share it feels like a shocking injustice.
Mr. Newby, I know part of the justification for your victim role is theological: the Bible predicts that true Christians will be persecuted, so you and other conservatives believe that it must be a sign of your exclusive true-ness.
After all, acknowledging the true extent of conservatives current and historical power and influence in the world would generate an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance with a bible that often takes the side of – and venerates leaders who serve – the low and the downtrodden.
The only remedy you have then is to declare, despite the evidence, that you are truly a persecuted minority making you the true Christians, which simultaneous makes a mockery of the true victims of religious oppression all around the world.
Sometimes we bring our own alienation, loneliness and persecution complex upon ourselves, with our insensitivity and lack of integrity. (i.e “Gaystapo” and your entire article)
There is certainly a lot (if not too much) hyperbole on the Internet, and I would heartily agree that death threats or abusive rhetoric is objectionable in principle, no matter who the target But beyond the need for chill time for some, before others don too many hair shirts and the mantel of persecution, let us not forget what it means to be a business proprieter in an environment free of descrimination. Does a pizza parlor (or any business) have the right to decide which potential customers it will serve, based not on general rowdiness or some other practical concerns that would apply to all, but because of who they are, or what they believe, that they are not the “right” people on some issue far removed from consuming American versions of Italian foodstuffs.
Would a devout Christian who, based on their understanding of scripture in which divorce is not allowed, be in their rights under the expanded RFRA mandate to refuse service to a divorced man planning to remarry with a pizza party? (Say, Ronald Reagan regardind the new spouse Nancy.) Should a gay operated pizza parlor be in their rights to descriminate against someone whose cross was a bit too prominent around their neck? Do we really want to go back to a society (not that long ago) when certain people need not be served, from Jews to Irish to Chinese to African Americans?
Further, to act as though ferocity of opinion operates on only one side of this dispute, that it is utterly unconnected with agendas of the Kulturkampf right as well as the gay-friendly left, is lopsided and naive in the extreme. And extreme is what we need less of here, and more open decent consideration that people who like pizza should be able to buy it, and that people who make it well ought to sell it, and not pose descriminatory hurdles as to who are virtuous enough to warrant their slize of the pie.
Why do Christians spend so much energy hating Muslims? They are pathetic.