By Leslee Kulba- Do you ever wonder what other countries think of America these days, with news footage of school and police shootings and cities on fire? Do you think this country is looking like a safe place for foreign investment? As we watch gem miners pulling out of war-torn countries, we must not think it can’t happen here. Not every business owner will be brave enough, and have an insurer complacent enough, to do what the looted Baltimore CVS store did and reopen.
America is now a battleground of Trump vs. Hillary, Muslim vs. Christian, white vs. black; but what’s it getting us? Numerous studies have correlated economic and/or political liberty with prosperity. Less-known research by organizations like the Pew Research Center has concluded the same for religious liberty. Granted, studies like this are usually marked by too many variables for hard scientists to take seriously. Pesky people have a way of generating new ideas or trading in black markets when clamped. Nevertheless, the fact remains, tension and strife are natural consequences of telling one group of people they can’t do what they feel they must.
America’s Founders, for all the demonization masquerading as history in academic circles, understood this as they attempted to form a more perfect union. For example, America’s Bill of Rights teaches tolerance. The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” It is intended to protect conscience, to prevent government from regulating speech or forms of worship.
But challenging these freedoms today is a purported right not to be offended. It’s behind the dog-and-pony routine of threatening boycotts and demanding leaders make apologies. It is used to rationalize rioting and mass killings. In authoritarian regimes, those who offend the king and blow the whistle on corruption get executed and made public examples. Those who offend him by praying to another god go into the lion’s den. Gays and Christians get executed. Before all this violence got out of hand, the only thing we had to fear was offending interest lobbies with big legal machines.
Ironically, the enumeration of freedoms of speech, religion, and press was intended to protect offensive activities. Freedom of assembly let groups of weirdos get together and politely do and say freaky things their neighbors found stupid – be it Catholics lighting candles or climate scientists holding a convention. But people are finding they need even more than the First Amendment to, peacefully, not so much fly their freak flag as follow conscience in important areas of their lives.
Churches are being threatened with revocation of their tax-exempt nonprofit status – which would mean churches either preach the gospel according to Washington lobbyists, or the government gets a cut from tithes and offerings to fund birth control and other programs that support the disintegration of the traditional family. Politically-incorrect religious schools face choosing between honor codes and accreditation, financial aid, and research grants. Lobbying is underway to force churches to not only tolerate but appoint to positions of leadership people opposed to their core beliefs. The same is true of faith-based student clubs on college campuses.
Hobby Lobby, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and Chick-fil-A have all made news challenging laws that challenge their members’ consciences. Doctors don’t want to be forced to perform abortions, and bakers don’t want to bake the cake. Parents who fear for their little girls using bathrooms with grown men are labeled intolerant and bigoted. There are groups ready to take up legal defense for those who support modern views of gender; not so much for anybody whose faith teaches doctrines like pornography is bad, children should not be conceived out of wedlock, and families include a mommy and a daddy.
An exception would be Jay Sekulow’s American Center for Law and Justice. The ACLJ is currently fighting for the rights of the unborn and urging Congress to defund Planned Parenthood; advocating for justice for wrongfully-dismissed whistleblowers; trying to preserve religious rights challenged by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation including that of military chaplains to be able to pray; and trying to prevent a number of attacks lodged by the Freedom from Religion Foundation against things like leaving Bibles in hotel rooms.
Things are getting so bad, the Mormon Church has posted web pages providing coaching on tolerating different viewpoints and teaching exactly what rights the Supreme Court has upheld. It is not unusual for management, administrations, and even law enforcement to assume things are more secularized in stone than they actually are. The same perception causes individuals to self-censor. It can feel like walking on eggshells these days to discuss law. The absurdity of having to hire an attorney to figure out what uninfringed, inalienable rights entail aside; as of this writing, the following freedoms remain:
Students in public schools can dress as their faith requires, contribute their religious views when pertinent to class discussion, pray as long as others aren’t forced to participate, and form extracurricular religious groups under terms and conditions applied to secular student groups. Churches can still define their own doctrines and practices and set their own requirements for membership and holding office.
In the workplace, employees allowed to keep personal effects in their own workspaces can display religious items if it doesn’t affect the company’s image. They can pray and read their scriptures alone or with a mutually-consenting group in the break room. Employers cannot refuse to hire, fire, or deny promotions or benefits to employees based on their religion. But since employers are not allowed to ask religious questions, it is up to the employee or prospect to request accommodations, like taking Sundays off.
The University of Chicago recently received wide acclaim for denying the establishment of safe spaces and welcoming guest lecturers of any stripe. It built on the premises of Clark Kerr, former president of the University of California, who argued, “The university is not engaged in making ideas safe for students. It is engaged in making students safe for ideas.” Colleges and universities, after all, were meant to be forums where new ideas could be heard and vetted. In sum, taking offense is the opposite of tolerance. It cuts short the exchange of ideas, bullying defeat upon those who have prevailed in the realms of faith and/or reason.