The religious liberty front in the culture war

Dennis Lennox

Whether it was Indiana a few years ago or recent legislation in Georgia and Mississippi, secular progressives have decried as state-sanctioned discrimination any efforts to codify the right of religious Americans not to violate the tenets of their faith.

One expects as much from the usual suspects on the left. What has been a surprise is the outcry from business, which claims religious liberty legislation makes it difficult to hire the best workers.

This claim is dubious at best, as the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution only applies to government, not corporations. Then there’s the absurd hypocrisy of companies like Disney, which makes movies in countries where homosexuality is a criminal offense.

Regardless, neither side is right.

Let’s face it. Conservatives have done a poor job at the politics of religious liberty in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage across the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four of the five U.S. territories.

There aren’t many who actually argue clergymen should be compelled to perform the rites of a religious ceremony that goes against either their sincerely held beliefs or the doctrines of their religious sect.

However, the issue of gay marriage is much more complex.

With a number of professed Christian sects blessing or otherwise solemnizing gay marriage, it’s difficult for religious objectors to argue their position is the one, true Christian stance. It also doesn’t help when those who champion the traditional definition of marriage seem to turn a blind eye to remarrying heterosexual divorcees.

But this debate goes far beyond gay marriage. The real question is: just where does religious liberty end?

For example, could a Muslim driver’s education instructor refuse female pupils, citing Wahhabbist clerics in Saudi Arabia? Then there’s the parish hall of a Christian church that is also rented out for secular uses. Could the congregation be compelled to rent its space to undesirable tenets?

There have even been cases on college campuses of overtly religious student groups being told they couldn’t deny membership to non-adherents of their faith.

In other countries — some touted so often by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and others on the left — Christian women have been prohibited from wearing a cross around their neck and Muslim women have been told they can’t wear headscarves in public.

These are all real issues with no easy answers.

As more states adopt religious liberty legislation, it’s inevitable that the courts will be forced to wade in the murky waters of deciding exactly what constitutes a sincerely held belief or religious doctrine.

Dennis Lennox is a freelance columnist.

Twitter: @dennislennox