The most recent Wikileak email dump provided even more evidence of the widespread Christianophobia of many powerful persons who are politically progressive. In emails hacked from John Podesta’s account, the current Clinton campaign chairman and former Obama counselor received emails from colleagues who referred to conservative Christians as “backwards” and “bastardized.”
Podesta’s colleagues’ opinions are not surprising. Only a person with the dimmest spark of critical reflectiveness could be unaware of the regularity of this sort of bigoted treatment of conservative Christians.Note to reader: For excellent concise introduction to anti-Christian hostility, see George Yancey’s Hostile Environment: Understanding and Responding to Anti-Christian Bias. Yancey is a Professor of Sociology at the University of North Texas who specializes in race/ethnicity, biracial families and anti-Christian bias.
The U. S. Commission on Civil Rights
More significant by far than Podesta’s comments is a report recently published by the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights. Entitled, “Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties,” the report essentially places a priority on nondiscrimination over religious liberty and implies that religious believers are bigots who hide their bigotry behind the Constitutional right to religious freedom.
The report errs in a number of ways. Religious believers should understand these errors and the negative effects upon our nation if the Commission’s line of reasoning proves persuasive to our nation’s citizens.
First, the report employs circular reasoning. Instead of reasoning from a premise toward a conclusion, it starts with its conclusion already assumed. Commissioner Gail Heriot’s dissenting comments make this point: “By starting with an assertion that antidiscrimination laws are ‘pre-eminent,’ the Commission’s analysis essentially begins with its conclusion. Why should anyone accept it? The Commission said so.” Heriot, a University of San Diego law professor, is right: if you start out with the conclusion as the first premise, it doesn’t really matter what the second premise is because you can still reach the conclusion you want.
Prioritization of Nondiscrimination over Religious Liberty
Second, the report undercuts the Constitution by prioritizing “nondiscrimination” over religious liberty. In dissenting comments, Commissioner Peter Kirsanow writes, “Religious liberty is more fundamental to Constitutional principles than non-discrimination. Religious liberty is an undisputed constitutional right.” Kirsanow, an attorney and editor of the Cleveland State Law Review, is correct: the Constitution considers religious liberty more fundamental than non-discrimination.
A Jaundiced View of Religious Believers
Third, it takes a jaundiced view of religious believers. Chairman Martin R. Castro exemplifies this negative prejudice when he writes, “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.” As William McGurn noted, Castro’s contribution illumines the way progressives insult Americans with different views and, in so doing, flout their own stated agenda.
A Misunderstanding of the Nature of Religion
Fourth, it misunderstands the nature of religion itself. Like many leftist seculars, the Commission’s majority seem to restrict religion to any phenomena involving “the private worship of a supernatural deity.” This conception is flawed.
It is flawed because religion may or may not involve the worship of a supernatural deity. The Christian tradition conceives of religion in terms of a person’s ultimate commitments. Whatever sits on the throne of our heart—commanding our loyalties and shaping our lives—is our “god.” One person’s God may be the Christian Trinity. Another’s god may be secular liberalism.
It is also flawed because religion is not merely private. Religion involves our most ultimate commitments and, for that reason, radiates outward into everything we do and everything we say. In other words, the Commission’s majority is not really secular, and their own religious commitments radiated outward into the public document they released.
Because the Judeo-Christian framework of belief is increasingly being sidelined in our nation, secular liberals are able to leverage their own religious framework in its place. They are able restrict religious liberty in order to provide unfettered public space for sexual self-expression, gender manipulation, or any number of other things. They are able to do this even though the former is enshrined in the Constitution and the latter certainly are not.
The Obergefell decision and its aftermath crystallize the point. With the increasing marginalization of the Judeo-Christian moral framework, the SCOTUS majority was more easily able to redefine the institution of marriage and saddle religious believers with that redefinition even if it conflicts with religious believers’ consciences.
Reforming Our Public Understanding of Religion and Fostering Genuine Plurality
The danger of embracing the flawed conception is that seculars get to pretend they have no religion. The Judeo-Christian God gets demoted to the realm of “private worship” while theirs gets promoted to the commanding heights of public life. Our God gets kicked out of the front door while their god gets whistled in through the back.
This situation—represented by progressives such as the Podesta circle and the Civil Rights Commission’s majority—does not benefit our great nation. Instead of allowing secular progressives to hide their own religion and then prioritize non-discrimination over religious liberty, we should encourage them to recognize their own ultimate commitments and respect the ultimate commitments of others. In doing so, we can promote genuine plurality and tolerance rather than fostering Christianophobia and bigotry.