To Defend Religious Liberty Today

 

shutterstock_159174965Thomas Jefferson was brilliant and essential, but he has never been my hero among the Founding Fathers. As such, it caught me off guard when I found myself deeply moved at the memorial that honors him in our capital. Even crowded by tourists, it feels a little set apart, a peaceful spot from which one can look out across the Tidal Basin and reflect on this city and nation of ours and on Jefferson’s words on freedom cut into the surrounding walls. Words that were true when first written, though not fully realized in law. Words that are true now, even if the laws should abandon them utterly.

Almighty God hath created the mind free.

Inscribed under the dome is Jefferson’s vow of “eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” He wrote this to Benjamin Rush in 1800, nearly a decade after the ratification of the 1st Amendment designed to protect against such tyranny. Even this master of words knew that — in the end — words on paper could not alone secure liberty. Such is human nature, and such is the power of ideas gone wrong.

If we had forgotten that, we are learning it now from this Supreme Court. We revere the Constitution, but its words alone will not protect our liberties. We can no longer win by proving what Madison or Jefferson said or meant. We should also have learned by now that this generation finds such appeals to authority utterly unpersuasive.

But that only means that we stand where Madison and Jefferson stood: we must make the case on its merits, not on their authority. So let us know them better. We need not merely their conclusions but their arguments, understood thoroughly enough to address them to the 21st century. Why should a hateful minority get to live out its offensive beliefs? What would we lose by restricting them? These questions have now been opened, and we can no longer speak of religious liberty as an assumed good.

We have no time to indulge in outrage. It is a time for clear thinking and a clear purpose.

Let’s not expect the presidential candidates to be the first to do that thinking and make that case. That’s not a criticism, that is the nature of politics. Almost unanimously last week, they promised — some sincerely — to defend religious liberty, but they spoke to those who already care. Scott Walker at least stated that it is a matter for all of us: “No one wants to live in a country where the government coerces people to act in opposition to their conscience.”

That is a beginning, but it leads to the question: why not? Why does that liberty matter to those who feel no need to exercise it?  We need to answer those questions — convincingly — if we wish to defend our liberty.

There are 17 comments.

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  1. user_348483 Coolidge
    user_348483
    @EHerring

    What does liberty matter to those who are too lazy to preserve it?

    • #1
  2. user_231912 Inactive
    user_231912
    @BrianMcMenomy

    The Constitution is the framework, the structure.  It’s brilliant, but without the values and ideas of the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist papers to buttress it, the framework cannot withstand unending waves of judicial lawmaking.

    • #2
  3. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Leigh: We revere the Constitution, but its words alone will not protect our liberties. We can no longer win by proving what Madison or Jefferson said or meant. We should also have learned by now that this generation finds such appeals to authority utterly unpersuasive.

    This is a big problem for Cruz.

    Have you seen his interview with Katie Couric?  It’ll drive you bananas for lots of reasons.  But mostly for the reason you describe above.

    • #3
  4. Ricochet Moderator
    Ricochet
    @OldBathos

    In the Virginia of Jefferson’s time, there were communities that supported a preacher with tax revenues. The establishment clause in the 1st Amendment was borne from Virginia low-church Protestants’ desire to preserve such arrangements and also not to have tidewater high church types (like George Washington) taxing them to set up an official ceremonial state church.

    Within the American nation, states could have radically different legal orders (slavery versus free is about as radically different as you can get). You could find the community you wanted or head west and found your own. But it was understood such communities could rightfully exist.

    The modern lefty mind hates the idea of difference, of autonomous communities, of spheres of life left to private associations, freely joined. The Orwellian uses of “diversity” and “hate”, the very idea of federal courts deciding social mores and the homogenizing effect of ideologically monolithic mass media are inimical to the social foundations of American life and character.

    Jefferson had some unfortunate, deeply anti-conservative tendencies but was perhaps at his best when, like Washington, he checked even his own acquisition and use of political power to preserve the American project.

    I wonder when they will come for Jefferson and maybe replace him with a statue of the mattress girl or Michael Brown.

    • #4
  5. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Casey:

    Leigh: We revere the Constitution, but its words alone will not protect our liberties. We can no longer win by proving what Madison or Jefferson said or meant. We should also have learned by now that this generation finds such appeals to authority utterly unpersuasive.

    This is a big problem for Cruz.

    Have you seen his interview with Katie Couric? It’ll drive you bananas for lots of reasons. But mostly for the reason you describe above.

    I haven’t seen it, though probably I have seen quotes.  But yes — Cruz specializes in defending conservative ideas… to conservatives.  Of course, that’s true to all of them to some degree.

    If the broader conservative movement is making convincing arguments with wider appeal, the politicians will pick up on that.  If conservatives are simply shouting “but the Constitution says…”, the politicians will repeat that line.

    Politicians usually echo the arguments of the broader movement, or avoid the issue altogether — or both, depending on the audience.

    • #5
  6. Look Away Inactive
    Look Away
    @LookAway

    “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites”. Burke

    • #6
  7. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Leigh:

    I haven’t seen it, though probably I have seen quotes. But yes — Cruz specializes in defending conservative ideas… to conservatives. Of course, that’s true to all of them to some degree.

    Well, what I mean is that Cruz is all Constitution all the time.  And Katie replies “Yeah, but don’t you think…”

    For Cruz, these are the rules we play by.  For Katie, these are the rules we make.

    • #7
  8. user_57140 Member
    user_57140
    @KarenHumiston

    What a wonderful piece, Leigh — Thank you.  I pray that , somehow, we can again make America a safe place for integrity.

    • #8
  9. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Leigh: [Quoting Scott Walker] “No one wants to live in a country where the government coerces people to act in opposition to their conscience.”

    Loved this post, and I completely agree with this, but…

    I think we need to remember that the solution isn’t protections/exemptions to protect the consciences of the religious, but to rescind as many laws as possible that have the potential to impinge on people’s consciences. The bigger the demilitarized zone between conscience and state, the better.

    • #9
  10. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Loved this post, and I completely agree with this, but…

    I think we need to remember that the solution isn’t protections/exemptions to protect the consciences of the religious, but to rescind as many laws as possible that have the potential to impinge on people’s consciences. The bigger the demilitarized zone between conscience and state, the better.

    I largely agree, in theory.  But in this environment, there’s only so much to be accomplished in that direction.

    For one thing, if we can find a right to marry in the constitution, we can find the right to public accommodation in the constitution.  It does not have to be in the law.   I don’t think Kennedy will go there… but we do not know.  This will affect not only bakers and florists but churches, parochial schools (especially those accepting voucher students), public school educators — and parents — and ultimately anyone unwilling to meet company standards in celebrating diversity.

    This is now a public opinion battle more than a legal battle — which was largely my point.  If the Court is going to be influenced by public opinion and feelings, maybe we need to do a little better at influencing public opinion ourselves.

    That said, I agree the RFRA approach is deeply flawed.  If we must stick with it, I do not see why we can’t define what “compelling government interest” actually means.  Why require the courts to be subjective?

    • #10
  11. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @FrontSeatCat

    Excellent post – you are all correct in saying repeating the Constitution is not enough to defend what is being lost. What is (and has) taking place with our healthcare, Common Core, religious liberty, trade bill, right down to micro-managing bakers is scary. With 24/7 social media, it seems whoever control the news, controls. You can convince everyone the sky is not blue, but green eventually. It seems all dark periods in history started this way – Glenn Beck wrote an interesting piece:

    http://www.glennbeck.com/2015/06/30/glenn-i-dont-like-church-people/

    We have a unique document – we’re not a socialist country. But there are those that want more government control and they are in charge. What’s worse is that Republicans won the mid-term majority and they are MIA. We need to press the restart button in Washington. but government won’t save us.  It’s up to us.

    I read a story that 1 in 3 would consider leaving the US. Really?  The fight is just starting – as we approach the 4th of July, is it not worth fighting for, as so many in the past have done? This is nothing compared to the assault our country has taken before. Your post Leigh, contributes to that fight – use your talents. You are right – no time to fiddle. Truth is not relative. Our founders knew that and stood their ground.  Thank you for writing this and Happy 4th of July to you all.

    • #11
  12. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    In reading libertarian commentary here and elsewhere, my sense is that many libertarians (not necessarily you, Tom) tend to view this as an inadvertent collision between two sound principles that could largely be sorted out if both sides would agree to just get the government out of a whole range of issues.

    Well, from the conservative perspective, I’m largely willing to get the government out — including potentially on marriage.  But the Left won’t take that offer, because this isn’t an inadvertent collision.  I don’t want to overgeneralize, but it is very, very clear that a large, influential portion of the secular Left hates traditional American Christianity and fully intends to use this issue as a wedge against it.  And they will use that wedge in every area of society and government that they think they can.

    Some have been shockingly open — did you see Elizabeth Warren’s response to that quote of Walker’s?  I think they may be overconfident right now, putting too much stock in current polling.  They may overreach.

    • #12
  13. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Leigh: Well, from the conservative perspective, I’m largely willing to get the government out — including potentially on marriage.  But the Left won’t take that offer, because this isn’t an inadvertent collision.  I don’t want to overgeneralize, but it is very, very clear that a large, influential portion of the secular Left hates traditional American Christianity and fully intends to use this issue as a wedge against it.  And they will use that wedge in every area of society and government that they think they can.

    There are definitely people who fit that description and they’re serious bad news; there are even more who don’t act out of that motivation, but aren’t upset with that outcome.

    Leigh: Some have been shockingly open — did you see Elizabeth Warren’s response to that quote of Walker’s?

    I did. When I moved to Massachusetts I thought “Sheesh, I’m represented by Kerry and Kennedy? Well, at least it can’t guess worse.”

    How young and naive I was.

    • #13
  14. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Casey:

    Leigh: We revere the Constitution, but its words alone will not protect our liberties. We can no longer win by proving what Madison or Jefferson said or meant. We should also have learned by now that this generation finds such appeals to authority utterly unpersuasive.

    This is a big problem for Cruz.

    Have you seen his interview with Katie Couric? It’ll drive you bananas for lots of reasons. But mostly for the reason you describe above.

    OK, watched it.  Not quite bananas, I think I’m still human.

    Yes, he talks like a lawyer.  There were some really, really good parts.  But he utterly failed to address the point when she asked whether religious liberty should trump “equality and fairness.”  Doesn’t he realize that’s the heart of the liberal argument, and you have to be able to take that on?  He gave a lawyer’s answer to an emotionally powerful appeal.

    Every politician avoids a question from time to time, but Cruz doesn’t seem able to pull that trick off smoothly — which seems odd for a lawyer as smart as he is.  There were a few points where it was just painful to listen to.

    Basically, Cruz seems to have a clear vision of what he wants America to be, and a less clear understanding of where people are today.  Successful politicians need both.

    • #14
  15. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Leigh: I don’t want to overgeneralize, but it is very, very clear that a large, influential portion of the secular Left hates traditional American Christianity and fully intends to use this issue as a wedge against it. And they will use that wedge in every area of society and government that they think they can.

    There are definitely people who fit that description and they’re serious bad news; there are even more who don’t act out of that motivation, but aren’t upset with that outcome.

    They’re serious bad news, not only for the religious, but for everyone.  That’s key.

    • #15
  16. Mr. Dart Inactive
    Mr. Dart
    @MrDart

    You were wise to visit the Jefferson Memorial before the bulldozers arrive.

    • #16
  17. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    Leigh:

    Some have been shockingly open — did you see Elizabeth Warren’s response to that quote of Walker’s? I think they may be overconfident right now, putting too much stock in current polling. They may overreach.

    I’ve got to say that I disagree on this. I think they know that the polls are flawed and they are using flawed polls to try to suppress what they know in their hearts to be the majority. If they can convince us that they are the majority, they will be able to push for far more than they could if we would just stand up to the oppression.

    • #17
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