In the past several years, as the inevitability of gay marriage has grown clear, the religious right has unceasingly shifted focus to a new field of battle—one that they call the battle for “religious freedom.” “Gay rights will trample Christians’ religious liberty!” they claim.
But the worst violations of religious liberty actually came from the anti-gay religious right itself—from a 2012 constitutional amendment in North Carolina, which criminalized the performance of gay marriage. The law was successfully challenged by the United Church of Christ in 2014. “By depriving the Plaintiffs of the freedom to perform religious marriage ceremonies or to marry,” the UCC argued, “North Carolina stigmatizes Plaintiffs and their religious beliefs”—and the court agreed, finding it to be an unconstitutional violation of their rights.
Which is why it’s not surprising that UCC’s general minister and president, the Rev. John C. Dorhauer, wrote the preface to a major new report, shedding new light on the right’s decades-long campaign to redefine religious freedom into a tool for their own theocratic domination. “Removing someone’s civil rights by empowering the government to protect and preserve my religious homophobia is not my idea of religious liberty,” Dorhauer writes. But that’s exactly how the religious right has tried to stand the idea of religious freedom on its head. “What they want to call religious freedom is in fact the kind of oppressive religious tyranny that my ancestors left their homeland to escape,” Dorhauer added.
“When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right,” published by Political Research Associates on Jan. 12, was written by Frederick Clarkson, PRA’s Senior Fellow for Religious Liberty, author of “Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy” and co-founder of the blog Talk to Action. The title highlights a key aspect of the religious right’s long-term strategy, taking the time-honored principle of religious exemption, intended to protect the individual right of conscience, and expanding it recklessly to apply to whole institutions, even for-profit businesses—as seen in the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, in a process designed to fragment the common public sphere and carve out vast segments of American life where civil rights, labor law and other core protections simply do not apply.
This strategy was kicked into high gear back in 2009 with the “Manhattan Declaration,” a widely endorsed manifesto linking “freedom of religion” specifically to “sanctity of life” and “dignity of marriage,” which religious progressives are just beginning to effectively counter-organize against. This report represents a significant beacon, shedding light on that strategy, the battlefield it’s waged on, and the kinds of long-term responses needed to counter-organize against it.
Rooted In Discrimination
“When Christian Right leaders talk about religious liberty, they often really mean theocratic supremacism of their own religious beliefs inscribed in government,” Clarkson points out. The report presents a detailed account of how their Orwellian agenda is unfolding, combining up-to-the-minute analysis of recent developments with an historical account dating back to the 1970s and the birth of the modern-day religious right, defending Bob Jones University’s “right to discriminate,” based on religion. As noted in the report:
As recently as the 1980s, Christian Right activists defended racial segregation by claiming that restrictions on their ability to discriminate violated their First Amendment right to religious freedom….
Instead of African Americans being discriminated against by Bob Jones, the university argued it was the party being discriminated against in being prevented from executing its First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court disagreed….
Two things are worth noting here: first, the primacy of discrimination as a political motivation, and second, the “envious reversal” of victim and victimizer that lies at the heart of the conservative victimhood shtick. Elaborating on the first point, the report also notes:
The case, which began during the Nixon administration, became a cause célèbre of the then-budding Christian Right as it advanced over the course of a decade. The late conservative strategist Paul Weyrich and historian Randall Balmer, among others, credited Bob Jones as the catalyst that politicized a wide range of conservative evangelicals….
…..even before the issues of abortion and homosexuality became the policy priorities of a newly politicized Christian Right, its leaders fought the perceived threat of racial equality at conservative Christian academies by claiming their religious freedom to discriminate. This legacy should remind us that the Right’s religious liberty campaigns mobilize old arguments around new targets, and that their agenda extends beyond questions of contraception coverage, or marriage and nondiscrimination in the LGBTQ context.
In short, Bob Jones University is not just an old case, irrelevant to what’s happening today. It represents, at its core, the exact same argument that conservatives are making today. As Faulkner wrote, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even the past.”
We see this as well with regard to the second point, the “envious reversal” of victim and victimizer. Portraying themselves as victims, uniquely, if not solely threatened with the loss of religious liberty, is the central premise of the right’s “religious liberty” crusade, even though, as the UCC case shows, their phony claims of victimhood can lead to actually victimizing others instead.
This conservative Christian alliance is challenging a century or more of social advances and many of the premises of the Enlightenment underlying the very definition of religious liberty in the United States. Its long-range goal is to impose a conservative Christian social order inspired by religious law, in part by eroding pillars of undergirding religious pluralism that are integral to our constitutional democracy.
In the end, he explains:
Their goal is to impose a conservative Christian social order inspired by religious law. To achieve this goal, they seek to remove religious freedom as an integral part of religious pluralism and constitutional democracy, and redefine it in Orwellian fashion to justify discrimination by an ever wider array of “religified” institutions and businesses.i believe it's clear religious right has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus or salvation instead it's about power and control over those faithful but in the process they have created the radical extreme religious right who too have nothing to do with Godly things, it is purely a republican political arm designed to dictate and take advantage of those most gullible who seem not to realize what it is republicans have done for them,
Bush was president for eight years and Republicans had control of most of Congress for much of his time in Washington. What did conservative voters get from it? Is Iraq better off? No. Did we balance the budget? No. Did we pay off our national debt? No. Did we find Osama bin Ladin? No. Did we usher in unheralded economic prosperity?
No. Did we “win the war on terror”? No. Tell me, what the heck did Republicans do for anyone but the rich during Bush’s eight years? The only people who really prospered during his time in the White House were the wealthy, big business, big oil and big defense. That was it. So, conservative voter, I ask of you: What the hell has the Republican party actually done for you?oh the biggie they have placed in danger the souls of those who follow a religion of hate and bigotry and racism it looks as though the red meat feedings have diminished their minds to the point the see the truth hear the truth but still believe the lies. so again republican voters what have they done for you lately, and what are they preparing to do to you if put in the WH?????????????????????????????????????