You don't have to be a religious conservative to believe that people should not be forced to violate their consciences–or maybe you almost do nowadays.
Richard A. Epstein has penned scathing piece in Stanford University's Defining Ideas on the attack on religious liberty now under way in the U.S.
The article was occasioned by a ruling by Judge Carlton W. Reeves of the Northern District of Mississippi. A law was about to go into effect stating that those who had sincere religious convictions against same sex marriage would not be forced to do things they believed immoral.
The law stated, for example, that churches could not religious adoption agencies could operate according to their religious tenets, and that religious organizations would not be forced to hire people whose lives they regarded as immoral.
This was a live-and-let-live law–it in no way restricted people who hold other beliefs, beyond saying that they could not force others to behave the way they wanted them to. But Judge Reeves struck it down:
Judge Reeves struck down the Mississippi statute because he did not grasp the fundamental distinction between forcing others to yield to your beliefs and just asking to be left alone. His confusion is evident from his opening salvo that quotes the Supreme Court in Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) as saying that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment means that the state "may not aid, foster, or promote one religion or religious theory against another." He then usesMcCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union (2005) to argue that it violates the Establishment Clause—"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"—"when the government acts with the ostensible and predominant purpose of advancing religion."
At no point, however, does Judge Reeves attempt to put either of these broad generalities into context. And context matters. The words in Epperson were directed to an Arkansas law that prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools—a clear instance of a state-compelled law that binds all persons inside the legal system. No one could describe this as a situation in which private parties sought to run their own lives and businesses free of government interference. Similarly, McCreary County struck down two county resolutions that announced that the Ten Commandments were Kentucky's "precedent legal code," and authorized extensive religious exhibits on public property intended to extol its virtues. There is no similar commitment of public resources in House Bill 1523. It is practically legal malpractice to rip out of context words that were rightly intended to knock down state coercion for religion and the state subsidy of religion while invalidating a statute whose whole purpose was to insulate private parties from any form of public coercion.
The battle over religious liberties is a novel extension of the older war in one of the few bastions of individual liberty. Until recently, the older view on religious liberties exempted private religious beliefs from this hopelessly broad definition of coercion. But with the new progressive resurgence, that protected liberty shrinks while the domain of government power expands. It is a genuine intellectual tragedy that the people who speak on behalf of religious liberties—including the plaintiffs in Barber, many of whom represent gay, lesbian, and transgender people—can be so alert to their own claims of personal liberty, and yet so insensitive and indifferent to the claims of others. . . .
It is a genuine intellectual tragedy that the people who speak on behalf of religious liberties—including the plaintiffs in [the lawsuit challenging the Mississippi law], many of whom represent gay, lesbian, and transgender people—can be so alert to their own claims of personal liberty, and yet so insensitive and indifferent to the claims of others.
Hat Tip: Mark Hemingway at the Weekly Standard