In Lafayette, Indiana’s edition of the Journal & Courier this morning, an article appeared entitled, “A shifting landscape: Gay rights, RFRA and the GOP,” in which Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is said to describe himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order,” noting that his opinions on issues relating to “gay rights” have not altered during the 20-year history of his life as a public servant.
On April 3, Gov. Pence signed into law a measure which was intended to assure citizens of Indiana that their state’s new “religious freedom” law was “inclusive,” rather than “exclusive,” and that it would not allow businesses to “discriminate against gays and lesbians.”
While the position of the gender-identifying community seems to be fairly well articulated, what is frequently less understood is that these particular issues — experienced by the class of persons whose faith in practice often may involve a preference for avoiding the public display of sexuality at all — is objectionable irrespective of what an individual’s sexual preference may be.
It is this aspect of interactions in a “public” forum — especially one in which children are involved — is what is far too casually referred to as “the culture war.” The notion that children are to be protected from exposure to something that is incomprehensible to them in childhood is part of what some folks believe to allow for the concept of their bodies being a ‘temple of the Holy Spirit,’ for example, for Roman Catholics, which is one of the more profound aspects of their Christian faith and practice, .
A good percentage of people who object to the casual display of sexuality (which now often seems to be ever-present in so many aspects of commercial enterprise) — take the old-fashioned, time-tested position that matters relating to sexual reproduction are so sacred in nature, that they are not subject to be taken lightly, for that specific reason.
In fact, it is entirely possible that when it comes to electing representatives that folks will send to Congress to make life and death decisions on their behalf — especially as these decisions pertain to economics, the well-being of children, or issues of public safety, it is not out-of-the-question to believe that some individuals may even be stirred to vote against their own economic interests, or even their security interests, in order to support a candidate that is in accord with them on this particular aspect of faith and morals. It’s at the heart of a life of meaning, and the liberty to choose one’s own way.
On June 18, 1789. Bill No. 82 For Establishing Religious Freedom, authored by Thomas Jefferson was presented to the General Assembly in Virginia, and was later carefully guided through the legislative process by James Madison, and finally adopted in 1785. It was important enough to him to have been included in his epitaph, along with the date of his death on July 4, 1826 and the date of his birth — April 13, 1743 or April 2, 1743 in the Old Style calendar:
HERE WAS BURIED
AUTHOR OF THE
OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
STATUTE OF VIRGINIA
AND FATHER OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
Recognizing that the legislators would have no power “to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own,” to declare that it would be irrevocable would be to no effect:
“… yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right. …”
In recent months there have been a good many discussions relating to what the boundaries are, exactly, of the free exercise of religion, which has been protected for all Americans since 1789, through the First Amendment to U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993 — by unanimous vote in the House of Representatives and a nearly unanimous (minus 3 votes) in the Senate, and was duly signed into law by President Clinton.
The Act came as a response from Congress to two cases that had come before the U.S. Supreme Court: Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association (1988) – a matter relating to native-American land rights to prevent the U.S. Forest Service from building a road through historic ceremonial prayer sites; and Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990) – a matter relating to the state of Oregon’s refusing to give federeal unemployment benefits to two Native Americans who had been terminated after testing positive for mescaline, a psychoactive compound in the peyote cactus, used in a specific religious ceremony as as practice in their Native American tribe for hundreds of years.
In clarifying further, Indiana Gov. Pence released a statement which includes in part the following language:
“The freedom of religion for every Hoosier is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States and in the Indiana Constitution, which reads, ‘No law shall, in any case whatever, control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, or interfere with the rights of conscience.’ For generations, these protections have served as a bulwark of religious liberty for Hoosiers and remain a foundation of religious liberty in the State of Indiana, and that will not change.”
Although it is not surprising that Gov. Pence — a conservative — would support the RFRA legislation, it is also true that his party is split, understandably, among older and younger constituents, with younger members more sympathetic to issues of “gay rights and same-sex marriage.”.
The influence of social media has certainly contributed to what Wheaton College political science professor Amy E. Black has described as a “lightning fast” shift of views on these issues. She explains: “Positions which were mainstream in both parties only a few years ago are quickly becoming marginalized.”
Like many others still unpersuaded to alter his position on the issue, Gov. Pence has said that he still believes that engaging in same-sex relationships is a “lifestyle choice,” and on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007, he expressed concern that any bill to include a victim’s sexual orientation in a definition of hate speech, could have the effect of suppressing an individual pastor’s sermon to congregants, or that a bill to specifically protect the rights of same-sex relationships in workplace legislation, could readily be abused in order to discriminate against Christians — as a class of persons — rather than as homosexuals.
Gov. Pence explains:
“If an employee keeps a Bible in his or her cubicle, if an employee displays a Bible verse on their desk, that employee could be claimed by a homosexual colleague to be creating a hostile work environment.”
In his book, “Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism,” Professor Robert George tries to explain the position of those who are in support of this legislation, and makes an additional effort to describe the reasons why these folks care.
In the introduction of the book, it becomes clear that he provides a more fulsome context to the perspective of those very concerned that their religious freedoms are now under assault. Traditional morality over the past 50 years or so, has changed drastically here in America; but even of more dire conceern, is that it does not seem likely that the matter can be addressed rationally:
Many in elite circles yield to the temptation to believe that anyone who disagrees with them is a bigot or a religious fundamentalist. Reason and science, they confidently believe, are on their side. With this book, I aim to expose the emptiness of that belief.
A traditional Roman Catholic could even be forgiven for wondering whether the courts even have the constitutional right to allow for individual Americans to be called upon to recognize — to be required by law to recognize — that their religious beliefs to the contrary are now to be set aside. A well-intentioned argument might even go this way:
We are now told that the institution of marriage is to no longer be considered as a relationship between an individual man and an individual woman, and that there will — by dictum — no longer be any “public recognition” that an individual with conscientious objection to that very long-held belief — previously sustained for many thousands of years and heretofore recognized has having been in every other way historically valid — is valid no longer.
Can it be, a Lutheran or another Roman Catholic may ask, that it is now thought to be Constitutionally-sound to claim that an individual who has throughout their entire lifetime held such a belief — on religious grounds — is now to be strong-armed, against his or her own will, to “publicly” recognize that rights to engage in private acts are now to be equivalently made “public rights,” since those “private acts” are now to be protected as having been “subsumed” — through the same Natural law by which we were endowed by Nature’s God, by our Creator? Can this be the case especially as these sacred “private” acts are now to be thought of as “public rights” when it is precisely contradicted by their religious beliefs that this is so?
A Roman Catholic — in Indiana or anywhere else in the world — could certainly be forgiven for wondering whether or not the court has not erred in claiming for itself the Constitutional power (under Article III, Section 2), to enumerate — as an implied right — a “political sanction” under the Article covering the expression of free speech — over the expressed right to the free exercise of religion? How can an indirect rights’ benefit supersede a directly expressed rights’ benefit when the two are in conflict?
In this book, “Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism,” Professor George tries to assist us in being able to discuss these matters — so very important from both perspectives. He also defends what was held so dear by James Madison, our 4th President, and author of the Federalist papers– which were the argument that persuaded the colonists to ratify the U.S. Constitution — and to clarify what Madison described as the “sacred rights of conscience.”
In September of 1735, James Madison writes in reference to these conscientious propositions or objections:
Trust your self to Reason and to God’s kind Providence but never do any Thing that may hinder the Discovery of any useful and important Truth. … I do assert our own spiritual Liberty, and that of our Fellow-Creatures …
“Conscience and Its Enemies,” should serve to assist both sides of this very important issue to raise the level of “reasonable” arguments, especially among those who may believe that there is no need to consider an opposing view. Professor George makes clear that there is something more to the objection of those on the “conservative” side, here, than meets the eye — and in this case, certainly more than opposition for its own sake or an opposition to which any sort of enmity could be attached.