Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The ugly bigotry of Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni, writing an op-ed in the New York Times, has apparently decided that the problem with religious liberty is the “liberty” part:
They and their churches inject themselves into political debates while enjoying tax-exempt status. They get public support in questionable circumstances. After a student Christian magazine insisted on its right to funds from the University of Virginia, the Supreme Court decided in 1995 that if a nonreligious publication got financial help from a public school, so must a religious publication, even if it’s proselytizing.
And churches have been allowed to adopt broad, questionable interpretations of a “ministerial exception” to anti-discrimination laws that allow them to hire and fire clergy as they wish.  [...]
Baking a cake, arranging roses, running an inn: These aren’t religious acts, certainly not if the establishments aren’t religious enclaves and are doing business with (and even dependent on) the general public.
Their owners are routinely interacting with customers who behave in ways they deem sinful. They don’t get to single out one group of supposed sinners. If they’re allowed to, who’s to say they’ll stop at that group?
I respect people of faith. I salute the extraordinary works of compassion and social justice that many of them and many of their churches do. I acknowledge that we in the news media, because we tend to emphasize conflict and wrongdoing and hypocrisy, sometimes focus more on the shortcomings of religious institutions than on their positive contributions.
And I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish — in their pews, homes and hearts.
Big of him, isn’t it?

No, of course not.  What it is is bigoted.

Bigoted, in the sense that Bruni wants to put religious people, religious speech, and religious acts into a kind of closet.  Bigoted, in the sense that Bruni thinks religious people, religious speech, and religious acts should not be allowed in public--not if they’re not prepared to bow down and worship the idol of same-sex “marriage."

Bigoted, in that Bruni insists that cake bakers, innkeepers, and florists aren’t being asked to violate their religiously-informed consciences when they refuse to take part in what is to many of them nothing more than a wicked parody of marriage, about which they have strong religious views.

And they--we--have the right to have these views.  We have the right to express them in public and to refuse to accommodate, recognize, acknowledge or serve same-sex “marriage" in any way on the grounds that to do so violates our freedom of religion as guaranteed to us in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Bruni, as Mark Shea points out, does not recognize that right.  Rather, he proposes--as many liberals have done--a diminished and inferior shadow of that right, the so-called “freedom of (or freedom to) worship.”  This concept would permit--grudgingly, as if by special privilege--those of us who think that marriage is only between a man and a woman to keep saying so in our churches and homes.  But it would forbid us to act according to that belief, to teach or speak it openly, or to order our lives as if that belief is in any way important to us--when, in fact, it really is.

For those of us who are Catholics, this idea that Catholics (or Christians in general) should have to keep our mouths shut and our heads down as the price of being just barely tolerated is an old, old tune.  It has been sung in many countries and with many different verses, whether we’re talking about the penal laws of England or Ireland or the long history of anti-Catholicsim in America or other, older examples such as the persecutions of ancient Rome.  It’s unvarying note is one of hatred for the followers of Christ, a hatred that causes exclusion, discrimination, division, restrictions on freedom, punishment for “wrongthink,” and even violence and death.

To Bruni, it is so important to silence those of us who don’t believe in gay “marriage” and will not ever equate it to real marriage that it doesn’t really matter if religion gets tossed out the window altogether.  But he’s willing, for now, to let us believers continue to pray at home and in churches, so long as we don’t bring our faith with us when we go beyond those spheres.

So we should keep feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, instructing the ignorant, and otherwise doing works of mercy (at least, the ones Bruni approves of).  But we are supposed to wear a muzzle while doing so, and never betray by word or action that we don’t think that two men are a “married couple,” because Bruni thinks the State ought to force us to pretend to accept its authority to redefine marriage in such a way that the very word and concept no longer makes the slightest bit of sense.  And that, brothers and sisters, is what Bruni thinks the State should mean by “religious liberty.”

Only someone who is deeply bigoted against religious believers could possibly approve of so weak a notion of religious liberty.  Only someone who wants religious believers closeted, silenced, and eventually destroyed could agitate for such a thing.  And only the New York Times could ever publish such a screed with such blatant and fawning approval.


Clayton Hennesey said...

Ah, yes, how do you deal with the two-edged establishment/free exercise sword of the First Amendment, that's the problem. And the one side - "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," is inseparably welded to the other "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;".

If, through your free exercise, you put the government in the position of establishing your religion, you automatically lose on both counts.

Your only hope is to find a policy formula that frees you to practice while not binding any others with those same actions against their will, otherwise establishment has just occurred.

There are ways to construct such things, but it takes thought and argument and work to promulgate. From what I read of Mark's piece, though, that didn't seem to be his interest at the time.

Red Cardigan said...

Clayton, the thing is that declaring that the definition of marriage MUST include two men or two women IS an establishment of religion: the religion of atheistic secular humanism.

Red Cardigan said...

Clayton, the thing is that declaring that the definition of marriage MUST include two men or two women IS an establishment of religion: the religion of atheistic secular humanism.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Constitutionally and jurisprudentially speaking, we don't exactly have either "freedom of religion" or "freedom to worship." We have the words Clayton accurately cited: Congress shall pass no law respecting the establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Those words, incidentally, are in the First Amendment whether Frank Bruni approves or not, and it takes two thirds of both houses of congress, plus three fourths of the state legislatures, to take them out or change them.

So whether Bruni is a bigot or not, he is a colossal ignoramus, blinded by his own vision of What Is Right.

The constitutional language is quite broad, and courts have "liberally construed" what it means, as the judicial language goes. There is, for instance, the legal principle of "church autonomy in matters of faith and doctrine." Courts and legislatures simply have no jurisdiction over what a church's doctrine might be. And of course there is a ministerial exception to virtually all labor and civil rights laws. We aren't talking about hundreds of people making widgets on an assembly line. We are talking about a handful of people who teach what the church believes to be True. The pulpit is not a place for people who simply want a stable job with a nice pay check, good benefits, and a nice pension.

For that, there is commerce, which congress IS authorized to regulate, as are the states. Commerce and religion are markedly different categories.

Now the baker of cakes is in commerce, not in church. I agree, there is no violation of the free exercise of religion when he sells a cake to a gay person, a person of another faith, or any other demographic. BUT, if there is a MESSAGE on the cake, then we enter a different constitutional field: freedom of expression. The State can no more require a baker to ice the message "Adam and Steve, together in bliss forever" on a cake, than it could force him or her to get behind a microphone in public and offer best wishes on their marital bliss, or force a Jehovah's Witness to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in violation of the Second Commandment.

Liberty is complicated, and a good deal of it consists of recognizing that people not only hold views that I or you or he or she consider abhorrent, but live by them, advocate them, and teach them. We don't have to live accordingly, but they have every right to, and if we are offended by their speech, we can publish silly cartoons lampooning them for it. If they are strong in their faith, they will laugh off our cartoons.

Pat said...

I disagree with your statement that declaring that the definition of [civil] marriage must include two men or two women is an establishment of religion.

That's not establishing religion anymore than recognizing the divorced/remarried as "spouses" establishes a religion.