Christians across the country are paranoid. In their minds, there is an unmitigated war on Christianity, where Christians are becoming the most ostracized group in America. Essentially, crying "Christian oppression" has become the white conservative version of playing the race card, and conservative media darling Todd Starnes is the Al Sharpton of this movement. No offense is too insignificant for Starnes to fan the flames of imaginary outrage:
- Student gets reprimanded for adding "God bless America" to the morning announcements without permission, and it's proof of Christians being marginalized.
- Say the pledge of allegiance in multiple languages to honor America's immigrant history, and again it's proof of Christians being marginalized.
For people like Starnes, it is a matter of religious freedom for Christians to espouse their beliefs whenever and wherever they please. However, if Muslims or atheists were to do the exact same thing, it would show how the liberal public education system is instituting Sharia law and indoctrinating students to hate Jesus. The cognitive dissociation required to make such contradictory arguments is astounding.
Of course, guys like Starnes are easy to dismiss as media trolls looking to make a buck by pandering to the irrational fears of low-information voters. The real problem is the wave of legislators across the nation who are peddling hate under the guise of religious rights.
In Michigan, for example, the legislature recently took up two different "religious freedom" bills. One would allow adoption agencies to deny service to people in the LGBT community. The other would allow for the denial of housing, refusal of service, or rejection of employment due to a citizen's religious beliefs.
The adoption bill seems destined to fail a constitutionality test, since previous decisions regarding the separation of church and state have shown that these protections are for things that are secular in nature. Allowing a religious-based adoption agency to receive state funding while denying service to people solely based on the organization's religious beliefs appears to violate the Supreme Court's previous rulings.
Perhaps more concerning than the potential constitutionality of this legislation is the idea that an organization acting as an intermediary has more rights than the children they are tasked with helping. If the kids don't mind having same-sex parents, then the religious objections of the adoption agency are completely immaterial. Do these organizations get to deny adoptions to individuals who have been divorced? Can they turn away adults who take contraception? Is denying the obese a rational religious exception? If an applicant had an abortion previously, can they be rejected? These are all sins or against the religious teachings of these organizations -- does that mean they are protected too?
But if legislators and these entities are really concerned about the well-being of these children, then maybe they should support legislation that prevents some of the thousands of mistreatments that occur at the hands of adoptive and foster parent each year. Does anyone really think protecting the religious rights of an organization should be a higher priority for Michigan than preventing harm to children?
Data also show that kids who are forced into foster care are more likely to be homeless, incarcerated, and unemployed. Is letting a same-sex couple love and raise a child really worse than the alternative? Should children really have to suffer because of an organization's religious objections?
The selfishness required to place the religious freedom of an organization above the good of children seems extraordinarily un-Christian.
As far as allowing people to deny services, housing, or employment based on faith is concerned, so far the courts have ruled against such arguments. If you want to discriminate against any particular group, then all you need to do is become a members-only entity. Churches can refuse to marry same-sex couples because you must be a member to receive service. If you don't want any women at your private golf club, there is nothing the government can do to prevent you from implementing such a policy. But if you want all the benefits of dealing with the public, you forfeit your ability to operate outside government regulations. The baker can refuse to include speech they find offensive on a cake, but they can't refuse to provide a cake based on who you are as a person.
Having said that, if enacted, these laws are likely to hurt the people they are designed to protect. A florist may refuse to provide flowers for a Catholic wedding, since the Catholic Church has been shown to protect pedophiles. A photographer could deny services to white customers because they only serve blacks. An atheist DJ could decline the opportunity to work with Christians because they have a conscientious objection to their beliefs. And as soon as the shoe is on the other foot, you can guarantee that Todd Starnes will be outraged and pretend that when these laws are used against Christians, it is an abomination that requires government intervention.
The good news is that, while this legislation may be popular among a small group of people, the general trend shows that Americans are increasingly against this sort of discrimination. This means that, like slavery, interracial marriage, and women's equality before it, those who are using the bible as justification for their prejudice against the LGBT community will soon find themselves on the wrong side of history as well as the law.
In the end, the Constitution already protects everyone's religious freedom. If the courts have decided that your brand of Christianity isn't covered by this historical document, it doesn't mean that there is a war against Christianity. It means you're using your religion to hide the fact that you're an intolerant bigot.