It's not surprising that the mood in the progressive camp has been bleak in the weeks following the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision. As usual, many people on the left have taken their anger out on Christians, accusing Hobby Lobby and their supporters of extremism and bigotry. One writer for this publication went so far as to suggest that the court's decision might allow Christians to resume their ancient habit of stoning heathens to death in public.
But before we start implying that conservative craft-store owners are actually antediluvian stoners, we should remember who these people are and why they oppose us. As the political landscape begins to shift away from cultural conservatism, our attitude toward Christian values might have to shift as well. As progressives, achieving our political goals shouldn't ever have to mean denigrating someone else's religious views.
It should be made clear that labeling religious conservatives as zealots does not qualify as religious intolerance. Some 77 percent of Americans still identify as Christian, and the designation "persecuted minority" does not apply to a bloc that still wields so much political power. It seems like the Christians who invoke "traditional family values" do so for the sole purpose of slowing the progress of sexual minorities, so it's not wonder that we've come to think of "Christianity" and "traditional family values" as being one and the same.
But they aren't. Politicians invented these "family values" to take advantage of deep-seated fear in their constituents, fear that somebody, whether it's Hollywood, big government, or the "lamestream media," will force them out of their lifestyle. The tea party and other conservative groups win votes by fostering the idea that America's moral integrity is being destroyed by the free choices of others. Religious voters vote because the right has made them feel that their way of life is being aggressively displaced by progressive politics.
Think that's absurd? Consider the fact that, according to a 2010 Gallup poll, millennials are significantly less likely to have a religious affiliation than the generation before them. Consider that the ranks of the unaffiliated seem to grow more quickly as time goes by. Consider that the number of people leaving the flock seems to coincide with increasing acceptance of gay marriage, abortion rights and evolution.
The irony is that it's hardline conservative politics that is eroding people's religiosity, not depraved liberals.
And so, though conservative Christianity still has political power, that power seems to be diminishing by the minute. So shouldn't progressives be attacking the religious right with everything they have? The current trend seems to indicate that social conservatism is on its way out, so why not take this opportunity to be even harsher on its supporters?
Consider one more statistic from that Gallup poll: Compared with 45 percent of older generations, 55 percent of young adults today believe that houses of worship should speak out on social and political matters.
Beyond its immediate meaning, this finding indicates that young people are far from banning religion from politics. No doubt this is partially due to an increasing tolerance of non-Christian religions, but progressives shouldn't be surprised to learn that it applies to "traditional family values" as well.
The people at Hobby Lobby and Conestoga won their suit because they successfully turned it into an argument about religious liberty. Despite the fact that their objections to certain contraceptives as "abortifacients" have long been proven false, the court sympathized with the plaintiffs. The majority opinion and its conservative defenders saw them as people who were being forced to alter their lifestyle, not people forcing others to accept alterations to their healthcare coverage.
And as long as we continue to treat conservatives as if their religious ideas have no place in this country, their view of themselves as a persecuted minority is unlikely to change. The fact is that conservatives are ignoring the facts and using "religious freedom" to justify denying people their rights, whether they are rights to contraceptives, marriage or simple equality in the eyes of the law. We will win these arguments if we stick to the facts, but we will lose them, and the young people who believe in giving religion a voice, if we attack our opponents' beliefs and not their arguments.
And that loss would be tremendous. Despite millennials' current liberal attitudes, some experts are worried that they might soon take a sudden turn rightward, especially if the original optimism of President Obama's campaign doesn't return. If conservatives are allowed to frame liberals as opponents of religious freedom, they just might turn the passion that young voters feel for progressive politics into disillusionment. Handling these issues clumsily might hinder our agenda for more than just a few years.
In the end, accomplishing our goals doesn't mean compromising our ideals. Mocking Christians for living in the past doesn't just alienate Christians; it alienates moderates, independents and future millennial voters. Trying to defame and decry social liberalism backfired for conservatives, so what's to stop the same tactics from backfiring on us?
Tolerance is something that both Christians and progressives stand for. With some tolerance of one another, not just of people we agree with, we might be able to accomplish something together.