It’s The Christian Right’s Turn In The Closet

W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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A member of a religious minority can, as a conscientious objector, be exempt from taking up arms in wartime. Most Americans would recognize that as the type of freedom that makes the country worth fighting for in the first place.

But a member of a religious minority cannot be exempt from baking a cake for a ceremony contrary to her faith. That, some say, is bigotry.

Well. I happen to think pacifism is misguided, but that’s not a good argument for forcing pacifists to fly B-52s. (The aircraft, not the band.)

We’re not talking about the kind of anarchy that would prevail if soldiers were allowed to pick and choose which wars they were willing to fight. And we’re not talking about letting the local McDonald’s manager decide same-sex couples are too “happy” for Happy Meals.

The truth is that few businesses would want to turn away gay customers even if it was allowed — Indiana already lacks laws banning private sector discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but there’s little evidence such discrimination is widespread — and any that chose to do so would pay a competitive price, if not be boycotted and picketed out of existence.

Make no mistake, the famous baker, photographer and florist are a religious minority. Who has more social, political and market power — Apple CEO Tim Cook and the hundreds of corporations asking the Supreme Court to rule in favor of gay marriage, or the small number of Christian wedding vendors who want to act on a private belief in the same definition of marriage Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton not long ago were in favor of enshrining in law?

“God’s in the mix,” Obama said of how marriage is defined during the 2008 presidential campaign.

God’s not in the cake mix, bigot, say liberals in 2015.

The Indiana religious freedom law dust-up reveals that liberals who believe in the sentiment wrongly attributed to Voltaire — “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” — have been supplanted by pat-a-cake progressives who demand “Bake me a cake as fast you can.”

In fact, the new social liberals sound a lot like the old social conservatives. We have a public moral code around here and if you don’t comply with it, you’d better keep it to yourself.

When closeted gay marriage opponent Brendan Eich, whose closest friends and coworkers never knew about his surreptitious social deviance, was outed, he lost his job.

Christian sociologist George Yancey has researched what he calls “Christianaphobia.” Here are some of the sentiments he found. “Keep all religion in your church, in your home, out of the public square, and most of all, out of my face,” one survey respondent said. Another stated, “Christian Right people can do what they want in their churches and homes, but not in the public arena.”

Others sounded more like a secular version of the hate-filled Westboro Baptist Church:

“Churches and houses of religion should be designated as nuclear test zones.”

“Kill them all, let their god sort them out.”

“The only good Christian is a dead Christian.”

Yancey wrote a book titled “So Many Christians, So Few Lions” based on a response he got joking about feeding Christians to lions.

Poring over the American National Election Studies, Yancey found a “third of respondents rated conservative Christians significantly lower (by at least one standard deviation) than other religious and racial groups.”

“[A]nimosity toward Christians involves racial, educational, and economic factors; the people most likely to hold negative views of conservative Christians also belong to demographic groups with high levels of social power,” he wrote in Christianity Today. “Rich, white, educated Americans are major influencers in media, academia, business, and government, and these are the people most likely to have a distaste for conservative Christians.”

Normally, people advocate civil rights protections against policies that will have a disparate impact on hated, marginal groups. But the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is now seen as reactionary rather than progressive precisely because conservative Christians may conceivably benefit.

“What started out as a shield for minority religious practitioners like Native Americans and the Amish is in danger of being weaponized into a sword against civil rights,” Dale Carpenter complained in the Washington Post. Carpenter’s piece is fairer than most anti-RFRA polemics, bringing up some legitimate points, but its headline still puts scare quotes around “religious freedom” but not “civil rights.”

Naturally, those who fought conservative Christians for the legal recognition of their relationships are unlikely to have much sympathy for their defeated opponents. To critics of the Indiana boycott, they might say, “Call me when your churches are treated like the Stonewall Inn.”

But they have inadvertently validated the zero-sum logic of some Christian right activists: someone’s values must prevail; why not ours?

W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.