We’ve noticed many times how jeremiads about religious freedom seem to go in only one direction – freedom to refuse service to gay couples, freedom to refuse to perform medically necessary abortions, freedom to shield child-raping priests from the law. Mark Joseph Stern at Slate points to an example from silence as opposed to jeremiad.
On Monday, the United Church of Christ brought a federal lawsuit against North Carolina’s marriage laws, which were amended in 2012 to ban gay unions. What interest does the United Church of Christ have in toppling the state’s homophobic ban? Under North Carolina law, a minister who officiates a marriage ceremony between a couple with no valid marriage license is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor and can be thrown in jail for 45 days. And since gay marriage is illegal in North Carolina, that means any minister who dares celebrate a gay union in his church may face jail time.
I’m not certain why Ross Douthat, Ramesh Ponnuru, Mollie Hemingway, and other vociferous conservative defenders of religious liberty aren’t vocally outraged about this fact. Nor am I certain why, if religious freedom is truly one of the most cherished values of American conservatism, the religious right wasn’t incensed when Unitarian ministers in New York had to risk arrest while performing commitment ceremonies under a similar statute in 2004. Surely a vision of religious liberty that would allow a storeowner to turn away gays at the door would encompass the basic principle of allowing houses of worship to honor lifelong commitments they deem worthy of solemnization in the eyes of God.
But then he goes on to admit that actually he knows perfectly well why: the conservative jeremiadists are interested in only their kind of religious freedom.
Anyone legitimately concerned about the rights of believers to practice their faith as they wish should be appalled by North Carolina’s marriage laws. The threat of a minister going to jail simply for celebrating a gay marriage is a real, and terrifying, affront to the very premise of “free exercise” of religion. Given how irrationally concerned conservatives are that ministers may soon be arrested in America for refusing to conduct gay weddings, I would hope they would be equally horrified by the specter of a minister being arrested for agreeing to perform one. But, of course, they won’t be. The right has settled on a stunningly specious new narrative of victimization and religious oppression; to observe that some Americans are facing religious oppression for their pro-gay views just doesn’t fit the storyline. Consistency and morality would command conservatives to enthusiastically join the United Church of Christ’s lawsuit. Hypocrisy will prevent them from saying a word.
That’s why I don’t go in for jeremiads about religious freedom: I know perfectly well I don’t want to defend every kind of religious freedom there can possibly be, so I don’t talk about it that simplistically. Be careful what you undertake to defend.