The Inversion of Religious Tolerance


Something struck me in Ian Donnis’s weekly bullet column for Rhode Island Public Radio.  Donnis quotes a letter that Governor Raimondo wrote to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, as follows, pitching the state for the first two rounds of the NCAA’s men’s tournament next year:

“… Rhode Island was famously founded in 1636 on the principle of personal and religious freedom. Today, that tradition of acceptance persists and we count the diversity it invites as one of our deepest strengths.” In signing off, Raimondo pledged to work, if the NCAA returns to Providence, “to ensure that every person who comes to enjoy the games is not only welcomed, but is, in the words of Coach K, treated unbelievably well.”

The unstated backdrop for this particular pitch is the NCAA’s decision to use its tournament games as a political weapon supporting a progressive worldview.  In canceling already-awarded games in North Carolina, the league cited the four justifications:

  • North Carolina laws invalidate any local law that treats sexual orientation as a protected class or has a purpose to prevent discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals.
  • North Carolina has the only statewide law that makes it unlawful to use a restroom different from the gender on one’s birth certificate, regardless of gender identity.
  • North Carolina law provides legal protections for government officials to refuse services to the LGBT community.
  • Five states plus numerous cities prohibit travel to North Carolina for public employees and representatives of public institutions, which could include student-athletes and campus athletics staff. These states are New York, Minnesota, Washington, Vermont and Connecticut.

No doubt Raimondo and her fellow progressives would disagree with them in this, but the voters and legislators of North Carolina see such laws as supportive of religious freedom — the very principle that Raimondo cites in Rhode Island’s “famous founding.”  The truth is that the progressives who now dominate many of the elite institutions of our country really, vehemently do not support religious freedom.  What they support is the imposition of their own ideological (that is, religious) worldview under the bizarre principle that it infringes on their freedom when other people are permitted to behave as if they are wrong.

My assessment here is now so uncontroversial that the chairman of the Orwellian U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is comfortable stating it outright.  As Richard Epstein summarizes at the beginning of an analysis that is well worth reading:

The report’s title, Peaceful Coexistence, conveys, perhaps unintentionally, a grim social reality in the United States. Historically, of course, it described the uneasy relationship between the US and the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. In that context, the phrase described how two nations, organized under radically different principles, could avoid the dangers of mutual annihilation through nuclear warfare.

One would hope that the stakes would be lower in this domestic debate, but judging from some of the rhetoric surrounding the issue, they are not. The Chairman of the USCCR, Martin Castro, recently commented publicly that “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ . . . remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy, or any form of intolerance.” And there are powerful echoes of that position in a statement by five of the commissioners—Castro, joined by Roberta Achtenberg, David Kladney, Karen Narasaki, and Michael Yaki—who write: “These laws”—which seek exceptions to the antidiscrimination laws—“represent an orchestrated, nationwide effort by extremists to promote bigotry, cloaked in the mantle of ‘religious freedom.’”

One giveaway, in Raimondo’s letter, that progressives now communicate in their own distorted code language meant to confuse the public is her laughable reference to Rhode Island’s belief in “personal freedom.”  Reading through the legislature’s annual output, as I do, and following various regulatory processes leaves absolutely no room to conclude otherwise than that the elite in Rhode Island really do believe that government is a sort of corporate board tasked with telling people how to live, interact, and do business.

Of course, they’ve cleverly (if cynically) positioned themselves as guardians of certain sympathetic parties’ rights, and more importantly, they’ve taken over the cultural institutions necessary to impose stiff economic and social penalties on those who attempt to articulate a different view.  (Note, for example, that the Providence Journal has published multiple letters, op-eds, and articles on the firing of the St. Mary’s music director but refused to publish my explanation of the other side.)

Frankly, at this point would take near-miraculous fortitude among those who still believe in real freedom and true diversity to stop the elite’s momentum from taking the country to a very dark place, indeed.  On the other hand, we could say that all we need is fortitude, because the actual task before us is simply to stand against the illusions of the powerful and expose their inanity.

  • Philip Spadola

    Who is the injured party here? Is it not the former music director fired by his employer not for performance, but for the employer’s intolerance of legal same sex marriage?

    Are those who support the former music director not free to express their opinions? Only the fevered mind of a religious zealot would clump all these folks including the fired music director’s brother as progressive elites determined to ” impose stiff economic and social penalties on those who attempt to articulate a different view.”. I think that losing one’s job is a stiff economic penalty. Where is the injury to the employer?

    Just as Rhode Island feels the consequences of its laws, so does states like North Carolina. The NCAA also will feel the consequences of expressing and imposing their principles . Remember it was the NCAA who awarded the games in North Carolina in the first place so they can take them away if they believe that the States laws violate their policies and principles. The NCAA’s decisions do not in any way interfere with the worldview of that state’s voters and legislators as expressed in these “religious freedom” laws .

  • Russ

    So can an employer with strongly held religious beliefs against racial mixing start firing employees in mixed-race marriages? Let’s be honest that Justin is defending exactly that.

    • Justin Katz

      1) The music director had to be well aware of the Church’s positions on same-sex marriage and on the necessity of ministers’ upholding the teachings of the Church when he took the job.
      2) The notion that marriage is a relationship between men and women managed to coincide with beliefs in racial equality until radicals decided to use the force of government to force their neighbors to conform to their beliefs.
      3) In the absence of coordinated deprivation of a particular group, the only rationale for forbidding employers to hire according to their own beliefs and priorities is that progressives like to tell other people how to live.

      • Philip Spadola

        So Justin believes the onus belongs with the employee to understand that his lawful marriage would result in his employment termination. Does he also believe that German Jews in the 1930’s should have left the country that made no secret of it’s intolerance of their presence?

        • Justin Katz

          The differences between the two scenarios are so tremendous that you should be embarrassed to offer them as parallels.

          • Philip Spadola

            Alright. Let me offer another case. A pharmacist employed at a drug store refuses to fill a customer’s prescription on religious grounds. Would you support the employer’s decision to terminate that employee? According to you that pharmacist would have to have known that there was a possibility that the situation may arise that they could not meet their job requirements. And take note that in this case job performance is at issue instead of an employee’s private life

          • Justin Katz

            Yes, the employer should have that right. If the conflict were reasonably foreseeable, then the employee and employer should have addressed the possibility in advance, but that’s not necessary. To make your example similar, though, the pharmacy should be called “Pro-Choice Pharma” or something, leaving the employee under no illusions that if it should come to prescribing abortion drugs, he’d have to do so.
            Again, unless there is coordinated deprivation of opportunity (as with black Americans after the end of slavery), it just is not within the purview of government to trample on employers’ rights of liberty and free association.
            Now turn the question around. Should the employee be forbidden from finding another place to work because the employer wants to sell drugs with which he’s got a moral problem?

          • Philip Spadola

            Actually this is based in reality The incident I described occurred at a CVS in Coventry a few years ago. The employee was not fired but accommodated. Compare this outcome with the St Mary’s incident Perhaps the fired St. Mary’s music director believed his employer also held beliefs of compassion , humility, charity …

          • Justin Katz

            The Church does have compassion, humility, and charity. The challenge is that it doesn’t just apply them to employees, but also to all those adults and children, born and not yet born, who benefit or will benefit materially and spiritually from a complete understanding of the purpose and significance of marriage. To behave as if the music director’s proven and contrary belief is really just an inconsequential lifestyle choice would be to contribute to the material and spiritual struggle of those who are not so privileged.