Killing Mutual Accommodation and Pluralism in an Unreasonable Society

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If people were to think seriously about the questions raised by religious freedom and the gay movement (which fewer and fewer people seem capable of doing), they might try to put themselves in the position of both sides, and most people would have some line, I suspect, that they wouldn’t cross on each side.  That line would probably depend heavily on circumstances.

If I were one affianced party to a pending same-sex ceremony, I would not want people serving at my wedding who did not want to be there.  Indeed, I’d prefer to give my money to a business that was in sympathy.  If, for some reason, my options for some service or other were limited to a business whose owners objected to the ceremony, I suspect I’d try to find some way to compromise and work with them.

If I were a traditionalist baker, where would my line be?  In all transactions, I’m sure I’d try to be as accommodating as possible. If a gay couple came in wanting a cake, I’d make it.  If they wanted me to come to the event to cut and serve the cake — that is, actively participate in the event itself —  I’d start to have reservations.  If they wanted lettering like Stephen Crowder requests in an undercover attempt to purchase a same-sex marriage cake from Muslim bakers — literally celebrating the redefinition of marriage — I’d have trouble with that.  In all cases, I’d try to find the maximum accommodation, including things like referrals and provision of services right up to my line, wherever that happened to be, with discounts for services that I would decline, if applicable.

If your imagination can’t go so far as to sympathize with that position, change the circumstances.  Imagine, for instance, a left-wing baker requested to cater a gun event of some kind.  You’d bake the cake perhaps, but what if they wanted pictures of gun on it?  What if they wanted a sketch of a deer oozing blood?

How is it possible that we no longer agree that freedom of conscience ought, at the least, to mean that we can find ways to accommodate each other, as both a buyer and a seller? We’re fully in an era of madness, now, with large numbers of people incapable of the rational thought that allows us to work together despite differing worldviews.

Give a skim to Rod Dreher’s interview with a law professor at an elite college. As a Christian, he must remain closeted and careful not to divulge his beliefs to his peers, because there’s no opportunity for rational discourse about differences. The professor explains how the law no longer allows accommodation:

“If you’re a Catholic in San Francisco, in a crazy social environment, you’re in good shape, because you have [Archbishop] Salvatore Cordileone, who is going to hold the line. In Philadelphia, you have Archbishop Chaput. But if you’re in Indiana or New Jersey, you’re going to have trouble. There’s a way in which the vigilance of the bishop in governing the local church will matter in court. …

This could well push religious schools into making hiring decisions that they’re not comfortable with. Say, for example, that a Catholic school had no trouble hiring a chemistry teacher who openly advocated for same-sex marriage, because that teacher was in the school to teach chemistry. His views on gay marriage are irrelevant, in practice. The school may have a different standard for hiring its religion teachers, or its social studies teachers, requiring them to be more doctrinally in line with the Church. But that is a distinction that may not hold up in court under challenge, Kingsfield said.

The result could be that religious schools have to start policing orthodoxy in terms of all their hires — a situation imposing standards far more strict than many schools may wish to live by, but which may be necessary to protect the school’s legal interests.

Bishops and other Church administrators may be advised to take a stronger — as in, more discriminating — position than their beliefs actually require, or else the law will push them past what’s acceptable to them.  Heeding such advice may provide some short-term legal protection, but it puts them in a box, requiring them to act more extreme than they are, which opens them up to the fist coming from the other side.

This problem arises, again, in a post from Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, who makes a creative suggestion to traditionalist caterers:  Accept the business, but be sure that the client is aware that you and your staff will in every way present as Christians, from the vehicle in which you’ll arrive to the uniforms that you’ll wear.  In a sense, such an approach would be an accommodation of activists in conflict.  You want to force my business to participate in your event?  Fine, but we’re going to be well out of our closet while we’re there.

One of the first commenters to the post quickly gets it right, I think. Ultimately, the business’s employees would not be permitted to bring their Christianity overtly into the event. Without investigating the matter, I have to believe the risk of lawsuit would be immense, if not in the very first case, then after just a few tweaks of the precedent.  As with bishops and schools, some protection might exist if the business always arrives blaring gospel music and dressed in Christian garb to emphasize its religious foundation — if that’s their thing, in other words — but that would force most businesses to be more extreme than they actually are and push them into a narrow niche.

Even if the law would allow Father Z’s self-defense activism, though, it’s easy to imagine a consequence coming in the same form as persecution wrought on Memories Pizza. If the law wouldn’t prevent strong, but peaceful, counter-speech, then the mob would.

I find myself recalling a post I wrote six years ago expressing discomfort with the moral preening involved when a group of some hundreds of people, mostly students, turned out to jeer at a few people from the Westboro Baptist Church, at the time visiting Rhode Island, resulting in a celebratory front-page Providence Journal article.  As I elaborated in the comments: “If you establish the principle that we ought to celebrate ourselves, in our majority, for generating massive response to ‘tiny groups’ whose opinions and activities we find vile, all that remains is to expand the definition of ‘vile.'”

I’d add, now: and the size of the group.

That principle has been established — or rather, it has been reestablished, after a too-brief period during which our society was actually becoming more civilized and pluralistic.  All that remains is for the progressives to mark their enemies as “vile,” in part by forbidding them to behave as sympathetic human beings.  With the help of judges, wealthy activists, a biased news media, and an education system that has tended toward indoctrination for decades, they’re well on their way.

The fact that this is considered an issue of the Right, that people on the Left so easily apply a purely situational rule to principle, is truly frighting.  More on that later.



  • Progressive and Proud

    Do the baggers have to have a litmus test for every transaction then make? Time for all of you to take a deep breath and espouse some of the “Christian Values” that you purport to have.

    • Justin Katz

      Thank you for illustrating exactly the problem with progressive ideology and an inability to think rationally. Speaking on behalf of others’ rights is not imposing a litmus test. The big lie of it all, though, is that progressives do have a litmus test, an increasingly narrow and harsh one.

  • Warington Faust

    I am totally in agreement with Justin’s position. But a reference to “the
    Church” caught my eye. In the Northeast, this is readily understood to mean the
    Catholic Church. In many parts of the country, it might raise the question “what
    church?”. In some parts of the country, moving to a new town involves shopping
    for a church. Those Christians are a seeking a minister with whom they are
    comfortable, not a denomination. Curious about this, I Googled Indiana’s
    religious demographics. I found about 10% of the population regards itself as
    Catholic (as I understood the figures, that is about 25% of those who regarded
    themselves as “religious”), about half the national average. This causes me to
    wonder about the influence of episcopal positions and pronouncements. This is
    only meant as an observation that perhaps the Catholic prelates in “flyover
    country” should seek alliance with other religious leaders of like minds. Their
    message may be reaching relatively few in the Christian community. Christians
    may be in the position of “dividing their forces” in the face of the enemy. All
    Christian bibles that I am aware of regard the practice of homosexuality as
    sinful.

    Please do not take this as derogatory of the Catholic church. While I am
    not totally in sympathy with some of their positions, I think that their
    “practice of religion” is in danger. I do not think that Catholic schools should
    be required to hire “open minded” teachers, that their hospitals be compelled to
    perform abortions, or that their other institutions should be required to fund
    abortions. To the best of my knowledge, they do not disguise the fact that they
    are Catholic institutions. Attendance, or employment, there is voluntary.

    I have noticed that in movies and novels, when an exorcism is required,
    they never call the Lutherans.

  • Mike678

    “If I were one affianced party to a pending same-sex ceremony, I would not want people serving at my wedding who did not want to be there. Indeed, I’d prefer to give my money to a business that was in sympathy.”

    Well said–but that is a rational view that treats others as equals. Many so-called progressives aren’t that considerate–or tolerant. If they don’t like something, you can’t have it either. I wonder if they were denied something in early childhood to be so twisted.

    • Warrington Faust

      I have wondered if all of the “high speed rail” people were denied Lionels in their childhoods.

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