Our Secular Future: The redefinition of religious liberty in American society

Americans are rightly proud of our tradition of religious liberty. The founders recognized that religious convictions cut very deeply into the soul, making people capable of great sacrifices—and often stimulating bitter conflicts and terrible persecutions. Thus we have the First Amendment and its definition of the first freedom: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

We need to recognize, however, that our approach to religious freedom has in fact changed a great deal in the more than 200 years of national history. These changes reflect shifts in the overarching religious consensus in the United States. By my reading of the signs of the times, this consensus is changing yet again. The shift foretells a renegotiation and redefinition of the nature and scope of religious liberty—one that I fear will not favor religious believers.

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Historical Context

There have been three main phases or agreements about religious liberty in our country. The first was a federalism that recognized local forms of establishment but wished to keep the national government out of the religion business. The second corresponded to the long century of ecumenical Protestant hegemony that naturally intertwined itself with state power. And the third, which followed the Second World War, has been characterized by a move toward religious neutrality.

Phase One. At the time the Constitution was written, the Congregational Church was established in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and it received public support from tax revenue. In Georgia and South Carolina, the Anglican or Episcopal Church was established. It was not until Everson v. Board of Education in 1947 that the Supreme Court stipulated that non-establishment and free exercise applied to the states as well as the federal government. Nevertheless, soon after the nation was founded, elite opinion consolidated around a view that government should remain at a distance from religion. This consensus had two sources: one focused on the rights of individual conscience and the other on the integrity of the church as an independent institution.

This position led to disestablishment in the states, culminating with Massachusetts in 1830. It is important to recognize, however, that this consensus was very pro-religion. Political and cultural leaders did not want any particular denomination to have privileged access to state power, but they were in favor of a religious society and thus a religiously inspired public culture. Or, to be more accurate, they were in favor of a Protestant society and a Protestant-inspired government.

Phase Two. By the time of crusading Abolitionism and the formation of the Republican Party in 1854, the ascendancy of a pan-Protestant consensus was in full swing. It reached its high point with Prohibition. A person can still find public monuments in many American cities dedicated to the crusade against demon rum. They often feature an expanded list of theological virtues: faith, hope, love—and temperance. The insertion of “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 was a late, defensive expression of the power of this consensus, which was already being challenged by a new secularism.

The Protestant consensus encouraged anti-Catholicism in culture as well as law. In 1875 President Ulysses S. Grant urged the creation of public schools “unmixed with sectarian, pagan or atheistical dogmas.” Non-sectarian and non-atheistical meant schools that could be trusted to inculcate American values, meaning generic and non-dogmatic Protestant values, which were considered the finest expression of true freedom. Here religious freedom means the freedom to be a generic Protestant, with Catholicism grudgingly tolerated at best, and Mormons subject to intense persecution. The courts interpreted religious freedom accordingly.

The Protestant consensus became more capacious as the 20th century wore on. After World War II it expanded to include Judaism and Catholicism, and we came to think of ourselves as a religious nation committed to Judeo-Christian values. But as the religious consensus expanded, it also eroded. Influential writers like H. L. Mencken mocked religious believers, reflecting an increasingly confident and outspoken view that religion—especially traditional Christianity—is a social liability that hinders progress. Many factors contributed to this emerging opinion. The abject failure of Prohibition soured many on Protestantism’s crusading spirit. Newly emerging Protestant fundamentalism was self-consciously antagonistic and reflected an anti-establishment populism. For many the threat to society changed. Whatever their personal beliefs, the founders thought religion good for society and atheism a threat. By contrast, for someone like Mr. Mencken or Clarence Darrow or Margaret Sanger, religion was the problem.

Phase Three. Our constitutional interpretation came to reflect this new development. It shifted toward an ideal of religious neutrality. The Supreme Court decision in 1947 that applied the prohibition of religious establishment to the states led to the development of a complex set of legal rules limiting the role of religion in public life.

Law professors rightly seek to clarify this jurisprudence, but for our purposes I think a broad but largely accurate simplification will suffice: our constitutional law concerning religious liberty sought to secure an orderly separation of religion from the social influence the Protestant era had encouraged. This separation has helped protect small religious minorities from undue public control, but the major emphasis has been on restraining the influence of religious majorities.

Preoccupations with prayer at high school graduation ceremonies provide the most obvious example. The court has been eager to protect the tender conscience of the lonely, unbelieving student from the supposedly great social pressures of an anodyne interdenominational prayer by a local pastor. The danger is not that a hardline Calvinist will impose his doctrines on wishy-washy Methodists, which the founders worried about. Instead, the court after World War II reflected a broader concern that believers of all stripes are too predominant and therefore make unbelievers feel uncomfortable and excluded. Freedom of religion therefore means the option of being free from religion. I believe this emphasis will characterize the next phase of our history: the shift from individual freedom from religion to a vision of society as a whole free from religious influence.

The Anti-Religious Cohort

Over the last few decades the Mencken cohort has grown. In the 1950s around 3 percent of Americans checked the “none” box in surveys asking about religious affiliation. Now 20 percent of the population does so. Moreover, these so-called “nones” are heavily represented in elite culture. A recent report on family life from the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture identifies parents they call the “engaged progressives.” Representing 21 percent of parents, this group is the most highly educated and most influential. It overlaps with the nones. Fewer than 20 percent in this group go to church regularly. More than half never attend.

In itself this demographic change need not foretell dramatic changes in law. A significant segment of Americans who do not go to church might support the now established postwar trend toward religious neutrality: the belief that the country needs to make space for unbelievers and not presume their adherence to a religious consensus, however vague. But the nones and engaged progressives are not just irreligious. They are often anti-religious and eager to limit the influence of traditional Christianity.

As the study observes, engaged progressive parents value tolerance and diversity, but their overall moral outlook puts them at odds with many religious people. Nones and engaged progressives overwhelming support abortion and gay marriage, for example. They are also highly partisan; an overwhelming majority vote for liberal candidates and have thus become a key pillar of the Democratic Party. This moral and political profile makes them hostile to traditional religion. The study explains: “The only type of diversity that engaged progressives might tacitly oppose within their children’s friendship network would be a born-again Christian.”

The anti-religious instinct of this cohort came into the open during the last election cycle. Delegates to the Democratic National Convention notoriously struck the word God from the party platform, only to have it halfheartedly restored by anxious party leaders. During the election the talking points included attacking the Republican “war on women.” This well-crafted slogan was designed to rally the nones, the secular base that is now the largest identifiable constituency in the Democratic Party.

Institutions of cultural authority tell us what is good and respectable—and what is bad and shameful. It is now crushingly obvious that this machinery, which can include museums, universities, foundations or mainstream media, reflects many of the values of the nones and engaged progressives. From their point of view, traditional Christianity is quaint when confined to exotic liturgies or remote Amish communities, but it most certainly should not influence the future of American culture and politics.

This shift toward antagonism cannot help but affect our attitudes toward religious liberty. Our Constitution accords rights to the people, and the courts cannot void them willy-nilly. Therefore, unless the Constitution is amended, there will always be a prohibition of establishment and a right of free exercise. But history shows that the Constitution is a plastic document. When elite culture thinks something is bad for society as a whole, judges find ways to suppress it. In the late 19th century, for example, the First Amendment offered no protection for Mormons. In 1890 the Supreme Court upheld the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, legislation that prohibited polygamy and dissolved the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and confiscated its property.

Trends in Jurisprudence

Not surprisingly, law professors today who view traditional Christianity as a social threat are beginning to theorize changes to the law. I see three trends. The first and most obvious involves what I have called the Selma analogy: the equation of gay liberation with the historic struggle for civil rights for black Americans. The second shifts from freedom of religion to freedom of worship. The third hopes to redefine religious liberty as a general liberty of conscience.

The civil rights laws adopted in the 1960s were designed to bulldoze racism out of American public life, and the Selma analogy prepares the way for a narrowing of religious freedom by equating dissent from progressive values with discrimination. Proponents of gay rights, for example, believe the freedom of religious individuals and institutions should be limited if they do not conform to the new consensus about sexual morality.

Some judges already agree. In 2008 the New Mexico Human Rights Commission determined that wedding photographers violated the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony. The photographers, Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court, arguing that their religious views about marriage prevented them from photographing the ceremony. The court was not sympathetic. It applied what is called the “public accommodation doctrine” of civil rights law: those offering services to the general public may not discriminate. This doctrine overrides a great deal of what we think of as religious liberty.

In a concurring opinion Justice Richard C. Bosson put it clearly: “The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead,” but “in the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation,” they have to abide by anti-discrimination laws. This is “the price of citizenship,” he wrote. Apparently this price includes the violation of religious conscience when it comes to gay rights, which makes it seem that religious freedom is only allowed in the privacy of home or the precincts of church.

The shift toward a private, personal freedom that lacks space for public expression has become prominent in the ways the Obama administration talks about religious freedom. The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 sought to make religious freedom a diplomatic priority. The current administration consistently reframes this priority as freedom of worship. The shift in language is understandable. The United States has many allies in the Muslim world for whom anything like our approach to religious liberty is at best a remote possibility. For different reasons the same is the case in China and elsewhere. The danger, however, is that this narrow understanding of religious freedom will gain traction in our domestic debates and become another way for legal theorists to argue for a minimal interpretation of the First Amendment.

The Selma analogy and the diminution of religious liberty to a bare freedom of worship represent two ways to redefine the First Amendment. Added to these, I see a third and more dramatic threat: today some law professors ask why religious people should get special rights in the first place. Why should a Catholic or a Baptist or a Hindu get special constitutional protection, but not a committed utilitarian or ardent socialist? Evoking the principle of fairness, some now argue that the conscience of every person needs legal protection, not just consciences formed by religious traditions. Thus the First Amendment needs to be reinterpreted to provide freedom of conscience, not freedom of religion.

This mentality is libertarian and is gaining traction, not the least because it seems to expand rather than limit freedom. (Even representatives of the church can sometimes seem to imply this when they focus on conscience.) But the promise of expansion is an illusion. Libertarianism theorizes an unworkable system: If the conscience of every person must be equally respected, then we will have freedom of conscience only when nothing important is at stake.

There is no guarantee that our legal culture will follow the trajectories I have outlined. Judges are influenced by good legal arguments, and the defenders of religious freedom today may succeed in breaking down the Selma analogy and reverse the trend to attenuate religious freedom by redefining it as freedom of worship. The current membership of the U.S. Supreme Court has shown itself very firmly aligned with a robust approach to religious freedom. There are reasons to be hopeful in the near term. But history shows that the rule of law generally reflects what the social consensus believes is conducive to the common good. The law ministers to culture, not the other way around. The nones and other progressives are frustrated by the influence of traditional Christianity over American society. This makes me pessimistic about the medium and long term.

The Heart of the Conflict

To be blunt: Religious people who hold traditional values are in the way of what many powerful people want. We are in the way of widespread acceptance of abortion, unrestricted embryonic stem cell research and experimentation with fetal tissue. We are in the way of doctor-assisted suicide, euthanasia and the mercy-killing of genetically defective infants. We are in the way of new reproductive technologies, which will become more important as our society makes sex more sterile. We are in the way of gay rights and the redefinition of marriage. We are in the way of the nones and the engaged progressives and their larger goal of deconstructing traditional moral limits so that they can be reconstructed in accord with their vision of the future.

Traditional religious people are in the way, and many of our fellow Americans are doing their best to push us out of the way. The outspoken among us have been largely expelled from higher education and other institutions of cultural authority. This exclusion should not surprise us. Traditional Christianity and churchgoing no longer define the social consensus in the United States. The Protestant era is over, and in its demise we have not seen the Catholic moment that the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, founder of First Things, hoped for. Instead, we seem to be heading into the secular moment, which is almost certain to find ways to redefine religious liberty, or at least try.

In Islamic states, a dhimmi is a non-Muslim who is tolerated, but whose social existence is carefully circumscribed to ensure no threat to Muslim dominance. Have we reached the point at which our secular elites envision something similar for religious people with traditional values? We will be free to worship, but not to run universities or hospitals or social service agencies in accord with our principles. We will be free to believe as we wish, but not to run our businesses in accord with our beliefs. We will be permitted to exist as long as we do not openly challenge the progressive consensus.

Religious people need to support the good legal minds fighting for our freedom, but it is even more important that we fight against the temptation to accept dhimmitude. Yes, antagonism toward traditional Christianity is now common in our ruling class. One prejudice warmly approved by many secularists is that against so-called fundamentalists. But we need to remember that the secular moment does not correspond to religious decline. The committed core of believers, defined as those who attend church every Sunday, has remained remarkably constant for the last 50 years at between 25 to 35 percent of the population in the United States. Furthermore, the secular moment has no grassroots legacy to compare with the scope and commitment of the pro-life and home-schooling movements.

It is appropriate to conclude, therefore, with words of encouragement. Last summer a young Dominican brother studying for the priesthood served as an intern for First Things. He is an impressive man, one of a remarkable cohort of 20 who entered the Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph a few years ago to begin formation. As I walked with him on the streets of New York City, I noticed that people often stare at his white, ankle-length outfit. Unlike the often-wild fashion statements that people parade as great expressions of protest or individuality but blend into the city as just another pose or posture, his simple habit represents something dangerously real. People intuit, however dimly, that he embodies a vision of the future that collides with the spirit of our age, and does so with frightening force.

Seeing these reactions I was reminded that our faith goes deep, very deep. And as the guardian and servant of this faith the church has tremendous power. As I contemplate the coming battles over religious freedom, I am consoled by this thought: Our secular challengers are right, very right, to see our faith as a dangerous and disruptive dissent.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 25, 2014

Due to an error introduced during the editing process, an earlier version of this article misidentified the date of the International Religious Freedom Act. It was 1998, not 1988.

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Chris NUNEZ
3 years 10 months ago
This is a lengthy essay that demands a couple of readings and thoughtful reflection on the histories of our nation and its many peoples, but right off the bat I see a gloss on the phrase used at least twice "...antagonism toward traditional Christianity is now common in our ruling class..." I must wonder if this a euphamism for the presumptions of those 'traditions' that were established by white males with an Anglo-European bent. My Church is larger than this, and the traditions of my Church are larger than this. And I must wonder if this is one of the reasons 'tradition' is being contested on the field of religion.
Robert Harrison
3 years 10 months ago
Well written article, but not anchored in solid statistical reality. There are some far-right assumptions here that can only bring a smile to the face of a well informed reader.
Harry Childers
3 years 10 months ago
The Selma "analogy" is more a similarity. I see no real difference (except in degree) between the now-prohibited legal discrimination by race and the now-eroding discrimination by gender preference. We should not forget that Jim Crow and, in fact, the "peculiar institution" of slavery was justified by the Christian Bible in the minds of many of its most fervent proponents.
Chris Miller
3 years 10 months ago
I read the article with interest, however, in some areas, I have a different experience, and that difference brings a different evaluation of the current situation in American society. As, for example, Fr Reno talks about graduation prayer; I think his experience, as a Catholic, puts this conflict in a different light. I was a military Chaplain during the period 1975-83. What I experienced is that the greatest conflict within the Chaplain Corps was among different Protestant denominations; Roman Catholic Chaplains (and Jewish Chaplains...there were no Muslim Chaplains yet, and only a couple of Mormon Chaplains) were generally on the periphery of the theological issues. The reason is that Roman Catholic Chaplains were not in conflict to the same degree as were, say an Episcopal and a Southern Baptist. Many assignments are tagged for specific denominational groups. How one functions has an impact on promotion rates. But Catholic Chaplains (priests) are not in the same pool when it comes to "fitness reports" and job performance conflicts. A simple example might be: Liturgical practices...a priest from one assignment to another, like priests in the civilian world, may be more formal in liturgy, while another might be more relaxed in his contact, esp. when he is in a large recruiting command, like basic training, but what belongs in the liturgy is not at issue. However, when Protestant Chaplains have to work together to provide "Protestant Worship", how does that work? Will it be Eucharistic, as Episcopal and Lutheran Chaplains expect as the norm, but is not for non-liturgical Chaplains? If it is a "communion" service, will the Words of Institution be used, or some other text? Will a lectionary be followed, or readings as selected by the Chaplain for whatever the perceived occasion? This same pattern is also within the larger world as well. Roman Catholics are on the sidelines of the issue of which Protestant group is dominent or tolerated in a community; in Texas, for example, with Southern Baptists in large numbers, how do Lutheran teens cope with the expectation that they need to go through "believer's baptism"...no matter that they were baptized sacramentally as an infant? And they have difficulty themselves defending a sacrament that they have no personal memory of. It is not easier among adults. In a Maryland county where I served a civilian congregation, what are the bounds and expectation for clergy from the community who volunteer as Chaplains in a local hospital? Are they there for pastoral care expectations...or are they there primarily to evangelize...or proselytize, depending on your point of view, and especially with non-Christian (or, non-Protestant, for that matter) patients...ethics can become nearly explosive in such a situation, with one faction of the clergy upset at the other. So, while I agree with much of the argument of the story, it is another case of "where you stand is where your sit"...for many of us who are in the "Protestant" label of Christianity, we have it different than do our Roman Catholic colleagues. And so, some of us might find neutrality to be of more value than otherwise. Pr Chris
john andrechak
3 years 10 months ago
Father, You write of what traditional religious are "in the way off." What traditional religious were not in the way off was the unjust and unjustified invasion of Iraq. What traditional religious were not in was the unjust Vietnam War, nor the Mexican American War, nor the Spanish American War. Nor were traditional religious in the way of slavery, it was those men who wished to see religion intertwined with society who wrote slavery into the Constitution. Abolitionists were a small faction within society. Traditional Religious were not in the way Jim Crow. They are not in the way of denying health care to all of our fellow citizens. They are not in the way of establishing the vision of atheist Ayn Rand, of a society based on selfishness, Socio-Darwinsim, of every man for himself and nothing for the women and children. Whose expression of concern of "the safety net becoming a hammock" by the likes of pious Paul Ryan, Gingrich, Santorum, etal just cover for the Corporatists. My point? You can have your society influenced by traditional religious. Respectfully
Joseph Pinner
3 years 10 months ago
Mr. NUNEZ - you obviously speak from a narrow European Cultural look at the world. I would encourage you to take a look at worldwide Christianity - the Anglican Communion in Africa, Asia and the Southern Cone. They are not white nor anglo, but they hold a traditional, historic Christian Faith. I think it is you who really speak with "white males with an Anglo-European bent." Mr.andrechak - your prespective is also very narrow. The impetus for the abolition of slavery is at the heart of the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament - In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. It took centuries to work this into general practice,but the heart of the anti-slavery movement is in the genes of Christianity. It still exists in those parts of the world not impacted by the Christian Gospel. In English civilization the abolitionist movement was in the Evangelical Christians of Great Brittan.which ultimately resulted in the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833,though in England proper it was abolished In 1772 through Lord Mansfield's judgement in the Somersett's Case.
john andrechak
3 years 10 months ago
Mr. Pinner, My point is that those of the Religious Community that opposed slavery were a minority
Charles Pfeiffer
3 years 10 months ago
Dear Father Reno, I thought your article was a very good, thoughtful article until your expression, 'main stream media', a Rush Limbaugh mantra, that gave you away, and I was disappointed. You cover many complex aspects of the First Amendment, but your tone is a combination of (a) a persecution complex, and (b)"traditional, Tridentine Catholics are the true Church; we possess the objective truth (as you and the hierarchy like to call it); we are right; the rest of you are all wrong; the Church is ours; stop meddling; we'll tell you what to do." I'm sure there is a more succinct expression for all that, but you have the idea. I would ask you to think over the following: 1. It seems to me that a central tenant of human relationships in post war Europe and to a certain extent the United States has been and continues to be individual autonomy. It is this core value that drives the energies of the educated, urbane, and elitist to counter the attempt by traditional institutions to dictate behavior. This, often referred to in the United States as individual freedom, doctrine of individuality, I think, is at the heart of traditional religions and other institutions being put on the defensive. In the Catholic Church it is often referred to as the primacy of conscience. The primacy of conscience is a major stumbling block for traditionalists and presents a real dilemma. If the primacy of conscience is indeed the Church's official position, are not moral, political, social, etc., decisions clearly the responsibility of the individual? This necessitates a new relationship between the individual and the Magisterium. The Magisterium is no longer prescriptive, but one important set of moral teachings among others. To the traditionalists, that is not Roman Catholic. The traditionalists see the Magisterium as a 'tremendous power' that you serve and guard. However, traditionalists such as yourself need to answer the question: is it a real authentic morality to submit to a religious, political, social, etc., power and outsource one's decision making ability? Do we not demonize this kind of submission as behavior within a cult? To put it another way is it not immoral to submit one's conscience to an outside power? I don't see the autonomous individual disappearing, on the contrary, growing even stronger not only within the developed world, but also worldwide. The traditionalists are going to have to give some serious answer to this question, something other than you must submit because the Church demands it and that is what it means to be Roman Catholic. If the traditionalists do not offer serious consideration of a new relationship for Catholics to the Magisterium, they run the risk of becoming a tiny sect. Over 90% of Catholics pay little or no attention to some of the Church's moral teachings. Perhaps you do want to become a tiny sect. 2. What does it mean to have a informed conscience "formed by the Church?" I think these expressions must be taken at face value and not be interpreted to mean "captured and controlled by the Church." Also, If a person has a conscience informed by the Church and decides not to follow Church teaching does that put them outside the communion of the faithful? Even if the hierarchy would make a pronouncement that a certain action puts them automatically outside the communion of the faithful, does it really do that? Do you remember, Father Reno, the old moral, theological textbooks that talked about the FORUM INTERNUM? Do the clergy and the hierarchy really control the inner disposition of a member of the Church? I hate to do this, because I know that Pope Francis is not a favorite authority of the traditionalists, but is not Pope Francis' question: 'who am I to judge?' one of the fundamentals of all moral theology, even in the old schoolbook theology? 3. I like to see you turn your energies to a serious discussion of SECULARISM. If each religious sect, large religion, congregation, church, synagogue, mosque, etc. is going to be allowed to give expression to their beliefs, where is the space in which they do that? Perhaps instead of secular we should use the term, neutral. Regardless of the term, is that space outside the realm of creation? Is it not holy? These are just some few questions that serious Catholics have. I just wish you would take Catholics like me seriously instead of presenting and defending your view as the only possible Catholic view. The Church, community of the faithful, is far greater and more comprehensive and inclusive than FIRST THINGS presents it. When you get right down to it, FIRST THINGS is not fair. Do you really reject serious dialogue with ordinary people? I do wish you could see that the Church is for everyone, not just devout Tridentine traditionalists, i.e., yourselves.
John Corr
3 years 10 months ago
A welcome article. This is not the first time secularism has clashed with religious belief. My view is that the main current of secularism is flowing from the universities, where it is offered to students, who often are without values themselves. My view is that Catholic bishops, most often reflecting education received in diocesan seminaries, usually are unable to publicly respond with effective explanations of our positions. The same I find true of diocesan priests. The Church is largely voiceless in the debate. However, in the end, we shall win, as we have eventually in the past, because our values are in line with reality.
Joe Smith
3 years 9 months ago
The radical ideas flow from universities (by the way, we pay the professors with our tax dollars to teach our children lies and ideas that are directly in conflict with our values...talk about adding insult to injury!)...and the ideas are flowing from liberal big media...and Hollywood elites. Many Americans don't know our historical background and our Constitution. Thus, we get the leaders we deserve, and deserve the leaders we get.
Ralph Gillmann
3 years 10 months ago
There are two kinds of secularism: soft and hard. Soft secularism accomodates and even promotes non-sectarian religion. Hard secularism opposes accomodation and is sectarian. We need to emphasize that secularism today is the hard variety and is sectarian. Yes, sectarian secularism is not a contradiction in terms. Just ask the French.
Fred Kempf
3 years 10 months ago
I think this article is good, but only as far as it goes. Are there powerful people who wish to push religion's voice(s) aside in favor of their own agenda? Of course. These kinds of people existed long before Jesus of Nazareth tread on this planet. What the article tends to gloss over, is the other side of the coin in this seemingly perpetual debate: the actions by "religious." In the US, we have built an ever growing government, with the power to spend vast amounts of money. Where there is money, there will be plenty of people who wish to spend that money for their own agenda. That most certainly includes religious organizations. Quite frankly the story there has not always been one of shining glory and Gospel values. By way of example, I understand the church's current position on the use of condoms. Yet, the church gave itself one heck of a black eye in the secular world when it found itself blocking the distribution of condoms in AIDS-ravaged countries in Africa a few years back. Perhaps the position simply wasn't well explained. Or perhaps the church really does believe it better to let human beings die, than to let them use a condom and buy time for subsequent conversion... I would suggest however, that the church did itself no favors over that episode with regards to its status in the secular world. Religions are actors on the secular stage as well. I live in Texas, where all too often, I find myself genuinely wincing at public invocations/prayers and actions by Evangelicals of all stripes, who seem to believe they know so much more about me and my life, that they should have some right to make sure I live the way THEY think I should live. When you juxtaposition that mindset over the daily news out of the middle east, whether it be the Jewish settlements, or the Islamic bombers, or the news from Africa wherein one week it's ethnic cleansing by Muslims, and the next by Christians in revenge..., it's not at all hard to understand why so many take comfort in legal approaches that would seem to protect them from the religious mindset out there. The fact that Pope Francis is creating so many (good) waves should be sobering to Catholics: why is ANYTHING he's been saying news and newsworthy? I submit that it's news because the image he presents of Catholicism and Christianity is NOT the image we have grown up with, or that we see as the face of Catholicism today. That's important to remember. I would suggest that much of what the article discusses may well be in reaction to the perception of equally bad actions on the part of religions and the religious. Society offers a two-way street here. We should not point to the ways the religious are being persecuted, blocked out, or otherwise slighted, without ALSO understanding that religions and the religious ALSO share in their own visions of the same. We need this debate. But if such a debate is to be productive, it needs to move from a "win/lose" debate, into an ongoing dialog. As long as the issue is framed as "us versus them," there's little hope change will come. Francis has it right: it's time to stop jawboning, and to start acting. The way to convert isn't through public invocations, or using the law as a sledgehammer. Rather, it's to create something that people really want, and want to be a part of: something that really helps, really makes a difference in our lives, and that ultimately makes society a much better place. There is a place for the law of course, but I think the law will follow. Right now, the directions discussed in the article are likely just as much a reaction to generations of negativity sown by religions as they are the Machiavellian actions of a few powerful people.
Michael Barberi
3 years 10 months ago
What is missing from this article is any sense of a reasoned and thought-filled solution to so-called freedom of religion problems. These problems were characterized, in part, as: 1. The nones were 3% of Americans in the 1950s and now they represent about 20%. Fewer than 20% of the nones and progressive parents go to church regularly…et al. >>> Only about 25% of Catholics attend weekly Mass! The answer may be in the requirement of a better and intelligible answer to the many problems facing Catholic families were 30% of women have irregular menstrual cycles and natural family planning does not work for them; the divorced and remarried who want to receive the Eucharist, HIV discordant couples who do not want to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence...the list goes on. 2. Proponents of gay rights believe the freedom of religion individual should be limited if they do not conform to the new consensus of sexual morality. >>> Where is the evidence for this so-called assertion? I know many gay people and they don't believe that anyone's religion should be forced upon others, or that the freedom to practice religion should be limited in any way. What I do see is disparaging and harsh condemnation from the orthodox who want to treat gays as second-class citizens and evil-doers. The example of the wedding photographer misses and distorts the point. If you have a business and offer serves to the public, you must not violate anti-discrimination laws. If we followed Mr. Reno's logic, then it would be legally permissible for many businesses to only offer their services to people who abide by a certain religious teaching. What type of society would we have if we do not have reasonable boundaries that function as civil legal guidelines. Photographing a gay wedding for a price, as part of business services, is not forcing people to perform a morally evil action (or a civil crime) that is considered by the Catholic Church to be a sin where it must be confessed. On the other hand, the issue whether religious organizations must offer contraceptive coverage in health plans (but not be forced to pay for them) is a matter for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide. I don't disagree that the trends in our culture are problematic. Many of societies problems have complex and multi-dimensional causes. The answer to religious freedom and the toleration of many beliefs does not have to turn into a "war on religion" as this article seems to imply. If there is any anti-religious rhetoric or discrimination, then the answer is a better message, a better delivery medium, and being an example of the Gospel of Jesus in our daily lives. Today, we have too much negative divisive language and actions that are used in our culture wars. This is part of the problem that exist within groups that represent both sides of this debate. Could part of the problem lie within our church and in our battle strategies?
Charles Erlinger
3 years 10 months ago
In my opinion the author has a problem with regard to labeling which, because it influences the formulation of his premises, rendering his line of reasoning inconsistent, if not illogical. The problem lies in his usage of the term “consensus.” The term in common English usage is understood to mean “general agreement,” “harmonious concurrence,” “unanimity,” among other similar ideas. Yet in purporting to label various historical phases, he calls one phase a consensus phase because certain conditions were recognized by “federalism.” Another phase called one of consensus he describes as one of “ecumenical Protestant hegemony.” Still a third phase he has labeled one of consensus because “elite opinion consolidated around” a particular view of government. The urge by writers, eager to interpret social history, to apply generalizations such as these distorts history in many ways, sometimes introducing baseless nostalgia about past conditions imagined to be more to one’s liking, on the one hand, and, on the other, sometimes introducing indiscriminate dreadfulness. The failure to acknowledge that the described periods of “consensus” were periods of fierce disagreement, and that the ideas falling under this label prevailed in large part because of the influence of the Power of the State (local, federal, legislative or judicial) produces a distortion that can lead to erroneous conclusions about the influence of ideas on behavior. If there is a threat to the practice of moral behavior by individuals, it ought to manifest itself in terms of a threat of harm that might be inflicted on a person by reason of that behavior, especially that behavior toward others. If were under threat from the Power of the State because I refrained from speaking ill of others, or because I insisted on contributing to the relief of the poor, or because I avoided causing the death of an innocent human being, and if those who did the threatening were in “general agreement” or in “harmonious concurrence” then I certainly would consider my religious freedom to be endangered. Ideally, my response to the threat would not be to wish for second coming of the Emperor Constantine to establish the religion that I was trying to live as the State Religion. I frankly don’t know if I would be up to the challenge to respond as the early Christians did, who eventually converted large numbers to their view that the Gospel offered a sure-fire way to live together, by their behavior, not by achieving a majority in Congress or on the Supreme Court.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 10 months ago
I suppose it is not surprising that most of the comments are antagonistic. But, they do not seem to address the central issue of religious freedom, and just fall back on standard left-right disputes, especially sexual freedom obsessions, none of which are likely in any way to change the minds of the nones on the secular bus. The funniest comment below is the snooty remark that the article “lacked statistical reality,” without of course responding with any statistics, but just a smile and calling oneself “a well-informed reader” as if Dr. Reno, a convert (from the Episcopal church), graduate of Yale and professor of religion and ethics, was risibly uninformed. Most of the “nones” I know in my professional field of medical research are woefully uninformed about Church doctrine and history. They don’t like religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular because they are either materialists or because they want to do sexual things the Church teaches are immoral. But materialism is intellectually self-contradicting (like math, philosophy can be hard even for some smart people) and the sexual practices they advocate suffer a severe lack of fecundity. Statistically, demography outlasts infertility. I agree with the general outline provided by Dr. Reno. However, a government antagonistic to Christian religion may not necessarily be bad for the Church’s health. The Church has proven remarkably resilient in spite of all sorts of external forces. It has even been able to withstand a host of bad Catholics doing their best to sink the ship in almost every century. As long as the Church in America remains steadfast to the whole faith, I am confident it will prosper. And, from a global perspective, statistical data demonstrate no let-up on the number of Catholics joining the faith in the less developed world, in spite of (or because of) much greater hardship and risk in their countries than we face in ours. The increase in Catholics in Africa (increasing 21% between 2005 and 2010 and now 16% of the worldwide Church, according to the NYT) dwarfs the increase in “nones” in Europe and America - http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/world/africa/catholic-church-fills-growing-void-in-africa.html?_r=0 We have Christ as our guarantor of the Church, at least in its original Roman Catholic expression (“ever ancient and new”). But, it does seem that we are coming to the end of the Protestant Reformation, in its ecclesiastical or denominational form. While there will surely be continued demographic growth in the generic Christian Churches (Baptists, Evangelicals and Pentacostals, etc.), the teachings of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli seem ever more foreign in the denominations they established.
Louis Candell
3 years 10 months ago
If my conscience informs me that miscegenation is morally wrong or that abortion is morally wrong or that even contraception is morally wrong, should I be allowed to refuse to serve a mixed race couple or a woman I know to have had an abortion or a couple that practices artificial birth control at my restaurant? Fr. Reno's call for increased legal protection for freedom of conscience is a recipe for societal anarchy. Religious freedom under our Constitution means that each individual is free to practice the religion of his/her choice so long as that practice does not infringe upon the legal rights of other believers or non-believers. Freedom of religion by implication also means freedom from religion. Apparently, according to Fr. Reno, it means that those who are deemed to have violated morality can be forced to wear a figurative badge of shame - a modern day version of a red letter A or yellow badge as did adulterers in Puritan New England or heretics in medieval Europe.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 10 months ago
Louis - you have completely misunderstood Dr. Reno. He was criticizing certain law professors who are trying to water down religious freedom, turning it into an individualistic liberty of conscience. Here is his quote: “ law professors today who view traditional Christianity as a social threat are beginning to theorize changes to the law.“ In addition to redefining freedom of religion to "freedom of worship", they want to "redefine religious liberty as a general liberty of conscience." The reason anti-Christian activists (their target is Christianity rather than religion) want to replace a specific "religious liberty" with a generic "freedom of conscience" is that the latter can indeed be used to support all sorts of things that have no true credible religious basis, such as Neo-Nazi Aryan movements, a Charles Manson-like cult, demonic associations, and all sorts of polyamorous or exploitive sexual arrangements, etc. So, to rework your example - should a person be compelled to open their hotel or commercially accommodate a Neo-Nazi ceremony or a witches coven or a post-abortion ceremony, even if it is against their religion? I think most reasonable people would not think people should be compelled to do so.
Louis Candell
3 years 10 months ago
Sorry Tim, but I disagree. Religion is a private matter and should remain so. If one is in the business of commerce, one should have to obey the secular laws of the state which does not require that everyone approve of Nazis, witches, abortions or evolution.
Seth Keegan
3 years 10 months ago
YES! Yes, you absolutely should be able to refuse them service in your restaurant. What is so complicated about liberty that so many of the secular jihadists simply can't comprehend? You should have an absolute right to serve who you want and deny who you want, for any or no reason, and it's nobody's business but your own. Don't like that a business doesn't serve your favored minority group? GO ELSEWHERE. Convince others to go elsewhere. Increase public awareness of the business' policies to put pressure on the business to change. That's how adults handle their disagreements. Rather, secularists are more akin to whiny pre-adolescents, hemming and hawing over every perceived slight and wielding the club of the law to force others to do their bidding. This "Secular Future" is nothing more than an authoritarian distopia, complete with thought police, and people like you are doing your level best to bring it about for no better reason than you don't hold the views the thought police currently deems unacceptable.
Louis Candell
3 years 10 months ago
Seth, Your philosophy is no different than that of the Taliban. It is you who want to force others to do your bidding.
Seth Keegan
3 years 10 months ago
It takes a very warped view to read "You should have an absolute right to serve who you want and deny who you want, for any or no reason, and it's nobody's business but your own." and assert "It is you who want to force others to do your bidding." Of the two of us, I am the one advocating that no one be forced to do the bidding of another, even if this would result in a state of affairs in which some people are discriminated against. It is you who are arguing that your personal morality, which dictates that such discrimination is immoral, justifies that some people (namely, shop owners) can be forced to do the bidding of another (namely, you and others who think like you.) Seems to me that if either of us were to reflect a Talibanesque mentality, it would be yourself.
Louis Candell
3 years 10 months ago
This is the result of your illogical, ridiculous assertion. The Republican-controlled Arizona state Senate voted along party lines Wednesday to pass Senate Bill 1062, a measure that would allow businesses to reject service to any customer based on the owners’ religious beliefs. The bill reads: "Exercise of religion" means the PRACTICE OR OBSERVANCE OF RELIGION, INCLUDING THE ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief. Arizona Democrats, who argue the legislation is a way to legalize discrimination against LGBT individuals, sponsored eight amendments in an attempt to thwart the legislation -- all of which were rejected by Senate Republicans. "SB 1062 permits discrimination under the guise of religious freedom," state Senate Democratic Leader Anna Tovar said in a statement Wednesday. "With the express consent of Republicans in this Legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation. This bill may also open the door to discriminate based on race, familial status, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability." As testament to the bill’s mission, state Sen. Steve Yarbrough (R), one of three lawmakers sponsoring the bill, cited a 2013 New Mexico Supreme Court ruling that banned wedding photographers from refusing to shoot same-sex ceremonies, according to the Associated Press. "This bill is not about allowing discrimination," Yarbrough said during a nearly two-hour debate on Wednesday. "This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith." Arizona Sen. Steve Farley (D), another opponent of the controversial bill, said the legislation could have a negative economic impact if it became law. "I think this bill makes a statement ... that we don't welcome people here," Farley said. "This bill gets in the way, this bill sends the wrong message around the country and around the world." “I believe our economy is strengthened by different people, and different backgrounds, and different beliefs, and different motivations, coming in and working together in our economy to make this state and this country stronger," he also said. "Discrimination hurts that. It hurts that in so many different ways." Similar religious liberty bills, which have popped up in response to a series of federal court rulings overturning same-sex marriage bans, were recently quashed in Idaho, Kansas, South Dakota and Tennessee. Arizona’s SB 1062 now heads to the Republican-majority state House, where it is expected to pass. ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
Seth Keegan
3 years 10 months ago
I support and praise Arizona for standing up for liberty against the rising tide of fundamentalist secularism which seeks to erode it in favor of its adherents' warped view of the greater good. Good on them!
Joe Smith
3 years 9 months ago
Yes. I like that..."fundamentalist secularism". That's good stuff.
Louis Candell
3 years 10 months ago
Your position logically results in discriminating against people who don't share your religious views. Were they to renounce the views that you find objectionable, I assume that you would serve them. If you believe that this is not attempting to force people to adopt a religious view that meets with your approval in order to be treated as full citizens, then you are really out of touch with reality.
Seth Keegan
3 years 10 months ago
My position results in allowing discrimination against people who don't share my religious views. And discrimination against people who do share my religious views. And discrimination against all sorts of people for any or no reason whatsoever. Whether any such discrimination actually results is irrelevant: people should have the right to do business with all and only those with whom they wish to do business. You make an error of equivocation in assuming that I am advocating for such a position so that I personally may discriminate against people of certain views, and would cease discriminating against them should they renounce these views. This is not the case. I do not have a business in which to discriminate in selecting clientele, and do not favor discrimination of employees as a business practice. I do, however, realize that my personal beliefs regarding the impropriety of discrimination against employees is merely that - my own personal belief - and that I have no justification for infringing upon the liberties of another who may not share this belief and who does wish to so discriminate. That is entirely his right - to contract with only those with whom he wishes to contract - and I have no justification to tell him he cannot do so, especially through the force of law. Such discrimination may indeed be an attempt to get people to adopt a religious view - people do this all the time, and they have every right to do so. Those who do not wish to adopt such a view are under no coercion to do so - they are free to associate only with those with whom they wish to associate - and I merely demand that the same liberty also applies to the business owner - that he, too, be protected in his right to associate only with those with whom he wishes to associate. That's how you treat people as full citizens - you afford each person the full extent of their liberty, and give them full leave to make their own decisions. It is when you curtail the liberties of one to prevent the hurt feelings of another that we cease treating people as full citizens.
Marie Rehbein
3 years 9 months ago
So when a business becomes profitable enough, it can begin to exert it's political will, effectively turning the nation into a theocracy -- given that corporations are people with consciences presumably.
Joe Smith
3 years 9 months ago
Are you making the absurd suggestion that businesses don't now work to exert their political will on others? Really?
Marie Rehbein
3 years 9 months ago
It's because they do that I am saying beware of giving them a "right" to freedom of religion.
Joe Smith
3 years 9 months ago
I'm not referring to this specific issue though. Of course businesses exert political pressure on others...all the time. That is my point.
Louis Candell
3 years 9 months ago
Well, I can only say that I sincerely hope that someone somewhere discriminates against you because of your religious and/or political views.
Joe Smith
3 years 9 months ago
You are hilarious. Good work!
john andrechak
3 years 10 months ago
Great defense of Jim Crow; once again a good example of what conservatives what to conserve slavery, Jim Crow, McCarthyism, etal
Seth Keegan
3 years 10 months ago
Jim Crow laws mandated discrimination, again violating the rights of the shop owners, and were in every way as unjust as laws which prohibit discrimination.
Tom Helwick
3 years 9 months ago
Hang on to your hat Louis the Arizona state senate passed that very thing and sent it to Gov. Brewer's desk to be signed. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/21/us/bill-viewed-as-anti-gay-is-passed-in-arizona.html?_r=0 Tom
Randy Townsend
3 years 10 months ago
Well written and absolutely correct. All I will add is that Bible prophesy makes no mention of the United States in the last days of man's living in rejection of God. As the secularists grow in power and authority, look for the attack on the true Church of God to intensify, despite the mounting evidence of how desperately mankind needs to follow God's laws to prosper. The rebelliousness will not be tamed until Christ comes again. BTW, my law school professors (15 years ago) were, to a person, openly anti-religious (To the point of when I refused to take a final exam on Easter Sunday, I had to meet with the Dean of the law school - an exclusive, Christian school. When I asked why professors of the Jewish faith were allowed to cancel classes on their High Holy Days, but I was "required" to take a test on Easter, the conversation got very quiet. I was excused from the Easter test.).
Michael Barberi
3 years 10 months ago
There are many things that influence religion, the lack of any religious conviction, religious freedom or certain teachings of a religion. Secular culture does influence people and their sense of morality. Other influencers are: family, friends, educational institutions and religious organizations (churches, synagogs, mosques, et al) and legal authorities and civil law. For those who practice Judeo-Christianity, God and his grace and mercy guides us to the truth in both agreement and disagreement. His also guides our moral actions, albeit we sometimes fail to follow his call for we are a fallen and redeemed people. Few people in the U.S. and western society believe that totalitarianism and autocracy give people enough freedom, whether it be religious or otherwise. Our western secular culture is far too liberal, consumeristic and competitive and this, for better or worse, results in interpretations of laws and the U.S. constitution where individual rights are sometimes taken as the right to have an abortion at anytime for any reason, or to refuse to provide business services to those that do not adhere to one's sense of morality. The distinction between freedom of conscience or freedom of religion in the U.S. secular and religious spheres gets lost easily in debates that quickly turn into divisive, disrespectful and denigrating rhetoric towards the subjects as persons who are debating. This does not mean that one should not push hard against things that are in violation of one's beliefs, but to recognize that negative divisive language and name calling, and the like, divides us. The conversation moves nowhere. This means that groups representing both sides of the freedom of religion argument are sometimes guilty of such dialogue. While some secular challengers may see the Catholic faith as a dangerous and disruptive dissent, we do not move the conversation forward toward a responsible solution when the argument turns into: us versus them, liberals versus conservatives, faithful versus non faithful, traditionalists versus revisionists, Catholics versus the Nones, assenters versus dissenters, the world versus the church, et al.
Joe Smith
3 years 10 months ago
The goal of "progressives" (note the quotation marks) is that they want to make sex public and faith/religious viewpoint private. In other words, run the Christian worldview out of the marketplace of ideas. Is this really the country we want to live in I ask those on the left? But I understand your worldview and the idols you worship. As Dennis Prager rightly states, the holy trinity of the left is race, gender, and class. Every social, political, and economic issue is viewed by them through that prism. It's sad and pathetic, but it is the reality of worshipping their gods.
Joe Smith
3 years 10 months ago
Oh...and one more thing.... The perfect presidential candidate for "progressives" would be black, female, lesbian, and Harvard educated...from a poor background. Watch out. This candidate would be unbeatable. "Progressives" would be foaming at the mouth with excitement for such an ideal candidate. You know, it's all about their holy trinity.
Louis Candell
3 years 10 months ago
Joe, What bothers me is your seeming preoccupation with sex. Why? What does it matter to you if gays want to have a civil marriage ceremony? It should be of no concern to you since it does you no harm and has no affect on your own heterosexual marriage (assuming you are married). Admittedly, although I do not object to civil marriage ceremonies for gays nor do I judge those living in same sex relationships, I will admit that I've grown tired of hearing and reading so much about LGBT issues. I simply take consolation by reminding myself that others' sexual preferences are of no concern to me - and they shouldn't be of concern to you. The biggest reason we have so much emphasis on LGBT issues is that the religious right keeps objecting so vociferously. Constant wailing about the perceived sinfulness of LGBT proponents only causes them to exert more pushback. Find something more productive with which to occupy yourself. Self-righteousnes is an extremely unattractive trait whether practiced by the right or the left. Our first obligation is to save our own souls; not everybody else's soul.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 10 months ago
Louis - you are a little out-of-date with the acronym. It is now LGBTQIA. See this NYT article http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/10/fashion/generation-lgbtqia.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 or here for definitions http://tahoesafealliance.org/for-lgbqtia/what-does-lgbtqia-mean/ no doubt it will soon get a "P"
Louis Candell
3 years 10 months ago
Whatever! My assertion is still correct.
Joe Smith
3 years 9 months ago
LOL. This is true. Many "progressives" and liberal media want to do everything they can to pump up the percentage of gays from maybe 1-2% of the population by including others on the radical fringes...so they can maybe get to 2.5%. Every bit helps, you know? Christ loves everyone though, and that means that he wants redemption for all. That first means that those who want redemption have to confess their sin and repent. It's difficult to be sure, but it's necessary.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 9 months ago
Right on, Joe. Only 19 letters of the alphabet to go and then maybe get to 4.75%.
Joe Smith
3 years 9 months ago
That's funny...and so true. Thanks.
Joe Smith
3 years 9 months ago
Your comment immediately reminded me about a joke that goes like this... Bob Wiley: [telling a joke] The doctor draws two circles and says "What do you see?" the guy says "Sex." [everybody laughs] Bob Wiley: Wait a minute, I haven't even told the joke yet! So the doctor draws trees, "What do you see?" the guy says "sex". The doctor draws a car, owl, "Sex, sex, sex". The doctor says to him "You are obsessed with sex", he replies "Well you're the one drawing all the dirty pictures!" Why? Because my point is that "progressives" obsess about race, gender, and class. As Dennis Prager said, it's the left's holy trinity. Everything they observe is viewed through this prism. They brought the gay marriage fight onto society, not me. Keep that in mind. Can gays have a civil marriage ceremony? Maybe...but they should not have their relationship granted special status by government like heterosexual (normal) marriages. That is absurd. It certainly does affect my marriage too. I assume you are joking that the reason that we have "so much emphasis on LGBT issues is that the religious right keeps objecting so vociferously". That is patently ridiculous. Who keeps thrusting this issue onto society? The correct answer is the liberal mainstream media/"progressives". They brought this fight to society. We can't save our own souls or the souls of others, only Christ can. But that does not mean we keep quiet in the face of divorce, homosexuality, murder of the unborn, etc. It is all wrong...even if "progressives" such as yourself want to keep faith private, while making sex public in every possible way.
Louis Candell
3 years 9 months ago
Special status? What do you mean? Affects your marriage? How? Only Christ can save souls? We take no part in our own salvation? Predestination then? Progressives thrusting this issue into society? Much like blacks in the 60s?
Joe Smith
3 years 9 months ago
Special status...as in special legal privileges...as in special status in terms of society (you doubt this?) Affects my marriage because it degrades from special status. Christ saves you. You can't save yourself. Do you understand this? No one is born "gay". This is sin that some fall into. "Progressives" certainly did bring this fight to society. Otherwise, it would not be an issue for almost all (99%). I hope you can understand this. It is a simple concept. And no, this is not in any way equivalent to past race issues. One cannot choose one's skin color. One can choose their sexuality.
Louis Candell
3 years 9 months ago
The state does not confer any "special status" on anybody's marriage. It is merely a social contract to the state. Any special status is conferred by the sacrament of matrimony; unless, of course, you consider the state to be on an equal footing with the church as far as marriage is concerned. I cannot understand how and why you can conclude that the recognition of a same sex civil marriage by the state threatens your marriage. It's illogical and is causing you unnecessary angst.
Joe Smith
3 years 9 months ago
The state does not confer special status on marriage? Certainly it does. For example, (some of these vary from state to state), but the list typically includes: Tax Benefits Filing joint income tax returns with the IRS and state taxing authorities. Creating a "family partnership" under federal tax laws, which allows you to divide business income among family members. Estate Planning Benefits Inheriting a share of your spouse's estate. Receiving an exemption from both estate taxes and gift taxes for all property you give or leave to your spouse. Creating life estate trusts that are restricted to married couples, including QTIP trusts, QDOT trusts, and marital deduction trusts. Obtaining priority if a conservator needs to be appointed for your spouse -- that is, someone to make financial and/or medical decisions on your spouse's behalf. Government Benefits Receiving Social Security, Medicare, and disability benefits for spouses. Receiving veterans' and military benefits for spouses, such as those for education, medical care, or special loans. Receiving public assistance benefits. Employment Benefits Obtaining insurance benefits through a spouse's employer. Taking family leave to care for your spouse during an illness. Receiving wages, workers' compensation, and retirement plan benefits for a deceased spouse. Taking bereavement leave if your spouse or one of your spouse's close relatives dies. Medical Benefits Visiting your spouse in a hospital intensive care unit or during restricted visiting hours in other parts of a medical facility. Making medical decisions for your spouse if he or she becomes incapacitated and unable to express wishes for treatment. Death Benefits Consenting to after-death examinations and procedures. Making burial or other final arrangements. Family Benefits Filing for stepparent or joint adoption. Applying for joint foster care rights. Receiving equitable division of property if you divorce. Receiving spousal or child support, child custody, and visitation if you divorce. Housing Benefits Living in neighborhoods zoned for "families only." Automatically renewing leases signed by your spouse. Consumer Benefits Receiving family rates for health, homeowners', auto, and other types of insurance. Receiving tuition discounts and permission to use school facilities. Other consumer discounts and incentives offered only to married couples or families. Other Legal Benefits and Protections Suing a third person for wrongful death of your spouse and loss of consortium (loss of intimacy). Suing a third person for offenses that interfere with the success of your marriage, such as alienation of affection and criminal conversation (these laws are available in only a few states). Claiming the marital communications privilege, which means a court can't force you to disclose the contents of confidential communications between you and your spouse during your marriage. Receiving crime victims' recovery benefits if your spouse is the victim of a crime. Obtaining immigration and residency benefits for noncitizen spouse. Visiting rights in jails and other places where visitors are restricted to immediate family. So I'm not sure what you are talking about. As for this comment... "I cannot understand how and why you can conclude that the recognition of a same sex civil marriage by the state threatens your marriage" You used the word "threatens". Not me. I am telling you that if my marriage, which provides significant benefit to society in general, is degraded by gay marriage, which does not provide such benefit. I feel no angst. I only want to live in a country whose laws are logical and rational and promote a healthy society. Gay marriage does none of that.

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