Welcome to the new progressive America, celebrate accordingly, or else…
Conservative radio host and writer Erick Erickson sounded the alarm in his book You Will Be Made to Care. Responding to reasonable reactions from readers that “just wished these issues would go away”, Erickson and co-author Bill Blankschaen argue that the pervasive trend among progressives clamoring for marriage equality goes far beyond changes that merely amount to equal treatment of the law: they target dissenters for ridicule, ostracization, and even legal action. You will be made to care, they explain, because the progressives are the aggressors in the culture war and they’re marching toward total victory. Erickson proved prescient as cases continue to be brought against military chaplains, government officials, business executives, and college students across the country.
Our country has a long history of respecting religious freedom. Concerns about government coercion of churches and individuals brought Catholic Senator Ted Kennedy, Jewish Senator Charles Schumer, and Mormon Senator Orrin Hatch to introduce the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993. It sailed through Congress and received President Bill Clinton’s enthusiastic signature. Since then, government officials have been forced to demonstrate that compelling an individual to act against his or her beliefs is the “least restrictive” means to achieve a legitimate state interest. The issues began to arise almost immediately after the Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act, also a Clinton-endorsed law, unconstitutional and affirmed that states have to authorize marriage requests from same-sex petitioners.
In the majority opinion of Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Anthony Kennedy writes: "The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons.”
But when several states decided to adopt religious freedom acts to better protect individuals’ rights of conscientious objection, progressives went on a rampage. From boycotts to threats of arson, dissent would not be tolerated. It’s as if they didn’t even understand the cases. At issue were government actions that were deemed discriminatory. Progressives deliberately blur the line between public action and private action in order to indict all of society and to justify attacks against private citizens as part of the fight against “systemic discrimination”. States can’t discriminate against people, and therefore the state has to take action against anyone that is perceived to have done so, and when the state can’t act because a particular target hasn’t broken any laws, the true nature of progressive intolerance reveals itself.
They have a legitimate goal in mind, too, changes to the Employer Non-discrimination Act and the Civil Rights Act, but progressives haven’t been content going through the proper legislative channels, and they can’t agree on which practices need protecting, so they’re forced to pursue retribution through legal intimidation or collective shaming and smear campaigns.
Tolerance, acceptance, freedom of speech, and respect for people’s rights were once considered the hallmarks of our republic. Today, these are assumptions that threaten social order and dissent will not be tolerated. But it goes beyond “being made to care”, the liberal agenda is to remake American culture, and that means Americans have to step beyond tolerance to active encouragement, support, and celebration. Whether it’s same-sex marriage, abortion rights, or even efforts to jail skeptics of climate change, you will be forced to care, and then you will be expected to celebrate. It’s almost as if they’re asking us to cheer at the erosion of some fundamental freedoms.
This could be a reflection of our “selfie” culture. Young people, increasingly motivated by validation and belonging, insist that their views aren’t to be merely understood but celebrated. It’s not enough to respect someone’s rights and accept them for who they are, but we’re expected to applaud their efforts to destigmatize something that is crucial to their identity. It’s true that destigmatizing a less-understood, less-tolerated point of view on gender and sexuality helps to increase awareness and reduces violence against the community, but no one has a right to anyone’s conscience. Liberals used to say, “dissent is the most powerful expression of patriotism.” Now they demand, “delete your account.”
What happened to “live and let live?” It seems the preachers of tolerance are actually intolerant of the freedoms of speech, religion, and assembly. They’ll use whatever means necessary to wall off harmful speech and shun the believers of traditional values. In politics, this means total dominance over the “backward” Republicans, and for progressives, that means winner truly takes it all. Their aim is to remake the United States as a bastion of the most progressive values. They have a right to this belief. I don’t resent that they envision what the Constitution describes as “a more perfect union” as a more equitable and understanding society. I resent their means of realizing such a vision through extra-constitutional features. If progressives wish to rewrite the Constitution as a more aggressive doctrine in the pursuit of social justice, they can. Article V expressly recognizes The People’s right to amend the Constitution through an established process.
The principle behind this is sound, from Federalist Number 43: “It guards equally against that extreme facility, which would render the Constitution too mutable; and that extreme difficulty, which might perpetuate its discovered faults.”
No one argues it isn’t hard, frustrating the ambitions of activists on both sides, but it is deliberate. The current means of using the process of judicial review amounts to a rewriting of the Constitution that all too often betrays the principles of the Framers’. One can agree with outcomes such as Obegerfell or Windsor and disagree with the legal assumptions of the majority opinions. In fact, liberals might want to more closely read some of Anthony Kennedy’s reasoning if they want to understand why sanctioning a baker that refuses to accommodate a same-sex wedding or punishing a hotel for declining a request for a same-sex ceremony draws legitimate legal scrutiny. And if the Court is so moved to read protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans into the Fourteenth Amendment, it is inconceivable that it would not also be moved to respect the religious freedoms of churches and individuals as well. At least, it is inconceivable as long as Anthony Kennedy’s opinion is key to winning such a case.
This all amounts to changing the character of the United States. In the past, liberals have been accused of “hating America” and some have fully embraced the notion that “there’s nothing worth celebrating about this country!” Traditionalists typically responded, “if you don’t like it, you can get out!” But, of course, they don’t leave. Instead, they’re on the march and they aim for nothing less than to replace those older American values with more progressive aims. It started in academia and it’s spreading, infused into our politics, popular culture, and the business world. The “real American values” now are celebrating diversity, embracing the various definitions of self and sexuality, publicly proclaiming an ebullient joy that society is changing. Our new heroes are the “stunning and brave” voices willing to question traditional assumptions. Even writing this piece could be seen as a glaring example of “white, male, cisgendered privilege” that needs to be excised. I doubt I could get it published in a college newspaper, for example.
Empathy isn't a liberal value. It's a human one, and showing empathy for ideological foes is the measure of not just the strength of a movement or a country, but the strength of its principles and the people within it. Ours is a system that respects the rights of activists advocating fundamental transformations of the law and the right to resist unnecessary changes.
The only proper course is to fight it all, on the principle that this is not how a republic operates. Instead of shutting down dissent, the purpose of a republic is to welcome debate and encourage discussion. Instead of using the tools of the state to punish enemies and intimidate private citizens, the state is to provide a place to resolve disputes. We can be angry but we can also demand that, in a republic, we answer bias, and we answer the weaponization of the state by insisting that progressives justify their actions in regard to the Constitution and the freedoms it protects. For if you believe in our founding principle - government exists to protect the people’s rights - if you believe such a purpose as this is compatible, in fact suited, for modern society, you must accept the principles surrounding this invocation. You must accept that a government limited by a constitution best safeguards the people’s rights and any changes to this constitution should be carefully weighed and achieved through the established, proper processes. And you must accept that people have a right to pursue change and an equal right to resist.
I was hopeful that 2016 would be the year in which no students forced a commencement speaker to cancel, when no CEO is deposed because of his or her views, when a director doesn’t refrain from making a film that dares to test the assumptions of Hollywood elites. There was some progress made this year, and that is worth celebrating, for free expression is the true hallmark of bravery in the free world.
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