From left to right, the car’s bumper stickers read: “Hatred is Not a Family Value,” “Celebrate Diversity” (in rainbow colors), and “Obama-Biden.”
Collectively, these refreshed my growing fear that I should soon “celebrate” certain lifestyle choices or suffer the consequences. There was once another option, but memory of it is fading rapidly like an image in my rear view mirror.
Both the imperative tone and intolerance of the bumper messages are troubling; as is the shallow and muddled thinking behind them. A polite “no thank you” is now an unacceptable response to the colorful and demanding “celebrate”. It is time we rediscovered the validity of conscientious objection.
Conscientious objection is objection to an act, not a person. Equating conscientious objection with bigotry is unkind and a particularly egregious kind of ignorance. And restricting and penalizing the exercise of religiously-informed civil rights is simply wrong — though in modern parlance it is “evolved” behavior.
Two examples might help.
First, most would agree that a manufacturer of forceps has the right not to sell her product to an abortion clinic, due to a conscientious objection to dismemberment.
Forceps play a direct and key role in late-term abortion, an act many Americans consider immoral. This act is the basis of the forceps maker’s objection; not the sex, race or sexual orientation of the clinic’s staffers, customers or victims. The objection concerns the act, and the same is true for any vendor or employer who would refuse to enable an abortion.
Returning to “celebrate”, consider cakes or photographs at gay weddings. Gay weddings are also acts, not people. The difference is real, although in some circles conflating acts and people produces the ugly charge of bigot against those who would avoid celebrating.
Like forceps, these cakes and photos play a material role in an act many find immoral. Their materiality is confirmed by the importance assigned them by both sides of a very intense debate, one that recently played out in Indiana over a religious freedom law.
However, even though religiously-informed bakers and photographers object to material cooperation in gay weddings, their doors are open to homosexuals for the purchase of regular cakes and every day photographs. This is important. It tells us that participation in the act of gay marriage is found unconscionable, but not the customers themselves.
Bigotry, on the other hand, is comprehensive, more proactive, much more personal and far less nuanced – lynching being an extreme, but crystallizing example.
Yet it is the unjust charge of bigotry that is masking the broad daylight theft of the right to conscientious objection. Many are confused and this confusion results directly from a media-induced failure to think, loud and hysterical demagoguery, and an aggressive and unprincipled quest by some to have their sexual choices celebrated and publicly validated, though this is not a right.
Out of guilt and fear citizens have succumbed to a widely promoted fiction that wedding cakes and photos are a homosexual civil rights issue; that this is Selma all over again; and that discrimination against homosexual persons across numerous goods and services is a big problem, leading to disenfranchisement, segregation, exploitation and violence. It is not, and to assert that it is makes light of Selma.
Homosexuals have equal access to goods and services, cakes and photos, in all but one scenario: an act in which some religious people would prefer not to participate. If Selma’s biggest problem were that a few Black residents could get cake all of the time from most bakers but only 95 percent of the time from the rest, Selma’s movies would have been much better attended than Selma’s marches.
The conscientious objection of the forceps manufacturer to their use in abortions is not a civil rights issue for women as such, because that manufacturer provides equipment for women for all other purposes, and because other manufacturers, who do not have the same objection, can supply what is need to protect the right to abortion.
In a similar way, the conscientious objections of the baker and photographer concerning gay weddings are not civil rights issues for homosexuals, because those vendors sell to homosexuals the rest of the time, and because other businesses can meet the demand.
The one, very predictable exception in either case concerns an objection to a particular action, not to person. We should all be intelligent, stable and mature enough to understand this.
These questions have nothing to do with sexism or bigotry and should be resolved consistently in favor of the right to conscientious objection. Everyone should have the right not to be forced into material cooperation with an act they find immoral.
For the law or public policy to say otherwise represents an invasion of government into personal conscience. Our longstanding system of pluralism embraces a diversity of views, whereas forced affirmation requires unanimity through the power of the police state.
Clearly, the better answer is a live-and-let-live, bi-lateral, peace-be-with-you agreement. For the same reason that Christians don’t force gay bakers and photographers to work on their weddings, homosexuals shouldn’t force Christian bakers and photographers to work on theirs.
But live-and-let-live is what the “celebrate” movement won’t tolerate. Now that rights have been recast as the ability to force others to validate, to do things — sell products, render services and provide benefits — force is being applied in a new way. It is now trained on the elimination of dissent.
The recent attack on an Indiana pizzeria, a $135,000 fine imposed on an Oregon baker, and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli’s comment about Christian school tax exemptions being at risk, prove the crusade is growing more predatory. “Celebrate” is now a menacing and direct order. The validation movement’s use of force is an aphrodisiac driving new conquests.
This is a problem. As the right to judge, live and work according to one’s conscience is checked by the newly manufactured right to validation, Americans will find it increasingly difficult to live according to standards that differ from those held by a minority of influential citizens seeking celebration of or validation for one thing or another.
And although ours and every generation fancies itself modern, evolved and unprecedented, we have seen this before. Henry VIII forced consciences to validate his sexual choices, and state tyranny resulted. The preamble of his Suppression of Religious Houses Act is eye opening. Many who were religious were deprived of their property, liberty and lives. Henry proved that forced validation is a bad path and no business of the state.
History‘s arc is looping and those in charge are again targeting religion in the name of sex. Last time the enforcer was Cromwell as Vicegerent. This time it will likely be Verrilli as Solicitor General or Koskinen as IRS Commissioner.
A chasm again exists between those who believe that chastity is virtuous and those who reject the concepts of both chastity and virtue. In twenty first century America these two groups should be able to live freely, each guided by their very different beliefs. But just as in 1535, the latter group is increasingly intolerant of the former’s view of vice, and wrongly seeks to police its thought and constrain its religious civil rights. Then, Henry labeled priests and nuns “vicious, unthrifty and abominable”. Now, sexual validation crusaders label Christians sexist and bigoted.
As before, these are lies. The premise of bigotry on which the attempt to constrain conscientious objection rests is a smokescreen. Christians see a homosexual person’s dignity as rooted in something great and common — that we are all children of God — whereas those insisting on the validation of sexual choices are fixated on a mere act as the source of a homosexual person’s dignity — a far lower and less glorious standard.
The realization of a common dignity gratuitously gifted by God is both why there is no Christian pride parade and why Christians can’t condemn others for their parades. It is also why Immanuel Kant’s invention of autonomy and Justice Kennedy’s more recent version of it as the “right to define one’s own… existence… meaning… and mystery” ring so hollow. Ask the truly mysterious ex-NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal about the difficulty of defining your own existence.
The Kant/Kennedy approach is a heavy yoke and an uncertain foundation for living. Defining our own meaning is as improbable as creating ourselves. Plus, it casts us as islands and makes us needy, insecure and irritable when validation isn’t forthcoming or constantly awarded. It leads to frustration from time wasted by inventing troubles, instead of living life.
Christians may not throw stones but they may rightfully ask not to be force marched, as validators, in others’ acts or parades. This is what they are asking – that their diversity be tolerated (actual celebration is not necessary) and rights of conscientious objection respected. It is a courtesy we must extend, in the name of freedom of conscience, intellectual honesty, pluralism, rediscovering actual bigotry, mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence.
Steve C. Craig is a financial analyst who lives in Texas.