The Anti-Gay Religious Freedom Contradiction

Our anti-gay opponents scatter arguments like lawn seed, tossing them out by the handful and seeing which take root, with little concern for what’s actually true. That’s why the movement is such an intellectual tangle. This is part of a series pointing out the contradictions you trip over when you step back and pay attention to their whole big field of weeds.

Contradiction 4: We must destroy liberty in order to save it.

This plant branches in two directions.

Branch 1:

Everywhere they look, our opponents see threats to religious freedom. But I’m forced to wonder — are they championing the principle of liberty, or just protecting their anti-gay animus? They seem to exalt their own freedom while destroying it for others. Hence our fourth contradiction:

  • Repealing DADT is a threat to the religious freedom of military chaplains.
  • The government should not allow military chaplains to perform same-sex wedddings.

The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell scared the hell out of some chaplains. (And of course NOM exploited the fear, defrauding its donors of money by claiming — falsely — that a new set of guidelines would force military chaplains to perform same-sex weddings.)  So how did the anti-gays respond? Rep. Todd Akin, along with the usual rag-tags, tried to amend the National Defense Authorization Act to outlaw chaplains from officiating at same-sex weddings, stripping them of the right to follow their own conscience.

That amendment failed. And who knows: Maybe those folks weren’t concerned with religious freedom anyway (though I’d to hear them say it on the record). But then how do you explain the Orwellian Military Religious Freedom Protection Act

The bill starts by affirming each chaplain’s “right of conscience” when it comes to same-sex relationships. Lovely, fine, that’s in accord with the bill’s name. Then we get to the last bit, the freedom-robbing, anti-gay sweet spot:

A military installation or other property owned, rented, or otherwise under the jurisdiction or control of the Department of Defense shall not be used to officiate, solemnize, or perform a marriage or marriage-like ceremony involving anything other than the union of one man with one woman.

Ah. So chaplains can’t use their offices, or their chapels, or even their homes (if owned by the military) to conduct a religious service in accord with their own rights of conscience. They can’t even perform a “marriage-like ceremony” that isn’t actually marriage! You might want to argue that the government should forbid that. You might even want to make sure the government does forbid that. But then please, don’t call your law the Military Religious Freedom Protection Act.


Branch 2:

Unless your concept of freedom is novel and strange. For instance, here’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan speaking against marriage equality:

We cherish true freedom, not as the license to do whatever we want, but the liberty to do what we ought.

Ignore the straw man leading that sentence (entering a and legal binding marriage contract is the opposite of seeking the license to do whatever you want). Look rather at the second half: freedom as the liberty to do what we ought. By this strange and tautological definition, every tyranny can call itself free; every tyrant can say he gives his subjects the liberty to do what they ought. This definition is even more chilling from the mouth of a man with narrow and specific ideas about what you ought. And it’s far from the American ideal of freedom, where you can follow your own conscience as long as it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

It gets scarier. We see this same strange concept of freedom from the man who almost won the Republican presidential nomination, the man who is the presumptive Republican front-runner for 2016, Rick Santorum:

That is what when [the Founders] talked about the ‘pursuit of happiness.’ If you go back and read the definition in Webster at the time of the Declaration, or certainly thereafter, what ‘happiness’ was defined as doing good. Doing good, doing what is moral. So the pursuit of something ordered and morally good is what our Founders were saying. Which is in other words living your life consistent – taking those rights and living them consistent with God’s law. That was the goal and the aim of America.

Funny: Webster published his first dictionary 52 years after the Declaration of Independence, and even then, his definition of happiness was neither as narrow nor as limited as Santorum would have you believe:

The agreeable sensations which spring from the enjoyment of good; that state of a being in which his desires are gratified, by the enjoyment of pleasure without pain; felicity; but happiness usually expresses less than felicity, and felicity less than bliss. Happiness is comparative. To a person distressed with pain, relief from that pain affords happiness; in other cases we give the name happiness to positive pleasure or an excitement of agreeable sensations. Happiness therefore admits of indefinite degrees of increase in enjoyment, or gratification of desires. Perfect happiness, or pleasure unalloyed with pain, is not attainable in this life.

Of course, we don’t expect the truth from Rick Santorum. That makes it no less frightening. He promises a world in which freedom means the ability to act in accordance with Santorum’s notion of God’s law.

Santorum and Dolan and other radical (yet mainstream) social conservatives converge on this point: The government must destroy the freedom to live according to your own conscience in order to save your freedom to live according to theirs.

This second branch, to me, is scarier than the first.

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6 comments to The Anti-Gay Religious Freedom Contradiction

  • 1
    Lauren Ipsum says:

    That high-speed lathe sound you hear is coming from Orwell’s grave, I understand.

  • 2
    Rilian says:

    The government must destroy the freedom to live according to your own conscience in order to save the freedom to live according to theirs.

    I don’t think it’s that.  I think they’re just saying that the freedom to live according to your own conscienc must be destroyed because it’s evil and goes against god; but don’t worry because you still have true freedom, the freedom to do what’s right.

  • 3
    Deeelaaach says:

    If you ask the question:  “… do what’s right, according to whom?,” you get different answers depending on the person you talk to.  So we must remember that it is the freedom to do what is right, according to the speaker.  So yes, we have the freedom to do what is right, but “what is right” varies depending on whom the person you speak to.

  • 4
    Deeelaaach says:

    Please forgive me butchering English in that last sentence.  I’m very tired right now.

  • 5
    Neil says:

    An orthodox Christian view of freedom can be seen in the Lord’s Prayer. Thy will be done. Deliver us from evil. Sin is not chosen but tempted into by the determined will of godless folk. The political freedom of modern liberty is to a conservative Christian mere licentiousness. Freedom can only be found in Our Father’s will. Dolan and Santorum are merely following their duty to ensure that the only freedom there is exclude as far as possible all that may otherwise be be done.
    You’re not free to murder, right? God says murder is wrong and so that’s why it’s against the law and so you’re free from murder. It follows that anything else that God is conceivably against be similarly outlawed. Then we may really be free.
    Thus the most blissful society is that which is governed by theological oversight. I guess it’s been downhill for Western Civilisation ever since the French Revolution. There are yet a few bright spots in the world today of an Abrahamic if not actually Christian orthodoxy where freedom from profane temptation is well practiced. How fortunate are the people of Iran and Saudi Arabia?

  • 6
    robtish says:

    God says murder is wrong and so that’s why it’s against the law …

    Excellent. In just a few words, you’ve pinpointed the misconception held by those who don’t understand America’s philosophical heritage. Unfortunately, our opponents would miss your irony until they hit the last sentence, and then… and then they’d just be confused but wouldn’t know why.

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