‘Religious liberty” is the new “family values.” That’s the conclusion of a new, exhaustive, 30,000-word report just released by the think-tank Political Research Associates and prepared by this writer. There is a covert, well-coordinated, heavily financed campaign to reframe questions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality, as well as reproductive rights, into claims that civil rights violate “religious liberty.”
We have heard this before. When coercive prayer was banned in school, the Christian right complained about religious liberty. When Bob Jones University lost its tax exemption because it discriminated against African Americans, the Christian right complained about religious liberty. And now, when private employers cannot control their employees’ access to contraception, the Christian right complains about religious liberty.
But there is something new this time. Alongside the Becket Fund, an arch right-wing advocacy organization funded by the Catholic Church, and alongside the Family Research Council and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, there are a handful of unlikely Jewish bedfellows. Two of these, the Orthodox Union’s Nathan Diament and Yeshiva University’s Meir Soloveichik, have long provided the Jewish window-dressing for the Christian right’s radical agenda. But this time, Marc Stern, the American Jewish Committee’s associate general counsel for legal advocacy, has joined his voice to the chorus of the Christian right.
The juxtaposition is jarring. Seeing the AJC alongside conservative Catholics and Evangelicals reminds one of the “Sesame Street” song “One of These Things Is Not Like the Others.” What is going on?
As far back as 2008, Stern ominously wondered, in a Los Angeles Times editorial, “Will gay rights trample religious freedom?” Never mind that in Los Angeles, it was the Mormon Church and the Catholic Church that spent millions of dollars to impose their religious beliefs on others in the form of Proposition 8 (in late March, its constitutionality will be argued at the Supreme Court). No, Stern worried, the real victims were religious people who were no longer allowed to discriminate.
Like who? Like the students who were barred from wearing anti-gay T-shirts to school, in violation of the school’s “safe schools” policy. Apparently, the only way these students can practice their religion is to demonize others.
Stern and his Christian right colleagues tell us that the real victims here are the Christian students not allowed to express their “religious views.” Funny, I can’t recall Christian students killing themselves because gays and lesbians were bullying them, whereas the LGBT teen suicide rate is eight times that of the general population. Who is really the victim here?