For quite some time, the Church and our allies have been warning that there are grave threats to religious liberty, presented by such developments as the redefinition of marriage, the advance of “gender theory”, and the defensive entrenchment of the pro-abortion mindset.
In response to our warnings, we have been widely ridiculed. Elite academics, media pundits, and combox denizens pooh-pooh our concerns as mere sensationalist fantasies. Interestingly, amongst the denials, you can frequently hear a subtle undertone, as if to say “of course your fears of religious persecution are ridiculous (but in any event you are bigots who deserve it because of the immemorial oppression by Christians against [insert your favored group here])”.
Well, for those who have eyes unclouded by ideology, our concerns are becoming even more difficult to deny. Some recent events give a good general picture of what the persecution will look like.
Excluded from economic activity
Last week, a decision was handed down by the Supreme Court of New Mexico that points the way that our courts will handle cases of religious liberty. The case involved a photographer who declined to take pictures of a “commitment ceremony” for a lesbian couple (New Mexico does not recognize same-sex “marriage”, but this event was tantamount to a wedding). Her reason was that participating in such an event would violate her Christian religious beliefs. The lesbian couple then chose to sue the photographer for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The lower court, and ultimately the New Mexico Supreme Court found that the photographer had violated the state’s anti-discrimination statute, and levied a fine against her. While the result is troublesome enough, the language in the concurring opinion is truly chilling to hear. Having lectured at length about the Supreme Court’s decisions on civil rights cases, the concurring judges ended with this:
All of which, I assume, is little comfort to the Huguenins, who now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives. Though the rule of law requires it, the result is sobering. It will no doubt leave a tangible mark on the Huguenins and others of similar views.
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 there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.
So we can now be compelled by law to compromise our most sacred religious beliefs, as the price of being American citizens. The court’s message is clear — keep your religious beliefs behind closed doors, and don’t dare to try to live in accordance with them in the public square.
In other words, conform or be cast out.
Disqualified from public office
A second example of the coming persecution happened recently in San Antonio, Texas. A bill was introduced that would affect eligibility to serve in public office in that city. The bill states, in part:
No person shall be appointed to a position if the city council finds that such person has, prior to such proposed appointment, engaged in discrimination or demonstrated a bias, by word or deed, against any person, group or organization on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age or disability.
This is another chilling development. Apparently, all candidates for any kind of position with the city government will be required to pass a test to ensure that they have never uttered a statement that might be construed as “bias” by a bunch of local politicians. So, for example, if you have ever expressed a faith-based belief about such issues as the immorality of homosexual behavior, opposing the re-definition of marriage, casting doubts upon the notion of “transgender rights”, or even on the evil of abortion, you might be declared ineligible to hold public office.
In other words, conform or be cast out.
The Return of the Penal Laws
Those of Irish heritage will recall the infamous days of the Penal Laws, which systematically excluded Catholics from full participation in society — owning property, serving in the government, and certain professions were all banned for Catholics. Some of these laws carried over into the United States in the colonial and post-revolutionary era. Similar laws (like the Alien and Sedition Acts and the anti-Communist bills of the McCarthy era) have been passed at various times in our history to penalize unpopular opinions. Yet all of these efforts to suppress dissent were eventually rejected as inconsistent with the American dedication to liberty.
But our nation is now returning to that ugly path. The way is now becoming clear to placing religious believers in an ideological ghetto, if they fail to adhere to the modern view of sexuality. This will be done in gentle, seemingly-reasonable, gradual and incremental steps. Courts and legislatures will claim that they are merely extending the reach of previous decisions, and executive agencies will say they are just applying the law as they interpret it.
Sadly, many religious people will choose to conform, as the Israelites did during their captivity in Babylon. But make no mistake, the remnant will feel the effects of the coming persecution.