It’s not about homosexuality. It’s about the government’s compulsion to serve weddings.
It’s not about abortion. It’s about the government’s compulsion that nuns must finance it.
It’s not about the importance of “diversity and inclusion.” It’s about the government’s compulsion for public university professors to pledge fealty to it.
And as liberals have said, it isn’t about the content of the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s about the government’s compulsion to recite it.
When constitutional conservatives argue in favor of protections for religious liberty, far too many people focus right away on the substance of the immediate issue, as if the argument is about whether the conservative approves or disapproves of, for example, homosexual unions. Too many people miss the point entirely, as if completely oblivious to certain essentials of the political-theory framework of most of America’s founders. Except in limited circumstances, and even then usually applied only in extremis, the central idea is that the government’s job isn’t compulsion, but only the protection of life, liberty, and property.
I love golf, but I would fight vociferously against any requirement that I play it. I love the Declaration of Independence and think every American should be intimately familiar with its first two paragraphs, but that doesn’t mean the government should compel its recitation.
The government’s legitimate force upon its citizens is to prohibit things — to prevent the commission of bad actions that harm others. But the government has no business forcing me to eat my vegetables.
The Constitution contains a long list of enumerated governmental powers, not as a “for example” litany, but as an exclusive list: If it’s not listed, then the government should not do it, because by doing it, the government abridges the very liberty that it is government’s primary job to protect.
Because power corrupts, the restriction of governmental powers manifest in the whole design of the main, original body of the Constitution was thought by some lovers of liberty to be inadequate for the maintenance of freedom. Thus were born the first 10 constitutional amendments, the chief of which, the First Amendment, was meant as the equivalent of a flashing neon sign to lawmakers. As in: Just in case you are too doltish to understand that your powers are limited, here’s a list of “Thou shalt not” orders to keep you in your place.
If compulsion (as opposed to restrictions) of acts, aside from raising armies or taxes for the very survival and maintenance of the state itself, is generally outside of the realm of appropriate governmental power, then any compulsion that infringes on conscience, speech, or faith is all the more removed from government’s rightful power. With a limited “public accommodations” exception — applying to necessities of life, such as basic food, clothing, and shelter — the government has no more right to order someone to provide a service, especially a specialized one, as it has to order someone to shimmy naked up a pole greased with jalapeno sauce.
It thus has no right to order an artist to use his craft for a wedding of any sort — including if, say, the artist is Muslim and doesn’t approve of Jewish weddings. Government has no right to force nuns to provide material support for abortions. It has no right to force a party-planning company run by Red Sox fans to commit blasphemy by producing decorations celebrating the Yankees.
The recurring battles over religious liberty have nothing to do with an endorsement of bigotry. They have everything to do with the protection of freedom against the predations of compulsory government. Those who won’t even acknowledge any motive but the former are the ones arguing in, yes, bad faith.