Well, well, there’s tolerance, and then there’s tolerance. A recent interview of Martha Nussbaum in the Boston Review shows what at least one pillar of our liberal establishment has in mind when it comes to Catholicism.
The interview by Boston Review Web Editor David V. Johnson was prompted by Nussbaum’s new book, The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age. I skimmed the book when it came out. It’s Martha Nussbaum at her self-confident, insular, verbose worst, useful only as an efficient way to get up to date on the latest liberal pieties. (Nussbaum can be very sanctimonious.) And the same holds for the interview, which is shorter and thus to be preferred to the book.
Here is a telling exchange:
DJ: You argue that Catholic universities that restrict their presidencies to priests (i.e., males) should lose their tax-exempt status, because there is a compelling state interest to open such positions to both sexes. But isn’t that a slippery slope? Don’t most religions have objectionable views about sexual equality?
MN: I was making a specific point about the logic of the Bob Jones v. U.S. case, which dealt with that university’s policy banning interracial dating. The Supreme Court held that to withdraw the university’s tax exemption did indeed impose a “substantial burden” on the group’s free exercise of religion, but was justified by a “compelling state interest” in not cooperating with and strengthening racism. The government was in effect giving Bob Jones a massive gift of money. The same is true today of Catholic universities, all of which (excepting Georgetown, which now has a lay president) have statutory prohibitions against a female candidate for president. By giving them a large gift, the government is cooperating with sexism. I think that refusing to give someone a gift is quite different from making their activities illegal, and nobody was proposing to do that in either case. Moreover, these were not just tendencies or social facts—after all, lots people of all religions prefer to date only people of the same race, as many studies show—we are talking in both cases about mandatory rules, official university policies. I think it’s fine to refuse to give someone a huge gift when they have such mandatory policies, so what I was saying was that if a case parallel to Bob Jones were brought concerning the Catholic universities and their presidencies, it ought to come out the same way. Or rather, it ought to have come out the same say—since of course the legal standard under which we currently operate is a slightly different and weaker one than the one that prevailed when Bob Jones was decided, so we don’t know how either case would come out today.
As I wrote on the pages of First Things, contemporary American liberalism is tempted to use the Selma Analogy to effect a Gleichschaltung (that’s the German word the Nazis used to describe their goal of bringing all of society into line with their program) in twenty-first century America. Very tempted.