Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

In Public Discourse this week is a forthright statement of religious liberty signed by five distinguished figures. It’s a point that needs to be made again and again.

Religious liberty is the first freedom. It is one of the “moral roots” of our “constitutional system.” It is every American’s “birthright.” Without it, “civic harmony” is endangered.

And yet, a circumstance in our country today makes arguments for religious liberty alone inadequate. The statement acknowledges it in the third paragraph:

In recent days we have heard claims that a belief central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—that we are created male and female, and that marriage unites these two basic expressions of humanity in a unique covenant—amounts to a form of bigotry.

That’s the crux of the matter. Religious conservatives demand religious liberty, while liberals, progressives, and libertarians demand that discrimination stop. In this set-up, which the media blast daily, conservatives don’t defend their beliefs. They only defend their right to exercise those beliefs. The charge of bigotry stands.

Obviously, the set-up favors one side. The latter party has a positive principle: treat everyone the same. Conservatives have only a negative principle: leave me alone.

What, then, is the affirmative stance for religious conservatives?

It is the affirmation of religious liberty, yes. It is also the affirmation of religious doctrine. And that means asserting very clearly that some souls in the world are caught in troubled, disordered desires, and that if we accept those desires we allow disorder in family and society, and we act contrary to God’s will.

If more and more religious leaders simply cannot assert that some dispositions are unnatural and ungodly, then religious liberty proponents will always be on the defensive, steadily losing ground as the years pass. 

Mark Bauerlein is senior editor of First Things.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles