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An email came to me this week from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). The Institute describes itself in this way: “As a nonpartisan, independent research organization, PRRI does not take positions on, nor do we advocate for, particular policies.”

But the very first line of the email suggests otherwise.

The email was sent in anticipation of President Trump’s executive order on religious freedom, which speaks generally about “formulating and implementing policies with implications for the religious liberty of persons and organizations in America.” The order is, in fact, a circumspect document, the impact of which remains unclear. You can tell that from its assertion that people have the right to exercise their religious freedoms “without undue interference by the Federal government.” The word “undue” is vague enough to go either way when the next conflict arises.

But that is not how PRRI characterizes the order. The researchers at PRRI know exactly what the order is about and what it will do. The email opens: “President Trump is set to sign an executive action Thursday that would allow religious individuals and organizations to legally discriminate against members of the LGBT community and individuals having sex outside of marriage.”

In that line, PRRI narrows the consequences of the order to its effects on two victims, LGBT individuals and unmarried sexual partners. The impact, too, has been reduced to one thing: discrimination. Instead of acknowledging a complicated situation wherein two parties with clashing interests and values must be managed, PRRI presents a simple scenario of one group victimizing another.

This is a tendentious, partisan understanding. Behind the order are recent cases of religiously conservative bakers, florists, and photographers refusing to participate in same-sex weddings. They haven’t discriminated against LGBT individuals; I don’t know of any of them denying their wares and services for non-wedding purposes. They simply can’t cross the line and join in what is to them a sinful ceremony.

But their position doesn’t count, not in PRRI’s opinion. The researchers don’t credit the convictions of religious believers as obedience to their God and their church leaders. In PRRI’s opinion, these believers just want to hurt others.

We have another instance of the irony noted in my previous post. A research center whose subject is religion doesn’t take seriously the actual religion of its subjects.

Mark Bauerlein is senior editor of First Things.

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