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We’re in a moment of mass hysteria, one that vindicates Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s decision to sign his state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). This law establishes a strong standard for religious liberty: A person’s free exercise of religion can be “substantially burdened” by a law only if that law advances a “compelling government interest” in a way that involves “the least restrictive means.”

It was immediately denounced as an unprecedented assault on gay rights. Apple CEO Tim Cook described the law as part of “something very dangerous” that “would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors.” Many others have joined the frenzy. Gays aren’t going to be served at restaurants! They won’t be allowed into hotels!

What world is Tim Cook living in? At present, Indiana has no legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result, no matter what one thinks of the recently passed RFRA, when it comes to gay rights this legislation does absolutely nothing to allow people to do things they’re not already allowed to do.

And what were people doing? At this point nobody has identified any pattern of discrimination in Indiana that, somehow, this legislation will empower. No gay person has complained of being denied a hotel room. None have reported being denied service at a restaurant. Gays and lesbians are not prohibited from voting or holding public office. Nobody is lobbying to prevent Elton John from performing in Indiana. There are no reports of discrimination in hiring.

But today is beside the point. Let me repeat that: Today is beside the point. The controversy in Indiana is about the future.

Christian conservatives in Indiana pressed for a RFRA because they anticipate the establishment of a thoroughgoing gay rights regime in America. The Supreme Court is very likely to find a right to gay marriage in the Constitution. Moreover, the reasoning used to justify the discovery of this right is only too likely to move along lines that equate any objection to same-sex marriage with bigotry.

This is what I call the Selma Analogy. It encourages judges to write sexual orientation and gender identity into existing civil rights legislation. Eric Holder’s justice department has already done so in some areas. The Human Rights Campaign’s template for the next stage of activism, “Beyond Marriage Equality,” outlines a comprehensive reform of civil rights legislation to incorporate sexual identity and gender orientation.

The Selma Analogy mandates a scorched earth policy toward any dissent from the gay rights regime. Our civil rights law is a powerful bulldozer designed to destroy all vestiges of racist culture. This enterprise of destruction has been supported by an extremely punitive public consensus. To be called a racist today is a powerful anathema. It is a career-killing, reputation-destroying accusation. As gay rights get incorporated into civil rights law and the supporting anti-discrimination social consensus, it too will seek to destroy institutions that “discriminate” and punish all expressions of dissent.

This is why Christian conservatives want RFRA. We hope to introduce some protections against the coming legal effort to destroy the “culture of homophobia,” which will mean Christianity itself insofar as Christians remain loyal to the biblical teaching on sex, marriage, and family. And that’s why gay activists are so willing to employ scare tactics to defeat RFRA efforts. Even though sympathetic judges can largely evacuate RFRA of significant limitations on government action, these activists don’t want any impediments to the use of state power to destroy “homophobia.”

The mass hysteria over the Indiana RFRA reinforces the judgment that legal protections of religious freedom are needed now more than ever. The mainstream media has shown itself utterly shameless. Corporate America is happy to issue economic threats. Some politicians are eager score points by burning heretics. Others remain silent.

In this climate, can anyone doubt that efforts will be made to deny accreditation to Christian (and Jewish and Muslim) institutions that don’t conform to the “anti-homophobia” consensus? Will a traditional view of marriage be permitted any public space in the new gay rights regime? The furor against Indiana’s RFRA suggest that if the gay rights activists have their way, no, there won’t be.

Christian leaders in America need to be clear-minded. It’s very foolish to think we can settle into a modus vivendi with the coming gay rights regime. This regime is the political form of the sexual revolution, and like all revolutions, it’s committed to the destruction of the past.

In this moment, we must exercise responsible leadership. This means two things. The first is obvious. We need to work for laws like the Indiana RFRA to provide some protection, however modest, to our communities from the coming onslaught of “anti-bigotry” laws.

The second is less obvious but perhaps even more important. We need to stand up and speak clearly about the biblical teaching on sex, marriage, and family. It’s the leaders of the Church who should be attacked in public as “homophobic,” not politicians like Mike Pence who are trying to do the right thing. Few things are more demoralizing than an officer who cowers in the trenches.

As the mass hysteria makes clear, we are entering of time of testing. We need to act and speak.

R. R. Reno is editor of First Things. He is the general editor of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible and author of the volume on Genesis. His previous articles can be found here.

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