Arguing about religious liberty can be a little tricky at times. The Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker, for example recently criticized President Obama for his administration’s “willingness to challenge, rather than protect, religious liberty in this country.” As proof, the columnist pointed to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit – filed by the Bush/Cheney administration.
But the right is nevertheless increasingly invested in the larger argument. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) spoke last week at the Reagan presidential library and raised the specter of “elites” waging a “silent war” on religious liberty.
“The American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war,” Jindal will say at the Simi Valley, Calif., event. “It threatens the fabric of our communities, the health of our public square and the endurance of our constitutional governance.”“This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power,” he adds, according to the prepared remarks. “It is pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith into a land where faith is silenced, privatized and circumscribed.”
To support this rather over-the-top claim, Jindal pointed to the Hobby Lobby case – the one in which lawyers are arguing that corporations are people with their own distinct spiritual beliefs, which should empower a corporation’s owners to deny contraception access to their employees.
First, one is perfectly capable of believing that corporations are not capable of independent religious worship while also supporting religious liberty.
Second, if this is the best example Jindal can come up with – Kathleen Parker’s column also raised the case – perhaps this “silent war” isn’t even a real skirmish.
So what is it, exactly, that Jindal is talking about? Paul Waldman had a good piece on this.
Jindal is rather shrewdly attempting to tap into something that’s universal, but particularly strong among contemporary conservatives: the urge to rise above the mundane and join a transformative crusade. It’s one thing to debate the limits of religious prerogatives when it comes to the actions of private corporations, or to try to find ways to celebrate religious holidays that the entire community will find reasonable. That stuff gets into disheartening nuance, and requires considering the experiences and feelings of people who don’t share your beliefs, which is a total drag.But a war? War is exciting, war is dramatic, war is consequential, war is life or death. War is where heroes rise to smite the unrighteous. So who do you want to get behind, the guy who says “We can do better,” or the guy who thunders, “Follow me to battle, to history, to glory!”
Quite right. That said, as Ed Kilgore added, this has been tried before, and most Americas see through the misguided facade.
“These elites have to this point faced little opposition,” eh? What about the “war on religion” meme pursued by the entire Republican Party and its presidential candidate throughout 2012? What about the endless, interminable harping on the idiotic “War on Christmas” every Yuletide on Fox? How about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the pompadoured hosts of conservative evangelicalism who have been posing as martyrs since the day the Affordable Care Act was enacted?Did I imagine the decades of agitation by the Christian Right – invariably in harness with conservative pols – claiming that resistance to their agenda represented a unconscionable effort to restrict the exercise of faith “in the public square” (the Richard John Neuhaus buzzword Bobby so unoriginally tosses out today as though it’s a fresh way of looking at things)? Is the Kansas House of Representatives a persecuted sect, a “remnant” fighting the brave, doomed fight against the Infernal Hosts?
Jindal’s speech is the latest in an unfortunate victimization series – the governor, no doubt eyeing a national platform, wants religious people to feel persecuted, blame his political foes for the injustice, and look to him as the hero who will end the oppressive nightmare.
The problem, of course, is that there’s no need for Jindal or anyone who found his message to see themselves as victims. No one is coming for their religious liberty. Their ability to worship faces no jeopardy. Social conservatives, perhaps weighing their 2016 options, need no new champion to rescue the freedoms they already enjoy.
There is no “war,” silent or otherwise, regardless of whether ambitious pols would like to create one or not.