Social justice, as it is popularly used, is probably the worst threat to freedom of religion in America today. Under the guise of helping the oppressed and uplifting victims of society, progressives, using the rhetoric of social justice as a battering ram, are attacking freedom of religion in America. Social justice is not a coherent concept so much as it is yet another form of social engineering in disguise. (See Michael Novak here and here.)
Instead of addressing the real moral problems of society or working to find solutions to situations involving fundamental injustice, social justice focuses on the popular causes of special interest groups. Often, those who disagree with the social justice agenda are accused of injustice, and their right to freedom of religion is trampled over by social justice advocates demanding the rights of special interest groups.
The recent Hobby Lobby case is a good example of the harm that the social justice philosophy can do to freedom of religion. Business owners whose personal moral convictions would not allow them to provide abortifacient birth control methods for their employees were accused of social injustice toward women. Conservatives and other pro-life advocates pointed out that birth control is available inexpensively and conveniently at clinics and over the counter at corner pharmacies. The Hobby Lobby case had nothing to do with social justice and everything to do with religious freedom. The case was a battle of ideologies — a battle of opposing viewpoints and a battle to decide the future of freedom in America. Essentially, the Hobby Lobby case was a fight between those who advocate special “rights” for a particular segment of the American population and those who believe in the importance of preserving religious freedom for all Americans.
Generally, conservatives avoid using the phrase “social justice,” but that does not mean lack of interest in the well-being of others. Justice requires equal treatment before the law for everyone; it should never be preceded by a word that would limit the extent of its capacity to only a portion of the population. Social justice is, therefore, not real justice and, indeed, hurts true justice, because it focuses on discrimination in favor of special interest groups and segments of society instead of justice for all individuals.
Indeed, the words “social” and “justice” represent mutually exclusive concepts. The Conservative Mind states, “Justice implies a person is getting what he deserves for acts committed by him as an individual … [while social justice] rewards others not on their merit but on their membership in a chosen group.” By themselves, the words “justice” and “freedom” are both principles that most Americans wholeheartedly believe in, principles that have always existed in harmony with each other. But when other words are added — “social justice” and “freedom of religion” — the two become incompatible concepts.
While religious freedom is a universal right to which everyone is entitled, social justice is inherently discriminatory. Instead of empowering people to stand for their individual rights, it herds them together and classifies them based on their gender, race, economic condition, or other qualifying factor. Although the proponents of social justice tout it as a means to eliminate discrimination, the very foundation of its advocates’ principles and actions is the discrimination they claim to oppose. Social justice is both “divisive and destructive,” as well as being a “concept that festers both hatred and guilt.” Without discrimination to separate people into distinct groups, social justice could not exist. On the other hand, religious freedom is inherently non-discriminatory and unifying. It doesn’t relate to one’s skin color, gender, education, or any other form of classification. Instead, social justice ignores the importance of individual responsibility in society. Instead of acknowledging people’s personal responsibility for their actions, social justice chooses to view people only as they fit into certain groups: the oppressors and their victims who deserve redress and compensations. The end result is ultimately a “sense of entitlement” that “tears down incentives and builds up dependence.”
While freedom of religion brings people together through its acknowledgment of and respect for personal convictions, social justice divides communities by forcing people into unrealistic classifications. When the individual’s freedom of religion is respected, citizens can hold and express personal convictions. But when social justice is enforced, citizens face a hostile environment where they are forced to play the role of either the oppressor or the oppressed, as either the exploiter or the victim. Social justice creates a society where one is automatically cast as a “good guy” or a “bad guy” simply on the basis of factors that one cannot necessarily control. As it champions the supposed rights of a portion of the population, social justice accuses the rest of the population of being the perpetrators of injustice and labels those who disagree with its philosophy as “racists” or “haters.”
The social justice vision of America is neither just nor reasonable. Freedom of religion is an element of true justice, while social justice, as preached and practiced, is an element of injustice.