Noticeably absent from next week’s inaugural ceremonies will be evangelical pastor Louie Giglio, unceremoniously dumped from the dais when a liberal blog unearthed a sermon from last century in which Giglio preaches from the Bible about sex. (For a quick primer, see George Neumayr's piece from Wednesday.) Under the Obama administration such beliefs disqualify one from participation. The situation landed like a turd on the porch of Giglio’s enormous church, which wants no part in the debate over the meaning of marriage. They are learning the hard way that the vanguard of the culture war bears a rainbow colored flag. You can run, but you can’t hide.
The Giglio fiasco represents just the latest instance of an administration increasingly dismissive of religious voices. The announcement one year ago of a new rule authored under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requiring employers to subsidize the cost of contraception for their employees, regardless of any religious conviction that would otherwise bar them from doing so, awakened many sleepy-eyed religious leaders to the increasing degradation of religious freedom in American society that has been occurring for quite some time. A slew of lawsuits and declarations of concern came from across the religious spectrum, including the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops and arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby.
Close on the heels of the HHS mandate came the final stage of President Obama’s evolution on the meaning marriage. He became the first sitting president to publicly declare support for no-mother and no-father marriage. The president stopped short of calling for actual legislation, but did instruct the Justice Department to cease enforcement of the duly-enacted Defense of Marriage Act, federal law since the Clinton administration, and successfully put an end to the military policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” One result of these actions is that military chaplains are being pressured to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, regardless of the teachings of their faith.
Then there was “Chik-Fil-A Day.” When it was discovered the CEO of the popular fast-food franchise believes marriage is a good thing, the blogosphere ignited a flurry of indignation that included boycotts, threats from public officials, and the attempted murder of employees at a pro-family think tank by a deranged gay rights advocate carrying a bag full of chicken sandwiches. All of this despite the fact that corporate policy prohibits Chik-Fil-A employees from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Level-headed American citizens nationwide flocked to the nearest Chik-Fil-A to show support for a person’s right to have an opinion. The president offered no comment.
A principle at the center of the American founding is that the competition of ideas in the public square is a good thing. All must be welcome to debate and find compromise. The Obama presidency is a shining example of the triumph of inclusion over marginalization. From time to time, the president has articulated the value of coming together over differences, whether regarding the ongoing budget crisis or an incident between a white cop and a black professor. On Wednesday, the administration even released a proclamation declaring it Religious Freedom Day. (You may have missed the press release.)
All of that falls flat in light of what the administration has actually done, which is ignore religious liberty concerns and faith-based opinions whenever they conflict with the desires of a more favored constituency. No compromise. No willingness to tell his own side, “It’s only a benediction, and about half the country agrees with him, so shut up.”
Religious expression is an invaluable contribution to the public square. It’s no coincidence that the rights to free speech, press, assembly, and access to government are included beside the right to free exercise of one’s faith. The values and ethics that extend from religion have a bearing on matters of public policy. To disassociate religion from the public square is to define faith as nothing more than a personal activity that occurs within the privacy of one’s church or home. This is a far cry from the understanding of the abolitionists and civil rights leaders like King, who understood the role of pastors in the “inescapable network of mutuality” to which we all belong.