Does it have a future? Some people view religious liberty as a civil and constitutional right; increasingly, others see it as a problem to be dealt with. The Mirror of Justice post “Securing Religious Liberty in an Age of Growing Intolerance” is a short reflection on what this means for the future of religious liberty.
The central point from the article is the notion that civil society, the social space in which free citizens interact socially, economically, and religiously, and do so largely free of the (heavy) guiding hand of government, is disappearing. Government is quickly growing into that formerly free civil space at an alarming rate, the most visible sign of which was the recent firing of the CEO of General Motors by President Obama … with hardly a peep or tweet from the media. The post notes that as government displaces civil society (think “regulates” if you prefer), religious liberty — one of those “civil liberties” that govern the autonomy we enjoy as free participants in civil society — is at risk of being squeezed out. The argument seems to be that as government displaces civil sociey, the effective operation of civil liberties will inexorably be replaced by government directives about proper conduct in what one might call “governed society.” It’s happening already.
The policy advice in the post that emerges from this analysis is that maybe we should stop focusing on opposing gay marriage, which increasingly appears to be a battle that cannot be won in the long term, and start putting more effort into defending religious liberty. In more concrete terms, that means working toward things like putting in legislative safeguards protecting the right of private religious institutions to make their own hiring decisions (think GM CEO here) free of governmental direction or the President Obama seal of approval. Or protecting the right of private religious institutions to make their own membership decisions (who gets to join and who can be dropped from membership) and to decide who can receive its religious sacraments (including marriage).
I realize, of course, that the membership of the Church has no input when it comes to the public policies pursued by the LDS Church. Little or no information is made available about who it is that actually prepares policy analysis memorandums (consultants? attorneys? CES staff? stake presidents?) that are made available to the senior committees of the Church that actually make the policy decisions. But, whoever you are writing those policy memorandums, it is time to start considering alternative courses of action. We don’t want to win the Prop 8 battle but lose the religious liberty war. In an age of growing intolerance we may need to pick our battles more carefully.