The End of Tolerance And Enforced Morality
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The End of Tolerance And Enforced Morality

Are you having a fun Culture War 4.0? It’s certainly been a crazy ride for Indiana state representatives, who appear to be caving to pressure to “clarify” RFRA language after being assaulted for being anti-gay. Across the country, the opportunity for grandstanding has been seized by the sort of unserious people you would expect: the Washington governor and Seattle mayor have banned official travel to Indiana in the wake of the law. Connecticut’s governor displayed his own inability to understand the law in his state by banning travel there as well. And I’m fine with that, because hey, government officials shouldn’t be using taxpayer money to travel all over the place anyway, even if it does mean Washington and Connecticut officials will miss out on the memorial service for Lil’ Sebastian.

The notable thing about Culture War 4.0 is its consistent rejection of tolerance in favor of government enforced morality. Remember your Muad’Dib: “When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles.” The peaceful tolerance for those who are different now extends too far, for it encompasses people who do not abide by or fully appreciate gay marriages. The people must be brought to heel, and the new morality enforced by government over their religious objections.

It’s instructive to observe George Stephanopoulos’s behavior on this topic, given his role as a very public shill for the Democratic Party. He’s not interested in having a debate on the subject or in acknowledging the importance of RFRAs – something he obviously did two decades ago while working for President Clinton. He’s interested in spouting aggressive talking points to frame Republicans as bigots for giving people the ability to defend their religious freedom in the courts. That’s the entire goal here: turn religious liberty into something that lives within the bounds of scare quotes.

And this goal is motivated not just by the political aims of the left, but by a broad rejection of tolerance as a virtue. It was all well and good when tolerance was about conservatives and religious types swallowing their objections and going along with things – but now that the left is being asked to do the same thing? Forget about it.

“The paradox is that even as America has become more tolerant of gays, many activists and liberals have become ever-more intolerant of anyone who might hold more traditional cultural or religious views. Thus a CEO was run out of Mozilla after it turned out that he had donated money to a California referendum opposing same-sex marriage. Part of the new liberal intolerance is rooted in the identity politics that dominates today’s Democratic Party… The same reversal of tolerance applies to religious liberty. When RFRA passed in 1993, liberal outfits like the ACLU were joined at the hip with the Christian Coalition. But now the ACLU is denouncing Indiana’s law because it wants even the most devoutly held religious values to bow to its cultural agenda on gay marriage and abortion rights.”

Instead of reinvigorating public discourse about how we value religious liberty and tolerance in the public square, the left’s interest is in shutting it down. As Hans Fiene writes today on the motivations involved: “in order to keep our righteousness shiny, someone had to play the role of Bull Connor, and you were the best fit we could find.”

As I’ve been writing in recent years about the renewal of the culture wars, I’ve received some steady pushback from many readers on both sides of the marriage issue who believe that such talk is overblown. The lesson of Indiana’s RFRA controversy is that if anything, we have underestimated the commitment of the secular left to enforce fealty within a naked public square, where tolerance is no longer a virtue and the power of government must be used to stamp out dissent. For all their complaints over the years about social conservatives’ use of government to enforce morality, the secular left is more eager than ever to engineer the society they seek, no matter the cost.

Ben Domenech is the publisher of The Federalist. Sign up for a free trial of his daily newsletter, The Transom.
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