“White evangelicals fear atheists and Democrats would strip away their rights. Why?” asks a recent op-ed in the Washington Post. The op-ed author, Paul A. Djupe, a professor at Denison University and scholar with the Public Religion Research Institute, offered two completely out-of-touch reasons.
The first is “because that’s what they’re hearing, quite explicitly, from conservative media, religious elites, partisan commentators and some politicians, including the president.” The second is an “inverted golden rule,” meaning white evangelical Protestants “express low levels of tolerance for atheists, which leads them to expect intolerance from atheists in return.”
It’s not about projection or an authoritarian impulse. Religious conservaties worry atheists and Democrats will strip their rights because they have repeatedly witnessed attempts, typically by Democrats, to strip them of their religious liberties.
Examples of Democrats’ attempts to gut religious liberties abound. Perhaps the most high-profile example was the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) federal mandate in 2011, as part of the Affordable Care Act, mandating that certain employers provide all FDA-approved contraceptives, including abortifacients, in their health insurance plans. The narrow religious exemption did not include religious nonprofits such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order of nuns that manages homes for the elderly poor across America, nor businesses such as Hobby Lobby.
A district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled against the Little Sisters of the Poor, and it was only in 2016 before the U.S. Supreme Court that the liberties of the religious order were secured. Hobby Lobby won in a separate 2014 case.
Democrats Attack Religious Liberty in Law and Institutions
This is hardly the only recent example. Over the last decade and a half, a number of jurisdictions, including the state of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., have targeted Christian adoption agencies that refuse to place children with same-sex or unmarried couples. Many of these adoption agencies have since closed.
The pro-choice organization NARAL, a prominent supporter of Democratic candidates, opposes conscience laws that allow medical practitioners to exempt themselves from activities that violate their religious beliefs, such as abortion or euthanasia.
Several Democratic presidential candidates have declared their support for legislation that would prohibit employers — including Christian schools or organizations — from maintaining rules about their employees’ sexual behavior. When the media reported that Vice President Mike Pence’s wife Karen had taken a position at an evangelical Virginia school that prohibits employees and students from homosexual behavior, left-leaning secular media ruthlessly attacked her. A cake baker in suburban Denver, despite the U.S. Supreme Court upholding his religious liberty in 2018, is still facing harassment by the state of Colorado.
Federal law still prohibits employers discriminating based on a person’s religious beliefs or affiliation, but conservative Christians can read between the lines. If city, county, and state governments are willing to target people for their “bigoted” beliefs, and if left-leaning judges seem increasingly willing to rule against religious liberty, it’s hard to imagine governments will be objective, neutral arbiters in their hiring practices toward religious conservatives.
Much the same can be said regarding many of our nation’s education institutions. If a university either explicitly promotes or willfully ignores leftist activism that seeks to silence opposing viewpoints — such as Middlebury College’s treatment of Polish academic, politician, and devout Catholic Ryszard Legutko — it’s fair to assume such institutions will not be hiring anyone who reminds them of Legutko. We’d be foolish to think this doesn’t also apply to woke companies.
Djupe’s Conclusion Is Flawed
Djupe’s research polled a cross-section of American society, more than 2,500 people, which included a variety of religious and political beliefs. Respondents were asked whether certain selected groups should be permitted to exercise various liberties, such as giving speeches in the community, teaching in public schools, or running for public office.
As evidence of tolerance among atheists and Democrats, Djupe and fellow researcher and political scientist Ryan Burge discovered that 65 percent of atheists and 53 percent of Democrats who named Christian fundamentalists their least-liked group were willing to allow them to engage in three or more of these activities. This, Djupe notes, is a higher proportion with tolerance than the overall sample and a higher proportion than white evangelicals. Ergo, Djupe and Burge conclude evangelicals fear atheists and Democrats not because these groups intend to restrict their rights, but because religious conservatives aim to do this to their political enemies.
Perhaps, though, restrictions on conservative Christians giving speeches, teaching in public schools, or running for public office are not theoretical. Across the United States over the last generation, real-life people of faith have suffered the infringement of their religious freedom. Whether or not those doing the infringing are atheists is unclear, but they are almost always on the political left.
Democrats’ Attacks on Religious Liberties Are Nothing New
This is why white evangelicals are afraid Democrats will attack their religious liberty — because they already have been for years. It also largely explains why this same demographic remains electorally wedded to Republicans, including President Donald Trump.
Notice that in almost all the above examples, it has been the judicial branch slowing the tide of anti-religious liberty initiatives. This has been the case even when activist judges at one level are overruled by more conservative judges at a higher level of the court system.
Trump is appointing right-leaning federal judges at rapid rates. Thus far, he has appointed 50 judges to circuit court benches, double what President Barack Obama had achieved at this point in his first term. Judges, many religious conservatives wager, may be one of the most effective means of safeguarding religious liberty.
None of this is news. Conservatives, and certainly religious conservatives, have been talking for generations about the need for a conservative judiciary to prevent attacks on America’s most treasured freedoms. That liberal mainstream media and secular academia are allied in deflecting attention from this truth in favor of research aimed at maligning religious conservatives demonstrates how out of touch they remain. Who says they learned something after the 2016 presidential election?