Religion is on the defensive in American life these days. What began as a simple, direct and unprecedented statement of government detachment from religion – the First Amendment’s “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” – has morphed into a steady weakening of the “free exercise” clause. The strongest weapon wielded against religion today is a distortion of the value of “tolerance.”
In the name of “tolerance” marriage has lost its traditional moorings and now become unrecognizable; religious people have to watch what they say and even think; the Bible has to be suppressed, perhaps in some dreary future to be studied only in dark basements behind locked doors lest the thought police hear someone cite an unapproved verse; the values bequeathed to us by G-d have to be adjusted and conformed to the times, and often renounced in public discourse; and, indeed, it is unsafe and unhealthy to refer to G-d’s word in public, lest the advocates for “tolerance” show their ugly, intolerant sides.
Just ask the Duck Dynasty. In truth, the next time I watch the Duck Dynasty will be the first time I watch the Duck Dynasty. I am not even completely aware of who they are or what they purport to do. But I do know that the senior duck is being persecuted for articulating his faith and his values. The notion of homosexual conduct as sinful is not something that was fabricated in 2010. It is actually quite ancient. It is its “decriminalization” – i.e., its forced removal from the list of sins – that is new, and is being imposed on the rest of society under duress. The Ducks should take their business elsewhere, to an environment more hospitable to their needs. The elites, apparently, so confident in their moral superiority, feel no need even to reckon with or tolerate other viewpoints. “Off with their beaks!” they proclaim.
Same sex marriage has become an unstoppable force, and marriage itself is perceived by society’s elites as antiquated. New York City’s Mayor and New York State’s Governor openly consort with “girlfriends” without paying any social price. There is no scorn, no stigma, no moral opprobrium. We are way past that, too sophisticated. As predicted, the acceptance of same sex marriage has generated a re-evaluation of all marriage arrangements. This week, a Utah court watered down the state’s anti-polygamy law, ruling unconstitutional a clause that prohibited even “cohabitation” with more than one “spouse.” That is, in Utah today, one can marry one woman civilly and as many as one can bear religiously and not violate the bigamy statutes. Well, at least the Bible recognizes polygamy.
Rabbenu Gershom’s ordinance banning polygamy for Ashkenazic Jews, now more than 1000 years old, was rooted in the concept that polygamy was alien and considered abhorrent in Christian society. That conclusion might require some re-evaluation now, although, on a personal note, my wife is suddenly less progressive than I had assumed.
In another sign of the times, a North Dakota judge this week permitted a man married to a man (in another state) to also marry a woman, and why not? There is not enough love in the world, and the more the merrier. We are only at the beginning of the infinite permutations of marital arrangements in our future, all of which will lead to a further exacerbation of the dire problem of the instability of the American family and the dreadful effects on the aimless children being produced. It is, though, a boon for Hallmark, which can now expand its greeting card business into heretofore unimaginable terrain.
It is less salutary to other industries, especially when the new immorality crashes head-on into the old morality, and this is where American religious life is again under siege. There are lawsuits sprouting across the country against religious businessmen – photographers, bakers, party hall renters – whose beliefs and values proscribe any recognition of or participation in same-sex marriage ceremonies. Some of those businesspeople have already lost at trial, ordered to pay thousands of dollars in fines, and whose cases are on appeal. Is this not an obvious violation of the “free exercise” clause? Do I not have the right to refuse to officiate at an interfaith or same-sex (or, for that matter, polygamous) marriage? Must our shul rent its facilities for purposes we deem inimical to G-d’s word?
Such was once obvious in America. It no longer is. The success of the homosexual lobby has been so enormous that, literally overnight, it has transformed what was considered to be deviant and depraved conduct into a moral desideratum. Those who find homosexuality sinful are on the defensive. In the America that is looming, the two previous sentences can easily be construed as hate speech to be reviled if not also prosecuted. We are left to beg for some measure of acceptance for our views, knowing how out of the mainstream they are.
But isn’t that the very essence of tolerance? Isn’t tolerance a two-way street? If I peacefully accept my neighbors’ views that I consider immoral, shouldn’t he also have to accept my views that he considers benighted? Of course, but not in today’s America, and it will be worse in tomorrow’s. We have reached a stage in which freedom of speech is subject to mob approval, and freedom of religion is constricted until it conforms to the prevailing social norms. And it is the liberals – purported defenders in the extreme of those very clauses in the Bill of Rights – who are today’s persecutors.
The thought police, the speech police, and the approved religious belief police – all self-appointed, and all then anointed by the media as moral watchdogs safeguarding the purity of American social life (as they see it) – are totalitarians. Worse (in their language), they are bullies, and the repugnance of their conduct is proportionate to the shrillness of their demands on the rest of us.
The US Supreme Court will shortly hear arguments about the Obamacare edict forcing religious institutions (and individuals) to pay for contraception and other matters that violate their religious beliefs. Orthodox groups are preparing to file briefs in support of the church’s position, as their struggle is the struggle of all religious entities. Donations can be made to https://fundly.com/jews-4-religious-liberty#supporters/donors to support the effort.
We are living through the consequences of the forced removal of G-d from the public domain, especially schools. More than two generations of children have been raised without knowledge of – without even any access to – any sense of objective morality. There is no longer any sense of absolute right and wrong to guide young people’s moral choices, only what makes one feel good or bad, happy or sad, and in the short term. And the irresolute morals of the citizenry have engendered national leadership which is correspondingly anemic and ineffectual.
All we can do is hold firm to our values that will surely endure even this assault, never lose faith, and plead for “tolerance” to the powerful forces arrayed against moral man.