Religious freedom is no longer of value to the ACLU because they have a political war to wage against Christians.
I saw this story over the weekend, when it first broke, but didn’t have time to write about it. I was gratified yesterday to see the Libertarian publication Reason put this headline on it: “The ACLU Now Opposes Religious Freedom Because Christians Need It.” And they added this tagline: “The Sometimes Civil Liberties Union.”
I was relieved because Reason has an unhealthy habit of promoting homosexual marriage and portraying transgender surgery as the ultimate triumph of human autonomy. I understand libertarians opposing criminal penalties on homosexual acts, but backing the state in redefining a social institution is not a move for liberty. Sadly, secular people are prone to all sorts of blindnesses and fads.
But in this case, they are still quite perceptive!
The American Civil Liberties Union has formally reversed its support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signaling that the organization is no longer interested in mounting an ideologically consistent defense of all people of faith. It’s a disappointing retreat on principles for the ACLU, and the organization’s explanation suggests that a singular disdain for Christian belief is the reason.
Louise Melling, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, announced the change in policy in a Washington Post op-ed. Her article provides a useful history of RFRA, which became law in 1993—two years after the Supreme Court refused to let Native Americans smoke peyote as part of their religious practices. Popular sentiment disagreed with the Court, and Congress passed the bipartisan RFRA to safeguard the rights of religious minorities. The law has been used to defend Sikh men from having to shave their beards to serve in the U.S. Army—an outcome the ACLU supported, according to Melling.
But now, because Religious institutions don’t want to participate in providing abortifacients (Melling calls them “birth control”) and bakers don’t want to be forced to promote same-sex “marriage,” the ACLU wants to make sure the state is empowered to punish such recalcitrants.
In other words, the ACLU believes the peyote-smoking Native Americans and beard-wearing Sikh men are practicing an acceptable degree of religious freedom, but Christians are engaged in discrimination, and discrimination is bad. This seems like a funny place to draw the line, though. If religious freedom does not include the freedom for individuals to peacefully decline involvement in private commercial activities they find objectionable, it’s a meaningless concept.
I personally find the argument that a Sikh believer should be able to keep his beard in the Army more difficult to justify (from a civil libertarian perspective) than the notion that Christian businesses should be free of the burden of covering medical expenses that violate their creeds. Serving in the Army, after all, is not a right—the Army is a government agency. Paying employee’s medical expenses, on the other hand, is a voluntary, private exchange that doesn’t (or at least, shouldn’t) involve the state in any way.
The ACLU was founded by a socialist and they don’t have any concept of economic freedom. They treat all businesses and jobs as if they were owned by the government. So you are only allowed to own a business or make decisions for a company if you operate as if you were a taxpayer-funded government office worker. Freedom of association doesn’t exist as far as the ACLU is concerned.