It Can Happen Here

James Tonkowich | Columnist | Wednesday, September 25, 2013

It Can Happen Here

In junior high — believe it or not — I was a big fan of the wonderfully talented and thoroughly strange musician Frank Zappa and as I thought about writing this column, the words to one of his songs kept coming to mind:

It can't happen here

It can't happen here

I'm telling you, my dear

That it can't happen here

Because I been checkin' it out, baby

I checked it out a couple a times, hmmmmmmmm…

Oh darling, it's important that you believe me

That it can't happen here.

Who could imagine

That they would freak out in Washington, D.C.?

But it can’t happen here

Oh, baby, it can’t happen here.

First Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing religious freedom or no First Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing religious freedom, it’s happening everywhere: claims of gay rights are hollowing out our religious liberty.

Last month the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that a photographer who, because of her Christian faith, turned down a paying job to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony had no right to do so even if she had religious commitments. One of the judges commented that in America today such violations of religious beliefs are “the price of citizenship.”

And the photographer is not alone. As The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson notes, “Other cases include a baker, a florist, a bed-and-breakfast, a T-shirt company, a student counselor, the Salvation Army, and more.”

While some of the cases Anderson sites were victories for religious liberty, the cost to defend the accused in time, money, and effort was enormous. I wonder how many American Christians are already acting against their consciences simply because they feel intimidated by the threat of legal action. Even if they’re likely to win, the thought of fighting is daunting. And, of course, not everybody wins.

Gay and lesbian activists have been emboldened by the Supreme Court’s troublesome decision in the Defense of Marriage Act case (Windsor v. United States) and we can expect more cases along with challenges to state laws protecting marriage and religious liberty. Courts have decided in favor of same-sex couples by claiming that religious objections to changing the definition of marriage is nothing more than animus against gays and lesbians. Those with such animus need to be forced to change and if that means trampling on Constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty, so be it.

That would the Boy Scouts who recently dodged another legislative bullet in California in the form of a bill that would have stripped state tax-exempt status from any organization with policies on sexuality that didn’t enthusiastic approve of homosexuality. The Scouts would have to do as they’re told or else.

And the Scouts wouldn’t be alone. YoungLife, Youth for Christ, Campus Crusade, diocesan youth programs, and every other faith-based youth ministry that maintains biblical beliefs about sexuality and marriage could also lose their tax exemption. And don’t think that just because this bill didn’t pass this year that we’ve seen the last of it. And don’t think it won’t be exported from California to other states.

All of which is to say, it can happen here. More than that, it is already happening here.

My Christian friend, your religious liberty and with it your freedom of speech and freedom of association are being whittled down to nothing. If you’re not afraid, you haven’t been paying attention.

The good news is that all is not lost. On September 19, Congressman Raul Labrador (R-ID) and a bipartisan groups of 62 co-sponsors introduced The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act (H.R. 3133). According to Rep. Labrador, “Regardless of your ideology, we can all agree about the importance of religious liberty in America. Our bill will protect freedom of conscience for those who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. As President Obama said, ‘Americans hold a wide range of views’ on marriage and ‘maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom’ is ‘vital.’ We agree.”

Rep. Labrador’s bill will hardly solve all our problems — for one thing it would only govern what the federal government does, not what states do — but it’s a start and we need to make a start.

While most of us have been blithely assuming “It can’t happen here,” it’s been happening here. It needs to stop and more than just stop, it needs to go back the other direction. Religious liberty, having been constricted, needs to be expanded. What has been taken needs to be restored. What has been eroded needs to be backfilled.

As the Manhattan Declaration puts it, “We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”