by Travis Weber
June 17, 2016
That’s actually the title of a piece by Harvard law professor Noah Feldman on Bloomberg View yesterday.
Our ability to reason together as a pluralistic nation has been sorely compromised by unashamed advocacy pieces like this. Those who know better like Noah Feldman will one day hopefully come to regret compromising their accuracy to try to achieve their objective. Sadly, much damage will be done in the meantime.
The harm done by his reckless characterizations of Mississippi’s Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act (HB 1523) demands a response.
What has Mississippi done in HB 1523? It has exempted people with certain beliefs from being forced to violate their conscience should the government make them complicit in a same-sex marriage celebration. That doesn’t sound like any “establishment” of religion to me, and it isn’t—under any reasonably understanding of what the Establishment Clause was meant to accomplish. Moreover, it would protect anyone who holds those beliefs—Muslims, Jews, Christians, or others. Establishment Clause law is primarily concerned with making sure the government doesn’t coerce or force people into a belief system with which they don’t agree.
It’s ironic that this is the precise protection HB 1523 ensures people receive. It’s doubly ironic that Noah Feldman would instead have everyone comply with the government’s “religion” of same-sex marriage acceptance. If Mississippi was doing what Feldman claims it’s doing, why the need for HB 1523’s protections from the government? There wouldn’t be any need. If we are going to use his line of thinking about “establishment,” he should see HB 1523 is needed precisely because our government is increasingly moving toward an “establishment” of support for same-sex marriage.
If Noah Feldman and others making his arguments actually believe such exemptions are constitutionally problematic, I’d expect them to argue against laws providing exemptions in a variety of contexts. Notably, their opposition only seems to arise when Christianity seeks protection.
The title to his piece also contains a misrepresentation of Christian belief: that Christianity is merely “anti-gay.” Actually discovering the truth here requires some study of Christianity, however. Christian teaching on sexuality is comprehensive, and contains a number of precepts for human flourishing and well-being in accordance with God’s design. Same-sex conduct is only one of the parameters. There is no such thing as mere “anti-gay” Christianity. Yet the Christian view of sexuality is consistently mischaracterized by this framing—because advocates who use it aren’t seeking the truth, and they know this propaganda works on people who don’t bother to seek it either.
Claiming the mantle of objectivity and reason in order to further an agenda is not new. But it removes the building blocks on which our pluralistic society can exist. It is especially disheartening when done by those who know better and are entrusted to do otherwise.