Views & Voices

The Christian Right’s version of religious liberty is equality you can’t access



As the contemporary culture wars have worn on, religious liberty has come to be conflated with both opposition to LGBTQ rights and anti-choice activism. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that many of the same leaders and organizations that have brought religious liberty to the fore also bring similar tactical thinking to their larger strategic goals.

“We have opportunities before us which if properly exploited could result in an America where abortion may be perfectly legal, but no one can get one,” declared anti-choice militant Mark Crutcher.

It was 1992, the year of the U.S. Supreme Court‘s decision Casey v. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania which allowed states to regulate abortion clinics in ways that restricted access―what are now called Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws.

Crutcher was prophetic. The right to receive abortion services stands, but state restrictions have made it much harder to get one and have put many abortion providers out of business.

The Christian Right’s fight against LGBTQ rights is different from their fight against abortion in many ways — but there are also striking similarities. The Christian Right is already seeking to redefine religious liberty as a way of allowing LGBTQ rights to remain intact, but to obstruct — and sometimes eliminate — people’s ability to exercise them.

Indeed, many of the same Christian Right leaders and organizations that have been seeking to reduce access to abortion are now seeking to limit the scope of LGBTQ rights and marriage equality.

They may not be as successful on LGBTQ matters as they have been with the “abortion reduction” effort, but they see these matters as so inextricably linked―along with religious liberty―that they view future of their understanding of Christendom to be at stake.

Here are some highlights of how this has evolved.

In 1996, George Weigel of the neoconservative Ethics and Public Policy Center convened 45 leading anti-choice and Religious Right leaders to forge a common strategy. They knew that they might never be able to reverse Roe vs. Wade. So, drawing on the holdings of the Casey decision they adopted a series of tactics under the rubric of abortion reduction.

Significantly, they saw their cause as one with other issues of sexuality and marriage. In The America We Seek: A Statement of Pro-Life Principle and Concern, they declared “Promotion of the pro-life cause also requires us to support and work with those who are seeking to reestablish the moral linkage between sexual expression and marriage, and between marriage and procreation.”

Twenty-three years later, leaders of many of these same activist Christian Right groups joined scores of Roman Catholic prelates and evangelical Christian leaders in signing an historic covenant, The Manhattan Declaration.

The Declaration’s three interrelated values: “sanctity of life,” “traditional marriage,” and “religious freedom” have since been widely adopted across the Christian Right. But the significance of the Declaration is much more than political boilerplate of the culture wars. It is the agenda setting religious and political manifesto of conservative Christianity in our time.

Ripped out of the context of history, it may not seem like a big deal to find the find the likes of Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Justin Rigali of Philadelphia joining together with Albert Mohler, Jr. President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Leith Anderson President of National Association of Evangelicals.

But it was not long ago that hostility and suspicion between Catholics and Protestant evangelicals ran deep – and such a document would have been impossible.

“We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers,” they wrote, “that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence.”

Even as some conservative Christian individuals are softening their public rhetoric (and sometimes their views) in light of shifting public opinion and the possibility of universal marriage equality, there are far too many leaders for whom these matters are deal breakers with regard to the social contract.

They have taken a one for all, and all for one view not only towards each other, but towards their common three part agenda.

It is often not widely appreciated that the third element, religious liberty, has become critical to not only to carving out exceptions that erode rights, and to the ongoing erosion of access to reproductive health services. What they intend to do if and when the time comes, remains to be seen.


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