Progressives ‘Twitter challenge’ Christian Right over what #ReligiousFreedomIs

Progressives ‘Twitter challenge’ Christian Right over what #ReligiousFreedomIs

Some organizational supporters of marriage equality took to social media in the wake of the historic Supreme Court decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges.  The occasion was a “Tweet Storm,” held for an hour on Monday, June 29, to celebrate the victory for marriage equality – and to argue for authentic religious freedom.

The event was staged by some of the members of the Coalition for Liberty and Justice, which comprises about 60 groups in “a broad alliance of faith-based, secular and other organizations that works to ensure that public policy protects the religious liberty of individuals of all faiths and no faith and to oppose public policies that impose one religious viewpoint on all.”  Some of the members of the Coalition include the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Catholics for Choice, National Council of Jewish Women, National LGBTQ Taskforce, The Interfaith Alliance, Secular Coalition for America, and us at Political Research Associates.

The Coalition first came together around the Hobby Lobby case and has hung together in defense of the rights of individual conscience and separation of church and state ever since—including in support for marriage equality and in opposition to the theocratic advances of the Christian Right.

When the hour arrived for the Tweet Storm, Coalition members and friends were ready, but so were our opponents including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Arizona-based national Christian Right legal network Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The event was no secret, so these groups who are abusing the core values of religious liberty to defend discrimination had plenty of advance notice, and were prepared with tweets of their own.

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You might not know it from media coverage, but both sides claim the mantle of religious liberty. The narrative is usually framed in terms favorable to the Christian Right: casting religious freedom versus LGBTQ rights. But there is more to it as the battle for the definition of a religiously plural society rages hotter than meets the eye.

The divide was epitomized by one remarkable exchange, when ADF tweeted:  “#ReligiousFreedomIs necessary for a pluralistic, tolerant, diverse society.” The national, interfaith social justice organization The Interfaith Alliance then replied:  “We agree 100%, but we might still have to hash out the details on what exactly #ReligiousFreedomIs”.

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Yes, the devil, as it were, is in the details. The Christian Right, in both its evangelical and Catholic expressions, is seeking to co-opt the great tradition and constitutional doctrine of religious liberty as a front to advance their particular cultural and religious agenda at the expense of everyone else.  But there is a broad-based pushback from many sectors, both religious and non-religious, to preserve and advance religious freedom for all, and not just the self-selected few.

Here are some highlights from the Tweet Storm:

Americans Unitedfor Separation of Church and State declared, “#ReligiousFreedomIs the right of affirming clergy to perform same-sex marriages – a right equality opponents still refuse to acknowledge.”

Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan, tweeted#ReligiousFreedomIs full equality for people of all faiths, not a weapon to be wielded by the powerful against vulnerable communities.”

Political Research Associates (PRA) stated#ReligiousFreedomIs the right of religions to refuse religious ceremonies against their beliefs, NOT the right of businesses to discriminate. And PRA Executive Director Tarso Ramos added#ReligiousFreedomIs yours, if you can keep it.”

On the other side of the Tweet Storm, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), wrote#ReligiousFreedomIs not fearing government punishment for your faith.”  ADF also declared, “#ReligiousFreedomIs the first amendment right to live & work according to your beliefs.”

The Catholic Bishops tweeted, “#ReligiousFreedomIs ‘the liberty to live, both privately and publicly, according to the ethical principles resulting from found truth.’”

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The impact of the Tweet Storm is hard to measure. Maybe it was only a tempest in a teapot. It was an event as transitional as a flash mob. Nevertheless, even a casual reading at the hashtag reveals that it did reach deep into the activist constituencies on both sides—which have spent years developing their ideas and their talking points.

The battle thus illustrates some of the themes of how the pros are debating the meaning of religious liberty in our time; how the debate is playing out in the wake of Obergefell v. Hodges; and in broad strokes, how it is likely to continue to play out for years to come.


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