Religious liberty should be a liberal value, too – The Week
By Michael Brendan Dougherty
The fight over gay marriage is pitting equality against pluralism. Both are essential. The controversy around the concept of religious liberty — whether in the form of birth control mandates resulting from the Affordable Care Act, or nondiscrimination lawsuits related to same-sex marriage — can seem like a straightforward conflict between retrograde religion and the progressive state.
But in truth the battle over religious liberty is a conflict within liberalism itself. In one corner are the liberal values of pluralism and tolerance. In the other are the liberal projects of egalitarianism and administrative efficiency. The quick and decisive defeat of Arizona’s attempt to clarify its state version of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is evidence that our increasingly monocultural elite class is inclined to resolve these conflicts in favor of its egalitarian goals. But, it should tread carefully.
The pluralism of the United States has allowed diverse religious charities, health-care institutions, schools, and universities to flourish. These institutions define their own priorities and their own missions. Yeshivas do not teach the New Testament. Catholic universities make their chapels available for weddings of students whose marriages will be conducted according to the faith, and only those marriages. Those priorities may seem obvious and unimportant to you, the very definition of parochial.
But when the administrative state barges in, this pluralism can take on far greater implications.
… Liberalism should have the confidence to tolerate institutions, even large ones, that have competing and contrary missions to those of the state. The very liberality of the managerial state is guaranteed by real diversity, not just of skin color and sexual preference, but of religion and values, too.
Real pluralism preserves the possibility of critique emerging within a liberal state. The interplay of individuals and diverse institutions encourages liberality and understanding at the ground level of citizenship — the gratitude for people very different from you who are still very solicitous of your needs. Whereas the strict ideological hen-pecking of the state creates a kind of existential dread, and intensifies the panic of the culture war — the fear that a loss on principle in one case is the loss of all power and recourse in the future. Legislators and jurists would do best to retain these two essential liberal values, by finding solutions that deftly avoid setting them against each other.
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