Monday, March 12, 2007

Gay Rights and Religious Freedom

Via Vinteuil, I see this thought-provoking piece by David Frum at the National Review Online.

Frum argues that gay rights have begun to infringe on religious freedom. He cites a U.K. parliamentary committee report suggesting that religious schools be required to change their curriculum so that they do not express moral disapproval of homosexuality. This does strike me as entering a private sphere that government should not encroach. But Frum takes his point too far:
When you decide to extend your nondiscrimination principles to behavior condemned by your society's majority religion, you are embarking on a course that will sooner or later require the state to police, control, and punish adherents of that religion.

First of all, I'm uncomfortable with the distinction of "majority religion" in many ways. On the factual level, there are many sects of Christianity, and some of them do not teach that homosexuality is immoral. Even if it weren't so: is it really the belief of a religious majority if a political majority can be mustered against it?

From a first amendment standpoint: wasn't this founding law meant to protect us from the institutionalization of one set of religious beliefs? Isn't religious freedom itself a potential victim here?

I could also argue against this on a religious level. Jesus did not to teach us to enforce morality by discrimination. He did the opposite: he embraced all sorts of sinners among his disciples.

But my primary reaction is that Frum is wrong because he takes an absolutist position. This is an issue where competing interests must be balanced. The challenge is to identify what is the public sphere and what is the private sphere that government should not encroach. In other places and times, scripture has been cited to defend slavery. Religion simply cannot be given a bullet-proof shield against every public claim.

1 comment:

Alec said...

It is a bogus argument. Free speech protections are far stronger in the U.S. than they are in Europe. This argument has never been used to attack protections on the basis of religion, a chosen behavior and belief system that can clearly conflict with whatever ill-defined "majority religion" the United States is populated with. It is reserved for arguments about extending protections to gays.