When The Right To Religion Conflicts With A Changing Society

When The Right To Religion Conflicts With A Changing Society

It’s an interesting question. I think it’s a little more complicated then just that society is shifting and religious conservatives are feeling that it’s lost its moral compass.  It’s also about loss of power.  Traditional norms about sex and sexuality were enforced by law for centuries, oppressing dissenters (like ambitious women, gay people, Mormon polygamists) who challenged the legitimacy of majority’s interpretation and application of biblical norms on gender and sexuality.  But now the conservers of traditional values are the dissenters from the mainstream conventional wisdom, and the question becomes what’s the best way as a society to handle their dissent?

I tend to think that persuasion works better than coercion.  A government mandate can’t force individual religious dissenters to accept the moral legitimacy of contraception and gay marriage, and may just incentivize religious believers to dig in their heels and claim to be martyrs for God. In the 60s many religious conservatives believed God clearly opposed racial mixing because: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents.”  After long, drawn out court battles, the government withdrew tax-exempt status from Bob Jones University because of its policy forbidding interracial dating.  But by 2000, societal acceptance of racial equality eventually had convinced even Bob Jones University, which then quietly reversed its policy.  There is evidence of similar acceptance of norms of gender equality.  The traditional value of male-headship has slowly shifted to an idea of spiritual leadership, as their members have internalized principles of gender equality.  So, while I think gay couples should be able to hire the best bakers and florists for their weddings and I think all women should have access to all FDA approved health services, and while I understand the principles of equality and justice that undergird those values to be grounded in reason and sound evidence, I’m not sure I think the government can or should force dissenting citizens to conform.  But I’m still trying to figure that out.

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