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Upholding the Faith and Order of the Church
Tuesday October 17th 2017



Thinking Out Loud, William Murchison Discerns a Threat

shutterstock_139664731-998x669Maybe the first question to be raised about the U S. Civil Rights Commission’s recent blast at religious liberty is, did you ever hear previously of the U. S. Civil Rights Commission?

Not, probably, unless you have a long memory, as I do, or pay minute and unwonted attention to the ways our unelected functionaries in Washington, D.C., spend their waking hours.

The civil rights commission dates back to 1957 – part of a compromise package Congress adopted to define the nature of federal authority in enforcement of civil rights claims. The commission lives in bureaucratic twilight, writing reports no one ever reads except when, as the other day, the commissioners get fresh and familiar with the voters and thereby find a moment of media daylight.

Such an event came to pass in early September when the commission delivered itself of a report called “Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties.” The commission solemnly declared that “Religious exemptions to the protections of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity” – a long and seemingly, these days, inclusive list – “when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon these civil rights.”

Hmmm; religion takes a back seat to other forms of civil rights. Right? Wrong? You don’t always know precisely what to make of a bureaucratic pronouncement. However, commission chairman Martin Castro, gazing on the commission’s spilled gasoline, proceeded to extract a match from his pocket – in the interest of illumination, perhaps.

Said Castro, in words that have ricocheted since then around the Internet: “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamaphobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance” – a complete catalog of horrors for which the progressive left simply will not stand. Got that? Will. Not. Stand.

Castro – a Barack Obama appointee whose own religious affiliation is unknown to me; nor do I mean to inquire into the matter – thereupon dumped a load of intellectual garbage atop the coals of debate over the government’s power to compel ideological symmetry on certain basic issues.

Maybe he hoped such a load of half-digested vegetables and rotting fish heads would dampen the burning coals. Ha! Anything but. He alarmed, not to mention terrified, numerous Christians concerning what they see as the Obama administration’s intention to deny them the right of exception to abortion, the once-normative view of marriage as the union of man and woman, and the suspicion that a portion of Islam may have something against the religion of Jesus Christ and those who practice it.

A University of Virginia Law School scholar, Douglas Laycock, told the National Catholic Register that Castro was describing “the political consequences of religious conservatives’ persistent opposition to same-sex marriage, gay rights, contraception, emergency contraception, abortion, and sometimes, Muslims.” Continue in that opposition, it could be argued on the basis of Castro’s and the commission’s declarations, and the government or the civil society might just decide your religious rights took a back seat to the rights of others. You could still believe; but society’s beliefs, if they differed from yours, would win out.

Laycock called the commission’s report “terrible” in substance, offering “no principled reason for coming down on the side of anti-discrimination laws in every case, with no exemptions. It just chooses a side.” The secular side, as it happens.

God (if the commission’s members see any point to swearing Him in as a witness) seems to have had, and possibly still does, viewpoints that fit current orthodoxies rather badly. The job of American religion, it would appear in the eyes of the commission and those who like its viewpoints, is to find ways of squaring ancient Truth with new perspectives. Admittedly, plenty of clerics are ready to get with whatever program the secular society comes up with. Let us not forget Bishop Jim Pike, with his voluble desire to “rethink and restate the unchanging gospel in terms which are relevant to our day and to the people we would have hear it; not hesitating to abandon or reinterpret concepts, words, images, and myths developed in past centuries when men were operating under different world views and different philosophical structures.”

Yes, you see, the civil rights commission has a constituency in Christian ranks; however, probably not a dispositive one these days. The “progressives” who ran the mainline churches in Pike-ean days are no longer in full flower. We see to what their varied acquiescences have led – a state of affairs in which the civil rights of Christians to maintain Truth as they understand it no longer rank, in elite, Washingtonian eyes, with the rights of abortion-defenders and the advocates of religious equivalence.

It’s no condition to relish. Yet it’s where we are. We might even entertain the idea of thanking Martin Castro for reminding us how the land lies in the Year of Our Lord 2016.

William Murchison is a journalist and author, living in Dallas, Texas.

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