“Religious liberty” might sound nice, but it conceals a hard-line agenda.
By Rob Shryock
February 27, 2014
New York Times reporter Kate Zernike, author of Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America, agreed. “For decades, faith and family have been at the center of the conservative movement. But as the Tea Party infuses conservatism with new energy, its leaders deliberately avoid discussion of issues like gay marriage or abortion.”
Yet despite its focus on libertarianism, this new Republican bloc has spent the last three years fighting with unprecedented aggressiveness on the very social issues it was supposedly unconcerned with. Between 2011 and 2013, Republicans enacted 205 anti-abortion laws, more than they had in the prior 10 years combined (189). The Kansas house passed a bill that would give any individual, even essential government employees and hospital workers, the right to deny service to gay people. Though the bill did not pass the senate, similar bills are being introduced in at least nine other states, according to Mother Jones.
So what had changed? More than anything, it was the way that opposition to abortion and gay rights was justified: in the words of BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins, “in terms of protecting religious freedom instead of enforcing ‘family values.’” This change made Republicans appear more moderate, but actually signaled a rightward shift. Conservative ideas of religious liberty posited that the government’s eventual goal was the oppression of conservative Christians, and compromise on any religious liberty issues—which encompassed abortion, gay rights, and the Affordable Care Act—would be a violation of Christian faith. The notion of religious liberty thus gave small-government politics a cosmic imperative.