An Atheists Case For Religious Liberty


I’ve yet to see an atheist from the secular right emerge to make this case, it’s long overdue.

 writes:  I am an atheist, which puts me firmly on the secular right. There aren’t a whole lot of us, but we’re out here, in some surprising places.

Yet I consider the current campaign against religious liberty—the attempt to coerce Christians into providing service to gay weddings or to provide abortifacient drugs to their employees, against the dictates of their faith—to be a deep cultural crisis.

Why? Above all, because the sight of a bully using a club to force someone else to violate his conscience is inherently repugnant. As a humanist, what I regard as “sacred” is the power of the human mind to think and make judgments. To put this in terms borrowed from religion, when someone uses coercion to overrule the judgment of their victim’s mind, they are defiling my temple.

But there is another, more practical reason. History shows that the only way to fight for freedom of thought is to defend it early, when it comes under threat forothers—even people you strongly disagree with, even people you despise. So I’m willing to fight for it for people who are much worse, by my standards, than your average Christian.

It’s like the old poem from Pastor Niemoller, except this time it’s: “First they came for the Christians.” I don’t see the threat of coercion as something being done to those backward Christians over there. I see it as something that could just as easily be done to me.

And it will be, judging from the principles that have been laid down in the campaign against Arizona’s religious liberty law and in the Supreme Court hearings in the Hobby Lobby case.

The left and its sympathizers have put forward two main arguments.

The first is simply that Christian opposition to gay marriage and abortion is backward, bigoted, and offensive. I agree in regarding these views as backward. Providing services to a gay wedding or providing insurance coverage for contraceptives doesn’t violate my principles. But like I said, the test of tolerance isn’t how you treat the people you agree with. It’s recognizing the freedom of people who don’t share your values and principles.

That’s what’s disturbing about the current campaign: that it is built around a refusal to accept those who don’t share the values and principles of the secular left. It’s not merely a refusal to accept their liberty. It’s a refusal to accept their very existence.

There is a crude majoritarian triumphalism to this argument. The attitude is: we won the culture war, our views are now the accepted norm, and so they must become the rule for everybody. You have no right to resist, no right even to retreat into your own private sphere and ask to be left alone. We must reach into that private sphere and require your active endorsement of the new social consensus.

Thus, in The Daily Beast, Gene Robinson lectures us that “being pressed to conform to…a change in majority opinion” is not really a “violation of religious freedom”—even though he acknowledges that the “pressing” is being done by force of law. Oddly, Reverend Robinson is an Episcopal bishop. But I guess that just shows that syncretism isn’t dead, it’s just operating in the opposite direction. The forms and institutions of the old faith, belief in God, are being subsumed by the new faith, belief in society.

As someone who accepts neither faith, I still have a personal stake in this, because the next thing they’re itching to do is to lock up the climate skeptics as heretics to the new faith. The idea that you can be compelled to conform to the social consensus unleashes the basic principle of totalitarianism…read more…

2 Comments on “An Atheists Case For Religious Liberty”

  1. […] Pundit from another Planet I’ve yet to see an atheist from the secular right emerge to make this case, it’s long […]

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