It’s ironic that the most consistently robust civic debate in the United States takes place just outside of the least democratic branch of the federal government — with lively demonstrations occurring after the decisions have been made.
Monday was the last day of decisions at the U.S. Supreme Court, and the scene was vibrant and eclectic as activists awaited the ruling on the Obama administration's contraception mandate in the Hobby Lobby case.
Death-penalty opponents had set up a table and were looking for supporters among both the pro-life Right and the activist Left. A small cadre of well-dressed 20-something lawyers blocked the sun with an umbrella bearing the logo of the D.C. lobbying/law firm Arent Fox. Tourist families took in the spectacle, though one mom had to cover her 5-year-old's ears when Planned Parenthood's chants became a bit PG-13.
Planned Parenthood and NARAL had sent a platoon of young men and women who chanted and waved signs on the sidewalk. Americans United for Life had a similar troupe a few yards away on the steps in front of the Supreme Court plaza. Competing sides chanted. At times, the young folks in opposing camps engaged in civil discussions.
Just below the surface of these spirited scenes of civil debate and engagement, though, there were dark signs. If you listened to the chants and read the signs of the two sides, it seemed as if they were speaking different languages, or arguing about different cases.
In the eyes of conservatives — and I am one — Hobby Lobby was mostly about the limits on state power to coerce people to act against their consciences.
In the eyes of liberals -- if the activists at the Supreme Court, scribblers at lefty websites like Salon or my interlocutors on Twitter are representative -- Hobby Lobby was about male bosses denying women the ability to get birth control.
When two sides see the same case so differently, consensus is a long way off.
Sometimes it seems that this is fine with the Left, because the Left is done arguing. They are ready to unleash the power of the federal government to stamp out viewpoints, including most conservative religious beliefs, that diverge from the moral standards defined by the chattering-class elite.
One of the common chants at the Supreme Court was “Birth Control is not my boss’s business.” The people chanting this were, amazingly, the people trying to force bosses to cover their birth control.
A couple of signs implausibly accused Hobby Lobby’s side of pushing a “theocracy.” One protester dressed up as a Bible and waved a sign reading “Use me not for your bigotry.” Other signs read, “Bigotry disguised as ‘religious liberty’ is still BIGOTRY.”
This line levels two charges against the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby and the millions who support them: (1) Religious liberty is a “disguise,” a farce, a lie; (2) refusing to pay to cover an employees’ prescription for abortifacient drugs like “ella” counts as “bigotry.”
Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization of Women, went on national television and called Hobby Lobby’s refusal to cover abortifacient drugs “bigotry.”
On the battle line of “religious liberty” versus “bigotry,” an arms race is underway. State governments levy fines on wedding photographers and prosecute florists for limiting their work to man-woman weddings.
This strikes the Right as an attack on freedom of conscience. For the Left, it’s government's way to crush bigotry.
If this definition of bigotry is widespread on the Left — and if the Left is as willing as it appears to outlaw such “bigotry” — then expect a brutal offensive by liberals set on eradicating their opponents.
The gay marriage question is confusing, admittedly, because there is anti-gay bigotry in this country, and it certainly fuels some opposition to gay marriage. But to brand all opposition to gay marriage as bigoted shows ignorance of the intricate Christian teachings on love, marriage and sexuality.
But when liberals say religious objection to contraception is also bigoted, they show their hand: “Bigotry” is any view that clashes with their own moral code.
This is not a fight about banning or denying access to contraception. It’s about forcing employers to pay for contraception against their will.
The government doesn’t see conscience rights as absolute — conscience must be weighed against the state’s compelling interests. But some parts of activist Left sees the conscience of religious conservatives as simply bigoted and deserving of no respect.
If the views on display outside the Supreme Court and on the Internet this week are widely held on the Left, we’re in for a long, ugly culture war.Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.