On one side is the CEO of the world's largest company, the president of the United States and a growing chunk of the Fortune 500. On the other side is a solo wedding photographer in New Mexico, a 70-year-old grandma florist in Washington and a few bakers.
One side wants the state to conscript the religious businesswomen and men into participating in ceremonies that violate their beliefs. The other side wants to make it possible for religious people to live their own lives according to their consciences.
Yet somehow, the Left and most of the mainstream press paint the current skirmishes over religious liberty as conservative offensives. When Indiana decided to follow the Clinton administration and 19 states in passing a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Left let loose a cacophonous chorus of cries about a dangerous flood of homophobia spreading out from the Hoosier state.
The misrepresentation would be laughable if not for the awesome power wielded by the anti-religious freedom side.
Tim Cook is the CEO of Apple, the largest corporation in the world. He opposes religious freedom laws, and paints them as a growing scourge. "There's something very dangerous happening in states across the country," his Washington Post op-ed darkly began, warning of "A wave of legislation" to protect religious liberty.
This is hokum. Religious Freedom Restoration Acts have existed on the state and federal level for decades. What's new here — the "wave" that's actually sweeping over the country — is an emboldened and litigious cultural Left, unsated by its recent culture war victories, trying now to conscript the defeated soldiers at gunpoint.
The Left's tirades against Indiana's RFRA rely largely on paranoid predictions of what religious liberty might yield. RFRA "could be used as a cudgel by corporations to justify discrimination," warns Judd Legum at the liberal Think Progress. We heard these same terrified warnings amidst the Hobby Lobby case: Unless we force Christian employers to pay their workers in the form of contraception, we'll soon have Exxon Mobil declaring itself as Christian Scientist in order to axe all healthcare. Who knows? Maybe Comcast will come out as Salafist and all female employees will have to don the hijab.
Slippery-slope arguments are often valid — but not coming from the cultural Left, about marriage in the United States, in 2015.
After millennia of marriage being uncontroversially a union between one man and one woman, and after a decade of electorates in most states (and President Obama in 2008) upholding that traditional definition, the Left has used the courts to redefine the institution. People are fired for having taken the losing side. On college campuses, the current fights are about banning even the articulation of traditional views.
Amidst this culture-war dynamic, the Hobby Lobby decision and Indiana's RFRA don't represent any slide down a slope towards religiosity or individual liberty. Instead, our culture is speeding down the icy Left slope of the cultural mountain, and a few conservatives are now dragging their hands on the ice to slow the acceleration — and the Left is crying that this will send us catapulting back uphill.
Religious liberty is the terms of surrender the Right is requesting in the culture war. It is conservative America saying to the cultural and political elites, you have your gay marriage, your no-fault divorce, your obscene music and television, your indoctrinating public schools and your abortion-on-demand. May we please be allowed to not participate in these?
But no. Tolerance isn't the goal. Religious conservatives must atone for their heretical views with acts of contrition: Bake me a cake, photograph my wedding, pay for my abortion and my contraception.
In Georgia, a Catholic school employed a gay teacher. When he announced he was marrying a man, the school said this violated the expectations of public behavior they demand of their teachers. They fired him. Now the Obama administration is coming after the school.
Even in abortion, the Left is tired of long-observed truces. The Hyde Amendment, which for decades has restricted federal funding of abortion providers while never intruding on the freedom of women to abort their children, is no longer tolerated by the abortion lobby, which even killed a human trafficking bill over it.
As stunning as their ambitions of total victory is their continued pretense to be fighting a defensive war. It should be obvious to all that the Left long ago dropped its love of pluralism and tolerance — if that ever was their goal.Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday on washingtonexaminer.com.