Make No Mistake: Religious Liberty Is Sliding Down a Slippery Slope

Lathan Watts | February 10, 2022 | 4:48pm EST
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The American flag swirls in the wind. (Photo credit: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
The American flag swirls in the wind. (Photo credit: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Whether it’s the baker losing her business for adhering to her religious beliefs on marriage, the football coach fired for briefly kneeling in silent prayer on the field, or the flight attendant fired for providing requested employee feedback questioning her employer’s support of a controversial piece of legislation, the free exercise of religion and religious expression continue to be under assault.

Each time a person of faith is forced into silence or the untenable choice between piety and prosperity for a “thought crime” or merely seeking to live peacefully according to their beliefs which of late are at odds with cultural orthodoxy, defenders of religious liberty caution against a slippery slope towards tyranny.

Religious liberty is listed first in the Bill of Rights and protected by four clauses of the first amendment. If it can be dispensed with, then it is only a matter of time before political speech or artistic expression is subject to a constitutionally apocryphal popularity test.

Welcome to America, 2022.

For years the elitist insiders, Twitter mobs, and proponents of cancel culture have scoffed at these warnings. Chalk it up to blissful ignorance, naivete, or arrogance; they’re supremely confident that their own views will never be in the minority. Or they take a more Machiavellian view that once in power, they will silence all opposition and therefore never risk suffering the same fate as those they persecute.

A quick scan of the top news commentators, comedians, podcasters, and new media personalities and their undeniable success in the economic marketplace and the marketplace of ideas is a testimony to talent and the law of supply and demand. Americans hungry for honest, meaningful conversation rather than the sound bite trading of vapid politicians from both sides of the aisle have stampeded in droves to unfiltered, even if sometimes controversial, content and creators. 

Much has been said and written about the divisive state of life in America today. Indeed, on a host of issues such as race, economics, sexuality, the role of government, the rule of law, and others, what separates opposing viewpoints is a tempestuous sea of mistrust. Many Americans no longer see those of opposing views as merely mistaken or incorrect; they see them as evil and therefore dangerous. The only way to span this gulf is via bridge-building dialogue by those whose primary goal is to understand before being understood.

Nevertheless, when confronted by ideas with which we disagree, the proper response is introspection. The writer of Proverbs said it best, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” The meeting of conflicting views in civilized discourse can refine and improve our positions or even, Heaven forbid, change them. It may make us uncomfortable or offend our sensibilities, yet it is a necessary price to pay for liberty. Anyone unwilling to protect the freedom of others is undeserving of freedom for himself.

In a free and civil society, there is security in the knowledge that even if one’s opinion or preferred philosophy does not carry the day in popular debate or electoral politics, he is still free to express and more importantly, live his life in accordance with those deeply held convictions. The ongoing national conversation continues and we live to fight another day. However, if we succumb to a myopic, self-centered version of “freedom for me, speech codes for thee,” then each debate and election becomes an all-or-nothing existential crisis. Such is life at the bottom of the slippery slope.

Moreover, when the spokesman for the president encourages private businesses to de-platform a citizen for his or her beliefs or opinions, we have arrived at de-facto fascism. Fascism by any other name is no less contemptible or anathema to the American ethos.

The ongoing saga of dissenting voices versus the authoritarian mob provides an object lesson in the value of free expression, the necessity of principled citizenship, and the time-tested perils of the slippery slope toward Orwellian tyranny. Whomever the latest subject of ridicule may be, the effort to silence him or her is just another flashpoint in our nation’s ongoing struggle to live up to the idyllic vision for our republic set forth in our founding documents. This is a national Rorschach test. Some see offensive provocateurs, others see open-minded truth seekers/tellers, and while the answer may be in the eye of the beholder, we all lose something far more significant if there is nothing to behold.

Lathan Watts is Director of Public Affairs for First Liberty Institute, a non-profit law firm and think tank exclusively dedicated to protecting religious liberty for all Americans.

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