The courts have been as wary of religion approaching the minds of impressionable children as an epidemiologist is wary of meningitis. A child in a public school must never have to endure even the vicinity of any common, publicly acknowledged prayer, lest it wound him in his feelings, and lest it undermine a parent’s conscientious objection to giving homage to the Guarantor of conscience.
That supersensitive concern must puzzle a young Christian couple in New Mexico, the Hugenins. They run a small photography business, and they were sued, not for doing anything, but for begging to decline from doing something. They cannot in good conscience take pictures for a celebration of sodomitical relations. They are not saying, like Melville’s Bartleby, that they should prefer not to. They are saying that they must not. They have no choice in the matter—unless they wish to betray all that they hold most dearly. And, with stunning insouciance and callousness, the New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled that such betrayal is the price you must pay to live in a civil society.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s like saying that one must cease to be fully human in order to attain to the human flourishing which civil society is for. That is a contradiction in terms. That the court does not see it as such suggests that it has not considered the nature of religious faith, the claims that the worship of God makes, and the centrality of conscience to the human person.
Think of the violence the state wishes to wreak upon that young couple. Their involvement in the celebration would not be incidental. Unlike people attending a graduation ceremony, they would not be merely present while others did something ordinary, something that even the atheist would not call indecent. If you’re going to take successful photos of the groom and groom, you have to enter into the spirit of the occasion. You have to ask them to kiss one another. You have to photograph their embraces. You have to be a participant.
Alter the terms of the situation. Suppose the Hugenins were asked to shoot photographs at a party thrown to celebrate a friend’s divorce. Would they be required by law to participate in that? Suppose it was a celebration of a porn magazine’s jubilee. Must they assist in that, if the editor comes a-calling? Why should they be compelled to stifle their consciences and be less than human, just to run a business? Aren’t business and politics meant to serve the flourishing of human persons, and not the other way around? Why should running a business expose you to what Jefferson called tyranny upon the mind of man?
Conscience-forcers will argue that the Hugenins are like a racist restaurateur who turns away a black customer. I wonder whether Americans have lost the capacity for rational thought, so feeble are their powers of analogy.
We saw evidence for the loss of rational thought on a national level during the fall of 2008. We're seeing an acceleration of that loss now and particularly in the courts.
This won't be easy to reverse. Not without some soul revitalization.
It starts with each of us.
We should get started because the other side has one helluva head start. Here's Esolen's close that I think sums it up:
What we see here is the imposition of a religion—the religion of the sexual revolution, as bizarre and incoherent and dehumanizing as it proves to be. The state has become the church, and hearkens to no commandments but those of its own devising.