Frame Game

From Bob Jones to Bobby Jindal

Fourteen years ago, religious freedom was invoked against interracial sex. Now it’s being invoked against homosexuality. What’s the difference?

Last night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, a likely Republican candidate for president, gave a speech denouncing the “war on religious liberty.” He defended the right to claim religious exemption from almost any law, including laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Unfortunately for Jindal, this argument isn’t original. It was made almost identically 14 years ago, on behalf of the right to forbid interracial dating.

Jindal defended “bakers, photographers, caterers and other wedding consultants who have religious beliefs, which prevent them from taking part in a same-sex ceremony.” He proposed this general rule:

No church or church-affiliated organization, or individuals whose business is run in a manner consistent with their faith practices, should be required by the state to take steps in conflict with their religion. Nor should they be legally punished for how they treat marital arrangements outside the teachings of their faith. …

You may favor protecting traditional marriage between one man and one woman, or you may favor making gay marriage legal. If we did a poll on those issues in this room, we would certainly find a variety of views. None of that is relevant in the least to the points I have made in this speech. Our religious liberty must in no way ever be linked to the ever-changing opinions of the public. To the contrary, we must understand that our freedom of conscience protects all Americans of every persuasion—however those persuasions may evolve.

That’s a blanket declaration of religious freedom, regardless of cultural norms. Fourteen years ago, when Bob Jones University was under fire for its policy against interracial dating, the university made the same case. The university explained its beliefs this way:

[E]very effort man has made, or will make, to bring the world together in unity plays into the hand of Antichrist. This first began at the Tower of Babel, and it will culminate at Armageddon when the Lord returns to establish His rule of peace and harmony for a thousand years. Bob Jones University opposes one world, one church, one economy, one military, one race, and unisex. God made racial differences as He made sexual differences.

You may find this doctrine repellent. But under Jindal’s rule, it’s protected. As the university put it:

The First Amendment gives Bob Jones University the freedom to create policies and guidelines under which we operate. … Everyone has the right under the Constitution to believe and practice his faith even when his faith may be out of sync with another’s belief.

In fact, Bob Jones said its policy against interracial marriage was related to its stand against gay rights:

Does the University believe that those who choose interracial marriage do so out of rebellion against God? No. It does believe, however, that often the promoters of it do so out of antagonism toward God because they are often the same entities that promote homosexuality, abortion and other forms of social radicalism.

The university also described a war of persecution, almost identical to the one portrayed by Jindal:

Is there a spiritual warfare being waged daily against the people of God? … Does the present liberal feeding frenzy on Bob Jones University … reveal a bias toward the people of God who stand unapologetically for the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word? Is it an attempt to marginalize, by caricature, Christians who are out of step with an age that is out of joint? Do Christians still have the right under the Constitution to believe and practice their faith even when their faith is out of sync with an ecumenical, antichrist, federal public policy?

The resemblance between Bob Jones’ argument and Jindal’s argument raises a simple question: Does the right to practice a religious belief against gay marriage differ fundamentally from the right to practice a religious belief against interracial marriage? There are several ways to claim that it does. But these rebuttals don’t stand up.

1. We have a consensus against racial discrimination. Yes, but that’s irrelevant, according to Jindal. To quote him: “Our religious liberty must in no way ever be linked to the ever-changing opinions of the public.”

2. Heterosexual marriage is traditional. Yes, but so is homoracial marriage. According to Jindal, such norms don’t matter. People are entitled to religious freedom even when their “views on sin are in direct conflict with the culture.”

3. We have laws against racial discrimination. Yes, but that’s a circular argument. Jindal says laws should exempt private religious policies. Why shouldn’t that apply to interracial dating?

4. Homosexuality, unlike race, is a choice. Empirically, all the evidence runs against this belief. If the science doesn’t convince you, the personal experience overwhelmingly reported by gay people, combined with the spectacular failure of “ex-gay” ministries, ought to shake your confidence. Yes, it’s possible to concede that homosexual inclination is involuntary while insisting that to act on that inclination is a choice. But the same can be said about race: You’re born black, but the decision to date a white person is on you.

5. Opposing gay marriage isn’t anti-gay. The argument here is that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, has the same right to an opposite-sex marriage. But Bob Jones drew the same distinction between racism and opposing interracial marriage:

Is Bob Jones University guilty of racism because it has a rule restricting interracial dating? Students of all races attend here and live in racial harmony and respect for one another as Christians. … Each person dates within his own race. For there to be discrimination, one race would have to be treated differently than the other.

A week after offering this defense of its policy, Bob Jones dropped the policy. But the question remains: If religious freedom protects your right to discriminate privately between same-sex and opposite-sex relationships, does it also protect your right to discriminate privately between same-race and opposite-race relationships? If not, why not? As Bob Jones put it: “Does a Christian consensus have to exist to make a belief right? Who decides?”

Good question. What’s your answer, Gov. Jindal?