One of the most impeachable derelictions of the modern libertarian movement is its blatant disregard of – or support for – government attacks on religious liberty.
The Gary Johnson complex, as I’ve come to call it, is not grounded in any libertarian ideology – a fact that fellow candidate Austin Petersen ripped the proverbial fig leaf from during the Libertarian Party’s presidential primary debates. There’s nothing remotely libertarian about forcing a Christian pastor to wed a gay couple against his convictions, or in forcing business owners to provide products and services for a ceremony they fundamentally object to, regardless of how you feel about those objections.
Supporting that kind of government overreach not only discredits libertarians on First Amendment issues, it also discredits us with regard to business and property rights, which heavily intersect with religious liberty in these situations. How can you insist that affirmative action is an inappropriate economic intervention by government while approving of the persecution of Christian businesses based on their religious faith and practice?
It seems that libertarians’ blasé attitude with regard to freedom of conscience is rooted in the dense political fog of hipstertarianism. There’s a large segment of libertarianism that is far less concerned with how right something is, than how cool it is – and everyone knows it.
It is primarily conservatives, not libertarians, who continually suffer the brunt of liberal fury.
According to the Left, conservatives are backward, racist, sexist, gun-toting, Bible-thumping rednecks who want to drag the world back to the dark ages. They cannot be reasoned with, because they are too ignorant and superstitious to comprehend the enlightened, scientific perspective that all liberals naturally enjoy.
Libertarians, meanwhile, are regarded as a harmless sort of curiosity – the political equivalent of a toddler with a toy gun. Though, in fairness, even that would terrify this guy.
When mainline libertarians talk to liberals, the conversations usually manage to stay somewhat friendly, allowing liberals to assert their emotional superiority and libertarians to assert their intellectual superiority, in an affair of which it can eventually be said that a good time was had by all.
A typical libertarian spends ten minutes assuring his liberal counterpart that he isn’t a conservative, before apologetically backing his way into an issue where he generally holds agreement with conservatives.
Why? Because conservatives aren’t cool. They aren’t hip. They aren’t trendy. They’re still crawling up to the tech curve at five miles per hour, in their Ford Model T. They’re religious. They’re traditional. They wear sweater vests. They post pictures in Tea Party groups of flag-draped bald eagles that read “share if you love America and think Obama is secretly a gay muslim atheist.”
That’s not the image you want. I understand.
But now I need you to hear me when I say this: If you’re serious about preserving liberty and not just maintaining your bowtie-sporting anarcho-capitalist clique, you need to get over it.
Religious conservatives make up around 40% of the Republican party, and Independents are about 50% more likely to identify as conservative than liberal. Mainline conservatives certainly have areas of ideological conflict with libertarianism (especially on foreign policy) but generally accept the principles of constitutionally-limited government and individual responsibility, creating broad – and necessary – avenues of cooperation with the Liberty Movement. As Lew Rockwell recently pointed out in a recent article,
“Leftism is, in short, a recipe for permanent revolution, and of a distinctly anti-libertarian kind. Not just anti-libertarian. Anti-human. And yet all the hatred these days is directed at the right. To be sure, libertarians are fully at home neither on the left nor the right as traditionally understood. But the idea that both sides are equally dreadful, or amount to comparable threats to liberty, is foolish and destructive nonsense.”
Libertarianism must be more than just a refuge for those who believe in personal liberty and constitutional principles but don’t want to be associated with those stodgy old conservatives.
And nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in the fight for religious liberty.
America’s founding fathers – a group of religious zealots whose view of liberty and limited government was uniquely founded upon the idea of god-given rights – decided to explicitly enshrine religious freedom in the very first amendment to the nascent Constitution.
They knew that in a very real sense, the right to live according to the dictates of one’s own conscience was the foundation for all liberty. Religious expression isn’t limited to attending church. Faith, by its own nature, bleeds into every area of life – whether that faith is in God, in government, in liberty, or in humanity.
And the all-encompassing nature of that liberty is what has made it a primary target of the Left.
In the last four years, we’ve seen Christian bakers, photographers, and wedding chapels chased out of business for following the dictates of their faith, preachers asked to submit their sermons to government officials for review, the Little Sisters of the Poor sued for noncompliance with the birth control requirements of the AFA, social justice warriors back down freely-elected state governments trying to protect religious liberty, and libertarian-ish politicians go AWOL as soon as the issue hits the spotlight.
Free exercise of religion has been forcibly shoved back inside the walls of the church, and with the legal war set to erupt between churches and government over transgendered bathroom requirements, it appears it won’t even be safe there for long. The two Iowa churches that just challenged the state civil rights commission to a legal battle are widely known for political activism in Iowa’s conservatarian circles, and both pastors are fixtures of the religious right.
Predictably, the harassment and threats from the left have already begun, predictably, the cries of persecution from the moral majority have begun, and predictably, opinionated libertarians have disappeared faster than Hillary Clinton’s emails.
But we are needed in this fight, not just to defend the secular liberty of business owners, but to defend the freedom of belief and thought and observance that underlie the more tangible rights we so tenaciously defend.
Sure, the fight for religious freedom intersects with business and property rights, and it’s wise and proper to discuss those factors as well. But neither of those material concerns form the same libertarian linchpin that freedom of faith does.
A government allowed to dictate the limitations of religious observance cannot be challenged in its limitation of any other right, for it has asserted its dominance over the source of all other rights.
And that’s exactly why libertarians cannot afford to sit on the sidelines of the religious liberty battle any longer.