“Culture War” Unrelenting Despite Menace to Conservative Christians

By David Trillo, guest writer

If there is a lesson that conservative Christians ought to learn from the conscientious objections of Catholic bishops to federally mandated contraception coverage, it’s this:

Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.  And, it might bite you in the butt.

In this case, those biting Dobermans happen to be the ultraconservative federal judges that Religious Right groups have been demanding for years as part and parcel of the “culture war” – hand-picked, pre-screened judges who will uphold few, if any, of our human and Constitutional rights as the culture war plunges its government crowbar deeper and deeper into our personal and sexual lives.

Religious Right groups, which present themselves as the advocates for conservative Christians, have been so possessed by the drive to stringently regulate thy neighbor’s loins that they are either unaware of, or indifferent to, the damage that they are doing to the interests of the Christians that they claim to represent.

Religious rights of conscience are among many such interests.

The extent to which state or federal laws ought to prevail over the rights of conscience of religious groups is a subject open to a wide range of reasonable disagreement and debate.  The Supreme Court has, on several occasions, held that the First Amendment’s Free Exercise clause grants exemptions from certain laws of general applicability, if those laws result in an unnecessary suppression of a person’s free exercise of religion.

But what isn’t being told, in the heat of these real or perceived transgressions of religious liberty, is which political judicial philosophy is actually doing the damage.

Religious Right groups tell us that we need more “conservative judges,” in the “mold of Antonin Scalia,” to protect our religious liberties.  But is that actually working out as expected?

Not even.  In fact, it is having the reverse effect.  Let’s turn the clock back to 1963, the year that the Supreme Court was supposedly so “hostile to religion” with its then-fresh rulings against state-sponsored religion in public schools.

In Sherbert v. Verner (1963)1, the liberal Supreme Court held that government must show a compelling state interest before it could deny unemployment compensation benefits to recipients whose religious requirements conflicted with state or federal work availability requirements.  In today’s context, this would be a classic conscience rights case.

And in Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)2, the liberal Supreme Court held that Amish parents could not be required to place their children in compulsory education beyond the eighth grade.  Today, this would be a classic example of a parental rights case.

Other examples are found in cases dealing with conscientious objection to conscripted military combat service.

In what became known as the Supreme Court’s Sherbert-Yoder3 doctrine, people with strong religious convictions had avenues of redress for obtaining exemption from general laws that interfered with the exercise of their religious faiths.

I will reiterate: this heightened respect for religious liberty was the product of the liberal Supreme Court beginning in 1963.

Fast forward to 1990, when the far right’s packing of the Supreme Court was beginning to have a definite, perceptible effect on our Constitution.

In Oregon Employment Division v. Smith (1990)4, the Supreme Court, in a majority opinion written by Antonin Scalia, effectively abolished the Constitutional protections for religious free exercise that the Court had begun recognizing in 1963.  In an activist ruling that went much farther than necessary to settle the issue before the court, Scalia, in one fell swoop, subordinated the entire Free Exercise clause to laws of general applicability.

In 1972, the Catholic bishops could have sued on First Amendment grounds, and may quite conceivably have won in court.  But in the wake of Scalia’s 1990 ruling, such exemptions are no longer protected by the Constitution.

Parental rights, sacred to many conservative Christians, are also being undercut, not by the liberal wing of the Court but by the conservative wing.

As Religious Right activist and homeschooling advocate Michael Farris admits5, two of the three strongest advocates for parental rights in the recent Supreme Court parental rights case, Troxel v. Granville (2000)6, are the liberal judges Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Meanwhile, conservative icon Antonin Scalia opined that the Supreme Court does not have any power to protect parental rights from state intrusion whatsoever.

Take notice, Christians: Religious Right groups are demanding that presidents appoint more judges like Antonin Scalia, who are unlikely to uphold your parental rights or your rights of conscience.

Is this damage to their own constituents’ Constitutional rights an inadvertent side effect?  Or might Religious Right groups and politicians in fact have less concern for the rights and well-being of their own conservative Christian base than the latter realizes?

I shall make a case for the latter.

If you are a conservative Christian and reading this, there is a fair to good chance that you might feel a traditional protectiveness regarding the word “marriage,” yet have no real objections to identical “civil unions” for same-sex couples.  A reasonable view, it is marriage, per se, that you might not want “redefined,” whereas comparable unions under a different name would be okay.

Any guesses as to the number of “conservative” or “pro-family” groups that support civil unions?

To my knowledge, zero. They fight against civil unions just as hard as they fight against outright same-gender marriage, calling civil unions “counterfeit marriages.7”  These are not people who are as reasonable as mainstream religious conservatives.  They have a mission, and that is for the government to implement their theology in detail8. That’s why they run for office themselves or endorse candidates who share these views.

Unfortunately, things get much worse.

Comments by many conservative Christians to news stories about the recent Catholic contraception insurance issue reveal an assumption that contraception will always be readily available.  The suggestion that there is a “war on contraception” typically evokes disbelief – “nobody is trying to take away your right to use contraception.”

The trouble is, that’s simply untrue.  Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, for example, believes that states should be free to outlaw contraception.9 I find it odd that he should even mention that, unless he is aware of politicians who would like to do just that.

While it’s true that few organizations are, at present, specifically advocating the banning of contraception, there is a broader line of thinking that is easily demonstrated and would almost inevitably lead to large-scale bans on contraception.

Chances are, if you are a lay conservative Christian reading this, you do not support the large-scale criminalization of private adult choices.  You’re merely looking out for your own rights and safety in a fallen world.

The trouble is that many, probably most “pro-family” groups disagree with you.  They see their will as the only one that matters, and won’t hesitate to impose their theological specifics of sexuality by law, with increasing detail as time goes on.  And if your theological take on Scripture differs, they will not listen to you.  You are “wrong,” simply because they say so.

Consider these examples and see the pattern that takes shape.

Rick Santorum states that ““the laws of this country should comport with [a specific religious] moral vision.”10 Religious Right activist Dr. Judith Reisman berates the “Kinsey legacy” of “sexual anarchy,” lamenting the resulting decriminalization of “fornication, cohabitation and adultery.”11

Religious Right activist Ellen Lukas finds it “stunning” that “women have a ‘human right’ to  control their own reproduction.”12 Kansas Republican governor Sam Brownback claims that Americans have no right to “sexual privacy.”15 The state of Alabama bans “sex toys.”

American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer advocates vigorously enforcing archaic sex laws and jailing teenagers for a year for having sex.13 Concerned Women for America of South Dakota  desires government enforcement of vague “crimes against public morals” and “crimes against nature” laws.14 (I thought crimes against nature were things like toxic spills and clear-cutting rainforests, but I digress.)

The Howard Center’s Allan Carlson, Ph.D., praises a hopeful “rebuilding” of a “common Christian front on the issue of contraception,” and fondly cites Martin Luther’s characterization of even “withdrawal” contraception as a “Sodomitic sin.”16 Women who choose not to have children are in “moral rebellion”18 and defy “God’s command.”19

Complete, totalitarian government control of every aspect of life is necessary to “reclaim the Crown Rights of Jesus Christ.”17

Do you think, for a moment, that people with this much raw lust for power and control over others would listen, even for a moment, to the pleadings of conservative Christians whose theological understandings disagree with them?

I knew otherwise, which is why I began taking on the Religious Right when I was still very much an evangelical Christian.

These are not your ordinary people who sit next to you in church.  Christians often say, “in essentials, unity; In non-essentials, liberty.”  But to these people, almost everything is an “essential,” with little left over for liberty.  These are people straight out of the Middle Ages, who insist that their way is the only way, and see the government as their muscle.  This relentless quest for power is what sets them apart from average, well-meaning conservative Christians who are content just to live their daily lives.

Perhaps it’s no accident that the modern far right has demanded the appointment of judges with such a dim view of conscience and parental rights.

As is always the case when we threaten other people’s liberties, sooner or later the liberties that are endangered will be your own.

It happened in the thirteen colonies, Christians persecuting Christians over increasingly trivial differences, and it can happen again.

If we let it.


  1. Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963), United States Supreme Court, June 17, 1963.  http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=374&invol=398
  2. Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), United States Supreme Court, May 15, 1972.  http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?navby=volpage&court=us&vol=406&page=233
  3. Stephen Pepper, Taking the Free Exercise Clause Seriously, Brigham Young University Law Review, 1986.  http://www.law2.byu.edu/lawreview4/archives/1986/2/pep.pdf
  4. Employment Div., Ore. Dept of Human Res. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), United States Supreme Court, April 17, 1990.  http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=494&invol=872
  5. Michael Farris, J.D, “Parental Rights: Why Now is the Time to Act”, The Home School Court Report Vol. XXII, No, 2http://www.hslda.org/courtreport/V22N2/V22N201.asp
  6. Troxel v. Granville (2000), United States Supreme Court, June 5, 2000.  http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/99-138.ZS.html
  7. Robert H. Knight, “The Case for Marriage”, Concerned Women for America, Sept. 29, 2003.  http://www.cwfa.org/printerfriendly.asp?id=4649
  8. Dr. Richard A. Jones, “Every Square Inch Belongs To Christ”, American Vision, Feb. 6, 2008.  http://americanvision.org/820/every-square-inch-belongs-christ/
  9. Jake Tapper, “Santorum Explains ’06 Loss, Still Supports State Right to Outlaw Contraception”, ABC News, Jan. 2, 2012.  http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/01/santorum-explains-06-loss-still-supports-state-right-to-outlaw-contraception/
  10. Thanksgiving Family Forum, 11/19/2011, Des Moines, Iowa.
  11. Judith Reisman, Ph.D., “Sexual Anarchy: The Kinsey Legacy”, American Family Association, August 24, 2011.  http://afaofpa.org/archives/p2261/
  12. Ellen Lukas, “Beijing’s Aftermath”, Family Policy, Family Research Council, June 1995.
  13. Bryan Fischer, “Part of sex ed: Sexual immorality still against the law”, August 21, 2007.  http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/fischer/070821
  14. Linda Schauer, “Director’s Notes”, Concerned Women for America of South Dakota, Spring, 2003.  http://www.cwfa.org/images/content/03springnews.pdf
  15. Sam Brownback, “Why the Government Should Care About Pornography”, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, November 10, 2005. http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-109shrg25923/pdf/CHRG-109shrg25923.pdf
  16. Allan Carlson, Ph.D., “The Emptied Quiver: The Protestant Embrace of Contraception”, The Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society. Sept. 22, 2006. http://profam.org/docs/acc/thc.acc.060922.emptied.quiver.htm
  17. “Reclaiming the Crown Rights of Jesus Christ”, Capitol Hill Prayer Alert. http://www.prayeralert.org/wir/archives/noking.html
  18. Dr. Albert Mohler, “Deliberate Childlessness: Moral Rebellion With a New Face”, June 7, 2005. http://www.albertmohler.com/2005/06/07/deliberate-childlessness-moral-rebellion-with-a-new-face-2/
  19. J. Budziszewski, “Not Having Babies, Not an Option”, Boundless Webzine, Nov. 11, 1999.  http://www.boundless.org/2005/articles/a0000196.cfm

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