CNN’s Anti-Religious Town Hall

John Hirschauer

LGBT activists gathered last week for CNN’s “Equality” town hall with the Democratic presidential candidates. The advocates present were, in the words of Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, the “tip of the spear in our fight for full equality.”

The “spear” metaphor grew more apt as the night went on.

Religious freedom was the second-most-popular whipping post. The candidates talked about the concept with palpable derision, as if religion — save Islam, which they predictably if incoherently exempted — were a ruse used to cement old prejudices. No one actually believes those folksy things about God, heaven, and hell, right? Never considered was the notion that people hold earnest religious beliefs that in turn inform their views on sexual morality.

The town hall was also evidence that the LGBTQ movement has grown more jaded and contemptuous, even as it has achieved more and more of its ostensible aims. If conciliation was ever the preferred tone, it is no longer. Instead, it is now increasingly unashamed and vituperative scorn.

How would Elizabeth Warren, for instance, respond to someone on the campaign trail who said that they believed in the traditional definition of marriage? “Well, I’m gonna assume it’s a guy who said that,” she said. That elicited a laugh from the audience, men being the only acceptable punchline to the humorless scolds in the crowd. She continued, “I’m gonna say then just marry one woman. I’m cool with that.” Then, after a pause: “If you can find one.”

(Social science notwithstanding on that last jab.)

Beto O’Rourke piled on further, affirming his belief that “freedom of religion is a fundamental right, but it should not be used to discriminate.”

You are, in other words, “free” to practice your religion, so long as you practice it in a manner that Beto O’Rourke — the skateboard-wielding ex-congressman who posts videos of his dental visits on social media — sees fit. Some animals are more equal than others: O’Rourke will be happy to “discriminate” against your church if it happens to hold an unpopular position on sexual ethics. He literally said so seconds later, when asked by Don Lemon if religious institutions should “lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same sex marriage.” O’Rourke’s response:

There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone, any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. And so as president, we are going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.

What “human right” are religious organizations “infringing upon” when they “oppose” same-sex marriage? Do people have a “civil right” to have their sexual preferences validated by private religious organizations? Is there a “human right” to have your particular sexual union baptized by religious traditions with centuries of contravening theological directives?

Pete Buttigieg took this same tack, insisting that “the right to religious freedom ends where religion is being used as an excuse to harm other people.” Which of course depends entirely on what Buttigieg means by “harm.” There is certainly “harm,” for instance, in mutilating the genitals of a young girl — a more ecumenical venture than progressives care to admit — but does a baker’s refusal to bake a cake that violates his religious convictions “harm other people”? What if a church refuses to host a ceremony that offends its moral precepts? Does “religious freedom end” when someone refuses to grant moral approbation to someone else’s choices and behavior?

Indeed, that was the Freudian subtext of the entire town hall. “Equality?” That has, even on activists’ own terms, been long achieved. Notice, Alphonso David didn’t simply want “equality” — whatever that means — but “full equality”: your approval. Not simply your toleration, but your moral assent and your unhesitating affirmation. It’s not enough to live and let live. You will, in Erick Erickson’s words, “be made to care.”

First, we were told that good sense held that we ought to allow two consenting adults to do as they wished in the privacy of their own bedroom. Fair enough — what business is it of ours? Next came civil unions. Fine. Then, marriage was redefined at a federal level on the basis of specious legal reasoning. Next, religious florists, bakers, and caterers were asked to violate their consciences and dragged before the courts if they declined. And now, at long last, the public exercise of religious faith, and the very belief itself, the very notion that one has rights to “oppose” practices that violate their private conscience, are under siege.

All of which, we were told, would “never happen.” As the town hall put on display, it’s not for want of trying.

More from National Review