The Bishops & Religious Liberty
Religious liberty has become much more controversial in recent years. A principal reason is deep disagreements over sexual morality. On abortion, contraception, gay rights, and same-sex marriage, conservative religious leaders condemn as grave evils what many other Americans view as fundamental human rights. Somewhat hidden in the battles over permitting abortion and recognizing same-sex marriage lie religious liberty issues about exempting conscientious objectors from facilitating abortions or same-sex marriages. Banning contraception is no longer a live issue; there, religious liberty is the principal issue. These culture-war issues are turning many Americans toward a very narrow understanding of religious liberty, and generating arguments that threaten religious liberty more generally. Persistent Catholic opposition to the French Revolution permanently turned France to a very narrow view of religious liberty; persistent religious opposition to the Sexual Revolution may be having similar consequences here. The Article argues that we can and should protect the liberty of both sides in the culture wars; that conservative churches would do well to concede the liberty of the other side, including on same-sex marriage, and concentrate on defending their own liberty as conscientious objectors; and similarly, that supporters of rights to abortion, contraception, gay rights, and same-sex marriage would do well to concentrate on securing their own rights and to concede that conscientious objectors should rarely be required to support or facilitate practices they view as evil.