Thursday, September 20, 2007
To my mind, the most important question to be faced in thinking about the contours of religious liberty is not whether the Tallapoosa County Commission can put up a photocopy of the Ten Commandments in the courthouse breezeway, or whether little Johnny can say "Jesus" in his valedictory speech, but the degree to which religious organizations (churches, parachurch groups, service centers, etc.) will have their institutional autonomy protected or whether federal, staet, and local authorities will be given free reign to impose non-discrimination standards and force those organizations to hire and keep people whose views or lives do not match the organization's. Earlier this week, New Jersey revoked the tax-exempt status of a Methodist-run pavilion because it refused to allow same-sex "weddings" there. Yesterday, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals found that a Jewish Community Center was exempt from civil rights laws on the basis of Title VII exemptions. I suspect, alas, that this will be the pattern for things to come. Courts will grant exemptions for a wide range of religious organizations from civil rights laws, but state and local authorities will use their tax and regulatory powers to try and coerce those same organizations into conforming nonetheless, especially with respect to homosexuality.