War is over … if you want it

My apologies if that headline reminds you of Yoko Ono’s dog-howl-inducing backing vocals on the famous John Lennon Christmas song. But the line did seem appropriate for a blog entry on Timothy Carney‘s latest Washington Examiner column, in which he discusses a possible truce in the culture wars.

The chasm between Left and Right seems uncrossable, particularly because conservatives see religious liberty arguments as the last redoubt in the culture war: you guys won your gay marriages, permissive abortion laws, taxpayer-subsidized birth control, and divorce-on-demand; let us just live our lives according to our own consciences.

But for the Left, that’s intolerable, unless conservatives lock their consciences behind closed church doors. Liberal writer Emily Bazelon actually defends the contraception mandate as a “Live and Let Live” policy.

Is there any bridging this gap?

I saw a flicker of hope last weekend at a libertarian dinner featuring psychologist Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind. Haidt inspired me to try to understand the mindset of religious liberty’s enemies.

For one thing, many liberals have a different idea of liberty. Liberals often don’t distinguish between government power and non-government power. They note that employers have real power over employees. Because liberals don’t see employment as a fully voluntary arrangement in which both parties are free to set the terms, they don’t value employers’ pleas for “liberty.”

More important, Haidt notes, this is about the sacred on both sides. Christian conservatives think marriage is a sacred bond, tied up with family formation. Christians also believe in the sanctity of life from conception. Secular liberals, Haidt has concluded, hold sacred the plight of the traditionally oppressed — including women and gays. …

… The culture war isn’t religious versus secular. It’s a clash of two faiths.

Interestingly, mandate champion Sandra Fluke provides us with a way out: “Your boss shouldn’t be involved in your health care decisions — that’s common sense,” she wrote this week.

Exactly. Your boss shouldn’t be telling you what pills to take, and he shouldn’t be paying for your pills. To get peace in this arena, we have to disentangle employment from health care, which requires repealing parts of Obamacare and scrapping the tax preferences for employer-based insurance.

Also, peace can be made on the broader religious liberty question. Some on the secular Left see appeals to religious liberty as special pleading. Why should the religious have special rights and be immune from the civil law?

Religion is explicitly favored by the First Amendment and the RFRA, but these protections could be broadened to cover all conscience rights.

An example: Some secular liberals find circumcision immoral. If a photographer felt that way, should he really be compelled by non-discrimination law to photograph a Jewish bris ceremony?

Whether your moral code comes from a religious or secular teaching, the government should take great effort to avoid forcing you to violate your conscience.

Here’s one rule to make it even simpler: If there’s a serious debate over a religious exemption to a proposed law, the proposed law probably reaches too far into people’s private affairs, and should be scrapped.

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