There’s an old saying that you can’t control what other people do or don’t do, but only what you do. It’s true in politics as with most other things in life.
For decades conservatives have lost ground in the fight over religious liberty, primarily via our nation’s courts. But you can’t blame liberals for fighting in venues that play to their strengths (liberal judges), and avoids their weaknesses (public opinion). How conservatives “feel” about it however won’t change anything. Only raw political power does that.
For opinion to become political power it must be focused and organized, and currently for conservatives it’s not. We are scattered all around, constantly fighting defensive actions on numerous issues, rather than going on offense. And given that you can’t win on defense, that’s a recipe for long-term defeat.
Clearly we need a change in strategy, but how to go about it? The recent string of pro-life victories in the abortion debate points the way.
Thanks to technology, it is now possible to view an unborn child in the womb at an extremely early stage of development. And it is becoming more understood that, yes, they are capable of feeling pain, moving the practice of abortion closer to infanticide in the minds of many. The result is that people in the mushy middle of public opinion are becoming more likely to either oppose it, or at least support increasing restrictions on it simply because it is easier to view the unborn child as a victim.
That’s why polls show that younger voter groups are becoming pro-life in greater numbers than other age groups. They’re more liberty conscious; which presents a problem for liberals and an opportunity for conservatives.
Victimhood is the sweet spot in American politics, and liberals have effectively milked it to change our culture for decades. Supporters of gay marriage have worked to legalize such marriages in over a dozen states by casting themselves as the “victims” of bigoted traditionalists, so much so that five members of the Supreme Court recently got in on the act. But whether it’s mandates for abortion coverage under Obamacare, civil penalties for refusing to recognize gay marriages, or branding religious speech as “hate speech”, it’s clear that religious Americans are becoming the victims of government policies.
To effectively fight back there needs to be a rallying point; a specific call to action that conservatives could use as a focal point for messaging, tactics and organization. And politically, it needs to be something that could pull in the mushy moderates who tend to sit on the fence in such debates.
Focusing on “liberty” turns the current frame of the debate upside down and places the focus back where it belongs; on the people whose rights are being threatened and sometimes outright denied. It provides an overarching cause that ties all of these issues together, and offers an outlet that conservatives can focus on and directly see how it can impact the freedoms they are concerned about.
It’s time to begin pushing local and state lawmakers to amend or pass laws and state constitutional amendments to defend religious freedoms in everyday life.
Since the First Amendment is obviously no longer enough, it’s time to call for passage of a more specific religious freedom amendment to the US Constitution; to demand that state legislatures adopt resolutions calling on Congress to support such an amendment, and to pressure members of Congress to act on it.
Politically, it’s important to act while nerves are still raw and such abuses continue to grab headlines and percolate through the legal system. We can’t wait until after the anger dies down or for people to get used to being unable to live out their faith.
We’ve been down that road before with the Defense of Marriage Act.
Democrats supported DOMA in 1996 as a way to short circuit momentum for a constitutional amendment on the subject and give them an opportunity to vote “for” traditional marriage before the elections that year. All the while they were quietly hoping for a Supreme Court ruling to one day strike it down.
That strategy paid off earlier this year. And that’s why nothing less than a constitutional amendment on the subject of religious liberty will do today.
Political battles are all about ground, meaning wisely choosing where you fight, and controlling the debate as well as the language that is used in the debate. Focusing on religious liberty as an umbrella cause in the culture wars gives conservatives that opportunity.
It’s time to stop complaining about what the other side is doing and get busy.