Religious Groups Want To Take the Money and Run

At MSNBC today, Tim Noah provides an excellent brief summary of the history of religious exemptions from non-discrimination laws and notes how rarely and narrowly they’ve been provided, particularly with respect to federal contractors deemed to accept government policies when they choose to accept government money. And like a lot of progressives, Tim’s pessimistic about the Obama administration’s level of resistance to demands for a post-Hobby Lobby broadened exemption in an upcoming executive order banning federal contractors from gender or sexual orientation discrimination:

Will Obama cave? Past experience on this issue suggests that he will. If he did, he’d be making a concession to a largely conservative constituency (and ignoring the separate pleading of a more liberal group of religious leaders not to grant the exemption). But the action itself—allowing religious groups to take federal money while brazenly flouting federal rules—wouldn’t be conservative at all. It would conform to the “rights revolution” caricature of 1960s liberalism that social conservatives usually complain about—take the cash, don’t sweat any societal obligations—but in a way that favors them. Don’t expect the right to complain.

Tim’s right. But all the conservative whining about having to comply with non-discrimination rules while implementing public policy is of a piece with the more general adoption of the rhetoric of grievance and entitlement that’s swept the conservative Christian world very recently. It’s no surprise that people who feel persecuted for having to tolerate “Happy Holidays” signs at department stores think that “moral relativist” conditions on federal grants and contracts represent martyrdom. As always, I would observe that the true Christian martyrs of the ages would weep with shame at all this posturing.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.