When it comes to the arguments over Indiana's recently passed version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), conservatives and liberals
are both annoying and self-aggrandizing in their righteousness. Given the paucity of actual cases in play—virtually all news accounts recycle a handful of incidents in a few states—it's clear that the main function of the current controversy is to make religious conservatives feel even more persecuted than usual and to make secular liberals feel as if they are making a last stand for human decency.
Conservatives (and let's face it, Republicans) are trying to use the backlash to justify the ridiculous notion that being anti-religious is the last acceptable prejudice and all that jazz. Liberals are acting as if they are in the brave vanguard of American pluralism, despite the fact that large and growing majorities of Americans are totally good not just with homosexuality but with same-sex marriage too.
In my new Daily Beast column, I recap the strange history of the original 1993 RFRA (Chuck Schumer was its House sponsor! Jesse Helms was one of three no votes in the Senate!) and argue that
From a libertarian perspective, there's an easy enough way to resolve the current conflict between demands for religious freedom and equality. It doesn't fully satisfy either side but it has the virtue of preserving a pluralistic society and minimizing intervention into everyday life….
It's wrong for liberals to use the government to force everyone everywhere to act the way that they want. And it's tendentious for conservatives to insist that Indiana's RFRA law, passed to forestall religiously minded businesses from having to contravene their beliefs, wasn't really about discrimination.
The fight over this issue produces more heat than light, which may well be the point, especially at the start of a national campaign season for the presidential race in 2016. God knows neither side wants to acknowledge the limits of its point of view in legal, philosophical, or practical terms. But to the extent such battles get in the way of each of us getting on with the business of building the world we want to live in, we're all the worse off for it.