In an article published this morning in Indian’s Lafayette Journal & Courier, “A shifting landscape: Gay rights, RFRA and the GOP,” Gov. Mike Pence is said to have often described himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order,” and that his opinions on issues relating to the intersection of the free exercise of religion and gay rights have not altered during the 20-year history of his life as a public servant.
The U.S. Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, and was signed into law by President Clinton. In recent months there have been a good many discussions relating to what the boundaries are, exactly, of the free exercise of religion that has been protected for all Americans in the First Amendment to U.S. Constitution, since 1789.
In recent years, the RFRA has also been introduced in 16 state legislative bodies as well. In his book, “Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism,” Professor George tries to explain the position of those who are in support of this legislation, and makes an additional effort to describe the reasons why they care.
A native of West Virginia, Professor George still practices law in a firm with offices there. The firm of Robinson & McElwee specializes in the litigation of constitutional issues and in appellate cases, generally, in which attorneys there against large class-action suits where the courts have award settlements to victims, or cases where attorneys defend corporate clients against suits for “supposed wrong doings.”
In the introduction to George’s book, it becomes clear that he provides a context for the frustration of those who are concerned that their religious freedoms are under assault, noting that traditional morality here in the U.S. over the past 50 years or so has changed drastically — and not for the better; and that even more serious in terms of weighty issues is that it doesn’t seem likely that the matter can be discussed rationally:
“Many in elite circles yield to the temptation to believe that anyone who disagrees with them is a bigot or a religious fundamentalist. Reason and science, they confidently believe, are on their side. With this book, I aim to expose the emptiness of that belief.”
A traditional Roman Catholic — which is George’s own religious affiliation — could be forgiven for wondering whether the courts even have the constitutional right to allow for individual American to be called upon to recognize — to be required by law to recognize — that their beliefs to the contrary are now to be set aside — that the institution of marriage is to no longer be considered as a relationship between an individual man and an individual woman; and that there will now be — by dictum — no longer any public recognition that an individual with conscientious objection to that belief which had been previously sustained for many thousands of years and heretofore recognized has having been historically valid, is valid no longer. Can it be Constitutionally-sound to claim that an individual who has long held such a belief on religious grounds is now to be essentially forced against his or her will to legally recognize that rights to engage in private acts are now to be equivalently made public, because those private acts are to be protected as subsumed through the same natural law by which we were endowed by our Creator?
A Roman Catholi — in Indiana or elsewhere — could certainly also be forgiven for wondering whether or not the court has not erred in claiming for itself the Constitutional power (under Article III, Section 2), to enumerate as an implied right, the “political sanction” to the expression of free speech through an indirect rights’ benefit in conflict to the directly-expressed right to the free exercise of religion.
In this book, “Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism,” Professor George defends what James Madision — our 4th President, author of the Federalist papers which persuaded the colonists who would ratify the U.S. Constitution clarified what he called the “sacred rights of conscience:”
In September of 1735, James Madison writes:
“Trust your self to Reason and to God’s kind Providence but never do any Thing that may hinder the Discovery of any useful and important Truth. … I do assert our own spiritual Liberty, and that of our Fellow-Creatures …”
“Conscience and Its Enemies,” should serve to assist both sides of this very important issue to raise the level of “reasonable” arguments, especially among those who may believe that there is no need to consider an opposing view. Professor George makes clear that there is something more to the objection of those on the “conservative” side, here, than meets the eye — and in this case, certainly more than opposition for its own sake or an opposition to which any sort of enmity could be attached.