A few weeks ago, I took up the question of whether or not religious liberty and civil same-sex marriage could simultaneously exist. I argued that, "Yes...they can and must if we are to maintain our liberal democracy." My fellow blogger Brian Miller responded with a thoughtful piece (which I highly encourage you read) arguing that they cannot. I am now brought back to this issue because Ryan T. Anderson's article reminded me about the fault lines between these two spheres.
Within the past week, Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Mayor Reed fired Cochran because, in the mayor's words, "I profoundly disagree with and am deeply disturbed by the sentiments expressed in the paperback regarding the LGBT community. I will not tolerate discrimination of any kind within my administration.” According to Reed, Cochran conducted himself in a hateful, vicious manner towards the local gay community.
What did he say? In 2013, Cochran wrote and published a book for a men's Bible study for his local church, in which he states that homosexuality is a form of sexual sin, along with many others. Was this enough to negatively impact Cochran's ability to carry out his job as fire chief? Retired Atlanta Fire Department Captain Cindy Thompson believed it was, and contacted a Georgia-based LGBT group to protest the book.
This is a brief summary of the events that took place. It leaves us with the question posed in Garcetti v. Ceballos: "Should a public employee's purely job-related speech, expressed strictly pursuant to the duties of employment, be protected by the First Amendment simply because it touched on a matter of public concern, or must the speech also be engaged in 'as a citizen?'" Quite simply, no!
As Ryan T. Anderson points out, the Supreme Court has consistently held that government employees have limited free speech rights when the speech of those employees “has some potential to affect the [governmental] entity’s operations.” However, the Court ruled in Garcetti that, "So long as employees are speaking as citizens about matters of public concern, they must face only those speech restrictions that are necessary for their employers to operate efficiently and effectively." Obviously, Cochran's speech as a citizen is protected because it has no bearing on the fire department's ability to operate "efficiently and effectively."
What is the policy objective pushed by the gay lobby here? What is the purpose? I honestly can't see one. To quote Anderson:
Protecting religious liberty and the rights of conscience doesn’t interfere with ordinary governmental operations. Rather, protecting religious liberty and the rights of conscience is the embodiment of principled pluralism. It’s this principled pluralism that allows for a variety of beliefs with no government-imposed orthodoxy. It allows for a more diverse and civil public sphere. It allows for the tolerance that is essential to promoting co-existence in the midst of disagreement.
Can religious liberty and LGBT rights simultaneously exist? Yes, but only if both parties respect each other's rights. This type of environment must be built on mutual respect and understanding. What does this look like? Civil society and public discourse must allow for free speech, the freedom of religious conscience, and the free exchange of ideas. The recent attacks in Paris have shown that liberal democracy is fragile and always under assault.
The maintenance of liberty for the LGBT and Christian community requires these principles, or civil society will not survive. Rule of law and the various freedoms explicit and implicit in our Constitution can't exist without the freedom of religion. If rights are no longer rooted in nature, then the state has every right to give and take away as it pleases. Consequently, when LGBT groups attack religious freedom, they undermine the very foundation that allows for gay rights to exist. Ultimately, if religious freedom is placed in chains it will follow in the mutual destruction of LGBT liberty.