It is rare that the intellectual mendacity of the conservative worldview can be laid bare in a mere 200-something characters. But fortunately for us, Ben Shapiro has a Twitter habit even more prodigious than the President’s, and so here we are: served up the absurdity of the right’s version of liberty in just one paragraph, especially as regards religious freedom and its relationship to the issue of same-sex marriage.
So just to clarify, according to Shapiro:
It is not intolerant to oppose same-sex marriage or presumably homosexuality itself unless the person believing this forces others to think the same or live by that belief. One is free to disagree with conservative Christian or Orthodox Jewish opinions on these matters, and unless those who do so are mandated to live according to these beliefs — perhaps as in a theocratic society — there is no harm, no foul.
However, it is intolerant to force people to contravene their sincerely-held religious positions on these issues, perhaps by requiring them to attend same-sex wedding ceremonies even when they oppose such weddings. Of course, since no one has ever actually advocated compelling attendance at such a wedding, or any wedding, one presumes he is referring to more than just that.
In all likelihood, Shapiro is referring to laws compelling religious conservatives to provide various services (wedding cakes, flowers, photography, etc.) to a same-sex couple for said ceremony. This would amount to compulsion, to imposition, according to Shapiro, in violation of religious liberty.
In short, Shapiro seeks to claim the mantle of victimhood for himself and others of conservative religious belief, by insisting that leftists, liberals and secular folks are the real tyrants. We are the ones trying to force them to live by our standards of morality, whereas they are merely asking to be left alone to practice their faiths as they see fit, and as they feel commanded to do by God.
There are two rather apparent problems with Shapiro’s argument here, however. The first is that his definition of intolerance is monstrous in its implications, as we’ll see. The second is that based on other things Shapiro has said and written, he is simply lying: his views on same-sex marriage and homosexuality do portend impositions upon others and would limit opportunities and freedoms for others. Let’s look at these one at a time, starting with Ben’s interpretation of intolerance.
Shapiro’s Logic Makes MLK More Intolerant than Fred Phelps
According to Shapiro, beliefs (no matter how bigoted one may find them) are not genuinely intolerant unless those who hold them force others to abide by those beliefs and live their lives according to them. Thus, since people are free to support same-sex marriage or LGBTQ folks generally — and to advocate for those — conservatives are not guilty of intolerance when they advocate on the other side. Everyone is just supporting their position, without one side coercing the other unless of course, leftists force religiously conservative folks to give their imprimatur to same-sex unions with things like cakes baked for that purpose.
But consider for a second what this understanding of intolerance would mean.
If I were to ask you: What is the most blatant example of anti-gay bigotry you’ve seen in the last twenty years, what would you say?
I’m guessing that for most the answer might well involve the Westboro Baptist Church and their “God Hates Fags” signs, which they have been hoisting at protest after protest for decades. Surely you’ve seen or heard about them.
This is the church, started by their now-deceased founder Fred Phelps, which has picketed the funerals of soldiers. And why? Because since the military allows LGBTQ folks to serve, those soldiers presumably deserved to die for serving a “fag army,” and are merely reaping God’s punishment for having done so. Honestly, in the pantheon of intolerance, you can’t do much better than Westboro if you were looking for poster children for the cause, right?
Well no, at least not according to Ben Shapiro’s definition of intolerance. After all, when the Phelps clan is out there screaming calumnies at anyone and everyone who isn’t them — either for being gay or too solicitous of those who are — they aren’t forcing anyone to agree with them, or live their lives by a “God Hates Fags” mentality. They’re just advocating their beliefs, proselytizing as they feel compelled to do by their perverse reading of Scripture.
When Westboro picketed one of my speeches in 1995, it’s not as if they could make me agree with them, or for that matter any of the students who had gathered to watch the spectacle outside the student union at Kansas University that day. Indeed, we all stood around and mocked them. They had no real power. They could not impose their views on us in the sense of making us adhere to them. Thus, according to Shapiro’s understanding of intolerance, they wouldn’t qualify.
But seriously? If we can’t call Fred Phelps and his minions avatars of intolerance, then the word has no meaning any longer, and Ben Shapiro has all but assassinated language.
Even worse, you know what would be intolerant under Ben’s understanding of the term? The civil rights movement led by Dr. King.
Think about it. What did the movement do? First, it led boycotts of businesses that discriminated against black people in the hopes of compelling them to change their ways; and second, leaving nothing to chance, it fought for laws that would force businesses to treat everyone equitably, whether they wanted to or not. What does that have to do with religious compulsion — the subject at hand?
Simple. At the time of the Civil Rights Act’s passage, and still today, there were and are white folks who sincerely believed (and still believe) that segregation and white supremacy are God-ordained. For generations these things were justified by the Biblical “curse of Ham” and by the Tower of Babel story, which some used to prove that God had meant the races to remain separate. Although far fewer people make this argument today, it was certainly common at the time of segregation to hear this position articulated throughout the South, in white churches no less.
Now, I’m guessing that both Ben Shapiro and I would agree that these views are outrageous. However, we would also have to admit that they were sincerely held by many, and still are sincerely believed by more than a few. So too, the modern adherents to a neo-Nazi-ish religion called Christian Identity (which holds that Jews are the spawn of Satan and blacks are “mud people” without souls), honestly believe their nonsense and can cherry-pick Scripture to justify their hateful beliefs quite easily.
And yet the boycotts of segregationist businesses, which sought to compel integration and equal treatment, didn’t care whether the bigots in question had a religious motivation for their racism. If Ben would call it intolerant to boycott evangelical cake-makers who disagree with same-sex marriage or homosexuality — and surely he would, because it would amount to leftists trying to compel those businesses to traduce their religious beliefs or go out of business — then so too must he condemn the sit-in movement and other boycotts that targeted racist businesses in the segregationist south. Because by his own definition they would be intolerant.
Likewise, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 says that no matter what one might have thought (or still think) about God’s desire for segregation, store owners do not have the right to act on those beliefs so as to deny service to people on the basis of race. If you own a restaurant, hotel, department store, grocery, or any other business, no matter your sincerely held religious beliefs about these things you must serve all comers and you must do so equitably. The law doesn’t give a damn about what you think God says.
So the Civil Rights Act does indeed impose upon businesses an obligation to equal treatment. And what of it? Is that really what we should think of as intolerant? Requiring equity is intolerant, but calling gay people fags is not? The laws that people like MLK died to get passed are more morally objectionable than the views of the bigots whose racism those laws were meant to address? Again, in such a looking-glass world as this, words have no meaning.
Ben Shapiro is Lying: He Does Believe in Imposing Heterosexist Norms
The second problem with Shapiro’s argument is that he is making it in bad faith. He doesn’t really believe in a mere live-and-let-live philosophy when it comes to LGBTQ folks or same-sex marriage. While the above tweet makes it seem this way, his previous writings and comments betray something else: namely, that Ben Shapiro does believe society should have the right to limit rights and opportunities for LGBTQ individuals.
First, of course, he opposes the right of men to marry men or women to marry women and thereby reap the benefits thereof (tax, custody and inheritance benefits being among the most obvious). To this, Ben has a ready reply, although it’s pretty thin gruel.
Although he doesn’t make the argument in the above Twitter exchange, he did recently on Joe Rogan’s podcast. There he argued that he supports civil unions, which could provide the same legal benefits to same-sex couples as heterosexual couples receive via marriage. He contends that because he supports this alternative, his views on same-sex marriage have “no public policy implications” in that they do not require the limiting of opportunities and benefits to LGBTQ folks.
He goes on to say that he believes the state should be out of the marriage business altogether because marriage is a sacred religious ceremony. Civil unions, with fully equal legal protections as marriage, can be provided to same-sex couples, or straight couples for that matter who don’t want a religious ceremony.
Essentially Shapiro wants same-sex couples to have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples when they form a bond that is intended to be permanent; he just suggests that this should not be called marriage because of the religious connotations of that term. It’s special; it’s different — sort of like Baptism, confirmation or bar/bat mitzvah, and the state should neither license it nor regulate it.
Fair enough. But even putting aside how it must feel to LGBTQ folks — or even heterosexuals who don’t want an ecclesiastically-endorsed marriage — to be told they should settle for a union that is held in lower esteem by the community (no matter the legal rights we might allow for it), Ben just isn’t being honest here.
Fact is, he does believe it is acceptable to impose public policy upon LGBTQ folks, in line with majoritarian and fundamentalist interpretations of morality. How do we know? Simple: because Ben Shapiro writes and runs his mouth a lot and has left receipts littering the highways and byways of the internet.
So, for instance, Shapiro condemned the Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down state sodomy laws, which essentially amounted to the criminalization of homosexuality, and especially sex between men. In doing so, he mocked the decision, which overturned a previous ruling that had upheld such laws in Texas and elsewhere, by lamenting that the court had found “anal penetration to be a hard-fought constitutional right.”
Of course, because to people like Ben, homosexuality is always and only about the butt sex.
Because gay people are presumably as obsessed with the butt sex as Ben Shapiro is.
In any event, by opposing this ruling, Shapiro is essentially saying that states should have the right to ban such activity if they so choose. In other words, if Texas wants to ban sodomy because the majority morality is opposed to homosexuality (and sodomy is, as Ben demonstrates, only and always associated with the gays), then they should have that right.
But how does that square with his claim that his views about these matters have “no policy implications,” and are not intolerant because, after all, they do not impose anything on anyone or force others to live according to his particular religious and moral code? Easy: it doesn’t square at all. To say states should have the right to criminalize homosexuality is to impose a religiously-derived set of values upon LGBTQ folks. It is thus intolerant even using Shapiro’s bizarre definition. And it is oppressive.
Likewise, his apoplexy over the Obergfell decision, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, betrayed his belief that states should have the right to limit marriage to one man and one woman. Yes, I know, Ben says the state really should have no role in marriage at all, but that is not the argument he makes to oppose Obergfell.
He knows, for instance, that at present the state does license marriage and regulate it. And therefore, when he calls for states to have the right to limit marriage to heterosexual couplings, he is calling for the imposition of his religious beliefs (and those of other conservatives) upon state policy, in a way that would limit opportunities for LGBTQ folks.
Again, to say there are no policy implications of his stance is wrong. And to the extent he thinks state bans on same-sex marriage should be allowed (or even prohibitions on civil unions, which I suspect he believes states should also be able to opt out of), he is willing to see LGBTQ folks imposed upon and forced to live according to the religious dictates of others. And again, even under his definition of intolerance, this would qualify.
Likewise, if Ben Shapiro supports the right of public officials like Kim Davis in Kentucky to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples — and he did support her in this — he is saying that state actors can impose unequal opportunities and services upon LGBTQ folks. Not merely private sector actors dispensing with their personal property, but even those persons whose paycheck is paid by everyone’s taxes, including the persons who are then excluded from equality by the one who benefits from those tax dollars.
And by the logic that would protect Kim Davis, Shapiro would have to allow for even more grotesque iterations of the religious liberty argument. For instance, if even public employees can bring their personal religiosity to bear on how they will (or if they will) do their jobs, what’s to keep fundamentalist police officers from refusing to thoroughly investigate a domestic violence claim, or arrest a brutal husband, based on the belief that women should “submit” to male authority? Or for that matter, what would prevent such a cop from refusing to investigate or arrest parents who beat their kids, since, after all, there are passages in Scripture that not only allow such beating but even call for disobedient children to be put to death?
The Problem With Religious Exceptions to Anti-Discrimination Law
Simply put, to say religious objections to same-sex marriage or homosexuality do not impose upon LGBTQ persons is false. If those objections are allowed to serve as carve-outs to otherwise straightforward anti-discrimination law, then they do indeed impose. They impose disadvantages based on sexual orientation or identity. To allow religious objectors to refuse service to LGBTQ persons in the commercial sphere would most certainly impose a kind of second-class citizenship upon them. It would not merely be a matter of such objectors believing that homosexuality is a sin; instead, it would allow them to act upon that belief in a public sphere that impacts others, as in the case of commerce.
When one chooses to start a business and engage in commercial activity with members of the public, one agrees to abide by the rules that govern that commercial activity for all others. The rules are meant to apply to all, whether those are labor laws, occupational safety, and health regulations, tax laws or anti-discrimination laws. One does not have to have a business, and one is not entitled to have one — and especially not one that is exempt from the rules that others have agreed to play by.
Bottom line: Ben Shapiro’s arguments about religious liberty and freedom, in general, are practically, intellectually and morally bankrupt. He conceives of freedom as something that evangelical cake-makers should enjoy as they discriminate against same-sex couples, but not something those couples should have, in seeking to be married or enjoy equal rights and privileges with others. The freedom of queer folk — or people of color for that matter — should be subordinated to the freedom of the religious to impose their will on others in the name of their property rights, their scriptural interpretations or any other thing.
Freedom, in short, is something the haves should enjoy and be able to call upon to injure the have-nots or limit the enjoyment of their lives. It is the prerogative of the privileged, the favored, the majority. There is nothing high-minded or principled about it. It is merely a nod to power and authority and tradition for the sake of all three.
Presumably, Ben is hoping that the combination of rapid delivery, his smirk, and clever marketing will somehow obscure these facts and lead millions to think him quite brilliant when nothing could be further from the truth.
Fact is, and with apologies to Kris Kristofferson, freedom’s just another word for something Ben Shapiro doesn’t understand.