the short long term

Consider this a follow-up to this morning’s post on religious freedom. Someone — and not a stranger — recently said to me on Twitter, “I am concerned that you think only conservatives have religious rights.” A pretty damning accusation, if true. But it isn’t true. I’ll cite just one example in my defense. Four years ago I wrote in response to the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy:

But the really sad thing is that people who call themselves conservatives — Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin — should be crying out for apparatuses of the state to limit and police voluntary religious association. This is a profoundly anti-conservative view in two ways. First, it is historically myopic, as Mayor Bloomberg’s brief history of controversies about religious freedom in New York City demonstrates. It’s remarkable that people who invoke the Founders so regularly and in such tones of devotion could be utterly deaf to the Founders’ concern to ensure freedom for mistrusted minority religions. They might start by reading George Washington’s once-famous letter to the Newport synagogue, paying special attention to this sentence: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts.” In Washington’s understanding, it is misbegotten even to ask the question, “Should we tolerate this?”

Moreover, the Gingrich-Palin view of the matter is as blind to the future as it is to the past. No one would make such an argument who did not anticipate that his or her own religious preferences will forever be enshrined as the socially dominant ones. Having endorsed the principle that minority religions can be policed by the state, Gingrich and Palin may well be unpopular figures to their descendants, if Christianity continues to decline as a force in American culture.

In other words, when the religious freedom of Muslims was under threat, I made precisely the same arguments that I am making today, and described the view being taken by many who call themselves religious conservatives as “an infantile grasping after a fleeting and elusive cultural dominance.”

Again, that’s just one example. So why would someone accuse me of thinking that only conservatives have religious rights? Because at this particular moment, it’s religious traditionalists whose claims to liberty are at issue. And the person who made that accusation is thinking only in terms of this particular moment — which is exactly what the internet firehose of news (and “news”) always prompts us to do. So again: let’s try to think wider, and think longer. And if we can’t easily assume the perspective of the longue durée, we at least ought to be able to cast our minds back four freakin’ years.