Now that the 2016 Presidential Election is over, what can be done to protect both religious freedom and sexual freedom? I have spent the last few days thinking about this and trying to wrap my brain around the issues that may arise. I am not sure I am up to the task, but here are a few thoughts and suggestions.
First, the tides in the culture wars ebb and flow and it seems that now we may have yet another shift. It is a huge mistake for either side to view these political shifts as proof it need not compromise. A few weeks ago some cultural warriors on the sexual freedom side were casting religious freedom as the enemy and it seemed that this position was gaining in power as advocates for religious freedom hunkered down. This week some culture warriors on the religious freedom side are casting sexual freedom as the enemy and feel empowered to act on their instincts as advocates for sexual freedom are hunkering down.
Yet, the tides are likely to turn again in the future and the best way to protect religious freedom and sexual freedom is for both sides to compromise. I said this before the election and I say it after the election: No one is well served by dehumanizing the other side and becoming so overconfident that they fail to consider the possibility of compromise. Just as before the election compromise benefited not only religious people, but also members of the LGBT community, today compromise benefits not only members of the LGBT community but also religious freedom. I laid out the methods and mechanisms for compromise in the book Freedom’s Edge. While the political tides continue to ebb and flow both sides must step back from the brink and give empathy a try. Doing so requires introspection, and a bit of introspection is good for everyone in the long run. Without it we will enter a downward spiral of brinkmanship that will bounce back and forth with the political tides until one side eviscerates rights on the other side. Whichever side loses it will be a huge loss for American freedom and values.
Second, we need to look not only at the Presidential election results, but also at Congress and state legislatures. The legislative process is where RFRAs and anti-discrimination laws are born. I continue to urge legislators to look at laws like the Utah Compromise as proof of concept that through compromise common ground can be found. Ideally, we will see RFRAs that protect individuals and traditional religious entities, but exclude large for-profit entities, and we will also see anti-discrimination laws that protect the LGBT community, but include exemptions for traditional religious entities. The nature and range of entities protected under such an exemption must be carefully considered as I explained in Freedom’s Edge.
Third, words and framing do have power and we are sadly seeing the results of this on a nearly daily basis as some—although certainly not all—Trump supporters have become emboldened to lash out against those in the minority, including Muslims, Jews, members of the LGBT community, African-Americans, and immigrants. I have seen this first hand as several students have come to speak with me about situations they have faced (mostly off campus) since the election. These have ranged from slurs on social media to downright harassment. As religious minorities face increased backlash the importance of RFRAs may become more clear to many progressives who lost sight of why RFRA’s are a good idea. At the same time, as members of the LGBT community face increased backlash, the importance of anti-discrimination protection will become more clear to many conservatives, or at least to those who are moderate on social issues.
What does the future hold? Who knows. I am afraid for the freedoms and values on both sides as our nation becomes more divided and divisive than ever. I beg those of you who share my commitment to protecting rights on both sides to not lose your voices or become complacent. Now, more than ever, moderates need a voice so that members of the LGBT community and people of faith can be protected against the worst instincts on each side.