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That Word “Liberalism,” I Do Not Think…


Damon Linker has yet another of his trademark “other people’s fundamental rights must be sacrificed to appease conservatives because something” arguments.  For example, “when liberals use the government’s coercive powers to force believers to change their views or act against their most deeply held spiritual convictions, liberals (paradoxically) commit an act of illiberalism.”  It’s kind of amazing how many errors are packed into that sentence:

The problem here is that one of these charges is vastly exaggerated and the other is flat-out imaginary. People being asked to “change their views” would indeed be a fundamental violation of the free exercise of religion, but absolutely nobody is being coerced by the state to change their private views. Any business owner is free to declare the immorality of contraception to their heart’s content, and civil-rights statutes do not require anyone to support same-sex marriage. If accurate, this charge might begin to vindicate the silly rhetoric about “Jacobins,” but it’s just a non-sequitur.

It’s possible that that the contraceptive mandate might cause someone to have to act against their “deeply held spiritual convictions,” but there’s nothing inherently “illiberal” about that. All generally applicable regulations of conduct can conceivably require people to act against their “deeply held spiritual convictions,” but this doesn’t mean it’s illiberal or undemocratic to compel the Amish to pay social security taxes or to compel Quakers to pay income taxes to fund a standing army or to compel Christian Scientists to provide medical care to their children. In a liberal society, people cannot be compelled to change their beliefs, but they certainly can be compelled to obey general laws that conflict with their faith; making everyone a conscience onto themselves isn’t liberalism, but anarchy.

The question, then, is not whether there might be a contradiction between these policies and the religious beliefs of individuals, but whether the laws place a burden so substantial that they constitute rare cases where an exemption to general laws should be granted. And neither of these cases should even be close calls.

Much more at the link.  Does Linker compare people who think that civil rights statutes should be generally applicable to Jacobins?  If you’re familiar with his work, you probably know the answer…

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