So-called liberals are turning illiberal by “trashing” key ideals such as freedom of conscience, a commentator has warned in the wake of the US state of Indiana weakening its religious freedom law.
Tim Black, Deputy Editor of online magazine Spiked, said that the “liberal-illiberal” dynamic is at work in the state, as gay rights campaigners and celebrities put pressure on governor Mike Pence to roll back its Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Black said that the Act “ought not to be that controversial”, but “the freedom to act according to one’s conscience, is now considered a problem”.
He explained that “liberal society starts to unravel” if there is a “push for anti-discrimination legislation” and “ever-more stringent equality laws”.
He says that freedom of conscience and association, which he describes as “key liberal tenets”, are being “trampled over”.
Black refers to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland’s legal action against the Christian-run Ashers Baking Company, which declined to decorate a pro-gay marriage campaign cake last year.
He pointed out that the customer was not discriminated against because he was homosexual, but “because he wanted a propaganda-cake baked with a message the bakers’ owners disagreed with”. But discrimination against a slogan was enough to lead to a court case.
“Judgement and discrimination, all part of the exercise of a free conscience, terrify those cleaving to some vague notion of non-judgemental pluralism”, he added.
State-enforced anti-discrimination violates people’s liberty to “think, believe and associate freely”, Black asserts.
Last week, Indiana’s Governor signed into law an amendment to its Religious Freedom Restoration Act which pro-family groups have warned could result in Christians being forced to provide services for same-sex weddings.
A social media campaign backed by gay rights campaigners and celebrities led to the change, which now means that the law has been substantially weakened.
The original law ensured that a person’s right to exercise their religion was not substantially burdened by the state.
Ahead of the amendment, Pence said there had been “misunderstanding and confusion and mischaracterization of this law”, and confirmed that he ‘abhors’ discrimination.