Oppressed Christians and Second-Class Citizenship

With all this talk of gay people marrying one another, some people on the right are starting to bleat about how they're being oppressed for their Christian beliefs—so oppressed, in fact, that they're starting to feel like "second-class citizens." Here's CBN's David Brody lamenting the sorrows of Kirk Cameron and Tim Tebow. Here's Red State's Erik Erikson predicting the coming pogrom ("Within a year or two we will see Christian schools attacked for refusing to admit students whose parents are gay. We will see churches suffer the loss of their tax exempt status for refusing to hold gay weddings. We will see private businesses shut down because they refuse to treat as legitimate that which perverts God’s own established plan."). Here's Fox News commentator Todd Starnes on the oppression that has already begun ("it’s as if we’re second-class citizens now because we support the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage"). And how is this second-class citizenship being thrust upon them back in the real world? Well, people are ... strongly disagreeing with their position on an issue of public concern! It's awful, I tell ya.

The impulse to jam that crown of thorns down on your head is a powerful one in politics. It means you've achieved the moral superiority of the victim, and the other side must be the victimizer. The problem is that these folks don't seem to have much of a grasp on what second-class citizenship actually looks like. Last time I checked, nobody was forbidden to vote because they're a Christian, or not allowed to eat in their choice of restaurants, or forced to use separate water fountains, or even be forbidden by the state to marry the person of their choice. That's what second-class citizenship is. Having somebody on television call your views retrograde may not be fun, but it doesn't make you a second-class citizen.

Of course, they say, "Just you wait." But these fantasies of oppression are just that, fantasies. One of their favorite scare stories is that before you know it, Christian ministers are going to be hauled off to jail or have their churches lose their tax-exempt status if they refuse to marry gay people. Right, just like at the moment a Jewish synagogue will lose its tax-exempt status if the rabbi won't preside over a Pentecostal wedding. And as for the florist who refuses to sell flowers to a gay couple, what he's asking for is not a right but a privilege, the privilege to discriminate based on sexual orientation. It's no different than if he refused to sell flowers to an interracial couple. But somehow, if he finds justification for that discriminatory practice in his faith, that's supposed to make it a fundamental right.

I'm more than happy to admit that in certain circles, it's more acceptable to be gay than to be an evangelical Christian. That's what Chief Justice Roberts was getting at when he noted during the oral arguments about DOMA that "political figures are falling all over themselves" to endorse gay marriage, and thus gay people don't qualify as a disfavored minority. But what we're talking about here isn't attendance at fashionable Upper West Side parties, it's discrimination under the law. That's what makes you a second-class citizen. It's what gay people live with now, and it's something that is never, ever going to happen to Christians, no matter how bad some of them may feel when people tell them they're wrong.

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