More Thoughts on Media Coverage of Liberal Religion

Ed Kilgore read my post yesterday as him “being hoisted on [his] own petard.” I did not intend it that way at all.

About the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath I discussed at the end of the post, as one piece of (although not conclusive) evidence that the media doesn’t cover liberal faithy political projects, Ed writes:

I can hardly complain when secular media do no better than I do.

But I would add that the publicity arms of non-conservative religious groups need to do a better job, too. I am sure my own small mainline Protestant church would have been happy to participate in the weekend events, had we known of it. So the circle of indifference towards the efforts of liberal religious folk is the work of many hands.

I didn’t intend to suggest that Ed should have written about the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath. That part of my post was more focused on why, as a general matter, these sorts of efforts fail to garner much media attention at all, when conservative Christian events like prayer rallies and denunciations of marriage equality and anti-abortion protests do.

The religious right—as a political constituency, not as a religious one—is intentionally embedded in the Republican Party. Not only does the Republican Party depend on the votes of religious conservatives, it has gone out of its way to affirm their view of religion-based government and public policy. In its 2012 platform, for example, the party declares its support for public displays of the Ten Commandments as a reflection of “our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage,” school prayer, and “every citizen’s right to apply religious values to public policy.” When the religious right, then, seeks to apply its views to public policy and law, the GOP listens. What Establishment Clause?

The same is not true on the Democratic side, and it’s not, as is frequently asserted, because Democrats and liberals revile religion. It’s because (practically speaking) the Democratic base is far more religiously diverse than the Republican base, and includes a far more significant (and growing) number of unaffiliated voters, avowed secularists (who are both non-believers and religious people) and religious minorities. And because more of those people like the Establishment Clause and would shudder at religiously-directed public policy.

Given that the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath had the support of a variety of faith traditions, it’s a good question to ask why it hasn’t spurred the Democratic Party to action on gun control. Why, one could logically ask, can Republican politicians continue to oppose same-sex marriage despite the tidal wave of change in public opinion and the law, yet Democrats fall silent on gun control, and specifically on positions supported by this interfaith gun violence prevention group, background checks and assault weapons bans? According to a 2013 poll, 92% of Americans favor background checks. But federal legislation can’t pass because of the power of the gun lobby, and the cowardice of representatives who live in fear of it.

But the question remains: why is the media disinterested in the gun lobby’s religious opposition? Is it because gun control legislation—even a modest measure like background checks or an assault weapons ban—is dead in the water, so these nice faithy people are spitting in the wind? Is it because public support for gun control measures is so obvious (and the brick wall erected by the gun lobby so formidable) that it’s not worth even paying attention to? Is it that arguments against gun control can be made so compellingly without resort to religion that religious support for it is just superfluous frosting? Or is it that the religious proponents of gun control have failed to take a page from the conservative playbook: the sky is falling, civilization is collapsing, you must act before America is left in ruins, God has called you to rise at this critical moment.

Even if you are a skeptic of the entanglement of electoral politics and religion and the intertwining of religion and policy (a camp I count myself in), it’s still crucial to document, contra the singular view presented by conservatives, that religious Americans have varying views. Case in point: today the Religious Institute, in advance of the Supreme Court arguments in the Hobby Lobby case next week, released a statement signed by 46 national religious leaders, affirming universal access to contraception as a “moral good.” The statement reads (emphasis mine):

As religious leaders, we support universal access to contraception. We believe that all persons should be free to make personal decisions about their reproductive lives, their health and the health of their families that are informed by their culture, faith tradition, religious beliefs, conscience, and community.  We affirm, in accordance with each of our faith traditions, that ensuring equal access to contraceptives through insurance coverage is a moral good. Including contraceptives as a covered service does not require anyone to use it; excluding contraceptive coverage for those who choose to plan and space their families with modern methods of birth control will effectively translate into coercive childbearing for many.

We support social justice. We recognize the dignity and worth of each and every member of our communities—including those uniquely vulnerable to the effects of unequal access to healthcare due to race, class, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or geography.

We support religious freedom.  Religious freedom means that each individual has the right to exercise their own beliefs and the right not to have others’ beliefs forced upon them.  We believe no employer has the right to deny the women who work for them basic health care. Individuals must have the right to accept or reject the principles of their own faith without legal restrictions. 

No single religious voice can speak for all faith traditions on contraception, nor should government take sides on religious differences.  We call on our government to respect the beliefs and values of everyone’s faith by safeguarding equal access to contraception for those whose conscience leads them to use it.

That’s not just a dull pabulum statement about what “people of faith” believe. It’s a clear statement that what has been passed off by conservatives as a definitive conception of religious freedom does not reflect the religious views of all Americans, and that it may, in fact, infringe on the religious liberty of dissenting Americans. The anti-contraception mandate camp has claimed a monopoly on being the ones with the oppressed religious views. If for no other reason, these other, quite conventional religious views are important to cover. Not because they should dictate policy, but because they show how a singular religious view should not.