"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." Thomas Jefferson

Applying Lincoln To Our Culture’s Civil Wars

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 16
Publish Date: 
Wed, 04/08/2015


Last week, as radical Islamists slaughtered 148 Christian students at a Kenyan university, America’s faithful celebrated Easter and Passover in tranquility, demonstrating why religious liberty is not the eccentric uncle in the human-rights family -- it’s the matriarch.


Yet with demonic evil spanning the globe, and religion a life and death matter, punishment for defending one’s faith is now acceptable in America. Our “live-and-let-live” ethic is increasingly imperiled. Witness the firestorm after Indiana became the 20th state to enact its version of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.


In our morally upside-down world, we accommodate the nuclear ambitions of Iran’s “Death to America”-shouting ayatollahs, but not our citizens eager to preserve our bedrock values. They’re told to Think Again about their inherent right to religious liberty, the principle that created America.


Founded by righteous people fleeing religious persecution, and inspired by patriots proclaiming, “Give me liberty or give me death,” America became an unrivaled beacon of hope, tolerance, and prosperity. This was “not a result of accident,” Abraham Lincoln reasoned, but the product of our founders’ “wise and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures.”


Embedded in the Declaration of Independence, one of history’s most consequential documents, is “the principle of liberty to all,” which Lincoln believed “clears the path for all – gives hope to all – and, by consequence, enterprise and industry to all.”


So indispensable is religious liberty and the virtuous citizenry it encourages, America’s founders implanted it in our spiritual DNA and the Constitution’s First Amendment, making it government’s duty to protect.  Where governments have crushed religious liberty, as in Nazi Germany, it’s those practicing the “Golden Rule” who’ve refused to follow tyrannical mobs.


Lincoln believed our liberty-preserving system would inspire future generations to counter the “tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants,” a confidence increasingly imperiled by a new credo -- “give me your religious liberty or lose your livelihood.”


Consider the boycott threats based on alleged anti-gay bigotry raining on Indiana after it adopted the kind of religious freedom law that protects long-standing traditions of all faiths, from Native Americans to Zoroastrians.


Like the Ted Kennedy-sponsored federal law -- passed nearly unanimously and signed by President Clinton -- and the 1998 Obama-backed Illinois law, Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act bars the government from substantially burdening someone’s religious beliefs without a compelling state interest, and only in the least-intrusive manner.


Anyone claiming a religious-right violation can seek redress in court, though in the few cases involving marriage rituals, religious liberty defenses haven’t prevailed. A New Mexico photographer, a Washington-state florist, and a Colorado baker, all Christians with gay clientele – but resisting government-coerced participation in same-sex weddings – have lost in court.


Nevertheless, outraged Indiana-boycotters included Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, whose state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act predates the federal law and is stronger than Indiana’s. Will Malloy advocate boycotting his own state? Decrying discrimination, Apple CEO Tim Cook jumped on the boycott bandwagon, but will he stop operating in countries – such as Iran -- that brutalize women and hang gays?


Last week, a small-town-Indiana pizzeria was hounded into closure after its Christian owners – who’d served all-comers -- told a reporter they wouldn’t cater a hypothetical same-sex wedding.


Would tolerance-enforcers harass a lesbian photographer for declining the business of the notoriously anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, a Jewish baker for refusing to make a “Happy Birthday, Hitler” cake, or a Muslim printer who wouldn’t create an anti-Muhammad poster? Must a Catholic OB-GYN perform abortions? Each of these conscientious objectors has moral justification, but no religious doctrine sanctions a refusal to serve African-Americans, which is bigotry.


In truth, the list of unconscionable hypotheticals is endless, but actual disputes are rare. That’s a tribute to America’s unusually tolerant society where prejudices dissolve through exposure to moral suasion, and where everyone’s dignity and beliefs – even the objectionable -- can be respected.


To preserve harmony and avert unnecessary civil wars, can’t we agree that good-faith people shouldn’t be coerced into performing services they deem morally objectionable?

One hundred fifty years ago -- mere weeks before the Confederacy’s April 9 surrender and Lincoln’s April 14 assassination -- a solemn president delivered his Second Inaugural Address to a crowd anxious for an account of the war. Instead, they heard Lincoln’s most profound reflections, only 701 words, on the war’s meaning: the preservation of the divinely inspired liberties on which America was founded.

Speaking humbly to an audience that included slavery supporters, Lincoln counseled “malice toward none, with charity for all” in pursuit of a “just and a lasting peace,” prompting former-slave and abolitionist-orator Frederick Douglass to brand the speech “a sacred effort.”

Think Again – to preserve America as one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, shouldn’t we strive to emulate Lincoln’s unifying absence of malice, and show respect for those with sincere religious conviction?

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Thank you for reading my

Thank you for reading my column and for taking the time to comment.

I had a lot of interesting responses to this column. What I discovered is that the real issue is NOT gay marriage at this point, it’s whether or not the government should force people to perform business services that they don’t want to perform.

Here’s the question that everybody agreed on, answering “no”: Should a female photographer be forced to take photos of a bachelor party with a female stripper.

To answer no to that question is to appreciate the “live and let live” society that we must preserve here. Private business owners are entitled to put limits on what services they’ll perform and for whom. My family was politely escorted out of a restaurant last weekend because my son didn’t have the proper close-toed shoes. We were infuriated, and I wrote a review about it online. Now it’s up to the free market to punish the restaurant.

I doubt we’ll ever be done with the “culture wars” as you wish because it’s the nature of a diverse and pluralistic society like ours to have divergent opinions, values and preferences. In America’s melting pot, prejudices dissolve through exposure to disparate voices and moral suasion, while legitimate differences are respected.

The truth is, there is no cosmically correct policy that can be expressed without offending anyone, and that’s ok. Hopefully we can agree that freedom from offense is NOT an individual right, and it’s certainly not the government’s role to assure it.

Thank you again for your readership! Melanie Sturm

I think Governor Mike Pence

I think Governor Mike Pence was doing some underhanded stupid things for his group and was caught red handed. He stepped in a big pile and handled it so clumsily.

Most Americans are pretty much passed the gay marriage thing. The American Taliban needs to move forward and grow up. We as a nation need to stop bickering and solve some real problems instead of all our culture war

If the number of actual

If the number of actual disputes is so minimal and if our society is "unusually tolerant" and if we're covered federally, why did the Indiana legislature even feel the need to use their limited time together to pass a bill like this? Surely there are more pressing issues facing the state.

Certainly the vast majority

Certainly the vast majority of Christian business owners recognize the human dignity of gay people and are willing to serve them as any other customers, irrespective of sexual orientation. And clearly anyone hanging a "no gays" sign on their door wouldn't stay open long. I believe the objection here is to the forced participation in a marriage ceremony, based on several thousands of years of Judeo-Christian understanding that marriage as a solemn religious institution that is contradictory to homosexuality. You may see this as wrongful discrimination. But the better question is whether one's sexual orientation trump another's first amendment rights?

Sorry prior to Loving v. VA -

Sorry prior to Loving v. VA - opposition to inter-racial marriage. Actually some said that the bible dictated that mixing the races was (like being gay) an abomination.

The law is very well settled

The law is very well settled in this area. I don't bake cakes with Nazi symbols. I bake wedding cakes. If I bake wedding cakes I can't discriminate by not baking a wedding cake for say an inter-racial couple or a Jewish-Christian mixed marriage. This issue was addressed after the Civil Rights Act of '64 when people actually used religion to defend segregation and prior to Loving v. Virginia, opposition to gay marriage.

If you own a business of public accomaddation you must serve the public, all the public. Your swastika cake argument is actually a little silly as that issue turns more on free speech than freedom of religion...I can't be forced to perform a service that I don't normally perform but I can be forced to NOT discriminate based on a protected class.

And that was the issue in Indiana - where that law tried to provide businesses with a protection. The FED RFRA applied to state action only, but in IND. they tried to apply it to businesses. Under that law my Cake business could have said I don't believe in adulteresses marrying so I am not making a cake for the thrice divorced couple. Or I don't want Muslims marrying Christians so no cake for you. And that is discrimination Joe. And it is wrong. And it is illegal (if the class is protected by civil rights laws as they are in say Indianapolis).

I actually don't have an

I actually don't have an issue with anyone deciding to bake the cake. It is the premise that if someone feels that doing that or baking a cake with a nazi symbol or performing a medical procedure that violates the basis of their faith they can't make that choice and thus have had removed their right to equality under the first amendment. So who decides what is equal protection? It is equality for all and government forcing them otherwise especially when there are options to get the cake or service elsewhere is a violation of religious freedom. You can disagree with that faiths view but you have no right to violate their right. Don't you want EVERYONE to be treated equally? Disagreeing with a faith based view point doesn't allow you to remove that persons rights. It is not like they refuse service for anything. They only object to supporting what they view as a religious ceremony.

except that CT's law did not

except that CT's law did not provide protection for Businesses to discriminate. Neither does the FEDERAL RFRA. Those laws apply to govt. action only. And CT treats gay people as a protected class under its civil rights laws...Indiana does not. Indiana's RFRA (a la HOBBY LOBBY) did allow businesses to discriminate. Arkansas's did (until amended). That is a big difference. Nobody is discriminating against the majority. But why would anyone want to legislate in favor of a business, that serves all of the public being allowed to exclude anyone? That is wrong too. Even over at Fox News Melanie they made this crucial distinction. Gov. Pence folded like a cheap suit, maybe it is time to move on...And Just Bake the Cake.

Mel: these debates and

Mel: these debates and legislation are not fueled by the religious adherent’s condemnation of sin. Chances are, the florist who refuses to provide flowers for a gay wedding does not deny service to a bride who is on her second or third marriage. Jesus is silent about gay marriage, but roundly and emphatically condemns remarriage after divorce. The photographer who refuses to take pictures for a lesbian marriage (because it is against God’s will) should also decline to photograph a lavish and ostentatiously expensive wedding (Jesus talks a lot about the sinful nature of greed). If this were seriously about not serving sinful people, then obese people would be turned away from fast-food outlets as obviously living the sinful “lifestyle” of a glutton. If this were really about condemning sin, then service would be denied to all sinners, not just a particular sin among a particular, targeted group.

Make no mistake: These legislative bills, like the one about to become law in Indiana, are about exempting some people from having to comply with non-discrimination laws already in place for LGBT people, as well as pre-empting and forestalling any efforts to put such protections in place. This is old-fashioned discrimination all dressed up in ecclesiastical vestments and “religious freedom” language. But it is still discrimination, pure and simple, against a targeted group of fellow citizens. No amount of cloaking such legislation in the garb of “freedom of religion” is going to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.

Bake the Cake. It is not a

Bake the Cake. It is not a sin to provide services (that you already provide) for everyone. And it is illegal not to do so...

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