A Summer of Intolerance

COMMENTARY Marriage and Family

A Summer of Intolerance

Oct 7, 2012 3 min read

Former Senior Visiting Fellow

Jennifer A. Marshall was a senior visiting fellow for the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity at The Heritage Foundation.

As summer faded to fall, a Chicago alderman's fury toward Chick-fil-A finally seemed to be cooling. But fall is fickle in the windy city, and Proco Joe Moreno once again is threatening to stall the chicken chain from opening in his ward.

Moreno, Mayor Rahm ("Chicago Values") Emanuel and other big-city officials piled on Chick-fil-A after Dan Cathy, the company's president and COO, publicly supported the biblical definition of marriage. As they were soon reminded, though, for a public official to deny a business license because of the businessman's marriage views would amount to unlawful discrimination against his viewpoints.

Sadly, controversies such as the one that Moreno's overblown comments helped create grow more frequent, and Chick-fil-A is only the most visible target. Advocates for "tolerance" increasingly push traditional ideas on marriage, family, life and faith out of public life.

The intolerant forces of the new "tolerance," it seems, don't have room for "Chick-fil-A values." It was a very hot summer of intolerance toward such traditional viewpoints.

In June, sociologist Mark Regnerus at the University of Texas, Austin, became the target of a blogosphere blaze of character assassination. His offense? Regnerus constructed a nationally representative data set of 3,000 young adults and produced a study. It found that young people whose parents had same-sex relationships fared worse in key aspects of life compared to those from intact biological families. Never mind that his critical reviewers had judged the report an improvement over previous studies. Regnerus, like Chick-fil-A, was accused of being "anti-gay."

The journal, Social Science Research, which published his study came under attack. A complaint to the university prompted a "scientific misconduct inquiry." The journal did an internal audit to dispel the aura of scandal spread by critics of the study's findings looking for fault with the process. These inquiries exonerated Regnerus and the journal -- but only after their credibility took a beating from the intolerant forces of tolerance. That sent a chilling message to other scholars and editors: Think twice before investigating and publishing on similar topics.

Aug. 1 was another red-letter day for intolerance. A government mandate requiring nearly all employee health plans to cover abortion drugs and contraceptives took effect as part of Obamacare, despite a year of intense opposition. A "religious exemption" essentially spares only houses of worship from complying with this mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. The mandate forces an impossible choice on religious groups and family business owners: Violate your conscience or pay a fine of $100 per day per employee for daring to offer a non-compliant health plan.

Dozens of groups -- Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Jewish organizations among them -- urged President Obama to drop this conscience-crushing mandate. In response, liberals characterized those standing up for religious liberty as waging a "war on women." Met with this intransigence, more than 80 religious schools, hospitals, charities and other employers have gone to court to defend their first freedom. Note the pattern of the intolerant forces of tolerance: Liberals pick a social policy fight and then frame the victim as culture war aggressor, while pitching themselves as peaceniks. Americans must not be cowed by such tactics into shuffling toward a secularist winter where public support for marriage and institutional religious freedom in matters of conscience become intolerable. Authentic tolerance is vitally important.

On Aug. 15, a young man walked into the Family Research Council headquarters in Washington, D.C., and fired three shots, wounding building manager Leo Johnson in the arm before being wrestled to the floor. According to authorities, the gunman said something about not liking the council's politics. He carried 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches and 50 rounds of ammunition in his knapsack.

Groups across the political spectrum condemned the violent act. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank suggested more, though. He argued that the leftist Southern Poverty Law Center, among others, had been "reckless" in labeling the conservative council a "hate group" -- and so implying the research and education organization is outside the pale of legitimate debate.

This summer, long lines of Chick-fil-A patrons similarly rebuked the intolerance of Chicago's Moreno and Emanuel. The freedom to uphold "Chick-fil-A values" continues to draw wide support. The City of Broad Shoulders -- indeed, every town in America -- ought to have room for those values. They represent the very principles on which this nation was built. Surely even those who don't celebrate them can tolerate them.

Edwin Meese, the former U.S. attorney general, is chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Jennifer A. Marshall is director of Heritage's DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society.

First appeared in USA Today.