The Center for Ethics and Public Policy has announced a new project that will establish bipartisan “religious liberty” legislative caucuses in every state by the end of 2013, with the mission of blocking access to contraceptives, abortion and same-sex marriage. The campaign is starting with Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. The goal is an on-the-ground capacity for lobbying in every state legislature, as well as more efficient coordination of national strategies.
The initiative by CEPP, which describes itself as “dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy,” represents another facet of the right’s shift to religious liberty rhetoric, first signaled by the decision last year of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to create an in-house advocacy office designed to influence legislators and policymakers in Washington.
This is the future of gay rights and marriage debates. Opponents have gradually jettisoned the openly anti-gay arguments used in the past, and are now substituting the frame of religious civil rights. Religious liberty is an important liberty to preserve. But these arguments centered on sexuality-related issues are essentially the attempt to take back from the secular realm control over a zone of life that used to be accepted as the legitimate prerogative of religion. The conservatives are correct about one thing, though: that control has slipped away.