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Published by David French -- Harvard Law grad, former lecturer at Cornell Law School, author of books no one reads, master of the three point shot, constant critic of Duke Basketball, Playstation2 addict, owner of a cool new Sony DCRTRV25 MiniDV Digital Handycam, father of two and husband of one extremely hot wife


The Culture Curve
Monday, August 12, 2002  
ON THE ROAD. I'm off to Dallas for a week. My real job (commercial and constitutional litigation for a large Kentucky law firm) has called, and I must answer. Posting may be infrequent or nonexistent until I return . . . unless, of course, something happens (war news, religious liberty developments, another evolution debate) that requires a response.

See you next week.

8:32 AM

ARTICULATING A VISION. My recent posts contrasting the Christian legal challenge to the University of North Carolina with the ongoing litigation over state Blaine Amendments generated an unprecedented amount of reader feedback. Amazingly (given the controversial subject matter), all the comments were supportive.

Several readers wanted to know why the evangelicals fighting UNC's policy were so shortsighted -- why they couldn't see the potentially devastating impact of "success" in their suit against the University. The answer, I believe, is that most Christian activists -- including leaders at the very top of the evangelical hierarchy -- have completely failed to articulate a cohesive, internally consistent, legal and cultural vision for America. They bounce from controversy to controversy, outrage to outrage -- filing suits when they can and launching petition drives and boycott movements when litigation isn't an option. They operate on a simple principle: If it's not Godly, it must be fought -- by any means available.

The vast bulk of evangelical Christians hear this cacophony and simply throw up their hands in despair. They can't figure out what to do about a culture that seems (especially if they read evangelical bulk mailings) to be spinning out of control and don't want to be bothered by political issues unless something happens to them, their church, their school, or their family. Other Christians -- those who are most politically active -- are permanently angry. They look at the culture and see nothing but the worst . . . the "worst" sexual morality in history, the "worst" entertainment, the "worst" government. Their continual anger is tiresome even to their allies. It is also easily blunted by facts and by historical perspective. Sexual immorality may be rampant, but do we really live in the "worst" sexual culture in history? Remember Rome? Bill Clinton at his worst can't compare to Caligula, or to Nero.

Your average heartland Christian is not -- and will never be -- heavily politicized. We have so many other things to worry about. Christians support missionaries overseas, we evangelize our friends and co-workers, we work in soup kitchens and volunteer as community mentors. Christians' real passion is in spreading the Gospel, not in lobbying Congress. Consequently, those of us who are passionate about politics, policy and the law need to articulate a political vision for evangelical America that is (i) simple; (ii) unifying; and (iii) plays to our strengths.

From a legal perspective, I think the vision can be summed up in one word: Equality. In other words, when considering litigation or facing a government (or private) action that implicates Christianity or Christian expression, we should ask ourselves: "Is the government discriminating against the Christian viewpoint, or favoring the nonreligious over the religious?" If the answer is yes, then litigation may be appropriate. If, on the other hand, the government action is distasteful (like UNC's Islamic reading requirement) but not actually discriminatory and not actually hostile to the religious point of view, then we should not seek to litigate change.

My own Christian legal advocacy is guided by the following, simple principles:

i) I will never argue that Christians should have more rights or greater religious freedoms than other religious individuals (in other words, our nation's heritage does not grant Christians a privileged position in national discourse);

ii) I will always oppose government actions that discriminate against Christian (or other religious) speech;

iii) I believe it is appropriate for government to acknowledge the religious heritage and beliefs of its citizens, but it is inappropriate for the government to establish any specific religious practice (like school prayer);

iv) Because I believe in equality, I will not try to silence opposing viewpoints, and I will not oppose the dissemination of opposing viewpoints -- so long as I have equal opportunities to speak and spread my own message;

v) Because I have confidence in my message -- and believe it to be empowered by the Holy Spirit of the Living God -- I will not fear the free exchange of ideas. I welcome that exchange.

Following those simple, easily understood principles, I think we can transform the religious debate in our country. With an equality emphasis, some of the left's favorite arguments regarding the legislation of morality and the imposition of ideas lose their sting. By emphasizing freedom, we can reclaim the moral high ground in the debate and leave the left as the only side that seeks to silence dissent or opposition. By rejecting fear, we can truly engage our neighbors and do what we do best -- embrace other human beings and share with them the love of Christ.

Our cultural battle need not be dominated by contradiction and by perpetual outrage. Instead, our message is simple: Give us equality, then watch the culture change . . . one life at a time.

8:27 AM

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