Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Horwitz on Hobby Lobby (and notes on Putnam and Campbell)

Jason Mazzone

Paul Horwitz has a characteristically sensible piece in The New York Times on the Hobby Lobby decision. Paul asks "what explains the apocalyptic rhetoric surrounding this case?" He answers: (1) an evaporation in pre-existing support for religious accommodations; (2) concerns (on both sides) about implications for claims to non-discrimination by gays and lesbians; and (3) the extension of cultural wars to the new battleground of the marketplace. Given these forces, Horwitz l tells us, we should expect many more Hobby Lobbies. I haven't seen the data Horwitz relies on in making these causal claims. But I suspect that the recent empirical work of Robert Putnam and David Campbell culminating in the remarkable book, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, sheds some light and adds complexity to Horwitz's account. Putnam and Campbell [disclosure: they are old friends of mine] show a fascinating recent dual development. First, there is increased religious polarization as the numbers of religious conservatives and secular liberals have grown and the number of religious moderates in between has dropped. But second, interfaith marriage and other interfaith personal ties have rapidly increased, bringing with them an extraordinary degree of interfaith tolerance. Horwitz's diagnosis fits with the first development. It does not, though, fit too well with the second. This leads me to two additional observations. We shouldn't forget that Hobby Lobby was about sex, sex that one side viewed as leading to abortion, and the one thing that seems to turn reasonable Americans into extremists. Hobby Lobby might then be an outlier rather than the first of a series of pending battles in the cultural war. A second observation goes to Horwitz's reference to the rights of gays and lesbians. There might be a lesson here. We have seen with astonishing speed public acceptance of gays and lesbians including astonishingly (as measured by a decade ago) of their right to marry. Much of this change has occurred because Americans everywhere have come to realize they have gay sons and lesbian daughters, gay and lesbian neighbors and friends, and co-workers and others with whom they interact regularly in same-sex relationships. This development in acceptance of gays and lesbians fits neatly with the mechanism of interfaith tolerance Putnam and Campbell describe. And such personal ties that promote tolerance could (abortion aside) very well head off the divisive future Paul foresees.    

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