“All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.”
As I mentioned briefly in an earlier post, the New Mexico Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of coercing a private business, Elaine Photography, to violate the religious beliefs of its owners, the Huguenins, and compel them to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony or be in violation of New Mexico’s Human Rights legislation. I will not re-argue the case here (for great analysis go here or here or here), but instead focus on a quote from Judge Richard Bosson’s concurring opinion:
On a larger scale, this case provokes reflection on what this nation is all about, its promise of fairness, liberty, equality of opportunity, and justice. At its heart, this case teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others. A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of our nation’s strengths, demands no less. The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead. The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more. But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.
In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.
Judge Bosson’s words are misguided on multiple fronts, and draw upon a vision of civil society in complete variance with freedom. His ideal of “compromise” brings to mind the Edict of Decius from 250 A.D., in which the Roman Emperor commanded that all citizens perform an annual sacrifice to the gods and to Caesar, burning incense to their well-being. The Empire at the time enjoyed relative tolerance of all religions, and the Edict did not specifically target Christians. Decius wished to restore the glories of a former age, and he believed that demanding fealty to the Roman Gods and to Caesar was asking for only a small “compromise” on the part of his subjects. Christians, however, refused to “compromise” in large numbers, resulting in immense persecution and death.
Judge Bosson correctly views “compromise” as a key ingredient in the life of a diverse community, especially one ruled by a majority as in a democracy. What is missing from the Judge’s opinion though is an examination of what cannot be “compromised”, of the fundamentals that Gandhi spoke of in the quote above for which “compromise is surrender”.
The Three-Fifths Compromise may have been expedient at the time, but how long did it extend the sin and horror of slavery in America? The various compromises leading up to the Civil War were hailed as great victories of reason at the time of their passing, but how much consolation did they give to the thousands of slaves beaten and killed in the territories in which slavery was extended? Does history celebrate Neville Chamberlain for “leaving space for” others who “believe something different?”
Truthfully, as a nation, as a people, we grow tired of our compromises that in truth mean only surrender.
We compromise by turning a blind eye to the killing of millions of unborn humans every year. Has that made us a more humane society?
We compromise by allowing our government to violate the Constitution and spy relentlessly upon every aspect of our lives in the name of security. Has this enhanced our freedom?
We compromise by letting our schools fail to educate our children while being used as propaganda tools for everything we oppose. Has this made us a greater nation?
We compromise by living under constant bombardment in the media and films and television of the most vile and pernicious violence and pornography and debasing of women. Has this led to greater enlightenment?
We compromise by empowering leaders who bankrupt our nation, spending our wages in a never-ending spiral of waste, fraud and corruption, all in the name of their own power. Has this brought us prosperity?
No, the time for compromise on fundamentals is over. The freedom of religion is not the freedom of worship, and just like under the tyrant Decius, as Christians we must refuse to burn incense to the gods of our age, and take strength anew from the words of St. Paul, in his Letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 4:1-4):
Therefore, since we have this ministry through the mercy shown us, we are not discouraged. Rather, we have renounced shameful, hidden things; not acting deceitfully or falsifying the word of God, but by the open declaration of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even though our gospel is veiled, it is veiled for those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they may not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Judge Bosson is on the wrong side of truth, the wrong side of freedom. Compelling someone to act contrary to their deeply held religious beliefs, beliefs shared by billions of adherents throughout history, is not justice, is not “compromise”, is not the price of citizenship. Tolerance requires tolerance, not endorsement.