“Live and let live” is a superficially appealing promise. The idea of a society based on consent, where all are allowed to do whatever they want, so long as they don’t harm anyone else, sounds like freedom in its purest form.
But the current progressive project to maximize freedom in certain areas—especially sex—shows the limits of this promise. The term “harm” turns out to be rather subjective, and when we don’t all agree on what constitutes harm, the government inevitably ends up coercing one group in order to secure another group’s freedom.
When I say “freedom,” of course, I mean freedom from the consequences of all that consenting.
This week brought news that the parents of Charlie Gard, the 11-month-old British baby who was diagnosed with a terminal condition, have given up the legal fight to save their son. The medical system and European courts have all declined to interfere with the hospital’s initial decision to let him die, despite offers from President Trump, the Vatican, and countless donors around the world to fund further experimental treatment in the United States. By the time neurologist Dr. Michio Hirano finally was able to examine Charlie, there was no chance to save him.
We also have reports that tech millionaire and LGBT activist Tim Gill has declared a jihad against religious freedom protections nationwide, promising to “punish the wicked.” By that, he means conscientious dissenters to the ongoing compulsory celebration of homosexuality. Gill’s foundation was among the main reasons Georgia and North Carolina recently backed down from conscience protection laws, and now he’s taking his inquisition nationwide, “into the hardest states in the country,” by which he presumably means the most conservative—you know, the places where the non-consenting must be made to consent to his favored form of consent.
Meanwhile, pro-life pregnancy care centers in Hawaii and California face an uphill legal battle over laws that require them to advertise abortion on their premises and websites. Centers in Hawaii are required, under threat of steep fines, to post prominent notices informing visitors that “only ultrasounds performed by qualified healthcare professionals and read by licensed clinicians should be considered medically accurate,” and “Hawaii has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services including all FDA-approved methods of contraception, prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women.”
In other words, not only are these centers being forced, as women walk through their doors, to dangle free state “services” that contradict the heart of their mission, and which they consider murder. The signs they must post also communicate the not-so-subtle message that their centers are illegitimate and manipulative dens of quackery, and that women who know what’s good for them and want real, government-approved care should go to the place where they recommend baby-killing. Corrie ten Boom, you must post a sign on your door directing Jews to the nearest concentration camp, where they will find true freedom, through work, at no charge.
The U.S. Army has also committed to its share of social engineering, informing female soldiers that they must “accept” “little or no privacy” when it comes to showering with men who identify as transgender women. Once again, only one side enjoys the freedom to consent. The other is simply informed and ordered to submit or suffer consequences.
Finally, now that the Supreme Court has taken up the case of Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cake Shop, we face the very real prospect that Christian artists nationwide may be forced to endorse and celebrate gay “marriage.” Let’s not have any of the progressive boilerplate about how sore losers on the Christian right just want to deny service to gays and lesbians. It’s objectively false, as Phillips, Stutzman, and other Christian business owners being sued by LGBT activists routinely served gay customers. What they refuse to do is use their artistic talents to communicate approval for homosexual unions. This is about events, not people, and those who insist otherwise are propagandizing, not honestly engaging in debate.
On all these fronts, the story is the same: A new progressive orthodoxy has developed, mostly around sex and human life, in which the state promises not only to protect favored consenters at all costs, but to insulate them from the consequences of their consent—from out-of-wedlock pregnancy, to not getting jobs they’re not suited for, to having to treat a gravely ill child—as well as from all dissent. In the service of this absolute freedom of consent for some, the state and progressive activists are prepared to inflict real harm on those who’ve failed to embrace the new orthodoxy, restricting traditional modern democratic freedoms like religion and speech in order that nothing should interfere with sexual freedom, or with the dictates of the culture of death.
On some issues, consent is just so good, it’s mandatory.
Now, I’m not disparaging the old Jeffersonian ideal. The goal of avoiding the use of force against anyone who has “neither picked your pocket nor broken your leg”—in other words, not initiating violence—if not the heart of American freedom, is at least its right ventricle. Our Constitution gives a great deal of latitude on issues like religion, speech, self-defense, political opinions, use of private property, and even choices that may ultimately lead to death (like eating poorly). Consent is a real and important moral concept. And even in the New Testament, the government exists primarily to protect the innocent and mete out retribution against violent men. “He does not bear the sword for nothing,” writes Paul.
But when it comes to abortion, mandatory or manipulative euthanasia, the trappings of same-sex weddings, or transgendered individuals in bathrooms and showers, progressives are committed to protecting not only one side’s right of consent, but their freedom from all negative consequences of that consent. They are prepared to prosecute this agenda with such vigor that a whole segment of society (a mostly religious and conservative segment) has no right of consent. Those with religious objections or simply a worldview that predates 2009 will be made to partake, no matter how they feel or what they believe. Consent, in this case, isn’t a two-way street. Participation in the progressive vision of freedom is not optional.
Image courtesy of lpweber at iStock by Getty Images. Illustration designed by Heidi Allums.
G. Shane Morris is assistant editor of BreakPoint Radio.