Iowa’s Law-Gospel Dialectic

An Iowa law could possibly be used to restrict freedom of religious speech even within a worship service, if such speech were to be deemed discriminatory.

The whole point of Christianity is not to accept and affirm autonomous or self-created identities as ultimately determining of who someone is, but to define what it means to be a person in terms of Christian teaching. On the surface, therefore, this law seems to demand that the church needs to cease to be the church and take on the role instead of a psychotherapist. It is a new kind of Erastianism: the church being slowly but surely co-opted as a means of social control….

 

Christians have for some time been concerned about a perceived shift in the language of Washington from “freedom of religion” to “freedom to worship.” This shift is interpreted by some to reflect a narrowing of religious liberty to what occurs within the walls of a house of worship during service times.

Well, it seems that even that restricted notion of religious liberty might be coming under scrutiny. The Alliance Defending Freedom recently filed a pre-enforcement challenge to an Iowa law that could possibly be used to restrict freedom of religious speech even within a worship service, if such speech were to be deemed discriminatory. The guidelines are full of the usual mix of sensible statements whose meaning is obvious and the typically vague and aesthetic criteria that can be as fuzzy or elastic as one cares to make them. Here’s the specific wording:

Harassment includes but is not limited to: verbal, physical, or written conduct, conduct of a sexually inappropriate nature, physical or psychological abuse, repeated remarks of a demeaning nature, implied or explicit threats, demeaning jokes, stories, or activities, and intentional use of names and pronouns inconsistent with a person’s presented gender.

The law is thus being interpreted and applied in line with the canons of political and cultural discourse that have emerged over the last fifty years, where oppression is increasingly a psychological category and ethics is increasingly aesthetics, a matter of taste. This development is problematic on at least two fronts. First, it presses toward the elimination of any distinction (philosophical, political, and eventually legal) between relatively clear crimes against property and bodies and crimes against (for want of a better term) individual psychological well-being. The definition of what does and does not contravene the law thus becomes much harder to establish in any rigorous way. And second—and consequently—in practice the interpretation and application of the law become a function of whatever happens to suit the tastes of those who determine cultural values and wield judicial power.

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