The historian Christopher Shannon claims that in America, social progress and advancement is perceived as the expansion of “free choice” to as many individuals as possible. Shannon says that modern Americans understand history as the advancement of increased protection for license across as many social groups as possible.
What Shannon means, it seems to me, is that Americans have a tendency to believe that justice requires more legal protection, for more choices, in all circumstances, at all times. Less relevant is whether those choices are good, fair or reasonable. If a social group is granted new freedoms or protections, Americans understand that to be a good thing.
To be sure, the protection of freedom is a good thing. And assuring civil rights is a positive value. But if we believe that governments and civil society should endorse and protect all social choices, at all times, in all circumstances, we will be marching steadily towards conflict, isolation, or the tyranny of the powerful.
When justice is seen as the protection of self-proclaimed rights, those who argue the loudest, or have the most money, or best appeal to the emotions, will be able to impose their views on the entire community.
Ten years ago, the movement for legally protected civil unions of same-sex couples was trumpeted as a necessary aspect of civil rights. Bishops, pastors, academics and politicians warned that the advocates of civil unions would not be satisfied with “partial victory.” They warned that those who advocated for civil unions would soon begin advocating for legally protected same-sex “marriage.” And, of course, they were right. Advocates continued to lobby for a total redefinition of the family, and in June, five judges imposed same-sex marriage across the United States.
But even before the Supreme Court decided that same-sex marriage is a Constitutional right, the promoters of “marriage equality” began to argue for other “rights.” The right of sexual preference to trump religious liberty. The right of individuals, even children, to decide their own gender. The right to impose on family businesses, and public institutions, and religious organizations, whatever expression of sexual preference or identity seemed most appropriate to them.
We are conditioned, in America, to think that whatever we want to do ought to be protected in law as a right. However, we should remember that our rights do not come from government. Our most important rights come from God. For example, the right of children to a mother and father; the right of families to make a living; the right of each person, and each community, to practice religion freely, all come from God and are rooted in the natural law. Today, the advocates of transgender and homosexual “civil rights” act as though justice demands that their agenda overpower basic human and family rights.
Last month, the Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) began developing policies to allow “transgendered” high school athletes to compete on whatever teams seem most appropriate to them. Boys could freely sign up for girls’ basketball, or girls sign up for the boys’ swim team. Under such a policy, the “rights” of transgendered students would compromise the basic fairness of sport, and basic norms of safety. But those who believe that progress is the same as unfettered license will see this as a triumph.
In the Nebraska Legislature, a bill is being considered that would legally protect any desired expression of sexual preference or identity in the workplace. Religious institutions, and public schools, and family businesses would be required to accommodate the needs or behaviors of any declared “gender identity.” Will public employees undergo “gender sensitivity training” at taxpayer expense? Will small businesses be required to build additional restrooms? Will women be required to share changing areas or restrooms with men? Will religious institutions be required to support lifestyles in opposition to their faith?
Not all preferences are rights. In a civil society, the common good—the good of common human flourishing—requires that rights be determined according to reality—that “justice” not be determined by power, money, or influence. We face real battles in Nebraska for the basic human rights of children and families. The tyranny of the powerful will not stop at “partial victory.” Each one of us must stand for common sense. Each one of us must make our voices heard.