I came across this interesting article in Christianity Today by Stephen Carter. Carter is a professor at the Yale Law School and a devout Christian who generally opposes the ACLU’s establishment clause position. But he writes in Christianity Today against the unprincipled demonization of the ACLU by so many of his fellow Christians. He begins by pointing out that while he disagrees with the ACLU on many establishment clause issues, when it comes to free exercise issues they are generally correct:
I would like to say a word in defense of the American Civil Liberties Union. Christians–including me, both in the pages of CT and elsewhere–often criticize the ACLU for advocating separation of church and state in ways that seem less grounded in the Constitution and in history than in an ideological desire for a religion-free public arena. On the other hand, I shudder when fellow Christians blithely dismiss the organization as fundamentally biased against them. Some call it the Anti-Christian Liberals Union or the Anti-Christian Litigation Unit. There are other, less friendly acronyms as well. I think the ACLU is wrong to oppose religious expression in the public square, but being wrong is not the same as being evil.
More to the point, the ACLU is often right about the First Amendment’s free exercise clause, taking on fights that others refuse. It might surprise some critics that the ACLU defends the free speech and free exercise rights of, well, Christians.
But he has a larger purpose in mnid, and I think it’s an important one. He wants to make a statement about the tendency of people on both sides to demonize their opponents. Decide that your opponents are purely evil rather than mistaken and all bets are off. You will do precisely what the STACLU crowd does, and what many on the far left do as well – you’ll either fall for any criticism anyone makes of your enemy, no matter how unsupported it is by the evidence, or you’ll reach the point where you don’t really care whether a criticism is accurate as long as it makes Them look bad.
Yet I must confess that, although I am pleased to balance the record, defending the ACLU is not my primary purpose here. I am more concerned about a habit of mind that seems to be growing among my fellow Christians, both political liberals and conservatives. That is, we seem to mimic the secular world’s conflation of disagreement with wickedness, as if not sharing my worldview places my critic outside the realm of rational discourse…
Now, I have often been described as a liberal myself–although rarely by liberals. Once, after I gave a talk at a small Christian college in the Bible Belt, a concerned student carrying one of my books approached me. He had enjoyed the lecture, he assured me, but something in my book troubled him. He flipped to a page on which I had complimented something President Bill Clinton had said. The student then turned to me, the look of worry still on his face, and told me I must have written this because I was, really, a liberal. This student believed it was impossible for the good guys–the way he said liberal told me that liberals were not among them–to say anything positive about President Clinton.
The host of a popular syndicated Christian radio program once told me that he had received death threats–not just a few, but a lot–during the Clinton administration. His sin? Reminding listeners of their obligation to pray for those God had placed in positions of authority, whether or not they happened to agree with their policies.
I see this all the time, from all sides of the political arena. I see it in those willing to accept and peddle arguments against their opponents that are just plain false. I see it even on my own side of the evolution/creationism debate sometimes, and it bothers me greatly. It’s a natural human tendency to evaluate arguments against a position we oppose in a more lenient fashion than we do arguments against our own position. If it sounds remotely plausible and it involves someone we deem our opposition, we’ll tend to buy into it without demanding the same level of evidence we would demand if it was about us instead.
But rational people, people who care about truth and accuracy, must fight this tendency. We must try and evaluate every claim using the same criteria. Does the evidence support it? Are the conclusions drawn from the evidence logical? Any claim that fails to meet those criteria should be rejected, regardless of whether it supports our agenda or not. Likewise, any claim that withstands that scrutiny should be accepted as valid, regardless of whether it supports our agenda or not. None of us will ever be Mr. Spock, but we should strive to evaluate all arguments as though we have no stake in the outcome. Some, like the STACLU crowd, make no attempt at all to do so; we should not emulate them.