By Eric Jayne
It was initially discouraging when the state of Indiana passed their discriminatory Religious Restoration Act. The law gave religiously faithful people increased power and special privilege which was used to legally justify refusal of service to gays, lesbians, and genderqueer people. Discouragement didn’t last long though since the response in Indiana and the rest of the nation was quick and mostly condemning. It validated my confidence in the United States trending toward irreligious, secularism.
Thanks to the socially progressive millennial population, the number of religiously unaffiliated adults (a.k.a. “nones”) increased significantly each year in the United States since 2007. Of the millennials polled by Pew Research in 2012 nearly 1 out of 3 indicated they are nones, and according to the 2014 General Social Survey (funded by the National Science Foundation) about 7.5 million Americans left their religion since 2012. One final note: The Public Religion Research Institute recently reported 23 percent of Twin Cities residents are nones (slightly above the 22 percent nationally).
The recent burst of secular-friendly and ethically-minded millennials reaching voting age partly explains why there was a sudden turnaround in the national discourse on same-sex marriage. After an ugly series of states adopting constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in the early 2000s, the appeal to faith-based arguments became increasingly unimportant. Six states recognized same-sex marriage in 2010. Today it’s 36 and the Supreme Court is expected to settle the issue at a federal level in June.
We can see how the path toward tolerance and social progress becomes less obstructed as religious influence continues to decay. Consider the resources of time and money that could be reallocated in the public policy business if our elected officials didn’t engage with faith-based lobbying groups. Legislators would no longer waste time scrutinizing absurd propositions like creationism in science classrooms, abstinence-only sex education, and unnecessary religious freedom acts. It’s probably worth noting here that the free exercise of religion is already constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.
This type of aggressive religious advocacy seeks exclusionary privilege which is harmful to the general welfare of our diverse nation. The Christian owners of the Hobby Lobby retail chain, for example, scored extra entitlement under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last year. The owners objected to the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act because of their biblically-based beliefs on contraceptive use and abortion. In a 5-4 decision the predominately Catholic and conservative-leaning Supreme Court ruled that the owners’ faith-based motivation was more important than the employee’s practical-based motivation.
Along with the 20 state-level Religious Freedom Restoration laws, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act remains controversial and will hopefully be reversed or overridden by legislation in the near future. For the moment, our government grants preferential treatment to the religiously faithful, but the bigger picture reveals religion is losing esteem with the forward-looking millennial generation. With a determined and fresh perspective, millennials are just beginning to add further adjustments to the inequity dispatched by religious texts, religious institutions, and religious leaders – Thank God!