The intolerance of the ‘tolerant’

“You cannot impose your morality on others.”

Pro-life activists have been well acquainted with this banal formulation for decades. It is the favored mantra of those who have sought — with much success — to overturn laws and public policies upholding “traditional” values, chief among them the sanctity of pre-born human life and, in recent years, the integrity of marriage.

The narrative is simple — and simplistic: those us of who defend the right to life and the traditional, natural law definition of marriage are seeking to use the coercive powers of government to “impose” our moral values, and thereby to restrict the freedoms of those who do not agree; while advocates of such license as unrestricted abortion and same-sex “marriage” are paragons of tolerance, willing to “live and let live” (or “live and let die” in the case of unrestricted abortion), fully respectful of the personal freedoms and choices of all.

Yet, as syndicated columnist George Will recently noted — reporting on efforts in New Mexico to force the Christian owners of a photography studio to  photograph a gay “commitment ceremony” (See TLIC 9/19) — advocates of such “tolerance” too often become intolerant — and set about to promote official government policies of intolerance — toward those who disagree with them.

We have seen this over the years, in efforts to force taxpayers — in the name of “freedom of choice” — to subsidize elective abortions; to require medical students to train to perform abortions; to promote government harassment of pro-life crisis pregnancy centers.  We have seen it most glaringly over the past year in President Obama’s efforts to mandate that employers — regardless of their personal faith or the religious affiliation of their institution — provide insurance coverage for contraceptive devices, sterilization procedures, and abortion-inducing drugs.  And of course we have seen it with efforts — like the one in New Mexico, and like the recent promises by some public officials to ban Chik-fil-A restaurants from their cities — to use government to coerce businesspeople to participate in same-sex union ceremonies, and to punish, as “hate speech,” religious expressions of opposition to such unions.

It is evident from all this that within organized efforts to promote gay “marriage,” abortion, and other sexual “freedoms,” there is no room for “tolerance” or “freedom of choice” for those with an opposing point of view.

This ought to serve as a wake-up call to those who define themselves as “personally opposed” to abortion or same- sex “marriage,” but who have bought into the argument that they cannot “impose their morality” on others.

This is not a question of choosing between one approach that seeks to use government to impose its values, and another that seeks only to safeguard everyone’s personal freedom.

Rather, it is a question of which values will guide our laws and public policies: those based in the natural law principles on which our nation was founded, or those that would discard the natural law in favor of the moral relativism of our age.

If we as Catholics follow the wisdom of Blessed John Paul II, we seek not to impose, but to propose those ideas and values that we believe will best serve the common good. In a pluralist democracy, that effort includes working to persuade our fellow citizens and our public officials that the common good is best served by laws and policies that comport with the natural law in safeguarding the right to life of all, and upholding the integrity of marriage and family as the essential building blocks of an ordered society.

If we abdicate that responsibility, we should not deceive ourselves into believing that a nation governed by moral relativism will benignly allow us to continue to live our moral convictions faithfully.

Either we strive to defend the natural law principles on which our Constitution is based, or we prepare to be governed by a very different set of values, no longer free to live according to the moral and social teachings of our faith or even to propose and advocate for them — our religious freedom having been among the first casualties of that moral relativism.