For those of you looking to understand the monumental values at stake in the current debate over religious freedom (and perhaps engage in the debate yourself), we offer you our view of the 5 key issues:

1. Freedom of Conscience: This ideal lies at the very heart of the current debate. America has always recognized the inherent value of the individual conscience, and has always believed that we should forcibly burden a man’s conscience only in the most extreme of situations. Consider conscientious objection laws, for instance. America has always believed that living with other men’s “sincerely held” religious idiosyncrasies (note: not all idiosyncrasies) such as those of the Amish is a good thing because we believed that people of strong belief and good will might inspire and goad broader society to greater good. This has been the Law’s reasoning on conscience for centuries, and indeed, this represents America’s greatest gift to the question of Church/State relations – a rejection of Inquisition and all efforts to compel a man’s conscience through anything but reason. This is the standard and tradition that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act embodies, and this is the standard that has now come so seriously under fire. (There’s a practical side to this standard too; do you really want someone baking you a wedding cake who strenuously objects to the very fact that you’re having a wedding?)

2. Weaponizing the State: If you’ve been listening to the talking heads, you would be led to assume that it is Christians who are seeking to weaponize the State to discriminate against homosexuals. In fact, precisely the opposite is true; the weapons of the State will leveraged by the Forces of Sexual Anarchy against Christians without the protections of RFRA and the First Amendment, not the other way around. Sincere and traditionally-minded Christians are merely seeking to carve out a space for their continued existence in the public square in this new, homosexuality-embracing world. Now, that may not hold quite as true in the debate over gay marriage itself, but take note. Gay marriage is not what is being debated here; the question is whether traditionally-minded Christians will be forced out of business for refusing to endorse gay marriage. And be sure to look at this with clear eyes, because that is precisely what the Forces of Sexual Anarchy intend to do.

3. Liberty: The most cherished of all American values, liberty takes on many forms, including Freedom of Conscience and the Freedom of Association (both discussed separately). Liberty can also be seen more generally, though, as the right to live a peaceable and responsible life of one’s own choosing, free from coercion. There are limits to liberty, of course – beginning with requirement that we live “responsibly” and acknowledge our duty to the law – but the grand American experiment has always wagered that, as a general rule, people would act responsibly of their own accord, and so we begin with a presumption against using the coercive powers of the State to get what we want. Now, however, even liberty itself is being thrown under the bus to ensure that we don’t end up “on the wrong end of history.” As Jonah Goldberg put it in his recent National Review article, “we live in an age where non-compliance with the Left’s agenda must be cast as bigotry. Everyone is free to celebrate as instructed. This is what liberals think liberty means today.” That, ladies and gentlemen, is not liberty – it is the rumblings of totalitarianism.

4. Freedom of Association: The middle ground between Liberty and Freedom of Conscience, Freedom of Association is another cherished American principle that, as one commentator recently put it, is now being “burned at the stake” in the debate over religious freedom. The reason we mention it specifically is simply because of the Cultural Left’s obvious hypocrisy on this point; would anyone think it’s a good or acceptable policy to force a black baker to cater a KKK rally? Are we willing to throw a Muslim photographer in jail because he won’t photograph a Koran-burning ceremony? No one on the Left would think these were wise policies, and yet the Forces of Sexual Anarchy are all-too-willing to impose precisely these burdens on traditionally-minded Christians. Such efforts and policies find no support in the American tradition, in the law, or even in basic logic.

5. Sexual Extremists Have Overplayed Their Hand: David French said this pretty well here, but the short of the argument is that the Forces of Sexual Anarchy have gone a bridge too far by attacking orthodox Christians directly. Up until this point, well-mannered Christians have (unfortunately) been pretty content to roll over on the gay marriage issue and take a “live and let live” attitude. The Evangelical, Catholic, and even Mormon churches in America are all still strong enough and theologically rooted enough, however, that they will not simply be shouted into folding on core personal beliefs about marriage. The Sexual Revolutionaries apparently misunderstand this and believe that the traditionally-minded among America’s religious will fold as easily as the mainline liberal denominations; they may be surprised to discover that the battle lines stiffen at this point, much as they did with abortion some 40 years ago.

Image Credit: AJ Batac