The First Amendment be Damned: Evolution and the Threat to Religious Liberty

"I would as soon be descended from that heroic little monkey," Charles Darwin wrote in 1871, "as from a savage who . . . is haunted by the grossest superstitions." And millions of Darwin's acolytes voiced a resounding "amen."

It matters not that biologists have never observed or duplicated mutations, even in the simplest organism, to produce a whole new species. It matters not that paleontologists have never discovered transitional or mutated species in the fossil record. In today's world, Darwinian evolution is the faith that trumps all others.

That certainly is the prevailing opinion of Charles Blow. In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, "Indoctrinating Religious Warriors," Blow canonized the belief in evolution as the rule of faith for enlightened and virtuous thinkers. Citing a current Pew Research survey, Blow calls the drop in evolutionary belief, especially among white evangelical Protestants, "sad news" and "embarrassing." Such "extreme religiosity"-those who believe that "'humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time'"-is a sort of "dysfunction, "according to Blow, or a "'societal pathology,'" to quote evolutionary illustrator Gregory Paul.

Blow assures us, however, that he doesn't "personally have a problem with religious faith, even in the extreme." But his tolerance for such dysfunction and pathology is only granted as long as faith "doesn't supersede science and [is] not used to impose outdated mores on others."

Which gets us to the heart of Blow's real beef. He isn't concerned about the scientific debate between intelligent design and evolution. He's concerned that the loosening of evolutionary faith among certain segments of society is a result of "something else . . . something more cynical"-something political.

Blow believes that:

A long-running ploy by Republican Party leaders [are playing] on the basest convictions of conservative voters in order to solidify their support. Convince people that they're fighting a religious war for religious freedom, a war in which passion and devotion are one's weapons against doubt and confusion, and you make loyal soldiers.

Part of that ploy "has been anti-science propagandizing running unchecked on the right for years, from anti-gay-equality misinformation to climate change denials."

Tying "evolution denialism" to "staunch conservatives," which of course adhere to "'extreme conservative position on nearly all issues,'" Blow is able to construct a tidy little straw man-one, like a Kanas tornado, he's able to topple with a mighty blow of his pen. And in so doing, he knocks down the Tea Party, Fox News, Bill O'Reilly's "defense-of-Christmas crusade," and the threat to religious freedom.

Not a bad day's work.

By Blow's way of thinking, the threat to religious liberty is all ginned up by Republican leaders, fueling the fears of uncouth and intellectual boobs, such as white evangelical Protestants, who don't believe in evolution.

But evolution is beside the point. Anyone honest enough to open their eyes can see evidence of a growing danger to the First Amendment's prohibition clause. The HHS mandate for employers who have religious objections to provide contraceptives and abortifacients to employees is an unsettled question, as the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Hobby Lobby lawsuits illustrate.

And in the battle over gay marriage, a Christian florist in Washington State and a Christian baker in Colorado were fined for failing to provide services for gay weddings. Elane and Jonathan Huguenins of New Mexico were fine for refusing to shot wedding photos for a gay couple. According to New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Richard Bosson, the Huguenins were "compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives."

Where is that in the First Amendment?

Though Bosson concedes that such a compromise "will no doubt leave a tangible mark" on the lives of the Huguenins and on "others of similar views . . . this case teaches us that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others."

Who's to say when that point comes? And what does "only a little" mean if compromising one's life inspiring faith leaves behind a tangible mark?

Who knows? All Bosson offered was that "a multicultural, pluralistic society . . . demands no less." Of course, "the Huguenins are free to . . . pray to the God of their choice," as long they do so in private. But in public "there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life." And what is the price? That "the price of citizenship" is the sacrifice of religious freedom.

I once thought the price of citizenship was upholding the First Amendment, even if you believed in evolution, abortion, and gay marriage and I didn't. But somehow Justice Bosson and Charles Blow don't see it that way. To their evolved minds, the nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor, the owners of Hobby Lobby, and the Huguenins are "[diverting] attention from areas of common sense and the common good." Bosson and Blow might as well have said, "The First Amendment be damned. We've evolved beyond such passé ideas."

Derrick G. Jeter is a speaker and writer engaging ideals at the crossroads of faith and freedom. A noted speaker on faith, liberty, politics, culture, and history, Derrick writes a popular blog at and is the author of O America! A Manifesto on Liberty. Follow him on Twitter @derrickjeter.

Free CP Newsletters

Join over 250,000 others to get the top stories curated daily, plus special offers!


Most Popular

More Articles