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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

GUEST COLUMN: Who has the moral authority to enforce cultural change?

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Friday, August 04, 2017 12:01 am

In Indiana’s 3rd District, clashing definitions of this foundational liberty put U.S. Rep. Jim Banks and challenger Courtney Tritch on a collision course.

When a politician talks about “investment” and “adjusting tax rates,” it’s time to feel for your wallet.

Likewise, when a politician says we should trade First Amendment freedoms for cash, it’s time to clear your throat, mount a digital soapbox and ask a few hard questions.

Courtney Tritch, the first candidate out of the gate to challenge Jim Banks for Indiana’s 3rd District seat in the U.S. House, is a local marketing professional and activist. The issues listed on her website are all economic ones, and pretty straightforwardly progressive; that is, they all are solved the same way: by the gentle guidance of the federal government. It’s a different kind of trickle-down economics, except it’s Washington that has all the drips.

I would question whether such investment really works, but they certainly have helped make the Washington suburbs the richest in the country, so I stand corrected.

But back to the point of my critique. Nothing on Tritch’s website discusses the First Amendment, but her first political volley published last year certainly did.

After appropriately saying that her views did not reflect those of her employer, she began her column with these words:

Every time I see Indiana debating “religious freedoms” and civil rights for the LGBT community, I get chest pains from holding in my anger as I see all of the hard work done to forward the Northeast Indiana economy being cut off at the knees. While we debate at the Statehouse, the country watches — and they are forming perceptions of Indiana that will take years — and probably millions of dollars — to change.

Read the entire article at The News-Sentinel.

You can tell a lot about a person by what she puts in “scare quotes.” As Jonathan Chait said in The New Republic, “The scare quote is the perfect device for making an insinuation without proving it, or even necessarily making clear what you’re insinuating.” (But a few years later, not surprisingly, The New Republic itself would use scare quotes around “religious freedom.”)

Tritch’s column was a response to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was passed, and then later hollowed out, by Indiana in 2015. Tritch seeks to make the case that Indiana has a dire economic future if we fail to attract money from the coastal corporate powerhouses. But her solutions — we must be welcoming, we must support full protection, we must take a stand — fail to mention any specific measures the state must take. She doesn’t make clear what she’s insinuating.

Considering her vantage point, perhaps that’s on purpose. Maybe she doesn’t want to discuss specifics because what’s more important than policy is perception:

I have over a decade of experience in economic development and community development marketing, and there is only one thing I know for sure: Perception is equated with reality. For example, how long has it been since we’ve been a “Rust Belt” community? And yet national perception studies done as recently as last year still show that the perception of our state, and Northeast Indiana, is just that — a Rust Belt community. How many more years will PR firms have to work to overcome last year’s RFRA debacle? Or this year’s protected class debate?

My counterargument to her statement is that I have over two decades of experience in journalism, and there’s only one thing I know for sure: Perception is absolutely not reality. Human perception is skewed by any number of factors, including being blinded to your opponent’s viewpoint because you’re too beholden to your own.

However, it’s possible that I simply do not understand her perspective. So, from anyone on that side of the issue, I would love to hear the answers to the following questions that I’ve tried to write in an even-handed manner:

What exact actions are people doing under the banner of religious freedom that Tritch seeks to outlaw?

What exact beliefs are people holding under the banner of religious freedom that Tritch seeks to diminish?

And, most importantly:

Who has the moral authority to enforce this cultural change, and why does that authority rest there?

As I watch the tempest on Twitter with morality gladiators tearing each other apart in an effort to claim the laurel of Most Victimized, I get the feeling that asking the above questions only demonstrates that I am a cis-normative classist patriarchal Western Civ colonialistic misogynistic sad example of bigoted Whiteness.

Or it’s just my cognitive privilege talking.

Still, these kinds of simple questions remain unanswered. Is the only real rationale for us biblical Christians to drop our millenia-long doctrines about marriage and sexuality isso we may enrich ourselves with out-of-state cash from corporate boardrooms?

Well, let’s just say the Bible has stories about guys who trade truth for cash. Even 30 million pieces of silver should be insufficient to entice us.

As Ben Franklin said way back in 1738, “Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power.” The Founding Fathers were wise to place freedom of religion at the very beginning of the Bill of Rights. We shouldn’t sacrifice it on the altar of economic development.

Jon Swerens is a local entrepreneur and communications professional and publisher of the online magazine TheProw.com.

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