OK, now it's religion's turn.
People of faith who assert their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act enacted by Indiana have been pilloried as bigots, haters or worse.
Headlines blared that the act legalized homophobia. That Indiana passed a "hate law." A television reporter traveled miles to sniff out someone, anyone, who would dare defend her faith, and when she did at a small-town pizza shop, she was swamped with hate mail and death threats. Ridicule of sincerely held beliefs appears to be the order of the day.
It's been a storm of irresponsible, abhorrent stereotyping that should, but apparently doesn't, shame the haters.
It makes as much sense as people of faith calling anyone who opposes the religious protection law bigoted and hateful anti-Christians, without recognizing that there's a legitimate difference of opinion. This is not to say that people of faith don't have their own share of people who can sling hatred. But I dare say that that doesn't describe most people who are seeking protections against government abuse of their religious rights.
Basically the Indiana law implements the first right listed in the First Amendment, prohibiting government interference in religious practice. The act clarifies and elaborates on that prohibition by providing an exemption, allowing government to interfere with the practice of religion only when it has a "compelling" reason. And if government determines that it has such a reason, it can do so only in the "least restrictive way."
The law, as amended, also bars anyone from using his or her religion as an excuse to discriminate in housing, businesses, public accommodations and so forth on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, race and so forth.
The Indiana law and a similar one recently enacted in Arkansas are only the latest round in a long effort to balance two rights in conflict: equality and conscience. The history of that effort is too long and complicated to review here. That effort becomes especially difficult in a democracy, when two determined, muscular groups of Americans are pressing for full implementation of their rights. Even more so when the opposing groups demand that their rights are near-absolute. Disputes, often passionate and ugly and sometimes destructive, are inevitable.
But if the history of that struggle demonstrates anything, it's that few, if any, rights are absolute. Free speech isn't. Nor is a right to carry arms. Nor is the right to property.
Putting aside the legal and political details of that struggle, too often questions of compromise, decency and respect are ignored. Noticeably so in the past few weeks.
Everything within our lives doesn't have to be proscribed or prescribed by statute. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as some would have it, would force a photographer to take pictures at a same-sex wedding, in opposition to his religious beliefs. Or make a Christian baker create a wedding cake for gay nuptials. Or force a religious hospital to provide health insurance covering contraceptives and abortifacients for employees.
But who suffers the greater harm if such a law is enforced? Is it the same-sex couple who surely can find someone among the overwhelming number of bakers and photographers available who would be more than happy to provide the service? Would a gay couple have to forgo flowers at their wedding because no other florist within sight would serve them?
Have we forgotten the historic American respect for diverse opinions? How sacred we hold divergent beliefs? That embedded in our founding documents are the principles of reverence for minority convictions?
Or would the greater harm fall on the photographer, baker or florist whom the government would compel by intimidation or threats to violate his conscience? The harm caused to one side is possible inconvenience and on the other is a police state that crushes freedom of conscience.
This is different from how people once used their religious beliefs to justify legally sanctioned racial discrimination. That despicable and widespread practice was required by law, enforced by police powers and backed up by fines and imprisonment. African-Americans had few integrated public facilities available. The harm done was clearly one-sided.
With public acceptance of the LGBT agenda growing, the minority that has the right to request "just leave us alone" now belongs to segments of the religious community whose beliefs increasingly are disrespected and jeered.
The majority's test of tolerance is just beginning.
For information on my award-winning historical novel, "Madness: The War of 1812," visit: http://www.madness1812.com