There have long been people whose religious beliefs made it impossible for them to live in what was, for them, the modern world. The Jews left Egypt and wandered in the desert for years. The Pilgrims left England for Europe, and then Europe for America, because they could not practice as they wished in England or Europe. They were willing to uproot their families, get on tiny, uncomfortable, dangerous boats and cross the Atlantic in order to live where they could give free rein to their religious beliefs.
Here on the East Coast, the Amish and Mennonites live in small enclaves where they do without the various forms of technology, dress, and customs that their religions disallow.
Some Quakers choose to live below the poverty level so that they won’t have to pay taxes that support war.
When America outlawed polygamy (you know, God’s traditional marriage between one man and one woman, and one other woman, and one other woman and. . . .), many Mormons, including Mitt Romney’s close ancestors, moved to Mexico in order to continue to pursue their way of life.
And there have always been people who have found it necessary to retreat to a convent, or monastery, or ashram, or anchor hold, or cave in the desert and live apart from the world in order fully to practice their religion.
I may not agree with the religious beliefs held by all of the people described above (I’d have made a really bad Pilgrim), but I certainly respect their commitment to their beliefs and would defend their right to retreat from a world that they find makes it impossible for them to act in accordance with their religion. As long as their goal is to arrange for themselves and their families to live a certain way, I think that’s their First Amendment right.
And I’d like to propose to modern fundamentalist Xians that the time may have come for them to consider a similar course. There may have been a time in America when they could discriminate against whomever they chose, control everyone’s sexuality, use the government to impose their prayers, religious monuments, and holidays on everyone else. But those days are quickly coming to an end. Today, they appear to face the same choice that the Pilgrims and others have faced: they can adjust their behavior or they can retreat into their own enclaves, either physical or metaphorical.
If you don’t believe in abortions, you don’t have to have them or perform them, but you can’t take a job at a hospital the gets public funds and then refuse to assist in abortions. If you think women should dress “modestly,” then you can dress that way and you can choose to associate only with other women who do. But you can’t take a job certifying the safety of the fabrics used in women’s clothing and refuse to certify anything silky or sheer. If you think that it’s a sin to eat meat on Friday, then you can choose to have tofu, or fish, or macaroni and cheese, but you can’t take a job serving food at the public high school cafeteria and refuse to cook the hamburgers that are on the menu that Friday. You may believe that God requires every man to have many wives, but you can’t take a job issuing marriage licenses for your state and start issuing licenses for polygamous marriages.
The case of Kim Davis, the county clerk of the court who has refused to issue marriage licenses since the Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges, is particularly egregious. Ms. Davis ran for office and was elected to her position. When you’re elected to a government post, you don’t get to discriminate against people you don’t like. Ms. Davis isn’t some employee whose corporate bosses won’t provide some reasonable accommodation for her religious beliefs, such as allowing her to use her leave time to take off for her religious holiday.
Ms. Davis is the government and the government can’t discriminate. The Democratic clerk can’t refuse to issue marriage licenses to Republicans and the Republican sheriff can’t refuse to arrest Republicans. If your religion won’t permit you to perform the duties of an office, don’t run for it. If the duties change (as Ms. Davis’ changed, although certainly in a fairly predictable manner) and your religion won’t permit you to perform the duties of your office, then resign.
Now may be a good time for radical Xians to Go Galt for God. Retreat from the world. Stay at home and grow your own vegetables. Move to your own commune. Build a spaceship — you can call it Mayflower II — and head off for a habitable planet or a satellite in space. God may be calling you to Go Galt.