Sanctuary Cities for Conservatives?

“Sanctuary cities” have been in the headlines for weeks.

Late last week, the House of Representatives voted to strip federal funds from sanctuary cities, which refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts.  And in early July, an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times and convicted of seven felonies shot and killed a young woman while she was walking with her father and a friend along a pier in San Francisco, a city famous for its sanctuary policies.

Sanctuary cities have existed for decades – the first one was established in Los Angeles in 1979 – as places of asylum for refugees and others in the country illegally.  By one count, there are more than 200 sanctuary cities in 32 states and the District of Columbia.

The recent San Francisco murder has prompted renewed scrutiny of sanctuary cities.  But while most of the debate has focused on the legal and political ramifications, I’d like to offer the following thought experiment: what if there were sanctuary cities for religious conservatives?

Imagine if some city in red-state America – perhaps Little Rock, Arkansas; Dallas, Texas; or Bowling Green, Kentucky – decided to be a refuge for unborn children and refused to grant business licenses to abortion clinics. 

What if a city decided that it was going to be a sanctuary city for the Ten Commandments and displayed them in schools, libraries, and the county courthouse?

What if a city decided that it was important for children to have mothers and fathers, declared itself a sanctuary city for traditional marriage, and refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?

I’m kidding, but only slightly.  A glance at the news headlines underscores the growing need for a place of refuge for conservatives.   

The state of Oregon recently levied a $135,000 fine against Aaron and Melissa Klein, the Christian owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa.  The fine was imposed because the Kleins refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.  And for their crime of remaining true to their faith, the state of Oregon is threatening to financially destroy this small business.  In fact, the Kleins, who have five children, are being told to pay or they may face a lien on their home.

This story is all the more compelling when you consider Lena Dunham's recent remarks. In a New Yorker piece, the actress wrote that her boyfriend, Jack Antonoff, a musician, “struggled with the decision of whether or not to perform at a straight couple’s wedding.”  Antonoff’s struggle derived from his not wanting to be involved in a wedding until gays also had the right to marry.  He felt that to do so would be to betray his values and his gay friends.  In fact, according to Dunham, he was “tortured” by the prospect of such a betrayal.

As The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway points out, Dunham, who also is a strong supporter of same-sex nuptials, fails to see the irony.  Hemingway writes:

I doubt Lena wishes Jack Antonoff had been forced to perform his music at any wedding. Most reasonable people think vendors should have the right to refuse service that violates their conscience.

Should such a right of refusal only be extended to the Jack Antonoffs of the world? Or to everyone who is not providing a necessary public accommodation such as food or shelter for travelers? Maybe perfectly earnest moral and political stances should be respected instead of persecuted by the state.

That would be ideal.  But to many on the left, respect and tolerance extend only so far.

In another example, the American Civil Liberties Union recently announced that it is abandoning its support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  The RFRA, which protects the rights of religious individuals and organizations, was passed by large majorities in Congress and signed by Democratic president Bill Clinton.

The ACLU explained that while it still supports the application of RFRA in some circumstances – when Muslim prisoners want to grow beards against prison policy, for instance – it can no longer support the law when it is “used as a sword to discriminate against women, gay and transgender people.”  What this means is that the ACLU will continue to support the religious liberty of all Americans – except those who oppose same-sex marriage.

Another example: the ink was barely dry on the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, which legalized same-sex marriage nationally, when prominent liberals began calling for the revocation of tax exemptions for churches and religious nonprofits that continue to define marriage as they have done for centuries.  

It is becoming clear that liberal activists are interested not only in securing marriage rights for same-sex couples.  As the Weekly Standard’s Jonathan Last put it recently, the movement is most interested in “revisiting legal notions of freedom of speech and association, constitutional protections for religious freedom and cultural norms concerning the family.”

How ironic: liberals oppose the full assimilation of immigrants to our country.  Don’t speak the language?  Fine, we’ll put road signs in your language and teach your kids in Spanish.  Don’t want to celebrate our holidays?  Okay, you can celebrate yours and take off your days.  But liberals can tolerate nothing short of total assimilation of conservative Christians on matters of sexuality.

Remember when liberals said that illegal immigrants needed to be granted legal status in order to bring them “out of the shadows” of society?  Remember when liberals insisted that gays needed to be given full marriage rights so that they could step out of the closet?

Well, these groups may have emerged from the shadows and stepped out of the closet.  But those places won’t stay empty for long.  Christians, if liberals have their way, will soon fill them.

Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer is president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families.  Follow @GaryLBauer.