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Gender Ideology and the Religious Freedom Trap

April 12, 2023

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As gender ideology continues its destructive parade through public and private institutions, including K-12 schools, a few individuals are courageously refusing to submit—and being punished for it. In a recent example, a California public school teacher named Jessica Tapia was fired for declining to abide by a Jurupa school district policy that requires teachers to affirm their students’ self-disclosed “gender identities” and hide the information from parents. In a letter Tapia received from the district explaining her termination, the superintendent’s office states,

The district cannot accommodate your religious beliefs that . . . prohibit you from maintaining a student’s gender identity and refraining from disclosing a student’s gender identity from his/her/their parent(s)/guardians.

Tapia responded to Fox News’ inquiry into the firing, saying,

I knew immediately, like in my gut, in my heart, in my soul, that there was a decision I had to make because, you know, these two things were totally butting heads. . . . I essentially had to pick one. Am I going to obey the district in the directive that are not lining up with . . . my own beliefs, convictions and faith? Or am I going to stay true, . . . choose my faith, choose to be obedient to . . . the way the Lord has called me to live? And so it was crazy to be in the position where I realized that I couldn’t be a Christian and a teacher. 

Tapia is intending to sue the district for religious discrimination. Good. I hope she finds a fair resolution.  

But she and others in similar situations, including the long-persecuted bakery owner Jack Phillips who has been repeatedly harassed by Colorado officials for refusing to make cakes celebrating gay marriage and gender transitions, are fighting a losing battle in the long term. That isn’t because their cause is unjust. It unqualifiedly is. Rather, it’s because they are framing their defense within a political context that has stacked the rules against them. Even if Tapia, Phillips, and the many others being bullied by gender idealogues are ultimately victorious in court on labor protection or First Amendment grounds, the appeal to “faith” or, even, free expression as the foundation of their defense is a classic example of “granting the premise”—and it’s exactly what the self-titled LGBTQIA+ advocates want in the long game for cultural and, therefore, political supremacy. 

If the ideological presuppositions underlying this policy become established as normative, then gender ideology has already won . . .

To grant the premise is to accept the foundational assumptions of an argument as valid, even if the argument’s conclusion does not ultimately apply to you. So, for example, say two men are discussing abortion policy in a café, and someone who mishears the conversation says to them, “You must really hate women because you said there should be legal restrictions on abortion.” Taken aback, they both respond, “But we didn’t say there should be legal restrictions on abortion,” to which the eavesdropper replies with a smile and an accepted invitation to a high-five: “Then you’re good.” The high-five signals the acceptance of the accoster’s premise: that it could be justified to declare that someone who believes in legal restrictions on abortion hates women solely on those grounds. The only issue is whether someone actually believes in such restrictions; if they do, they’re haters. If they don’t, they’re innocent (at least for now). But the premise remains intact. This is a very common, if often manipulative, approach to moral and political debate: induce someone to deny that they are guilty, while, in the very same act, getting them to admit that the premise for the accusation is reasonable. 

Something like this is happening in the gender ideology battles. The tactic is evident in the Jurupa school district’s response to Tapia’s complaint: “The district cannot accommodate your religious beliefs that . . . prohibit you from maintaining a student’s gender identity and refraining from disclosing a student’s gender identity from his/her/their parent(s)/guardians.” Note the ideological two-step here: first, the district grants that holding the position that children cannot change their gender and that sensitive information should never be withheld from parents qualify as “religious beliefs,” then the district denies that those “religious beliefs” have the authority to trump the civil law that, putatively, is grounded in something other than “religion.” 

That is precisely the danger in appealing to religious freedom as a defense against gender ideology. In framing the issue as one of religious discrimination, Tapia is granting the premise that the content of her beliefs is something other than rational. She is implying, in other words, that biological reality and parental authority are subjective personal preferences—not statements of ontological and moral fact. Indeed, that is exactly how she frames the issue: “Am I going to obey the district in the directive that are not lining up with . . . my own beliefs, convictions and faith?” Note the emphasis on the singular “my.” The implication is that her views on gender identity and parental authority are on the same epistemic ground as her belief in the lordship of Jesus Christ: it is a matter of personal faith.  

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However, the belief in biological reality and parental rights is not religious dogma. It is a matter of the most elementary understanding of natural moral law and empirical—scientific—knowledge of human biology. It is, in other words, anything but “religious” if “religious” means nothing more than “subjective personal belief” (which, it is important to note, is not how the Catholic tradition understands religion). To be sure, one can understand why Tapia is taking this approach to win her legal case. Yet even if she wins in court, the victory will prove ephemeral if it either explicitly or implicitly entails the conclusion that Tapia is being granted a religious exemption to an otherwise rationally warranted school policy (that children can change gender and that school officials have the right to conceal it from parents). If the ideological presuppositions underlying this policy become established as normative, then gender ideology has already won both the political and cultural war, even if it continues to lose a few court skirmishes here and there. 

The only way to defeat gender ideology in the long term is thus not to ask permission of the state to practice “my truth” or, even, “our truth” on ever-shrinking islands of religious accommodation. It is to call for a return to sanity, making it clear by every peaceful means that schools are not allowed to deceive children about their bodies or usurp the rightful authority of their parents. It is to declare to the commissars of this delusional social experiment that we are not asking for authorization to practice our religion. We are demanding that you leave our kids alone in the name of basic moral reality. No one’s saying you can’t play make-believe on your own time, in your own home, with other grown-ups. But stop imposing your irrational personal beliefs on the young and hiding the consequences of it from their parents. 

Get your ideology off their biology.