Several years ago, I took what I thought was a liberal course of action on a day when Facebook users were signaling, or shouting, their political and cultural views at one another. I changed the banner photo on my page to a red, white and blue semi-flag image that contained the text of the First Amendment.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
At that point something interesting happened. I received several emails and messages, including several from former students, accusing me of hate speech for waving, so to speak, the First Amendment flag. It was clear, they said, that I did this to promote religious liberty.
What they were saying was perfectly captured the other day in a "Peaceful Coexistence" document released by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. This document played a key role in my "On Religion" column this week, as well as the latest GetReligion "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.
The bottom line: The commission argued that "civil rights" now trump the First Amendment. As I noted in my column:
The commission stressed: "Religious exemptions to the protections of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon these civil rights."
In a quote that went viral online, commission chair Martin Castro added: "The phrases 'religious liberty' and 'religious freedom' will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia or any form of intolerance."