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Acton Commentary

Liberty for AOC but not for thee

The only thing more disconcerting than hearing Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez transform government force into liberty is the fact that, once again, her remarks have gone viral. During a hearing of the House Oversight Committee last Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez likened healthcare providers who refuse to perform medical procedures that violate their religious views to “white supremacists,” people who “justified slavery,” and those “who fought against integration.”

“It’s very difficult to sit here and listen to arguments in the long history of this country of using Scripture and weaponizing and abusing Scripture to justify bigotry,” she said. “There is nothing holy about rejecting medical care of people, no matter who they are, on the grounds of what their identity is. … There is nothing holy about writing discrimination into the law.”

Let me first commend Ocasio-Cortez for her frank appeal to the Gospel in her criticism of what she describes as the Trump administration's “religious liberty assault on LGBTQ rights.” While I disagree with most of what she says, it is good when politicians who describe themselves as Christians take a public stand for their convictions and what they see as the policy implications of their faith. Even when, as in this case, I disagree with what is said, I’m glad to hear religious and specifically Christian arguments in the public square.

I am even happier when they meet serious scrutiny. Though I think her views are fatally flawed, given their implications, we should take Ocasio-Cortez’s analysis and prescriptions seriously. That is precisely when she fails.

It is simply not the case, as she says, that white supremacists have “weaponized” Scripture. White supremacists are not sympathetic to the Gospel. In fact, they have more in common with their Antifa antagonists. “Both,” writes Acton Institute executive editor Rev. Ben Johnson, “oppose the classical Western consensus of society” and reject a vision of culture that grows “organically from the choices of the individual, the family unit, and social and community organizations – not the least of which was the Church.”

And while Ocasio-Cortez is at least formally correct that there is “nothing holy about rejecting medical care of people, no matter who they are,” she is on much shakier empirical ground when she appeals to the category of “identity” as being a clinically sufficient standard for requesting – much less demanding – certain kinds of medical procedures.

Even if gender transition remains a hot topic of debate, it is a well-established moral position that surgeons should not cut into otherwise healthy tissue without serious medical need. Likewise, physicians ought not to prescribe powerful drugs without a sufficient clinical reason. This is because procedures like reconstructive surgery and pharmaceuticals like male or female hormones expose patients to harmful, and potentially life-threatening, consequences. Prescribing either – as the transgender activist at the hearings, Evan Minton, desires – to bring a person’s physical appearance into a closer approximation of his or her self-image is, at best, morally and clinically debatable.

Segregation was the bastard child of government legislation and private cronyism.

Seeking to compel physicians to do so against their clinical and ethical judgment is morally wrong and courts a public policy disaster. It is immoral, because it undermines the moral and clinical judgment of the physician, or in Minton’s case, a Catholic hospital. As a matter of policy, a free society is not free if the consciences of individuals and communities can be overruled by the State and made to conform to the desires of a third party. Ironically, Ocasio-Cortez seems to have adopted the governing philosophy of those she accuses of “weaponizing and abusing Scripture to justify bigotry” as her own.

The history of segregation and Jim Crow is shameful. As Tejanos, members of my own family suffered the minor and, not infrequently, major indignations and injustices of living in the segregated Texas that existed up to my own birth in 1960.

A culture of segregation both sustained, and was sustained by, Jim Crow laws. Like an economic monopoly, segregation was the bastard child of government legislation and private cronyism.

In addition to enforced racial segregation in public buildings, these laws also imposed mandatory racial separation on private businesses. The law divided restaurants and hotels, railroad cars and private bus lines, as they would have said at the time, by color.

Jim Crow laws facilitated segregation by denying individuals the right to act according to their consciences, or even according to their economic self-interest. Yes, individuals could think whatever they wished about segregation. However, they could not act on their convictions, not only because of fear of social censure (to put it mildly), but because as a matter of law – they could not use their property as they saw fit.

Even if Ocasio-Cortez’s words were sincere, they are a threat to the religious liberty of all Americans. Not least among these are AOC’s brothers and sisters in Christ. We cannot defend the rights of some by violating the God-given rights of others.

However well-intentioned they may be, Christians who have posted the video of AOC’s comments are at a minimum careless. When Christians do not think through the moral and policy implications of their positions – however emotionally satisfying or popular they are – then they have failed to use their reason “to discern both good and evil” (see Hebrews 5:11-14). However, if they are aware of the larger context of Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks, then they owe it to others to be clear about what they are affirming: denying their brethren the right to practice their common faith.

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Fr Gregory Jensen is the pastor of Sts. Cyril & Methodius Ukrainian Orthodox Mission and the Eastern Orthodox chaplain at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has published articles in psychology, theology, and economics and is the author of The Cure for Consumerism. He is also an instructor in youth ministry at St Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary, Bound Brook, NJ.  In 2013, he was a Lone Mountain Fellow with the Bozeman, Montana-based Property and Environmental Research Center (PERC).