Open borders and religious freedom

I am probably in the minority among Open Borders: The Case contributors in regarding the Supreme Court’s decision in United States vs. Windsor as legally absurd and ominous for liberty, and especially for religious freedom. Ben Domenech gives a good description of the threat to religious liberty from the gay marriage movement:

The problem with gay marriage is not about gay people getting married – they’ve already been doing that, or living that way. The problem with gay marriage is not that it will redefine marriage into a less valuable social institution in the eyes of the populace – that is already happening, has been for decades, and will continue regardless of whether gays are added to it or not. And the problem with gay marriage is not about the slippery slope of what comes next – though yes, the legal battle over polyamory and polygamy is inevitably coming, as the principle of marriage equality demands it does…

No, the real problem with gay marriage is that the nature of the marriage union is inherently entwined in the future of the first line of the Bill of Rights: our right to religious liberty. Orthodox believers of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths were slow to understand this. I’m talking about something much bigger here than the discrimination lawsuits brought across the country against bakers and photographers: I’m talking about whether churches will be able to function as public entities in an era where their views on sin, particularly sexual sin, are in direct conflict with not just opinion but the law – and proselytizing those views from the pulpit or in the public square will be viewed as using the protection of religious expression to protect hateful speech.

We saw this problem already in Illinois’ marriage law, where churches that do not allow same sex unions would essentially have to close their doors to full participation in civil society. We see it as a constant issue regarding Canada’s hate speech laws, where courts must discern whether quoting Bible verses amounts to “harming the public discourse.” We will see it more here. That obvious oncoming clash strikes me as the most troublesome aspect of this, and the one that has received the least attention in the rush to legalize. The argument has been more about benefits and social outcomes and “won’t somebody think of the children”, ignoring the core problem, which raises challenges to the freedom of speech and expression the likes of which led to the pilgrims crossing the sea in the first place.

The conflict between sexual liberty and religious liberty is unlikely to be one the religious will win, in large part because of the broad and increasing acceptance of an idea President Obama has espoused more than once in public: that the religious have a freedom to worship, and that’s where it ends. When you leave the pew, you must leave your faith there. Among the religious, this is absurd – their entire lives are defined by their faith, in ways large and small. For both Christianity and Islam, the core of their faith is built on a call to take the message to the world, spreading it through public witness and preaching. Yet this belief in the limited freedom to worship is what led Obama’s administration to argue that faith-based hiring and firing is a discriminatory act for religious entities

In a litigious society, those conscience conflicts will multiply, with pressure on anyone who “refuses and refers” to be stripped of their government-provided license or memberships in professional society…

In a nation where fewer people truly practice religion, fewer people external to those communities will see any practical reason to protect the liberty of those who do. The world could in time come full circle to Mrs. Campbell’s old line: You are free to believe, as long as you don’t do it in the streets, so as not to frighten the horses.

Now, I won’t presume that you agree with Domenech here. Maybe you think his fears are overblown. Maybe you think he’s right that religious freedom will be curtailed in due course by the gay marriage movement, and it should be. In the interest of coalition politics, though, it’s worth sympathizing for a moment with people who see things this way. For open borders is connected to religious freedom, in several ways.

First, it’s a good bet that open borders would let in populations considerably less favorable to same-sex marriage, on average, than the US public currently is. Same-sex marriage and other recognition of legal status for same-sex couples is largely restricted to parts of the US and western Europe. With opinion having turned sharply against them in recent years, social conservatives might want to consider trying to elect a new people through open immigration, whom they have good reason to suppose would be more favorable to their point of view.

But even more fundamentally, it would be nice to have some place to go to if religious freedom in the United States does suffer a major setback in the years to come. A few months ago, I wrote a post about the Pilgrims. They fled from western Europe to the largely uncultivated wilderness of America. (Yes, there were Amerindian tribes here, but they were sparse and far below the carrying capacity of the country.) It took a great deal of courage to leave their native country that way, but of course it was crucially important that there were places where they could go, having procured a sort of vague royal approval gotten by backdoor methods (albeit not for the site where they actually landed), but basically without needing anyone’s permission.

I anticipate significant personal costs from the advent of gay marriage. Conscience does not permit me to refer to a gay relationship as a marriage, yet now, in law, that’s what it will be, and all sorts of anti-discrimination laws will tend to force me into situations where I will be obliged to violate my conscience in order to avoid seeming by my words or actions to condone gay marriage. Now, suppose I find that this strain is too much. I can’t stay. I can’t reconcile the demands of discrimination law with the demands of conscience. Or worse, my church is forbidden to operate because it refuses to perform gay marriage ceremonies. So I and many others like me want to emigrate. The Pilgrims went to America. Where could we go now?

It would be nice to have the IMPALA data in order to get a basic idea of what the emigration options are. Does anyone know, by the way? It would be no use emigrating to western Europe, where the threat to freedom of religion is if anything worse, but what about East Asia? Africa? Latin America? At any rate, for the moment, religious conservatives still have some influence in US politics, and one thing they could do with it might be to urge the US government to negotiate freedom of migration deals with other countries, so that if, at some point in the future, religious repression becomes intolerable, they’ll have someplace to go where they can live their religion freely. This is yet another reason why Christians should favor freedom of migration.

Incidentally, this post is relevant to Fabio Rojas’s post on social conservatism and attitudes to immigration. Rojas finds a significant positive correlation between support for gay rights and support for immigration. While that’s not too surprising, a quick look at the map of gay rights around the world suggests that opponents of gay marriage should, in principle, welcome hordes of immigrants from Asia and Africa, and to a lesser extent Latin America. See also Pew’s global snapshot of same-sex marriage. Immigrants to the US might assimilate to the prevailing views in the US, but I suspect that founder effects will be less important here, since while much of the institutional legacy of a country consists of procedures known to specialists to which the broader public conforms and in which new specialists are trained, gay marriage seems to be an issue on which the average person is more likely to have his own opinion and not to defer to the status quo. Of course, for opponents of gay marriage, the rest of the world’s lack of enlightenment might be an argument against opening the borders and jeopardizing the progress already made.

Nathan Smith is an assistant professor of economics at Fresno Pacific University. He did his Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University and has also worked for the World Bank. Smith proposed Don’t Restrict Immigration, Tax It, one of the more comprehensive keyhole solution proposals to address concerns surrounding open borders.

See also:

Page about Nathan Smith on Open Borders
All blog posts by Nathan Smith

4 thoughts on “Open borders and religious freedom”

  1. I thought open borders enthusiasts usually pooh-poohed the idea of hordes of unwashed immigrants significantly altering the political landscape of the host country? There is room for nuance here, which you have nodded to (“founder effects will be less important here, since …). But to the casual observer (or the ornery restrictionist), this will look like openbordersists trying to have their cake and eat it too. This is just an idle thought, not a criticism; I’m always in favor of nuance.

  2. As someone who is in a same-sex relationship and with my boyfriend now able to marry me and move to the United States where he was previously unable to, the question of legal recognition of same sex marriages is not an unimportant question to me, and I want to address it.

    First, there is no expectation that churches, synagogues or mosques would be obligated by the government to permit weddings in their venues to which they object. They don’t have to do so now, and they will not have to do so in the future. Currently, catholic churches do not recognize divorce as valid. People who have divorced are free to marry under the law, but they can’t do it under the auspices (or the roof) of a catholic church. I am not a fan of Canadian hate speech codes (I wrote a piece about it here: )

    However, the US First Amendment protection for free speech and freedom of religion, and by combination freedom of religious speech is extremely strong. In the US you are and will remain free under the law to not treat same sex marriages as equal in your views. In the US you are and will remain free to speak out against same sex marriage as a legal institution. Your place of worship is and will remain free to refuse to marry any couple they deem unworthy of marrying.

    What you will not be able to do is prevent yourself from facing social opprobium and ostracisim for your views. While the law will not do anything to you for your views, the people around you can and often will. I doubt you will have an easy time finding a society where homosexuality is not well tolerated but which has otherwise good institutions, even given free transit. And I doubt that if you find such a place that it will remain as you want it to.

    But legal recognition of marriage is not a mere formality for same sex couples, it effects our lives deeply. In my case, going as far as to determine whether I can live in my country or must leave it to be with the person I love.

  3. I’m not afraid of social opprobrium and ostracism because the kind of people who would ostracize a person for believing in a traditional definition of marriage are not the kind of people whose respect or society I value. I can respect people who believe in gay marriage but respect other views, and can hold a rational discussion on the subject, but those who would ostracize traditional marriage supporters are people who would do me a favor by depriving me of their company.

    I’m more worried that certain professions will become impossible for traditional marriage supporters to conscientiously practice because of government coercion related to the imposition of gay marriage. Thus, a Christian photographer in New Mexico was fined for “discrimination” when she refused to serve as photographer at a gay wedding, on the grounds that it was against her conscience. Laws may be written to protect freedom of conscience in such cases, even if gay marriage continues to be recognized. But it’s also quite possible that prosecutions for “discrimination” could become so prevalent as to severely narrow the range of ways that believers in traditional marriage can conscientiously earn a living. In that case, while emigration might not be absolutely demanded by conscience, it would definitely become more attractive.

    As for gay marriage being a means of immigration, this consideration actually leads to another reason to favor open borders. Open borders would, of course, allow gay couples to live together. But it would do so without requiring the government to give any specific recognition to their relationship, which would be more congenial to some people. Meanwhile, it wouldn’t create incentives for gay marriage fraud for purposes of immigration. How large an issue this is now, and/or will be in future, I’m not sure, but marriage fraud for immigration purposes is a significant issue now, and gay marriage obviously greatly expands the opportunities for it. In one sense, I don’t mind that: I’m always in favor of a person who wants to immigrate being able to do so, regardless of the reason, as long as it isn’t to carry out a terrorist act. But it would be nice if the law didn’t create an incentive for marriage fraud.

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