If there were any remaining doubt as to how deeply embedded a corrosive leftist/progressive political correctness has become in America, that doubt should be removed by the widespread chagrin over the news that Vice President Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian, told an interviewer 15 years ago that he never goes out to eat with a woman unless his wife is present and doesn’t attend events at which alcohol is served unless his wife is with him.
Rather than being received as a statement of an admirable personal moral code, news of Mr. Pence’s response in that 2002 interview (which was included in a March 28 Washington Post profile of Mrs. Pence) was greeted with both ridicule and paroxysms of rage as being anachronistic, demeaning to women, and even invidiously discriminatory.
Many in the media argued that because Mr. Pence is a powerful decision-maker, arguably of the first rank, his refusal to treat women as social equals constituted illegal classification based on gender. Further, such an approach would limit women’s access to him and by extension their opportunities to discuss political and office business in a relaxed social atmosphere.
(To be sure, although it didn’t receive as much coverage, Mr. Pence also said he didn’t generally accept dinner invitations from male colleagues.)
He said he was always careful to keep in mind the “building of a zone around his marriage” and was excoriated for his honesty as some sort of Christian zealot who effectively restricted the upward mobility of women who worked for him. For the critics, it was all about the impact Mr. Pence’s code of conduct had on others and not at all about a deeply held religious belief.
This episode calls to mind one of the conflicts that surfaced involving the Obamacare requirement that employers had to provide contraception services to employees, even those employers who had religious reasons for refusing to do so. While the Supreme Court recently limited the reach of that requirement, the broader question remains. And there was also the recent situation of a bakery being sued for refusal to accept a job that would have entailed providing a wedding cake featuring figures of two men for a same-sex wedding reception. (The proprietor lost in his home state supreme court and is seeking U.S. Supreme Court review.)
Certainly, with American social practices constantly changing, the clash between the rights of old-school traditionalists or religionists on the one hand and the rights of those whose lifestyles violate traditional beliefs and practices on the other can be expected to become even more pronounced. The current controversy over transgender rights being played out in student gyms and locker rooms is but one case in point.
Obviously, the Orthodox Jewish community, with our laws of yichud, negiah, and tznius that govern male-female interaction, has more than a passing interest in this issue.