While it's hard to pinpoint the precise moment it happened, it's clear that most American discussions of religious liberty have turned into shouting matches about "religious liberty," a term now commonly framed in "scare quotes."
The recent U.S. Commission on Civil Rights "Peaceful Coexistence" report made this clear, claiming the First Amendment's defense of the free exercise of religion is not as important as some people think. Thus, "civil rights" now trump "religious liberty."
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."
This creates a major problem for Americans who are worried about civil public discourse or even the odds of having friendly conversations with friends, family and neighbors, noted Scott McConnell, head of LifeWay Research.
"What did our parents tell us when we were growing up? They warned us not to talk about politics, not to talk about religion and not to talk about sex," he said, reached by telephone.
"Well, it's hard to talk about anything that matters these days -- like religious liberty -- without talking about all three of those things and usually at the same time. ... No wonder people are tense."
Just how tense are Americans, when it comes to talking about religion?