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© Jack Cashill - July 23, 2015 

How much courage did it take for Bruce Jenner to “transition” to whatever gender status the one time Olympic hero claims today?

This question can be answered with a single headline from the New York Post: “Brett Favre makes the ESPYs uncomfortable for everyone.”

Favre, a retired NFL star, sinned against the culture by applauding Jenner’s receipt of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award with insufficient enthusiasm. Today, failing to applaud gets you shamed. In the Stalin era, it could get you killed. We are heading in that direction.

As Favre discovered, in the age of Obama, the left’s secular theology has taken a turn for the Puritan. The enforcers of progressive orthodoxy would never call themselves “neo-puritan,” but that is what they have become.

In their mingling of law and morality, they mimic the polity of those early New Englanders but, if anything, are less merciful and more vengeful. Dissent is no longer merely misguided. It is immoral.

Over time, neo-puritans have shown less interest in celebrating the many colors of the multicultural rainbow than they have in condemning those like Favre who resist the celebration.

The accusers insist that resistance is born out of hatred--of blacks, of gays, of immigrants, of Muslims, of women, of poor people, of the transgendered, even, yes, of mother earth.

Today, real courage comes in defying that orthodoxy not obliging it as Jenner did. With all due respect to Arthur Ashe, if anyone deserves to have a courage award named after him it is the late Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh.

The great grand-nephew of artist Vincent Van Gogh, the all-purpose iconoclast Theo (left) teamed up with a Somali immigrant named Ayaan Hirsi Ali to make Submission, a short film about the horrific plight of Muslim women even in the west.

The two received no encouragement from the Dutch left and death threats from the left’s unlikely allies, the nation’s radical Islamists. Still, they persisted.

They paid a high price for doing so. As Van Gogh bicycled to work on a November 2004 morning in Amsterdam, a Dutch Muslim of Moroccan origin named Muhammad Bouyeri shot him.

Van Gogh fell off his bike and collapsed on the roadway. Bouyeri shot him four more times, then took out a butcher’s knife and slashed his throat.

Ayan Hirsi AliWith a separate knife, he spiked a five-page letter addressed to Hirsi Ali (left) into Van Gogh’s chest. In the letter, Bouyeri lamented the alleged Jewish control of the Netherlands and demanded jihad against the nation’s infidels. At the top of his list for elimination was Hirsi Ali.

Undaunted, Hirsi Ali moved to America and continued to speak out. Last year Boston’s Brandeis University decided to reward Hirsi Ali for her courage by offering to have her address its graduates.

When the word got out about the invitation, however, the neo-puritans, both Muslim and progressive, went to work. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, sent a letter to Brandeis president Frederick Lawrence calling Hirsi Ali a “notorious Islamophobe.”

Said Hooper, “She is one of the worst of the worst of the Islam haters in America, not only in America but worldwide.” Not surprisingly, Lawrence folded like a cheap suit. University presidents always do.

“We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values,” said the university in an apology unworthy of the university’s post-Holocaust Jewish heritage.

In my new book, “Scarlet Letters: The Ever-Increasing Intolerance of the Cult of Liberalism,” I tell the stories of people like Van Gogh and Hirsi Ali who refuse to apologize or back down when confronted with injustice.

In North America, many have stared down their oppressors and prevailed. Hootie Johnson of Augusta National refused to accept a Scarlet S for sexism. The Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson refused his Scarlet H for homophobia. Mark Steyn refused his Scarlet I for Islamophobia. The late Michael Crichton refused his Scarlet D for climate change “denialism.”

This year, the neo-puritans have been hyperactive, and, in response, several candidates have already emerged for the 2015 Van Gogh Award.

Donald Trump comes immediately to mind. Said the Donald famously about Mexico, “They are sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and their rapists.”

To be sure, Trump might have phrased his observation more artfully, but the truth of it sent the neo-puritans into a finger-pointing frenzy. Outraged by his heresy, they slapped a Scarlet X on Trump for xenophobia and used the coercive power of their media allies to punish him.

If he had been nabbed with a stash of kiddie porn, Macy’s, Univision, NBC and even NASCAR could not have disowned him more quickly. Trump, however, shocked his enemies and galvanized the Republican base by standing his ground.

Less flamboyantly but perhaps even more courageously, Aaron and Melissa Klein have stood their ground as well.

In February 2013, these Christian parents of five refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. The lesbians promptly filed a civil rights complaint against the Kleins, and their supporters set out to cripple their business.

Their tactics included death threats, vandalizing the bakery’s vehicle on several occasions, and the intimidation of the clients and vendors listed on the shop’s web site. “They have an odd way of showing tolerance,” Aaron said of his local neo-puritans when I interviewed him for “Scarlet Letters.”

In Oregon, the neo-puritans have enough political clout to move beyond shaming. They enlisted the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries to slap a $135,000 fine on the already impoverished Kleins and a gag order to silence them. Still, the Kleins refuse to buckle.

I know there are many other worthy nominees and would love to hear your suggestions. The time to resist is now. When our progressive friends move from neo-puritanism to neo-Stalinism it will be too late.

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