ABC News’s George Stephanopolous seemed to have Indiana Governor Mike Pence up against the ropes as he pounded him with the kind of “tough questions” that journalists never seem to pose to their liberal guests. Actually, it was the same tough question repeated over and over again—doesn’t the Indiana religious freedom bill grant business owners a license to discriminate against the “LGBT” community?

Pence denied it, though he shouldn’t have. He should have said that it does and that there’s nothing wrong with that. Then he should have turned the tables on Stephanopolous by asking him why he belongs to the bigoted, discriminatory Greek Orthodox Church. Stephanopolous’s preferred denomination considers homosexuality to be a sin and, worse yet, doesn’t ordain female priests.

‘That’s different!’ I would expect him to say.

Why is it different? The party line these days seems to be that government can’t interfere with churches the same way it can with businesses. Churches have special protections under the Constitution that florists and photographers don’t have.

A quick glance at our founding document reveals that that it doesn’t say a thing about churches. What the Constitution does say is that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, a concept applied to all levels of government via the incorporation doctrine of the fourteenth amendment. It’s entirely irrelevant if that exercise is taking place between the four walls of a church.

Yet lawmakers and law-interpreters continue to imagine an invisible caveat attached to our first amendment. Yes, your free exercise is sacrosanct…when you’re in church. The founders apparently never intended freedom to permeate society as a whole.

Bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein found out the hard way that they don’t have constitutional rights while operating their own business. The Christian couple was hauled into court after refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, supposedly in violation of Oregon’s nondiscrimination statute. They believed that the first amendment would protect them but, unfortunately, Oregon allows exceptions to nondiscrimination laws only for churches and religious schools.

The Left’s latest disingenuous position is that they love freedom of religion and all that jazz but it must never be allowed to seep beyond the confines of a church. It’s disingenuous because there is mounting evidence that the statist Left respects no limits on governmental authority, not even the threshold of your church. Priests have been exposed to legal pressure to make them violate the sanctity to the confessional, the mayor of a major American city has tried to subpoena church sermons, Catholic adoption services have been forced out of existence by demands that they give children to same-sex couples. So the idea that they respect churches is just another despicable lie. Churches are where the “bigots” are and the Left allows “bigots” no sanctuary.

This whole concept of churches as a haven of free exercise is simultaneously extra-constitutional, unconstitutional, and perhaps even anti-constitutional. But it isn’t without precedent. It’s actually part of a terrifying trend I call “freedom in a cage,” meaning the official toleration of basic constitutional rights only in small and ever-contracting niches.

Who on earth would want to cage our freedoms? People who hate those freedoms but won’t admit it, that’s who. The tolerance bullies claim that they fully support your right to be a moral monster worse than Hitler as long as you stay in your church. If freedom were ever allowed out of its cage they might have to see it, hear it, and even be inconvenienced by it, which they won’t stand for.

Free exercise of religion isn’t the only freedom they want to cage. Witness the rise of “free speech zones,” a term I first heard in 2004 when the Democrats hosted their national convention in Boston. Protestors were corralled into a small area beneath what appeared to be an overpass. The free speech zone closely resembled a cage, complete with concrete barricades and a chain-link fence on three sides and overhead. The Democratic Party was trying to make a gesture, albeit an empty one, in support of free speech and free assembly.

See? No one’s violating your rights. You can speak all you want. Over there. Where no one can hear you.    

Plenty of public universities restrict political protest to very limited times and places. The University of Georgia had free speech zones until recently, when the administration relented in the face of legal challenges from Alliance Defending Freedom. The now-abandoned policy permitted free speech only for thirteen hours a day and only in two designated areas which together comprised less than one percent of the campus.

Just don’t let the catchy name fool you. Even in supposed “free speech zones,” campus speech codes still apply. Absurdly unconstitutional on their face, such speech codes are sufficiently vague that they can be used to bludgeon anyone with unacceptable ideas. On some campuses, “offensive speech” is verboten. On others, it’s “disparaging remarks.”

Just don’t accuse the campus censors of opposing free speech. How wrong can you be? They cherish free speech, with prescribed restrictions on content, and only in its proper setting—out of sight and out of mind. Try the janitor’s closet at two in the morning.

Examples of caged freedom abound. You can protest outside an abortion clinic, just as long as you’re not too close. That restriction on free assembly is of course sold as a necessary security precaution because, you know, those nuns praying the rosary outside the abortuary might be terrorists! Or something. The cynic in me suspects that Planned Parenthood, a terrorist group without peer, is more concerned that business might suffer if its customers were allowed to come into contact with people distributing pro-life literature.

The second amendment is also void where prohibited. You have a right to bear arms, just not in the District of Columbia. Or Chicago. Or New York. It’s nearly impossible to obtain a handgun in any of those cities.

The press is free in America, but the government reserves the right to determine who’s a “real” journalist. If you run a small news website, you don’t count. That inalienable right, endowed by our Creator, is reserved for people who write for big papers like the New York Times.

Freedom in a cage is a sham, a transparent attempt to soothe us while our rights are being stripped away. Look what the authorities are still “allowing” us to do! We’re still allowed, for the time being, to be unforgivable hate-mongers on Sunday morning at church, and to speak our minds on one percent of the campus. As long as we don’t use “offensive language,” of course. So quit your whining! Everything’s fine.

Everything is not fine. Our freedoms are being slowly asphyxiated in their cages. Who knows what will remain of them in a generation?