I think the recent intra-conservative French-Ahmari debate can be partially resolved by determining the extent to which secular progressives can be trusted to protect robust freedom of religion for religious traditionalists with conservative views about human sexuality.
If secular progressives are trustworthy, at least by and large, then French’s strategy of working within liberal democratic institutions makes sense. Conservatives should hold secular progressives to a constitutional order that they accept in general, but chafe at in certain cases. Secular progressives cannot always be trusted to uphold robust freedom of religion, but they’re trustworthy enough not to fundamentally undermine Christianity in the United States. They will obey liberal democratic norms on the whole; conservatives just have to fight to keep them honest.*
However, if secular progressives aren’t trustworthy, then Ahmari’s approach starts to make sense. Secular progressives will tend to undermine robust protections for freedom of religion in a systematic way, and so ignore constitutional constraints whenever they can get away with it. In that case, politics is war regarding freedom of religion, and conservatives may be permitted to respond in kind. Perhaps the liberal legal settlement is therefore unstable because the left cannot be trusted to uphold it, and so the only truly feasible arrangement is cultural and political victory in the fight against the left. There’s no peace and no middle ground because the other side isn’t trustworthy, and so can’t be trusted to keep a liberal democratic peace.
Social scientists have ways of measuring trust and trustworthiness in society and in institutions (I discuss them here), and we could probably use these tools to figure out the extent to which secular progressives can be trusted to protect robust freedom of religion. It would involve trying to systematically determine the extent to which secular progressives respect freedom of religion when they hold enough political power to violate it. At present, I’m not sure we have enough data to know for sure. There are certainly warning signs that make Ahmari’s position attractive to some, but I think we are far from the point where it is clear that we must overturn our liberal democratic peace.
* Yes, yes, conservatives need to be kept honest too.