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“Religious Liberty Is For One People Only”: How Ted Cruz Made A Mockery Of Republicans’ Religious Freedom Arguments

The Republican Party, which has accused “liberal elites” of waging a “war on religion,” last week dispatched its leading lights to the rhetorical battlefields in a religious war of its own making.

On March 22, Americans awoke to the news of the horrific terrorist attacks in Brussels, which should have prompted calls for solidarity coupled with rational and effective law enforcement. But for Ted Cruz — who has made religious liberty a central focus of his campaign — it was instead an opportunity to propose an unconstitutional and dangerous program for targeting American Muslims.

The two Republican presidential frontrunners are engaged in a sordid one-upmanship of who can more blatantly scapegoat American Muslims. For Donald Trump and Cruz, it’s an essential part of the gladiator politics that have come to define the GOP primary. Trump has said “Islam hates us” and notoriously proposed banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. Cruz has called for all Syrian Muslims to be banned from the entering the U.S., but for Syrian Christians to be allowed in.

So after the Brussels attack last week, Cruz said, “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Uncharacteristically agreeable, Trump called the unconstitutional proposal a “good idea.”

Somehow this was only one half of Republicans’ very mixed-up week on religious freedom.

A day after Cruz thumbed his nose at the Constitution, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that even the nation’s staunchest religious freedom advocates have called into question. At issue is whether the government violates the religious freedom of faith-based non-profits by requiring them to fill out a form to opt out of providing contraception coverage in their health care plans, as required under the Affordable Care Act.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Cruz has singled out the most sympathetic of the religious non-profits, an order of Catholic nuns called the Little Sisters of the Poor, as exhibit A in President Obama’s alleged war on religion. He has accused Obama as having “the audacity to sue the Little Sisters of the Poor,” when in fact the order of nuns sued the administration.

After the Supreme Court hearing last week, Cruz renewed his full-throated cries for religious liberty. He released recommendations on Thursday from his Religious Liberty Advisory Council, which include a pledge to “direct the Department of Health and Human Services to exempt all employers who object for moral and religious reasons from any contraception mandate.”

“Whether Hobby Lobby or the Little Sisters of the Poor, people of faith should not be made to bow down at the altar of political correctness,” Cruz said.

If “political correctness” sounds familiar, it’s because he wields it constantly to portray religious pluralism as the enemy of Christianity. In fact, he invoked it days earlier when calling for a “people of faith,” Muslims, to be subjected to increased government surveillance. “In the wake of the Brussels attacks, I called for vigorously guarding against the political correctness that has plagued Europe,” he wrote in a New York Daily News op-ed.

This is par for the course for Cruz. Throughout his campaign, he has portrayed the conscience rights of conservative Christian non-profits (and business owners) as being under mortal threat, but he has seemed oblivious to the perils to the constitutional rights of religious minorities, like Muslims he believes should be targeted by law enforcement for their religion and nothing more.

As always for Cruz, religious liberty is for one people only: Christians.


By: Susan Posner, The Week, March 30, 2016

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Christians, Religious Liberty, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“They’ll Kiss And Make Up”: Prophecies Of A Divorce Between The GOP And The Christian Right Are Very Premature

So here’s TNR’s Elizabeth Stoker Breunig with another of her provocative, eerily confident, and ultimately questionable meditations on the intersection of religion and politics. The headline she or her editors chose seems more or less appropriate to what she seems to be saying: “The Deterioration of the Christian Right Is Imminent.” Last time I wrote about one of her articles she seemed to be saying “the culture wars are over.” So it’s clear she sees a trend.

To parse her argument very succinctly (if you want the scenic tour of Bruenig’s piece, check out my colleague Martin Longman’s take at Ten Miles Square, which arrives at a similar destination by a different route), Bruenig views the rising conservative attacks on Mike Huckabee for economic policy heresy as a sign the Corporate Wing of the GOP has lost patience with the Christian Right, and is willing to do without it, substituting instead a watery commitment to Christian evangelical rhetoric they can get from any number of less troublesome presidential candidates. Bruenig hopes that in turn that the scales will fall from the eyes of true conservative Christians, who will finally realize they’ve sold their birthright for a mess of pottage and turn elsewhere–where I’m not sure–for vindication of their values.

I wish I could agree with this analysis, but it depends crucially on the belief that support for capitalism is extrinsic to conservative evangelical Christianity, and has been undertaken as part of some sort of bargain–corrupt, perhaps, but still a bargain–between the agents of God and of Mammon. If the bargain is broken by the merchants of greed, then presumably their half-willing Christian allies may bail. But from everything I’ve read and seen, the spirit of capitalism and many of its associated impulses have deeply sunk into the American Christian, and especially conservative evangelical, world view. And that’s not at all surprising, since the people we are largely talking about have in the mean time traveled from farm to small town to city to suburb, and are living lives fully integrated with the market economy and mentality. They’re as likely to object to Huckabee’s heresies on trade and entitlement as to support them.

And that leads to the other problem with Bruenig’s case: I don’t know that Huckabee’s (or for that matter, Rick Santorum’s) economic “populism” has any particular religious foundation. He’s trying to exploit a very simple contradiction between the economic views of Republican politicians and of their voters: the GOP “base” is heavily concentrated among older and non-college-educated white folks. Few of them care for “entitlement reform,” if it comes at their perceived expense, and a decent number have never supported “free trade,” either. Huckabee is clearly trying to break out of his conservative-evangelical political ghetto into a broader neighborhood of potential allies against the GOP Establishment people who rejected him back in 2008. Whether or not it works, the Christian Right has no inherent dog in this fight, and as Bruenig acknowledges, there are plenty of other candidates who are willing to check all the boxes on the Christian Right’s agenda.

Yes, as Bruenig notes, some businesses are breaking with the Christian Right on the scope of “religious liberty” laws, as are some Republican politicians. But let’s not forget that the victorious plaintiff in the most important recent Supreme Court case in this area, which expanded the ambit of “religious liberty” significantly, was the self-consciously Christian business Hobby Lobby. The Christian business Chick-Fil-A has been an enormous symbol in the culture wars. The pulpit-pounding leader of the wildly popular (on the Right) Duck Dynasty clan, Phil Robertson, called himself a “Bible-believing, gun-toting capitalist” to screaming applause this year at that libertarian-dominated event, CPAC. Huck himself is hardly William Jennings Bryan.

As Martin Longman says in the title of his post: “The Christian Right Ain’t Populist.” Nor is it uniquely represented by Mike Huckabee. Nor has it lost faith in the GOP. Nor is the GOP showing it the door.

Other than that, Breunig’s essay is, as all her articles are, quite stimulating. In this particular case, she kind of reminds me of an adult child whose parents have divorced, with one marrying someone the child regards as a despicable scoundrel. Any sign this second marriage could be on the rocks will quite rightly stir up the child’s hopes. But nine times out of ten, they’ll kiss and make up.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 14, 2015

May 15, 2015 Posted by | Christian Right, Evangelicals, GOP, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Conscience Of A Corporation”: A Deeply Held Relationship With Five Members Of The Supreme Court

So here is Walmart, insisting that “our core basic belief of respect for the individual” is at odds with an Arkansas bill that would allow religious-based discrimination. And here is Marriott, slamming as “idiocy” similar measures in other states. And somewhere in there is the family-run pizzeria, asserting that Indiana’s new law allows them to deny wedding day pies to people whose choice of spouses they don’t approve of.

These businesses sell Chinese-made consumer goods, hotel rooms, and rounded dough burdened with pepperoni and extra cheese. Since when did they start spouting off about the deeply held convictions guiding their corporate consciences?

You can blame last year’s Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case for unleashing a herd of ponies that have gone off in quite unpredicted directions. There, in a partisan 5-to-4 ruling straight from Republican fever nests, the court gave certain corporations the right to challenge laws that they claim violate their religious beliefs. In that case, it was about contraception in the health care package.

Let’s pause to consider this new entity — a moneymaking organization no different from a lone human being who feels conscience-bound to live a certain way because of a deeply held relationship with God. Let’s pause, because five members of the Supreme Court would not.

One justice, the irrepressible Ruth Bader Ginsburg, warned of the consequences of giving corporations a soul: “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Ginsburg predicted that the court’s “expansive notion of corporate personhood” would invite profit-making companies to start using religion as an excuse to ignore laws they didn’t like. And indeed, states packed with right-wing legislators who see phantom persecution behind every new episode of “Modern Family” have clamored to give companies a spiritual opt-out clause.

So it is in Indiana. State lawmakers were also told to look before taking a big leap into spiritual exemptions for business. In a letter in February, legal scholars warned of corporations’ citing religious justification for “taking the law into their own hands.”

But, lo, look what happened on the way to forcing religion into the marketplace: The corporations — Apple, Nike, Yelp, Gap, PayPal, Big Pharma companies like Eli Lilly and the nine largest companies with headquarters in Indiana — have rebelled. They are saying: No, don’t give us the power to discriminate. We’d rather remain soulless purveyors of product to the widest possible customer base. Which is, I suppose, how capitalism is supposed to work. Bless the free market.

Indiana’s law is “not just pure idiocy from a business perspective,” said Marriott’s president, Arne Sorenson, but “the notion that you can tell businesses somehow that they are free to discriminate against people based on who they are is madness.”

Not March Madness, the culmination of which is what Indiana thought we’d all be celebrating in the Hoosier State this weekend. But political lunacy, of the type that’s been on display ever since the Republican Party hitched itself to the crazies who dominate its media wing.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Walmart, which effectively killed the Arkansas bill a few days ago, remains locked in poverty wage mode, despite its recent boast of raising pay to at least $9 an hour. Apple, and most tech companies now strutting across the moral stage, continues to do business with countries where a person can be executed for being gay.

Their outrage is selective, and calculated: In corporate America, the branding conceit of the moment includes just the right dash of social activism. A little environmental nudge from your cereal, a talk about race from your barista — it’s mostly harmless.

Chick-fil-A learned a lesson in its journey from behind the grease counter and back over gay marriage. After condemning same-sex marriage and becoming a culture-war battleground, the corporate leaders of a company that professes to run on biblical principles now say they will stick with chicken talk. Everyone is welcome.

Good call. Nothing in the secular world keeps Chick-fil-A’s founders from free worship in private. For that matter, nothing in the secular world deprives any business owner of a lawful spiritual pursuit outside of the public square. Their profits will rise or fall because of consumer demand, rather than which side of a biblical exhortation the chicken-eater may be on.

All of this, the free market in tandem with the First Amendment, has worked pretty well in a clamorous democracy such as ours. It’s only when activist judges — thy names are Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts — have tried to broaden the intent of the founders that we’ve gotten into trouble.

In 2010, those five judges created the notion of corporate personhood — giving companies the unfettered right to dominate elections. After all, Exxon is just a citizen like you and me. And in 2014, those five judges gave corporations a soul, a further expansion of business entity as a citizen. Well, they tried to. As the saying goes, a corporation will never truly be a citizen until you can execute one in Texas.


By: Timothy Egan, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, April 3, 2015

April 4, 2015 Posted by | Corporations, Discrimination, Free Markets | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mike Pence Still Isn’t Telling The Truth”: Pence’s RFRA Is Not Clinton’s RFRA

Why Indiana?

With the backlash in full effect—with cancellations of gamer conventions, Wilco concerts, office expansions—even Indiana Governor Mike Pence backtracked today, saying that he will accept the kind of legislative “fix” that Republicans had earlier rejected, as Jackie Kucinich reports.

To hear Gov. Pence tell it, his state is being unfairly singled out.  In fact, he protested today, his Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is no different from the ones President Clinton and then-State-Senator Obama supported in the past. He reiterated that today in his press conference, saying it was no different than the federal bill the ACLU applauded “when President Clinton signed it in 1993.”

That is incorrect—and Gov. Pence knows it. Pence either doesn’t know the law—which is unlikely—or he is purposefully not telling the truth about it. And he kept up that lie today.

In fact, Indiana is different, for four specific reasons: Hobby Lobby, the interests supporting this bill, the bill’s focus on antidiscrimination, and the role of business.

1.  Hobby Lobby

First and most importantly, Gov. Pence is being knowingly disingenuous when he compares Indiana’s RFRA to others. When Bill Clinton signed the federal RFRA in 1993, it passed Congress nearly unanimously. That’s because it was meant as a shield protecting minority religions from government interference. The typical cases were Native Americans using peyote, or churches seeking zoning variances—religious acts that didn’t really affect anyone else.

Hobby Lobby changed that.  Last year, for the first time, the Supreme Court said RFRA was a sword, as well as a shield, enabling a corporation to deny insurance coverage to its employees. Social conservatives cheered.

Since Hobby Lobby, the only states that have passed RFRAs are Mississippi—not exactly a bastion of tolerance, commerce, and industry—and Indiana. Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, you may recall, vetoed her state’s RFRA after the NFL, among others, rebelled.  Georgia and Oklahoma have shelved theirs, and Texas is likely to follow.

Pence’s RFRA is not Clinton’s RFRA.  Hobby Lobby changed the game.

Now, does Gov. Pence know this?  Of course he does.  The law’s own supporters have used the same examples for years: the baker who shouldn’t have to bake a cake for a gay wedding, the photographer, the florist.  To most of us, that looks like discrimination—putting a “No Gays Allowed” sign up on your storefront window.

And those are the best cases.  RFRAs allow hospitals not to honor same-sex visitation rights, and doctors not to treat the children of lesbians.  These are actual cases.

Is Pence just lying, then?  Well, not quite, because of ….

2.  The Right-Wing Echo Chamber

No matter how many times Gov. Pence says this isn’t about gays and isn’t about discrimination, the people standing behind him when he signed it are a who’s-who of anti-gay social conservatives.  (This meme makes it pretty clear.)

Within that far-right echo chamber, RFRA really is about religious freedom.  When I started working on this issue two years ago, I thought the “religious freedom” line was just rhetoric to disguise the culture war.

Since then, though, I’ve met and debated these people, and I’ve watched their propaganda.  They appear to sincerely believe that Christians are being persecuted, and that LGBT people owe them an “olive branch” in the form of religious exemptions.

That echo chamber has been so well-funded, and is so insular, that it’s lost sight of the American mainstream, which sees discrimination as discrimination, even if there’s a religious reason for it. That’s left Republicans across the country exposed. Their base is telling them RFRAs are about religious freedom, and then they’re shocked when the mainstream sees it differently. Several have privately expressed a sense of betrayal.

The fact is, the echo chamber is far from the mainstream.  And when RFRAs are out in the open, they’re failing.  And the reason for that is—

3.  Antidiscrimination

State RFRAs are a backlash to same-sex marriage—but, legally speaking, they’re not about marriage, but discrimination law. Should businesses—florists, pharmacies, hospitals, bakeries—be able to say “No Gays Allowed”?  This is the question Gov. Pence refused to answer five times on Sunday morning.

And unlike marriage, it is not a close one, in terms of public opinion. Yes, public approval of same-sex marriage has risen sharply, to around 55% today. But public approval of anti-discrimination laws is much higher, around 75 percent.

This is why the focus on marriage (as in this thoughtful blog post at the Washington Post) is actually somewhat misleading. If this were really about marriage, it would be closer.

Now, will Gov. Pence’s “fix” be the one-sentence amendment that would bar its application in anti-discrimination contexts?  The sentence is simple: “This chapter does not establish or eliminate a defense to a claim under any federal, state or local law protecting civil rights or preventing discrimination.”  But we’ll see if it actually makes it into law.

If it doesn’t, RFRA will remain a loser in the court of public opinion.  And also in the world of—

4.  Business

As we also saw in Arizona, the corporate world has almost completely shifted on this issue.  RFRAs are bad for business: they make states seem unwelcoming, turn away potential customers, risk costly boycotts, and make it harder to recruit the best employees.  These aren’t ideological positions; they’re economic ones, supported by reams of data.

That’s why the Indiana, Texas, and Georgia Chambers of Commerce – dominated by pro-business Republicans have all opposed RFRAs. So have business-oriented Republicans in each of those states—including the mayor of Indianapolis. (Interestingly, Coca Cola, which has long touted itself as pro-LGBT, has remained conspicuously silent in Georgia.)

That realignment is a game changer. RFRAs aren’t being debated between Democrats and Republicans.  They’re being debated between pro-business Republicans and social conservative Republicans.

Incidentally, because of GOP primary politics, that latter camp includes all of the party’s likely presidential candidates.  We’ll see if the rightward pandering hurts them in the general election.

Indiana isn’t being singled out because of coincidence, or media spin, or just bad timing.  Rather it’s because of a very mainstream, apple-pie value: because discrimination is not the American way.


By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, March 31, 2015

April 1, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Mike Pence, Religious Freedom | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Indiana Takes On America”: Discrimination Against Gays, Religious Freedom And Rewriting The Constitution

The easy part is over. Americans now understand what the Indiana “Religious Freedom” law was intended to do: legalize discrimination by private businesses against homosexuals. It’s not a secret, as Eric Miller of Advance America said. Indiana acted “to help protect churches, Christian businesses and individuals from those who want to punish them because of their Biblical beliefs! Christian businesses and individuals deserve protection from those who support homosexual marriages. A Christian business should not be punished for refusing to allow a man to use the women’s restroom!”

Anti-gay bias and intent to discriminate are itself reasons to oppose the new law. But there’s much more at stake. The organized Right is re-writing the Constitution and the impact will not be limited to gay Americans.

The supporters of the Indiana law are more diverse, intellectually capable, and more widely found across America than we think. Nineteen states have such laws, and not just the Old Confederacy. Liberal Rhode Island has one. The Indiana Catholic Conference supported the law (It “is very important to secure its passage”). The Indiana legislature considered it carefully, had hearings and received pages of testimony from distinguished legal scholars. (The Bill and the Testimony can be found at: The Bill; The Testimony)

There are elements of their argument that most Americans would support. We widely accept that religious organizations and places of worship should be free to practice what they believe. Should a church have to marry people outside its faith and beliefs? Should a Catholic church be legally required to perform a same-sex marriage? Should an Orthodox shul or a mosque be legally required to hire female rabbis and imams? Probably not.

It makes you think. Most Americans would say that some laws, even good ones, don’t apply inside a place of worship. If that is all the Indiana law did, it would not have stirred up the current commotion.

But Indiana went well beyond that. The law extends the inside-the-church exemption to commercial enterprises. Business corporations get the same protection that a church gets.

If you think you’ve heard this before, you’re right. It’s the same argument used to attack Obamacare in the “Hobby Lobby” lawsuit. That time is was about insurance coverage for contraception, but the argument was the same.

And you also heard a variant in Citizens United, where the Supreme Court conservative majority said corporations have the same constitutional free speech rights as do living, breathing people.

The traditional view was that by engaging in business, you agreed to live by the laws of commerce. If not, then religious belief could justify segregation, or refusal to hire or serve women, or Muslims, or Catholics, or Jews. Or gays. There were, and are, a lot of sincerely religious people who would jump at that opportunity. The Indiana law re-establishes the right to commercially discriminate, especially against gays, if that’s your religious teaching.

The Indiana brouhaha illuminates the broader, and more dangerous legal strategy at the heart of Tea Party, right-wing ideology, the personification of corporations. By enlarging the constitutional rights of powerful, wealthy and largely conservative corporations, the Right is diminishing the constitutional rights of most Americans.

It isn’t the least bit “conservative”. It is a radical, un-American, reactionary re-writing of our basic freedoms. We had struck a constitutional balance between private religious observance and public commercial activity. Real conservatives would be looking for a way to reasonably accommodate both interests.

With any luck, what’s going on in Indiana will provoke a better understanding of what the Right is attempting. In the end, Tea Party skepticism of government intrusion on personal liberty is perfectly reasonable. But in this century, our liberties can be equally threatened by rewriting the Constitution to empower corporations that impinge on our liberty with equal effect.

Practice your religion in peace and dignity. Do business without discrimination and bigotry. Sounds easy.


By: Richard Brodsky, Senior Fellow, Demos; The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 29, 2015

March 30, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Mike Pence, Religious Beliefs, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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