Will Mike Pence Defend Religious Liberty at Tonight’s VP Debate?

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

With 2016’s first and only vice presidential debate set to take place tonight, speculation has been building as to what topics will be covered once Mike Pence and Tim Kaine take the stage. While recent campaign controversies will certainly draw the headlines, it’s possible that some policy areas ignored in the first presidential debate, such as religious liberty, may make an appearance as well.

In fact, some on the left, such as the progressive Media Matters for America, are even advocating for debate moderators to query Pence on his religious liberty views, particularly given his involvement in Indiana’s RFRA controversy last year:

Before he was chosen as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was arguably best known for the controversy over the “religious freedom” bill he signed into law in 2015. The continuing nationwide debate over “religious freedom” bills and Pence’s repeated refusal to stake out his position on anti-LGBT discrimination makes the vice presidential debate the perfect opportunity to find out where Pence really stands on so-called “religious freedom” laws.

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The Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has already made it clear that he supports nondiscrimination protections for the LGBT community. The October 4 vice presidential debate gives CBS News’ Elaine Quijano the chance to ask Pence — running as part of a presidential ticket that’s attempted to appeal to LGBT voters — for a definitive answer on whether he supports “religious freedom” legislation that legalizes discrimination against LGBT people.

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New Government Civil Rights Report Shows Little Respect for Religious Freedom

Photo credit: American Life League via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” US Constitution, Bill of Rights, Amendment I, first line. There was a time when most Americans could agree that protecting the free exercise of religion was of the utmost importance. Now, the US Commission on Civil Rights is trying to make sure that religious liberty is limited “as narrowly as applicable law requires.”

The Commission, chaired by Martin Castro (an appointee of President Obama), found that “[r]eligious 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 rights. Although the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act limit the ability of government actors to impede individuals from practicing their religious beliefs, religious exemptions from non-discrimination laws and policies must be weighed carefully and defined narrowly on a fact-specific basis.”

Careful to avoid the words “freedom of worship,” the Commission nevertheless attempts to justify amending the First Amendment’s interpretation so as to severely limit what is understood as “free exercise [of religion].” For example, page 26 of the Commission’s report endorses the view that the First Amendment’s free exercise clause protects “beliefs” but not “conduct” and that such a distinction is “fairer and easier to apply” than the law as it stands under RFRA.

The Commission is clear in their malicious intent: all laws must be written to prioritize the protection of other civil rights that supersede freedom of religion. Continue Reading

Please, Can Someone Help Explain Religious Freedom to Gary Johnson?

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson recently sat down with Townhall.com’s Guy Benson for a fascinating interview covering a number of different topics. In “Part II” of the interview, Johnson intimated that he disagreed with his running mate Bill Weld’s one-time suggestion that Stephen Breyer or Merrick Garland would be ideal Supreme Court nominees, and he suggested that he would not be opposed to a bill protecting the unborn after 20 weeks (though he also insisted that he did not object to the pro-abortion Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling being “the law of the land”).

However, when the discussion turned to religious liberty, Johnson seemed completely out of his depth, something which should come as no surprise to The Pulse 2016 readers who have followed our coverage of his numerous, head-scratching remarks on the subject.

First, Johnson again tried to draw a distinction between Utah’s religious liberty compromise legislation and the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which Johnson views as problematic (though his reasons for doing so are flawed, as I pointed out here). Most tellingly, when Benson asked Johnson how Indiana’s RFRA law differs from New Mexico’s RFRA — which Johnson signed as governor — the Libertarian had a quick reply: “I don’t know.”

Next, the interview moved on to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision:

BENSON: … Was Hobby Lobby, the decision from the Supreme Court — was that rightly decided, in your view?

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Mike Pence Shouldn’t Lecture Conservatives on Religious Liberty

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Earlier this year, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal drew criticism from conservatives for vetoing religious liberty legislation that would protect dissenters’ right to freely exercise their religion. Now, Indiana governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence is trying to give frustrated Georgians advice on how to address religious liberty questions.

“The lessons that we learned in the state of Indiana is that the American people abhor discrimination – we don’t support discrimination against anyone,” Pence said. “But at the end of the day it’s important that whenever our rights come into conflict, that the courts are the proper place to resolve those rights.”

Later in the statement, Pence said, “And Donald Trump and I really believe that these are issues that are best resolved in Georgia, in Indiana and at the state level.”

There are a few problems with Pence’s lecture to the people of Georgia.

First, Pence’s record on religious liberty is not exemplary. Last year, the Indiana General Assembly passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and Pence signed it into law. But once Big Business, the entertainment industry, and special interest groups put pressure on Pence to backtrack, he immediately crumpled and removed some of the law’s most serious protections.

Additionally, Pence’s statement contradicts the national Republican Party’s platform. House Republicans, led by Speaker Paul Ryan, have rallied in support of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), which “prohibits the federal government from taking discriminatory action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

Even Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson, a Republican with a relatively moderate track record, has said the federal government ought to be highly involved in the defense of religious liberty. Continue Reading

Johnson Op-Ed Clarifies One Thing: He Doesn’t Care About Religious Liberty

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Gary Johnson has a religious liberty problem.

One would think, based on the fact Johnson is running as a Libertarian, that the former New Mexico governor would be especially sensitive to the complexities of the debate over religious liberty. After all, freedom of religion is the first freedom enumerated in the Bill of Rights, so it would appear to be an important one.

But Johnson just cannot seem to put forward a thoughtful position on the subject.

Earlier this spring, during a Libertarian Party debate, the candidate was pressed on whether he felt a Jewish baker ought to be forced to bake a Nazi cake against the baker’s religious beliefs — and, incredibly, Johnson answered yes, though his reasons why were unclear. Johnson later backed away from the statement.

Then came the Libertarian’s nearly incomprehensible interview with the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney, in which Johnson described religious freedom as “a black hole” and made a rather strange comment about Mormonism relating to one person shooting another dead because God told him or her to.

Now, Johnson is attempting to further clarify those remarks in the Mormon-run Deseret News, explaining that the question was “thrown at [him] while walking down a street (in the rain)” and that he believes the country should “strike a balance between our shared American values of religious liberty and freedom from discrimination.”

But while Johnson takes great pains in the piece to assure readers that he respects citizens’ rights “to practice and to express deeply-held religious beliefs” while also opposing attempts to use religion “as a tool to discriminate,” when it comes to details, he once again fails to convey a deeper understanding of the issue. Continue Reading

Democrats Renew Efforts to Push LGBT Agenda in State-Level Races

Democratic candidates for state-level offices across the country think they have found the wedge issue that will win them the election: the LGBT agenda.

Newsmax is reporting that Democrats in North Carolina and Indiana are targeting GOP lawmakers in tough campaigns by charging them with “bigotry.”

“An unprecedented number of North Carolinians are fed up with Gov. McCrory’s partisan political agenda, and voters are ready for a leader who will put the interests of all North Carolinians first,” North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said recently.

Photo credit: Intel Free Press via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Cooper has also repeatedly lambasted incumbent Governor Pat McCrory over North Carolina’s law regarding transgender bathroom access.

In Indiana, it is much the same story. Democratic candidate John Gregg is attacking Lt. Governor Eric Holcomb’s positions on social issues, tying him to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“You really can’t distinguish on paper between Holcomb and Pence. They both support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and discrimination against the LGBT community,” Gregg told The Wall Street Journal last week.

It is likely the Republican establishment response would be to implement a “truce strategy” of deflecting or ignoring the Democrats’ criticism. But instead of buckling to pressure from the social left and running away from social issues, Republican candidates like McCrory and Holcomb ought to fight to frame the debate in a way that favors their positions.

When Alexander Hamilton and James Madison were fighting to implement the U.S. Constitution in 1787, they were quick to claim the label “federalist” for themselves. Continue Reading

Is Mike Pence the Right VP Pick for Trump? Opinions Vary.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence with his wife Karen Pence (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

When reports began to trickle in yesterday that Indiana Governor Mike Pence would be chosen to be Donald Trump’s running mate, many conservative leaders rushed to give their stamp of approval.

“It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Mike Pence’s,” gushed Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. “We’re very good friends. I have a high regard for him. I hope that [Trump] picks a good movement conservative. Obviously, Mike is one of those.”

“Mike Pence is a pro-life trailblazer and Mr. Trump could not have made a better choice,” praised Marjorie Dannenfelser, a top pro-life leader, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, and contributor to The Pulse 2016.

Pro-abortion advocates immediately went on the attack, which is always an encouraging sign.

“Pence has supported, sponsored, and signed some of the country’s most extreme anti-abortion legislation in the past decade,” The Daily Beast, a left-wing outlet, reported.

“Mike Pence has led a crusade against abortion access and LGBT rights,” blared Mother Jones in an opposition research dump.

But some conservatives took issue with the pick.

The Weekly Standard writer Mark Hemingway still remembers Pence’s religious freedom disaster last year:

Recall that last year, Indiana passed a state religious freedom restoration act (RFRA), which was the state version of existing federal legislation that passed Congress and was signed into President Bill Clinton with overwhelming bipartisan support. (John McCormack has an explainer of the legislation here.) Though the Indiana law is not in conflict with other LGBT protections, it was decried as an act of bigotry.

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Judge Rules Against Religious Accommodation for Mississippi Clerks

Photo credit: American Life League via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

On Monday, a federal district judge appointed by President Obama struck down the section of Mississippi’s new religious freedom law allowing certain government employees to seek recusal from issuing marriage licenses or performing marriage ceremonies in violation of their sincerely held religious or moral beliefs. Judge Carlton Reeves ruled that the relevant officials must deal with all couples, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, in the same way. (Right now the order applies only to same-sex couples rather than polygamous or incestuous unions. But once the Supreme Court extends its Obergefell analysis to polygamy and incest, as it logically must, presumably this judge will extend his ruling accordingly.)

Examining the statutory provision struck down by Judge Reeves shows how alarmingly totalitarian the leftist mindset is on this issue. The statute allows affected officials to seek recusal without reprisal from the government employer, but the recused official is responsible for ensuring “that the authorization and licensing of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal.” The statute thus protects the newly discovered right of same-sex couples to be legally married without even a delay. The provision merely requires that the clerk’s beliefs be accommodated if possible.

But even this is too much for the left, which demands not only equal treatment for same-sex couples, which they enjoy under this statute, but that everyone in their orbit pay homage to their actions. It is not enough that a clerk accommodate a same-sex couple’s demand for a marriage license by asking someone else in the office to issue it; rather, her labor must be dragooned — unnecessarily — in service of a result she finds morally objectionable. Continue Reading

Does the LA Times Understand What Religious Freedom Means?

Photo credit: American Life League via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

How did a bill defending religious liberty, which passed the Senate 97-3 and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, become so controversial? This is the question posed in an op-ed published last Friday by the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, examining recent liberal opposition to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The Times contends that the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, as well as recent attempts to protect religious bakeries, for example, have made it clear that Congress must restrict religious freedom protections lest they “be used to justify discrimination.”

They admit the need for some religious accommodation: Muslim prisoners can grow beards, and Native Americans and Sikhs may keep ceremonial items related to their faith. But they draw the line at acting on any religious belief. Or, rather, refusing to act contrary to religious belief. Protecting outward signs of faith is fine, it seems, so long as the protection does not extend to acting on the convictions they signify.

They even claim to basically agree with RFRA, which established that the government may not substantially burden anyone’s free exercise of religion unless the burden furthers a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of doing so. But it is hard to imagine a more restrictive burden on religious belief than coercing adherents of the world’s major religions to act against thousands of years of religious teaching.

The Times proposes as remedies the Do No Harm Act and the Equality Act of 2015. Continue Reading

Cruz: Trump’s Surrender on Bathroom Bill “Reveals, Really, Who Donald Trump Is”

Ted Cruz is pushing back hard against Donald Trump’s reluctance to take on the Left’s aggression on overturning local norms:

TONY KATZ: How do you sell yourself as the guy to Indiana who should be the person making [Supreme Court] nominations?

CRUZ: Well, I’ve spent my entire adult life fighting to defend the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Before I was in the Supreme Court, I was the Solicitor General of Texas, the chief lawyer for the state of Texas in front of the Supreme Court before I was serving in the Senate, and have repeatedly represented the state of Texas, represented private parties in blockbuster litigation. We defended the Ten Commandments monument on the state capital grounds in Texas, and we won 5-4. We defended the Pledge of Allegiance, the words “one Nation under God,” and won unanimously before the Supreme Court. We defended the 2nd amendment, the right to keep and bear arms ,in the landmark case of Heller v. District of Columbia. I represented 31 states defending the 2nd amendment and we won 5-4. And we stood up to the world court and the United Nations and the President of the United States defending U.S. sovereignty and we won 6-3.

And when it comes to the court virtually all of our basic rights hang in the balance. If you care about religious liberty, and I care passionately about religious liberty, I’ve spent two decades fighting to defend it, we are one liberal justice away from the Supreme Court stripping away our religious liberty.

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