Religious Liberty Crisis Report Card

Religious Freedom Destruction Act

Written by Maggie Gallagher

Rod Dreher is right: the rage of the powerful against Indiana for daring to pass a state RFRA without the consent of the LGBT community marks a dramatic cultural and political inflection point,as I have pointed out in National Review. For the first time, a vanilla religious liberty bill similar to those passed in 19 other states was deemed “antigay” per se, and powerful corporations rushed in to punish the people of Indiana economically for their moral views on liberty.

The report card below is not designed to grade the candidates on their overall positions on the issues, nor to suggest an endorsement. It is designed to clarify who in this moment of crisis rushed towards the corporate lions to defend a cherished American principle of religious liberty under attack.

ThePulse_RLreportcard2-328x1024editedMike Huckabee Grade: A+

Huckabee has been one of religious liberty’s fiercest advocates, calling out Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for their hypocrisy on the issue as well as the grotesque hypocrisy of corporations oh-so-courageously attacking Indiana while doing business “in cultures and countries where human rights are really an issue,” like the Middle East. He has been strong, eloquent, and unafraid.

Via an interview with Newsmax:

“Critics of the Indiana law have distorted this legislation and created another phony crisis — and sadly many major corporations, organizations, and individuals have collapsed under the weight of the irrational pressure from the far left,” said Huckabee

“Where were the protests when President Clinton signed the original law back in 1993, which passed almost unanimously and when Senator Obama supported it in Illinois?” Huckabee asked.

“The substance of these laws have not changed,” the former governor said. “What has changed is the anger, deception and intolerance from those on the left who assault our religious liberties.”

And from an appearance on CNN:

“The reason that those corporations put the pressure on Indiana and Arkansas was because the militant gay community put the pressure on them,” Huckabee said. “I found it a little hypocritical when you have companies…making millions, if not billions of dollars, in cultures and countries where human rights are really an issue.”

Rick Santorum Grade: A+

Not surprisingly, Rick Santorum entered the debate early, fearlessly, and knowledgeably defending Indiana and state RFRAs at length in a public speech at George Washington University. Look for the mainstream media to dump on him for his courage. He is also the only candidate to point out that state RFRAs probably don’t do enough to protect the bakers, the florists, the wedding photographers, and the pizza parlors, and that we need specific exemption language to accomplish that goal. These protections need to apply to everyone. Not only should gay bakers have the right to refuse Westboro Baptist Church trash talk—how ridiculous would it be to force them to bake a cake that says “God hates ***s”?—but also Christian, Jewish, and Muslim bakers, too.

Santorum tweeted his support for the law:

I stand with @mikepence4gov in defense of religious liberty and real tolerance. Will speak about this at GW tonight.

From his speech at GWU:

Why would people be so upset that the court has to consider someone’s religious objections to doing certain things, as a legitimate issue before the court in deciding what should be the resolution of this. Why is this causing people to say, ‘well, we’re never going to travel to Indiana’ or never—why? When nineteen other states have the exact same law, right now, and have had it for twenty plus years. And not in any of those states or any federal government has there been one case of discrimination that’s been applied by any court. In fact, I don’t even know there’s been one suit tried.

And from his Sunday appearance on Face of the Nation:

Santorum said the original law “had better language.”the U.S. needs “to provide more religious protections, and that bill doesn’t do that.”

“If you’re a print shop and you are a gay man, should you be forced to print ‘God Hates ***s’ for the Westboro Baptist Church because they hold those signs up?” Santorum asked on CBS’ “Face The Nation.” “Should the government — and this is really the case here — should the government force you to do that?”

“This is about the government coming in and saying, ‘No, we’re going to make you do this.’ And this is where I think we just need some space to say let’s have some tolerance, be a two-way street,” he continued.

Marco Rubio Grade: A 

Rubio has spoken intelligently, knowledgeably, and at length about the need to protect the rights of Christians to follow their religious convictions and not take part in facilitating a gay wedding, sharply distinguishing that from the idea of not serving gay customers at all.

From his appearance on Fox News’ The Five:

“What about the religious liberties of Americans who do not want to feel compelled by law to provide a catering service or a photography service to a same-sex marriage that their faith teaches is wrong,” Rubio said. “And that’s a valid constitutional concern.”

“The issue we’re talking about here is, should someone who provides a professional service be punished by the law because they refuse to provide that professional service to a ceremony that they believe is in violation to their faith. I think people have a right to live out their religious faith in their own lives. They can’t impose it on you and your life, but they have a right to live it out in their own lives. And when you’re asking someone who provides professional services to do something or be punished by law that violates their faith, you’re violating that religious liberty that they have.”

Bobby Jindal Grade: A

Jindal quickly defended Indiana, pointed out that Hillary Clinton once supported a similar federal RFRA, and also specifically defended the right of Christian (and Muslim) bakers, florists, and wedding photographers to make a living.

Via a statement to Breitbart News:

“I oppose discrimination and I reject the notion that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is discriminatory,” Jindal told Breitbart News.

“I will note that President Clinton signed the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act at the federal level and Secretary Hillary Clinton has now said she opposes this law. It would be interesting to learn if Secretary Hillary Clinton silently opposed this protection of religious liberty when President Clinton signed it, or if she has just recently ‘evolved’ on that. The great irony is that in the minds of today’s liberals the only bigotry to be tolerated is their own bigotry against religious beliefs.”

Jindal also appeared on Meet the Press to defend the law:

Well, Chuck, I was very worried about the law in Indiana. I’m disappointed. Let’s remember what this debate was originally all about.  This is about business owners that don’t want to have to choose between their Christian faith, their sincerely held religious beliefs, and being able to operate their businesses.

Now, what they don’t want is the government to force them to participate in wedding ceremonies that contradict their beliefs.  They simply want the right to say, ‘We don’t want to be forced to participate in those ceremonies.’ So I was disappointed that you could see Christians and their businesses face discrimination in Indiana.

Jeb Bush Grade: A- 

Bush surprised many with his powerful initial statements in which he specifically and strongly supported Pence, noting Indiana’s RFRA is like the one he passed in Florida, and that it did not license discrimination.  He also specifically supported the right of the bakers, the florists, and the wedding photographers to make a living. In a private meeting, Gov. Bush did sound a more cautionary note pointing to the need to find a “consensus building” alternative, like Utah.  Traditional believers may want a leader willing to defend their right to make a living, whether or not it builds consensus.

From an interview with Hugh Hewitt:

“I think if they actually got briefed on the law, they wouldn’t be blasting this law,” Bush said. “I think Governor Pence has done the right thing. Florida has a law like this. Bill Clinton signed a law like this at the federal level. This is simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs. To be able to be people of conscience. I think once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all.”

And via The New York Times:

“By the end of the week, I think Indiana will be in the right place, which is to say that we need in a big diverse country like America, we need to have space for people to act on their conscience, that it is a constitutional right that religious freedom is a core value of our country, “ Mr. Bush said.

But “we shouldn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation,” he said.

He continued, “So what the State of Indiana is going to end up doing is probably get to that place.”

He stressed at the fund-raiser that he wasn’t criticizing Mr. Pence, but he said that the “better approach” would have been “consensus-oriented,” like the effort in red-state Utah, where gay rights advocates and the Mormon Church negotiated the particulars of an anti-discrimination bill.

“They figured it out and they passed a law,” Mr. Bush said. “And there wasn’t a bunch of, you know, yelling and screaming. That to me seems like a better approach to dealing with this.But I do fear that certain freedoms,” he continued, that “have historically been part of our DNA as a country now are being challenged and I don’t think it’s appropriate.”

Ted Cruz Grade: A-

Cruz came out strong, early, and specifically in defending Governor Pence and giving voice to Christians who feel increasingly under attack by their government in their ability to make a living. As the controversy has exploded, however, unlike some other candidates he did not choose to do a major TV interview defending Indiana. (He has, however, introduced legislation in Congress, but this is a report on his Indiana response only).

From his official statement:

I want to commend Governor Mike Pence for his support of religious freedom, especially in the face of fierce opposition. There was a time, not too long ago, when defending religious liberty enjoyed strong bipartisan support. Alas, today we are facing a concerted assault on the First Amendment, on the right of every American to seek out and worship God according to the dictates of his or her conscience. Governor Pence is holding the line to protect religious liberty in the Hoosier State. Indiana is giving voice to millions of courageous conservatives across this country who are deeply concerned about the ongoing attacks upon our personal liberties. I’m proud to stand with Mike, and I urge Americans to do the same.

UPDATE: The Cruz campaign correctly points out that, although Cruz did not do a major TV or radio interview on the subject, Ted Cruz did speak at length to Iowa audiences.

Ben Carson Grade: B

Carson specifically defended Indiana’s law, according to Breitbart News (which did not supply a specific quote), but without the kind of specific knowledge of state RFRAs that, say, Jeb Bush shows. His pivot where he changed the conversation from the attacks on Indiana to attacks on Christians abroad displayed a certain discomfort with dealing with the domestic issue.

From his interview with Breitbart:

“It is absolutely vital that we do all we can to allow Americans to practice their religious ways, while simultaneously ensuring that no one’s beliefs infringe upon those of others. We should also serve as champions of freedom of religion throughout the world,” Carson tells Breitbart News.

“He notes that individuals committing horrific acts of intolerance are persecuting people across the world because of religion. “As Americans, we have an obligation to denounce these acts of persecution. For when we stand up to such intolerance, we are defending the root of our freedom, both at home and abroad,” he said.

Carly Fiorina Grade: C+

I appreciate that feisty Fiorina took some well placed smacks at tech and other executives for their ignorance of what a state RFRA law actually does: “It’s sad that CEOs took to Twitter before checking their facts…”  She endorsed both religious freedom and anti-discrimination as general principles, making it unclear whether she would support either the state or federal RFRAs or any kind of legal exemptions that would allow the Christian bakers, florists, etc. to make a living without serving gay weddings.  She also appeared to take this occasion to endorse gay marriage (or is it civil unions?):

The debate about gay marriage is really a debate about how the government bestows benefits and whether they should be bestowed equally. I believe they should. I also believe that people of religious conviction know that marriage is a religious institution with a spiritual foundation because only a man and a woman can create life, which is a gift that comes from God. We must protect their rights as well.

She called her position hard for the media to understand. Me, too.

From her full interview with CNBC:

“It’s not in any company or particularly a technology company’s interest to discriminate in any way and that’s not what this law does. This law doesn’t condone discrimination,” she said.

“I guess what I wish is that everyone could cool off and look at the facts before they jump onto Twitter and condemn something that clearly there’s a huge amount of misunderstanding about.”

Fiorina also released a statement via Facebook:

Too often, we see people who are prevented from practicing their religion because of a government mandate.

It is frankly sad to me that politics has become a fact-free zone. It is sad that so many people on the left were quick to turn this into a divisive and destructive debate so they could further their own brand of identity politics. It is sad that CEOs took to Twitter before checking their facts, adding to the division instead of helping build tolerance.

This debate represents what so many believe is wrong with our politics. It has taken an emotional issue for people on both sides and politicians have used it to divide and to score points with their team.

The debate about gay marriage is really a debate about how the government bestows benefits and whether they should be bestowed equally. I believe they should. I also believe that people of religious conviction know that marriage is a religious institution with a spiritual foundation because only a man and a woman can create life, which is a gift that comes from God. We must protect their rights as well.

Chris Christie Grade: D

Is there such a thing as a Gentleman’s D? Christie’s famous fearless bluntness degenerated into a personal defense of Mike Pence’s heart, as if that were the issue at stake here. “Fix the problem and move on,” Christie said, without saying what he thought the problem was that needs fixing—stripping Christians of their livelihoods, or bad press for his good-hearted friend Mike?


“Well, we should not have a situation where people perceive that anybody will be denied service. But, I can tell you this, I know Mike Pence, and he’s got nothing but love in his heart for people and I just do not believe that in any way Mike Pence would intend for anything that happen in his state on his watch to be discriminatory towards any person,” Christie said in a statement.

“And so, my guess is that he’ll fix the problem and move on,” Christie said. “Because that’s the kind of guy he is. I will tell you, amongst the governors, there is nobody that I’ve met amongst the governors who is more sincere in his faith and in his love for people than Mike Pence. So, I just don’t believe any of this stuff is true and to the extent that something needs to be fixed to clarify that no one will be denied service for discriminatory reasons, I’m sure that’s exactly what Mike will do.”

Rick Perry Grade: D*  

At a seminal moment in American civilization, when LGBT advocates and their powerful corporate and Hollywood allies took to denouncing and punishing the citizens of Indiana for a moderate religious liberty bill, Perry was completely silent.  He declined to defend Indiana or state or federal RFRAs. His spokesman said Perry supports religious liberty generally and people in states get to decide whatever they want.

From The Washington Post:

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s spokesman Travis Considine said he supported the law. “Governor Perry has always fought to expand religious freedoms, which is why Texas became a beacon for liberty during his leadership. He believes it’s up to the states and their leaders to determine what’s in the best interests of their citizens,” he said.

*UPDATE: Perry Deserves a D, Not an F

Scott Walker Grade: F

Walker refused to defend the Indiana law, or state RFRAs in general, and then his spokesman tried to pawn off a vague religious liberty reference as a response to Indiana.


Asked if businesses should have the option to refuse service to customers, such as gays, based on religious grounds, Walker replied, “Well again, in our state, there’s a balance between wanting to make sure there is not discrimination but at the same time, respecting religious freedoms. We do that different ways than what they’ve done in the state of Indiana, and certainly that’s going to be part of the debate here and across the country.”

And from Walker’s spokeswoman Ashlee Strong, according to Breitbart News:

“As a matter of principle, Governor Walker believes in broad religious freedom and the right for Americans to exercise their religion and act on their conscience,” Strong said in an email.

Rand Paul Grade: F

Rand Paul was unavailable for comment when the Indiana brouhaha broke. Many touted his interview with The Brody File and his Capitol Hill meeting with pastors, where he essentially told them it was up to them to cause a great awakening since he would have no help for them in Washington. God talk, as Russell Moore said, is not going to be a substitute for leadership in protecting religious belief in 2016. As Paul launches his campaign, we hope his public profile changes.

Via The Brody File:

The First Amendment says keep government out of religion. It doesn’t say keep religion out of government. So you have a role and a place here. I open the Senate each Wednesday morning, and we open it every day with a prayer. So, you have prayer in your government. Our religion is part of our daily life and part of our government, and always has been.

The one thing I would say is, and this is given as free advice, don’t always look to Washington to solve anything. And, in fact, the moral crisis we have in our country—there is a role for us trying to figure out things like marriage, there’s also a moral crisis that allows people to think that there would be some sort of other marriage. And so, really there’s a role outside and inside government. But I think the exhortation to try to change people’s thoughts also has to come from the countryside, from everywhere outside of Washington. In fact, we’re the most disconnected city on the planet from the people. So don’t have a lot of faith in what’s going on up here.

That doesn’t mean don’t participate with us up here and try to make it better. Definitely do, but realize, like every other problem, that—I’ve said this before: We need a revival in the country. We need another Great Awakening with tent revivals of thousands of people saying reform or see what’s going to happen if we don’t reform.

Lindsey Graham Grade: F

Senator Graham hasn’t deemed religious liberty a fit or important subject on which to speak. Enough said—or not said.