GOP platform tries to make religious liberty untouchable

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Thomas Nast cartoon, 1874

Public Domain

Thomas Nast cartoon, 1874

It should come as no surprise that the 2016 Republican Party platform is deeply concerned about the state of religious liberty in America. The 2012 Republican Party platform was also deeply concerned about the state of religious liberty in America.

What’s different this time around is that the Grand Old Party has signed on to a new principle of constitutional jurisprudence that would insulate religious free exercise and all other First Amendment rights from any other constitutional amendment. Those other rights include not only the freedom to speak, publish, assemble, and petition the government for redress of grievances, but also, the GOP asserts, not to pay union dues. But I digress.

Here’s the language: “Our First Amendment rights are not given to us by the government but are rights we inherently possess. The government cannot use subsequent amendments to limit First Amendment rights.”

So what’s going on here?

Well, take the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Some faith-based non-profits are challenging it as a violation of their free exercise rights. Against that it’s argued that their female employees have a constitutional right to receive the coverage under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The GOP platform would toss the Equal Protection Clause out the window.

Or consider the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, which established a constitutional right under the Fourteenth Amendment for two people of the same sex to be married. If the GOP gets its way, there would be no equal protection basis for challenging any person or business wishing to discriminate against same-sex couples on religious grounds.

Come to think of it, the Republican platform would allow anyone to discriminate against anyone — African-Americans, Muslims, mixed-race couples, senior citizens, you name it — in the name of religion.

Economic libertarians believe that government regulation of economic activity should be kept to a bare minimum. The 2016 Republican platform embraces a spiritual libertarianism that would grant religion more freedom from the laws of the land than it’s had since the Constitution was written.