Where do the candidates stand on religious liberty?

Campaign 2016
by Kent Covington & Nick Eicher
Posted 8/19/15, 12:08 pm

The staff of The World and Everything in It has profiled 22 possible 2016 presidential candidates in its “White House Wednesday” series. Now they take a look at who’s ahead and who’s making moves as the primaries get closer.

WORLD late last month surveyed nearly 100 evangelical leaders and insiders to find out which candidates they prefer and which issues they consider most important in the 2016 presidential race. 

The top issue in that survey was religious liberty. Questions of conscience weigh heavily on the leaders minds. For example, should the Christian owners of bakery be penalized for declining a same-sex wedding cake on religious grounds?

The two leading Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have been clear that when religious liberty conflicts with gay rights, they will stand for gay rights. The same is true of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. None of them support legislation that clarifies that the First Amendment of the Constitution protects rights of conscience. They have all called those protections a form of anti-gay discrimination.  

Republicans are more supportive, to varying degrees, of rights of conscience. No one has been more forceful about protecting religious liberties than Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Other candidates who have been outspoken on the issue include: Former Govs. Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, and Rick Perry; Sens. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.; and Dr. Ben Carson.

Rubio came out on top of WORLD’s survey of evangelical leaders. In March, he spoke to Fox News about his position on religious liberty.

“The fundamental question in some of these laws is should someone be discriminated against because of their religious views? So no one here is saying that it should be legal to deny someone service at a restaurant or at a hotel because of their sexual orientation,” Rubio said. “I think that’s a consensus view in America. The flipside of it is, though, should a photographer be punished for refusing to do a wedding that their faith teaches them is not valid in the eyes of God.”

But at least a couple of candidates on the Republican side might not really support those protections. 

“No private sector business should be allowed to deny service, to discriminate, on the basis of sexual orientation,” said former New York Gov. George Pataki in a reference to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Some others have been harder to pin down. 

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has not been very outspoken recently on this issue. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who signed a law in his state banning gay conversion therapy, has shied away from the topic.

Listen to “White House Wednesday” on The World and Everything in It.

Candidates descend on Iowa State Fair

More than a million people visited the Iowa State Fair this year, and with less than six months to go until the Iowa caucuses, presidential candidates showed up to do some heavy stumping. More than 20 contenders for the White House converged on the fairgrounds, including Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and her top Democratic challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. The Des Moines Register held its Candidate Soapbox, a longstanding fair tradition in which each candidate gets 20 minutes to speak and field questions from the crowd. 

Billionaire businessman Donald Trump, who is leading in the polls in Iowa, talked with reporters after landing his private helicopter just outside the fairgrounds: “We need jobs in our country. We don’t have to worry about other countries. We’re going to take jobs back from China, Japan. We’re going to make this country great again.”

Iowa is rarely a must-winin the presidential nominating process; the last two Republicanpresidential nominees failed to win the state. But a campaign can either build momentum or dig a hole in Iowa. If certain candidates already struggling don’t perform well in Iowa, they’ll go ahead and throw down their cards. 

Nick Eicher

Nick lives in St. Louis, loves the Blues (as in the NHL), is executive producer of WORLD Radio, and co-hosts WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickEicher.

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