Republican candidates may want softball questions for the rest of the debate season, but here's something that the moderators should be confronting at least some of them about: Three candidates---Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal---are scheduled to speak this weekend at a conference hosted by a radio host named Kevin Swanson who has openly advocated for putting gay people to death.
The conference is called the National Religious Liberties Conference, and it's based on the premise that Christians are somehow having their religious liberties stripped from them because they can't impose their views on others.
"Over the past few years, we've seen a marked erosion of the religious liberties that were the bedrock of the founding of our country," Swanson says in a press release promoting the conference. "We're inviting Christians to be equipped for the uncertain future while celebrating the liberties God has provided our nation over the centuries."
Goodness, that sounds very serious! Who are these people that are being denied their right to worship and how is this happening? Luckily, a look over the list of supposedly oppressed Christians that are speaking at the conference shows that the real source of anger is that it's becoming harder than ever for Christians to oppress others, particularly LGBT people.
For instance, one of the supposedly persecuted Christians is former Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk, who runs around claiming that he was fired from the Air Force for his devout religious beliefs. This is a lie. Monk was supervising a staff sergeant who was supposed to be training recruits and was using his captive audience to proselytize his version of Christianity, particularly pushing his religious beliefs against homosexuality on them. Using your position of authority to push your religion on your underlings is against military rules---no duh---so Monk was told by his commander to discipline the staff sergeant of his behavior. But because Monk also hates on gay people, he refused and, derelict in his duty, he was fired.
In other words, Monk lost his job for refusing to uphold the value of religious liberty. The staff sergeant in question was violating the religious liberty of his trainees, who shouldn't have to endure unwanted lectures about what Jesus supposedly wants for your sex life as the price of having a job. But such is the topsy-turvy definition of "religious liberty" that the right has embraced and that Cruz, Jindal, and Huckabee will be on hand to promote: Liberty is defined as being able to oppress, and their idea of religious freedom looks an awful lot like Christian theocracy.
Most of the other people labeled "Persecuted Christians" who are speaking at this conference have similar stories: Two anti-gay brothers who believe they are owed a TV show and are somehow persecuted if they don't get one. A couple who violated anti-discrimination laws by refusing to let a gay couple rent their building to hold a wedding, even though they use their building all the time for straight weddings. A couple who own a bakery that pulled the "we don't serve your kind around here" move with a lesbian couple who wanted a wedding cake. An evangelical preacher who feels entitled to have a public high school advertise his church for him.
None of these people are being told they can't practice their faith. What they're being told is that they can't foist their faith on the unwilling, either by using government power or by practicing illegal discrimination. But as it often is with conservatives, every day is Opposite Day, and not being allowed to oppress is now being redefined as oppression.
Many of the speakers at this "religious liberty" conference take their opposition to religious liberty to the next level. Obviously, it begins with Kevin Swanson, a main organizer whose enthusiasm for religious oppression is such that he praised Uganda for "standing strong" by passing a law that could lead to executions for homosexuality. Far from being a proponent of religious liberty, Swanson is an avid theocrat who frequently claims that governments should enforce his religious beliefs about homosexuality or "God’s judgment" will come "down upon civilizations."
Similarly, as Right Wing Watch reports, two of the pastors speaking at the conference are aggressive theocrats who argue that our laws should be based on their interpretation of the Bible. Phil Kayser and Joel McDurmon are both on the record arguing that people who have gay sex should receive the death penalty for it. McDurmon's workshop at the conference is titled, "Crushing Leviathan: Biblical Principles to Break Free of the Modern Inquisition." But of course, he's the one who is actually advocating for a modern inquisition, complete with violence against minorities that he believes are violating the rules of his faith, a faith they do not share.
Unsurprisingly, Ted Cruz's father, Rafael Cruz, is speaking at the conference as well. Rafael Cruz is a completely unhinged radical, so much so that Ted Cruz has sought to distance himself on occasion from his father. But, as Ted Cruz's participation in this event suggests, he has more in common with his father than not, including the rock solid belief that Christians are somehow being "oppressed" if they can't impose their views on the unwilling.
Much of Cruz's campaign for president is based on this premise that not-oppressing is oppression. Cruz has been hammering at this "religious liberty" talking point for most of his campaign, running ads pushing this topsy-turvy definition of "religious liberty" that assumes that fundamentalist freedom depends on the right to oppress others. Now he, along with Huckabee and Jindal, is allying himself with even more overtly theocratic forces.