Ted Cruz defends religious liberty, including that of atheists, and doesn’t endorse Trump. And I still disagree with him.

Ted Cruz defends religious liberty, including that of atheists, and doesn’t endorse Trump. And I still disagree with him. July 21, 2016

Well, this was interesting:

Now to be clear, Cruz’s speech still had your standard right wing fare.  I mean, at 13:30 Cruz says, “Hillary Clinton believes that the government should dictate every choice in your life: education, healthcare, marriage, speech, all dictated out of Washington.”  Of course, the crowd at the RNC (which looks like every white Jerry Springer guest in history holding a reunion) ate it up without thinking to themselves, “Huh, isn’t it the GOP trying to tell people which adults they can’t marry?  And aren’t healthcare options already restricted based upon wealth, and isn’t Hillary trying to open up more options?”  They just nod their heads like good little Republicans.

But for somebody who’s been about as far right as you can be without bumping square into Mike Huckabee, to say that we should consider voting for people on the other side is impressive (or a manifestation of Cruz’s bitterness, one of those two).

The anchor wonders what Trump will say, but by the light of today we know:

He says the party is unified, but I’m just not sure.  I mean, some of the delegates tried to get a roll call vote on the convention rules in an effort to unbind themselves from Trump.  One of the highest standing people in your party just refused to endorse you, and in the aftermath won’t say he’s voting for you:

The senator stressed that he did not disparage Trump in his speech and wasn’t going to “go out and throw rocks” at the nominee.

“Whether you want me to or not, I’m not gonna lie to you, and what I said last night is what I believe,” Cruz said.

He also made it clear the decision remains deeply personal.

“I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and who attack my father,” the senator said. “[The pledge] was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi that I’m gonna nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say, ‘Thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father.'”

But Cruz’s tone of principled objection didn’t sit well with members of the delegation, who repeatedly shouted down their senator and berated him for refusing to fall in line.

Members of your own party are (rightly) saying Trump’s pledge to break NATO treaties is well, stupid (ironically, Trump is being pissy on social media that Cruz broke his pledge to support whoever the nominee might be, right after Trump beat his chest about breaking our pledges to NATO…my kingdom for consistent moral standards out of the GOP). This doesn’t seem united, no matter how much Mike Pence called the party united in his speech.  In that context, this is how I read Trump’s tweet:

And this is saying something considering that the GOP managed to unify behind George W. Bush.

But something else Cruz said in his speech has caught the attention of many an atheist, myself included:

Freedom means religious freedom, whether you are Christian or Jew, Muslim or atheist. Gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience.

Hemant has detailed what a change of gears this seems to be for Cruz:

He supported a stand-alone Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma State Capitol building last year, even after courts deemed it unconstitutional. He called that decision part of an “ongoing assault on religious liberty.”

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If you think government neutrality is an “assault on religious liberty,” you’re in no position to call yourself a defender of religious freedom.

This is the same Cruz who also said back in November that atheists weren’t fit to be president:

Any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief of this nation.

He’s entitled to that opinion, of course, but I doubt many atheists think Cruz would have their backs in a legal battle.

In Cruz’s mind, you can be an atheist (or Muslim or Jew)… but the government will never treat you as well as Christians.

But what really caught me here is that Cruz’s definition of religious freedom is strange, and I don’t agree with it.  I know, I know: Cruz finally tosses atheists a bone and I still don’t cut him any slack.  But I don’t believe every person has a right “to live according to our conscience.”  And, frankly, neither does Ted Cruz or he’d support same-sex marriage rights (which he doesn’t).

I mean, as an extreme example, if your religion tells you to gut your only kid if god tells you to do it (if you’re reading this, hi Abraham), I don’t think you should be able to do that regardless of what your conscience says.  That example alone establishes that there is a point when your religion could be telling you to do something and no sane government should permit you to do it.  You should be able to believe as you wish, to speak as you wish, but not to act as you wish if it negatively impacts the well-being of others (at least, not all the time) — and the way we live entails how we act.  In fact, how we act is packed into the notion of religious freedom that Cruz has so often defended, as it’s so frequently used to excuse particular actions (like turning away LGBT customers from a business).

And if you want a nation that is welcoming to all, you can let people think racist thoughts all you like, but you can’t let them deny service to people based on religion, race, sexual orientation, etc. at public businesses (which benefit from government-build infrastructure).  No matter what your conscience is, you can’t refuse to serve a black man at your restaurant in America simply because he’s black.  It doesn’t even matter if your objection is religious in nature, deplorable behavior is deplorable regardless of the motivation.

And yet, that is when Ted Cruz and Mike Pence’s religious freedom gets deployed: when people are behaving despicably for religious reasons, and it’s deployed not to maintain a standard of decency, not to preserve the promises upon which America was built, but to excuse, in this special instance, the despicable behavior.  Why?  Well because a god that loves the people whose freedom we’re restricting said so.  Because he loves them.  Duh.  Because for religious people, and apparently religious people alone (and really, for Christians alone), their “freedom” is more important than other people’s equality.

Well, that’s horseshit.  The moment laws are created constricting the behavior of the citizenry, some degree of freedom is lost — and that’s a good thing.  I like that punishments exist if people decide to rob my house.  The special thing about America though (at least, in the ideal) is that we don’t arbitrarily restrict freedom.  We don’t just tell you what religion you have to follow or who you have to marry, that’s all you.  We just keep people from fucking with one another.  That alone makes us a bastion to freedom compared to many places on earth and it really does make us special.

But that ain’t the “freedom” Ted Cruz has pursued for his entire political career.  If you think the freedom to use a public business, which benefits from the government, to discriminate must be preserved (but really, resuscitated after what we did to it in the 1960s), but that government should be able to tell two adults who love each other that the government will be making the marriage decision for them, then you don’t really support freedom of conscience, you just want an emotionally-driven pass to get your way when you shouldn’t.

For Ted Cruz to stand up there and say it’s the Hillary and the Democrats, not the Republicans, who stand behind freedom of conscience is such a magnificent inversion of reality that it would be impressive if it didn’t come packaged in an even more mountainous coating of irony.

So religious freedom?  Sure, within reason.  The government can’t tell you what to believe and it can’t tell you how to conduct your own life until your actions start affecting others, then it must extend your targets the same personal protections you clearly expect for yourself.  But let’s not confuse “religious freedom” with the right to ignore whatever laws you wish because you’re religious, nor with a be-as-big-of-a-dick-to-others-as-you-want-and-get-away-with-it card.

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