Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has built his presidential campaign around defending “religious liberty.” This weekend, he hosted a “Rally for Religious Liberty,” which highlighted the many stories of wedding vendors who have faced legal consequences for refusing service to same-sex couples. Some of them even starred in an ad for the Cruz campaign that distorted their stories to make them sound like victims.
But Cruz has a very unusual understanding of what “religious liberty” means — and seems to disagree with longstanding protections against religious discrimination.
In an interview with Ed Berliner of Newsmax, Cruz suggested that he believes a gay florist should have as much right to refuse service to a Christian couple as the reverse:
CRUZ: Imagine if this were inverted. Imagine if there were a gay florist — now I know that’s hard to imagine, a gay florist — but just go with the hypo[thetical] for a second. Imagine if two evangelical Christians came to a gay florist and they wanted to get married, and the florist said, “You know what? I disagree with your faith. I have problems with your faith.” You have no entitlement to force that florist to provide flowers at the Christians’ wedding. We are a pluralistic nation that tolerates diversity.
Watch it (via RightWingWatch):
Federal law suggests otherwise. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically says, “All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.” Religion is a protected class. If that hypothetical gay florist refused service on the basis of the customers’ religion, that would be a blatant violation, and he would be just as accountable for that discrimination as other vendors have been for discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.
Currently, no federal law protects sexual orientation or gender identity in public accommodations in the same way religion is protected. The “persecuted” vendors that feature in Cruz’s video, such as Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman and Oregon bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein, could only be held accountable for their discrimination thanks to state laws. The Equality Act would fix this discrepancy, and even flesh out the definition of public accommodations to expand protections for all classes, but it currently has the support of zero Republicans in Congress.
Cruz’s other examples in his Newsmax interview similarly fail. He refers to the idea of a Jewish rabbi conducting a Christian wedding ceremony and a Muslim imam conducting a Jewish wedding ceremony, but these are religious ministers, not places of public accommodation. No religious leader has ever been forced to perform a marriage outside his religious belief, nor would there be any legal precedent for doing so.
Berliner pressed Cruz, asking if he could convince the gay community that he doesn’t hate them. Cruz avoided answering the question, instead claiming that there are “some activists who frankly manifest a hatred and intolerance for Christians, who are persecuting Christians. That is unfortunate. As I said, I think we should love everybody.”