Opinion

How Ted Cruz made a mockery of Republicans' religious freedom arguments

First he called for putting Muslims under surveillance. Then he called for greater religious liberty. Come again?

The Republican Party, which has accused "liberal elites" of waging a "war on religion," last week dispatched its leading lights to the rhetorical battlefields in a religious war of its own making.

On March 22, Americans awoke to the news of the horrific terrorist attacks in Brussels, which should have prompted calls for solidarity coupled with rational and effective law enforcement. But for Ted Cruz — who has made religious liberty a central focus of his campaign — it was instead an opportunity to propose an unconstitutional and dangerous program for targeting American Muslims.

The two Republican presidential frontrunners are engaged in a sordid one-upmanship of who can more blatantly scapegoat American Muslims. For Donald Trump and Cruz, it's an essential part of the gladiator politics that have come to define the GOP primary. Trump has said "Islam hates us" and notoriously proposed banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. Cruz has called for all Syrian Muslims to be banned from the entering the U.S., but for Syrian Christians to be allowed in.

So after the Brussels attack last week, Cruz said, "We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized." Uncharacteristically agreeable, Trump called the unconstitutional proposal a "good idea."

Somehow this was only one half of Republicans' very mixed-up week on religious freedom.

A day after Cruz thumbed his nose at the Constitution, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that even the nation's staunchest religious freedom advocates have called into question. At issue is whether the government violates the religious freedom of faith-based non-profits by requiring them to fill out a form to opt out of providing contraception coverage in their health care plans, as required under the Affordable Care Act.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Cruz has singled out the most sympathetic of the religious non-profits, an order of Catholic nuns called the Little Sisters of the Poor, as exhibit A in President Obama's alleged war on religion. He has accused Obama as having "the audacity to sue the Little Sisters of the Poor," when in fact the order of nuns sued the administration.

After the Supreme Court hearing last week, Cruz renewed his full-throated cries for religious liberty. He released recommendations on Thursday from his Religious Liberty Advisory Council, which include a pledge to "direct the Department of Health and Human Services to exempt all employers who object for moral and religious reasons from any contraception mandate."

"Whether Hobby Lobby or the Little Sisters of the Poor, people of faith should not be made to bow down at the altar of political correctness," Cruz said.

If "political correctness" sounds familiar, it's because he wields it constantly to portray religious pluralism as the enemy of Christianity. In fact, he invoked it days earlier when calling for a "people of faith," Muslims, to be subjected to increased government surveillance. "In the wake of the Brussels attacks, I called for vigorously guarding against the political correctness that has plagued Europe," he wrote in a New York Daily News op-ed.

This is par for the course for Cruz. Throughout his campaign, he has portrayed the conscience rights of conservative Christian non-profits (and business owners) as being under mortal threat, but he has seemed oblivious to the perils to the constitutional rights of religious minorities, like Muslims he believes should be targeted by law enforcement for their religion and nothing more.

As always for Cruz, religious liberty is for one people only: Christians.

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