It should surprise no one that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) mentioned religious freedom in his speech to the Republican National Convention last night. The former presidential candidate won the Values Voter Summit straw poll three years running and was widely regarded as the Religious Right’s favored candidate when he first entered the race. Cruz has historically favored a version of religious freedom that unabashedly favors his narrow version of Christianity over faiths, and he is no friend to the LGBT community. He’s vocally supported Hobby Lobby, Little Sisters of the Poor and other employers seeking to restrict employee access to birth control coverage, and encouraged states to continue enforcing bans on same-sex marriage after the U.S. Supreme Court’s verdict in Obergefell v. Hodges.
But last night, Cruz deviated from his usual rhetoric. “Religious freedom means religious freedom whether you are Christian or Jewish, Muslim or atheist,” he said. “Whether you are gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience.”
Cruz isn't known for his moderate views on religious freedom.
It’s unlikely that his views have actually changed. His speech is more likely a dig at Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has recommended banning all Muslim immigrants from entering the country. (This would seem to be moderate hypocrisy on Cruz’s part; he once suggested patrolling majority Muslim neighborhoods for evidence of extremist activity.) Cruz may also intend to rebrand himself as the moderate alternative to Trump, a tactic he attempted to deploy once the business mogul began to dominate the primary race. It didn’t work then, and based on the floor’s negative reaction to his speech, it probably won’t work now.
But credit where it is due: Cruz is technically right about religious freedom. The U.S. Constitution does guarantee religious freedom rights to every American, regardless of their affiliation. That’s an active comfort to Americans like Mohammed Ahmed Radwan.
In a complaint filed this week with the Department of Transportation, Radwan says he was removed from an American Airlines flight under spurious circumstances. According to ThinkProgress, Radwan says an American Airlines flight attendant repeatedly told him she would be “watching him.” He also alleges that when he complained to her about her remarks, she criticized him for being “too sensitive” and that two more American Airlines employees removed him from the plane for making her “uncomfortable.” Radwan initially complained to the airline last December with the assistance of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). American Airlines officials said this week they’ve investigated the incident and found that no discrimination took place, but Radwan and CAIR disagree.
This also wouldn’t be the first time an airline removed a person perceived to be Muslim from a flight. It’s already happened several times this year: Southwest Airlines removed a passenger for “potentially threatening comments” after he was overheard speaking Arabic. The same airline removed a Somali woman after she asked another passenger to switch seats. And in March, United Airlines removed an entire Muslim family from a flight for what a pilot described as “safety reasons.”
Religious freedom is indeed under attack in the U.S. But it won’t be saved by winning the so-called “war on Christmas,” something Trump has promised evangelical voters he’ll end if he wins. Real victims of religious discrimination still tend to be members of minority faiths, and it’s important to remember that as election season spins on.