Days after recommending that the U.S. government place Muslim neighborhoods under surveillance, presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) released a list of “religious liberty” policy recommendations formulated by his Religious Liberty Advisory Council.
Branded as recommendations for any GOP candidate who might take office next year, the list may be read as a blueprint for a new approach to religious freedom in America. And as reported by Messiah College’s Dr. John Fea, these recommended policies would, if implemented, interpret the First Amendment in ways that would leave some people out in the cold.
For example, the council wants to roll back the Obama administration’s anti-discrimination efforts – including Executive Order 13672, which prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Cruz’s advisors call for rescinding that order entirely and directing federal agencies to “stop interpreting ‘sex’ to include ‘sexual orientation’ and/or ‘gender identity’ where the term ‘sex’ refers to a protected class in federal law.’”
The policy recommendation notes that this effort would be “prioritized” at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Education (ED), the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Such a move would have serious repercussions. The ED announced in 2014 that Title IX’s anti-discrimination provisions apply to transgender students in public schools and universities; similarly, the EEOC interprets Title VII as prohibiting employment discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation. If these recommendations become policy, LGBT Americans would face an immediate reduction to the few federal protections they currently enjoy.
These recommendations appear to be tied to a broader agenda to re-interpret the First Amendment: Cruz’s council also wants to review and possibly revise federal agency guidance on the subject.
Recommendations like this aren’t surprising given the make-up of the council. It is headed by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. He’s joined by David and Jason Benham. The brothers, who are Value Voters Summit regulars, lost their HGTV show after reports surfaced that they’d referred to homosexuality as a “demonic ideology,” called mosques “dens of iniquity” and protested in front of abortion clinics, which David Benham had branded “altars of Moloch.”
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s president, Paige Patterson, also sits on the council. Patterson once openly admitted urging a battered wife to return to her abusive husband (who proceeded to give her two black eyes) and has previously argued that Christians alone are the most “effective” advocates for religious liberty.
The First Liberty Institute’s Kelly Shackleford and the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson are also listed as advisors, alongside longtime Religious Right figure Bishop Harry Jackson and former UN Ambassador Ken Blackwell, among others.
There are no non-Christians on the council. There are no Muslims or Sikhs, even though both groups have been subjected to rising rates of hate crime and discrimination. Since Cruz has appointed anti-Muslim bigots like Frank Gaffney to foreign policy roles in his campaign, this is of little surprise.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s Dr. Robert George publicly endorsed Cruz. As reported by The Intercept, George claimed Cruz “understands the Constitution” and added, “No one has been stronger than Ted in standing up for religious liberty and other fundamental constitutional freedoms.” (George taught Cruz during the latter’s undergraduate years at Princeton University.)
But Cruz’s chosen religious liberty advisors and recommended policies fail to reflect a true regard for the full range of American who rely on the First Amendment’s religious liberty protections. Rather, they promote an exclusionary interpretation of that amendment that applies to socially conservative Christians and nobody else.