Libertarian Gary Johnson spoke with The Washington Examiner's Tim Carney at the DNC last week, and his comments about religious liberty were surprising enough to warrant a follow-up from Johnson. The exclusive op-ed for The Desert News explains Johnson's views more helpfully, but make it clear he meant some of what he said.
"I approach attempts at legislating religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws with great sensitivity and care," Johnson said. Rather quickly, however, he said religious liberty could be used to discriminate, since "there have also been times in our history when religion has been invoked to justify serious harm. In years past, opponents of interracial marriage, desegregation and other efforts to protect civil rights too often cited scripture and religion in making their arguments."
"To be blunt, certain politicians have twisted religious liberty and used it as a tool to discriminate," he said.
Advocating for his vision of religious liberty, Johnson used the example of the Mormons in Utah, and praised the sort of compromise Utah came to with their religious liberty laws.
"In part because of this unique history, I believe Utah has found an appropriate balance in a religious freedom law that serves as an example to the rest of the country that non-discrimination and religious freedom are not opposing forces, but can instead go hand in hand," Johnson said.As Johnson explains Utah's law:
The Utah compromise barred discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals in employment and housing. In addition, the Utah law requires the office of every county clerk to be available to solemnize same-sex unions. At the same time, the law provides reasonable protections for the freedoms of speech and association of bona fide religious organizations — and made the religious and LGBT protections inseverable. It is a Utah solution that appropriately reflects the state’s diverse and strongly held freedoms — and was supported by the LDS Church and the state’s leading LGBT groups.
Johnson clarifies his view as a need to "strike a balance between our shared American values of religious liberty and freedom from discrimination. My concerns lie with the possible consequences of politically-driven legislation which claims to promote religious liberty but instead rolls back the legal protections held by LGBT Americans."
"This does not in any way diminish my respect for and commitment to the legitimate protection of the right to believe, to practice and to express deeply-held religious beliefs," he said.
Johnson not only contrasted Utah's law with other state RFRA laws he is against, but happened to evoke his opponent, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who is Donald Trump's running mate.
Johnson response might still be a turn-off to conservatives and Libertarian who oppose government intervention. Only time will tell if his response will do enough to appeal to voters on the issue.