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Gary Johnson Is Still Terrible On Religious Liberty

Many liberals and journalists distort the intent and scope of religious freedom laws, but Gary Johnson should know better.


At the Democratic National Committee, Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner caught up with Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and asked him a few questions about religious liberty.

You may remember: earlier this year during a Fox News debate, Johnson offered a rambling justification for why the state should police thought crimes. Since many Republicans dealing with Trump Nomination Trauma are considering his candidacy, surely the former New Mexico governor must have cobbled together some kind of intelligible position on this issue, right?

No. Read it.

There are a number of possible explanations for Johnson’s obtuseness. The first is that he just doesn’t understand the issue. At all. He seems to have no idea, for example, what “discrimination” means. Johnson is still arguing that no business owner should ever be able to say “no” to a customer for any reason. This is well beyond even what liberals contend. He seems to believe, for instance, that Nazis are a protected class and that the federal government should compel a Jewish baker to whip up a Führergeburtstag cake on demand.

Johnson also doesn’t seem to comprehend the distinction between public and private actions. He claims, “If we allow for discrimination — if we pass a law that allows for discrimination on the basis of religion — literally, we’re gonna open up a can of worms when it come stop [sic] discrimination of all forms …”

But religious freedom laws are narrowly focused, and they don’t permit people to “discriminate” on the “basis of religion.”  They protect business owners of all faiths from the obligation to participate in activities that violate their conscience — a slippery slope that doesn’t seem to bother Johnson one bit. Denying a Muslim American service (something Johnson, who once supported banning burkas, seems most concerned about) would still be against the law.

Many liberals and journalists distort the intent and scope of religious freedom laws, but a libertarian should know better. You don’t have to agree with the religious liberty proponents, of course. You can view religious freedom as ugly prejudice — something state-run justice commissions should monitor and forcefully expunged from American life. Plenty of people do. What I’m not sure of, though, is which libertarian idea justifies government policing thought crimes and undermining property rights? Johnson has yet to explain.

Mostly, though, I suspect that Johnson believes dismissing religious liberty and property rights in this case will endear him to the Left and expand his voting base. Many libertarians feel culturally in sync with liberals, and this is just the manifestation of that impulse. It’s a lost opportunity for Johnson to be both a principled libertarian and gain new conservative voters.