The right’s selective embrace of religious liberty

THE RIGHT’S SELECTIVE EMBRACE OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY…. It’s hardly a secret that in modern politics, conservative Christian Republicans tend to think the issue of religion in public and political life is “theirs.” It’s one of those things that “everyone knows” — Democrats dominate when it comes to workers, health care, education, and the environment; the GOP dominates on guns and God.

Except, this framework has never really made any sense — it’s just a lazy shorthand — and the assumptions about the right and faith have always been overly broad. Republicans don’t love religious liberty; they love religious liberty for people who think as they do.

ThinkProgress, for example, caught up with GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain yesterday at the Conservative Principles Conference in Iowa. Cain argued this week that all Muslims have “an objective to convert all infidels or kill them,” and TP asked a good follow-up question: “Would you be comfortable appointing a Muslim, either in your cabinet or as a federal judge?” Cain replied:

“No, I would not. And here’s why. There is this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government. This is what happened in Europe. And little by little, to try and be politically correct, they made this little change, they made this little change. And now they’ve got a social problem that they don’t know what to do with hardly.

The question that was asked that ‘raised some questions’ and, as my grandfather said, ‘I does not care, I feel the way I feel.'”

To be sure, this is deeply stupid. Refusing to consider qualified Muslim Americans for public posts because one fears a conspiracy to “gradually ease Sharia law … into our government” is so laughably absurd, one wonders if Herman Cain is a liberal plant, running to make Republicans look ridiculous.

Indeed, in most of American life, deliberately refusing to hire religious minorities, solely because of their faith, isn’t just an example of bigotry, it’s literally illegal employment discrimination.

For a party that allegedly celebrates religious liberty, the irony is rich.

At a certain level, this seems fairly easy to dismiss because Cain is clearly not a credible candidate for national office, and won’t win the Republican presidential nomination. But before we move on, let’s not forget one key aspect to this: nearly four years ago, Mitt Romney said something awfully similar.

In the fall of 2007, Romney said he would not consider Muslim Americans for his cabinet. Indeed, he said this more than once, in front of plenty of witnesses.

Cain’s bigotry seems remarkable, and it is, but he’s an afterthought in Republican politics. Romney, meanwhile, is arguably the frontrunner, and despite his pleas for tolerance of religious diversity when it comes to his own personal faith, Romney is already on record favoring Cain-like discrimination.