According to Hillary Clinton’s recent op-ed in the Deseret News, a Mormon news organization in Utah, her dedication to religious liberty entitles her to the votes of all the Mormons in the state. Unfortunately for Clinton, her actual record on religious freedom is atrocious, not least because her interpretation of these guaranteed freedoms is unbelievably narrow.
“I’ve been fighting to defend religious freedom for years,” Clinton writes. But her only evidence for this so-called “fight” is her claim that she made protecting religious minorities around the world a cornerstone of her foreign-policy agenda.
She has opposed all state versions of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was signed into law by her husband, falsely casting them as bigoted attacks on the dignity and rights of LGBT people. The recent Indiana and Arkansas RFRAs — and the distinct-but-related “bathroom bill” in North Carolina — do not in fact legalize discrimination against LGBT citizens, but rather allow business owners to freely exercise their religion by not participating in activities they find unconscionable, such as same-sex wedding ceremonies. No one is permitted by these laws to deny service to a customer on the basis of his being gay, for instance, as is often insinuated by liberals.
She spoke last fall to the biggest organization in the gay-rights lobby, the Human Rights Campaign, openly belittling religious liberty and Christianity and promising to support the federal Equality Act. This bill is the biggest threat to religious freedom yet; it would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the protected categories in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, thereby negating the protections offered by the federal RFRA, which allows citizens to appeal to the courts when they believe their religious liberty has been violated.
She forcefully criticized the Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which successfully challenged the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that employers provide contraceptive, sterilization, and abortifacient coverage to employees. And she opposed the Little Sisters of the Poor when they made a similar attempt to escape the HHS mandate. Yes, her dedication to “reproductive rights” is so extreme that she wanted to force nuns to provide their employees with abortifacient drugs and other contraceptives.
On top of these egregiously anti-religious-liberty stances, Clinton’s op-ed betrays either a fundamental misunderstanding or a deliberate misrepresentation of religious freedom as it has been interpreted throughout American history.
“We hold fast to the belief that everyone has the right to worship however he or she sees fit,” she writes. “Americans know that democracy ceases to exist when a leader or ruling faction can impose a particular faith on everyone else.”
In fact, she has actively worked against religious minorities for the sake of her other cherished causes.
These are important parts of robust religious freedom, to be sure. But they are not the only parts. Liberals such as Clinton are famous for claiming that religious liberty is flourishing because all Americans are free to go to church and worship however they’d like while attending their services. But actual religious freedom includes the ability to exercise one’s beliefs in the public square, not just inside a church building. Among other things, it means being free from government coercion into actions that violate one’s religious conscience.
This is the reason that Clinton’s second statement is so flawed: No one claims that the U.S. government is forcing Americans to practice a particular, state-sponsored religion. The problem arises when the government disallows Americans from freely living out their faith in daily life because their doing so would purportedly infringe upon the “rights” of other citizens.
These examples of Clinton’s anti-religious-liberty efforts and her mischaracterizations of true religious freedom barely scratch the surface of all the reasons Mormons should never so much as consider voting for her. And yet she thought it advantageous to write this op-ed, making an shameless play for the votes of the biggest concentration of Mormon citizens in the country. Why?
In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney won Utah with nearly 72 percent of the vote to Obama’s 25 percent. In polling throughout the election cycle, Romney’s Utah lead never fell below 32 points. Granted, Romney is a Mormon with deep ties to the state, which gave him an additional edge. But Utah hasn’t voted for a Democratic for president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. It is normally as deep red as states come.
Donald Trump, of course, is not a normal Republican nominee. He holds just a twelve-point lead over Clinton in the latest polls of Utah. He’ll likely manage to win the state in the end, but this disparity in support reveals how far the GOP has fallen in the eyes of Mormon voters, who make up most of Utah’s electorate. The fact that Clinton believes it worthwhile to court Mormon voters in Utah shows how much damage Trump has done to the Republican brand, and how much national distaste for him has grown in recent months.Clinton spends the majority of her op-ed attacking Trump for his misunderstanding of religious liberty, which she calls “one of the sacred ideals that defines us as a country.” She points to his proposed ban on all Muslims, then goes on to quote a number of notable Utah politicians criticizing Trump and prominent Mormon leaders praising the blessings of the U.S. constitution.
She’s not wrong to question Trump’s dedication to the religious freedom upon which our country is founded. But to suggest that she is a winning alternative for Utah’s Mormons is perhaps the biggest stretch of the truth Clinton has yet attempted.
— Alexandra DeSanctis is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.