John Kasich Has a Religious Freedom Problem

U.S. Republican presidential candidate John Kasich puts his hand to his head at a campaign town hall event in Orem, Utah March 18, 2016.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate John Kasich puts his hand to his head at a campaign town hall event in Orem, Utah March 18, 2016. | (Photo: REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)

Andrew Koppelman is a gay law professor.

William Saletan is a liberal writer for Slate.

Peter Tatchell is a LGBT activist.

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All three of them are more supportive of religious freedom for Christians than John Kasich.

For all the talk about the Republican presidential candidate and Ohio governor being a "moderate," Kasich is an extremist, more akin to President Barack Obama, on religious freedom.

"I think frankly, our churches should not be forced to do anything that's not consistent with them. But if you're a cupcake maker and somebody wants a cupcake, make them a cupcake. Let's not have a big lawsuit or argument over all this stuff — move on. The next thing, you know, they might be saying, if you're divorced you shouldn't get a cupcake," Kasich said at the Feb. 13 debate.

The notion that religious liberty is confined to churches, that one should leave their religion behind when they enter the marketplace, is also the basis for the narrow religious freedom exemption in Obama's birth control mandate. Houses of worship are exempt but everyone else must go along, regardless of how offensive abortifacients are to your religious sensibilities, Obama argued. The Supreme Court disagreed.

When asked again about the issue at the March 3 debate, Kasich avoided a direct answer, saying, "we need to learn to respect each other, and learn to be a little bit more tolerant for one another, and at the end of the day, don't go to court. ... If somebody's being pressured to participate in something that is against their deeply held religious beliefs, then we're gonna have to think about dealing with a law. ... I'd rather people figure this out without having more laws on the books."

Imagine if Kasich had delivered a similar answer on other issues:

Abortion: "I'd rather people not have an abortion."

Gun Control: "I'd rather criminals stop using guns."

ISIS: "I'd rather terrorists stop attacking us."

The time to urge people to just be nice and not go to court has passed.

The religious freedom issue Kasich was asked about — what to do when business owners refuse to service a same-sex wedding ceremony due to their religious convictions — is not a hypothetical. The reason the issue came up during a presidential debate is that people went to court already. Christian business owners, such as those of Arlene's Flowers, Elane Photography, Liberty Ridge Farm, Masterpiece Cakeshop and Sweet Cakes by Melissa, are being heavily fined or put out of business for their refusal to service a gay wedding.

That Kasich would "think about dealing with a law" at some future date is surely little comfort for them. And given his previous statements on the issue, chances are a Kasich-supported-law would offer them little help anyway.

The moderate position is to have both religious freedom and gay marriage, to let same-sex couples get a state marriage license while letting dissenters live their lives according to their beliefs.

The three liberals mentioned above put it well.

Koppelman: "I've worked very hard to create a regime in which it is safe to be gay. I would also like that regime to be one in which it is safe to be a religious dissenter."

Saletan: "I was a best man at a same-sex wedding 23 years ago, and I was a fan of gay marriage even before that. But I'm disturbed by what I see today. We're stereotyping and vilifying opponents of gay marriage the way we've seen gay people stereotyped and vilified. This is a deeply personal moral issue. To get it right, we need more than justice. We need humanity."

Tatchell: "Much as I wish to defend the gay community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion. ... In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas."

This is the obvious "middle-of-the-road" position, but more than that, it's the position that upholds the values of tolerance, diversity and liberty that are essential to our democracy.

If Kasich wants to be the "moderate candidate," this is the position he should embrace.

Contact:, @NappNazworth (Twitter)

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