“Moderate” GOPer Jeb Bush: Indiana straights-only law is “the right thing to do”

Yesterday, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush went on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show and defended Indiana Governor Mike Pence, along with his recently-passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Bush said that Governor Pence had “done the right thing” by signing the law, and insisted that the more people knew about the law, the more they’d realize that it doesn’t protect the kinds of discrimination that it’s explicitly designed to protect.

Listen to the audio here, via The Daily Caller.

Said Bush:

I think Governor Pence has done the right thing. Florida has a law like this. Bill Clinton signed a law like this at the federal level. This is simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs. To be able to be people of conscience. I think once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all.

Well, the facts are established. Unlike the federal RFRA, and unlike other states with religious freedom laws, Indiana’s RFRA opens the door for all kinds of discrimination.

If you listen to Bush closely, you can even hear him admit as much himself.

On Sunday, Governor Pence refused, repeatedly, to say whether his new law would allow for Christians to refuse service to gay couples at their weddings, as he clearly understood that admitting as much would undermine his case that the law doesn’t license discrimination. In Bush’s interview with Hewitt, he explained his support for the law by arguing that that’s exactly what the law is designed to protect:

There are incidents of people who, for example, the florist in Washington State who had a business that, based on her conscience, she couldn’t be participating in a gay wedding…or the photographer in New Mexico. There are many cases where people acting on their conscience have been castigated by the government…We’re gonna need this. This is an important value for our country.

Let’s be clear: that statement puts Jeb Bush to the right of Mike Pence on religious right-to-discriminate bills.

But don’t tell that to the folks who have long insisted that Bush is the “moderate” in the Republican primary field:

If anything, Bush’s “moderation” is in tone and not substance. In reclassifying these refusals of service as “conscience,” Bush and other defenders of Indiana’s law are simply engaging in a patronizingly petty case of legislative tomayto/tomahto.

Both sides of this debate are citing the same examples — florists, bakers and photographers who don’t want to do business at same-sex weddings — to make their respective cases. Bush claims that the law is simply exempting those florists, bakers and photographers from participating in an event they consider incompatible with their deeply held religious convictions. To the rest of civil society, the law clearly allows those florists, bakers and photographers to tell two people who love each other that “we don’t serve your kind around here.”

But since these real-world thought experiments are apparently reaching a dead end, since we can’t get a straight answer out of those who claim to want to “clarify” what the law does and doesn’t allow for, it may be time to ask Governors Pence and Bush a few more questions:

Say I have a deeply-held religious belief that contraception is murder. If I work at a CVS, am I protected from being fired under Indiana’s RFRA if I refuse to sell condoms?

Or say I have a deeply-held religious belief that I need to smoke marijuana every day in order to effectively connect with a higher power. Under Indiana’s RFRA, can I smoke a joint in my backyard?

Or say I have a deeply-held religious belief that the Jews are immoral people who murdered Jesus. If I own a concert hall, does Indiana’s RFRA let me refuse to rent it out for a Bar Mitzvah party?

Or say I have a deeply-held religious belief that God put people of different races on different continents for a reason. If I’m a pastor, does Indiana’s RFRA let me abstain from performing an interracial marriage?

Seriously, let’s pin this down: What doesn’t Indiana’s RFRA protect under the guise of religious conscience? Where do deeply-held religious beliefs end, and where does civil society begin?

We haven’t gotten a straight answer yet, and until we get one we need to keep asking.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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