‘Libertarian’ Gary Johnson Prefers Government Control to Religious Freedom

Gary Johnson
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Some conservatives who detest Donald Trump, but wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton if they had a gun to their head — probably the only use of a gun that Hillary would approve — are thinking of voting for a third-party candidate.

They may be taking a second look at Libertarian Party nominee and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson. But if they are concerned about the obliteration of traditional American values in the culture wars — especially government-enforced submission to the new sexual (LGBT) orthodoxy — Johnson isn’t the solution.

Last week Johnson was asked in a recorded interview whether the state of New Mexico was justified in fining a photographer who, because of her Christian beliefs about marriage, declined to photograph a same-sex wedding. Johnson, the so-called Libertarian, came down firmly on the side of the government and in the process demonstrated his utter lack of understanding about the issue:

Look, here’s the issue. . . . [I]f 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, starting with Muslims. . . who knows. . . I just tell you – on the basis of religious freedom, being able to discriminate – something that is currently not allowed –discrimination will exist in places we never dreamed of.

Like Joe Biden, Johnson apparently has no idea what “literally” means. Anyway, he went on to opine about whether the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and its state-level counterparts could protect, for example, the Little Sisters of the Poor (in their fight against the Obamacare contraception mandate):

The problem is I don’t think you can cut out a little chunk there. I think what you’re going to end up doing is open up a plethora of discrimination that you never believed could exist. And it’ll start with Muslims.

He summed up his problems with the concept of religious freedom:

I mean under the guise of religious freedom, anybody can do anything. Back to Mormonism. Why shouldn’t somebody be able to shoot somebody else because their (sic) freedom of religion says that God has spoken to them and that they can shoot somebody dead. . . . I just see religious freedom, as a category, as just being a black hole.

(Johnson later “clarified” that he supports religious freedom as long as the government still gets to enforce the new sexual orthodoxy; he also claimed he didn’t mean to suggest Mormons are likely to “shoot somebody dead” in furtherance of their religious beliefs. In fact, the only major religion with large numbers of adherents to a murderous ideology is the one he mentions as in need of protection. It’s all very confusing.)

From this dialogue Johnson indicates his discomfort with the concept of the First Amendment, which after all opens up the “black hole” of religious freedom. Despite his professed libertarianism (which maybe extends mainly to drug laws), he thinks the government has the right to crack down on undefined “discrimination” that is motivated by religious belief. The Founders would be astonished.

As for the RFRA comment, Johnson obviously knows nothing of the language or history of the statute. RFRA is not a blanket “get out of jail free” card for any action taken in the name of religion. Instead, it merely requires that if the government seeks to substantially burden a citizen’s exercise of religion, it must show two things: (1) a compelling governmental interest in doing so, and (2) that there is no less restrictive means of accomplishing the goal.

In the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court assumed without deciding that the government has a compelling interest in providing free abortifacients (more astonishment from the Founders) but it found there were less restrictive means of accomplishing this goal than forcing religious business-owners to provide it. The Court expressed similar skepticism in the Little Sisters of the Poor case, directing the parties to work out an acceptable alternative.

Under RFRA, may a religious zealot “shoot somebody” because he says God told him to? Of course not. Enforcing criminal law is always a compelling government interest. In the 25 years of the federal RFRA’s existence, there has been no case – not one – of the type Johnson claims to fear.

Perhaps Johnson’s sympathy toward the LGBT agenda predisposes him to accept those activists’ propaganda at face value. But there’s no excuse for either intentional or lazy misrepresentation of the fundamental First Amendment issues arising from the LGBT cultural onslaught. Conservatives looking for an alternative to the major-party candidates should keep looking.

Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project.