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Orrin Hatch: Hillary Clinton is no friend of religious liberty

SHARE Orrin Hatch: Hillary Clinton is no friend of religious liberty
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks after touring Raygun, a printing, design and clothing company, in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks after touring Raygun, a printing, design and clothing company, in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016.

Andrew Harnik, AP

Freedom of religion is critically important to many Utahns — as it should be. Our state was founded by an oppressed minority seeking sanctuary from religious persecution. Facing violence and discrimination at every turn, Utah’s early settlers crossed the continent in search of a place to practice their religion free from prejudice and abuse. In the cradle of the Rocky Mountains, they found a home.

Given our state’s unique history, protecting religious liberty remains a priority today. Many Utahns were rightly dismayed when Donald Trump called for a blanket ban on all Muslims seeking entry into the United States. In this brash proposal, we sensed an attack on religious freedom, and we heard the echoes of a dark past. I expressed my grave concerns to Mr. Trump directly, emphasizing the necessity of robust protections for religious liberty in all its varieties.

Hillary Clinton has sought to capitalize on Mr. Trump’s missteps by making an overt appeal to Utah’s religious voters. Just last week, she published an op-ed in these pages portraying herself as a longstanding proponent of First Amendment freedoms and of one mind with Utahns who seek stronger protections for religious liberty. As evidence of her commitment, Ms. Clinton pointed to her efforts as secretary of state to protect religious minorities abroad, claiming that she has “been fighting to defend religious freedom for years.” At first blush, her assertion may seem compelling; in reality, however, it is completely disingenuous.

Utahns should not be fooled: Hillary Clinton is no friend of religious liberty. Her op-ed is a strategically crafted piece of political misdirection —a carefully worded ruse that focuses on a few isolated efforts abroad to distract readers from her consistent determination to undermine religious liberty here in the United States.

Take, for example, her support of the Obamacare contraception mandate. Through this overbearing regulation, the Obama administration sought to force religious employers to provide insurance coverage for all forms of birth control, abortifacients, and contraceptives — even if doing so violated an employer's deeply held religious beliefs. Two years ago, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of religious liberty by striking down this unconstitutional mandate, Ms. Clinton excoriated the decision, calling it “deeply disturbing,” “very troubling,” and a “bad slippery slope.” To this day, she maintains that federally mandated contraception coverage — including abortion-inducing drugs that many Utahns find morally reprehensible — should be required of all employers, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Ms. Clinton likewise showed her true colors on religious liberty when she took an extreme position opposing a group of Catholic nuns seeking a religious exemption from the contraception mandate in the Little Sisters of the Poor Supreme Court case. According to her worldview, the rights of conscience are subordinate to the exigencies of sexual freedom. With Ms. Clinton in the White House, religious liberties would take a backseat to so-called reproductive rights and other progressive priorities.

Even as secretary of state, Ms. Clinton struggled to hide her disdain for religious freedom. Although she now claims to have championed the rights of religious minorities overseas, her record reveals quite the opposite. During her tenure, the Office of International Religious Freedom — the branch of the State Department charged with promoting and protecting religious liberty abroad — played a dramatically downsized role in U.S. foreign policymaking. As a result, the Obama administration did not even include promoting religious liberty as part of its national security strategy. And Ms. Clinton’s State Department deliberately scaled back efforts to defend religious freedom in the Middle East to curry favor with regimes that openly persecuted religious minority populations.

Perhaps most disturbing is not simply what Ms. Clinton has done to weaken religious freedom in the past, but what she promises to do in the future. Advocates of free exercise should be particularly alarmed by Clinton’s commitment to uphold President Obama’s legacy. This promise entails the continuation of a radical political agenda that pushes progressive priorities at the expense of religious freedom.

As a case in point, consider Clinton’s unapologetic support of the Equality Act — a sweeping bill that, if enacted, would do more to subvert the freedoms of religious believers than any piece of legislation in American history. This radical proposal would eliminate many of the protections guaranteed to people of faith under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) — legislation I spearheaded in Congress and that Ms. Clinton’s husband signed into law as president — making it all but impossible for individuals to appeal to courts when they feel their religious liberties have been violated.

Progressives have cleverly packaged the Equality Act as a “non-discrimination” bill, even though the legislation would actively discriminate against millions of Americans who hold traditional views on marriage and sexuality. Ms. Clinton has repeatedly vowed to press Congress to pass the Equality Act if she becomes president.

A far better approach would be a bill modeled on the “Utah Compromise,” which Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law last year. The Utah model safeguards the rights of LGBT individuals while leaving ample room for people of faith to act in accord with their religious principles.

Utahns deserve to know Ms. Clinton’s full record on religious liberty — not just the whitewashed version she presented in the Deseret News. Above all else, they deserve leaders who will stand up for religious freedom, no matter the costs and no matter the consequences. This year’s presidential candidates should know that Utah will settle for nothing less.

Orrin Hatch is the senior U.S. senator from Utah.