Antigay extremists are increasingly arguing that more rights for gay people mean fewer rights for them. They have lifted up cases challenging business owners who have refused service to LGBT people as examples of religious liberty supposedly being infringed by the gay rights movement.
A conference taking place in Des Moines this week shows exactly what these claims of "religious persecution" really are -- a cover for a political agenda that's about anything but liberty.
Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal are expected to speak at the so-called National Religious Liberties Conference alongside what organizers call "targeted men and women of faith," including David and Jason Benham, who claim to have been persecuted after their vitriolic antigay rhetoric caused them to lose a contract for a television program, and Sgt. Phillip Monk, whose claims to have suffered anti-Christian discrimination at the hands of a lesbian superior have been thoroughly debunked.
The organizers of this conference are not looking to simply freely practice their religion. Instead, they have made it abundantly clear that they wish to use the power of the government to impose their religious beliefs on others.
Three speakers at this "religious liberties" conference have defended imposing the death penalty on gay people -- yes, the death penalty -- including the conference's main organizer, Kevin Swanson. Swanson has made very clear that he does not wish to grant anybody else the religious liberty that he claims he is being denied. He praised a Ugandan measure that would have made homosexuality a criminal offense punishable by life in prison or the capital punishment. He continually reminds listeners of his radio program that the Old Testament requires that "homosexuals should be put to death."
Conference organizer Kevin Swanson
Swanson is no big fan of rights for women either. He claims that working women "do not love their children" and are destroying society. He has warned that efforts to empower women in developing countries by helping them buy cows will "destroy the nuclear family." He claims that women who are on the birth control pill have "these little tiny fetuses, these little babies, that are embedded" in their wombs, which "effectively have become graveyards for lots and lots of little babies." He once placed partial blame for wildfires in Colorado on "feminist trends" such as women wearing pants.
It's not just Swanson. Another speaker at the conference, Phillip Kayser, has argued for the death penalty for gay people, writing, "While many homosexuals would be executed, the threat of capital punishment can be restorative." Yet another speaker, Joel McDermon, has made the same argument, writing that God "revealed that the homosexual act as a civil crime deserves the death penalty" and that "where God says a civil crime deserves the death penalty, I propose that we keep in step with the first greatest commandment and recognize His total sovereignty in heart, soul, strength, and mind."
Multiple speakers at Swanson's conference are proponents of "Christian Reconstructionism," the idea that the United States must be governed by a particular interpretation of biblical law. As you can probably imagine, this interpretation is not one that's friendly to LGBT people.
Americans of all political stripes cherish our constitutional religious liberty and will fight to preserve it, and we must unite to ensure that our country remains a beacon of freedom to those who face persecution around the world.
But Swanson and his allies have something else in mind. They aren't interested in preventing a theocracy that quashes religious dissent. Instead, they want to create one. Anyone, especially candidates for president of the United States should think twice before associating themselves with such an agenda.
MICHAEL KEEGAN is president of People for the American Way.