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Republicans debating religious rights — just wow

There came a time during Wednesday’s early CNN Republican presidential debate when the differences between the Panderers and the Pragmatists became painfully clear.

After former New York Gov. George Pataki said he would have fired Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis for not doing her job, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum leapt to Davis’ defense.

Americans have a fundamental right in the First Amendment for freedom of conscience, he said (untrue).

“How many bakers, how many florists, how many pastors, how many clerks are we going to throw in jail because they stand up and say, ‘I cannot violate what my faith says is against its teachings’?” he asked. (As of now, one. But Davis was officially jailed for contempt of court.)

“Judicial supremacy is not in the Constitution,” he summed. (True, but irrelevant.)

A stunned Pataki could only say, “My response is kind of wow.”

Wow, indeed.

But things were just getting started: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal demanded “the left” give him a list of jobs that Christians cannot hold in America.

Very well, governor: Any and every job in which a person decides to use the power of government to impose his or her beliefs on others.

That’s what the Kim Davis saga is really all about, stripped of the rhetoric, hyperbole and the increasingly ridiculous former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Let’s be clear: No one asked Kim Davis to marry a woman. No one made her officiate a gay wedding. She was only asked to perform her ministerial duty for people registering their union as required by law. That’s it.

But because Davis’ interpretation of Christianity holds gay marriage is wrong, she refused to do the job she was elected to do and, acting with the imprimatur of the state, imposed the dictates of her religion on others. This is precisely the sort of thing the founders of the country most detested, and the real reason we have a First Amendment.

Thank goodness for South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who told the assembled crowd about Marbury v. Madison, which says judicial review of the law is less tyranny and more “the American constitutional system.”

The fact that so many people today — and the politicians on the make for their votes — are ignorant of these facts is a national disgrace and a national danger.

Take Huckabee as an example: He spoke of the criminalization of Christianity, a problem that is largely nonexistent outside his fevered imagination. (The number is falling, but Gallup recently demonstrated that 70 percent of Americans claim to be Christians of one sort or another.) Huckabee said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage is “judicial tyranny.” He apparently prefers tyranny of the legislative variety to deny equality under the law to gay citizens.

But few objections were heard from Huckabee’s fellow Republicans. None even mustered a “wow,” lest they be accused of faithlessness.

The fact is, Christ told his followers to expect persecution. Most of the early church’s leaders were put to death in gruesome ways, during a time when Christianity was literally criminalized.

But Christ anticipated the reason for the persecution of his followers was that they would be speaking out for the powerless and embarrassing the ruling class. It certainly wasn’t because they’d be insisting upon their “rights” to interpret the law any way they please.

There’s a stark and important difference between dying to establish a kingdom of justice, peace and love on Earth and complaining when the government expects you to do your elected job. Comparing the true suffering of the early Christians to the constitutionally ignorant whining of the Huckabees, Santorums and Jindals of the modern Republican Party leaves one almost speechless.

Let’s just employ Pataki’s “wow.”

— Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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