DES MOINES | Two vastly different views of religious freedom are drawing people together this weekend in Des Moines.
More than 1,700 people on Friday attended the Freedom Conference 2015, which continues Saturday at Hy-Vee Hall. There, dozens of speakers and presidential candidates are championing a brand of religious freedom that says business owners should not be obligated to serve patrons whose religious beliefs differ from theirs.
On Saturday at the State Historical Museum, the advocacy group One Iowa will host a discussion of its view of religious freedom, which says a person cannot be discriminated against --- i.e. denied services --- because of his or her religious beliefs.
Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal all spoke Friday at Freedom Conference 2015, which is sponsored by more than a dozen evangelical organizations and organized by pastor and radio host Kevin Swanson.
Swanson has drawn attention --- and ire --- for saying with its hit animated film “Frozen,” Disney was trying to indoctrinate children into being gay and that country singer Kacey Musgraves would have been killed in the late 19th century had she sung her song “Follow Your Arrow” then.
“I think our freedoms have never been more threatened than they are right now,” Cruz told reporters after making his remarks at the Freedom Conference.
The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, the former executive director of Interfaith Alliance in Washington, D.C., disagrees with Cruz’s views on religious liberties.
Gaddy will deliver an address at Saturday’s event hosted by One Iowa, the state’s leading advocacy organization for gay, lesbian and transgender people.
“I don’t understand it. I don’t know that I want to understand it,” Gaddy said. “I think it’s a misinterpretation of the Constitution that was encouraged by what I thought was a horrible decision by the court in the Hobby Lobby case.”
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In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a corporation --- Hobby Lobby was the plaintiff --- could be exempted from complying with laws that violate their religious beliefs.
“I think what the court did there was to redesign the whole scenario of what religious freedom is in the United States,” Gaddy said.
At the heart of the issues raised by those at the Freedom Conference are business owners who feel they have been unfairly criticized or prosecuted for refusing to serve people with whom they had religious objections. Among them are an Iowa couple who refused to allow a same-sex couple to get married at their event venue.
Such discussions typically include warnings of an assault on Christianity and take place within conservative circles.
But Huckabee said the Freedom Conference brand of religious freedom includes all religions, and can and should be communicated to all people, not just conservatives.
“Religious freedom is the freedom for people to believe their own thoughts, and we should protect the rights of an atheist to believe there is no god as much as we should protect the rights that I have to believe that Jesus Christ is God,” Huckabee said.
Huckabee said a government that restricts religious freedom could also restrict others.
“Meet a Christian who won’t let the government restrict my freedom, either,” Huckabee said. “And understand we are on the same terms, and that’s the message we better get across to the entire American public and not just Republican voters.”
But One Iowa executive director Donna Red Wing said using religious liberty as an excuse to deny services is discrimination.
“A baker who will not bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple or an event proprietor who won’t allow a same-sex couple to marry, to me that’s public accommodation,” Red Wing said. “If you bake a cake for everyone else, you have to bake that cake for a lesbian couple.
“Some of us are old enough to remember when people said because of their beliefs some people couldn’t sit at the lunch counter and be served food and beverages,” Red Wing added, referring to racial segregation in the 1950s and 1960s. We remember those times. I don’t think this is any different.”