What is the Democratic Party's 'progressive' vision of religious freedom?

The Democratic National Convention in Philadelpha PA on July 28 2016 Credit Addie Mena CNA The Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016. | Addie Mena/CNA.

As the 2016 Democratic Party platform insists on a "progressive" notion of religious freedom, what might that look like in policy?

The platform's language must be interpreted "within the wider context of both the platform and what they [Democrats] have actually done over the last eight years," Dr. Matthew Bunson, an EWTN senior contributor, explained to CNA.

The platform, being a "far-left document," he said, should be "seen through that lens of placing the rights of LGBT people at a clear legal advantage. Politically as well, and as far as they're concerned, socially."

As the Republican Party platform included two sections on domestic and international religious freedom, the Democratic Party platform featured two sections on promoting LGBT rights both at home and abroad.

Most of the platform's focus on domestic religious freedom had to do with Republican nominee Donald Trump's rhetoric towards Muslims, as well as his proposal of religious tests for immigrants and refugees looking to enter the country. Trump has previously advocated for an indefinite ban on Muslims from entering the country, for security reasons.

Although "conscience" was specifically mentioned in the 1996 Democratic platform on abortion – "we respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue" – there is no mention of "conscience" in the current platform, Bunson noted. Clinton has gone so far as to say at the 2015 Women in the World Summit that "deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed," after discussing "critical access to reproductive health care."

After the party affirmed its support for "religious freedom" in 2008, the term disappeared entirely from the 2012 platform, only to re-appear in 2016 in a different light.

Within the LGBT rights section, one sentence mentioned religious freedom:"We support a progressive vision of religious freedom that respects pluralism and rejects the misuse of religion to discriminate."

As Bunson stated, a "progressive" take on religious freedom could cede the ground to LGBT concerns when they come into conflict with the free exercise of religion. This is already playing out – or has played out – in some cases, as when Catholic Charities adoption agencies in Illinois and the Distric of Columbia were forced to close because they wouldn't match children with same-sex couples. A florist in Oregon had to shutter her business for refusing to serve a same-sex wedding.

Rights of conscience might be trampled by LGBT rights in courts and in federal regulation, Bunson explained. "So it'll be enshrined in health care, it'll be enshrined in civil rights legislation," he said.

Earlier this year, the Office of Civil Rights proposed expanding anti-discrimination protections in health care under the Affordable Care Act. The proposals would include prohibiting discrimination for "sex stereotypes," meaning that certain sex-specific treatments like for "gender transition" would have to be performed if requested.

Democrats have also been pushing the Equality Act, also endorsed by Hillary Clinton, in the House and Senate, though they have not had the majority needed to advance the bill. The act would set up sweeping anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in many areas, such as housing, education, and health care.
The problem with the bill's language is that it is so broad it could easily infringe on the religious beliefs of those morally opposed to same-sex marriage or transgenderism, legal experts warned.

Elsewhere in the platform, the party condemned the GOP nominee Donald Trump's rhetoric about Muslims, in the name of religious freedom:

"We reject Donald Trump's vilification of Muslims. It violates the religious freedom that is the bedrock of our country and feeds into ISIS' nefarious narrative."

Regading religious minorities, the platform says the party is "horrified by ISIS' genocide and sexual enslavement of Christians and Yezidis and crimes against humanity against Muslims and others in the Middle East. We will do everything we can to protect religious minorities and the fundamental right of freedom of religion."

The platform also insists on promoting LGBT rights abroad. "Democrats believe that LGBT rights are human rights and that American foreign policy should advance the ability of all persons to live with dignity, security, and respect, regardless of who they are or who they love," it stated.

"We will continue to stand with LGBT people around the world, including fighting efforts by any nation to infringe on LGBT rights or ignore abuse."

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The Obama State Department has already been doing this, Bunson explained, in putting LGBT rights "at the top of their list for international diplomatic initiatives."

"If that's the case, then we will see a continuation and probably an expansion of that, as an instrument of American diplomatic efforts that could equal the disenfranchising of countries that continue to support traditional marriage, that place limitations on certainly what the State Department and White House would view as LGBT rights," he continued.

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