Let’s Debunk the Nonsense in This Pathetic Ted Cruz Ad About Anti-Gay “Religious Liberty”

Ted Cruz’s campaign to secure the GOP presidential nomination is sputtering toward irrelevance, as his target demographic—extremist anti-establishment conservatives—jump to the Donald Trump camp. Polls show Cruz flagging well behind Trump, even in his quasi-home state of Texas. To boost his numbers, Cruz has lately utilized a time-honored GOP strategy in which Trump has declined to engage: gay bashing. Or, as Cruz describes it, support for “religious liberty.”

As my Slate colleague Josh Voorhees recently noted, Cruz has centered his campaign around a handful of people who inflicted their anti-gay views on others and faced legal repercussions for doing so. In July, he interviewed a couple who refused to rent out their wedding venue to a same-sex couple, gushing that their discrimination “inspired” him. On Friday, he held an Iowa rally featuring “SPECIAL GUESTS VICTIMIZED BY GOVERNMENT PERSECUTION.” Now he has released a video profiling some of “victims.” Let’s watch it and debunk its jiggery-pokery point by point.

1. “Today, the United States government is forcing people of faith to violate their beliefs on marriage and sexuality.”

The video trumpets this alarming statement as fact. And it is—if you think requiring businesses and individuals to follow neutral, generally applicable laws and regulations qualifies as “forcing people of faith to violate their beliefs.” If you think, however, that nobody should be granted a special right to discriminate solely because of their beliefs, then this statement is just more alarmist propaganda brought to you by the Christian persecution complex.

Note, by the way, that until this June, many states were eagerly depriving gay people of their fundamental right to marry—forcing them to violate their own beliefs on marriage and sexuality by excluding them from an institution central to their lives and faith. Oddly, Cruz’s video makes no mention of the serious harms gay people suffered when their states singled them out for mistreatment under the law.

2. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk was “relieved of duty for expressing a traditional view of marriage.”

The first part of this statement—that Monk was “relieved of duty”—is actually true! Unfortunately, Monk himself then claims he was “fired,” which is not true. Here’s what really happened: Monk supervised a staff sergeant who fervently informed trainees about his deep abhorrence of gay people. This action violated a policy barring officers from using a position of authority to promote their own religious beliefs. Monk’s commanding officer—who happened to be a lesbian—insisted that the staff sergeant be punished. When Monk resisted, because he held the same beliefs, the military reassigned him to a new position commensurate with his rank.

Monk says he “had to relent to being fired in order to not violate [his] conscience.” He was not fired, and he was only asked to adhere to a firmly established, commonsense policy. Contra his sniffling, pitiful confession in Cruz’s video, he did not face discrimination. Quite the opposite: He attempted to condone discrimination and faced the consequences.

3. Atlanta Fire Rescue Department Chief Kelvin Cochran was “suspended and terminated from his decorated post. … Not for any wrongful action, but because of his Christian beliefs on homosexuality.”

So states the video. But it’s not really true! In fact, there was a very specific “wrongful action” for which Cochran was punished: He distributed his profoundly homophobic book to a number of employees, unsolicited, at work. In one passage, Cochran defines “uncleanness” as “whatever is opposite of purity, including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, all other forms of sexual perversion.”

Understandably, employees complained, and the city suspended Cochran, investigating a potential violation of its nondiscrimination laws. Eventually city officials fired him, citing his poor “judgment and management skills.” Cochran is now suing the city, alleging it discriminated against his Christian beliefs.

It is instructive to do a little role reversal here. Imagine that a gay boss wrote a book calling Christians “unclean,” comparing them to child molesters, and describing Christianity as “vile, vulgar and inappropriate.” Now imagine that he handed this book, unsolicited, to Christian employees. If he were fired, would you consider his dismissal to be an act of discrimination against the boss’s sexual orientation? If not, you probably shouldn’t put much stock in Cochran’s claims.

4. The Kleins’ bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, faced a “smear campaign and economic boycott.”

Aaron and Melissa Klein refused to serve same-sex couples at their bakery, in clear violation of Oregon law. When the Kleins turned away Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, a lesbian couple, they complained to the state. The Kleins promptly posted the couple’s personal information online. Rachel and Laurel—who fostered, then adopted, two special needs children—were forced to flee the state after receiving a deluge of hate mail and death threats. They eventually won their case against the Kleins, receiving an award of $135,000 in damages. A crowd-sourced fundraiser for the Kleins has since raised more than $400,000 for the couple; the Kleins have asked supporters to send donations directly to them, as well.

The “smear campaign” the Kleins allegedly faced consisted of gay rights advocates circulating the story of the bakery’s discriminatory policy. The “economic boycott” consisted of would-be customers declining to patronize a store that refuses service to gay couples. Now the couple has received a sizable fortune using anti-gay groups like the Heritage Foundation to give them free publicity. I admire the Kleins’ ability to turn a legal defeat into a lucrative business opportunity. But I doubt Cruz can use their success to boost his own mediocre poll numbers.