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Gary Johnson: 'Religious freedom, as a category' is 'a black hole'

PHILADELPHIA — At the Democratic National Committee I ran into Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor and Libertarian Party nominee for president. Here's a transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity, and reorganized thematically.


Do you think New Mexico was right to fine the photographer for not photographing the gay wedding?

"Look. Here's the issue. You've narrowly defined this. But if we allow for discrimination — if we pass a law that allows for discrimination on the basis of religion — literally, we're gonna open up a can of worms when it come stop discrimination of all forms, starting with Muslims … who knows. You're narrowly looking at a situation where if you broaden that, I just tell you — on the basis of religious freedom, being able to discriminate — something that is currently not allowed — discrimination will exist in places we never dreamed of."

Can the current federal RFRA be applied to protect things like the wedding photographer and the Little Sisters of the Poor?

"The problem is I don't think you can cut out a little chunk there. I think what you're going to end up doing is open up a plethora of discrimination that you never dreamed could even exist. And it'll start with Muslims."

In a year when conservatives are being turned off from Donald Trump, do you worry that you're turning off conservatives who might come to the Libertarian Party?

"It's the right message, and I'm sideways with the Libertarian Party on this.... My crystal ball is you are going to get discriminated against by somebody because it's against their religion. Somehow you have offended their religion because you've walked in and you're denied service. You."

You think it's the federal government's job to prevent—

"Discrimination. Yes."

In all cases?

"Yes, yes, in all cases. Yes. And you're using an example that seems to go outside the bounds of common sense. But man, now you're back to public policy.

And it's kind of like the death penalty. Do I favor the death penalty? Theoretically I do, but when you realize that there's a 4 percent error rate, you end up putting guilty people to death.

I think this is analogous to hate crime. Convict me on the act of throwing a rock through somebody's window. But if you're going to convict me on my motivation for doing that, now you're back to religious freedom. I mean under the guise of religious freedom, anybody can do anything. Back to Mormonism [ed.: Johnson explained this comment later]. Why shouldn't somebody be able to shoot somebody else because their freedom of religion says that God has spoken to them and that they can shoot somebody dead."

That doesn't seem like the distinction that a libertarian typically makes. Shooting is an initiation of force, versus deciding what ceremonies to participate in.

"Well, they bring out this issue, which I realize it has happened. But the objective here is to say that discrimination is not allowed for by business ..."

"I just see religious freedom, as a category, as just being a black hole."


Do you think the Constitution guarantees the right to abortion?

"The law of the land is Casey v. Planned Parenthood. I have no intention of changing the law, and Casey v. Planned Parenthood says, 'you, woman, you have the right to have an abortion up to viability of the fetus.' And the Supreme Court has defined viability of the fetus as being able to sustain the life of the fetus outside of the womb, even by artificial means. That is the law of the land."

Ron Paul's position of being pro-life and libertarian—you think he's mistaken.

"It would be like him saying I'm mistaken on religious freedom ... I'm not a social conservative. I really do believe in people being able to make choices...."

Can you be a social conservative and a libertarian at the same time?

"Absolutely. I think there are plenty of libertarians that are socially conservative. Absolutely. It's just this notion of don't force it on me."


Do you think Hillary Clinton circumvented public-records laws—

"So many others have attached themselves to this issue. I don't think there was criminal intent on her part. But so many others have looked at this and will continue to look at this, and I just don't need to devote any time in it whatsoever."

Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.