First Amendment

GOP platform endorses human life amendment, enshrines free exercise

  • Print

The Republican Party platform is endorsing “a rebirth of constitutional government” in which major federal regulations require congressional approval and originalist justices are appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The late Justice Antonin Scalia gets a couple mentions in the document. The platform (PDF) praises Scalia’s respect for “the inalienable right to life and the laws of nature and nature’s God.” And it agrees with his dissent criticizing the court’s gay-marriage decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, as a “judicial Putsch.”

“In Obergefell,” the platform says, “five unelected lawyers robbed 320 million Americans of their legitimate constitutional authority to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

The platform expresses the view that “the unborn child has a fundamental right to life” and backs a human life constitutional amendment “to make clear that the 14th Amendment’s protections apply to children before birth.”

A section in the document dealing with the free exercise clause is getting some scrutiny because of this sentence: “The government cannot use subsequent amendments to limit First Amendment rights.” Here is the section in which it appears:

“Our First Amendment rights are not given to us by the government but are rights we inherently possess. The government cannot use subsequent amendments to limit First Amendment rights. The free exercise clause is both an individual and a collective liberty protecting a right to worship God according to the dictates of conscience. Therefore, we strongly support the freedom of Americans to act in accordance with their religious beliefs, not only in their houses of worship, but also in their everyday lives.”

An opinion article published by Religion News Service says the language is intended to signal that free exercise rights take precedence when pitted against 14th Amendment equal protection rights. That would give the win to faith-based nonprofits challenging the contraception mandate when female employees argue they have an equal protection right to the insurance coverage. And it would mean there is no equal protection basis to challenge businesses that want to discriminate against same-sex couples on religious grounds. The article author is Mark Silk, a professor of religion in public life at Trinity College.

Think Progress suggests the sentence would also ban a constitutional amendment that seeks to overturn the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decision in Citizens United. The sentence is the platform’s “most radical line,” the article argues.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.