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Chris Honoré: At what point disqualification?

Since his campaign was launched, framed by the stereotyping of undocumented immigrants crossing our southern border, Donald Trump, no matter how wildly beyond-the-pale his rhetoric, continues to lead in all Republican polls. Just after the Paris attacks, with President Obama overseas at the G20 meeting, Trump, speaking at Florida’s Sunshine Conference about the president’s cautious reaction to the attacks in Paris, said, “I think he’s a threat to our country. I mean he must have something going on because you know, when you see that he won’t even call them by their name, attack after attack … It’s radical Islamic terrorism and he won’t even acknowledge it.”

Trump has made countless statements that should disqualify him as a viable candidate for the presidency of the United States. His language is breathtakingly reckless and displays a stunning lack of judgment and knowledge.

What exactly does he mean when he says our president has “something going on”? Going on with … ? The implication is … ? What is he saying when he accuses the president of being “a threat to our country?” Is he referring to our national security? Is this Trump-“birther” redux?

Now consider the following statement by Ted Cruz, currently third or fourth (depending) in the Republican presidential primary race: “In the last election, 2012, 54 million evangelicals stayed home. Is it any wonder that the federal government is waging war on life, on marriage, on religious liberty when Christians are staying home and our leaders are being elected by nonbelievers?”

We are constantly being told that Republicans are strict card-carrying constitutionalists. Yet they blatantly ignore the First Amendment and the intention of the founding fathers to erect a wall of separation between church and state wherein no religious test shall be applied for those wishing to hold public office.

Even more egregious is Cruz’s (along with Mike Huckabee's and Bobby Jindal's) recent attendance at the National Religious Liberties Conference in Des Moines, Iowa, where 1,500 evangelicals gathered. Just his presence as a keynote speaker should disqualify Cruz as a GOP candidate, given that the conference was organized by Kevin Swanson, a Colorado pastor well known for his chilling anti-gay and anti-women comments.

Swanson has repeatedly called for gays to be put to death (by stoning), though he has inserted the caveat that they must first be given the chance to repent. Another pastor featured at the conference was Phillip Kayser, who warned that America risks God’s intense wrath “for engaging in sexual sins such as the abomination found in the radical LGBT movement.”

How is it possible that people of this ilk gain traction and clearly create a following? Why would a United States senator such as Cruz stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these people?

But Cruz, like Trump, has not paid a political price for his rhetoric or his attendance at this conference. In fact, he has seen his poll numbers rise and his favorability rating increase by 9 points and he leads the field among self-described tea partyers.

There is a facet to the term “religious liberties,” used by Swanson et al., which is worth noting. When they and their followers refer to religious freedom, they are not talking about the right to assemble and worship according to one’s faith. Religious liberty is code for “religious refusal.” This means that any individual can reject a law (county, state or federal) if it conflicts with his or her religious beliefs. Recall the Rowan County, Ky., Clerk, Kim Davis, who refused to grant marriage licenses to gay couples based on her literal interpretation of the Bible, insisting that her beliefs trumped the law.

In 2015, 87 “religious refusal bills” were introduced in 28 states, advocating, in a sense, that America should be a theocracy and adhere to the laws of the one true religion (Christianity). Of course this ignores the fact that we are a secular nation that interprets religious freedom in the broadest sense, absent Cruz’s denigrating reference to “nonbelievers.”

One last point: Jeb! Bush, when discussing allowing 10,000 refugees into America, suggested that we should allow only Christians (not Muslims) to our shores. Trump recently agreed that it might be necessary to establish a national registry/database of all Muslims in America. Problem solved? Surreal and disqualifying.

Chris Honoré lives in Ashland.