Utah Sen. Mike Lee: Obama’s disregard for Constitution ‘sad and disturbing’

By Neal McNamara | April 1, 2014
Mike Lee

One of the GOP’s ‘young guns,’ Utah Sen. Mike Lee is on the forefront of the party’s youthful resurgence. As a law student at Brigham Young University, Lee served as a clerk to U.S. Court of Appeals judge Samuel Alito, who is now a Supreme Court Justice.

Lee’s commitment to the Constitution and the free practice of liberty and his legal experience give him a unique perspective on some of the most important issues of the day, like the ongoing religious freedom case involving the Hobby Lobby chain.

KTTH host Ben Shapiro talked to Lee recently about the Obama administration’s reckless disregard for liberty – in particular, religious liberty – especially through the Affordable Healthcare Act.

LISTEN: THE FULL MIKE LEE INTERVIEW

Ben Shapiro: What do you make of the media coverage of Obamacare? Many folks say it’s a wonderful success with 6 million sign-ups. What do make of those statements?

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee: Health care has become less affordable as a result of this law. The law itself has been changed over and over by the president. It’s been a dismal failure in almost every respect, so I do find it very, very frustrating that anyone is trying to celebrate this law as a victory for the American people.

Shapiro: One of the aspects of Obamacare that’s most controversial is the Hobby Lobby case. What are your thoughts on the Hobby Lobby case as a general matter?

Lee: It’s really wrong for the administration to be taking the position that it’s taking, which is to say that it’s OK under federal law, either under the First Amendment, or especially under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to be taking a position that a nonprofit corporation can be treated differently than a for-profit corporation. In other words, this case is not about anything other than whether or not the government has the right to tell employers that they have to do something with respect to their employees that would violate the employer’s sincerely held religious convictions. That’s what they’re trying to do here. Federal law doesn’t give them the option of treating a for-profit corporation differently. So, that’s why I think the Obama administration is going to lose this case.

Shapiro: One of the things I fear, let’s say it should go the other way: Justice Kennedy wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and sides with the other four liberal justices. If they win this case against Hobby Lobby, do you think it’s long before states and the Obama administration begin going after actual churches?

Lee: I’m sure the administration would say, ‘No, we’re not going to do that.’ What reason do we have to believe that? It’s a really short hop once you’re willing to say that the federal government just gets to decide which corporations are entitled to protection for their religious beliefs. They might not immediately make the leap and say, ‘We’re going to tell churches what to do,’ but perhaps they might say some nonprofit corporations may no longer have their religious beliefs respected by the government. It would probably be incremental, gradual erosion than a sudden leap.

Shapiro: You’re one of the best thinkers in the movement. One of the things that bothers me so much is I’ve seen conservatives falling into traps like with the Hobby Lobby case, or the Arizona religious freedom act, this trend that says, ‘Why should government allow this to happen.’ What do you make of that kind of swing, even in some parts of the conservative movement?

Lee: We don’t exist for the purpose of doing whatever the government wants us to do. And we as Americans don’t take well to the suggestion that we have to be allowed to do things presumptively in order to do them. That’s the whole reason we have a constitution. We don’t start from the presumption that the government has to justify its actions. So, we should never think of it as, ‘The government allows people to do X, Y, or Z.’ People are free and the government needs to justify any intrusion of their freedom.

Shapiro: I feel increasingly that in the last few years my religious practice is under assault, that basically there’s an attempt in this country to tell me that my religion is a private matter, whereas the running of my business is a public matter. I tweeted the other day: It seems there are only two groups of Americans who have no rights: people who own businesses and operate in the public sphere, and the unborn. You’ve been commenting pretty extensively on a recent uproar on the removal of a bible verse from an Air Force Academy cadet’s white board. Can you tell me a little bit about that case?

Lee: There is a cadet at the Air Force Academy who recently included a quotation from the book of Galatians on the whiteboard immediately outside his room. Somehow, the cadet’s chain of command got involved and ended up basically pressuring him to erase the quotation he had chosen. The purpose of the whiteboard is to give the cadet an opportunity to express source from which he draws inspiration, which basically explained his faith is rooted in Jesus Christ. There’s nothing offensive about it, yet his chain of command intimidated him into erasing it. This is directly contrary to everything we believe about religious freedom. I asked some questions [about the incident] in committee; those questions have yet to be satisfied. I’m going to continue to pursue this.

Shapiro: Do you think there is a pattern from this administration of singling out religious action, whether it’s by a business or within the military, this attempt to quash the impact of traditional religion on American life?

Lee: There is certainly a pattern here. I want to be careful not to overstate that. The point I want to make here is not necessarily the idea that the Obama administration has said, ‘Look, we don’t like religion, we want to squelch it.’ I don’t think that’s really what happened. I sometimes draw an analogy to Godzilla. If Godzilla stepped on your house, it doesn’t mean Godzilla hates you. It doesn’t mean Godzilla wants to eat you. It might just mean he’s Godzilla and he’s huge and your house just happens to be in the path he’s walking.

Shapiro: At what point though does ignorance become sin? At what point does it look like they’re beginning to target religious folks? What they’re arguing with regard to Obamacare is that it’s a neutral law of general applicability. If you’re a religious person, we’re just not going to make specific provisions for you. It not like they can be ignorant for this long about the needs of religious people. What I find so offensive about this is that when I go into my place of business, I’m supposed to stop living my religious life. Godzilla isn’t targeting my house, but at some point, he’s targeting my village.

Lee: At some point, a pattern does begin to emerge. I have to say at this point the pattern is a troubling one, one in which the administration is not showing a whole lot of respect for religious liberty. It’s one thing to say, ‘Well, we respect the right of each person to attend the church of his or her choosing,’ but as you pointed out a few minutes ago, there’s a big difference between just getting to decide when you go to church and actually being allowed to live your religion as you see fit. And if you’ve got a government that doesn’t respect the free expression of religion, the two are going to collide at some point.

Shapiro: Do you see in their disregard at the least for religious freedom a pattern emerging with this administration as far as the lack of respect in general for the authority of the legislature? This administration, its seems to me they do not care about who they run roughshod over in their goal to achieve what it is they want to achieve with the growth of government.

Lee: This administration has shown quite consistently a willingness to expand government and to do so in a way that disregards our protections. This administration has shown a reckless, cavalier disregard for the Constitution, and I think it’s really sad and disturbing. We need to keep this in mind as Americans as we approach our next election cycle.

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