South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at a town hall event in Denison, Iowa on November 26, 2019.

STORM LAKE, Iowa – South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg briefly discussed with Caffeinated Thoughts the tension between religious liberty and the liberty interests of LGBT Americans.

“The way I think about (religious liberty) is a lot like the other liberties that we recognize in our constitution. That we take those liberties very seriously, that we also understand that they hit their limits when somebody else might come to harm, in the same way, that the freedom of speech is so important to us, but it does not mean you can yell, ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” Buttigieg said during a press gaggle after his town hall event at Cronk’s Cafe in Denison. 

He never described what he considers to be “harm.”

“The freedom of religious expression is deeply valued in this country but doesn’t mean that you can harm somebody so long as you remember to invoke your religion as the reason. That is the standard that I would look to when addressing these important issues,” Buttigieg explained.

Caffeinated Thoughts asked the 37-year-old presidential candidate, who is in a same-sex marriage, how he could reach Iowa’s evangelicals who may not support President Trump but are concerned about religious liberty.

“And I am confident that it is possible to reach perhaps not everybody, but many in the evangelical community. In the name of compassion, who may have traditional views, but who could also be called to recognize how imposing those views on others can harm people that they love,” Buttigieg answered.

Buttigieg, during his first event of the day on Tuesday, spoke to a group of 180 Iowans. He spoke for approximately 15 minutes, took several impromptu questions from the audience, and then stayed to great voters afterward. 

Watch his remarks and Q&A in Denison below:

Buttigieg, who is the front-runner in the last three polls in Iowa, held his second town hall event at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake. 

He again made brief remarks and then took questions from the audience. 

Watch his full remarks and Q&A in Storm Lake below:

A man who identified himself as a former Republican told Buttigieg he appreciated his willingness to talk about his religion and asked why he openly talks about his faith, but Democrats, mostly, don’t speak about religion.

“My party has been allergic to talk about religion. And I think that allergy comes from a healthy beginning. That beginning is that we are very alive to the harms that happen when someone imposes their understanding of their own religion on someone else,” he answered. 

“Needless to say, I, as a member of the LGBT community, know what that can feel like, and we always and rightly resisted that. But the problem is that has led to a kind of silence on religion that has maybe played into the idea that if you are a person of faith, and that guides the way you see the world, you’ve got nowhere to go but into the arms of the religious right,” Buttigieg said.

He said that is ironic because he believes the best example of people of faith bringing their faith into politics in the 20th century is the civils rights movement.

“It’s not always called the religious left, but certainly what it is an uprising of those whose faith called them to insist on the dignity, fair treatment, and equality of others. And I think that tradition has a lot to teach us at a moment like this not only on questions of civil rights but questions of economic justice, that idea of the least of these, not to mention the way we treat people at our border. And I just can’t think of any god who would smile on people being ripped out of the arms of their parents when they are children,” Buttigieg explained.

“So we tread carefully on this ground because we know the harm that comes from ever imposing one person’s religious ideas on another. But this is a time to call out to people of faith who I know are sitting in the pews, wondering, looking at the person on their right and the person on their left, wondering if being a believer has to mean being on board with the kind of stuff happening in this White House and I think more and more people are saying, ‘No, there’s a choice here.’ And I want to make sure that choice is laid out as clearly as possible,” he added.

Later, a 16-year-old student who identified as LGBT asked Buttigieg what he would do to expand LGBT rights and support the LGBT community.

“We need to do a lot in policy, and we need to do a lot by example in leadership,” he answered.

In terms of policy, Buttigieg said, “We have to pass a federal equality act that will make it against the law to discriminate against anybody because of their sexuality or their gender identity.”

The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5, The Equality Act, in May by a 236 to 173 vote.

The bill, currently on hold in the U.S. Senate, would amend virtually all current federal laws covering employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service to include sexual orientation and gender identity among the prohibited categories of discrimination or segregation in places of public accommodation.

The Equality Act also expands the scope of what the Civil Rights Act of 1964 considers “public accommodation” to include almost any business that serves the public.

The bill under “Sec. 1107. Claims” reads, “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq.) shall not provide a claim concerning, or a defense to a claim under, a covered title, or provide a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of a covered title.”

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not allow discrimination. It merely provides an avenue for judicial review if a person claims the state or a municipality have substantially burdened their free exercise of religion.

This bill removes that.

Buttigieg on Tuesday never mentioned what limits LGBT Americans have when imposing on religious freedom or where people of faith can expect their right to conscience to be respected when it comes in conflict with the perceived rights of LGBT persons.

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