Four of the Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate pledged tonight during a forum in Des Moines that they would reduce government regulations and vote to repeal “ObamaCare” if they’re elected. But the candidates differed on whether there’s a need for a law giving small business owners the right to refuse to serve same-sex couples.
Arizona’s Republican governor recently vetoed a bill that would have carved out a religious exemption for business owners who, for instance, don’t want to be involved in gay weddings. Candidate Mark Jacobs of West Des Moines, a retired business executive, said religious organizations should “100 percent” have that right to refuse to participate in gay weddings.
“But I think for people that choose to enter the field of commerce in businesses, I think we have to make sure that we have an environment that those businesses are open to law-abiding citizens and I’m very concerned about the discriminatory nature that could creep into that if we start to open that door,” Jacobs said.
Sam Clovis of Hinton, an economics professor, said Arizona’s governor should have signed that bill into law.
“This, to me, is one of the most fundamental questions that we will have to wrestle with as a society,” Clovis said. “…At no other time in history — and I’m the oldest one sitting on this stage, I’ll tell you — I have never seen in my life the assault on religious liberty that we see today.”
Matt Whitaker of Ankeny, a former federal prosecutor, said the federal government is guilty of encroaching on religious freedoms in a number of cases, but he said there’s no need for a law granting businesses a religious exemption.
“As a Christian, I practice my Christian religion and I don’t want to get in the way of others whether you’re Muslim or whether you’re Jewish or some other denomination from you practicing your religion,” Whitaker said, “but I don’t think we need a federal law to enforce that right because it’s already evidenced in the First Amendment to our Constitution.”
Joni Ernst of Red Oak, a state senator, said it’s a complicated issue that has to be sorted through.
“We want to ensure that we’re not discriminating, but then on the other hand we’re not forcing those (business owners) to do something that disagrees with what they believe as a religion,” Ernst said.
All four candidates expressed concerns about the so-called “common core” education standards that supporters say will lead to a better-educated workforce. The candidates said curriculum decisions should be made at the state and local level. The group fielded a question about the minimum wage and each criticized the plan backed by President Obama and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin that would raise the national rate to $10.10 per hour.
Harkin, a Democrat, announced in January of 2013 that he would not seek re-election and Bruce Braley, an eastern Iowa congressman, is the only Democratic candidate in the race to fill Harkin’s seat. The four candidates who appeared at tonight’s forum are competing for the GOP’s 2014 U.S. Senate nomination.
The forum was sponsored by the National Federation of Independent Business.
NFIBForum mp3 runs 1 hour, 18 minutes