Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) is a fifth-term Congressman from the 2nd District of Arizona. A conservative Republican, he is mostly know for promoting social conservative causes, perhaps most importantly by sponsoring a variety of pro-life bills such as sex-selective and race-selective abortion prevention legislation and a bill restricting abortions in Washington, D.C.

I met Congressman Franks at last week’s anti-HHS Mandate rally here in D.C. shortly before he spoke to the several hundred people in attendance. When I mentioned my interest in interviewing him about the mandate – as well as my defense of his sex-selective abortion bill in light of a shoddy attack by liberal pundit Dana Milbank – he put me in touch with his press secretary. After a few days of figuring out schedules (the House isn’t in session this week), the Congressman called me this afternoon to talk. Below is our discussion.

 

Dustin Siggins: Congressman, it’s great to talk with you. I really appreciate your time. To start, I seem to remember in your speech last week at the HHS Rally that you said really wanted to dial back the tone a little, and I believe you focused more on policy.

Representative Trent Franks: . It [religious freedom] is what often drives people to fight for other freedoms. The Pilgrims were people from a bunch of small churches whose leader was beheaded while they were fighting for religious freedom. They decided to leave, and subsequently started America, the greatest bastion of religious freedom of all time. Now we have a President who, in the format of a monarch, is willing to relegate religious freedom to the dustbin of history. It’s something we ignore at the peril of the country.

 

DS: I spoke with Star Parker earlier this week about the HHS contraceptive/abortifacient/sterilization mandate, and asked her how she thought those who are concerned about the mandate could convince Americans that it’s just as important an issue as the issues that have dominated the election thus far: debt, the economy, and the tax hikes we face at the end of the year. She said there is no one argument, that different arguments work for different people, and said the core issue was the size of government, since a smaller government does less.

I’d like to ask you the same question: How do we convince the American people that the mandate is as important an issue as the debt, economy, and taxes?

Rep. Franks: It’s very important. At the end of the day – whether it’s national security or how we interpret the Constitution, or issues related to economic issues – all of these things are put in place to enhance how people have the right to live and be free. You can’t pursue your dreams or be free if your religious rights are abrogated. We have the religious freedom God gave us when he put mankind on the Earth. It’s of impressive gravity.

These arguments often put the cart before horse. The economy is important only so far as it helps the human family improve. The fact is that protecting life, liberty and property has resulted in a free market-productive economy that outperforms every economic experiment that has ever been done.

If we get the basic questions wrong, all the ancillary questions of the day are functionally irrelevant.

 

DS: I’m a Catholic who follows the Church’s teachings on morality, but a lot of liberals say religious freedom arguments should apply to churches as well. For example, if conservatives want religious freedom related to this mandate, why can’t churches conduct gay marriages?

How do you refute this?

Rep. Franks: Churches have their right to have a perspective on gay marriage. They have every right to support gay marriage regardless how antithetical it is to other religious brethren. However, in this case, society has set aside special recognition for traditional marriage to raise children and create future generations and create the most productive environment to have families. We’ve said this is very important.

Every matrix shows committed heterosexual couples living in the environment of a home have children who excel in the best ways for society and the lives of those children.

We’ve set aside special recognition in the law, related to property, parental rights, tax structures, all kinds of different things that fit in this rubric. Supports of traditional marriage simply say we should be careful in expanding that special treatment outside of what we already have. This is a public policy argument, not a religious argument. Churches can have their perspectives and views.

It’s also important to keep in mind this idea that people of my faith somehow have this animus toward people for their sexual preference. That that’s simply not true. It’s not my being judgmental. There is no stone in my hand for someone who doesn’t abrogate the rights of others for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The question is, do we want to expand what society has traditionally reserved for traditional marriage? Do we want to expand this to areas we don’t yet know enough about, related to how good it is for society? The case should have to be made, and so far only traditional marriage has risen to that measure, given the studies and research of children who come from traditional marriage as opposed to those who come from other backgrounds.

 

DS: Archbishop Dolan says the mandate essentially forces Catholics to not be Catholics, since the mandate’s exemption does not apply to religious organizations that hire or serve people not of their own faith.  Do you think the Church will shut down those affiliated organizations in August 2013, when this mandate goes into effect?

Rep. Franks: The Administration has put the Catholic Church in a bad position. What’s his title…Bishop Dolan…?

DS: Archbishop

Rep. Franks: Archbishop. Thank you. You’ll have to excuse me, I’m only a sorry Baptist. Archbishop Dolan is absolutely correct. This forces the Church to choose between its religious convictions and the ability to practice the application of its faith in public life in the way its always had the right to do. Even this Supreme Court, with its strong ideological splits, rejected nine to zero the Administration’s argument that religious organizations should be forced to hire people not of their faith.

Essentially, the Administration has said the Church will either violate its principles or give up its role to reach out to those who are less fortunate. This is reprehensible beyond my ability to express.

One other thing: If Catholics think the Administration is hostile now, when we are heading into a tight election, they ain’t seen nothing yet. This Administration will put religious freedom into total freefall.

We shouldn’t force our religion on anyone. The Jesus I serve, love, and revere, said “I stand at your heart’s door and knock,” not “get out of the way, I’m coming through.” If people want to express opinions, fine. The Obama Administration has certainly shown disdain in significant ways of people of faith who comprise probably 85% of the  nation. He [Obama] has the right to say “those people are crazy,” if he wants to. But he cannot violate religious beliefs, as long as those beliefs don’t take freedom, life, or property. That’s how our freedom works.

In this case, the Administration is ripping the cornerstone of freedom out of the heart of the faith community in America.