As a rule, your GetReligionistas do not write entire posts about headlines. I will make an exception in this case.
Why? In the past couple of months I have had conversations with a number of mainstream journalists -- both in Washington, D.C., and New York City -- about this whole issue of the "scare quotes" (also known as "shudder" or "sneer" quotes) that editors keep putting around the term "religious liberty" in news coverage of events such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act wars in Indiana.
One theme consistently emerges in these talks: The vast majority of journalists covering these stories believe (a) that these disputes don't have anything to do with religious liberty since they don't affect what happens inside churches, and religion is what happens inside religious sanctuaries, and that (b) what we are dealing with here is intolerant speech and/or hate speech (or actions) and, thus, is not protected by the First Amendment. Good religion is protected, while bad religion is not.
One journalist summed it up this way: This isn't about religion. It's about hate. It has nothing to do with religious liberty, so that's why journalists are using those scare quotes.
This brings us to the following headline in The New York Times:
Rand Paul Tries to Stake Territory as Lone Candidate Who’d Guard Civil Liberties
Really now? I could have sworn that most definitions of the term "civil liberties" link it the defense of the First Amendment, the Bill of Rights and, in addition to privacy, of basic freedoms such as freedom of speech, freedom of association and, of course, the free exercise of religion and conscience.
You don't have to agree with all of the GOP candidates and their takes on the First Amendment to grasp that quite a few of them are speaking out on issues of free speech, freedom of association and religious liberty. For those seeking details on that, the First Amendment states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
So why is Paul, in the eyes of the world's most influential newspaper, the "lone candidate" standing up for basic civil liberties?
This Times report starts with the "biggest and most reliable stump-speech applause line" that he is using these days:
“What you do on your phone is none of the government’s damn business.” Mr. Paul may soon put it on T-shirts. They would make nice companions to the $15 “NSA Spy Cam Blocker,” which covers laptop webcam lenses in hopes of shutting Big Brother’s prying eyes.
As Congress and the courts try to resolve the difficult question of how far the federal government may go in collecting data on citizens’ private communications, Mr. Paul has become the most unabashed and unambiguous opponent of renewing those far-reaching powers of any presidential candidate.
“The right to be left alone is the most cherished of rights,” he said here over the weekend. “There’s not one other candidate on the Republican side or the Democratic side who’s willing to say: ‘On Day 1 I’d stop it all. I would end all bulk collection of records.’ ”
Few of Mr. Paul’s stands arouse greater suspicion from conservatives, who are eager to caricature him as a peacenik and a kook. And few issues make him stand out so starkly against a field of rivals who are largely in agreement that the intelligence agencies should have broad, unencumbered powers to pursue terrorists.
To cut to the chase, this story contains zero references to "religion" or "religious."
Clearly, the editors who handled this story have their own convictions about what is and what is not included under a "civil liberties" umbrella. This does not protect, for example, freedom of speech or, here's that phrase again, the "free exercise" of religion. In the past, the U.S. Supreme Court has not defined "free exercise" as faith practiced while sitting in a pew.
Perhaps the Times editors are thinking about "cool" civil liberties.
Mr. Paul’s attention to privacy matters, his campaign is calculating, could show that he is attuned to the concerns of younger, more technologically dependent voters. And it is an important element in a cool factor that he is working hard to cultivate. His website has a store filled with sardonic merchandise -- including obsolete computer hardware billed as “Hillary’s hard drive,” wiped clean, and a T-shirt that says “Don’t Drone Me, Bro.”