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Activist Can't Explain Why Christians, But Not Others, Deserve 'Religious Liberty'

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WASHINGTON -- One of the difficulties that religious advocates have is that many seem to think the ideas and beliefs that they hold most dear are somehow different or exceptional compared with the base tenets of others.

Such was the case in a remarkable hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on "The State Of Religious Liberty In The United States" Tuesday.

First, the advocates called before the panel were loath to admit that religion had been used in the past to justify slavery, with people often citing the Bible.

"Actually, I've heard that argument made a lot, and it's something I'm trying to look into on my own," said Kim Colby, a lawyer with the Christian Legal Society. She credited Quakers and then evangelical Christians with leading the abolition movement.

Similarly, Mathew Staver, the dean of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University School of Law, credited Christians with ending slavery. "If you look at the abolition movement, it was really a movement that rose out of Christian beliefs," Staver said.

Things got more difficult when Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) sought to find out why requiring insurers to cover contraception or abortion, which the Christian advocates opposed, was any more of a restriction on religious liberty than requiring insurers to cover blood transfusions, which some other religions oppose.

"It could be similar, but I think it's also fundamentally different," said Staver, coming about as close as he could to admitting the cases were parallel. The difference, he said, is in the fundamental beliefs of many Christians when it comes to the "creation or destruction of innocent human life."

He did not admit that other religions were entitled to protection of their fundamental beliefs.

Similarly, he refused to see any equivalence in a photographer who refuses to photograph the weddings of gay and lesbian couples on religious grounds, and one who says their religion forbids them from celebrating the marriages of Jews or African-Americans. The first was adhering to a religious belief, while the later would break civil rights laws, Staver said.

Watch those exchanges above.

Also, to start the hearing, Staver complained that states shouldn't be allowed to prevent so-called conversion therapy to treat people for being gay. And he later dodged on whether he supported Russia's anti-gay laws, telling Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), "I don't know what you've read; I haven't spoken on the Russian law anywhere." You can hear Staver speak about his support for the law here, however.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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