Overstock.com exec launches effort to defend religious liberty

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, Jonathan Johnson, Executive Vice Chairman of Overstock.com, grew worried. While he liked the federalist arguments he heard, he worried about the equal protection arguments.

“At some point,” he remembers thinking, “equal protection and free exercise of religion are going to run into each other.”

This makes sense. What happens, for example, when a same sex couple comes to an Orthodox rabbi, asking to be married in a synagogue?

So Johnson and some friends hatched an idea for states to pass a constitutional amendment saying: “A religious organization, religious association, religious society or any person acting in a role connected with such organization, association or society and shall not be required to solemnize, officiate in, or recognize any particular marriage or religious rite of marriage in violation of its constitutional right of conscience or its free exercise of religion.”

(The wording is still being fleshed out, but that’s basically what it will say.)

In some ways, this shouldn’t be controversial. The proposed amendment “doesn’t get in the way of gay marriage,” Johnson notes — “but it [also] doesn’t have gay marriage encroach into areas of religious liberty.”

Johnson is based in Utah, so that’s an obvious place to begin. “To me, this is a national effort,” he averred. “Frankly , the United States Constitution is pretty clearly saying, Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. I think that’s clear, and it may be enough. But I get concerned when the equal protection clause seems unbounded.”

As conservatives work to create a firewall on the issue of religious liberty, don’t be surprised if this effort catches on nationwide. Johnson already has a Utah PAC (First Freedom PAC) and a 501 (c)(4) that he says has “raised low six digits — and we’re not really trying yet,” he says.

Matt K. Lewis