The Atlantic

When Conservatives Oppose 'Religious Freedom'

Christian conservatives who defend the rights of Muslims have come under attack by their ideological brethren.
Source: Mike Stone / Reuters

On March 28, Pamela Geller, co-founder of the group Stop Islamization of America, wrote a column on Breitbart that offered Donald Trump some advice: “Clean house.” Paul “Ryan has got to go. James Comey, too,” she urged. Then she added a more obscure name: “What’s Eric Treene still doing there?”

Treene, the Special Counsel for Religious Discrimination in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, is at first glance an odd Breitbart target. For starters, he’s a conservative evangelical Christian. His denomination, The Presbyterian Church in America, opposes abortion and gay marriage, and ordains only men. Before joining the Justice Department, Treene worked at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which later represented Hobby Lobby in its demand to be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to cover contraception. When John Ashcroft hired Treene at the Justice Department in 2002, the anti-abortion group Faith and Action called it “a new day for Christians in Washington.” The liberal American Prospect, by contrast, warned that his appointment might be part of George W. Bush’s agenda for “moving us toward a form of Christian nationhood.”

Despite all this, Treene has become a reviled figure on the Trump-era right. His sin: defending the religious freedoms of American Muslims. Treene, declares Geller, serves as an “errand boy” for “Muslim Brotherhood operatives,” by which she means the leaders of America’s major Muslim organizations. And it’s not just Geller. Treene’s work has also come under attack from his fellow Christian conservatives. When the Justice Department filed an amicus brief defending a Muslim prisoner’s right to grow a beard in 2014, Robert Spencer, who the National Catholic Register has called the “foremost Catholic expert on Islam in our country,” accused Treene and his colleagues of

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