Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who announced his presidential campaign Tuesday, says he's "aghast" at the backlash to Indiana's religious freedom law and that there's even a discussion about religious freedom.
"You know, I guess I'm aghast that we even have to have a discussion whether there should be religious liberty in our country," Paul told Boston Herald radio on Wednesday when asked about the Indiana law.
"You know we've had religious liberty from the very beginning. In fact, the founding fathers sort of debated whether we needed to list all of the rights because it should be so apparent to everyone that you have freedom to express your religion. So no, I think we, that people, should be free to practice their religion unimpeded by the government."
Asked if establishments should be allowed to discriminate -- specifically an Indiana pizzeria who told a local news affiliate they would not cater a same-sex wedding if asked (but said they would serve gay customers in their pizzeria) -- Paul said such things were a "red herring" and "straw argument."
"Well that's not the way I would put it," Paul said. "I am very much a believer in tolerance. I'm very much a believer in respect, and I am very much a believer that the government shouldn't be involved in these things. And I think what people set up was a red herring here to go to a pizza place and ask them if they would cater a wedding. I haven't been to a wedding catered by a pizza place yet."
"So basically—it was basically set up as this straw argument. And even the owners of the pizza place said that they don't discriminate you know, when people come in. And so I think that really we trump up these things but I ultimately think that if you are a Christian and you want to go to Africa to evangelize the best way to convince people of your opinion is through persuasion. And I think the same way, no matter what opinion you are trying to promote, the persuasion wins a lot more people over than hitting people over the head with a law or lawsuits or things like that. And so I think society does change gradually over time and society has changed a lot even in the last decade or so. So I don't think we need government of lawsuits to be involved."
After extreme backlash in which the pizzeria was forced to closed, citing public threats and harassment, the store's owner told conservative radio host Dana Loesch of The Blaze they were "in hiding." An online fundraiser generated nearly a million dollars in donations for the pizzeria after the backlash.
Critics had said the Indiana law would allow LGBT discrimination. Gov. Mike Pence then signed a revised version that states that the law cannot be used to discriminate.
"You know, I think I have a great deal of affection and love for my father," Paul told Boston Herald radio on Wednesday. "You know, he's been a big influence in my life. One of the reasons I became a physician is some of the first times I went into surgery were with my father and so uh, nah, I think my father's one of the few genuine characters in the history of Congress who really has been forthright and honest."