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In Mississippi Marriage Ruling, Judge Gives History Lesson on Anti-Gay Discrimination

The federal court ruling striking down Mississippi’s ban on same-sex couples getting married is worth reading for many reasons. Paul wrote earlier at People For the American Way's blog about U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves’s compelling explanation of the role of the courts in protecting Americans’ constitutional rights. The ruling is also filled with rich historical detail about the extent to which the state of Mississippi and the federal government have discriminated against LGBT citizens over the years, as well as the ways in which groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the notorious Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission used anti-gay rhetoric and innuendo in their attacks on African American civil rights leaders and institutions.

This history is an important rebuttal to bogus claims by anti-gay activists that gay people do not need to have their rights protected in law because they have never suffered from discrimination.

Quotes from the opinion, with citations removed for readability:

Any claim that Mississippians quietly accommodated gay and lesbian citizens could no longer be made in the 1960s, when prejudice against homosexuals (and other groups) became more visible during the civil rights movement. Segregationists called their opponents “racial  perverts,” while U.S. Marshals – summoned to enforce civil rights – were labeled “sadists and  perverts.” Klan propaganda tied together “Communists, homosexuals, and Jews, fornicators and liberals and angry blacks – infidels all.”

One Klan photo showed a black man touching the crotch of the white man sitting next to him, attempting to make the link between racial equality and homosexuality explicit.

Civil rights leaders had predicted the attack. In selecting the Freedom Riders, James Farmer had conducted interviews to weed out “Communists, homosexuals, [and] drug addicts.” “We had to screen them very carefully because we knew that if they found anything to throw at us, they would throw it,” he explained.

This reflected society’s notion that homosexuals were “undesirables.” It also placed civil rights leaders in the position of seeking rights for one disenfranchised group while simultaneously seeking to avoid association with another disenfranchised group. Mississippians opposed to integration harassed several civil rights leaders for their homosexuality. Bill Higgs was a prominent gay Mississippi civil rights lawyer. He was targeted for his activism, convicted in absentia of delinquency of a minor, and threatened with “unlimited  jailings” should he ever return to Mississippi.

He never did.

Reeves also discusses the case of Bayard Rustin, the openly gay African American civil rights activist who organized the 1963 March on Washington at which Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

The most interesting part of Rustin’s story, though – and the reason why he merits more discussion here – is that he was subjected to anti-gay discrimination by both white and black people, majority and minority alike. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, a black Democrat, threatened to feed the media a false story that Rustin was having an affair with Martin Luther King, Jr., unless Dr. King canceled a protest at the Democratic National Convention.

Other persons within the civil rights movement were similarly “put off by Rustin’s homosexuality.” Roy Wilkins, an NAACP executive, “was particularly nasty to Bayard Rustin – very hostile,” in part because he “was very nervous about Bayard’s homosexuality.” Dr. King eventually had Rustin resign “because of persistent criticism of Rustin’s homosexuality and Communist ties and because of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell’s threat.”

Rustin reemerged years later as one of the principal organizers of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. A. Philip Randolph and Dr. King wanted Rustin as the march’s chief organizer, but Wilkins pushed back “because [Rustin] was gay . . . something which in particular would offend J. Edgar Hoover.” The group ultimately “decided Randolph would be in charge of the march, that Rustin would be the principal organizer, but that he would stay somewhat in the background.”

The concern about offending Hoover was prescient, as the FBI Director and other top officials soon moved to use Rustin’s homosexuality against him. In August 1963, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and President John F. Kennedy urgently reviewed the transcript of a FBI wiretap in which Dr. King acknowledged Rustin’s homosexuality. A day later, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina “rose in the Senate to denounce Rustin for sexual perversion, vagrancy, and lewdness.” FBI “headquarters badgered the field offices for new details” of Rustin’s sex life for months.

As Reeves makes clear, this kind of persecution was not only reserved for civil rights activists.

Rustin’s story speaks to the long tradition of Americans from all walks of life uniting to discriminate against homosexuals. It did not matter if one was liberal or conservative, segregationist or civil rights leader, Democrat or Republican; homosexuals were “the other.” Being homosexual invited scrutiny and professional consequences.

These consequences befell quite a few Mississippians. Ted Russell, the conductor of the Jackson Symphony Orchestra, lost his job and his Belhaven College faculty position after he was caught in a gay sex sting by the Jackson Police Department. In the early 1980s, Congressman Jon Hinson drew scrutiny for frequenting an X-rated gay movie theater in Washington, D.C., and although he won reelection, he resigned when he returned to Washington and was caught performing gay sex acts in a Capitol Hill bathroom. As early as 1950, the State’s flagship institution of higher learning, the University of Mississippi, “forced three homosexual students and one faculty member to leave the university” because it “did not tolerate homosexuality.” Lesbian instructors at Mississippi University for Women were pushed out of their jobs, while students at other Mississippi public universities were expelled for their homosexuality. A 1979 article on gay Jacksonians said “most” remained closeted because “they fear losing their jobs, friends and families.”

Reeves discusses the anti-gay actions of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, which was created in 1956 to maintain racial segregation by any means necessary.

Sovereignty Commission “[i]nvestigators and local officials also targeted local blacks and outsiders involved in civil rights activities as being sexually deviant.” They singled out Rust College, a private historically black institution, on reports that instructors there were “homosexuals and racial agitators.”

Those with power took smaller, yet meaningful, actions to discourage gay organizing and association in Mississippi. The State refused to let gay rights organizations incorporate as nonprofits. The newspaper at Mississippi State University – student-led, with an elected editor – refused to print a gay organization’s advertisement notifying gay and lesbian students of an off-campus “Gay Center” offering “counseling, legal aid and a library of homosexual literature. An advisor to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights concluded that the Jackson Police Department took “a series . . . of maneuvers to harass members of Jackson’s gay community.” “As of 1985 not a single university campus in Mississippi recognized a lesbian and gay student group.”

Reeves’s ruling also makes clear that official discrimination is not only in the state’s past.

In 1990, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed a trial judge who declared that a mother, who was a lesbian, could not visit her children in the presence of her female partner. In Weigand v. Houghton, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed a trial judge who refused residential custody to a father in large part because he was in a long-term relationship with another man. A dissent complained that the father’s sexuality had impaired the court’s judgment, since the child would now have to live with “the unemployed stepfather [who] is a convicted felon, drinker, drug-taker, adulterer, wife-beater, and child-threatener, and . . . the mother [who] has been transitory, works two jobs, and has limited time with the child.”

In 2002, one of Mississippi’s justice court judges, frustrated with advances in gay rights in California, Vermont, and Hawaii, “opined that homosexuals belong in mental institutions.” Although he was reprimanded and fined by the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance, the Mississippi Supreme Court vacated the sanctions. It was more important for gay citizens to know that their judge was biased and seek his recusal than to “forc[e] judges to conceal their prejudice against gays and lesbians,” it wrote. The “Commission urges us to ‘calm the waters’ when, as the guardians of this state’s judicial system, we should be helping our citizens to spot the crocodiles.”

Reeves details a number of recent complaints and lawsuits challenging discriminatory treatment by state and local governments as well as legal inequities such as the fact that Mississippi law permits a single person to adopt a child but not gay or lesbian couples.

This kind of restriction was once supported by pseudoscience. We now recognize that it actually “harms the children, by telling them they don’t have two parents, like other children, and harms the parent who is not the adoptive parent by depriving him or her of the legal status of a parent.”

Reeves concludes the historical section of the ruling this way:

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That is as true here as anywhere else. Seven centuries of strong objections to homosexual conduct have resulted in a constellation of State laws that treat gay and lesbian Mississippians as lesser, “other” people. Thus, it is easy to conclude that they have suffered through a long and unfortunate history of discrimination.

Gary Bauer's Anti-Gay Bigotry: The Historical Record

Anyone who is familiar with Gary Bauer's anti-gay extremism will not be surprised to learn that his bigotry goes way back. Just in time for World AIDS Day, we now know that when Bauer was working in the Reagan White House, he fought hard to keep gay people off the nation’s first AIDS commission.

A June 30, 1987, memo from Bauer to President Reagan was unearthed by a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the law firm of McDermott, Will & Emory and the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.  The memo, which appears in the December 1 issue of Harper’s, makes clear that Reagan was already aware of Bauer’s opposition to appointing a “known homosexual” to the commission. Bauer may have sensed that he was losing the battle, and felt compelled to tell Reagan one more time just how strongly he felt.

Bauer’s arguments were both political and moral. He wrote that it was Reagan’s opponents who were pushing for a gay appointee, and that a gay member of the commission might become a media star who could damage the commission’s work. And there’s this:

3. Millions of Americans try to raise their children to believe that homosexuality is immoral. In many states homosexual practices are illegal, including sodomy. For you to appoint a known homosexual to a Presidential Commission will give homosexuality a stamp of acceptability. It will drive a wedge between us and many of our socially conservative supporters.

4. While it is true that homosexuals have been major victims of AIDS, they are also responsible for its spread. Recent students show the average gay man with AIDS has had over 150 different sexual partners in the previous 12 months.

Bauer proposed instead appointing a relative of someone with AIDS, or a caregiver, or as a last resort, a “reformed” homosexual: “that is, someone not currently living a gay life style. We have identified several individuals that meet that criteria.”

In the end, Reagan ignored Bauer’s pleadings and appointed Frank Lilly, an openly gay geneticist, to the Presidential Commission on the HIV Epidemic.

Bauer’s role as an anti-gay zealot in the Reagan White House was also revealed in "Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite" by D. Michael Lindsay. As Kyle reported back in 2010, the book says Bauer interfered with the efforts of Surgeon General C. Everett Koop when he was tasked with drafting a report on AIDS for President Reagan:

[In 1986] President Reagan asked the surgeon general to prepare a report on AIDS as the United States confirmed its ten-thousandth case. Leaders of the evangelical movement did not want Koop to write the report, nor did senior White House staffers who shared Koop's evangelical convictions. As Dr. Koop related to me, "Gary Bauer [Reagan's chief advisor on domestic policy] ... was my nemesis in Washington because he kept me from the president. He kept me from the cabinet and he set up a wall of enmity between me and most of the people that surrounded Reagan because he believed that anybody who had AIDS ought to die with it. That was God's punishment for them."

Neo-Confederate Republican Michael Peroutka Wins Maryland Election

After an election night filled with far-right victories, it’s hard to dub any single winner the most extreme. But Michael Peroutka, newly elected to the Anne Arundel County Council in Maryland, would have to be in anyone’s top five. Peroutka is a radical Christian Reconstructionist and southern secessionist. He says “so-called civil rights laws” are not valid because “there is no such thing as a civil right.” He says promoting evolution “is an act of disloyalty to America.” He says of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, “The reason he hates God is because he thinks he is God.” He thinks gay people are out to “recruit your children” into their “deathstyle.”

Remarkably for someone who has just become an elected official in Maryland, Peroutka argues that since state legislators have passed laws like marriage equality that “violate God’s law,” the Maryland General Assembly is “no longer a valid legislative body” and none of the laws that it has passed are “legally valid and legally enforceable.”

It’s pretty easy for legislators to violate Peroutka’s view of God’s law. He has a clear view of the role of government:

Since civil government is ordained by God in order to protect God-given rights, then the function of civil government is to obey God and to enforce God’s law – PERIOD.

It is not the role of civil government to house, feed, clothe, educate or give heath care to…ANYBODY!

Peroutka was the 2004 presidential nominee of the Constitution Party, whose platform says its goal “is to restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries.” Just a year ago, before Peroutka became a Republican to run for the council seat, he was urging Tea Party activists “to disengage themselves from the Republican Party and their brand of worthless, Godless, unprincipled conservatism.” Peroutka’s Institute on the Constitution has given Tea Party activists training on his view of the biblical basis of the Constitution.

Peroutka argued last year that the reason the U.S. is not following God’s law on marriage and other issues is because when the Union won the Civil War – in his words “The War Between the States” – people began looking to government rather than God as the foundation of their rights. When local media began focusing on Peroutka’s connections to the racist, secessionist League of the South – he served on its board and was a featured speaker at its June 2013 conference on “Southern Independence: Antidote to Tyranny” – he resigned, feigning surprise at racist material on the group’s website, though even then he told reporters, “I don’t have any problem with the organization.”

Anne Arundel County Maryland, one of the wealthiest counties in the country, is home to the state capital of Annapolis.

Religious Right Leaders Join Vatican Man-Woman Marriage Event

Fresh off the synod on the family, at which conservative Catholic bishops rallied to assert ideological domination over the final report, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Inquisition) has announced that it will be hosting a colloquium this month on the “Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.” Trekking to Vatican City for the event will be some American anti-equality advocates: Rick Warren, the Southern Baptists’ Russell Moore, right-wing Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput, and Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The November 17-19 event will be co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The announcement of the colloquium says it will feature representatives from 14 religious traditions and 23 countries. Among them is Nicholas Okoh, the Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria, who has called homosexuality a manifestation of the devil and praised Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s “courage” in signing a harsh anti-gay law last December. Okoh said in January that people who oppose the law will face “disaster.”

The event will also premiere six short films about marriage; a trailer for the series is online now.

UPDATE: Russell Moore has explained why he's going to the Vatican:

Here’s what I hope comes out of the meeting. I hope that this gathering of religious leaders can stand in solidarity on the common grace, creational mandate of marriage and family as necessary for human flourishing and social good. I also hope that we can learn from one another about where these matters stand around the world. And I hope that those of us from the believers’ church tradition can represent well our views of how marriage is more than just a natural good (although it is never less than that), but is a picture of the gospel one-flesh union of Christ and his church.

What Matt Barber Does And Doesn't Find Appalling

Yesterday, we reported that Matt Barber’s conservative website BarbWire published an anti-gay column by Philip Stallings, a self-described “theonomist” who recently advocated for the “lawful execution” of gay people – or “sodomites.”

Stallings’ column has disappeared, and today Barber tweeted at us, “Wow! Thanks for the tip. We obviously weren’t aware of that & find the position appalling. The answer is life in Christ.”

Well. It’s good to have Matt Barber say he finds the idea of executing gay people appalling. We agree.

But if that’s the case he ought to consider vetting the material he promotes a little more carefully. Just over a week ago we noted that BarbWire had run a column praising Pastor Steven Anderson, who has called for the execution of gays, and has said, “You want to know who the biggest hypocrite in the world is? The biggest hypocrite in the world is the person who believes in the death penalty for murderers and not for homosexuals.”

And given how much anti-gay extremism is promoted by Barber and his Religious Right allies, that got us wondering if anything else short of calling for the killing of gay people would cross the line for Barber.

We collected some other statements that Barber apparently doesn’t find appalling, because they’ve all been in columns promoted on his site:

Here are some other things we find appalling that Matt Barber seemingly does not:

Jeff Allen, a BarbWire editor, compares the gay rights movement to “a malignant cancer” and says, “Each victory for the homosexual activists represents another nail in America’s coffin.”  Allen has supported brutal anti-gay laws in Uganda, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, which include imprisonment not only for sexual conduct but also for joining social clubs or advocating for equality. Allen was upset when criticized for his “innocent mistake” of calling a fake photo of “NAMBLA for Obama” an example of “the undeniable link between homosexuality and pedophilia.” More Allen: “Satanism, sodomy, and slaughter are each part of the Devil’s sinister agenda to destroy America.”

BarbWire content editor Gina Miller has written that the “demonic” gay rights advocates are advancing “Satan’s tyrannical desire to crush Christianity” and warned last year that if gays get their way “Christians here in America will be in danger of state-sanctioned murder for their beliefs.” In June, Miller responded to the announcement that some Boy Scout troops would march in New York’s LGBT pride parade by calling it “a perverse attack on young boys who are being used as little tools by an evil movement of sexual degenerates who cannot reproduce, so they must recruit.”

This spring, BarbWire published a column by former Indiana lawmaker Don Boys recounting his attempt to recriminalize homosexuality. In a similar column a few years earlier, Boys had explained that he wanted to make homosexuality a crime punishable by up to twelve years in prison.

Robert Oscar Lopez wrote for BarbWire that almost every situation “involving a same-sex couple with exclusive custody of small children is adult misconduct at best or a crime against humanity at worst.”

BarbWire publishes notorious anti-gay activist Scott Lively, who wrote this summer that the US and its State Department had become “The Great Satan” of the world for opposing anti-gay legislation overseas. Lively has promoted anti-gay policies in Uganda and around the world.

And that’s just a sampling of the anti-gay extremists who have found a home on BarbWire. Not to mention Barber himself, who says he has been “called by God” to “sound the alarm” about the fact that gay sex is always sinful, and “The wages of sin is death.”

We’re just scratching the service. BarbWire’s extremism is not limited to anti-gay activities. It publishes just about anything you could imagine about President Barack Obama. BarbWire has published calls for God to “cut short” Obama’s presidency and claims Obama worships “Lucifer/Moloch” and intends “to turn the USA into the Marxist-Islamic North American Caliphate.” Among the conspiracy theories it promotes:

We don’t know about Barber, but we find that appalling. 

BarbWire Runs Column By 'Theonomist' Who Backs Execution Of Gays

As we’ve noted before, Matt Barber’s website BarbWire has become quite the outlet for extremists. Today, BarbWire promotes as one of its “Top Stories” a column called “Repent! For the Kingdom of Sodom is At Hand.”  Columnist Philip Stallings bemoans growing support for LGBT equality among millennials, blaming it on “the public school system’s indoctrination of wickedness.” Stallings praises civil magistrates in North Carolina who have refused to issue marriage certificates to “sodomites.” And, of course, he cites the over-hyped controversy over subpoenas in Houston, and the Alliance Defense Fund’s concocted controversy about the “Hitching Post” wedding chapel business in Idaho to portray equality advocates as enemies of religious liberty:

When are we going to realize that this is war? There can be no doubt that the trend now is not only to bully and wreak havoc among Christians, but to lock up Pastors and anyone else that stands for the truth until God’s Law is eradicated from their mist.

This is nothing less than a war and Christians need to be standing up everywhere in this nation contending earnestly for the faith! We should be getting just as passionate in our message of “change” and call upon this nation to repent and to follow God’s Law on this matter.

Stallings is identified on BarbWire as a “Political Theonomist.” That’s a term used by Christian Reconstructionists who believe government should be enforcing their interpretation of Old Testament law, like Gary North and Michelle Bachman mentor John Eidsmoe.

Turns out that’s exactly what Stallings believes. His Twitter feed links to a Christian radio show on which he spent nearly half an hour on August 25 arguing that the government should execute homosexuals – or “sodomites.”

It’s my position that the role of the state is morally obligated to obey God’s law…I am for lawful execution of the homosexual.

When the show’s surprised hosts pushed back and asked whether he would support other things called for in the Old Testament, like the stoning of rebellious children, Stallings said God commanded whole nations to be destroyed “all the way down to their children” and that the rebellious son in the Bible was “refusing their parents’ commandments and was openly rebellious in the community.”

And, yeah, I’m for what the Bible teaches in that regard, along with the murderer, and the rapist, and the kidnapper, and in this case the sodomite.

Stallings described his understanding of Theonomy as meaning that “God’s law is implemented. The civil magistrate must be moral, and the only way we could say someone is moral is if they’re obeying God’s law. In other words, the state is not an autonomous being. It is not executing the law morally if it’s being disobedient to God’s law.”

Excerpts below from Stallings on “Reformation Nation”

Putin Ally Builds New Orthodox News Network On Fox Model

Slate’s Joshua Keating is out with a profile of Konstantin Malofeev, the Russian oligarch who has become a full-time activist and benefactor to “traditional family” causes in Russia and Europe. Malofeev worked with the Illinois-based World Congress of Families to organize last month’s social conservative conference at the Kremlin. In fact, Malofeev sounds a lot like an American Religious Right leader when he argues that Christians are facing totalitarian persecution in the U.S. and western Europe:  

“Just as Christians in the West in Ronald Reagan’s time helped us against the evil of communism, we now have to return our debt to Christians who are suffering under totalitarianism in the West,” he says. “This so-called liberalism, tolerance, and freedom, these are just words, but behind them you can see the totalitarianism.” 

Asked for examples of this totalitarianism, he cites legal battles over U.S. businesses not providing flowers or cakes for gay weddings and the use of tear gas against anti-gay-marriage protesters in France. “We saw all of this in the 1920s in the Soviet Union. We know how it starts when the protection of minorities becomes the policy of the state,” he says. 

Keating’s profile makes it clear that Malofeev, currently under sanctions from the EU and Canada for allegedly financing Ukrainian rebels, has big ideas. He is monarchist who wants to see a return of the Czars and the reconstruction of the Russian empire. “We the Russian people are a divided nation, just as the Germans were after the Second World War,” he told Keating.

One of his Malofeev’s big ideas is a new Orthodox conservative television network modeled on the Fox News.  “We want to show the news in the way that Orthodox people, who are 70 to 80 percent of the population, see it.” The Orthodox Church has been a valuable ally for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s nationalist and anti-gay policies, and it seems likely that Malofeev’s openly propagandist channel will not meet the same fate as other independent news networks under Putin’s regime.  

The new network is just a YouTube channel for now, but Malofeev has hired as a producer enigmatic former Fox News employee Jack Hanick. We first encountered Hanick when he joined National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown last year at a Moscow roundtable organized by Malofeev and opined that “God called on” Russia” to “stand up for traditional values” where the rest of the world had failed.

Hanick was part of the planning committee for the World Congress of Families event although he said in a recent interview that he was there as a journalist, not an activist. (World Congress of Families dropped its official role in the event after Russia invaded Crimea, although top officials from the group remained involved in their personal capacities, and other Religious Right leaders like Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage were not deterred from attending.)

In an interview with the Russian website Colta earlier this month, Hanick voiced his support for a Russian law banning the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors and said that he had thought that gay rights organizations would also support the law. He also praised Fox News founder Roger Ailes for pioneering of unabashedly biased journalism, envisioning a world where journalists act as lawyers, presenting either side of a case and clearly stating their allegiances.  Ailes, he gushed, “changed television forever.”

Ted Cruz, the Houston Hype, and the Dishonesty of the Anti-Equality Movement

Conservative religious leaders have a long track record of hyping supposed threats to religious liberty in America  specifically, to the religious liberty of conservative Christians. In fact, portraying Christians as a persecuted minority under siege by anti-freedom LGBT activists and secular humanists has become the right's primary strategy for reversing the advance of equality in America. But even in the long context of crying wolf over threats to religious freedom, Sen. Ted Cruz and his religious right allies have set new records for dishonest hype in their response to this week's controversy over subpoenas sent to a few religious leaders in Houston.

Cruz told the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody that there is a "real risk" that preachers will be hauled off to jail for preaching against homosexuality, recycling an old and equally ludicrous charge that hate crimes laws would result in pastors being dragged from the pulpit.

Some in the media ridicule that threat saying there is no danger of the government coming after pastors. That is the usual response." But he adds: "The specter of government trying to determine if what pastors preach from the pulpit meets with the policy views or political correctness of the governing authorities, that prospect is real and happening now.

Cruz is lying. And he has lots of company promoting the Houston hype. Todd Starnes of Fox News charged, "There is a war over religious liberty in Houston, Texas." The Family Research Council's Ken Blackwell said it smacked of totalitarianism and said it suggested that it was "a domestic version of the terrorists outside of our country" who think "America is evil." Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared, "This is how religious liberty dies."

As exciting as it is to hear the alarm bells and read the hyperventilating emails, the truth is far less dramatic. Sorry, Sen. Cruz, but the government is not policing sermons for political correctness. It's not going to start tossing anti-gay preachers in jail.

So what is the real story?

The immediate cause of the ruckus was a subpoena sent by attorneys for the city of Houston to several pastors who had been active in opposition to the city's new anti-discrimination law. Conservatives ran a signature-gathering campaign to put the law before the voters, but city attorneys ruled that so many of the signatures were not valid that the effort did not qualify for the ballot.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a Religious Right law firm, stepped in and sued the city over that decision. As part of the discovery process in the lawsuit, attorneys for the city sent subpoenas to five prominent pastors asking for sermons and other communications they had about the ordinance, the signature gathering effort, and the controversy over homosexuality and gender identity.

Here's the problem. The subpoena was sent to pastors who are not party to the lawsuit, and it asked for some materials that do not seem directly relevant to the determination of whether signatures were collected in accordance with the law. By giving pundits something to scream about, the subpoena was a gift to Religious Right leaders and their political allies, who thrive on promoting the myth of anti-Christian religious persecution in the U.S. And they have run with it.

On Friday the city narrowed the scope of their discovery request somewhat. And it's entirely possible that a judge will further limit the amount of materials the city can collect in the Religious Right's lawsuit. That's how our legal system works.

It's terribly inconvenient to the Religious Right's narrative that progressive religious leaders are among those who have criticized the Houston attorneys' subpoena. Among those who criticized the city's subpoena as troubling and overly intrusive were supporters of LGBT equality and church-state separation. Baptists of all stripes weighed in. Both progressive religious leaders and atheists publicly agreed. Even the ACLU! So much for the supposed enemies of religious freedom.

Even some religious conservatives have denounced the Houston hype. In reality, the entire episode undermines right-wing claims that religious liberty is hanging by a thread in America. Indeed, it demonstrates that Religious liberty is widely respected as a core constitutional principle and a fundamental American value — by people across the religious landscape and our fractured political spectrum. If only Ted Cruz and his allies were as committed to the constitutional and legal equality of Houston's, and America's, LGBT citizens.

This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post. 

Becket Fund Pretends It's Not Fighting The Culture Wars

Politico is up with a profile of the Becket Fund, one of the Religious Right legal groups that has pushed, via Hobby Lobby and related cases, to expand the definition of “religious liberty” to allow corporations and individuals as well as religious institutions to opt out of laws they say violate their religious beliefs.

The article by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux quotes Stanford Law School professor Michael McConnell saying nice things about Becket, but it doesn’t mention that Becket steered $1.6 million to Stanford and McConnell for a religious liberty law clinic that opened at the school last year.

In Politico, McConnell attributes to Becket the idea that religious freedom “is not – in most contexts – a culture war issue.” At a forum on religious liberty at the Newseum last year, Becket’s Mark Rienzi also suggested that religious liberty is not a culture war issue.

In reality, redefining “religious liberty” has become the central culture war issue and the primary legal and public relations strategy chosen by conservative evangelicals and their allies in the Catholic hierarchy to resist the advance of LGBT equality and restrict women’s access to reproductive care. Becket is at the center of this strategy. A corollary strategy is portraying Christians in America as the victims of religious persecution; Becket lawyers appear in Rick Santorum’s latest movie, “One Generation Away: The Erosion of Religious Liberty.”

While it is true that support for religious freedom crosses political and religious lines, and it is admirable that Becket, unlike some other Religious Right legal groups, defends the freedom of religious minorities as well as conservative Christians, it is hard to accept with a straight face the idea that Becket’s lawyers are not culture warriors.

Let’s review some of Becket’s culture-war credentials:

  • In addition to Robert George, the intellectual force behind the Manhattan Declaration and the Catholic bishops’ “religious liberty” strategy, Becket’s board includes culture warriors like the Family Research Council’s Ken Blackwell and right-wing mega-funder Sean Fieler.
  • Earlier this year, Becket celebrated the Supreme Court’s ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway, in which the Court upheld sectarian prayer at official public meetings and narrowly defined what would amount to unconstitutional religious coercion of people attending those meetings. Becket signaled that it hoped the decision would lead to the further dismantling of court rulings that uphold church-state separation.
  • Last year a Becket blog post about a legal victory for a Colorado voucher program that diverts public education funds to religious schools was headlined “Needy Kids 1, Anti-Catholic Bigots 0.”
  • In the fall of 2012, Becket co-sponsored an event for the Manhattan Declaration — itself a call to the culture-war barricades. According to an admiring report by Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, Becket President William Mumma “noted that in today’s culture wars ‘religion is not an accidental victim, it is the target’ for radical secularists. ‘When government tries to murder religion it may murder religious liberty but not religion,’ he promised, as faith will survive amid persecution.”
  • Becket’s executive director Kristina Arriaga joined hard-core culture warriors in supporting the Pray and A.C.T. group created by dominionist Lou Engle in advance of the 2010 elections.
  • In 2008 Becket ran a full-page ad in the New York Times charging that anti-Prop 8 protesters were “thugs” engaged in a “religious war” of violence and intimidation against the Mormon church; founder Kevin “Seamus” Hasson responded to criticism with a comparison of “radical secularist” Prop 8 protestors to radical Islamist terrorists.

Winners of Becket’s Canterbury Medal over the past decade include Robert George; ultraconservative Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who has waged what a local columnist called a “war on Obama” over the HHS mandate; Eric Mataxas, the author whose 2012 prayer breakfast speech delighted right-wing activists with its thinly veiled attacks on President Obama’s faith; and Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks, a strong defender of the LDS Church’s anti-equality efforts.

One more quibble with the Politico story: its headline – “God’s Rottweilers” – does give a sense of the group’s intensity, but it also implies that Becket is working for God. Media coverage all too often portrays culture war issues as a struggle between religious people and “radical secularists” when in fact there are also many religious individuals and organizations actively opposed to the Religious Right’s agendas on LGBT equality, women’s access to reproductive care, and the relationship between church and state.

GOP 2016 Candidates Have Busy Religious Right Schedule Post-Values Voter Summit

The Values Voter Summit is thick with Republican presidential wannabes and members of Congress — a potent counter to recurring claims that the Religious Right is dead or dying as a political force. And the VVS is not the only place Republican candidates and politicians court Religious Right leaders and activists. Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition had a pile of elected officials at its “Road to Majority” conference this summer. And, as we’ve reported, Republican presidential hopefuls make regular appearances at events convened by Christian-nation extremist David Lane and his Pastors and Pews network.

It’s a trend that isn’t slowing down any. David Catanese at US News & World Report reported this week that at least five potential presidential contenders — including Indiana Gov. Mike Pence — will be appearing at David Lane events this fall.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister himself, is slated to participate in three of the upcoming "Pastors & Pews" settings, maintaining his close connection with religious conservatives.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who has been the subject of increased White House speculation, will also travel to a "Pastors & Pews" event in Troy, Michigan next month. While Pence has said his focus remains on the first-term of his governorship in Indiana, the move shows his interest in testing the waters with an important Republican primary constituency.

Organized by conservative political consultant David Lane, the gathering of local pastors in cities across the country is designed to encourage and motivate them to participate in the political process.

“We have a constituency that we’re mobilizing. My goal is to restore America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and reestablish a Christian culture," Lane tells U.S. News.

Lane insists that America was founded as a Christian nation and believes the Bible should be made a primary textbook in public schools. But none of that is keeping prominent Republicans from courting the evangelical pastors that Lane wants to turn into a right-wing voter turnout machine. Lane told Catanese that he has Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal signed up for New Hampshire this week; Huckabee and Rand Paul in North Carolina next week; Pence and Rick Santorum in Michigan October 6-7, and Huckabee and Oklahoma Rep. James Lankford in Arkansas Oct 20-21. Huckabee and Ted Cruz already went to Michigan for a David Lane event in August.

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