Peter Montgomery's blog

World Congress Of Families: Criticism Of Putin Is Liberal Media Hysteria

Representatives of the World Congress of Families held a news conference at the National Press Club on Wednesday to talk about their 2014 summit, which will be held in Moscow in September.  The WCF and the Religious Right groups it partners with are ardent promoters of anti-gay legislation worldwide, and they love Russia's anti-gay President Vladimir Putin. 

Earlier this week the WCF announced that the opening session would be held in the Congress Hall of the Kremlin Palace, that a special parliamentary session will also be held in the Russian Duma and a special scientific forum at St Petersburg State University. At today's press conference it was announced that the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church is expected to address the gathering.

WCF Managing Director Larry Jacobs, C-FAM’s Austin Ruse, Concerned Women for America’s Janice Shaw Crouse, and Alexey Komov, WCF’s man in Russia, were delighted about anti-gay legislation that has passed in Moscow and were defensive about western criticism of Putin’s regime.

Given the record of the event organizers, none of that was very surprising. What was surprising is the way the press conference was hijacked by conservative activist Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media, who pointed out that Putin was a product of the Communist-era KGB; he took the organizers to task for partnering with Putin and produced a list of political prisoners he said are being held in Russia.

Kincaid’s strident criticism of Russia’s history provoked Komov into a screed against real and imagined problems from American history, from the slaughter of Native Americans to political prisoners in Guantanamo, complete with references to the supposed killing of 200 witnesses to the JFK assassination and the question of who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Komov suggested that during the era of Ronald Reagan, the U.S. was free, pro-Christian, and pro-capitalist, while Russia was mired in communism. He suggested that under Obama and Putin, a role reversal is under way. He said he would hesitate to say which country is more free, Russia or the U.S.

UPDATE: Kincaid has posted video of the exchange. Watch:

Jacobs was clearly uncomfortable with Komov’s rant, perhaps because, as he had mentioned earlier, WCF has yet to finalize confirmations from Members of Congress who they hope will attend the Moscow summit.

Speakers said they were proud of what Crouse called Russia's "leadership role" on behalf of the family, and proud of what Ruse called the "massive network" of people organizing around the world on behalf of the family and in opposition to "the agenda of the sexual left."

Asked about bipartisan criticism of the increasingly anti-democratic nature of Putin’s rule, Ruse suggested that some people are “stuck in cold war amber” and are consumed by a “visceral hatred of all things Russian.” He energetically supported Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law, saying “there is no human right to tell the gay narrative to schoolchildren.” And he dismissed concerns about Putin’s moves against freedom of the press, saying Russians had no “historical memory” of that kind of freedom.

Janice Shaw Crouse said she had “no problem whatsoever” with the prosecution of members of Pussy Riot, falsely claiming that they had disrupted a church service with the performance that landed them in jail.

All the speakers claimed that freedom of press and dissent is alive and well in Russia, saying that they have criticized Putin’s crackdown on homeschoolers and that bloggers are free to criticize the government. And they portrayed Russia as a sort of paradise where gay couples can stroll hand in hand without fear. (For another view, read Jeff Sharlet's recent reporting from Russia in GQ.)

Komov slammed “radical LGBT activists” who he said were trying to turn the Olympics into a “gay pride parade.” Komov said he opposed violence against gay people, but he insisted there was no correlation between passage of anti-gay laws and anti-gay violence in the country, dismissing the idea as “hysteria” from “the liberal media.”

Komov also opined that the Olympics were no place for gay rights: “Olympics is the place for sports and health and normal values that unite everyone ...And we know that if we want Olympics to be sports and health, we know, statistics show us that homosexual lifestyles are not healthy.”

UPDATE: Video of the comments taken by Kincaid:

 

Ted Cruz vs. The Religious Right: Is Putin Tyrant Or Savior?

Is it possible to talk about human rights abuses in Russia in the context of the Olympics and not once mention Russia’s anti-gay laws, the rising tide of anti-gay violence, or the controversy over the impact that Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law might have on athletes and visitors? Sure, if you’re Sen. Ted Cruz speaking at an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation. 

Cruz, darling of the Religious Right and Tea Party, slammed Russia’s “increasingly autocratic” president at the January 28 Heritage event.  He portrayed Vladimir Putin as a tyrant systematically working to crush Ukrainian independence and reassemble the old Soviet Union. And of course he took the opportunity to slam the Obama administration, which he said was not standing up forcefully for human rights.

Following Cruz to the microphone was Katrina Lantos Swett, Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Swett, a “proud Democrat,” detailed a litany of anti-democratic laws adopted in Putin’s Russia, including “religious freedom” and “extremism” laws that give the government wide latitude to discriminate against minority religions, including Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Pentecostal Christians.  She said the Russian government is undermining civil society with severe restrictions on protests and the return of Soviet-era tactics like sentencing dissidents to psychiatric treatment. Swett did mention the anti-gay “propaganda” law in her list of Putin’s anti-democratic actions.

There are a couple remarkable things about this panel, other than finding myself in agreement with Cruz about something (Putin is an anti-democratic strongman).

First, in his 26-minute speech and during the Q&A, at an event about human rights and the Olympics, Cruz did not breathe a word about the raging controversy over Russia’s attacks on the rights and lives of LGBT people. The closest Cruz came was mentioning, as an example of Putin’s efforts to crush dissent, his moves against “a punk rock band.” Cruz joked about his unwillingness to say the band’s name (Pussy Riot).

Second, Cruz is clearly at odds with anti-gay and anti-abortion leaders in the U.S. who have been busily praising Putin as the defender of traditional values and savior of Christianity. Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber, for example, has said Putin is being allowed to “out-Christian our once-Christian nation.” The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer has called Putin “the lion of Christianity, the defender of Christian values, the president that’s calling his nation back to embracing its identity as a nation founded on Christian values.”

In fact there is a whole gaggle of Religious Right leaders who have, as Miranda has reported, fallen all over themselves to praise Putin and his anti-free-speech, anti-gay crackdown. And some of them have done more than just praise Putin. Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage traveled to Russia to build support for anti-gay legislation. The Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society is excited about heading to Moscow for its 2014 “World Congress of Families” summit.

Cruz was eager to criticize the Obama administration for not advocating more strongly for human rights in Russia, but what does he have to say about his Religious Right pals who are actively praising and enabling Putin’s anti-democratic moves? And who have attacked the Obama administration’s efforts to promote the human rights of LGBT people abroad? We’re listening.

The Problem with 'School Choice' Week: What's Behind the Bright Yellow Banner

“School choice” will be celebrated this week at thousands of events across the country, with speakers talking about empowered parents and educational excellence.  It will probably be a public relations bonanza for the “school choice” movement.  But here’s the problem: the bright yellow banner of National School Choice Week is designed to distract attention from the least appealing and most dangerous aspects of that movement -- anti-government ideologues, privatization profiteers, and religious fundamentalists eager to get their hands on public education dollars.

Let’s back up a bit.

Education policy is a vast, complicated, and hotly contested arena. Terms like “education reform” and “school choice” sound good, but they are so broad as to be almost meaningless. They can be applied to genuine efforts to strengthen teaching and educational opportunity as well as cynical schemes to destroy public employee unions and dismantle public education altogether.

In particular, “school choice” encompasses a huge array of education policies, from public school charter and magnet schools to taxpayer-funded for-profit cyberschools and homeschooling.  Even a seemingly specific term like “charter schools” cloaks a more complex reality that ranges from innovation labs co-located in public schools to for-profit chain operations.  

If you believe that public education is an important democratic institution, and you think education policy should be aimed at giving every child the opportunity to attend a quality public school, these policies don’t all look alike. They don’t all have the same impact on public schools, or the same levels of public accountability.

But the folks at National School Choice Week would like you not to think about that.  Here’s Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week, in a January 2 column:

To individual parents – “school choice” is not just about charter schools, or private schools, or traditional public or magnet schools, or online learning and homeschooling. It’s about having a choice of all of these options, being able to make a choice, and selecting the learning environments that are right for their individual children. When school choice organizations work together, the collective messaging of these partnerships and this broad, familiar definition of school choice resonates with families.

He acknowledges that people have different ideas about what school choice means: “It goes without saying that a charter school association and a private school choice group might not agree on every policy issue, or that a homeschooling organization and a magnet school consortium will not always find common ground,” he says, but we can all come together on “the basics.”

The problem with this “collective messaging” approach is that it hides the anti-public-education agenda of some “reformers.” Celebrating “school choice” across the board lends credibility to organizations pushing for destructive policies that are not at all popular with the American public. In spite of decades of right-wing-funded attacks on public education, for example, Americans oppose privatization plans  like vouchers that transfer public education funds to private schools.

Self-proclaimed reformers often dismiss concerns about privatization as a “red herring.” But you can’t embrace the Milton Friedman Foundation as a partner and then pretend that privatization is only an imaginary threat dreamed up by teachers unions.  Friedman has an explicit goal of getting rid of public schools altogether; they see programs like vouchers for poor kids as a tactical stepping stone toward that ultimate goal.

Others view the huge amount of money we collectively spend on educating children as a source of cash. One of the sponsors of National School Choice Week is K12, a member of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council and a company the New York Times has described as “the biggest player in the online-school business,” one “that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload, and lowering standards.”  In September 2013, a hedge fund manager betting that the company’s model was unsustainable said that “K 12’s aggressive student recruitment has led to dismal academic results by students and sky-high dropout rates, in some cases more than 50% annually.” And yet Executive Chairman Nathaniel Davis was paid more than $9.5 million last year; Morningstar reports that K12’s compensation to top executives went from 8.89 million in 2011 to 10.89 million in 2012 to 21.37 million in 2013. According to Sourcewatch, $730.0 million of the $848.2 million K12 earned last year came from its “managed public schools” – in other words, taxpayers.

For-profit schools that are doing a lousy job can be protected by the huge amounts of money they spend lobbying in state legislatures. A November 2011 investigation by Lee Fang for The Nation reported that White Hat Management, which runs both traditional and virtual charter schools, had become Ohio’s second-largest GOP donor; the company’s success rate under No Child Left Behind was 2 percent, compared to 54.9% for traditional schools and 30 percent for “virtual schools” run by nonprofits.

Publicly funded vouchers to pay for private schools have been rejected each time they have come before voters, and there is scant evidence that the voucher programs that are operational produce better academic outcomes.  But they are still a cherished goal of anti-government ideologues and operators of for-profit and religious schools.  One of the biggest “school choice” advocates among the country’s governors is Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, who has embarked on a grand privatization plan grounded in school vouchers, many of which have been used to send students to religious schools with questionable curricula and substandard academic achievement.  Data released by the state in November indicated that almost half of the vouchers were being used at schools that scored a D or F on the state’s rating scale.

There are unquestionably well-intentioned people in the education reform movement, some of whom will be participating in National School Choice Week activities. There are people of all political persuasions eager to find ways to give students a better education, and that includes teachers, administrators, and school board members – people who are collectively dismissed as “the blob” by some “reformers.”

People of good faith can and do disagree about the best way to strengthen teaching, hold schools accountable, reduce the devastating impact of poverty, and more.  But people who are genuinely seeking ways to strengthen public education and make schools better for all children should think twice about making common cause with organizations who see public education as something to be dismantled, and with companies whose bottom line is measured not in student achievement but in the profit margins demanded by their investors.

Rodriguez Civility Campaign Partners With World's Most Uncivil People

Rev. Sam Rodriguez, who heads the evangelical National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, has an extraordinary talent for self-promotion – and for positioning himself as a moderate evangelical while being a fully engaged culture warrior with close ties to both mainstream Religious Right groups and fringier dominionist ones.  His reputation is based on the fact that he parts ways with the right on a few issues, like comprehensive immigration reform, for which he has been an energetic advocate.

Rodriguez has repeatedly portrayed himself as a voice of reason calling for more civility in public discourse.  His latest gambit is the Imago Dei campaign, whose goal, according to TIME’s Elizabeth Dias, is “to change the narrative of evangelical engagement in the public square, especially when it comes to traditional culture war issues.”

Rodriguez says that too often evangelicals in the United States have become known for what they oppose, and not for what they propose, and younger generations have had enough. “The church of Jesus Christ and the word hatred should not even appear in the same sentence,” Rodriguez says. “What if every single person can recognize the image of God in the other? Wouldn’t that bring down the noise of the hateful rhetoric? Wouldn’t that build a firewall between intolerance and bullying? Wouldn’t that build a firewall against extremism?”

This might sound like a big deal to people who either aren’t familiar with Rodriguez or with the Religious Right leaders who have signed on to his campaign. But it’s hard to see anything new here. Back in 2010, Rodriguez was a signer of the “Covenant of Civility,” which said in part,

“We believe that each of us, and our fellow human beings, are created in the image of God… We pledge that when we disagree, we will do so respectfully, without impugning the other’s motives, attacking the other’s character, or questioning the other’s faith, and recognizing in humility that in our limited, human opinions, “we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

In 2011 he was part of a Christianity Today ad campaign talking about disagreeing with love and civility. That same year, in the wake of the public shooting in Tucson, he was among religious leaders who signed a letter to members of Congress that said “This tragedy has spurred a sorely needed time of soul searching and national public dialogue about violent and vitriolic political rhetoric. We strongly support this reflection, as we are deeply troubled that rancor, threats and incivility have become commonplace in our public debates.”  In 2012, he told Patheos blogger Timothy Dalrymple, We want to look at a new narrative of evangelicalism, one that’s less hostile, less confrontational and more full of civility.”

The language used to launch the Imago Dei campaign comes from Rodriguez’s 2013 book, The Lamb’s Agenda. In the book he says, it is wrong to “marginalize or malign those with whom we disagree….The day of angry evangelicalism is officially over. The day of a loving, Bible-believing community espousing truth with love officially commences right now.”

Well, at least he keeps trying, right?

There are two major problems here: one is Rodriguez’s own rhetoric, which doesn’t always meet his civility standard. Sometimes he comes across as conciliatory, as when he described a meeting with President Obama as “a conversation amongst believers.” But there’s also the Rodriguez who suggests that his political opponents represent “the forces of darkness.” In a Religious Right “prayercast” that unsuccessfully asked God to defeat health care reform legislation, he declared, "the same spirit of Herod who 2000 years ago attempted to exterminate the life of the Messiah today lives even America. The legislation that incorporates death and infanticide all under the canopy of reform.”

In 2012 after Obama came out in support of marriage equality, Rodriguez said the promotion of marriage equality is “an attempt to silence the church of Jesus Christ.”

I do believe that the power of the pulpit in addressing truth and righteousness is critical.  We can’t sacrifice Biblical truth because at times it becomes confrontational. Listen, Jesus Christ had very strong confrontational moments. This idea that this is a patsy sort of Christianity. That’s not the Christianity that we follow and adhere to. Sometimes, truth hurts.

But much worse than Rodriguez’s own  rhetoric is the fact that his group has formally partnered with Liberty Counsel, an organization whose spokespeople regularly spew some of the most hostile, bullying, confrontational, uncivil rhetoric in the public arena. 

To put it bluntly, it is hard to treat with any seriousness a “civility campaign” that features the face of Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver. As Kyle wrote in 2012 when it was announced that Liberty Counsel had become NHCLC’s official legislative and policy arm, “Few groups operating today can match Liberty Counsel in terms of unmitigated hostility toward gays and Muslims and those with whom they disagree or in terms of overall general craziness ...”

In a press release announcing the Imago Dei campaign, Mat Staver is quoted:

"We should continually remind ourselves that every human being is created in the image of God," said Staver. "This has profound consequences. In the blogosphere and social media culture where people are dehumanized, bullied, and slandered, and where political rhetoric has polarized the populace, the Imago Dei in every person compels us to love and respect all people, including those who disagree with us."

It’s hard not to laugh out loud while reading this. Staver regularly denigrates his opponents, and his Liberty Counsel colleague Matt Barber is even worse.

Just a few examples from an ocean of possibilities: Staver says Planned Parenthood "is not interested in the health and well-being of women" but is really only interested in "their death agenda" and in "damaging the very core and foundation of who we are as Americans and a people of faith and values." Of the movement toward marriage equality, Staver says, “This whole assault on marriage is really an attempt to obliterate not only morality but Judeo-Christian morality, to obliterate marriage and to even obliterate the idea that there even is a God.” And he compares Republicans who are soft on the issue to cockroaches.

Here’s the mini-profile of Staver we prepared for our preview of the 2013 Values Voter Summit:

Mat Staver is the head of the Liberty University School of Law and its legal affiliate, Liberty Counsel, a sponsor of the Values Voter Summit. Liberty Counsel has been implicated in the Lisa Miller kidnapping case, where a client kidnapped her daughter and fled to Central America after a court granted custody to her former partner. At a previous Values Voter Summit, Staver claimed that progressives are using LGBT rights and secular government in order to “ultimately implode America” and that the “agenda of the homosexual movement” is to destroy freedom and western civilization. Through his role at Liberty Counsel, Staver has:

Staver says Obama and his “bloodthirsty administration” are worse than King George. He denounces “homofascists” and praised Putin’s anti-gay laws and the Indian Supreme Court decision criminalizing homosexuality.

We could go on. And on.

Meanwhile, Staver’s Liberty Counsel Matt Barber is a bully who rivals Bryan Fischer in the realm of “rhetorical pornography.” He calls Islam “satanic” and people who don’t get it “useful idiots.” He says marriage equality isn’t about marriage or equality but is a political weapon designed to destroy religious liberty. Barber praises Putin and supports laws criminalizing homosexuality. He says Americans are living under “a tyranny of a secularist minority that wants to engage in religious cleansing." There’s much more.

And to repeat, for emphasis: Staver is a leader of Rodriguez’s new Imago Dei campaign, and Liberty Counsel was chosen by Rodriguez to function as the official legislative and policy arm of his National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Just today, Barber tweeted:  "Gay marriage" is a disordered, sin-based & oxymoronic novelty that mocks God & defiles any church in which the silly stunt is performed...”

Paging Rev. Rodriguez.

The Spirit Of Selma: Moral March In Raleigh, NC

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and related rulings undermining the nation’s campaign finance laws opened the doors to massive corporate and right-wing spending. Nowhere have the results been more catastrophic than in North Carolina, where a right-wing takeover subjected state residents to an avalanche of far-right legislation targeting children, teachers, voting rights, and more.

Last year PFAW’s Miranda Blue and Calvin Sloan documented the far-right takeover of state politics that was funded by billionaire Art Pope with the help of GOP strategist and current U.S. Senate candidate from Virginia, Ed Gillespie.  In 2012, Pope and his allies poured millions of dollars into elections for the state legislature and millions more to elect Gov. Pat McCrory. 

Once they got into power, with Pope himself installed as McCrory’s budget director, North Carolina citizens were subjected to the full fury of a far-right, Tea Party-on-steroids legislative agenda. Education spending was slashed and thousands of teachers fired while tax dollars were diverted to school vouchers.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens were denied Medicaid and unemployment benefits while taxes were cut for the state’s richest residents. And in order to perpetuate the power of Pope’s puppets, one of the nation’s worst, most restrictive voting laws was put into place to disenfranchise voters, with an assist from the Supreme Court’s gutting of a key section of the Voting Rights Act.

But North Carolina has not given Americans only a terrifying look at what a Tea Party-run country would look like. It has also given us an inspiring example of grassroots organizing on behalf of a very different set of values.  Led by Rev. William Barber, head of the state’s NAACP chapter, North Carolinans began “Moral Mondays” protests at the state capitol. They were dismissed as “morons” and outside agitators by right-wing legislators. One of Pope’s right-wing groups published personal information of protestors online.

But those efforts did nothing to squelch the Moral Mondays movement, which drew thousands of people to the weekly protests.  Hundreds were arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience.

Now Barber and the diverse coalition he leads have put out a call to people across North Carolina and the rest of the country to come to Raleigh on February 8 for what they hope will become the largest civil rights gathering in the south since an interfaith, interracial group of people responded to Dr. King’s call to join civil rights marchers in Selma.

On Tuesday, Rev. Barber spoke to bloggers about Moral Mondays, the February 8 march, and the values-based “fusion” organizing that is sustaining the pro-justice movement in North Carolina. If you’re going to change America, he said, you have to change the south – with broad-based, locally led movements in every state. 

Barber emphasized that his movement was not partisan – that many independents and Republicans have joined in the Moral Mondays protests against the extremist and unjust laws passed by the far-right faction that now runs the state government. What motivates the new coalition, Barber said, is a combination of the constitutional principle of the common good and the biblical principle of caring for the vulnerable. A few days before the march, a policy briefing will examine the moral, economic, political and social costs of the state’s regressive legislation.

One goal of turning February 8 into a national event, Barber said, is to discourage right-wing strategists who hope to duplicate Pope’s takeover and subsequent imposition of extreme policies that Barber describes as “constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible, and economically insane.”

You can find out more about the February 8 march at the event website.

Utah Man Starving Himself To Stop Same-Sex Marriages

Right-wing advocates of “nullification” say it is a principle by which state and county officials can simply ignore federal laws and court rulings they consider unconstitutional.  A Utah man who believes a federal judge acted unconstitutionally in ordering officials to permit same-sex marriage in the state has been fasting since December 21, he says, and will keep doing so until state officials refuse to obey the federal judge.  He invokes the founding fathers in his call for nullification.

In an interview posted today on the Cultural Hall website, Meacham said it is “completely pointless” for state officials to go through the courts because they are “packed full of activist judges that don’t listen to the constitution.” He has urged state officials and county clerks to defy the order. He told an interviewer he is emulating Gandhi, and said he is willing to sacrifice his life for the cause.

Trestin Meacham is a libertarian-leaning Navy veteran who ran for the state senate in 2012 as a candidate for the far-right Constitution Party, which promotes biblical law. His online bio from Project Vote Smart doesn’t have much more information other than that he is a small business owner and Mormon, while his personal Facebook page describes his politics as “Anti-Marxist Secessionist.” (It lists joking pop culture references for his work and education.)

As a candidate he was described as a conservative blogger, though some of his blogs appear to be defunct. In his writings and postings he has demonstrated a commitment to the Tea Party’s notion that much of what the federal government does violates the Tenth Amendment. As a candidate, he argued:

For over a hundred years we have been drifting further and further from the government designed by our founders, to something more closely resembling the writings of Karl Marx …

It is the duty of the State Legislatures to stand up to the federal government and take back our God-given right of self-government laid out in the Constitution. Washington is not going to reform itself. Even if we had Ronald Reagan as President, with control of both houses of Congress, it would still be heading down the wrong path. Washington is too corrupt; it will not relinquish its unconstitutional power. Reform can only come from an outside source, that source is the states.

As a State Senator, I will oppose any further unconstitutional power grabs from Washington. I will also sponsor and support legislation, which takes back the states rightful power from our corrupt federal government.

Meacham claims federal courts decisions on gay marriage will lead to tyranny, ultimately forcing churches and LDS to officiate same-sex weddings:

I think an attack on freedom, an attack on the Constitution, affects everybody.  If a fed judge can throw out the Constitution and the will of the people then we’re really little better off than a Soviet satellite nation. Our freedom means nothing. They can do anything if they can do this.

In a 2011 comment on a story on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, he wrote, “Our schools have always been places for socialist indoctrinations. The public school system is the tenth plank of the Communist Manifesto.” An old YouTube channel apparently created while he was serving in Korea includes birther material.

Meacham has linked to right-wing sources online promoting nullification. In today’s interview he also appealed to the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, quoting Joseph Smith saying that saints should not follow any law that violates the Constitution.

Meacham has a blog devoted to his fast / hunger strike as well as Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The blog Meacham created to promote his fast appears to be built on the same platform as a fictional country, Kherutistan, that Meacham seems to be constructing online, complete with its own Declaration of Independence and flag. Kherutistan is a libertarian paradise, a “heroarchy” led by people of good character where the basic ground rule of living is for people to be excellent to one another.

FRC's 2014 Plan: Save Religious Liberty by Dumping 'Moderates'

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins has sent out a first installment of FRC Action’s political plan for 2014, which is not surprisingly filled with over-the-top rhetoric about catastrophe, socialism, the end of freedom in America, etc.  It is more than anything else a drumbeat for Religious Right leaders’ ongoing “religious liberty” strategy, in which liberals and the policies they support are portrayed as bent on the destruction of religious freedom.

The House of Representatives is where we have the greatest potential to make the greatest impact—to secure your religious liberties … and keep America from descending into a quagmire of self-destructive socialism.

This is urgently important because President Obama and his allies in Congress appear to be on a search-and-destroy mission when it comes to religious liberty. This administration has expressed its hostility to religious freedom at every turn: in the workplace, in the military, everywhere. They are fully engaged in what can only be described as a direct assault. They are in overdrive.

They’re essentially trying to quarantine Christians, to keep your religious convictions boxed up and hidden inside the four walls of your church.

We cannot, and we will not, allow this to happen.

It is clear that Perkins is getting ready for the brewing civil war between the more business-establishment wing of the GOP and the Religious Right-Tea Party wing.  He writes that the House of Representatives is the firewall, and that 2014 must be not only about keeping the House in Republican hands, but in the control of conservatives rather than “moderates.”

Make no mistake: the gentle-sounding moniker “moderate” is simply a mask for someone who is unwilling to challenge this President when he ignores the Constitution, violates the law, and rides roughshod over religious liberties.

We have the potential in this election to produce one of the most conservative Houses in history—with the balance of House leadership tipping toward the conservatives….

Let me be clear: our nation has lurched to the left in recent history not only because there are so many liberals in Washington, but because so many voters have settled for “the lesser of two evils.” The mess we’re dealing with today is what you get with such a compromise.

What we need in Washington, D.C., is solid conservatives who understand the meaning of transcendent truth—who understand the importance of our Constitution—who understand the value of freedom. This is why we carefully vet candidates for office and support only true conservatives for election.

Between now and elections, Perkins says, it’s crucial to fight for repeal of Obamacare and to prevent passage of the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA), which he calls “a dangerous bill that would destroy the religious liberties of Christian employers and employees.”

This law would mandate Christian businesses—including some ministries, and most Christian bookstores, radio stations, and more—to hire those openly engaged in immoral and unhealthy sexual behavior. and it would mandate “diverse” workplaces that would actually discriminate against religious employees who don’t “celebrate” sexual diversity.

Perkins says the House has kept ENDA “bottled up,” but more conservatives must be elected to strengthen Republicans who are under “tremendous pressure” to vote for the bill.

Everything, says Perkins, depends on convincing the American people that “religious liberty” is at risk. It’s especially important, he says, since the lame duck Obama “has less and less to lose” and as a result “he is desperate and even more dangerous.”

Catholic Author: Pope, Church In Pro-Gay Shadow Of Antichrist

Conservative griping about Pope Francis continues. Billionaire Ken Langone, the founder of Home Depot, complained to Cardinal Timothy Dolan that the pope’s comments about capitalism would hurt efforts to raise funds from rich people for a renovation of St. Patrick’s cathedral in New York. But Langone’s whining about the pope hurting rich peoples’ feelings pales in comparison to a New Year’s Day diatribe published by Alan Keyes’ Renew America website about the Vatican hiring “pro-homosexual corporations” as advisors.

The piece by conservative Catholic anti-gay and anti-abortion activist Randy Engel complains that the government of Vatican City, in its efforts on behalf of financial reform, transparency, and efficiency, is turning to consulting firms EY (formerly Ernst & Young), McKinsey & Company, and the Promontory Financial Group. Among the sinister evidence that Engel marshals against the companies are the existence of employee LGBT groups, participation in LGBT Chambers of Commerce, high rankings on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index – even an executive’s praise for Rep. Barney Frank’s congressional service. After quoting McKinsey’s commitment to diversity in hiring, she says,

Wow! Now ain't that a kick in the head to every faithful Catholic layman and cleric and other people of good will who have been fighting the Homosexual Collective in the U.S. and abroad for decades with little to none support from the Vatican.

Engel is author of The Rite of Sodomy, a 1,300-page screed against “the immensity of the homosexual subculture that has hijacked the Roman Catholic Church.” Her book has been promoted by the likes of Peter LaBarbera.  

Engle uses rhetoric like “homosexual deathstyle” and “diversity of perversity.” But she outdoes herself in her Renew America post by going so far as to suggest that Pope Francis and other church leaders, are under the influence of the anti-Christ:

As for the Vatican's role in yet another moral quagmire under another disastrous post-Conciliar papacy, what can one say?

I have no doubt that the Vatican officials and clerics who hired these morally bankrupt firms to "reform" the Vatican's administration and finances, and who have given God's enemies free access to administrative and financial secret data of all kinds, knew exactly what they were doing when they made the appointments. The fact that not a single Vatican official including the current occupant of the Chair of Saint Peter, has publicly raised the issue of possible moral turpitude practiced and advanced by these mega business firms confirms what all true Catholics know in their heart of hearts – that we are living in the shadow of the Antichrist.

Duck the Halls: The Religious Right's Own War on Christmas

If you’re already tired of the Duck Dynasty flap, I have some bad news for you: Religious Right leaders aren’t going to drop it. On Christmas Eve, while millions of Americans were finishing Christmas preparations and gathering with loved ones, Janet Porter and Rick Scarborough were holding an emergency conference call to launch Porter’s latest gimmicky scheme: sending rubber ducks to A&E executives to protest the suspension of Phil Robertson.

Porter has been warning about a war on American Christians for years – she even wrote a book called The Criminalization of Christianity.  So she clearly sees this as her (current) last chance to save America.  Faith2Action has launched a website MailTheDuck.com, at which you can hand over your contact information to Porter so that she can send a postcard on your behalf to Nancy Dubuq, CEO of A&E Networks, declaring “You Can’t Camouflage Anti-Christian Bigotry!” The postcard demands an apology and warns of a boycott until Robertson is reinstated.  You can also fork over some cash if you want to send a rubber duck or ten to A&E to be sure they get the message.

The opening image of the website is, unfortunately, a big lie. It’s a picture of Robertson with the word FIRED stamped across it. In fact, Robertson hasn’t been fired for making offensive comments in a magazine interview, just suspended. Americans who have wanted to get their Duck on this week have been able to watch a Duck Dynasty marathon. Even WND, in its story on the project, notes: “According to Entertainment Weekly, sources close to the show report nine of the 10 remaining episodes of season four have already been shot, and the network has no plans to cut out the footage featuring the senior Robertson.”

But on the conference call Porter and Scarborough had with activists, freedom was hanging by a thread. Robertson’s suspension is “an atrocity,” “an attack on religious liberty” and an effort to “shut down Christians.” Faith itself is at risk of “being declared unlawful.” Porter even compared Robertson to the famous Chinese activist who stood in front of a tank (yeah, that’s just the kind of risk Robertson took by spouting off to GQ magazine). Porter says Americans can courageously stand with Robertson by sending  millions of ducks (probably made in China, come to think of it) to A&E.

Porter mentioned that she is working on a documentary about anti-Christian persecution. A caller who described herself as a former lesbian urged Porter to include the story of Lisa Miller, the woman who became a far-right folk hero when she kidnapped her child and fled the country rather than obeying court ordered custody arrangements involving Miller’s former partner.  Porter said Miller’s story is part of her film project.

Back to the ducks.  In addition to Scarborough’s Vision America, Porter’s new project is being cosponsored by the dominionist Oak Initiative (Porter is a board member) and by Liberty Counsel, the Religious Right legal group that used to represent Lisa Miller. Of course, Porter and Scarborough aren’t the only ones trying to cash in on the Duck Dynasty controversy. Among those who have launched  petitions are the National Organization for Marriage and Mike Huckabee.  Huckabee and Porter are longtime allies; she declared his 2008 presidential candidacy anointed by God.

What Persecution Looks Like

Nothing like putting things in perspective.

At the end of a week in which Religious Right leaders, cable TV pundits, and conservative politicians acted as if freedom were being destroyed because a rich TV star was suspended for making offensive racist and anti-gay comments, the Parliament in Uganda passed a bill that threatens gay people with life in prison.

And with that vote, all the alarmist bluster about persecution from Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal and every Religious Right leader who saw a chance to boost year-end fundraising by jumping on the martyrdom bandwagon was made to look ridiculous.

This week’s news gave us plenty of evidence about real persecution, and it had nothing to do with Duck Dynasty. The face of persecution is not Phil Robertson, but the terrified LGBT people in Uganda who fear that they are about to be hunted.  Persecution looks like gay teenagers in Russia being beaten by thugs, and by gay parents who have the ability to leave Russia fleeing because anti-gay political leaders are threatening to take their children from them. Persecution looks like LGBT people all over the globe whose lives and freedom are threatened by new laws that enshrine discrimination and define them as criminals. Persecution looks like LGBT teens in Jamaica facing vigilante violence.  And on and on.

Newsweek reported a week ago that Ethiopia had declared war on gay men this year, noting, “A representative from the Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council Against Homosexuality announced that the council was making ‘promising’ progress in convincing the government to introduce the death penalty to punish ‘homosexual acts.’”

How do American conservative religious and political figures respond to this kind of persecution? Not with shouts of outrage but with enthusiastic cheering. It is no small irony that many of those most loudly screaming "persecution" over Robertson's suspension have been equally vocal supporters of international efforts to literally criminalize homosexuality. 

Brian Brown, Pat Buchanan, Matt Barber, and a sad parade of other religious conservatives fawn over Russia’s violently anti-democratic strongman Vladimir Putin as if he were Christendom’s new Defender of the Faith. Putin, in Barber’s words, is being allowed to “out-Christian our once-Christian nation.” (Of course many American Christians want nothing to do with Barber or his interpretation of the faith.)

And to their lasting shame, American Religious Right leaders’ financial and political support have been inflaming anti-gay passions in Uganda for years.  Lou Engle and Scott Lively actually traveled to Uganda and helped rally support for the bill. The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, who takes such umbrage at FRC’s designation as a hate group, dismissed criticism of the Uganda law in its earlier and more sinister incarnation, calling the proposed law an effort to “uphold moral conduct.”

There’s no indication that the Uganda bill’s passage is causing any noticeable soul-searching among the far right.  Far from it. The American Family Association’s always-repellant Bryan Fischer invoked the Duck Dynasty flap in celebrating the passage of the anti-gay law in Uganda: “Uganda stands with Phil. Makes homosexuality contrary to public policy. It can be done.”

Actually, as offensive as Phil Robertson’s statements were, they pale in comparison to Fischer’s. Robertson hasn’t suggested, as far as I know, that gay people should be arrested and put in prison for life. And I seriously doubt that Robertson has ever traveled to Russia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, or Australia to promote legal discrimination against and criminalization of LGBT people or anyone who advocates for equality, the way right-wing figures like Engle, Lively, Brown, Mat Staver, Peter LaBarbera, Paul Cameron, and others have.

No worries about the Olympics on the American Right.  In fact the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society is excited about having its 2014 “World Congress of Families” summit in Moscow, which they see as a new stronghold for “traditional values” against the secular moral squalor of Western Europe.

Conservative activists were prepared to see Phil Robertson as a victim of religious persecution because they’ve been primed for years with the “religious liberty” narrative being pushed by Religious Right leaders and their conservative Catholic allies. They portray criticism as persecution. They equate being on the losing side of policy debates with being under the heel of oppression. And when courts and legislatures struggle with the challenge of balancing religious liberty with other constitutional values like equality under the law, they see only black-and-white battles between good and evil.

Their rhetoric cheapens and distorts the meaning of terms like tyranny. Anti-religious persecution is a violent, heartbreaking reality for Christians in many parts of the world. But not for the privileged and powerful figures in the United States who wrap themselves in the mantle of martyrdom.

The next time you hear some talking head on Fox talk about persecution, think about people in the Central African Republic who are caught in sectarian violence verging on genocide. Or think about LGBT people whose lives and freedom are threatened every day in the name of Christian values.  

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