Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition kicked off its 2012 conference with a splashy show of the Reed’s political muscle in the form of three U.S. Senators. Rob Portman of Ohio, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, and Marco Rubio of Florida all delivered speeches that reflect Reed’s goal for 2012 and beyond: merging the messages and organizing energies of the overlapping Tea Party and Religious Right movements to elect conservative Republicans.
“American exceptionalism” was a major theme of the day – defined generally as America being uniquely blessed by God for its commitment to limited government and free-market economics grounded in a belief that individual rights come from God. And – no surprise -- President Obama was portrayed as an enemy of faith and freedom.
Portman declared that the Obama administration had treated freedom of religion as a “second-class right.” He argued that life should be held sacred “from conception til death.”
DeMint charged the President with wanting a country and economy run from the top down, and called for a stop to government “purging faith” from the American way of life. “We need to realize we’re blessed,” said DeMint. “We need to know that we’re in trouble. And we need to know that 2012 may be our last chance to turn this thing around.”
Reed introduced Rubio as one of the greatest talents and most transformational figures that any of us have ever seen. Rubio, who is hawking a new book, argued that social and fiscal conservatism are indistinguishable, and that the notion of God as the source of freedom is essential to freedom itself. “You cannot have your freedom without your faith, because the source of your freedom is your faith.” He argued that calling for the wealthy to pay more taxes is “divisive” and pits Americans against each other for the purposes of winning an election, claiming, “that is never who we have been.” (Surely even Rubio does not actually believe that the Republican Party and Tea Party have never run divisive campaigns in order to win elections.)
Listening to Rubio, you can understand why GOP strategists have such high hopes for him. He calls on people to help their neighbors. He says the conservative movement is not about imposing its values on others or leaving people behind. He says conservatives want drinking water to be clean and the air to be breathable. (In reality, of course, policies backed by today’s far-right GOP would indeed impose their values on others, leave millions of Americans behind, and eviscerate regulations that protect our families’ food, air, and water.)
Before the conference started, an FFC press release claimed that its activists will be “phoning, mailing, and knocking on the doors of 27 million conservative and pro-family voters, distributing 35 million voter guides, and making a total of 120 million voter contacts” in 2012. At today’s luncheon, Reed encouraged members of the audience to imagine what could happen with another 10 or 20 senators like Rubio. Yes, just imagine.
“This law school’s not going to be pumping out ambulance chasers, this is going to be pumping out liberal chasers, I mean we’re gonna track them down, wherever they are and we’re gonna defeat them, and if we can’t defeat them in the policy realm we’re gonna defeat them in the courts.” He added, “This law school is gonna be pumping out God-fearing, American-loving, family-defending attorneys.
Samuel Rodriguez, the Hispanic Evangelical leader who is treated as a bridge-builder by some centrist Christians and the Obama White House in spite of his close alliances with the fringes of the Religious Right, has launched a fasting campaign against marriage equality. Rodriguez, who serves on the White House Task Force on Fatherhood, has expressed “deep disappointment” regarding Obama’s recent embrace of marriage equality.
Rodriguez joined the Southern Baptists’ Richard Land on Land’s May 19 radio show to denounce marriage equality as a threat to religious liberty and to call on churches to be more aggressive in opposing it. Rodriguez, who tells evangelicals that they should welcome Hispanic immigrants because God has sent them to redeem Christianity in America, insists that a multi-ethnic religious awakening is necessary to defend “Biblical marriage” in America.
Land and Rodriguez both portrayed the advance of gay rights as a threat to religious liberty, with Land claiming, “There is an attempt in our society to basically make it illegal to condemn homosexuality in our churches – it’s called hate speech.” Rodriguez said the promotion of marriage equality is “an attempt to silence the church of Jesus Christ.”
Excerpts from the interview:
This egregious attempt to redefine an institution that God formed is not only a violation of everything that we understand to be appropriate but it is an incredible incursion into religious liberty and religious expression. So I believe that we need a multi-ethnic kingdom-culture firewall to push back. White evangelicals alone will not be able to defend marriage in America.
This is not an issue of equality. There is an attempt to silence the voice of Christianity, there is an attempt to silence the voice of truth, of righteousness and Biblical justice. So really the church needs to wake up and say, 'Not on our watch.’ We must stand up for Biblical truth. We must vote vertical. We must look at our legislators and those that represent us on Capitol Hill and say, ‘religious liberty, the family, biblical marriage and life, must stand protected.’
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.
The National Organization for Marriage has found time between its campaigns to enshrine anti-gay discrimination in state constitutions to join a Religious Right attack on gay activist and author Dan Savage, who has forthrightly apologized for comments he made when some students walked out of a speech he gave at a high school. Earlier this week, NOM blogger and “culture director” Thomas Peters, speaking about the incident on a Seattle radio show, said NOM wants to debate issues like marriage with civility and respect. When the interviewer told Peters he has heard vitriolic and denigrating language about gay people from religious leaders opposed to marriage equality, Peters said that “when people on our side have said something like that, NOM is always very careful to distance ourselves from those sort of comments, to say, ‘that’s not us, that’s not our movement.’”
Really? Is that why NOM promoted Rev. Patrick Wooden as a spokesman for the anti-gay amendment that voters in North Carolina just passed? As RWW has reported, Wooden has called anti-LGBT violence “normal” and encouraged parents to beat their transgender child, blamed Oprah, Tyler Perry and the cast of Glee for promoting “wicked” and “perverse” causes, said that Chaz Bono is controlled by demons and claimed homosexuality is a “wicked, deviant, immoral, self-destructive, anti-human sexual behavior."
We have also reported that NOM also promoted Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, who Brian notes has said that gay rights is “Satan’s plan” and “Satan’s point of attack on the United States,” claimed “Oprah [Winfrey] will have to answer to her Creator” for “promoting” homosexuality, wondered if gay TSA agents were deliberately groping passengers, attacked the US for trying “to lecture the Ugandans about homosexuality” by opposing their “kill the gays” bill, and agreed with Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern that homosexuality is more dangerous than terrorism and the greatest threat to America.
Faced with this vitriolic and denigrating language, NOM's response has not been to say, “that’s not us, that’s not our movement” -- it has been to promote the vitriol-spewers as spokespersons for their movement. So it’s hard to take too seriously anything NOM says about civil debate.
The Republican National Committee’s Hispanic Outreach Director Bettina Inclan sparked a mini-firestorm today when she told reporters that she could not comment on Romney’s immigration positions because “he’s still deciding what his position on immigration is.” She later tried to clean up the mess by tweeting that she was mistaken, and that his position was clear, linking to his website.
Unfortunately for Romney and for the RNC’s Hispanic outreach, his position is all too clear: he opposes not only “amnesty” but all “magnets” – such as the DREAM Act or in-state tuition for students whose parents brought them here as children. Romney has backed legislation, like Arizona’s, that has the goal of making life for undocumented immigrants so miserable that they will choose to “self-deport.” That’s a bit much even for some right-wing activists, including some of those at the Freedom Federation’s recent Awakening conference in Orlando, Florida, where one speaker called the “self-deportation” approach “cruel” and “unbiblical” and where the Southern Baptists’ Richard Land called the GOP’s positions on immigration policy “dismal” and “indefensible.”
A major theme at the Freedom Federation’s Awakening conference last weekend was the need for more effective outreach to Hispanic Christians. Religious Right leaders who are trying to bring more Latinos into the conservative political movement know they are swimming upstream against the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the GOP primaries and the Tea Party, the impact of anti-immigration laws in Arizona and Alabama, and the hostility of GOP elected officials to the DREAM Act. They fear that the well-earned antipathy of Latino voters toward the GOP could prevent them from defeating Barack Obama, which they believe is necessary to prevent the country’s slide into socialist, secularist tyranny.
Several strategies for repairing the breach were on display.
To GOP leaders and the conservatives attending the Awakening, organizers and speakers delivered a surprisingly blunt denunciation of the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has led to the disastrously low polling numbers for Mitt Romney and the Republican Party. At Saturday’s panel on immigration, if you closed your eyes you could almost imagine that you were at a La Raza-sponsored gathering. All the panelists talked about the need for multifaceted “comprehensive immigration reform,” a term that has been vilified by right-wing activists and Republicans as code for “amnesty.”
The Southern Baptists’ Richard Land said it was “absurd” to deport teens whose parents had brought them to the US as children. “I was depressed and angered by the response that Rick Perry got at the debate when he was defending the in-state tuition for the children of undocumented workers in Texas,” said Land, who decried those who “would condemn them to the margins of society and waste a precious national recourse.” During the presidential primary, Land lamented, “the Republican party has painted itself into a corner, and then having surveyed the damage, applied a second coat.” He said many people think Florida Sen. Marco Rubio would be the best possible running mate for Romney, because his support for a “conservative DREAM Act” (which falls far short of the real thing) would be a step toward improving a “dismal and indefensible policy by the Republican Party and the Republican candidates.”
Robert Gittelson, a businessman and co-founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, called strategies to push immigrants to “self-deport” by making their lives miserable – Romney’s stated approach -- “unbiblical” and “cruel.” Barrett Duke, Vice President for Public Policy and Research and Director of the Research Institute of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, talked about a paper he has co-written with Land for Regent University’s law journal, which reviews Bible verses about treatment of strangers. He criticized an “offended citizen” or “law and order” approach to illegal immigration, urging conservatives to take a love-thy-neighbor perspective. “I am not a citizen of the United States first,” he said, “I am a Christian first.”
Panelists even opposed Arizona’s wildly-popular-among-conservatives SB 1070. Regent University president Carlos Campo said the law was “impractical” and made it “almost impossible” for law enforcement not to engage in ethnic profiling. Gittelson worried that if the law is upheld by the Supreme Court, 21 to 23 states would pass similar laws within a year.
And Regent University’s Campo even cautioned against putting too much emphasis on “assimilation,” saying that the “melting pot can burn off some important things.” Land added that the US had been enriched in its culture, cuisine, and music by waves of immigration, though all agreed on the importance of English remaining a common language in the US.
Friday night’s opening session was devoted to Hispanic outreach. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, was scheduled to give the keynote, but he was kept away by a basketball injury so organizers showed his speech from a previous gathering. Rodriguez tries to sell conservatives on bringing Latino evangelicals into the movement; he gets a warm reception by preaching a Religious Right-Tea Party view of government, saying the big-government “Pharaoh” wants to silence Christians and make people dependent on the government.
But Rodriguez and others are also pushing an even bolder strategy for convincing white evangelicals to take a friendlier view of undocumented immigrants – one that was picked up on by other speakers at the Awakening. You could call it the Hispanic Exceptionalism corollary to the theory of divinely inspired American Exceptionalism that is a constant refrain at these gatherings. According to this Hispanic Exceptionalism theory, illegal Hispanic immigrants have actually sent by God to save America from itself.
Self-proclaimed “apostle” Cindy Jacobs told Awakening attendees that God has gathered Latino people to the United States and given them a special emphasis on families and children. As RWW has reported, Rodriguez recently made the same pitch on evangelist James Robison’s TV show. “Now, why has God permitted these Hispanics to arrive in America in the 21st Century? I think it’s a prophetic purpose, and that is to redeem Christianity or we will end up even worse than post-modern Europe.” Rodriguez said the Hispanic community “can once again help make the gospel of Jesus Christ, the church, the most influential institution in America” and he warned that “when we talk about deporting, we are deporting Christianity in America in the 21st century.”
The Freedom Federation – an anti-Obama amalgam of Religious Right groups, "apostolic" ministries, and the corporate-funded astroturf Americans for Prosperity – is holding its third annual Awakening conference in Orlando, Florida this weekend. Here’s how it describes the event:
Uniting our Voices Around Shared Values: Turning Voices into Votes
A war is raging against our shared values. Our faith and freedom are under attack. Silence in the face of this war is not an option. Decisive action is needed. Join with others who share the core values that make America a great nation. Take a stand for righteousness and justice and be part of a new revolution to take back America. The time has come to turn our voices into votes and to change the course of history.
Outreach to the Hispanic community is a major goal of this year’s Awakening and the theme of Friday’s opening night session. That marks a continuation of the Freedom Federation’s efforts to re-brand the Religious Right as a multiracial and multigenerational movement, and to re-brand the culture war as a “social justice” movement. Last year’s gathering included a major effort to claim a religious grounding for the anti-tax, anti-government agenda of Grover Norquist and the Tea Party.
This year’s conference features Samuel Rodriguez, the head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who tries to sell the Religious Right’s culture war to Latinos while trying to get Religious Right leaders to make themselves more palatable to Latinos. Rodriguez recently said that Latinos are here to “bring panic to the kingdom of darkness” and “make the gospel of Jesus Christ, the church, the most influential institution in America.” He said God has sent illegal immigrants here to “redeem Christianity” in America.
Also scheduled to address this year’s conference is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a favorite of Tea Party and Religious Right leaders who describe him as the party’s Latino Ronald Reagan. Rubio is reportedly concocting a hollowed-out version of the DREAM Act that will try to help Romney and the GOP fix their well-earned image as hostile to the aspirations of millions of immigrants.
A new feature at this year’s Awakening is Patriot Camp on Saturday for kids ages 5-15. Organizers promise that kids will learn about “the Christian principles on which America was founded,” which is important since, “As most Christians know, our true American heritage is not taught in schools, especially not in an objective manner.”
Notably for this Obama-bashing group, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is sending a video presentation; senior Likud official Moshe Ya'alon, Vice Premier, Minister of Strategic Affairs, is also listed as a speaker. Also on the list, some of whom might appear by video: Former GOP presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, and Reps. John Mica and Allen West. West has been warming up for the conference by announcing, McCarthy-style, that dozens of progressive members of the House of Representatives are communists.
The list of speakers is a Who’s Who of the Religious Right and conservative legal movements, including characters like spiritual warrior Lou Engle and Cindy “God kills birds when America supports gays” Jacobs, who once haunted the fringes of the far right but have since been welcomed into a movement seeking to build the broadest political base possible. Among them:
Should be more fun than Disney World. Watch for updates.
Phyllis Schlafly is an all-around right-wing activist who has been around forever. You could say she was Tea Party before her time, railing against liberals and taxes and the UN's threat to US sovereignty. Her 2009 "How to Take Back America" conference was an amazing gathering at which health care reform was described as fascism, President Obama was described by Rep. Trent Franks as an "enemy of humanity," and attendees were encouraged to buy guns and ammo to defend themselves against impending tyranny.
But Schlafly’s real bread and butter is the hostility to feminism that fueled her campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment – and it was her anti-feminist schtick that she brought to George Washington University in D.C. last night. I use the word schtick because it’s hard to take seriously Schlafly’s caricature of feminists as anti-men, anti-marriage, anti-family, and anti-child-rearing, not to mention claims like these:
What? Feminists don’t believe women can be successful? That didn’t ring true to the many GW students, women and men, who politely protested Schlafly’s appearance. During the Q&A, one challenged Schlafly directly, saying her mother is a feminist, a role model of happiness, and had instilled in her children a love of family. The student said Schlafly seemed to be having a 40-year old argument with quotes plucked from early feminist writers.
Schlafly did have her admirers. The young woman who introduced her said Schlafly had given her an example of how to stand up against the emerging “gender-interchangeable society.” Schlafly returned to that theme later, saying that feminists don’t want equality for women, they want “gender interchangeability.”
Schlafly reveled in the recent flap about Ann Romney never having to work outside the home, since she saw it as proof that feminists have no respect for mothers who choose to answer to a husband rather than a boss. But Schlafly was not on message with the Romney campaign’s claims that women have accounted for almost all job losses during the Obama administration. Schlafly, who repeatedly claimed that the Obama administration is utterly controlled by feminists, “proved” her case by saying that feminists had successfully demanded that most jobs created by federal stimulus funds went to women.
Schlafly touched on a few other issues, such as her opposition to marriage equality (though she seemed to say she didn’t think civil unions were worth fighting about). And she pushed the same theme being pushed by Ralph Reed and other strategists trying to build a broad electoral coalition: you can’t separate fiscal and social conservatism. She took a shot at Mitch Daniels for seeking a “truce” on social values, something she called “impossible.”
In the end, she told the young women, they should get married before having babies, and they should ignore feminists who might poison their attitude toward life by telling them that women are victims of the patriarchy. She derided the notion of a "glass ceiling" and denied that unequal pay is a problem. Men, she said, are willing to do dangerous jobs that women aren't, because "women like nice inside jobs with carpeted offices." American women, she said, are the most fortunate people who have ever lived. Why, in Africa, she said, some women have to wash their clothing in the river. “We have all these wonderful modern conveniences that men have invented for our pleasure.”
Here's an addition to our recap of right-wing direct mail, this time from Phyllis Schlafly, the long-time anti-feminist and all-around right wing activist. Like most of the other recent mail, the letter from Schlafly is about raising money with over-the-top rhetoric about the tyranny being visited upon America by President Obama. "He's taken control of your healthcare and stolen your money. Now he wants to dictate to your church," warns the envelope. "Stop Obama's War on Faith." Inside, more of the same:
The culture of dicatorship is rearing its ugly head. The forcef of imperial government and totalitarian treatment of American citizens are growing stronger every day.
Under the guise of "health care" and "tolerance" and "equality," Barack Obama is using all the power he can grasp in order to control how we live and what we believe. He is exploiting eveyr legal and illegal loophole to consolidate governmenet power into his own hands.
He's trying to control our standard of living by restricting our energy use. Hey's trying to control theminds of our children by imposing a national curriculum in the schools. And now, he's using his hated ObamaCare health law to assault religious liberty....
Let there be no doubt about it. Barack Obama is at war with the vast majority of Americans who believe in God and the freedom to worship. Now it the time for you and me to stand up for religious liberty....
If Obama wins this battle and gets his way, religiously affiliated hospitals, schools, colleges, and charities all over America will be forced to pay for abortion drugs, sterilization procedures, and contraceptives.
If Obama gets by with thisk you can be sure that the next steps will be ordering priests, ministers and rabbis to perform same-sex marriages. God will be stripped out of the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" will be banished to the dustbin of history."