Peter Montgomery's blog

Gay Legislator Blocked from Speaking in 'Rebellion Against God's Law'

Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Sims, an openly gay legislator, was blocked from speaking on the floor of the state House on Wednesday by a colleague who believed Sims’ plans to speak about the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage decision would be in "open rebellion against God’s law.”

According to WHYY, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe raised a procedural objection to stop Sims from speaking during a part of the House session in which legislators often give wide-ranging remarks.

"I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God's law," said Metcalfe, R-Butler.

Metcalf is a far-right legislator who has sponsored a marriage amendment to the state’s Constitution and “birther” legislation, and called for overturning birthright citizenship under the 14th Amendment in order to “bring an end to the illegal alien invasion.”

Sims, who said he appreciated the apologies and support he received from other Republican members of the House, has asked the legislature to reprimand Metcalfe for his comments. 

Charisma: A Fresh Call to Revolution

Viewers who hear plenty of right-wing religious voices on cable TV might be surprised to know that the biggest problem facing America in the minds of many Religious Right leaders is that conservative preachers aren’t being sufficiently political or aggressive.  That gripe is a major theme at Religious Right gatherings, and is repeated in a new Charisma article by radio host Michael Brown, who makes a “fresh call to revolution” among America’s pastors in the wake of recent Supreme Court decisions:

How is it that nine non-elected officials in black robes can have such sweeping authority in our society? It is because the black-robed regiment that once stirred the hearts of the nation has lost its moral authority, leaving a gaping hole in the soul of the nation.

Brown draws on “historian” David Barton’s Christian-nation take on American history in crediting colonial pastors with inflaming Americans to revolution against the British. “Where are the courageous, uncompromising firebrands among us today?” he asks. “Sadly, they are few and far between.” Brown slams TV-preacher hucksterism and self-improvement theology and pines for clergy who will call people “to glorify God by life or by death.” Remember, he says, “What the world calls fanaticism and much of the church calls extremism, God calls normal.” Brown also cites Francis Schaeffer’s Christian Manifesto, which complains that Christian leaders do not emphasize “the Lordship of Jesus Christ over the whole spectrum of life” – including government.

Here’s how Brown wraps up:

Where were our national Christian leaders when the Supreme Court removed organized, public prayer from our schools in 1962 or when the Court declared abortion on demand to be the law of the land in 1973? Why were there so few who took a solid stand?

For the most part, when we have taken action, we have joined ourselves to a political party, only to find ourselves used for their purposes. Otherwise, we have either thought the social realm was not our responsibility; that Jesus was coming at any moment and so things will only get worse; or that the way to win a spiritual war is to become angry conservatives.

Surely we can do better than that. Surely we can—no, we must!—rise up into the revolutionary, Jesus-exalting, Word-based, Spirit-empowered calling that is on our lives, a calling that is on all believers but in particular on the leaders who must the lead the way.

Surely we cannot allow the moral standards of our society be determined by an unelected, unanointed black-robed regiment sitting in Washington, with all respect to their proper authority and with massive respect for the courageous voices among them.

It is time for the leaders to arise—to get alone with God, to get filled afresh with His Spirit, to get clear marching orders from heaven and to make a new commitment to be part of a Jesus-centered, moral, cultural and spiritual revolution.

By God’s grace, I have taken my stand. Will you join me?

Phyllis Schlafly on Immigration Reform: Gang of 8 'Betrays America'

Phyllis Schlafly has been an outspoken opponent of comprehensive immigration reform, has sent activists a long rant against the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, charging that the Gang of 8 “betrays” America.

Schlafly pulls out all the stops, citing the widely discredited Heritage Foundation study on the costs of the legislation and approvingly quoting Sens. Jeff Sessions, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Charles Grassey saying “Americans expect their government to end the lawlessness, not surrender to it.”

While Schlafly’s outrage is in fine form, her timing is a little bit off. The email alert, which urges activists to contact their senators and urge a vote against the immigration bill, arrived the morning after the bill passed the Senate on a bipartisan 68-32 vote.

Ergun Caner Trying to Cleanse His Online Record

Ergun Caner was once the high-profile head of Liberty University’s seminary but was demoted in 2010 after bloggers and journalists poked holes in the dramatic Jihadi-to-Jesus life story Caner had peddled after 9-11. Arabic-speaking bloggers charged that he was actually speaking gibberish when lapsing into “Arabic.” In 2011 he left Liberty to become provost at Arlington Baptist College. And, as RWW reported earlier this year, he was invited to address the Family Research Council’s 2013 “Watchmen on the Walls” conference for pastors, a sign perhaps that he’d like to rebuild his public presence in the Religious Right.

Part of Caner’s rebuilding strategy seems to be cleansing the Internet of evidence that was used to reveal discrepancies between his actual life and the public persona he had created.  According to Associated Baptist Press (ABP), Caner filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month suing Jonathan Autry and Jason Smathers, who had posted videos produced by Caner and claiming they violated his copyright.

Writes ABP’s Bob Allen:

The disputed videos were among a number of blog and media reports alleging inconsistencies, exaggeration and fabrication in Caner’s talks and writings claiming he was trained as a terrorist while growing up overseas, and that he intended to carry out a terrorist attack on the United States before his conversion to Christianity at age 18.

Contradictory legal documents indicated that in reality Caner grew up in an Ohio suburb where his family moved when he was 2, and was raised by a Lutheran mother after she and his Muslim father divorced.

Allen reports that Caner is asking the judge to forbid Autry and Smathers from posting any of his copyrighted videos, and is also seeking legal fees.

Tony Perkins Cheers Gutting of Voting Rights Act

While civil rights leaders are denouncing the 5-4 Supreme Court decision gutting the Voting Rights Act, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins is cheering.  In an email alert sent at the end of the day on Tuesday, Perkins says, “With help from the U.S. Supreme Court, America may finally be turning a page on the racial politics that have haunted our last 50 years.”  Oh, yes, giving a green light to the kind of blatantly discriminatory voter disenfranchisement efforts that we’ve seen in recent elections is certainly going to help America “turn the page” on racial politics.

Like other Religious Right leaders, Perkins loves to denounce “judicial activism” when judges uphold reproductive choice or legal equality for LGBT people. But he happily embraces this ruling in which a narrow Court majority rejected a huge bipartisan congressional vote that reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006 on a matter in which the Constitution specifically and intentionally gives Congress wide discretion. Perkins complains that “Congress insisted on reauthorizing a Voting Rights Act that was rooted in one of the darkest chapters of U.S. history.” And he claims that “In recent days, the Voting Rights Act has been a tool for a liberal and politically-motivated DOJ to shape laws to its advantage.”

Perkins seems deeply concerned about “the red tape of the Voting Rights Act” that he said has been “unnecessarily handcuffing” states whose history of disenfranchisement meant that they had to have changes in voting procedures pre-approved by the Justice Department or by a three-judge District Court in the District of Columbia. In contrast, Perkins seems utterly unconcerned about more recent voter disenfranchisement campaigns waged by the GOP and its allies. 

Perkins cites Chief Justice John Roberts’ disingenuous suggestion that the court was not acting in a way that would encourage discriminatory disenfranchisement. "Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting," Roberts insisted. "Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions."

Is there anyone who thinks Roberts and Perkins actually want the federal-government-hating Tea Party Republicans who are calling the shots in the House of Representatives to support the creation of a new formula that would subject more states to federal oversight?  Perkins makes his thoughts on that point abundantly clear with this comment about the Justice Department: “And in an administration as corrupt as President Obama's is proving to be, the less power it has over the states, the better!”

Tony Perkins: Totalitarian Obama Colluding with ‘Anti-Christian Extremists’ to ‘Neuter the Church’

The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins is out with his latest anti-Obama screed. In a fundraising letter dated July 17, Perkins slams the president and his administration for “colluding” with the Southern Poverty Law Center as part of a nefarious plan to create a totalitarian government. Perkins complains about the Justice Department utilizing SPLC’s expertise on extremist groups in training sessions; his letter includes a petition to congressional leaders calling for a formal investigation of the SPLC and its relationship with the Obama administration.

Perkins has been on the rhetorical warpath against the SPLC since it labeled FRC an anti-gay hate group for a history of false and denigrating statements about gay people. In addition, he blames the SPLC for an attack on FRC’s headquarters by a gunman last year. In the new letter, Perkins repeats those claims and ties the SPLC and the Obama administration together in a conspiracy to “sow discord, undermine the Constitution, and bully people of faith.”  Here are some excerpts from the four-page letter:

The anti-Christian crusade instigated by the SPLC has already resulted in an armed terrorist attack on Family Research Council headquarters in Washington, D.C…

The President needs to be exposed for colluding with the SPLC to stifle debate on social policy issues by means of intimidation, fear-mongering, and spreading lies…

The majority of Americans do not agree with the President’s leftist agenda to remake our country into a socialist state ruled by a totalitarian government bureaucracy. And the President knows this. So he is using—and abusing—his presidency to steamroll the American people and implement his radical vision for America…

With less than four years left in office, President Obama is going for broke to accomplish his far-left agenda. In addition to the collusion between his administration and the SPLC, Planned Parenthood, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations, President Obama is using the bully pulpit and power of the presidency to promote abortion and same-sex “marriage” while stifling religious freedom at the same time…

This assault on religious freedom in the military is part of a wider plan to neuter the Church and its stand for the timeless values of faith, family and freedom in America…

Moreover, it’s no secret that President Obama is willing to spend your tax dollars to further his plans for legalizing same-sex “marriage”, increasing access to abortion, and silencing Christians...

We cannot side on the sidelines. We cannot close our eyes and hope this will go away. We must stand boldly, yet in love, against hate-filled anti-Christian groups who incite hatred and violence to intimidate us into silence.

Thank you in advance for standing with us in defense of what is right. With God’s grace, we will stop this pernicious evil against people of faith in America.

Given Perkins’ belief that Obama’s re-election was a symptom of “a deeper moral and spiritual problem” in America, and his willingness to promote rabid anti-Obama conspiracy theories, his new letter is not terribly surprising. But it’s good to keep in mind the next time you hear him or some other FRC spokesperson calling for more civility in the public arena.

Teavangelicals Told to Be ‘Happy Warriors’ Against Liberals, Big Govt, GOP Nay-sayers

Here’s a question for Ralph Reed and the ‘Teavangelical’ wing of the conservative movement: how can you portray yourselves as serious about governing when the keynote speakers at last week’s “Road to Majority” conference were Donald Trump and Sarah Palin?

Palin’s conference-closing remarks on Saturday featured a breathtakingly offensive joke about the Syrian civil war, which has taken an estimated 100,000 lives. She said we should just “let Allah sort it out.” Palin also had choice words for the bipartisan immigration reform bill moving through the Senate, which she dismissed as “a pandering, rewarding-the-rule-breakers, still-no-border-security, special-interest-written amnesty bill.” She was one of many conference speakers rhetorically crapping on Marco Rubio and the bipartisan “Gang of 8” reform bill and burning the bridges that conservative Latinos are trying to build.

At Friday night’s “gala” Reed bestowed a lifetime achievement award on Pat Robertson, who is increasingly difficult to take seriously, and who devoted his remarks to trashing President Obama.  Trump, who also addressed the gala, spoke mostly about his own Trumpian greatness and how Mitt Romney might have been president if he had the guts to run Trump’s anti-Obama “you’re fired” ad.  Trump shared plenty of pablum and piercing political insights, such as the Republicans needing to be “really smart” in choosing a “great candidate” in 2016. Trump also criticized the immigration reform bill as a “death wish” for the Republican Party, saying “every one of those people, and the tens of millions of people they will bring in with them, will be absolutely voting Democratic.”

There’s no question Ralph Reed still has pull. His conference opened with a luncheon featuring four Tea Party senators and he got a handful of Republican House members to speak along with former and future presidential hopefuls like Mike Huckabee, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and Ted Cruz.  Rick Perry, who was introduced as a “Renaissance man,” bragged about the law he recently signed to protect the ostensibly threatened right of public school students to wish each other “Merry Christmas” Perry said, ““I hope my state is a glowing example of men and women who believe that those traditional values are how you make a stronger society.” Stronger society? Not so much.

In addition to the divide on immigration, relentless attacks on President Obama (Dick Morris said of the president, “he doesn’t care about national security”), and the unsurprising rhetoric on abortion, marriage, and supposed threats to religious liberty, there were some other major themes:

Government Bad

The conference was infused with the Tea Party’s anti-federal-government themes. Jonah Goldberg of the National Review reminded people of a video shown at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, which he recalled saying the government is the one thing we all belong to.  “Now, as sort of a Tea Party-ish kind of guy, that makes me want to flip the safety on my rifle.”

Speakers urged activists to take advantage of the recent scandals surrounding the IRS, the Justice Department, and the National Security Agency. Santorum urged activists to “think big” and “seize the moment” provided by the IRS scandal. Sen. Ron Johnson said he would like Americans to apply their disgust about the scandals to the federal government in general. Rather than trying to restore faith in government, Johnson said, activists should be fostering distrust of the government.

Grover Norquist is known for his quip that he wants to shrink the government until it is small enough to drown in the bathtub.  At Road to Majority he spelled out his plan to complete the strategy he embarked on with the Bush tax cuts and the no-tax-increase pledge he demands Republican candidates sign. He noted that “thanks to the marvels of modern redistricting,” Republicans are likely to have a Republican House until 2022, which means they have several chances to get a Senate majority and a Republican in the White House before then. Whenever that happens, he says, Republicans can put the Ryan budget into law and dramatically curtail government spending. He calls it “completely doable.”

Meanwhile, he said, in the 25 states where Republicans control the legislative and executive branches, activists should push for the passage of more anti-union legislation, and for laws that encourage people to obtain concealed carry permits, home school their children, and participate in stock ownership, three things that he said make people more Republican. He called this changing the demographics by changing the rules.

Obamacare: Will it Destroy America or Obama?

House Republicans have made repealing the Affordable Care Act – “Obamacare” – an obsession. Rick Santorum said opposition to the law should have been the centerpiece of the 2012 campaign. And many speakers repeated the demand that the health care reform law be repealed in its entirety.  Stephen Moore, founder of the Club for Growth and a Wall Street Journal editorial board member, said repealing Obamacare is the single most important thing that has to happen in Washington over the next two years. But a number of speakers had a slightly different take, suggesting that the implementation of the complex law would be its undoing, and that public outrage at rising insurance rates would bring down the Obama administration. Dick Morris predicted Obama would be “destroyed” by the law’s implementation.

GOP: Friend or Foe?

One running theme of the conference was conservative activists’ distrust for national Republican leaders, particularly around opposition to abortion and LGBT equality. Several speakers made reference to the notorious RNC “autopsy” on the 2012 election and the perception that some party leaders want social conservatives to tone it down. Reed himself complained that while self-identified evangelicals represented 45 percent of the Republican ticket’s vote, some party leaders were saying they are the problem and should “ride in the back of the bus.” He vowed that on issue of abortion and man-woman marriage, social conservatives would not be silent, “not now, not ever.”

It’s not just Ted Cruz who mocks his fellow Republicans. Gary Bauer complained that the last two Republican nominees had a hard time talking about sanctity of life issues, and he said party officials in Washington spend too much time taking the advice of “cowardly pollsters and political consultants.”  Mike Huckabee complained that “Republicans have been, if not equal, sometimes more guilty than Democrats in thinking the brilliant thing to do would be to centralize more power in the hands of the central government.” He said he’s “sick of hearing” that people think the GOP needs to move away from a conservative message.

There was enough grumbling that when it was RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’s turn to speak on Saturday, the Wisconsin Faith & Freedom official who introduced him felt a need to vouch for Priebus’s faith and commitment to conservative causes. He said angrily that it is “an absolute lie” that Priebus is not a social conservative and insisted that there is no division in the party.

Priebus started his remarks by establishing his religious credentials: “I’m a Christian. I’m a believer. God lives in my heart, and I’m for changing minds, not changing values.” He added, “I’m so grateful that we’ve got a party that prays, that we’ve got a party that puts God first, and I’m proud to be part of that.” He said he “gets it” that conservative Christians are a “blessing” to the party. He said the GOP needs to have a permanent ground game in place all across the country. 

Priebus defended his plan to shorten the presidential primary season and move the party convention from August to June from critics who call it an insider move against grassroots conservatives. It isn’t an establishment takeover, he insisted, but a way to prevent a replay of the 2012, when Romney went into the summer months broke after a long primary season but not yet able to tap general election funding.

Still, not all the conservative are convinced that national Republicans are with them.  Palin portrayed Republicans in Washington as being overly fond of government spending: “It doesn’t matter if it’s a Republican or a Democrat sitting atop a bloated boot on your neck, out of control government, everyone gets infected, no party is immune. That’s why, I tell ya, I’m listening to those independents, to those libertarians who are saying, you know, it is both sides of the aisle, the leadership, the good old boys….”

Phyllis Schlafly talked about having waged internal battles to make the GOP a solidly anti-abortion Party and encouraged activists not to be seduced by talk of a conservative third party but to work within the Republican Party to make sure the right people on the ballot. Norquist insisted that activists had helped brand the GOP as the party that will not raise your taxes, and he said Republican elected officials who vote for tax increases damage the brand for everyone else. They are, he said, “rat heads in coca-cola.”

Message Envy

It might surprise many progressives, who have spent years bemoaning the effectiveness of Republicans’ emotion-laden rhetoric, that speaker after speaker complained that Democrats are so much better than Republicans at messaging.  Of course complaining about messaging is easier than admitting that there may be something about your policies that voters don’t like.

At a panel on messaging strategies, author Diane Medved said that when defending traditional marriage, she would love to say “what is it about ‘abomination’ that you don’t understand?” But she knows that won’t reach people who don’t already agree with her. She argued that conservatives should marshal the “science” that supports their positions.  She also tried out a new messaging strategy, saying that opposition to marriage equality is a feminist issue because it is empowering to women to affirm that they are different than men. “Women deserve to have credit for being who they are as a separate gender and they are not interchangeable with men.”

Ryan Anderson, co-author of a book on marriage with Robert George, the intellectual godfather of the anti-marriage-equality movement, took issue with the name of the panel, which was “Don’t Preach to the Choir.” Anderson said the choir needs to be preached to, because too many Christians are giving up on marriage. There is no such thing as parenting, he insisted, there is mothering and fathering. Anderson said that anti-marriage equality forces have only been fighting for five years, while proponents have been fighting for 20 to 30 years. “It’s not that our argument for marriage has been heard and been rejected,” he said. “It’s that it hasn’t been heard at all.”  Anderson promoted the widely discredited Regnerus study on family structures as evidence that science is on his side.

Eric Teetsel, executive director of the Manhattan Declaration, encouraged activists to be careful with their rhetoric. “I don’t believe that there are very many, if any, people in this movement, certainly not in public life, who have any ill will toward the same-sex community, at all. But sometimes we say things that make it sound like we do.” If Teetsel really believes that, he needs to spend some more time actually listening to conservative religious leaders, pundits and politicians who regularly charge that gay-rights advocates are Satan-inspired sexual predators who are out to destroy faith and freedom if not western civilization itself.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy or Arguing as a Lover with Stupid Liberals

Anyone who pays attention to religious right groups has been seeing the word “winsome” a lot. Conservative evangelical leaders are well aware of polling data that shows young Christians are turned off by the anti-gay bigotry they see in the church.  So there’s a push on for everyone to make conservative arguments in a “winsome” way, to be “happy warriors” like Ronald Reagan, to be cheerful when arguing with liberals. Being cheerful was a big theme at Road to Majority. Said Rick Perry, “when we fight for our county, we need to do it with joy.” 

The Manhattan Declaration's Teetsel took this theme to new heights in the messaging panel in which he called for “arguing as a lover” when “trying to woo people over to our side”: be respectful, self-effacing, funny, give people an opportunity to save face.  But he doesn’t seem to think much of his audience, saying America is no longer a society of ideas, and that in our celebrity-crazed culture it doesn’t make sense to appeal to 18th Century sources of authority like the Federalist Papers, which “are not considered authorities in my generation. People do not care what these men in wigs thought 300 years ago.”

“We serve a God who condescended to become a man in order to share his gospel. And I think that’s an example that we can learn from. Romans 12:16 advises us, do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. So we have to bite the bullet.  We have to recognize some of these facts and condescend to watching Glee from time to time so that we can talk to people about it.”

 

Conservative Latinos Slam Anti-Immigrant Voices at Ralph Reed Conference

The immigration divide evident from the opening hours of the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference became even more stark as the conference went on.  During a Friday afternoon breakout session on outreach to minorities, called “The True Rainbow Coalition: Building an Organization in Minority Faith Communities,” Hispanic conservatives went after Phyllis Schlafly, Eagle Forum, and other speakers who had trashed the immigration reform bill during the morning session.

Panelist Adryana Boyne, director of VOCES Action who is also promoting Voto Honesto, a Hispanic-focused initiative of voter ID-advocating True the Vote, warned that without the Hispanic vote, conservatives will never win another election. Boyne said that conservative Latinos are angered by the kind of rhetoric she was hearing at the conference. “We understand how to reach minorities,” she said. “When we hear people saying that we do not need the minority vote, we just need the white vote, we get outraged….”

Boyne said she understands people’s frustration with the RNC, though she gave party leaders some credit for trying to engage Latinos. But she said those efforts are stymied by other conservatives. “People like us that are building bridges – that’s what I do every day – get really very upset when somebody else burns the bridge that I just built, like just happened today, here.”

She also noted the racist online responses to the 11-year old Mexican-American who sang the national anthem to open game 3 of the NBA finals. When a questioner suggested that maybe those posts were planted by liberals to try to make conservatives look bad, Boyne rejected the effort to deflect blame for conservatives’ problems with Latinos onto liberals. “Let me just be clear with you,” she said, “We are talking about Republicans. We are talking about the speakers who came here today, Faith & Freedom, to speak, and who we disagree with.”

Another panelist, businessman Alfredo Ortiz, Director of Hispanic Initiatives for the Job Creators Network, agreed with Boyne that there is a problem with Republicans, including party leaders, senators, and representatives, who go on Fox and use anti-immigrant rhetoric. It’s about winning the war, not the battles, he said. And unless conservatives abandon anti-immigrant rhetoric, they will lose the war.  He described the turnout for the minority outreach session as “a pretty pathetic showing.”

As if to confirm the problem Boyne and Ortiz identified, Donald Trump, the keynoter at Friday night’s gala dinner, talked about undocumented immigrants as “those people” and said Republicans supporting the reform bill had a “death wish” because “every one of those people, and the tens of millions of people that they will bring in with them, through family, through relationship, through birth, they will be absolutely voting Democratic.”

The back-and-forth continued on Saturday. Two Hispanic speakers, John Mendez of the LIBRE initiative and Rachel Campos Duffy, argued that Hispanics share conservatives’ values and could help build a majority if conservatives invested in community organizing and outreach. On an all-white-guys panel on conservatism and changing demographics, right-wing journalist John Fund echoed the call for conservatives to build bridges in minority communities by organizing businesses and churches to provide needed services.

But the final word went to closing speaker Sarah Palin, who spoke of the bipartisan immigration reform bill moving through the Senate in the most dismissive terms: “And let’s not kid ourselves into believing that we can rebuild our majority, by the way, by passing a pandering, rewarding-the-rule-breakers, still-no-border-security, special-interest-written amnesty bill.”

Immigration Reform a Tough Sell to Ralph Reed's 'Teavangelicals'

A group of conservative evangelical leaders has been pushing their fellow conservatives to embrace immigration reform, in part as a way to make the Religious Right and the Republican Party more appealing to the nation’s growing Latino population. Ralph Reed has been among those supporting the idea of a comprehensive reform bill, but at his Faith & Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference in Washington DC, many of the “Teavangelical” activists – people who are part of both the Tea Party and Religious Right movement – aren’t buying.

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who has been telling white evangelicals that they should embrace an influx of Jesus-loving Latinos as the salvation of Christianity in America, spoke in Friday morning’s session. He urged attendees not to drink the anti-immigrant “Kool-aid.” He told them not to believe the charge that 11 million immigrants would become Democratic voters if given citizenship. The conservative movement does not exist to conserve pigmentation or a white majority, he said, and it needs some “salsa sauce” on top.

Unfortunately for Rodriguez and his fellow proponents of immigration reform, two previous speakers, Gary Bauer and Allen West, had already spoken in disparaging terms about the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill moving through the Senate.  Bauer said Republicans in Washington spend too much time listening to consultants rather than standing firm on their principles. “You don’t have to go off and pass amnesty,” he said.  Former Congressman Allen West said that the “illegal immigration and amnesty bill” would make life harder for African Americans. And immediately following Rodriguez to the microphone was Phyllis Schlafly, who ramped up the rhetoric, telling attendees that they should threaten to run primary challengers against Senate Republicans who voted for the immigration bill.

Driving home that message was Colleen Holcomb, executive director of Schlafly’s Eagle Forum.  Holcomb was part of a panel on immigration reform that was moderated by Carlos Campo, president of Pat Robertson’s Regent University. Campo, who backs immigration reform, introduced Holcomb as a Regent alum, but that didn’t deter her from making slashing attacks on the Senate immigration bill. In fact, she at least indirectly criticized Campo and Ralph Reed himself when she said she was “profoundly offended” when faith leaders suggested that there was a biblical mandate for this kind of bill. She urged people to take advantage of resources available at www.stopgangof8.com. Holcomb later agreed with a questioner that it was an “outrageous lie” to suggest that the Senate bill reflects conservative principles.

Panelist Carlos Curbelo of the Miami-Dade County School Board tried to convince audience members that the current bill is not “amnesty” the way the 1986 immigration bill had been. Another panelist, state rep Steve Montenegro of Arizona, said the bill needed to include stronger border security provisions. When he asked for a show of hands – not a single person said they trusted that the Senate bill would secure the border.  And when he followed up, asking in effect, but how many of you would be willing to work with provisions of the bill if it did secure the border, very few hands went up.

It seems clear that Reed’s audience is more in sync with Schlafly than Rodriguez. That may be why Reed, who says reform should reflect Judeo-Christian principles – which he says include strengthening the family, respecting the rule of law, meeting the needs of the U.S. economy, and including “enforcement triggers” on border security – is also careful to include vehement denunciations of “amnesty” and “guaranteed paths to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently residing in the country.”

Tea Party Senators Kick Off Ralph Reed's Faith & Freedom Conference

Four of the Tea Party’s favorite senators – Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, and Marco Rubio of Florida – addressed the kick-off lunch for this year’s “Road to Majority” conference, which is sponsored by Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition.

Rand Paul made his case for a humbler foreign policy, suggesting that anti-abortion “pro-life” advocates should also think about the lives of 18- and 19-year old soldiers sent abroad before applauding a politician who talks with bravado about pre-emptive wars.  He said that even when American soldiers go to war with the best of intentions, the law of unintended consequences can be merciless.

Paul told activists that there is a worldwide “war on Christianity” that is being waged not only by “liberal elites” but also by American taxpayers through the country’s financial support of countries that persecute Christians. “American taxpayer dollars are being used to enable a war on Christianity in the Middle East.”

Paul took the requisite political shot at Barack Obama, saying the "scandals" surrounding the administration were causing the president to lose his "moral authority" to lead the country.

Johnson said the root cause of the country’s problem was that too many Americans were either never taught or have forgotten the “foundational premise” of the country. The nation’s founders, he said, understood that while government is necessary, its growth is something to fear. “Far too many Americans,” he said, “are willingly trading their freedom and ours for the false sense, the false promise of economic security.”

Johnson said he would like Americans to take their disgust about the IRS, or Benghazi, or the NSA, and apply it in a broader way to the federal government.  He said people who talked about restoring trust in government have the wrong idea.  What we should do, he said, is foster a healthy distrust of the government.

Lee said conservatives had not focused too much on families, but too little.  He said conservatives have to have an agenda that includes “forgotten” families at the bottom rung of the economic ladder, policies that address the effect of stagnant wages, rising costs of housing, etc. He called for a new “conservative reform” agenda that didn’t seem all that new: tax cuts to encourage entrepreneurship, school choice, and welfare reform, as well as an end to “corporate welfare.” 

Lee said conservatives are opposed to big government because a small government encourages a healthy civil society. Conservatives, he said, aren’t about a “you’re on your own” philosophy, but rather a “we’re in this together” one. But in his take, “in this together” does not involve the government. Without an intrusive government, he said, communities and churches would take care of people. Remember, Lee is the guy who believes the welfare state is unconstitutional, along with restrictions on freedom such as child-labor laws.

Marco Rubio has taken some heat from some of his fellow conservatives recently for his advocacy of immigration reform.  Reed is on record supporting comprehensive reform, but talking points for the activists’ post-lunch lobbying on Capitol Hill reflect tensions within the movement.  While it talked about the biblical basis for a compassionate immigration policy, it also talked about the rule of law and a so-called “enforcement trigger.”  One of the talking points says, “Alongside our principles, we vehemently oppose amnesty and guaranteed paths to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently residing in the country.”

Rubio revisited his campaign theme of American exceptionalism.  He used a biblical passage from Matthew chapter 5 to encourage activists to keep bringing their faith into their political activism, especially, he said, at a time when people are told they should silence their faith.

Rubio expanded on the notion that Christians should be the “salt of the earth” and a light unto the world to take on the foreign policy portion of Rand Paul’s remarks, without naming Paul specifically. A call to retreat from the world, he said, is a call for America to hide its light, and there is no nation that can replace the U.S. and its example of freedom:

“Our light must shine so that others will look to us and give glory to our heavenly father.”

Rubio made a couple of references to protecting marriage, but none of the senators explicitly addressed the battle over marriage equality. Talking points for activists’ afternoon lobbying visits on Capitol Hill were clearer. “Public polling overstates the support for same-sex marriage,” claim the talking points “The American people have overwhelmingly supported traditional marriage in votes on state referenda and initiatives.”

Also on the lobbying agenda: asking representatives to support the House of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act, which would allow churches and preachers to engage in explicit electoral politicking without consequences for their nonprofit tax status.

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