Peter Montgomery's blog

World Congress of Families In Denial Over Promoting Homophobia Globally

This is the second in a series of posts about the upcoming World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City, Utah. Read our introduction to the World Congress of Families here.

The World Congress of Families has been stung by intense criticism over its promotion of anti-gay bias and policies around the world, and has mounted a public relations campaign portraying itself as interested in civil discourse and uninterested in slamming gay people. If only it were true.

WCF Executive Director Janet Shaw Crouse has said the group’s support for traditional notions of family “does not mean disrespect for anyone else.” Crouse says, “We do not and will not engage in ‘gay-bashing’ or ‘hate’ language." In its 2014 “Call for Civic Dialogue” WCF said:

In its history, the WCF has never taken a position for or against anti-sodomy laws, nor has it attempted to roll back the rights gained by these individuals and organizations…. The WCF never has and never will advocate for any policy that brings harm to innocent individuals….

These assertions are grossly disingenuous and deceptive. WCF depends on, and celebrates, its association with what it calls “exemplary” anti-gay groups like the Family Research Council, American Family Association, Alliance Defending Freedom, and many others who aggressively resist the advance of LGBT equality in the U.S. and overseas -- and promote policies that most definitely bring harm to innocent individuals. For example, WCF and its allies played a significant role in organizing the stridently anti-gay “pro-family” movement in Russia. And not taking a position on laws that subject LGBT people to long jail terms and worse is hardly something to brag about.  

WCF’s “civil dialogue” claim is laughable on its face, especially given that the group is providing a speaking platform to Rafael Cruz, who has no policy expertise to share but has gained folk-hero status on the Religious Right with outlandishly inflammatory attacks on LGBT people and other political opponents. Cruz, father to presidential candidate Ted Cruz, called it “appalling” that a gay woman could win elected office, said that Satan controls the U.S. government and that the devil was responsible for the with Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling. He has repeatedly lied about religious freedom, claiming that the government will force churches to hire homosexual pastors and perform homosexual marriages. Cruz has suggested that President Obama is intent on seizing Americans’ guns because, like Stalin and Mao, Obama is pursuing a totalitarian government – and that the American left is out to do away with the entire Bill of Rights.

Sadly, Cruz is not an outlier. WCF and the speakers it provides with a platform have a long record of resisting protections for the rights of LGBT people. Last year WCF initiated a letter signed by 120 Religious Right figures from around the world in “vigorous protest” of the U.S. Embassy’s participation in a gay pride celebration in the Czech Republic. It refers to marriage equality as a “pseudo-right” that debases human freedom and dignity. The letter concludes, “We can not imagine a worse form of cultural imperialism than Washington trying to force approval of the ‘gay’ agenda on societies with traditional values.”

More to the point, WCF’s own Africa regional director, Theresa Okafor, who is being honored at the event, supported a harsh anti-gay law in Nigeria that not only provides for long jail sentences for gay sex, but also bans gay people from meeting in groups. Okafor has suggested that pro-equality groups from the west are allied with the violent Islamist Boko Haram in a conspiracy to silence Christians.

WCF Executive Director Crouse has her own track record. She has said children being raised by gay couples are being “used as guinea pigs.” She has praised Russia’s anti-gay right, saying approvingly, “I wouldn’t bet on the Russians capitulating to western LGBTIQ fascists without a fight.” At a 2013 Howard Center press conference, Crouse said American gay-rights activists are “turning into thugs who are destroying freedom of speech, destroying religious liberty.” She praised anti-gay activists in France, Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, and Nigeria. And while Crouse portrays American gays as enemies of free speech, she enthusiastically backed the prosecution and jailing of Pussy Riot activists over their anti-Putin protest in a Moscow cathedral.

Among other anti-gay speakers who will be given a platform at WCF:

  • Peter Sprigg represents the stridently anti-gay Family Research Council, whose leader Tony Perkins once defended Uganda’s notorious “kill the gays” bill as an effort to uphold morality. Sprigg, who once said he would like to “export” homosexuals from the U.S., complained this year about Randy Berry, Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons, for traveling to Uganda and Jamaica. Sprigg criticized the Obama administration for trying to “force this American-style homosexual agenda down the throats of other countries” like Uganda, “which is one of the countries that has been most bitterly attacked by homosexual activists around the world.”
  • Robert Knight, a Religious Right pundit and former FRC staffer, has argued that judges who rule in favor of marriage equality should be impeached.
  • Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage has not only pushed for anti-equality legislation in the U.S., he has supported anti-gay efforts globally and encouraged legislators in Russia to pass legislation banning adoption by gay couples.
  • Errol Naidoo received training from the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C before founding the Family Policy Institute in South Africa in response to the legalization of marriage equality, which he had lobbied against. He blames abortion and “the homosexual agenda” for creating a “culture of death” that is “slowly killing off the human family in Western civilization.”
  • Glenn Stanton, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, has called marriage equality a “pernicious lie of Satan” and said that “quite literally there is more evidence for Bigfoot than there is that homosexuality is just who we are.”
  • Jennifer Roback Morse, president of the Ruth Institute, formerly affiliated with the National Organization for Marriage, says the “sexual revolution” is a “totalitarian” movement” and “a pagan ideology” that Christians should refuse to compromise with. She says “the only reason we’re dealing with gay marriage now is because we never faced up to the harms that have already been inflicted by feminism.”
  • Mark Regnerus: His New Family Structures Study, funded by the anti-gay Witherspoon Institute, has been widely discredited, but continues to be cited by right-wing as if it provided scientific evidence for harm caused by gay parenting. It was used extensively as justification for passage of anti-gay laws in Russia.
  • Frank Schubert is a political communications strategist notorious as the mastermind of the strategy to ground the campaign for California’s Prop 8 in fear-mongering about gay people and couples being a threat to children. Schubert was paid handsomely to take that destructive strategy to other states.

 

Ted Cruz Plans ‘Religious Liberty’ Rally At College That Claimed Bible Backing For Racist Policies

Politico’s Shane Goldmacher reported this week that Ted Cruz is planning a major rally on “religious liberty” at Bob Jones University in November.  Even though it has been clear for a while that framing opposition to LGBT equality, abortion and contraception as religious liberty issues is a core strategy of right-wing culture warriors like Cruz, Bob Jones is still a stunning choice. After all, the “religious liberty” Bob Jones is most famous for defending was its long insistence that its segregationist policies were mandated in the Bible.

Of course Cruz’s choice could be a cunning and calculated one based on the fact that his campaign’s roadmap to victory requires a big boost in turnout among conservative evangelicals who are disaffected with politics. Appearing at Bob Jones University, specifically to talk about religious liberty, is the granddaddy of all dog-whistles to the far right.

A bit of background: During the 1970s, the federal government began to crack down on segregation academies that had sprung up in response to the Brown v. Board of Education decision more than a decade earlier.  The IRS formally promulgated its policy that racially discriminatory private schools were not entitled to federal tax-exempt status in 1971. After years of fighting with Bob Jones, the IRS revoked the university’s tax-exempt status in 1976. The school kept fighting, ultimately losing at the Supreme Court in 1983 in an 8-1 decision.

Religion scholar Randall Balmer writes that it was the federal government’s move against segregationist schools, even more than the Roe v Wade decision, that gave Paul Weyrich the opening to create the Religious Right political movement. He tapped into conservative evangelicals’ anger at the federal government interference in segregationist religious schools. In his book about the Religious Right, “Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament,” Balmer wrote about a conservative 1990 conference at which Weyrich spoke:

Let's remember, he said animatedly, that the Religious Right did not come together in response to the Roe decision. No, Weyrich insisted, what got us going as a political movement was the attempt on the part of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies.

Bob Jones University was one target of a broader attempt by the federal government to enforce the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Several agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, had sought to penalize schools for failure to abide by antisegregation provisions. A court case in 1972, Green v. Connally, produced a ruling that any institution that practiced segregation was not, by definition, a charitable institution and, therefore, no longer qualified for tax-exempt standing…

For his part, Weyrich saw the evangelical discontent over the Bob Jones case as the opening he was looking for to start a new conservative movement using evangelicals as foot soldiers. Although both the Green decision of 1972 and the IRS action against Bob Jones University in 1975 predated Jimmy Carter's presidency, Weyrich succeeded in blaming Carter for efforts to revoke the tax-exempt status of segregated Christian schools. He recruited James Dobson and Jerry Falwell to the cause, the latter of whom complained, "In some states it's easier to open a massage parlor than to open a Christian school."

So what game is Cruz playing? Is he going to play up right-wing fears that the federal government will go after the tax-exempt status of schools with anti-gay policies? Is talking about religious liberty at Bob Jones some oddly aggressive way to make the right-wing argument that there are no parallels between racial discrimination and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity?

Cruz made that argument during a June interview on the Today show, when he declared that “there’s no religious backing” for denying marriage licenses to interracial couples. That, of course, is an absurd argument, as the federal judge who had upheld Virginia’s laws against mixed-race marriages in Loving v Virginia specifically cited the Bible in defense of the law. And as Brian noted in June:

Cruz should know better. After all, the Tea Party leader announced his presidential campaign at Liberty University, the school founded by Jerry Falwell, one of the fathers of the modern Religious Right movement, who denounced both desegregation and interracial marriages in religious terms.

Indeed, the Southern Baptist Convention was created in a split with northern Baptists over slavery. Southern Baptists preached that the Bible endorsed slavery, citing “slaves obey your masters” verses that were still being used by the Christian Coalition in the 1990s to justify attacks on labor unions.

Did Newark Archbishop Just Declare Democrats Ineligible For Communion?

David Gibson at the Religion News Service reports on a new directive from Newark Archbishop John Myers, who “has given his priests strict guidelines on refusing Communion to Catholics who, for example, support gay marriage or whose own marriage is not valid in the eyes of the church.” The guideline was distributed as the Catholic Church's Synod on the Family is under way in Rome.

Gibson notes that Myers orders parishes and Catholic organizations not to host people or groups that disagree with church teachings. And the language of Myers’ memo actually goes even further:

Non-Catholics and any Catholic who publically rejects Church teaching or discipline, either by public statement or by joining or supporting organizations which do so, are not to receive the Sacraments.

By that definition, could any member of the Democratic Party receive communion in the Archdiocese of Newark?

A spokesman for Myers confirmed to Gibson that same-sex unions were part of the consideration in writing the memo to ensure that “Catholic teaching is adhered to in all situations.”

David Benham's Gay-Bashing Tirade At 'Nonpolitical' Prayer Rally

Last weekend’s Response rally in Charlotte, North Carolina was another in a series of supposedly nonpolitical gatherings organized by political strategist David Lane. Like other Response gatherings, the event served as a platform for culture warriors associated with Christian-nation dominionism to promote anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-church state ideology all while proclaiming that they are simply bringing Christians together to pray for the state and nation.

Among the culture warriors to take the microphone in Charlotte was David Benham, half of the Benham Brothers duo who have parlayed a cancelled television show into Religious Right folk-hero status.

David and his brother have a long record of anti-gay rhetoric and activism. They once urged Charlotte officials to deny permits for the city’s pride celebration. David has repeatedly linked gays with Satan, so it is not terribly surprising that he portrayed the LGBT equality movement as a force of darkness in a spiritual battle for the soul of America:

As we shift into individual repentance I want to provide a little context for where we’re meeting right now. Eight years ago, I came to the Charlotte convention center, and sat in a meeting with 1500 individuals in the room directly above this room. It was a meeting with the Human Rights Campaign. The president stood on the stage and said that we are going to take the key to Charlotte, we are going to take North Carolina, and we will force our agenda on this nation. And all of you bigots that think that you can stand against us, you can do nothing about it because you sit in your living rooms laughing at our humor on television.

And I listened to that from the Human Rights Campaign and I found it very interesting that just a few months ago I sat at a city council meeting with the transgender bill that sat and was about to be voted upon. And the city attorney was asked, who was in the meeting helping you craft this ordinance, and he said, the Human Rights Campaign.

At the time the nondiscrimination ordinance in Charlotte was being debated, Benham called it “depraved” and “craziness.”

Benham argued, as is customary among Religious Right leaders, that America’s biggest problem is that “the church” hasn’t been aggressive enough in the culture wars.

The problem today is not the presence of darkness. The problem is the absence of light. This is nothing new in America. The spirit of the age is the spirit of Babylon, the same spirit that Daniel spoke about in his book, and this Babylonian spirit that seeks to remove Christian influence, that seeks to demonize and come against those who hold the commandments of God and keep the testimony of Jesus Christ.

This is the spiritual battle that is now waging before us in this nation, the home of the brave and the land of the free. And it’s time for the church of Jesus Christ to get off the sidelines and to step into the game. We don’t have a second Chronicles 7:14 moment – if my people who are called by my name, and the healing of the land – we don’t have that moment if it does not first begin with 1 Peter 4:17.

It is time for judgment to begin in the House of God.

Benham went on to talk about the sins “manifest in Israel” before the captivity in Babylon:  

“…the worship of the goddess of Ashera, sexual perversion of all kind, and the worship of the god of Moloch, child sacrifice. That is what we are finding in America, and we see it in North Carolina, that the shedding of innocent blood – 60 million unborn babies – have been slaughtered while we grow church. C’mon!

And we are now watching, as God is allowing our sexual perversion, not just the homosexual agenda, but adultery and divorce and pornography that are rooted in the church and it is time for us to fall on our faces before God and to repent of our sins.

Benham said God had a purpose in placing The Response directly below the room where that HRC meeting had been held:

It is no coincidence that we are in a basement underneath the room where the Human Rights Campaign issued their secular declaration that they would take this nation. Now it’s time for us to issue our declaration, that God we are sorry, forgive us of our sins, heal our land, O God.

In Daniel chapter 9 in Babylon he says this, I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed my sins and said alas, Lord, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant in loving kindness for those who love him and keep his commandments. We have sinned. We have committed iniquity. We have acted wickedly and rebelled. We have turned aside from your ordinances and commandments.

It’s time for us, as God has positioned us in this room, to get on our faces and to humble ourselves. We can point at our elected leaders. We can point at the secular media. We can point at Hollywood, and DC and New York City, but the finger points right to the church of Jesus Christ.

And we know that the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but are divinely powerful for the destruction of strongholds, those strongholds that come to rob, to kill, and to destroy. So let’s enter in now, this is not something that you can just sit there and watch. We must get on our faces before God for the sake of this nation, for the sake of our children and for the sake of the kingdom of heaven…

God we have sinned. God we have concerned ourselves with our rights but have forsaken our responsibility to be salt and light. God we have turned our backs Lord and gotten comfortable with American Christianity. Bring us back to biblical Christianity, oh God. Forgive us Lord Jesus for the perversion that is in our own ranks, God. Forgive us Lord Jesus for turning a blind eye to the shedding of innocent blood. God we ask you Lord forgive us. We intercede on behalf of our land knowing that we are the ones responsible. So Lord Jesus forgive us now as we enter individual repentance knowing that the only ones that ascend the hill of the Lord is he who has clean hands and a pure heart.

 

Seven Mountains Dominionism At North Carolina's 'Response' Rally

Last Saturday’s five-and-a-half-hour “Response” rally in North Carolina was, like previous “Response" rallies, a culture war rallying cry disguised as a nonpolitical prayer gathering. The event, organized by Christian-nation activist David Lane and emceed by “apostle” Doug Stringer, promoted Seven Mountains dominionism, the idea that the right kind of Christians are meant to control every sphere – or “mountain” – of cultural influence: business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family, and religion.

While laying hands on North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who Lane said was put in place by God, Lane prayed that God could give McCrory “courage to fight.” 

Lord, we pray that you would give him courage to fight. And Lord that the pastors of North Carolina would rise. And Lord that this would be the beginning. You say we war against not flesh and blood but principalities and powers. And like over the body of Moses in the book of Jude, the archangel Michael said, ’the Lord rebuke you. We’re asking the living God to intervene on what he have allowed in a nation founded for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith. Jesus help us, and begin with Pat McCrory, we’re asking in Jesus name.

Stringer continued the prayer over McCrory, saying that the Bible makes clear “that all authority, kingdom’s authorities, principalities and rulerships are subject to you, but your intention to give it to the church and through the church.”

Lord would you guide and protect and watch over the governor of this great state, all of our leaders across this nation, that they would come to renewed revelation of their need for you and that Lord as they submit themselves to you,  true reformation will take place and revival across this nation again.

In the session on “reformation,” Stringer talked about the development of “seven mountains” theology by people like the late Bill Bright of Campus Crusade. Another speaker fleshed out the concept:

Jesus gave a parable of a man, a certain nobleman who went into a far country, and he said, he gave 10 pounds to ten servants, and he said, “Occupy until I come.” Reformation is about occupying the places of influence in our nation, the places of influence in our culture. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. And God has commissioned the church to occupy until he comes…

There are 7 major issues or arenas in which we believe that God has appointed and assigned the church to occupy. We believe that the church, or the faith and religious community, must experience a time of reformation. The word tells us in Matthew the fifth chapter that the church, the body of Christ, is the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Let us pray that there would be an awakening in the faith community. Pray that the church would experience a revelation of holiness, righteousness, love and justice. Pray that the church would occupy every arena in our society. Pray that the church would be salt and light.

A number of speakers prayed for various mountains. Regarding the family, “that the unborn would be protected” and “that the family would have true biblical marriages” – which speakers made clear is not just about one-man, one-woman marriage, but about wifely submission.

Prayers for the government sphere included:

Pray for the government, that it would be, that we would have god-appointed leaders, men and women who would serve him and humanity. Pray for government that we would have voters who are informed, knowledgeable and insightful in how to vote righteously and biblically.

On education, one speaker prayed, “Restore prayer to our schools, O Holy God, restore one educational system to the biblical principles of Jesus Christ, in Jesus’s holy and mighty name, amen.” Another said this:

I repent for the folly of expelling you from our halls of learning. We have considered ourselves wise in our own eyes, when in reality wisdom in this world is foolishness before you. As a person working in the academic realm, I invite you back into the education system, to take your rightful place, as the foundation and the compass for learning. You are the only true source of knowledge and wisdom. I cry out to you to reform and transform the education system in this state and in this nation. Apart from you we can do nothing. In Christ we can do all things AMEN!

On the media:

“We are going to ask God to reform this mountain of media, we are at the point in this country where it is either reformation or revolution – the first is of the spirit, and the latter is of the force of the flesh, so God, we call upon you to reform the mountain of media for your kingdom purposes. Lord, you know that there’s a saying in the newsroom, that if it bleeds, it leads. My God, you bled for us. I know of no other way for mountain reformation to come than by the precious blood of the lamb. So Lord, we recognize you as our risen Lord and savior, and we ask for you to invade the news media. We ask you to loose skilled laborers to come into that mountain, to repossess the land where the enemy has taken up residence. God, we call for truth.…We ask for the truth of the gospel to go forth in the media…for the people of God to meet today in the city of intercession that you would begin a massive reformation in the mountain of media….

One of the final speakers made clear what the day was about – spiritual warfare against “the enemy.”

I thank you father for the reminder from your word and from the remarks that have been made throughout this day that this is war, and that we’re not looking for refreshing in order to be relieved of our responsibilities, but father we’re coming here today as a people of God, an army of God, seeking to be refreshed in order to renew the fight against the enemy. And today father, the people that are in this place, pick up the world-class weapon of prayer and we take it father against the enemy in the name of Jesus Christ. And we come against every obstacle, we come against every foe. 

Culture War Politics At David Lane's 'Nonpolitical' Prayer Rally

Last Saturday, while the Values Voter Summit drew Religious Right activists and pandering politicians together in Washington, D.C., a group of Christian dominionists was holding an all-day political prayer rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, featuring Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. McCrory had objected to the way Response organizers used his name to recruit participants, but it didn’t keep him away.

This was the fourth “Response” rally headlined by a state governor. The first, in 2011, served as the unofficial launch to Rick Perry’s disastrous 2012 presidential bid. Since then, Response rallies have been hosted by Bobby Jindal in Louisiana and Nikki Haley in South Carolina. Florida Gov. Rick Scott is scheduled to host the next “Response” on October 24. The North Carolina Response was the smallest to date; one speaker referred to “hundreds” of participants, while the Charlotte Observer reported that it attracted “more than 1,000” people.

The rallies are in effect a series of bait-and-switch events. They are disingenuously promoted as non-political gatherings to create Christian unity by bringing people together across denominational and racial lines to pray for the state and the country. And while that promise of ecumenical prayer and worship is undoubtedly what brought many people to the event in Charlotte, the “non-political” veneer was discarded almost immediately.

The organizers are a group of Christian-nation zealots who believe every sphere of influence in society – including business, government, education, media, and entertainment – is meant to be controlled by the right kind of Christians. And they’re intent on electing politicians – and a president – who share that vision. The events are sponsored by Christian-nation extremist David Lane, a favorite of GOP presidential hopefuls whose American Renewal Project organizes and funds The Response rallies as well as other efforts to get conservative evangelicals more involved in politics. The American Renewal Project operates under the umbrella of the American Family Association, home to the notorious font of bigotry, radio host Bryan Fischer.

Here’s how Lane opened his prayer at the unifying, non-political Response rally:

The problem is us, a Christian nation founded for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith that has left God. So Lord, we start here. We’re so sorry what we’ve allowed to happen to a once-Christian nation, Lord. We deserve judgment. We pray for mercy, the mercy of God. A nation founded on the Bible; fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And Lord, they removed prayer and Bible from the public schools in 1963 after 350 years as a principal component, as the fixed point in order to judge society. We did this, we allowed this to happen. We pray for mercy. Fifty-five million babies dead, homosexuals praying at the inauguration, red ink as far as the eye can see -- judgment is on us. We need mercy Lord. We deserve judgment.

Like other Response events, it was emceed by “apostle” Doug Stringer, who announced that the day would follow the five-theme Response formula: repentance, reconciliation, revival, reformation, and refreshing. As the Response moved through its five segments, Religious Right speakers took turns at the microphone, interspersed with praise music and prayers from locals. Some prayed for the church to be filled with God’s love, and some shouted out culture war rhetoric about abortion, homosexuality, and separation of church and state:

Lord, you’ve called us to be salt and light, and Lord, salt is flavoring, salt is an irritant, and salt is a preservative. Lord, it is sin for us to not study your word, and know it, and obey it. Oh, God, it is sin for us to not know our Constitution, our liberties, and it is sin for us to not know how to be good citizens, preserving our liberties and our freedoms. Change us, oh God, and help us be like Kim Davis, obeying the Constitution and defying federal criminals. In Jesus’ name.  

Ken Starr Not Rushing To Join Religious Right's Kim Davis Fan Club

Lawyers for Kim Davis are trying to piggyback on the popularity of Pope Francis by revealing that Davis was “sneaked into the Vatican embassy by car” to meet the pope when he visited Washington, D.C., recently. Not exactly a red-carpet welcome, but Davis and Liberty Counsel can use all the P.R. help they can get these days.

Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver says the visit, grudgingly confirmed by the Vatican, wasn’t arranged through the American bishops. But it would not have been terribly surprising if it were enabled by Archbishop William Lori, point man for the U.S. bishops’ strategy of using religious liberty claims to resist LGBT equality and the contraception coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act.

On the Friday before the pope’s arrival in Washington, D.C., Lori gave the keynote to a day-long “Religious Freedom Summit” at the Catholic University of America’s law school. Much of the day was devoted to discussion of horrific religious persecution in other parts of the world, including anti-Christian persecution in Syria and China. Those harrowing first-person accounts made it hard to consider claims of “religious persecution” by people like Kim Davis as even remotely in the same category.

Even among the conservative lawyers who filled the room, support for Davis wasn’t unanimous. The closing address at the conference was given by Ken Starr — yes, that Ken Starr — who is now president of Baylor University, a Texas-based Christian college with Baptist heritage.

Starr talked about how courts have wrestled with the words of the First Amendment for some 80 years, and proposed some key principles that he said should guide the law: non-coercion in matters of conscience; nondiscrimination against religion; government’s ability, within limits, to provide affirmative protections for religious belief; and government noninterference with the mission and governance of religious organizations.

Starr acknowledged that in implementing many of these principles there are lines that must be drawn. For example, he explained, the majority and dissenters in the Hobby Lobby case gave different weight to the religious liberty claims of the company’s owners and the potential for demonstrable harm to the company’s employees. How we identify and measure recognizable harm to third parties, and weigh it against free exercise, will continue to be wrestled with in the courts, he said, suggesting that there were probably differing opinions even among the people in the room.

Which brings us to Kim Davis, and other Religious Right martyrs-in-the-making such as bakers and florists who refuse service to same sex couples.

First, Davis:

I don’t think that this question is easy. Others may, and the freedom of conscience simply trumps all. But the reason I think it’s not easy is because she is a public official who has taken an oath to uphold the law. I know, I heard the panel saying, look at all the exceptions to individuals who’ve been sworn to uphold the law and who have chosen not to do it. I personally find that a little uncomfortable. Oh, you’re going to pick and choose which laws to enforce.

He asked whether people in the room would be okay with a sheriff or chief of police deciding which laws to enforce based on their personal beliefs.

Starr then addressed conversations about accommodations for bakers and florists who refuse to serve gay customers:

Not a public official like Kim Davis, a private citizen. But at the same time I’m going to suggest that we really think hard on this. She is one who has opened her bakery or catering service or floral shop to business. She has a license from the state to do business. And in carrying out a commercial business, the general rule is one akin to principle two of nondiscrimination. That rule is deeply anchored in the common law. You’ve got to serve people who come in to you. And also the public accommodation provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act when folks were excluded from service on grounds of race. The very idea and ideal of the common law rule is equality — you take care of every customer who comes to you unless you have a very substantial — they’re trying to tear up my shop.

Starr noted that there’s plenty of litigation in these areas, and that some “creative” arguments are being mounted by those suggesting that wedding services such as cakes and flowers are protected as a freedom of speech issue. (That kind of claim was made unsuccessfully by a photographer in New Mexico, discussed in PFAW’s “Religious Liberty: Shield or Sword?”)

Starr also noted that “we are an increasingly diverse community of men, women and children who come from so many cultures and traditions …The world we inhabit is a pluralistic one.” He acknowledged that his four principles won’t magically resolve differences on these issues, suggesting that those involved should adhere to another organizing principle, the Golden Rule, and treat those with whom they disagree with kindness, dignity, and respect.

Starr isn’t the only conservative lawyer taking issue with the claims of Kim Davis and her supporters. Ken Klukowski said earlier this month that Davis was on “very shaky legal ground” and that her refusal to allow deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses was an indefensible effort to force other civil servants to act in conformity with her religious beliefs.

 

Jeb Bush Touts Voucher Program That Funds Christian Schools, Religious Right Ideology

At Wednesday night’s presidential debate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush went out of his way to tout “a voucher program that was created under my watch, the largest voucher program in the country, where kids can go to a Christian school” — a phrase he sandwiched into a conversation about Donald Trump criticizing him for speaking Spanish in public.

Julie Ingersoll, a religious studies professor at the University of North Florida, tweeted a reminder that her book on Christian Reconstructionism, which was recently released by Oxford University Press, mentions Bush’s voucher program. “Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstructionism” includes chapters on the enormous influence of Christian Reconstructionism in the homeschooling and Christian school movements, which have succeeded in getting states like Florida to funnel taxpayer money to their religious education efforts

Christian Reconstructionism, grounded in the teachings of 20th-century writer R.J. Rushdoony, has greatly influenced both the Religious Right and Tea Party movements with its doctrine of “sphere sovereignty,” which states that God has given government, church, and family specific responsibilities over different “spheres.” Reconstructionists argue that there is no biblical authority for the government to take on a duty that is given to church or family – for example, they argue that the government has no role in caring for the poor because charity is the job of the church.

Reconstructionism teaches that education is the duty of parents, and that the state therefore has no role in or legitimate authority over the education of children. Reconstructionists led legal and political battles to win the right of parents to homeschool their children, and continue to resist efforts at regulating homeschoolers. As Ingersoll notes, “Reconstructionists are unabashedly committed to the dismantling of public education, and their strategies and solutions have gained a hearing far beyond the boundaries of the small groups explicitly affiliated with them.” In June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott named a right-wing homeschooler to chair the state’s Board of Education.

The organized and intensely active network of evangelical homeschooling families in Iowa is credited, in part, with Mike Huckabee’s win in the 2008 Iowa caucus, and the Associated Press reported this year that presidential candidates have been jockeying for its leaders’ support.

Ingersoll also explores how central creationism is to the Christian Reconstructionist worldview; as others have noted, creationism also forms the basis of “science” education in books and curricula used by some Christian schools and homeschoolers.

Ingersoll writes about the independent, Reconstructionism-inspired Rocky Bayou Christian School in Niceville, Florida, which was founded in the 1970s. In addition to the hundreds of students in its K-12 program, the school offers a program allowing homeschoolers to participate in courses and activities. Writes Ingersoll, “RCBS also has a program designed to take advantage of Florida’s school voucher plan. The plan, put into place by former Governor Jeb Bush, permits students at ‘failing public schools’ to obtain vouchers that can be used at any school.”

According to Ingersoll, the Bush voucher program “has become such a significant revenue stream” for Rocky Bayou Christian School that “it would have a major impact on the school if the state were to decide to discontinue the controversial program….”  But, she notes, “the conservative legislature took up the effort to expand the state’s privatization of public education with vouchers and the expansion of charter schools.”

Indeed, legislation signed by Gov. Rick Scott last year expanded voucher and tax-credit programs; it also, according to the Orlando Sentinel, created state-funded “personal learning scholarship accounts” that “parents of students with certain disabilities can use to pay for private school, buy home-school curriculum or pay for needed therapies, among other services, if their child is not in public school.”

Florida is not the only state where proponents of privatization have won victories. Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal used the Katrina disaster to push through a radical privatization scheme and has battled the Obama administration over its efforts to monitor the state’s voucher program’s effect on racial segregation. Proponents of “school choice” had a major victory in Nevada this year, where a law pushed by an education foundation created by Jeb Bush would allow parents of any income level to “pull a child from the state's public schools and take tax dollars with them, giving families the option to use public money to pay for private or parochial school or even for home schooling.” While some Christian homeschoolers want no part of voucher programs, because they believe taking voucher money would bring more intrusive government regulation, laws like Nevada’s could prove a windfall for Religious Right and Christian Reconstructionist groups that provide curricula to homeschoolers.

Ingersoll writes about a 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit hosted by the Christian Home Educators of Colorado at an Indianapolis facility of Bill Gothard’s Institute for Biblical Life Principles, a troubling organization in the news recently for its connection to the Duggar family. The purpose of the summit, writes Ingersoll, was the development of a “Christian Education Manifesto,” which is no longer public, but whose goals included the elimination of public education and dismantling of government agencies that regulate the rights of parents, such as child welfare and child protective service groups.

There have been some setbacks for the privatization movement. In June, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that its state’s Choice Scholarship Pilot Program violates the state Constitution by channeling public money to private religious schools, contrary to an explicit constitutional prohibition on doing so.

But, as Ingersoll notes, the massively funded privatization movement is advancing the dream of the Christian Reconstructionists:

Florida’s efforts mirror attempts across the nation to shift the delivery of public education to the private sector; a shift of tax money from a public endeavor intended to educate and foster a shared sense of what it means to be American to sectarian efforts, including efforts at schools like Rocky Bayou which seek to transform society according to biblical law. The long-standing goal of the Christian Reconstructionists to defund, and ultimately eliminate, public education has come as close as it has ever come to being a reality.

Bernie Sanders At Liberty U & Pope Francis At CATO

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, spoke on Monday morning at Liberty University. Liberty was founded by Jerry Falwell and has, under his son’s leadership, grown to be a huge and influential part of the Religious Right’s cultural infrastructure. The school has a tradition of drawing attention to itself by inviting politicians to its mandatory student convocations.

Sanders stated upfront and unapologetically that he is pro-choice and pro-gay and that he knew most of the people in the audience disagreed with him about that. His speech focused on the themes of economic hardship and inequality, urging students to grapple with the morality and injustice of poverty, huge income and wage gaps, children dying for lack of health care and Republican budget proposals to slash safety-net spending for poor children and families. Sanders, who was raised Jewish but currently claims no religious ties, quoted Pope Francis’s critique of the global economy and warnings against the “idolatry” of money.

Sanders was received politely, but there was plenty of resistance to his message, and not just on abortion or marriage equality.  Nick Corasaniti at the New York Times reported from the event:

“Calling on us to help the neediest, that resonates with me as a Christian,” said Quincy Thompson, the student body president, who had a chance to briefly meet Mr. Sanders after the event. “But as a Christian, I think the responsibility to help them falls to the church, not the government.”

The idea that helping the poor is not a job for the government but for the church is a core teaching of Christian Reconstructionism that has spread throughout the Religious Right, the Tea Party, and the Republican Party, carried by people like David Barton and Michael Peroutka.

Liberty’s President Jerry Falwell, Jr. also took exception to Sanders’ approach to economics, sticking with the gospel of small government:

“I think it was Margaret Thatcher who said that the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money,” Mr. Falwell said in an interview after the event, making the case that he thought working toward a limited government and lowering taxes would “create the tide that rises all ships.”

A different strain of the Right took on a similar theme on Tuesday, when panelists at the libertarian CATO Institute, whose lobby features a quote from Ayn Rand, addressed Pope Francis’ critique of the  global economic system at an event titled, “Blessing or Scourge? Capitalism through the Eyes of Pope Francis.” Francis will visit Washington, D.C. next week.

Catholic University of America President John Garvey and National Catholic Reporter columnist Michael Sean Winters portrayed Francis’ statements as well within the tradition of Catholic social justice teaching and in line with comments from his papal predecessors.

Jay Richards is an assistant professor in the business school at Catholic University and a senior fellow at the creationist Discovery Institute who authored a 2010 book called “Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem.” Richards, whose Twitter handle is @FreemarketJay, suggested that Francis’ views on capitalism may have been distorted by his experience in Argentina, which Richards says ranks near the bottom on “economic freedom” indicators. The pope’s beef is not really with free-market capitalism, he says, but with the kind of cronyism and corporatism found in his home country— an argument that has been advanced by other Catholic conservatives but doesn’t reflect the scope of Francis’s critique of current global economic and financial systems.

The CATO panel was moderated by Marian Tupy, editor of CATO’s HumanProgress.org project. Tupy argued that the pope is ignoring evidence that capitalism has lifted millions of people out of poverty. Two of Tupy's articles critical of Francis’s economic critiques were distributed at the event, one of which concluded condescendingly, “Pope Francis has a big heart, but his credibility as a voice of justice and morality would be immeasurably improved if he based his statements on facts.”

 

 

Ted Cruz Seeks To Solidify Christian Right Support With Attacks On Planned Parenthood

As we have noted recently, there’s evidence that Ted Cruz is consolidating support from influential Religious Right leaders. That includes pseudo-historian David Barton, billionaire fracking brothers Farris and Dan Wilks, and anti-choice activists behind the group Online for Life.

But Cruz is still well back in the polls, and evangelical voters are currently showing a preference for Donald Trump and Ben Carson, whose support has been rising since the first Republican debate.

Carson is now polling second to Donald Trump and ahead of Jeb Bush, with the New York Times reporting this weekend his growing support from Religious Right activists. Earlier this month, a Quinnipiac survey of likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa had Carson leading Trump 27-20 among born-again evangelicals; Cruz was in third at 12 percent.

Cruz is hoping to boost his support among evangelicals by leading an effort in Congress this month to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. Last month Cruz partnered with GOP political operative and Christian-nation extremist David Lane to encourage pastors to preach sermons against Planned Parenthood.

Lane has argued that conservative evangelicals need to unite behind a single candidate to prevent the nomination of an unacceptably establishment figure along the lines of John McCain and Mitt Romney — and he has organized many events for pastors to meet GOP presidential candidates. Cruz backers like Barton and the Wilks brothers are close allies of Lane —  and the Wilks brothers are big funders of Lane’s organizing projects as well as Online for Life.

Lane, who has had kind words for Donald Trump, has not publicly endorsed a candidate, but he has previously been dismissive of Ben Carson’s candidacy. He told the Washington Post’s Sebastian Payne last year, “Anyone who votes for Ben Carson has no idea what they are doing politically. He’s got zero chance of becoming president or getting the Republican nomination.”

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