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Todd Starnes In Fantasy Land

We have been reading through Todd Starnes' latest book, "God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values," which was released earlier this week and mainly it consists of the standard "Christian persecution" stories that fill most of his columns for Fox News.

But then we got to chapter 5, entitled "So Absurd It Could Be True: The Gospel Of Barack Obama," which consists entirely of Starnes imagining a meeting between himself and a fictional DC insider named Miles O'Leary who had just been put in charge of a project aimed at literally turning President Obama into a god.

Starnes imagines a conversation between himself and O'Leary as the latter explains that an "Office of Theological Repatriation" has been created in order to use the force of government and compliance of the media to compel all Americans to abandon their faith and worship Obama:

"You look at it as a problem, but the White House looks at it as an opportunity," he said. "We realized that we had a chance to truly make history—to change the world. Do you remember what happened at the Democratic National Convention, when the Democrats booed God?"

Who could forget? Delegates to the 2012 DNC meeting in Charlotte had voted God out of the party platform. "There's only room for one god in the Democratic National Convention," Miles said.

The Almighty was subsequently reinstated into the party, which resulted in a round of contentious jeers from the crowd full of atheists and God-haters. I was there. It was one of the most incredulous moments in American politics—a major political party giving God a Bronx cheer.

"We took an immediate flash poll of God's approval rating among Democrats, and we got a shocking wake-up call," Miles told me. "He was only polling at 10 percent—and that was mostly among Southern Blue Dog Democrats. So we decided to immediately implement a top-secret program—code name G-O-D"

GOD?

"It stands for Get Obama Deified," Miles said in a hushed voice. "We decided to create a national religion based solely on President Obama. Our internal polling data on the deification of the president is spectacular."

I was dumbfounded. How in the world could they do something like that—something so brazen, so blasphemous, so unconstitutional?

"Todd, we've already done it," Miles said. "I was just put in charge of President Obama's new Office of Theological Repatriation. We're in the process of destabilizing other religions so that we can recruit more followers. Why do you think we've been marginalizing Christianity within the armed forces and public schools?"

"But why make the president a god?"

"Let's face it, Todd," Miles explained. "He's a young man. He's going to need to do something to earn a paycheck after he leaves the White House."

"So when did you guys decide to go forward with this hair-brained scheme?" I asked.

"Ironically it was just a few hours before that earthquake hit Washington," he said. "About two minutes after President Obama signed the executive order declaring himself to be America's Lord and Savior, the earth started shaking."

"How does one even go about creating a new religion?" I wondered.

"Well, as I said, I head up the Office of Theological Repatriation," Miles said. "Once the Christians and Jews renounce their faiths, they are assigned to a six-month session of theological conversion therapy. After they complete the appropriate coursework, the new followers are then turned over to the Office of Spiritual Indoctrination."

"What about the Muslims?" I asked.

"Um, yeah, we're not going to touch the Muslims," Miles said.

"It's all about having a good back story," he said. "That's why we've employed the best screenwriters in Hollywood to create our version of the Bible. It's called The Gospel According to Barack."

Miles laid out some sample chapters for me, including Obama's version of the Golden Rule: "Do unto others before they do it to you."

And they've also started working on the origins story. Miles said the White House has pending legislation that would make December 25 "Barack Obama Day."

"We've even got a few passages of the origins scripture ready for Hallmark cards," Miles said. "'For unto you is born this day in a city of undetermined origin—a savior who is Barack the Lord.'"

Suddenly the skies outside the coffeehouse darkened. I could hear the distant rumbling of thunder and an occasional flash of lightning. Miles said they'd also commissioned choirs to perform some new holiday anthems with lyrics such as, "Joy to the world / Barack has come / Let earth receive her king." They also created the new songs "Jingle Bell Barack" and "Michelle, Did You Know?"

"We've recently acquired the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which we've renamed the Obama Tabernacle Choir, and they are going to be producing our signature song, a new rendition of the 'Hallelujah Chorus,'" Miles said. "Instead of 'Hallelujah,' they sing `Barack Obama."

But what about the inner workings of the religion? What about the doctrine?

Miles conceded that to be a bit more problematic. He said there'd been fierce debate over who gets to sit at the right hand of Obama. "Valerie Jarrett wants to sit at the left and the right hand," he said. "Michelle's not too happy about that, but we may have a solution. We're contemplating making Michelle the Holy Mother."

What about the sacraments?

"Well, we require followers of Obama to drink the Kool-Aid at least once a week," Miles said. "We've also got the folks over at the Food Network developing a wafer made in the president's likeness from organically harvested wheat."

As for confessional booths, Miles said there aren't going to be any.

"That's what we've got the NSA for," he said. "They already know your darkest secrets."

And how does one become a follower of Obama?

"We believe in predestination," Miles said. "All Americans are predestined to follow the president and do his bidding."

Last rites, he said, were being outsourced to the Department of Health and Human Services death panels.

I still wasn't totally convinced this wild scheme would work. How in the world could they indoctrinate so many people?

"We bought ourselves a cable television network," Miles crowed, proudly. "We're calling it MSNBC—the Messianic Savior Named Barack Channel."

Well, that explained a lot.

Klingenschmitt Speculates That The 'Forbidden Fruit' Eaten By Adam And Eve May Have Been Marijuana

On yesterday's "Pray In Jesus Name" program, "Dr. Chaps" Gordon Klingenschmitt responded to those "pot hippies" who cite Genesis 1:29 to argue that marijuana should be legal because God has "given you every herb bearing seed" for human use and consumption by floating his theory that the "forbidden fruit" eaten by Adam and Even in the garden was not an apple, but actually pot!

"There are certain weeds in the garden, even in the Garden of Eden, that were forbidden by God," Klingenschmitt said, saying that the Bible never uses the word "apple" to describe just what it was that Adam and Eve ate but "the Bible does use the word 'forbidden weed.'"

"So here's my hypothesis," Klingenschmitt said, beginning to laugh as apparently even he realized the ridiculousness of what he was saying, "maybe it was marijuana! ... How do you know that the serpent didn't give pot to Eve and say 'go ahead, and the day that you eat this, you're not going to die.' The fact is, you are going to die":

Barber: 'So Many Women Are ... Taking Anti-Depressants' Because They Feel Guilty For Having Had An Abortion

On today's "Faith and Freedom" radio broadcast, Matt Barber said that it is "little wonder that so many women are walking around taking anti-depressants" since they must feel guilty over having had an abortion.

On an episode entitled "Abortion is The Real War on Women," Barber said that 40% of women of childbearing age in America have had an abortion and alleged that they are all carrying "the burden and the guilt" of having done so and so "they have a void, an emptiness now" that is exacerbated by the upcoming Mother's Day holiday.

"As we look at Mother's Day," Barber said, "you know, there is little wonder that so many women are walking around taking anti-depressants ... So, on Mother's Day, there are mothers of dead babies walking around feeling the weight and the guilt of having had an abortion":

Bryan Fischer Is A Paragon Of Inconsistency

Last month, after Christian radio stations and music fans began to boycott the band Jars of Clay over the lead singer's support for marriage equality, Bryan Fischer proclaimed that this sort of reaction was the logical result of that singer's own decision to make a "foolish declaration."

If someone chooses to speak out on this sort of issue, Fischer declared, "that's fine, but then don't complain when there are consequences for making a foolish declaration like that."

Of course, that was two whole weeks ago, back when Fischer found such "consequences" to be totally acceptable because he happened to disagree with the stated position of the person who was experiencing those consequences. That stand has now been totally abandoned in the face of the Benham brothers having lost their HGTV program over their anti-gay, anti-choice activism, with Fischer declaring on his radio program today that they are the victims of the "gay gestapo" which will soon force Christians to wear yellow crosses upon their sleeves "like the Jews in Nazi Germany."

"They're going to make us wear yellow crosses on our sleeves," Fischer stated, "so they can identify us, so they will know whom not to hire, they will know whom to fire ... they will know whom not to do business with":

Just to recap, when someone that Fischer disagrees with suffers a backlash because of their publicly stated position, that is because "there are consequences for making a foolish declaration" ... but when someone that Fischer agrees with suffers consequences for making public declarations, that is Nazi-like persecution.

'Relentless' Boycott Planned Against Any Team That Drafts Michael Sam

The NFL Draft will take place this weekend, beginning tonight, and there has been a lot of speculation about which team, if any, will draft gay defensive end Michael Sam.

If Sam does get drafted, the team that picks him will get to look forward to dealing with Washington, DC lobbyist Jack Burkman who, as part of his campaign to pass legislation that would ban openly gay players from playing in the NFL, is vowing to unleash a "relentness" boycott against the team that drafts him.

Burkman says that he has a "coalition of Evangelical Christian leaders from across the nation" ready to go as soon as Sam is drafted who will teach the NFL that "when you trample the Christian community and Christian values, there will be a terrible financial price to pay":

Jack Burkman, head of the Washington, D.C. lobbying firm J.M. Burkman & Assoc. who is seeking to ban gays from the NFL, says he intends to build a national coalition to boycott any football franchise that picks openly gay football player Michael Sam in the NFL Draft, which starts Thursday at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

In a release issued Thursday, Burkman said he would "leverage his political clout" to ensure that the franchise that selects the 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive end from Missouri would get "roughed up financially."

"We shall exercise our First Amendment rights and shall not stop until the drafting NFL franchise cannot sell a single ticket, jersey or autographed football," said Burkman. "In short, we shall be relentless."

Burkman claims in the release that he is currently mobilizing "powerful grassroots organizations in 27 of the 50 states," as well as a "coalition of Evangelical Christian leaders from across the nation to take part in a protest if Sam is drafted."

"The NFL, like most of the rest of American business, is about to learn that when you trample the Christian community and Christian values there will be a terrible financial price to pay," said Burkman.

Fischer Says 'Equality Is A Totally Bogus Word' Because Homosexuality Is Not Equal To Heterosexuality

Nintendo has announced that it will not allow same-sex marriages to take place among characters in its life simulation game "Tomodachi Life" and Bryan Fischer, not surprisingly, fully supports that position, explaining on his radio program yesterday that "the word 'equality' is a totally bogus word when they talk about equality between homosexuality and heterosexuality."

"They are not equal," Fischer said. "They are not equality in morality. They are not equal in worth. They are not equal in procreative power. They are not equal in their consistency with God's design. There is no equality between homosexuality and heterosexuality."

"One is a normal expression of human sexuality," he continued, "the other is a sexually deviant expression":

Thanks to the Roberts Court, “Big Money” in Our Elections Is Only Getting Bigger

2014 is looking to be a bumper year for election spending. After the Citizens United ruling in 2010, that year’s midterms became a test case for how the newly-minted Super PACs and newly-empowered “dark money” groups would use their strength. They must have liked what their spending bought them, because this year they are back with a vengeance.

According to Open Secrets, spending by outside groups as of May 6th in this election cycle has approximately tripled from the amount outside groups spent in the same time period leading up to the 2010 midterms (leaping from $16.6 million in 2010 to $72.7 million in 2014). In 2006, this number was $2.5 million – that’s a twenty-nine-fold increase in just two midterm cycles.  At this rate, outside spending on this year’s midterms is set to far outpace even outside spending in the 2008 presidential election cycle.

The influence of outside spending groups has increased so much that in some races they are spending far more than the candidates themselves. Forty-nine percent of all election spending on this year’s midterms so far has come from outside spending groups. In hotly contested races, the proportion is even higher. In the North Carolina U.S. Senate race – which is the most expensive so far this cycle – 90 percent of all spending has come from outside groups, 58 percent of which are “dark money” groups not required to disclose their donors like Super PACs do.

The new era of “big money” election spending disproportionately benefits conservative candidates. Seventy-two percent of donors who had maxed out their aggregate contribution limits before the Supreme Court struck down those limits in April had contributed only to Republicans. Forty-five percent of these donors were in the finance industry.  In addition, Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers-linked “dark money” group, accounts for nearly one third of all independent expenditures on television advertising so far in this election cycle. 

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision, just as reformers predicted, the Republican Party is forming “super joint fundraising committees” that pool large checks from big donors and – now unrestrained by aggregate contribution limits – redirect that money to long lists of candidate campaigns.

The consequences of the influx of “big money” into our elections are clear for the vast majority of Americans who can’t afford to write large check to candidates: they’re being squeezed out of the process. According to the Brennan Center, in current “high-dollar” federal races, only nine percent of funds have come from donations of $200 or less.

Simply put, these trends are disturbing. Even before Citizens United, it was becoming clear that money played an outsized role in our politics. The continued ability of corporations, special interests and wealthy individuals to spend limitlessly on elections calls into question the health of our democracy. The concentration of power away from the voters and towards the donor class creates the specter – and very real threat – of a Congress wholly populated by those elected by dollars, not votes. 

PFAW Foundation

'Washington - A Man Of Prayer': Highlights From The Religious Right Prayer Event Inside The US Capitol

Last night, members of Congress and Religious Right activists gathered in Statuary Hall inside the US Capitol for an annual event called "Washington: A Man of Prayer" at which they honored George Washington by collectively praying that God would protect and defend the United States of America.

Hosted by Mike Huckabee, the two hour event featured a variety of elected leaders, such as Rep. Tim Huelskamp and Rep. Steve King, who spoke together from the podium. Huelskamp asserted that God is at the heart of America because there is a small chapel located literally in the very center of the continent in Kansas, while King proclaimed that America was established by God.

"When He moved the Founding Fathers around like men on a chessboard," King said, "it was preordained. He guided them." Asserting that both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written with "divine guidance," King declared that, as such, Americans must be "very aware of how God brought forth this nation":

Among the other speakers at the event was Jonathan Cahn, author of "The Harbinger" which claims that 9/11 was God's judgment upon America and that rebuilding the Freedom Tower without properly humbling ourselves before God was an act of utter defiance.

During his remarks, Cahn made this same case, saying that America is calling good evil and evil good and passing "laws that war against the laws of the almighty" which is why this nation experienced the wrath of God at Ground Zero just as ancient Israel did:

Cahn was followed by Robert Jeffress, who asserted that while some issues such as taxes or immigration reform ought to be rightly debated by the government, other issues like abortion and gay marriage "are beyond debate, for the judge of the universe has already rendered his opinion":

Jim Garlow made a similar point during his remarks, saying that there is no way that this nation can expect God's blessings is abortion remains legal and gay marriage is accepted.

"Can we actually expect the blessing of God when we violate the ways of God?," Garlow asked. "He's God, we're not. We really need him!"

Matthew Hagee: 'There Is A Value In Spiritual Violence'

On yesterday's "Hagee Hotline," Matthew Hagee called on conservative Christians to become more "spiritually violent" in fighting against things like gay marriage and abortion because secularists who support such things have "become violent with people of faith."

Citing the Supreme Court's recent ruling upholding sectarian prayer at government meetings, Hagee said that he would have rejoiced if the ruling has been 8-1 "because then we would know that we have one liberal judge that we needed to get rid of." But the actual 5-4 ruling is cause for alarm because it means that prayer is just one vote away from being entirely eliminated from public life, Hagee warned, and that "ought to be something that causes us to be chilled to the bone."

"It's absolute nonsense for us to be debating the value of prayer," Hagee said, just as it is "absolute nonsense" to even be having debates over issues like gay marriage and abortion. The reason such debates are happening, he said, is because Christians are not being "intrusive enough to make sure that our faith is established in our culture."

As a result, secularists have "become violent with people of faith" and Christians need to fight back.

"There is a value in spiritual violence," Hagee declared, "and it is time that you considered the role that you are playing or not playing and whether or not it's time for you to become more aggressive in your beliefs":

Beck: 'We Are Just Begging To Be Destroyed'

As we have noted before, Glenn Beck seems to be incapable of understanding that not everything posted on The Huffington Post's website represents the views of The Huffington Post since he continues to attribute the views expressed in random blog posts published there by users to The Huffington Post itself.

Given that Beck's own The Blaze website has the exact same feature, you'd think that Beck would understand this simple fact, but you'd be wrong as he has spent the last few days railing against some random blog post published on The Huffington Post that argues that "adultery may be inevitable" and so it might be "time to change our views of marriage and adultery."

To Beck, this random blog post is further evidence that we are a society just begging to be destroyed by God.

"Good God Almighty," Beck said during his morning meeting, "are we a society begging to be destroyed! We are just begging to be destroyed. This is the recipe of destruction":

Bryan Fischer's Never-Ending Quest To Rationalize Criminalizing Homosexuality

Last month, the legislature in Hawaii advanced a bill that would prohibit undercover police officers from having sex with prostitutes when conducting sting operations and, for Bryan Fischer, this just goes to show why homosexuality should also be illegal.

Fischer cited the bill on his radio program today as evidence that certain types of sexual conduct between consenting adults can be and should be against the law because "it is right to discriminate against sexually immoral behavior" such as prostitution. 

As Fischer sees it, "homosexuality is sexual immoral behavior" as well "and so it's entirely appropriate for us to discriminate against homosexual behavior" in the same manner that society discriminates against those who engage in prostitution:

Beck: 'There's A War On God'

On his television program last night, Glenn Beck reacted to the news that the Supreme Court had upheld the practice of delivering sectarian prayers at government meetings by wondering how we, as a nation, had even gotten to the point where this was up for debate, warning that America is just one Supreme Court justice away from completely losing the right to pray in public.

"There's a war on God," Beck warned, telling his audience that when future generations look back on the United States and wonder where it all went wrong, they will point to the vote held during the 2012 Democratic National Convention on whether to reinsert a reference to God and to identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel into the official platform as "the turning point where nobody listened."

"I know this," Beck said, "going to war with God usually doesn't work out too well":

Right-Wing Activists Urge Catholic Church To Deny Communion To Pro-Choice Politicians

Dozens of anti-choice activists meeting in Rome this week are urging Catholic bishops to deny communion to politicians who support abortion rights.

Speaking at the International Pro-Life Conference in Rome, the American Catholic leader Cardinal Raymond Burke renewed his call for bishops to deny communion to pro-choice politicians. Fifty-two activists joined the cause, signing a petition asking “the Bishops of the Catholic Church to withhold Holy Communion from pro-abortion politicians as an act of love and mercy towards those same politicians.”

Among the American signers of the declaration were Preston Noell, director of Tradition, Family and Property, Marie Meaney of Heartbeat International, Joseph Meaney of Human Life International (the group that spawned the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, and which organized the Rome conference), “conceived in rape” activist Rebecca Kiessling, Dawn Eskew of Personhood New York, Michael Hichborn of the American Life League, Carlos Polo of the Population Research Institute, and Bernice and Brian Follett of The Life Foundation. Also signing the petition was Luis Losada of CitizenGo, a Spanish organization whose board includes National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown.

The declaration reads in part:

WHEREAS Catholic politicians who support abortion are already in grave sin, and in receiving Holy Communion their sin is compounded by sacrilege;

WHEREAS by being given Holy Communion such Catholic politicians may well believe that they are spiritually healthy and thus not in need of any remedy;

WHEREAS distributing Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians causes scandal to the rest of the faithful in that they come to believe that support for abortion is not too serious a sin, and thus undermines pro-life work;

WHEREAS being refused Holy Communion is an effective wake-up call to return to an authentic life of faith;

WHEREAS it is unmerciful to allow our brothers living in obstinate public sin to languish there without warning;

We the undersigned ask the Bishops of the Catholic Church to withhold Holy Communion from pro-abortion politicians as an act of love and mercy towards those same politicians.

Supreme Court Upholds Sectarian Prayer At Official Meetings: Religious Right Cheers

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court today overturned a ruling by the Second Circuit appeals court and upheld the practice of an upstate New York town that begins its council meetings with prayers that are almost always given by Christian clergy. Religious Right groups are celebrating the ruling; Ralph Reed announced that his Faith and Freedom coalition would use the ruling to “redouble its efforts” to encourage more prayers at city and county government meetings. Both the decision and the Religious Right's responses are likely to invite more religiously divisive church-state conflicts.

Justice Clarence Thomas used his concurring opinion to argue, as he has before, that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not apply to the states at all; in other words, he believes there is no constitutional reason that a state cannot have an official religion. Fortunately, the decision in this case is far narrower than that.

It is, as Justice Stephen Breyer says in the opening sentence of his dissent, a “fact-sensitive” case. It did not revolve around the question of whether legislative prayer is unconstitutional – the Court has previously upheld legislative prayer in Marsh v Chambers – but in part whether the way clergy were invited to give prayers to open town council meetings was sufficiently inclusive. In Breyer’s words,

“The question in this case is whether the prayer practice of the town of Greece, by doing too little to reflect the religious diversity of its citizens, did too much, even if unintentionally, to promote the ‘political division along religious lines’ that ‘was one of the principal evils against which the First Amendment was intended to protect.’” [quoting from the Court’s 1971 decision in Lemon v Kurtzman]

Also at issue was whether a town council meeting, at which members of the public are appealing to councilmembers for specific action, is more susceptible to being a coercive environment than a prayer given by a chaplain to a group of lawmakers about to start their legislative day. For example, the council hears debates on individual applications from residents and business owners seeing zoning permits and other licenses. In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan recognizes that the Court has upheld the historical tradition of legislative prayer, but writes that the town hall meetings in Greece are a kind of hybrid, “occasions for ordinary citizens to engage with and petition their government, often on highly individualized matters.” That, she says, requires special care that each member of the community is respected as an equal citizen, something the Town of Greece has not done.

While the plaintiffs in the Town of Greece case did not argue that town leaders were motivated by religious bias, they argued that the selection process led almost exclusively to prayers being given by Christian ministers, and to prayers that were not just ceremonial invocations but quite explicitly sectarian. Kagan writes that town meetings need not be religion-free zones, saying that “pluralism and inclusion in a town hall can satisfy the constitutional requirement of neutrality,” but concluded that the board of the Town of Greece did nothing to recognize religious diversity, and that its practice “does not square with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government.” She offers a hypothetical of a Muslim resident coming before the board to see a zoning variance to build an addition on her home:

“But just before she gets to say her piece, a minister deputized by the Town asks her to pray ‘in the name of God’s only son Jesus Christ.’ She must think – it is hardly paranoia, but only the truth—that Christian worship has become entwined with local governance. And now she faces a choice—to pray alongside the majority as one of that group or somehow to register her deeply felt difference….She does not wish to be rude to her neighbors, nor does she wish to aggravate the Board members whom she will soon be trying to persuade. And yet she does not want to acknowledge Christ’s divinity, any more than many of her neighbors would want to deny that tenet. So assume she declines to participate with the others in the first act of the meeting—or even, as the majority proposes, that she sands up and leaves the room altogether…At the least, she becomes a different kind of citizen, one who will not join in the religious practice that the Town Board has chosen as reflecting its own and the community’s most cherished beliefs. And she thus stands at a remove, based solely on religion, from her fellow citizens and her elected representatives.

Everything about that situation, I think, infringes the First Amendment…That the Town Board selects, month after month and year after year, prayergivers who will reliably speak in the voice of Christianity, and so places itself behind a single creed. That in offering those sectarian prayers, the Board’s chosen clergy members repeatedly call on individuals, prior to participating in local governance, to join in a form of worship that may be at odds with their own beliefs. That the clergy thus put some residents to the unenviable choice of either pretending to pray like the majority or declining to join its communal activity, at the very moment of petitioning their elected leaders. That the practice thus divides the citizenry, creating one class that shares the Board’s own evident religious beliefs and another (far smaller) class that does not. And that the practice also alters a dissenting citizen’s relationship with her government, making her religious difference salient when she seeks only to engage her elected representatives as would any other citizen.”

Kagan writes that the Court majority opinion reflected “two kinds of blindness.” First, it missed the difference between traditional legislative prayer and the setting of the town council, a difference she described as a “chasm,” and the fact that the prayers in Greece are mostly addressed to the public rather than lawmakers. She said the majority “changes the subject” rather than addressing the sectarian content of the prayers delivered in Greece, such as those invoking “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross” or “the plan of redemption that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” These are not, as she says, the recitation of “God save the United States and this honorable Court” invoked at the beginning of Supreme Court sessions.

Kagan cites George Washington’s well-known letter to the Newport Hebrew Congregation, in which he assured members of that congregation that the First Amendment does not simply tolerate people of minority faiths, rather all possess the same “immunities of citizenship.”

Writes Kagan:

For me, that remarkable guarantee means at least this much: When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another. And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines. I believe, for all the reasons I have given, that the Town of Greece betrayed that promise. I therefore respectfully dissent from the Court’s decision.

Breyer also joined Kagan’s dissent, as did Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor. The case is Town of Greece v. Galloway.

Supreme Court Upholds Sectarian Prayer at Official Meetings

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court today overturned a ruling by the Second Circuit appeals court and upheld the practice of an upstate New York town that begins its council meetings with prayers that are almost always given by Christian clergy. Religious Right groups are celebrating the ruling; Ralph Reed announced that his Faith and Freedom coalition would use the ruling to “redouble its efforts” to encourage more prayers at city and county government meetings. Both the decision and the Religious Right's responses are likely to invite more religiously divisive church-state conflicts.

Justice Clarence Thomas used his concurring opinion to argue, as he has before, that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not apply to the states at all; in other words, he believes there is no constitutional reason that a state cannot have an official religion. Fortunately, the decision in this case is far narrower than that.

It is, as Justice Stephen Breyer says in the opening sentence of his dissent, a “fact-sensitive” case. It did not revolve around the question of whether legislative prayer is unconstitutional – the Court has previously upheld legislative prayer in Marshv Chambers – but in part whether the way clergy were invited to give prayers to open town council meetings was sufficiently inclusive. In Breyer’s words,

“The question in this case is whether the prayer practice of the town of Greece, by doing too little to reflect the religious diversity of its citizens, did too much, even if unintentionally, to promote the ‘political division along religious lines’ that ‘was one of the principal evils against which the First Amendment was intended to protect.’” [quoting from the Court’s 1971 decision in Lemon v Kurtzman]

Also at issue was whether a town council meeting, at which members of the public are appealing to councilmembers for specific action, is more susceptible to being a coercive environment than a prayer given by a chaplain to a group of lawmakers about to start their legislative day. For example, the council hears debates on individual applications from residents and business owners seeing zoning permits and other licenses. In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan recognizes that the Court has upheld the historical tradition of legislative prayer, but writes that the town hall meetings in Greece are a kind of hybrid, “occasions for ordinary citizens to engage with and petition their government, often on highly individualized matters.” That, she says, requires special care that each member of the community is respected as an equal citizen, something the Town of Greece has not done.

While the plaintiffs in the Town of Greece case did not argue that town leaders were motivated by religious bias, they argued that the selection process led almost exclusively to prayers being given by Christian ministers, and to prayers that were not just ceremonial invocations but quite explicitly sectarian. Kagan writes that town meetings need not be religion-free zones, saying that “pluralism and inclusion in a town hall can satisfy the constitutional requirement of neutrality,” but concluded that the board of the Town of Greece did nothing to recognize religious diversity, and that its practice “does not square with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government.” She offered a hypothetical of a Muslim resident coming before the board to see a zoning variance to build an addition on her home:

“But just before she gets to say her piece, a minister deputized by the Town asks her to pray ‘in the name of God’s only son Jesus Christ.’ She must think – it is hardly paranoia, but only the truth—that Christian worship has become entwined with local governance. And now she faces a choice—to pray alongside the majority as one of that group or somehow to register her deeply felt difference….She does not wish to be rude to her neighbors, nor does she wish to aggravate the Board members whom she will soon be trying to persuade. And yet she does not want to acknowledge Christ’s divinity, any more than many of her neighbors would want to deny that tenet. So assume she declines to participate with the others in the first act of the meeting—or even, as the majority proposes, that she sands up and leaves the room altogether…At the least, she becomes a different kind of citizen, one who will not join in the religious practice that the Town Board has chosen as reflecting its own and the community’s most cherished beliefs. And she thus stands at a remove, based solely on religion, from her fellow citizens and her elected representatives.

Everything about that situation, I think, infringes the First Amendment…That the Town Board selects, month after month and year after year, prayergivers who will reliably speak in the voice of Christianity, and so places itself behind a single creed. That in offering those sectarian prayers, the Board’s chosen clergy members repeatedly call on individuals, prior to participating in local governance, to join in a form of worship that may be at odds with their own beliefs. That the clergy thus put some residents to the unenviable choice of either pretending to pray like the majority or declining to join its communal activity, at the very moment of petitioning their elected leaders. That the practice thus divides the citizenry, creating one class that shares the Board’s own evident religious beliefs and another (far smaller) class that does not. And that the practice also alters a dissenting citizen’s relationship with her government, making her religious difference salient when she seeks only to engage her elected representatives as would any other citizen.”

Kagan writes that the Court majority opinion reflected “two kinds of blindness.” First, it missed the difference between traditional legislative prayer and the setting of the town council, a difference she described as a “chasm,” and the fact that the prayers in Greece are mostly addressed to the public rather than lawmakers. She said the majority “changes the subject” rather than addressing the sectarian content of the prayers delivered in Greece, such as those invoking “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross” or “the plan of redemption that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” These are not, as she says, the recitation of “God save the United States and this honorable Court” invoked at the beginning of Supreme Court sessions.

Kagan cites George Washington’s well-known letter to the Newport Hebrew Congregation, in which he assured members of that congregation that the First Amendment does not simply tolerate people of minority faiths, rather all possess the same “immunities of citizenship.”

Writes Kagan:

For me, that remarkable guarantee means at least this much: When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another. And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines. I believe, for all the reasons I have given, that the Town of Greece betrayed that promise. I therefore respectfully dissent from the Court’s decision.

Breyer also joined Kagan’s dissent, as did Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor. The case is Town of Greece v. Galloway.

PFAW Foundation

'Your Electricity Is People!': Glenn Beck Is Wrong Again

Last week, Glenn Beck was very upset about reports that the biomedical waste that was being burned at an Oregon waste-to-energy facility included the remains of aborted fetuses, comparing it on his radio show to the science fiction film "Soylent Green" while screaming "electricity is people, your electricity is people!"

It was, for Beck, simply further proof that America is in a moral nosedive and will soon become "the most horrific nation on the face of the earth" as he grew somber and beseeched his listeners to "go off the grid" if this is how our nation's energy is being produced.

"Do not be a part of that. Is there anything more evil than that?"

Now, a week later, the facility at the center of the controversy is speaking out and asserting that the report was "completely false":

A waste-to-energy garbage burning operation in the tiny unincorporated community of Brooks made global news last week, after allegations surfaced that the plant was processing aborted fetuses from Canada — despite express denials by the facility’s operator ... The allegation that aborted babies were being burned for electricity sparked a frenzy of media attention, being picked up by hundreds of outlets across the country and the world.

But as it turned out, the accusation was completely erroneous, according to Jill Stueck, vice president of marketing and communications for Covanta Energy Corporation, the company that owns and operates the plant in Brooks.

“It’s not just inaccurate; it’s completely false,” she said.

Stueck said “fetal tissue” refers to other biological material associated with birth, such as umbilical cords and placentas — not fetuses. Fetuses would be classified as “human remains” and are in a different category.

“This is a mixing-together of terms that mean completely different things,” she said. “We’re not burning babies.”

Stueck said she was as shocked as anyone when she saw the news last week.

“It’s a horrifying, horrible concept,” she said. “I was like, ‘If this is true, I’m alarmed. This is my company, and this is not something I would support.’”

Will Beck, who prides himself on always owning up to his mistakes (despite the fact that he actually hardly ever does so) correct the record?

We won't be holding our breath.

Fischer: 'Homosexuality Is A God Problem'

For the last few days, Bryan Fischer has been arguing that people reject God and his rules not for intellectual reasons but because they are in rebellion against God's moral standards and therefore reject God in their hearts which, in turn, messes up their minds so that they cannot see the clear and obvious truth that God exists.

And that is how people become gay, Fischer explained today.

"Homosexuality is not an orientation problem," he said. "Homosexuality is a God problem. People slide into homosexuality because they first of all refuse to acknowledge God, to honor him, or to give him thanks. And one of the products of that rejection of God is a declension into homosexual behavior":

Barton: Not Allowing Women To Vote Was Designed 'To Keep The Family Together'

On today's episode of "WallBuilders Live," David Barton explained that women were not given the right to vote when the Constitution was written because the Founding Fathers were trying to protect the institution of the family by giving every "family" a right to vote through the male head of the household.

Responding to a question from a listener who argued that the Founding Fathers denied women the right to vote not out of sexism but rather based on the biblical principle that a house divided against itself cannot stand, Barton said that this interpretation was exactly right because not allowing women to vote was designed "to keep the family together":

The family was the first and fundamental unit of all government. Actually, you have individual self government first, then you have family government second, you have civil government third, and have church government fourth.  Those are the four levels of government in the order they are given in the Bible.

So family government precedes civil government and you watch that as colonists came to America, they voted by families. You look at the Pilgrims, when they finally moved away from socialism and moved toward the free enterprise system, they called the families together and gave families plots of land. Private property given to the families. And so that's the way things work.

And you have to remember back then, husband and wife, I mean the two were considered one. That is the biblical precept. That is the way they looked at them in the civil community. That is a family that is voting and so the head of the family is traditionally considered to be the husband and even biblically still continues to be so ...

Now, as we've moved away from the family unit - you need to be independent from the family, don't be chained down and be a mother and don't be chained down and be a father and don't be chained down to your parents, you know, we've moved into more of a family anarchy kind of thing, the 'Modern Family' kind of portrayal - that understanding has gone away.

Clearly, what [the listener] has asked is a brilliant question because it does reveal that the bigotry we're told they held back then, they didn't hold and what they did was they put the family unit higher than the government unit and they tried to work hard to keep the family together. And, as we can show in two or three hundred studies since then, the more you weaken the family, the more it hurts the entire culture and society.

So they had a strong culture, a strong society and it was based on a strong family to preceded government and they crafted their policies to protect a strong family.

Klingenschmitt: Transgender Teacher Is A 'Pervert' Who Trying To Recruit Kids 'Into Sexual Perversion'

Last month, a transgender teacher in Texas was removed from the classroom after parents complained and, predictably, "Dr. Chaps" Gordon Klingenschmitt fully supports the move because there is no reason to allow "transgendered perverts to stand in front of children and recruit them into sexual perversion."

While addressing the issue on his "Pray In Jesus Name" program, Klingenschmitt said there was "a demonic spirit inside of this man who is lying to you ... there's a spirit of lying when a man claims to be a woman and he's not a woman" before praying on behalf of the parents who rose up to "defend their children's right to not be violated by this pervert":

Beck: America Is Engaged In Modern-Day Baal Worship

On his radio broadcast yesterday, Glenn Beck restated his belief that the United States is engaged in wholesale Baal worship without even knowing it.

As Beck sees it, ancient Baal worshipers engaged in sexual perversion and child sacrifice all in order to please their god and receive his blessings and that is exactly what America is doing today where abortion is legal and sexual perversion is running rampant.

"The signs are always the same," Beck said. "We are practicing the same thing."

"Who are we anymore?," he wondered. "It's sexual excess for anything goes at any time and the more, the better ... You have child sacrifice - you don't want your child after having the orgies, you don't want your child, don't worry, you can just sacrifice to the god - we have that through Planned Parenthood. We have sexual excess beyond imagination just twenty years ago."

And just like the ancient Ball worshipers, we are doing all of this in order to get decent weather.

"And what were they sacrificing for?," Beck asked. "They were sacrificing so the weather patterns would be good. Think of that. This is exactly what we're doing! Exactly!"

We have no idea what he is talking about.

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