Religious Freedom Anniversary Highlights Divisions Among Current and Former Allies

A symposium on the 20th anniversary of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act hosted by First Amendment advocate Charles Haynes at the Newseum in Washington D.C. on November 6 demonstrated one premise of People For the American Way Foundation’s 12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics – that people who support a core constitutional principle like religious liberty can disagree with how that principle should be applied. In recent years, religious conservatives have increasingly charged that those who disagree with them on this line-drawing are tyrannical enemies of faith and freedom.  The RFRA anniversary was a reminder that, as Bill Moyers wrote in his introduction to the 12 Rules, “We can simultaneously share a strong commitment to religious liberty, while disagreeing over the application of that principle in a given circumstance.”

In fact, an almost unimaginably broad coalition worked to pass RFRA in 1993, including People For the American Way and the ACLU, the National Association of Evangelicals and Concerned Women for America, and a huge array of religious and civil rights groups.  Also unimaginable in our political climate: RFRA passed the Senate 97-3 and the House unanimously by voice vote. But divisions within the coalition developed just a few years later and persist today.

RFRA was a response to the Supreme Court’s 1990 Smith decision in a case involving Native Americans who were denied unemployment benefits because they had violated state anti-drug laws through the sacramental use of peyote.  The Court ruled that as long as the law in question was applied generally and not designed to target a particular religious practice, there was no real recourse for people whose exercise of religion was restricted. The decision toppled long-standing precedent and left advocates for religious liberty deeply concerned that religious minorities would suffer if there were no legal requirement for reasonable accommodation of their beliefs.

RFRA states that if a law places a substantial burden on a person’s exercise of religion, the government must demonstrate that the law is serving a compelling interest and does so in the least restrictive way. In 1997, the Supreme Court upheld RFRA as it applies to the federal government, but not to the states.  Efforts to re-mobilize the RFRA coalition to pass a new law failed when civil rights advocates feared that a broad standard could be used to undermine state civil rights laws such as laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Oliver Thomas, a co-chair of the original RFRA coalition, said it is not surprising that RFRA gets less popular as it gets older and its “majestic generalities” get applied in contentious cases. Organizations that were allies in passing RFRA are now on both sides of political and legal disagreements about how its standards should apply in a variety of situations, including the mandate under the Affordable Care Act that insurance plans include contraception, the proposed Employment Non Discrimination Act that just passed the Senate, and the advance of marriage equality.  Even among ENDA’s backers there are disagreements about the nature and extent of religious exemptions in the bill.

The first part of the anniversary symposium, which included PFAW Foundation Board Member Rabbi David Saperstein, presented an insider view of RFRA’s history: the development of the RFRA coalition, the politics of writing the law and building congressional support.  One historical tidbit: coalition members had to work hard to overcome objections raised by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who feared the law might somehow give a weapon to their opponents on abortion rights issues.  Rep. Henry Hyde told coalition members that the bill would not move until they addressed the bishops’ concerns.

That history is particularly interesting given that conservative Catholics are now using RFRA to challenge the contraception mandate.  A discussion of the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act featured Lori Windham from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents a number of companies, business owners, and organizations challenging the mandate, and Dan Mach of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, which argues that the contraception requirement does not substantially burden the religious freedom of business owners, and that the Obama administration’s accommodation for religious organizations is more than sufficient.  Mach noted that while religious liberty is fundamental, it is not absolute, and should not be used to infringe the rights of others. 

Another issue discussed by the panelists was whether RFRA protects for-profit corporations – not the owners, but the corporation itself as an entity.  Some of the panelists discussing RFRA’s history agreed that conversation about violations of religious liberty were focused on individual people, not for-profit corporations, though some said the debate on RFRA and related laws assumed that companies would be covered.  The Becket Fund’s Windham made a case for including such corporations with RFRA’s protections, saying constitutional rights shouldn’t depend on your tax status. The Constitutional Accountability Center has argued otherwise.

Doug Laycock, a University of Virginia law professor, is among the most prominent legal scholars on religious liberty.  He finds himself positioned on differing sides in various culture war battles. Just a day before the anniversary symposium, Laycock argued before the Supreme Court, representing people who are challenging the practice of sectarian prayer at city council meetings in the Town of Greece case.  In that case he stood with advocates of strong church-state separation. On other issues, such as whether a business owner should have the right not to provide services related to a same-sex wedding, he stands with religious conservatives who are pushing for broad religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws.

Laycock dismissed right-wing charges that the Obama administration is waging a war on religious liberty. He said the administration has gone to “remarkable lengths” to accommodate religious organizations on the contraception mandate and said he doubts that opponents will be able to convince judges that the current rule creates a substantial burden under RFRA. Obviously, the Becket Fund and other Religious Right legal groups and their clients strongly disagree. Later this month the Supreme Court will consider whether to accept for consideration four cases involving for-profit companies challenging the mandate. Cases involving non-profits have not advanced as far.

A panel on other current controversies placed them in the context of increasing religious pluralism in America, including the rapid growth of “nones” – people who claim to religious affiliation.  One panelist noted that religious and civil rights groups can still find common ground in opposition to laws targeting religious minorities, as many did in opposition to Oklahoma’s anti-Sharia law, which was found unconstitutional earlier this year. But it should be noted that some Religious Right groups have in fact backed such laws, and some opposed the building of the Islamic community center in New York that was deceptively dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

Laycock worries that culture war battles are weakening Americans’ commitment to religious liberty.  He faults conservative religious groups for continuing to fight legal marriage equality for same-sex couples. But he also believes LGBT rights advocates should be more willing to accept broad religious exemptions. Laycock said that conservatives’ dug-in resistance to equality diminishes the incentives for gay-rights activists to accommodate them.  The challenge, as he sees it: on issues of sexual morality, one side views as a grave evil what the other side views as a fundamental right.  In that climate, tens of millions of Americans believe that “religious liberty” empowers their enemies, and neither side is willing to embrace what Laycock considers “live and let live” solutions.

Marc Stern of the American Jewish Committee agreed with Laycock’s concerns about a winner-take-all approach to religious freedom issues, which he said reflects the broader political climate.  But the courts will continue to undertake the balancing act required by the Constitution and by RFRA when constitutional principles come into tension.  And, he said, once the courts work through issues regarding contraception and LGBT equality, we will all still need to grapple more with larger cultural and legal questions, such as those involving the growing number of nonbelievers who are reshaping America’s religious landscape.

The anniversary symposium, “Restored or Endangered? The State of Religious Freedom,” was sponsored by The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Christian Legal Society, American Jewish Committee, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute.  

PFAW Foundation

Beck: OWS Debt-Canceling Effort 'Sounds Like The Golden Dawn Party'

As we noted yesterday, Glenn Beck is so insanely and rigidly ideological that it results in worldview in which everything is either black or white, so that anything done by someone with whom he disagrees or dislikes is inherently suspect and dangerous.

The extent to which this "all or nothing" worldview dominates Beck's understanding was perfectly expressed in this clip from the morning meeting yesterday during which producer Tiffany Siegel was commenting on a story about a project being run by Occupy Wall Street which uses donations to buy up consumer debt and then cancel it.

The project is called Rolling Jubilee and it works because lenders to whom the debt is owed often sell the right to that debt to third parties for pennies on the dollar. In this case, OWS buys up the debt and then, instead of trying to collect it, sends a letter to the person who owes the debt, telling them that it has been canceled and they are no longer obligated to pay it.

And all Beck can say when he hears about this effort is "gee, that sounds like the Golden Dawn Party."

The Golden Dawn Party is, of course, a fascist neo-Nazi political party in Greece and Beck's favorite catch-all term for warning about the coming resurgence of the Nazi movement in America and around the world:

Klingenschmitt: Photo Of Gay Couple With A Baby 'Looks To Me A Little Bit Like Lust'

On today's "Pray In Jesus Name" program, "Dr. Chaps" Gordon Klingenschmitt was discussing the UK Supreme Court's rejection of an appeal of an Northern Irish court ruling that granted same-sex and unmarried couples the right to adopt children.

While discussing the case, Klingenschmitt put a photo of two men and a baby on the screen so that he could point out that "one of the men almost has his tongue hanging out, like he's licking his chops, like this baby is ours now. And that's fine, you may call that love, but it looks to me a little bit like lust."

Klingenschmitt went on to say that gay couples "crave" to adopt "the children of heterosexual couples" so that they can raise and recruit them into the "homosexual lifestyle," declaring that allowing that to happen is child abuse: 

Fischer Can't Support Chris Christie Because He Appointed Gays And Muslims As Judges

On his radio broadcast today, Bryan Fischer told a caller that he had serious reservations about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and could not vote for him if he ran for president.

Not only is Fischer concerned that Christie has "capitulated on same-sex marriage, capitulated on the homosexual agenda" but he's also "concerned about his judicial appointments."

And why is Fischer concerned about this issue?  Because, as governor, Christie "has appointed active homosexuals to be bench" and even "appointed Muslims to the bench":

NM School District Restores ‘Neverwhere’ to Curriculum Following PFAW Foundation Advocacy

Last month, PFAW Foundation sent a letter to a school district review committee in Alamogordo, New Mexico urging them to reject attempts to remove Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere from the English curriculum. Yesterday a local television station, KRQE News 13, reported that the book will indeed be put back into the Alamogordo High School curriculum. A district spokesperson told the School Library Journal that in the review process the book was found to be “educationally suitable, balanced, and age-appropriate for high school students.”

The School Library Journal’s Karyn Peterson provides the backstory:

Use of the novel, which had been a part of the AHS English department’s curriculum for nearly 10 years, was suspended from classrooms in early October after a mother complained to the school board about what she characterized as the book’s “sexual innuendos” and “harsh” language—occurring on a single page of the 400-page novel.  The district then created a review committee and opened a public comment period...

PFAW Foundation was one of the groups that weighed in, encouraging the review committee to uphold the right of all students to “to receive a competitive, rigorous education free from censorship.”

The full text of our letter is below.

October 25, 2013

Dear Members of the Review Committee,

We urge you to reject attempts to remove Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere from the English curriculum.  We understand that the novel was temporarily removed from the curriculum following the complaint of a parent and will be reviewed by this committee.

Neil Gaiman, whose awards include the Newbery Medal for outstanding children’s literature, is an acclaimed author whose work has been taught in the district for many years. We recognize that school leaders often face difficult decisions that require balancing the concerns of parents with the educational development of students.  However, according to English teacher Pam Thorp’s recent letter in the Alamogordo News, the child of the parent bringing the complaint was offered alternative reading material. While parents have every right to decline reading material for their own children, they should not be allowed to censor the curricula for all students.

Many works of literature tackle mature or challenging topics. Attempting to shield high school students from challenging works robs them of the opportunity to learn from and engage with literature, and sets a dangerous precedent.

We trust that as educators you will uphold the right of all students in Alamogordo public schools to receive a competitive, rigorous education free from censorship. For over 30 years we have worked with school districts to protect students’ right to learn, and are happy to serve as a resource for you in this and any future challenges to school curricula.

Best wishes,

Michael Keegan
President, People For the American Way Foundation

PFAW Foundation

Beck: Pledge Of Allegiance And Star Spangled Banner Are The 'Trappings' Of Progressives

In Glenn Beck's world, everything is black or white; or more accurately, things are either "constitutional" or "progressive," with the latter category consisting of everything in the world that Beck randomly decides doesn't fit into his amorphous and constantly evolving personal political philosophy. 

The result is that his listeners are frequently treated to long pseudo-historical monologues in which Beck attempts to cram history into the categories that he has constructed so that everything from the Star Spangled Banner to the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag are all "progressive" trappings while declaring that the "progressives" in the Republican party are the modern-day ancestors of the fascists:

Fischer: Gay Activists Are Trying To 'Desensitize' People To Pedophilia, Just As They Did With Homosexuality

Last week, Bryan Fischer appeared on theDoveTV to promote the bogus AFA claim that the American Psychiatric Association had reclassified pedophilia as a sexual orientation.  During the interview, host Perry Atkinson asserted that it was all part of an effort to desensitize people to the issue of pedophilia in order to normalize it ... just as they did with homosexuality, Fischer responded.

"That's exactly the strategy that homosexual activists pursued with homosexuality," Fischer said. "Talk about homosexuality all the time; don't let people think about the behavior itself because that will turn people off, but just talk about it all the time, get it into ordinary conversation, use that term over and over again because it desensitizes people to it.  If they hear it often enough then, like you're saying, they begin to think of it like something, well that's just a normal part of conversation and then it's not long before they start thinking well, that's a normal behavior, that's a normal sexual orientation. So it's very deliberate on their part to kind of desensitize the American public on this issue":

Barber: We're Living Under A 'Tyranny Of A Secularist Minority That Wants To Engage In Religious Cleansing'

It turns out that, according to Matt Barber, Christians have not only become the victims of "religious cleansing" within the military, as he stated yesterday, but throughout society as a whole as they increasingly find themselves living under the "tyranny of a secularist minority."

"What we're finding," Barber said, "is that we have a very loud, very powerful minority of quote progressive secularists and separatists; those who want to separate, remove any reference to God."

And these activists, Barber asserted, are pushing the vast majority of Christian Americans "to the fringes, and there's a word for that: that's tyranny and it's called tyranny of the minority and that's what we're living under right now, a tyranny of a secularist minority that wants to engage in religious cleansing":

Barton & Copeland: The Bible Says Soldiers Should Not Suffer From Guilt Or PTSD

On the Veteran's Day broadcast of the "Believer's Voice of Victory" program, Kenneth Copeland and David Barton cited a passage from the Book of Number to assert that soldiers should never suffer any guilt or PTSD after returning from battle because they are "esteemed and venerated" by God.

Reading from Numbers 32, Copeland said that soldiers are doing the work of God and, as such, "shall return and be guiltless before the Lord" meaning that they should never suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"You listen to me," Copeland said, addressing the camera, "you get rid of that right now.  You don't take drugs to get rid of it, it doesn't take psychology; that promise right there will get rid of it."

Barton wholeheartedly agreed, pointing out that many members of the "faith hall of fame" in the Bible "were warriors who took so many people out in battle," but did so in a just war in the name of God, proving that "when you do it God's way, not only are you guiltless for having done that, you're esteemed":

A Demonic Spirit Is Behind President Obama's Attempt To Turn The Marines Into An Abomination Through Unisex Hats

A few weeks ago, the Right was all up in arms over a story claiming that President Obama was forcing the Marines to switch to "girly" unisex hats. The story was, of course, entirely untrue, but that didn't stop "Dr. Chaps" Gordon Klingenschmitt for talking about it on his "Pray In Jesus Name" program today in order to assert that it was all part of Obama's plan to allow transgender soldiers to serve in the military by turning "all of the Marines into an abomination" before God.

"You can't have men in the United States Marines wearing clothing that's designed for women," Klingenschmitt said. "So you know what President Obama's solution is? To make all the uniforms the same. And this is going to usher in the possibility of transgender, cross-dressing men who want to look like women, they'll be able to wear a women's uniform."

Of course, by definition, a "unisex" uniform is neither male nor female so a man or woman who wears one is not actually wearing a uniform designed and designated for the opposite sex.  And even though President Obama had nothing to do with it and it's not happening, Klingenschmitt knows what is really going on.

"This is not just a fashion stunt," he said, but rather an effort at "setting the stage for transgender admission of cross-dressing men into the military."

"This decision came down from on high, I guarantee it," he added, "and that's a demonic spirit."

Citing Deuteronomy 22:5, which says "a woman shall not wear a man's garment, nor shall a man put on a woman's cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God," Klingenschmitt asserted that this change was an attempt by President Obama "to make all of the Marines into an abomination because they all put on women's clothing":

Barber: 'The Military Has Been Homosexualized' And Christians Are The Victims Of 'Religious Cleansing'

Mat Staver and Matt Barber honored Veteran's Day yesterday by declaring that President Obama was engaged in "religious cleansing" of Christians in order to promote "the secularization of the United States military."

As Barber explained, the purge of the military started "around the time of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and "now that the military has been homosexualized" that means "the homosexual agenda has taken over the United States military" to such an extent that Christians soldiers are being intimidated, discriminated against, and forced out of the service:

Fischer's Fantasies: Democrats Might Impeach Obama In Order To Win Re-Election In 2014

On his radio broadcast today, Bryan Fischer said that even though there are countless reasons for Congress to impeach and remove President Obama from office, it won't happen because Democrats in the Senate will never go along with it ... unless, he speculated, they realize that Obamacare is dragging the entire party "to the bottom of the sea bed."

"What matters to them in November of 2014 is getting re-elected," Fischer stated. "If they begin to think that President Obama represents a liability, that he could actually precipitate this massive, catastrophic defeat for them at the polls, they might be motivated to try to do something about that. We have got to remove this guy from office; we've either got to repeal Obamacare; if he won't go along with that, then we just may have to clean the slate for him":

Beck: Obama, Rob Ford, And The End Of Western Civilization

On his radio program today, Glenn Beck was discussing the on-going saga of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who was not only caught smoking crack but also ranting wildly and threatening to murder some unknown target, which prompted Beck to start screaming that, despite all of this, "Canada still has higher standards than we do!"

Beck is furious that Canadians are demanding that Ford resign while Americans are not demanding that President Obama leave office, saying that "at least their guy hasn't actually killed people! Our guy is flying drones over, like 'yeah, go ahead, hit 'em, take 'em out." 

"If the Western World is so corrupt internally," Beck said "that we just sit there and take it and say 'well, there's nothing really we can do so we'll just sit here and take it,' well then we really have lost." 

He continued to lament that, as a society, we have come to tolerate and embrace wholesale corruption, as demonstrated by the recent elections of Bill de Blasio as Mayor of New York City and Terry McAuliffe as Governor of Virginia, saying it signals "the end of the Western way of life as we know it." 

As such, Beck called upon "good men and women need to gather together, buckle down for a storm and stand as one": 

Fondly Remembering Obama's Days As A Gay, Cocaine-Using Hustler

While visiting Scott Lively's "Defend The Family" website this morning, we spotted a rather intriguing headline posted in the "Latest News" section reading "Claim: Obama was a 'gay' teen favored by older white sugar-daddies."

Obviously, we were professionally required to check that out and what we found was an interview conducted by crackpot preacher James David Manning with a woman named Mia Marie Pope, who claims to have been a classmate of President Obama's back in Hawaii in the 1970s when he was a gay, cocaine using foreigner.

"He very much was within sort of the gay community," Pope said. "And we new Barry as just common knowledge that girls were never anything that he ever was interested in ... He would get with these older white gay men, and this is how we just pretty much had the impression that that's how he was procuring his cocaine. In other words, he was having sex with these older white guys and that's how he was getting this cocaine to be able to freebase":

Fischer: Ban Homosexuality As 'A Hazard To Human Health'

Today, the FDA announced that it was taking steps toward eventually eliminating the use of trans fats in the United States, saying their use "remains a significant public health concern."

So, of course, Bryan Fischer seized on this announcement to declare that, if they were being consistent, the government would "ban homosexuality [because] it is a hazard to human health":

Glenn Beck Is 'The Only Guy That Gets It'

One thing you learn from watching Glenn Beck on a regular basis is that when he starts promoting some new person or organization as people who "really understand what is going on," you can rest assured that those people are producing content that reinforces Beck's myopic worldview.

He does it when he brings on people like David Barton or Frank Gaffney or Jerry Boykin whenever he needs to point to "experts" who just so happen to specialize in producing the sort of biased content that he needs to support his political/social agenda.

On his television program last night, Beck interviewed a man named John Cardillo who runs an organization called PsyID, which specializes in "actionable social media intelligence and analytics." What does that mean? Well, as Beck explained it, PsyID basically runs searches on social media outlets on places like Twitter and Facebook to determine where America "really" stands on contemporary political and social issues. 

The fact that Beck had Cardillo on his program last night pretty much tells you all you need to know about his findings; namely, that most of America agrees with Glenn Beck on the issues! 

In fact, as Beck revealed today on his radio program, Cardillo's findings show demonstrably that Beck's Tea Party audience is "big time winning" and, wouldn't you know it, when it comes to "reading the psyche of the American people," Beck is "the only guy that gets it":

Glenn Beck Explains Politics Via The Wizard Of Oz

There are certain episodes of Glenn Beck's television program that utterly defy explanation and all one can do is wonder what Beck's staff must think when they get tasked with helping him prepare to deliver a ten minute monologue in which he tries to explain contemporary politics by playing with Wizard of Oz dolls and using funny voices and generally just rambling incoherently while wearing a pair of "ruby slipper" sneakers.

As was the case last night, where Beck played with dolls for ten minutes before explaining that Mitch McConnell is the Good Witch of the North, while the NSA is the Wicked Witch of the West, and Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and John Boehner are the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, respectively:

What is most amazing is that Beck truly believes that his real gift and purpose in life is to be a storyteller.

Fischer Explains How To Exorcise Your New Home To Rid It Of Demonic Spirits

Lately, Bryan Fischer's "Focal Point" radio program has started to look more and more like Pat Robertson's "700 Club" as Fischer has begun offering advice to his listeners on how to properly exorcise their new homes in order to rid them of any demonic spirits that may have been invited in by the previous inhabitants.

"You have no idea what was honored in that home," Fischer explained, "what was done in that home, the kind of values that were exemplified in the behavior of the people in that home, no idea what was honored in that place, what was watched on television, the kind of music that was played and filled the atmosphere in that home and how access or legal ground to dark spirits may have been given by the prior occupants of that house."

As such, Fischer recommends that his listeners walk the perimeter of their property, anointing the corners with oil and vocally commanding all demonic spirits to leave before likewise anointing the house and praying in every room and even over the furniture and appliances in order to rid the house of all unwelcome spirits:

Rep. Steve Palazzo Is Proud To Stand With The American Family Association

There are few "mainstream" Religious Right organization active today that can match the American Family Association's output of unrelenting bigotry, so it is remarkable to see sitting members of Congress appear on the  organization's radio programs and proclaim their appreciation for what the AFA is doing, as Rep. Steve Palazzo did today.

Palazzo has not been shy about voicing his support for the AFA and was on today to discuss the AFA's on-going crusade against the military over being classified as a hate group in an Army training session and Palzzo promised AFA president Tim Wildmon that he and his other Republican colleagues from Mississippi who are in Congress will get to the bottom of it because, as he said, America has never needed a group like the AFA "out there espousing Christian principles and biblical teachings" more than it does today.

Palazzo blamed the briefing on the culture that President Obama has created by filling the ranks of the government with people "who really don't share the same values that real America has" and who are trying to "break down the fabric of our society [by working to] corrupt the military from the inside out":

Fischer: Obama 'Certainly Does Not Love America; I Believe He Actually Hates America'

As we have said before, some day America will have a Republican president again and when that day comes, Religious Right leaders will respond furiously to any comment that they feel is offensive and disrespectful to the President of the United States and the office of the presidency.

And when that day arrives, we will just be able to trot out video after video of people like Bryan Fischer saying things like "I believe that we have a president who has a visceral dislike for this country. I do not believe he likes America; he certainly does not love America. I believe he actually hates America as it was founded":

Share this page: Facebook Twitter Digg SU Digg Delicious