BarbWire Pundit: Take Heresy Seriously, Like They Did During The Spanish Inquisition

BarbWire columnist Bill Muehlenberg thinks that while the church may have gone too far in killing, expelling, torturing, and imprisoning thousands of people during the Spanish Inquisition, at least it showed that at one point in history, Christians were serious about combating heresy.

“In many respects this was a real perversion of biblical Christianity,” Muehlenberg said of the killing and torture in a column this week. “But we should not throw the baby out with the bath water. Heresy is a vitally important issue, and must be dealt with.”

Muehlenberg, insistent that the Inquisition’s deadly consequences have been exaggerated, said that Christians today should remember the importance of fighting heretics: “[I]t can be said that Christendom back then took the issues of truth, orthodoxy and heresy seriously. Far too few believers today take such matters with the importance and earnestness which they deserve.

In his carefully researched volume, The Triumph of Christianity, historian Rodney Stark has a chapter on “The Shocking Truth About the Spanish Inquisition” in which the opening pages lay out a number of claims about this event. He then writes: “But the most shocking truth about the Spanish Inquisition is that everything above is either an outright lie or wild exaggeration!”

So let’s look briefly at some of these reckless and patently false claims. First, consider the numbers. A careful examination of the historical record reveals that at tops, around 2000 people were executed for heresy by the Inquisition. This is 2000 too many. But this works out to an average of less than 6 people a year during the 350 years. This is a far cry less than the many millions a year killed in the name of godless communism or ruthless fascism.

So how should Christians think about all this? In many respects this was a real perversion of biblical Christianity. No Biblical commands are found anywhere in the New Testament about the torture and killing of heretics. So yes, this was a blight on the Christian record.

But we should not throw the baby out with the bath water. Heresy is a vitally important issue, and must be dealt with. Of course how we deal with it is crucial. The truth is, truth matters – and it matters greatly. Therefore heresy matters as well. If heresy “ultimately ends up subverting, destabilizing, or even destroying the core of Christian faith” as Alister McGrath puts it in his book on this subject, then we must certainly deal with it with utmost seriousness.

As mentioned, killing heretics is not the New Testament answer to this problem. But at the very least, it can be said that Christendom back then took the issues of truth, orthodoxy and heresy seriously. Far too few believers today take such matters with the importance and earnestness which they deserve.

AFA Hosts: Criticism Of Bobby Jindal Prayer Rally Is Treasonous, Satanic

Yesterday, Sandy Rios and Alex McFarland, who both host shows on the American Family Association’s radio network, discussed the demonstrators who protested Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s “The Response” prayer rally, which was financed by the AFA.

McFarland criticized Louisiana State University professors and students who attended the protest for criticizing Jindal’s prominent role in gathering: “This undermines America. This is borderline treasonous.”

Rios, upset by a sign advertising the Satanic Temple — which is best known for taking advantage of the Religious Right’s legal claims on religious accommodation to force states to host Satanic monuments and materials — held up the sign as proof that the demonstrators were demonic.

“It is tipping its hand to the fact that this really is a spiritual battle and we can see more clearly who the enemy is,” Rios said. “This is really, pulled back the layers, we’re talking about a spiritual battle against darkness and light.”

Later, McFarland described the demonstrations as an “intense spiritually oppressive environment,” saying that he tried to explain to the protesters that “if Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Witherspoon, Benjamin Rush, Patrick Henry were here today, they would be in that prayer rally.”

“But the students weren’t hearing it because their one core value is sexual license and heaven help anything or anybody that tries to stand in the way of that,” he said.

Rios claimed that liberals have steered away from “rational thinking” and are now driven by a “blindness, a passion for their passions, a passion for passion, and they are not going to be logical, they are not thinking about logic, they don’t care, they just want to do what they want to do.”

“This is all about the Father of Lies, Satan, this is really a spiritual battle,” Rios said.

Bobby Jindal: 'Teach Our Judeo-Christian Heritage' To Combat Non-Existent No-Go Zones

It appears that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is placing his efforts to combat mythical “no-go zones” at the center of his likely presidential campaign, using the dubious right-wing claim about French and British neighborhoods run according to Sharia law as a way to both attack immigrants and play the victim, railing against the liberal media for mocking his continued use of debunked Fox News talking points.

Jindal, appearing on yesterday’s edition of “Washington Watch” with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins (who believes that Sharia law is already established in parts of Michigan and Minnesota) said that America will soon see Islamic no-go zones on our own soil because people “don’t want to teach our Judeo-Christian heritage in our schools.”

The left seized on this and they try to play semantic games. I don’t care what you call them — semi-autonomous sectors, ‘sensitive urban zone’ is what they say in French, whatever you want to say. The point is this: it is not acceptable for individuals to come into Western society and refuse to abide by our values. It’s just common sense to me, if you don’t want to be an American, don’t come to America. The reality is, is that one of the biggest threats to our country comes from within, not from the outside, but from the inside. Too many in the West, especially in the academic elite, the media elite, they for some reason don’t want to proclaim American exceptionalism, they don’t want to proclaim to our values, they don’t want to teach our Judeo-Christian heritage in our schools, they don’t want to insist on English as our language, and that weakens us. And if we’re not careful, the same no-go zones you’re seeing now in Europe will come to America.

Of course, the sensitive urban zone” designation in France that Jindal mentioned is for high-crime, high-unemployment areas that are granted more government attention, not less.

GOP Picks 'Voter Fraud' Conspiracy Theorist, 'Constitutional Sheriff' To Testify In Loretta Lynch Hearing

The Senate Judiciary Committee has released a list of the witnesses who will testify at this week's hearings on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be attorney general, and two of them signal the GOP’s intention to tie Lynch to their criticism of Attorney General Eric Holder’s efforts to combat racial discrimination in voting rights and law enforcement.

Among them is Catherine Engelbrecht, a Tea Party activist who founded the group True the Vote to promote the myth of widespread voter fraud and who has clashed with Holder over his defense of voting rights, or what she calls his “radical, racialist assault on voters' rights across America.”

Also included is David Clarke, the sheriff of Milwaukee county, who has become a Tea Party hero for his criticism of protests of racial inequality in the justice system following a series of police killings of unarmed black men.

Both have become prominent Tea Party figures by voicing the line that racial inequality no longer exists in the U.S. and that the Justice Department’s efforts to stop voter suppression laws and combat discrimination in the criminal justice system are themselves racist. The Right cast Holder as the primary villain in this narrative, and prominent Holder critics such as the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky are using some of the same arguments to attack Lynch.

Engelbrecht’s attitude toward voting rights protections was perhaps most clearly illustrated with her reaction to a bipartisan bill meant to restore the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court gutted it in 2013.

In an email to supporters, Engelbrecht claimed that the effort to restore the Voting Rights Act — one of the great achievements of the Civil Rights Movement — was in fact a “terrible race based bill” that would “exclude millions of Americans from full protection of the law — based solely on the color of their skin.” She fumed that restoring federal voting rights oversight to areas with a history of racial discrimination in election laws should be called the “Voting Rights Segregation Act.”

Engelbrecht has worked to drum up support for harsh voting restrictions that disproportionately affect racial minorities by hyping fears of widespread “voter fraud” and recruiting armies of volunteers to root out suspected fraud in their communities. These efforts haven’t exactly uncovered the evidence they’ve been looking for, although they have created hassles for legitimate voters targeted by True the Vote volunteers.

Sheriff Clarke, meanwhile, has been a leading conservative voice against protests against police brutality and racial inequalities in the criminal justice system, and has expressed outrage that President Obama and Holder have expressed some support for the protests. Clarke, who is African American, went on Fox News in November to accuse the president of fueling “racial animosity between people” by supporting the protests and even suggested that Obama was encouraging protesters to riot “with a wink and a nod."

He also contended that Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, was a “coconspirator in his own demise” because he “chose thug life.”

Clarke has ties to the radical “constitutional sheriffs” movement who believe that county sheriffs are the highest law enforcement officers in the land and have the power to defy federal laws and arrest federal officials for enforcing laws that they believe are unconstitutional. In 2013, Clarke accepted the “Constitutional Sheriff of the Year” award from the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association after he had made headlines by running radio ads encouraging his constituents to arm themselves rather than rely on calling 911 in an emergency.

Other witnesses signal the intention of Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to focus on what they argue are constitutional oversteps by Holder. Engelbrecht claims that the IRS has targeted her since she started her political activism and fellow witness Sharyl Attkinson claims that Holder’s Justice Department hacked into her personal computer. (A computer security expert reviewing Attkinson’s evidence for Media Matters said it looked more like a malfunction caused by a frozen backspace key.)

GOP Rep.: Marijuana Reform Will Lead To Dystopian Future Of Meth Addiction, Government Dependency

Rep. John Fleming, R-La., brought his crusade against reforming marijuana laws to the Family Research Council’s “Washington Watch” yesterday, telling FRC President Tony Perkins that people who use pot will likely end up as meth addicts and become dependent on government assistance.

“Marijuana is a gateway drug, we have proven that scientifically,” Fleming said. “To think that today’s meth user was not yesterday’s marijuana user is actually just a flight of fantasy.”

He then warned that the government will begin arresting cigarette smokers while ignoring marijuana use: “Pretty soon you’ll see someone stopped on the street corner who is smoking and the policeman says, ‘I’m going to have to fine you or arrest you for smoking a cigarette,’ and they go, ‘no that’s marijuana,’ ‘oh that’s ok, it’s just marijuana.’ That’s really the direction we’re heading in.”

Fleming also disputed libertarian arguments in favor of reforming drug laws, arguing that liberalizing drug laws will make Americans less free and more reliant on government because people will be “disabled” as a result of marijuana use. 

They say, ‘you should be free to do whatever you want,’ well that’s fine but when society has to pick up the pieces and take care of you and your health and your family and support you through a very, very thick safety net system because you are now addicted or you have poor health and you can’t support yourself, then all you’re going to do is see a system, a society, if you will, that becomes more and more disabled and more and more supported by the government,” Fleming said. “How can you make a libertarian argument for that? But that is the future if we allow people to go irresponsibly into the future legalizing such dangerous substances, which inevitably are going to make their way into the homes and, when they do, children are going to be using them as well.”

Louie Gohmert: God Will Punish America For Obama's Tense Relationship With Netanyahu

Rep. Louie Gohmert warned President Obama last week that his “disdain” for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may cause God to punish America, insisting that the president “would have that same disdain for anyone who was a strong leader for the nation of Israel and especially if they didn’t bow down and worship at the altar of the White House.”

While speaking with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on “Washington Watch,” Gohmert said that Obama should reverse his decision not to meet with Netanyahu when the Israeli prime minister is in Washington, D.C., to give a controversial speech to Congress in the middle of his reelection campaign.

The Texas congressman said that since Netanyahu’s upcoming address to Congress “is important for eternity,” Obama’s decision not to meet with the Israeli leader might bring about the judgment of God: “There is judgment that will come for nations that attempt to divide the nation of Israel and this White House seems determined to do that.”

Last year, Gohmert delivered a similar warning about divine judgment.

Frank Gaffney Claims Dearborn, Michigan, Is Now A 'Muslim-Only' No-Go Zone

Not only did anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney use his interview on “Washington Watch” last week to compare President Obama to Osama bin Laden, but he also claimed that Sharia law has popped up in the U.S.

According to Gaffney, Dearborn, Michigan — a regular target of debunked claims about Sharia law that Gaffney calls “Dearbornistan” — has become a “ghetto enclave in which it’s Muslim-only and others, if they are not effectively proscribed or prevented from going in, know that it is too dangerous to go.”

Perkins, for his part, has previously claimed that both Dearborn and parts of Minneapolis are Islamic no-go zones.

The two also railed against the criticism directed at Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal for declaring that no-go zones are sweeping across Europe — an allegation for which Jindal offered no evidence besides anecdotal stories he claimed to have heard from people he met — and stating that Muslim faith leaders who condemned terrorist attacks didn’t go far enough because they didn’t specifically say that the culprits are going to Hell.

Gaffney said the “clueless” people criticizing Jindal want to impose a “rhetorical equivalent of a no-go zone.”

Gaffney also said that criticizing Jindal’s remarks amounts to enforcing Sharia blasphemy laws, decrying the “people who are trying to silence him, effectively to try to put Sharia blasphemy restrictions on his speech and his political prospects.”

Frank Gaffney: Obama Sounds Just Like Osama Bin Laden

Last week on “Washington Watch,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins invited anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist and birther Frank Gaffney to discuss the so-called “no-go zones” in Europe, neighborhoods that anti-Muslim activists claim are run according to Sharia law and remain off-limits to police and governmental authority.

Perkins asked Gaffney if President Obama is aiding terrorists because he won’t blame terrorist attacks on Islam, prompting Gaffney to say that Obama is a Sharia law proponent who sounds just like Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the leaders of Boko Haram.

“When the president says at the United Nations, ‘The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,’ we could’ve found those words coming out of the mouths of Osama bin Laden, or Mullah Omar of the Taliban, or the leaders of Boko Haram or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of Islamic State,” Gaffney said. “This is the doctrine of Sharia and its blasphemy codes. So it not only gives people latitude to say, ‘The president is saying we mustn’t exercise our freedom of speech or maybe we should give it up altogether lest it offend these folks.’ It is also, and this is really in a way much worse, emboldening our enemies, who when they see this behavior, they think we’re submitting to them.”

Gaffney, of course, is leaving out the fact Obama’s 2012 UN speech was all about the importance of the freedom of speech and opposition to blasphemy laws:

Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. As President of our country and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day and I will always defend their right to do so.

Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with. We do not do so because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities.

We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech -- the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.

Gaffney also conveniently left out the sentence immediately following the president’s remark on “those who slander the prophet of Islam”: “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied.”

Don Feder: Obama Presidency Worse For Jews Than The Holocaust

Don Feder of the World Congress of Families is pretty sure that “Barack Hussein Obama is perhaps the greatest tragedy to befall the Jews since the destruction of the Second Temple” in 70 AD. This apparently means that, according to Feder, the Obama presidency has been worse for the Jewish people than such atrocities as the Holocaust and the Pogroms.

“Our president is a world-class crescent-kisser,” Feder writes. “In his State of the Union address – between striking Mussolini-like poses and lying about employment – the president disclosed that as part of the ‘partnership’ between America and Islam (we buy their oil, they kill us), ‘I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.’ Is it a stereotype if it's true?” (The remark was actually delivered in a 2009 speech in Cairo.)

After falsely claiming that Obama “studied in a madrassa,” Feder writes that “the president is anti-Americanism incarnate.”

Barack Hussein Obama is perhaps the greatest tragedy to befall the Jews since the destruction of the Second Temple. He's trying to force Israel into a suicidal pact with the gentle folk of Hamas and Fatah. Every time Palestinian terrorists (Hamas and Fatah) kill more Jews, he calls for calm on both sides – as if Israel was doing anything but defending itself.

His hatred of Netanyahu borders on the pathological. When Boehner recently invited the Israeli Prime Minister to address the House of Representatives, Obama threw one of his hissy fits, letting it be known that Bibi would not be asked to stop at the White House. That must be a terrible blow for the Prime Minister. Now, the administration is threatening to retaliate against Bibi. Where Churchill was defiant, Obama is petulant.

Our president is a world-class crescent-kisser. He'll periodically tell us how it's his duty to defend Islam from scurrilous attacks. I must have missed that in Constitutional Law class.

In his State of the Union address – between striking Mussolini-like poses and lying about employment – the president disclosed that as part of the "partnership" between America and Islam (we buy their oil, they kill us), "I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear." Is it a stereotype if it's true?

Barack may have studied in a madrassa, but Winston experienced the business end of the scimitar. In "The River War," the future Prime Minister wrote: "How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries. Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous as hydrophobia in a dog," its effects include "improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce" and a "degraded sensualism that deprives this life of grace and refinement."

Churchill lived in the real world. Obama runs the religion-of-peace ride in Multicultural Land.

Churchill loved America. Obama loathes the nation he was twice elected to lead. From his rejection of American exceptionalism to equating the police shooting in Ferguson to ISIL's murder of captives (when speaking at the UN), the president is anti-Americanism incarnate.

Conservative Pundits Blame Immigrants For California Measles Outbreak

Conservative pundit Betsy McCaughey, inventor of the Obamacare "death panels" rumor, visited the Newsmax show “America’s Forum” today to urge listeners to vaccinate their children in the wake of a measles outbreak in California that health officials have pinned on people who refuse to be vaccinated. But it’s not just anti-vaxxers who are to blame for the outbreak, McCaughey said. She also blamed the measles outbreak on immigrants, saying that “sadly our federal government is not taking any responsibility at all for preventing people who are carrying measles from entering the country.”

J.D. Hayworth, the former Arizona congressman and host of “America’s Forum,” was eager to blame the measles outbreak on immigrants as well, particularly the Central American children who fled to the southern border earlier this year who, as far as we know, have absolutely no connection to the measles outbreak that started at Disneyland. (In fact, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, where most of the children came from, have higher measles vaccination rates than the U.S.)

 “You’re just talking about legal immigration, and you take a look at the last year and the influx of juveniles from Central America and obviously we have problems, so there are a couple of reasons at work,” Hayworth said.

“So, Betsy, you’re telling us that part of it is an anti-vaccine movement, but the other part is illegal immigration,” he prompted.

“It’s immigration of all sorts,” McCaughey said, citing the case of unvaccinated Amish missionaries (U.S. citizens) from Ohio who carried the disease back from the Philippines and a outbreak in Houston in the 1990s that reportedly stemmed from immigrants from Mexico but was worsened by low vaccination rates.

“We’re allowing it to be carried into the country and that’s wrong,” she said.

There is a long tradition of the anti-immigrant movement of attempting to blame disease outbreaks on immigrants, which was revived in force by the right-wing media in connection to the crisis at the border this summer. Back in August, Hayworth memorably had his fearmongering about child immigrants carrying diseases shut down by an infectious disease expert, but he doesn’t seem to have learned anything from the experience.

The Personhood Movement: Undermining Roe In The Courts: Part 3

This is the third post in a RWW series on the reemergence of the fetal personhood movement and what it means for the future of abortion rights in the U.S.

Part 1: The Personhood Movement: Where It Comes From And What It Means For The Future Of Choice
Part 2: The Personhood Movement: Internal Battles Go Public
Part 4: The Personhood Movement: Regrouping After Defeat

As we have detailed in previous posts in this series, ever since the anti-choice movement rose to prominence in the wake of Roe v. Wade, it has been divided over how to go about repealing Roe and recriminalizing abortion in the U.S.

Groups like Americans United for Life (AUL) and the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) have achieved great success in pushing states to adopt incremental measures targeting abortion providers in the name of protecting women’s health and in advocating for national policies — such as the 2003 “partial-birth” abortion ban and the 20-week abortion ban currently being considered by Congress — that attempt to undermine the legal reasoning in Roe by targeting a small segment of abortion procedures.

But the anti-choice personhood movement believes that the incremental strategy is doing too little to end legal abortion. They believe they have a better plan.

The personhood movement argues that small, incremental legal victories cutting off access to abortion will never achieve the ultimate goal of completely criminalizing the procedure — in part because those measures fail to make a moral argument on behalf of the humanity of the fertilized egg and fetus.

At the founding convention of the Personhood Alliance late last year, the chief of staff to Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, notorious for his legal fight over a Ten Commandment monument he placed in the courthouse rotunda, discussed an alternate legal strategy to end abortion rights. As Nina Martin has outlined in The New Republic, Moore’s protégé and colleague Justice Tom Parker has been carefully laying out a legal framework to overturn Roe, not by constitutional amendment, but by the legal redefinition of what it means to be a person protected by the law.

Parker, with Moore’s backing, has been building a body of jurisprudence that offers a blueprint for a personhood victory in the courts. In doing so, he’s drawn the attention and praise of anti-choice activists; Liberty Counsel, a right-wing legal group, has called him a “modern-day Wilberforce.”

Since efforts to overturn Roe by passing a Human Life Amendment or a legislative alternative faltered in Congress in the 1970s and 1980s, personhood advocates have focused on the states, passing legislation giving limited rights to fetuses as separate entities from pregnant women. Since 1986, 38 states have passed “fetal homicide” laws identifying fetuses at some or all stages of development as separate victims of crime and in 2004 Congress passed a similar law covering federal crimes. Similarly, in 18 states substance abuse during pregnancy is legally considered child abuse. In Alabama last year, Republicans passed a law allowing judges to appoint lawyers for fetuses. As Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate at the Guttmacher Institute, put it in an interview, “all of that is about trying to build up a legal case that personhood starts at fertilization.”

Personhood USA’s 2014 attempt to insert personhood language into Colorado law drew on this legal history, specifically limiting its new definition of personhood to the Colorado criminal code and Colorado Wrongful Death Act. But the proposal was nonetheless widely recognized as an attempt to ban abortion, or at least to set up a legal battle challenging Roe. In fact, Colorado had already passed laws imposing extra penalties for crimes against pregnant women, the purported purpose of the personhood amendment. “They are changing the tone, they are changing the language, they are changing the messaging to try to win,” Nash said.

Parker has chronicled laws treating fetuses as full-fledged humans in certain cases to argue that “[t]oday, the only major area in which unborn children are denied legal protection is abortion, and that denial is only because of Roe.” He has urged the Supreme Court to address the issue at the next chance it gets.

Parker and Moore’s strategy relies on what the personhood movement’s proponents believe is a loophole in Roe v. Wade that would allow anti-abortion advocates to effectively undo the decision without a constitutional amendment or a Supreme Court friendlier to their cause. In Roe, the Justices rejected the idea of fetal personhood. Justice Blackmun wrote in his majority opinion that “no case could be cited that holds that a fetus is a person within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment,” noting, “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's case, of course, collapses...for the fetus' right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.”

A federal bill that currently has 132 cosponsors in the House and 21 in the Senate takes aim at this supposed loophole in Roe, simply declaring that “the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being," which includes “each member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.”

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the chief sponsor of the Senate bill, signed a fundraising email for the pro-personhood National Pro-Life Alliance in November, arguing that his was the strategy that would work:

The Supreme Court itself admitted  if Congress declares unborn children 'persons' under the law, the constitutional case for abortion-on-demand 'collapses.'

Alabama’s Supreme Court is the most prominent court to give a serious hearing to the personhood strategy, long considered by even some in the anti-choice movement to be a crackpot theory and a potential political and legal disaster. As recently as 2009, Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, wrote in the National Review that the so-called “personhood loophole” was an “urban legend” and those pursuing it were “heading toward a brick wall.” Forsythe argued that in 1992 Casey decision, the Supreme Court had shifted the abortion debate from the personhood of fetuses to the rights of women, and that that was therefore the ground that the anti-choice movement should be playing on. “The real challenge for pro-lifers in 2009 is to effectively address the assumption that abortion is good for women,” he wrote, presaging AUL’s revamped woman-focused messaging.

Even more alarming to the personhood strategy’s detractors in the anti-choice movement is the possibility that a personhood challenge to Roe could create the opportunity for a Supreme Court ruling that would actually strengthen constitutional protections for abortion rights. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for instance, has said that she believes abortion rights should be secured under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, making the issue more clearly about the rights of women. In 2010, Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) wrote, “If a personhood amendment comes before this court, a new and terrifying decision may put the pro-life movement back a quarter century or more.”

In 2007, as the anti-choice movement’s schism over a ban on so-called “partial-birth” abortion was gaining national attention, Georgia Right to Life, which was at the the state affiliate of NRLC, worked with legislators to introduce a state constitutional amendment defining a “person” under state law as “including unborn children at every state of their biological development, including fertilization.”

Although the Georgia amendment was based on language originally drafted as a federal constitutional amendment by NRLC, NRLC’s chief counsel James Bopp, Jr. tried to shut it down. In a lengthy and frank memo to his fellow anti-choice activists, Bopp contended that such an amendment would be immediately struck down in federal courts and, if it made it to the Supreme Court, could give the court’s majority the opportunity to rewrite Roe in the way favored by Ginsburg. The state-level personhood strategy, he cautioned, was “presently doomed to expansive failure.”

Instead, Bopp said, the anti-choice movement should continue its incremental strategy, which was succeeding in curtailing access to abortion while keeping the issue in the public eye. He wrote that the “partial-birth” abortion law had been a successful example of this strategy because it “forced the pro-abortion camp to publicly defend a particularly visible and gruesome practice.” Acknowledging that “most pro-lifers” believe that abortion should only be available to save the life of a pregnant woman, he warned that absolutist, no-exceptions approaches like personhood were both legally unwise and poor public relations:

By contrast, the pro-life movement must at present avoid fighting on the more difficult terrain of its own position, namely arguing that abortion should not be available in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and harm to the mother. While restricting abortion in these situations is morally defensible, public opinion polls show that popular support for the pro-life side drops off dramatically when these “hard” cases are the topic. And while most pro-lifers believe that a consistent pro-life position requires permitting abortion in only the rare circumstances where it is necessary to save the life of the mother, some pro-lifers believe that there should not even be an exception to preserve the life of the mother. Other pro-lifers advocate exceptions for rape or incest. This is an important debate to have, and we should be ready to convince the public of the need for few, if any, exceptions to laws prohibiting abortion when such laws can be upheld. However, since that is currently not the case, such a debate is premature and would undermine public support for the pro-life position.

Responding to Bopp’s memo, the conservative Thomas More Law Center, which drafted the Georgia amendment, argued that the incremental strategy had taken too long and done too little and that “after 34 years of abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy, it is time to rethink pro-life strategy.”

“[T]he central holding of Roe v. Wade remains the primary obstacle to any meaningful pro-life initiative that seeks to end abortion,” wrote Thomas More attorney Robert J. Muise. “To remove this obstacle, a case must be presented to the United States Supreme Court that challenges the central premise of Roe — that the unborn is not a person within the meaning of the law.”

If personhood laws were to succeed in the courts, the legal implications would be immense and unpredictable.

The ambiguous wording of personhood measures has led to concerns that they could be interpreted to outlaw oral contraception, IUDs and in-vitro fertilization. But birth control is not the only issue. As the National Advocates for Pregnant Women’s Lynn Paltrow and Fordham sociologist Jeanne Flavin have documented, laws granting legal rights to fetuses outside the context of abortion have led to hundreds of cases of pregnant women being arrested or otherwise apprehended after suffering miscarriages or for alleged drug and alcohol use deemed to be harmful to the fetus.

In countries that completely criminalize abortion — the goal of the “pro-life” movement in the U.S. — pregnant woman can find themselves in terrifying situations: recently in El Salvador, a woman was sentenced to 30 years in prison for murder after suffering a miscarriage.

As Paltrow told Newsweek in 2012, “There’s no way to give embryos constitutional personhood without subtracting women from the community of constitutional persons.”

By redefining what it means to be a person under the law, personhood measures could also have a broad legal impact on issues unrelated to reproductive rights, threatening to upend everything from inheritance law to census results. In 2014, the Colorado Bar Association opposed the state’s personhood ballot measure, warning that the vaguely worded measure would have “potentially serious, unintended and unknown consequences for Colorado lawyers…From areas of Family Law to Probate Law to Real Estate Law, as well as the explicit effect on Criminal Law and Wrongful Death statutes, this Amendment could create uncertainty and endless litigation.”

Daniel Becker, the former leader of Georgia Right to Life and founder of the Personhood Alliance, also sees the personhood issue as extending beyond abortion rights, but in a different direction. The final chapter of Becker's 2011 manifesto, "Personhood," is written in the form of a science fiction story set in a "post-human future" in which computers have gained consciousness, procreation has been moved to laboratories, and a "specialized sub-class of human-animal hybrids" has been developed to perform menial labor. The anti-abortion rights movement, he argues, will cease to be relevant in coming battles over biotechnology if it remains "at its heart, anti-abortion as opposed to pro-sanctity of human life." He argues that only by embracing full "personhood" rights for zygotes and fetuses will the movement remain viable in the future.

The personhood movement, while it has hope in the legal system, also recognizes that it won’t get far without winning hearts and minds. In the final post in this series, we’ll look at the movement’s efforts to reorganize in the wake of electoral defeats.

Mike Huckabee: Chapel Services In Public Schools Will End School Shootings

During a speech earlier this month at televangelist Morris Cerullo’s annual conference, Mike Huckabee said that school shootings wouldn’t take place if public schools organized daily prayers, religious assemblies, Bible readings and “chapel services.”

“Because we were bringing Bibles to school people weren’t bringing guns to school, except for the deer hunters who left them in their trucks,” Huckabee said. “What has happened to our culture? What’s happened is we have lost our landmarks. When we reject the Bible as the objective word of truth, when we say that the Bible is no longer the standard by which we live and we make it whatever we feel, what we think, what we believe, then we have no landmark at all because that landmark is always being moved to accommodate our lifestyle rather than make our lifestyle accommodate the word of the living God and the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Back in 2012, Huckabee reacted to the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting by blaming those who “systematically removed God from our schools,” turning schools into “a place of carnage” and “violence.”

Phyllis Schlafly: Obama Is 'Sweet On The Muslims'

Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, who once worried that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel might be a secret Muslim, told far-right talk show host Stan Solomon earlier this month that President Obama is “sweet on the Muslims.”

While speaking with Solomon about Obama’s absence from a demonstration of world leaders in Paris following the Charlie Hebdo attack, Schlafly said Obama “does not want to admit there is Muslim terrorism, he pretends that it isn’t” and is “unwilling anytime to say there is Muslim terrorism.”

Schlafly told Solomon that extremists will only learn to “respect” the U.S. if the country makes its military “the biggest and strongest” in the world.

It’s a Radical Right Red Meat Feast as 2016 GOP Primary Kicks Off with a Bang

Over the weekend, likely Republican 2016 presidential candidates stepped up to the microphone at two extremist events to throw red meat at their Radical Right base and prove their ultraconservative bona fides in the run up to primary season.

Here’s a taste of what went down at Iowa’s so-called Freedom Summit, hosted by Rep. Steve King – who is most famous for his radical and dehumanizing anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Union-busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker won the day with the most well-received speech, in which his biggest applause came when he bragged about his party’s attempts at voter suppression in his state, saying, “we required in our state, by law, a photo ID to vote.”

Former Arkansas Governor and 2008 Iowa Caucus winner Mike Huckabee said states should ignore Supreme Court rulings favorable to marriage equality.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie played up how staunchly anti-choice he is.

Senator Ted Cruz made the case for caucus voters to weed out anyone but extreme right-wing candidates. “Every candidate is going to come to you and say they are the most conservative person that ever lived,” Cruz said. “Talk is cheap.”

And at a separate Religious Right event, hosted by SPLC-designated hate group the American Family Association, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal discussed the need to enshrine discrimination against same-sex couples in the Constitution, promoted Islamophobic conspiracy theories and closed his speech with the statement “our god wins.” That event, titled The Response, perfectly embodied the dangers of mixing religion with politics in the way that the Right so loves to do.

By making political issues – even incredibly important ones, and even ones that are historically divisive – litmus tests for their followers’ religious conviction, they cast their opponents not only as wrong, but as evil and satanic, allowing for no possibility of compromise and making even civil coexistence difficult.  

It was a lot of what you’d expect – unfortunately – but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying. These are the people who are setting the agenda for one of America’s two major parties – and the one that right now controls both houses of Congress.

Read more and check out video from both events at RightWingWatch.org.

UPDATE: Jon Stewart's can't-miss segment on the Freedom Summit from the Daily Show (video courtesy of Comedy Central):


The Nativist Strategy Behind World Congress of Families' Anti-LGBT, Anti-Choice Work In Russia

Last year, a slew of American Religious Right activists traveled to Moscow to take part in an international conference called “Large Families and the Future of Mankind.” The conference was funded by top allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin and was organized by the Illinois-based World Congress of Families (WCF ended its official role in the event after the U.S. placed sanctions on some of its funders, but was still clearly the main organizing force behind it.)

The fact that the conference was dedicated to “large families” is important. In a new report for Political Research Associates, Cole Parke exposes how WCF has worked with Russia’s government to exploit fears of a European “demographic winter” and push for policies restricting abortion and LGBT rights. Parke illustrates that behind the “demographic winter” warning is a “cynical manipulation of racial resentments” — not the fear that the country’s population is dropping but that Russian identity might be “redefined as something other than White and Orthodox.”

WCF’s influence at the U.N. relies heavily on its longstanding ties with Russia, one of the five permanent members on the U.N. Security Council. Carlson’s work on the ”demographic winter”—the idea that abortion, birth control, homosexuality, feminism and other ”unnatural” deviations have led to dangerous population decline and a crisis for the ”natural family”—has proven to be particularly effective in garnering favor with Russia’s conservative leadership.

Carlson argues that declining birth rates threaten the decline of civilization—Western civilization. As researcher and journalist Kathryn Joyce puts it, “The concern is not a general lack of babies, but the cultural shifts that come when some populations, particularly immigrant communities, are feared to be out-procreating others.” Put another way, the demographic winter thesis cultivates racism and xenophobia in support of exclusionary “natural family” policies. A main objective of the WCF’s demographic scare tactics is to convert nationalism into natalism, and thereby mobilize a larger anti-abortion, “natural family” base. (Natalism prioritizes human procreation, including public policies that reward birthing children.)

This perspective is commonplace among WCF and its affiliates. Following WCF’s 1997 congress in Prague, Cathy Ramey, associate director of the U.S. anti-abortion organization Advocates for Life Ministries, explained what she’d learned: “As native citizens reject marriage and child-bearing, other non-native groups will simply move in and replace the historic population.” Speaking at WCF V, John Mueller, a researcher at the Ethics and Public Policy Center—a neoconservative think tank in Washington, DC, argued that “fertility would rise and remain above the replacement rate, not only in the United States but also most other countries, by ending legal abortion.”

In Russia and other parts of Europe, a combination of population anxiety and growing anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiment has offered WCF a favorable political context in which to advance its anti-abortion, “natural family” agenda. Carlson and his network have fanned the flames of “demographic winter” anxieties throughout the region.

In June 2011, WCF hosted the Moscow Demographic Summit, describing it as the “world’s first summit to address the international crisis of rapidly declining birthrates.” More than 500 people attended, including Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church; Russian First Lady Svetlana Medvedeva; members of the Russian Duma; and a host of right-wing American scholars and activists.

Within two weeks of the event, President Medvedev—whose wife, Medvedeva, had recently teamed up with the Russian Orthodox Church on a new anti-abortion campaign—signed a law requiring abortion providers to devote 10 percent of any advertising to describing the dangers of abortion to a woman’s health, and making it illegal to describe abortion as a safe medical procedure. This was the first new legislative restriction placed on abortions in the country since the fall of Communism.

Four months later, in October 2011, the Russian Duma passed a law further restricting abortions to within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for cases up to 22 weeks in instances of rape or medical necessity. The new law also tacked on a mandatory waiting period of two to seven days before an abortion can be performed, a common tactic used by anti-abortion activists in the U.S.

Parke explores how WCF exploits nativist and nationalist fears in order to push restrictions on reproductive rights and LGBT equality in its work in Africa and at the United Nations as well. You can read the full report here.

Sarah Palin: Defeat Hillary Clinton By Calling Liberals The Real Racists And Sexists

Sarah Palin delivered something that some might call a speech at today’s Iowa Freedom Summit, in which she gave advice on how Republicans can defeat Hillary Clinton if the former secretary of state runs for president.

“It’s going to take more than a village to beat Hillary,” she said. “We the people, we realize that this is war, it is war for the solvency, the sovereignty of the United States of America.”

Palin said that Republicans need to prepare for attacks from the liberal media, which seeks to “crucify” conservatives, warning that liberals use Saul Alinsky-inspired political tactics, such as charges of “racism” and “sexism.”

Republicans should reject these “Orwellian” and “disgusting charges from the left,” Palin said, before calling on conservatives to label liberals as the real racists and sexists: “Reverse them, for it is they who point a finger not realizing that they have triple that amount of fingers pointing right back at them revealing that they are the ones who really discriminate and divide on color and class and sex. We call them out. We don’t let them get away with it.”

She urged conservatives to expose the “real war on women with truth because we can handle the truth,” explaining: “It is they who defeat women, they shackle them to the good old boys running Washington, pimping this promise that they have to provide for these little ladies’ every need, because ‘there, there, a woman is just not capable.’”

Sarah Palin: Media 'Crucified' Me Over Dog Photo

In her speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit today, Sarah Palin addressed the major issues facing the country, such as a photo she posted on Facebook of her son standing on a dog.

Palin, never one to shy away from self-victimization, said that the controversy that ensued was proof that the media “crucified” her and is filled with hypocrites who didn’t care about what “the president admitted to doing to those Indonesian puppies,” a reference to a passage in “Dreams from My Father” about eating dog meat as a young boy in Indonesia.

Donald Trump: 'I Am Seriously Thinking Of Running For President' Because 'We Can’t Have Bush'

Donald Trump is still trying to convince people that he might actually run for president this time, telling today’s Iowa Freedom Summit that he is “seriously thinking of running for president” because Romney “choked” and we “can’t have Bush.”

After claiming that he was the first person to say that it wouldn’t be smart to nominate Jeb Bush because of George W. Bush’s legacy, Trump laid into Jeb Bush, criticizing him for his support for Common Core and his softening position on immigration.

“He’s very, very weak on immigration,” Trump said of Bush. “Don’t forget, remember his statement, ‘they come for love’? Say what? ‘Come for love’? You’ve got these people coming, half of them are criminals. I mean, they’re coming for ‘love’? They’re coming for a lot of other reasons, and it’s not love.”

“I am seriously thinking of running for president because I can do the job,” he told the crowd.

Donald Trump Says He Will Personally Build A Border Fence To Stop 'Islamic Terrorists'

Perennial maybe-presidential-candidate Donald Trump dedicated a good portion of his speech at today’s Iowa Freedom Summit to immigration, which was fitting since the summit is hosted by one of the GOP’s most dogmatic anti-immigrant voices, Rep. Steve King.

Trump told the audience that immigrants, including terrorists, are walking across the border in front of U.S. guards, and no one will stop them … except, of course, for Trump, who pledged that if and when he is elected president, he will take advantage of his extensive construction experience to build the border fence, and it’s going to “be a beauty.”

“Who can build better than Trump?” he asked.

We have to build a fence and it’s gotta be a beauty. Who can build better than Trump? I build. It’s what I do. I build. I build nice fences but I build great buildings. Fences are easy, believe me. I saw the other day on television, people are just walking across the border, they’re walking, the military is standing there, holding guns and people are just walking right in front, coming into our country. It is so terrible, it is so unfair, it is so incompetent and we don’t have the best coming in, we have people that are criminals, we have people that are crooks, you can certainly have terrorists, you can certainly have Islamic terrorists, you can have anything coming across the border. We don’t do anything about it. So I would say that if I run and if I win, I would certainly start by building a very, very powerful border.

Rachel Maddow Takes On 'Questionable Characters' At Jindal Prayer Rally

As we have been reporting, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has decided to hitch his apparent presidential hopes to a collection of Christian-nation extremists, teaming with the American Family Association, influential activist David Lane, and a collection of self-proclaimed prophets and apostles to host a prayer rally in Baton Rouge today meant to turn America “back to God.”

On her show last night, Rachel Maddow took a look at the array of “questionable characters” working with Jindal on his supposedly nonpolitical prayer rally:

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