Next week, American Religious Right leaders including the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore, pastor Rick Warren, Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput, and Latter-Day Saints official Henry Eyring will be joining opponents of LGBT equality from around the world at an interfaith conference on the “complementarity of man and woman in marriage” hosted by the Vatican.
The conference follows a synod at which Catholic bishops considered, but ultimately rejected, proposals to soften the church’s stances on homosexuality, as well as those who have been divorced.
Although he is not listed as a speaker, another prominent American opponent of LGBT equality will also be attending the conference. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in an interview on Newsmax TV today that he plans to attend the conference in Rome and expects the Catholic Church to “make a very clear statement that pertains to marriage and what the Church views marriage to be” to provide “clarity” to the confusion coming out of the recent synod.
“I don’t see the Catholic Church making a great deviation” on the issue of homosexuality, Perkins said. “They can’t because the scripture is quite clear on the issue.”
He added that there has been “a lack of clarity” on the part of the Catholic Church that have “allowed interpretations to be made that are less than accurate.”
The Religious Right has for the past two years joined with human rights groups in lifting up the case of Kenneth Bae, an American Christian missionary who was imprisoned in a North Korean work camp on charges of trying to overthrow the government.
You might expect that a group like the Family Research Council that has been championing Bae’s case would take a break from partisan bickering to celebrate the good news of Bae's freedom. But you would be wrong!
In his daily email yesterday, FRC’s president, Tony Perkins, reacted to Bae’s release by accusing the Obama administration of not caring enough about Christian political prisoners — like, for instance, Bae. Perkins wrote that the administration’s work to free Bae was “surprising” and went on to attack the president for his “absolute silence” on the imprisonment of American pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran:
Although the suffering left deep scars, Bae insists that he is “recovering.” He and Miller, who the communist government sentenced to hard labor for participating in what they called a “Christian conspiracy,” thanked the Obama administration for sending a “brief message” through his intelligence officials asking for Bae and Miller’s release. For the President, it was a surprising move given his absolute silence on Pastor Saeed Abedini, another American who languishes in a torturous existence at the hands of a ruthless Iranian government.
Meanwhile, here at home, his family’s pleas to the White House continue to fall on deaf ears. As we cheer Kenneth and Matthew’s release, our earnest prayers continue to lift up the millions of people -- like Pastor Abedini -- who are shackled for the true freedom of Jesus Christ.
It is worth remembering that the entire impetus behind last night's "I Stand Sunday" rally was an effort by anti-gay activists to repeal a nondiscrimination ordinance passed by the city of Houston that extended protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, because it puts in context Tony Perkins' statement that protecting "religious liberty" at home will go a long way toward protecting Christians in the Middle East from religious persecution.
As the Family Research Council president sees it, failure to allow anti-gay Christians in America to discriminate in the name of "religious freedom" is feeding the persecution of Christians worldwide.
"There is a connection between the growing hostility toward biblical Christianity here at home and persecution abroad," he said. "And the reason is very simple: if the policies of our own government toward Christians in America is intolerant, the message that that is sending to despots and to dictators in far-away places is that religious freedom is no longer a priority or even a concern for America."
By standing up for anti-gay Christians who seek to deny equal rights to gays in America under the guise of religious liberty, Perkins said, "you will give hope to far-away places around the world."
"It's time that we stand once again for religious freedom here in America and give the world hope," he said:
In an interview with Ohio Religious Right activist Molly Smith last week, Family Research Council Senior Fellow Bob Morrison compared the LGBT rights movement to the Vietnam draft, lamenting that “the whole country’s being conscripted into a pride parade.”
“Now we’re finding out that it’s not just about defending marriage, as important as that is,” Morrison told Smith. “It’s a question of defending liberty itself, because they can’t violate the laws of nature and of nature’s God, as the Declaration talks about, they can’t violate those laws without trampling religious freedom and political liberty at the same time.”
Speaking of nondiscrimination laws that prevent businesses from discriminating against LGBT people, he argued, “They’re not exercising discrimination, what they’re doing, what you’re doing is conscripting them. You’re forcing them to take part in your gay pride parade.”
“When I was a young guy, the draft was a hot issue,” he added. “Okay, well we’re being conscripted, the whole country’s being conscripted into a pride parade, and I don’t want to be in that parade.”
Glenn Beck insists that his "predictions are pretty accurate just never with the timing right," which is really just a cop-out way of saying that his wild claims can never be proven wrong because it is always possible that they just haven't happened yet.
Finally, FRC prays for the upcoming elections: "Lord, we have less than a week before Americans choose their nation’s political destiny. You know what all is at stake. Grant your Church heart-felt repentance at every level. Among the sins for which we must repent, help those who are called by your name to repent of our failure to love our neighbors and nation enough to diligently vote, and to vote for men and women who will uphold righteous and just laws. May believers everywhere pray and fast this week as they plan to cast their votes. Have mercy and redeem our nation, a nation you have blessed beyond any nation in history, but which has declined precipitously under our watch. Guide your people this Election Day and may our choices be pleasing to You."
A listener called in to tell the Family Research Council president that he thinks the reason homosexuality is “promoted is because it doesn’t lead to reproduction and that’s why it’s promoted. There’s this anti-life agenda, there’s a total anti-human, anti-life, human beings are a virus, type of mentality.”
Perkins responded that the caller was “absolutely correct,” saying that he once wrote about how “climate change alarmists and those who are pushing population control” actually “promote homosexuality” because “there’s no procreation there.”
“They go crazy, they deny it but the evidence is there, it’s footnoted in my book.”
Yesterday, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins once again demanded that Congress impeach and remove President Obama from office, telling a caller on his “Washington Watch” radio show that the GOP must go through with impeachment after the midterm elections.
When a caller asked why Republicans haven’t made impeachment into an election issue, Perkins responded that they should pursue it if the elections go there way: “If the Republicans do capture the Senate, there’s no more excuses about impeachment. See, what we’ve heard so far is how we can’t do that because we’d never get it through the Senate, the House could impeach him but the Senate would never convict, it would just be a waste of time. Well, if they have control of the Senate it won’t be.”
Of course, it takes a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove a president.
If Family Research Council President Tony Perkins is really convinced that anti-gay activists like himself will prevail in their fight against marriage equality, he may want to reconsider linking the cause to efforts to preserve prohibitions on the sale of alcoholic beverages.
Perkins told the caller that the Arkansas challenge to bans on alcohol sales was part of a larger left-wing plot against culturally conservative values, mentioning recent gay marriage victories as another source of liberal interference.
“A lot of things are best decided at the local level and it’s the same thing that we’re seeing with marriage where the states have taken these positions and now you’ve got these courts coming in, undermining the states, you’ve got the Obama administration trying to redefine [marriage],” Perkins lamented. “It’s an all-out attack on values.”
Yesterday on “Washington Watch,” Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council spoke with a caller who asked why he hasn’t addressed the supposed perils and “Satanic cultures” of Halloween on his radio show.
“It’s a good point,” Perkins said. “I think you’re right, I think a lot of people get locked into this and they don’t realize that this is real, there is a spiritual dimension,” he added, citing Ephesians 6:12.
“I think people, I don’t think it’s intentional in many cases but in some cases it may be, but I mean people are drawn into this and it can be very dangerous,” he added.
On yesterday’s edition of “Washington Watch,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins lamented that same-sex marriage “is being forced upon the American people,” insisting that a majority of Americans will never support marriage equality.
Perkins said that just as reproductive rights debates are still contentious because legal abortion “runs contrary to nature,” gay marriage will similarly never be “resolved” until it is banned throughout the nation.
“I don’t care what they do, how oppressive government becomes in order to force this agenda through, they will never force Americans to accept this, the majority of Americans to accept it. Won’t happen,” he said. “Some may go silent, some may be carried away but they will not resolve this issue, trust me.”
Later in the show, Perkins reiterated his support for impeaching President Obama: “If something’s wrong, it’s wrong. Whether or not you can get the conviction that you desire, it’s still wrong and the House has the responsibility and the ability to charge him for this and I think it puts him on notice.”
“This president has systematically seen himself as above the law and I think this has done irreparable damage to the republic and to our form of government,” Perkins said. “Every time we stretch the limits, some of the elasticity goes out. It’s like those gym shorts, when you stretch them out they don’t always go back and I’m afraid that’s what this president is doing, he’s gone and stretched those gym shorts.”
AFP is spending $85,000 running ads that accuse Wheat of being an “extreme” partisan…citing his votes on bipartisan bills as a state legislator. In an interview with the Missoulan, Wheat called the ads “garbage”:
The ads say Wheat, a justice on Montana’s high court since 2010, “has a history of supporting extreme, partisan measures,” citing his votes as a state senator for a 2003 sales tax package and for an increase in hunting and fishing license fees in 2005, and his 2012 dissent in a Supreme Court ruling upholding natural gas well permits.
“Our (intent) is to educate voters on the positions that Mike Wheat has taken in the past and hold him accountable for those positions,” Lahn said.
Wheat, in an interview, called the ad “garbage” and said it has little or nothing to do with the type of a justice he’s been or will be.
The ad sponsor “is just one of the Super-PACs funded by the Koch Brothers, who want you to believe it’s only for `educational’ purposes,” Wheat said. “It’s not education at all; it’s pure politics.”
In addition to $275,000 combined that Wheat and VanDyke have reported raising for their campaigns, the race has seen spending now by four outside groups, including AFP-Montana.
Two other groups are supporting VanDyke, including the Republican State Leadership Committee, which reported Thursday it’s spent $330,000 on TV ads and mailers, and one group is supporting Wheat.
Lahn said AFP-Montana initially is spending $85,000 for its ads criticizing Wheat.
The AFP ad says Montanans “deserve a fair and impartial Supreme Court” and urge voters to call Wheat “and tell him to keep his extreme politics out of the Montana Supreme Court.”
Among other things, the ad refers to Wheat’s 2003 vote as a senator for a sales tax package that also reduced property and income taxes, and his 2005 vote for a bill increasing hunting and fishing license fees.
The sales tax measure passed the Senate with bipartisan support but died in the House; the hunting and fishing license bill passed with bipartisan support.
On Tuesday’s edition of “Washington Watch,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins chatted with a listener, James, who claimed President Obama has a “deliberate” plan to make an Ebola “epidemic occur across the United States” in order to “institute quarantine and martial law restrictions.”
Rather than dismiss the caller’s paranoid remarks, Perkins responded that Obama administration officials “certainly give rise to those who would interpret it that way.”
Perkins claimed that the administration is ignoring “commonsense procedures” like banning travel from West African countries, a move that manyinfectious diseaseexperts say could actually put the U.S. at greater risk.
“You’re absolutely right, James, it just does not make sense,” Perkins said. “I have to strike it up, as I said before, incompetence, it’s amazing how bad this administration has been on so many issues. This election shouldn’t even be close but I believe, based upon what I saw in 2012 and what I’ve seen so far in this election cycle, is the problem is not that the Republicans are too conservative, it’s that they don’t provide a clear contrast with the Democratic candidates.”
Similar dire warnings about the federal hate crimes law that was passed five years ago today have proven to be utterly false.
The apocalyptic rhetoric is a reaction to the advances in LGBT rights, including the legalization of same-sex marriage in dozens of states and the passage of non-discrimination ordinances in municipalities across the country. Along with categories such as race, gender, religion, age and ability, more localities are recognizing sexual orientation and gender identity as traits warranting protection from discrimination in the public domain.
As anti-gay politicians lose in the courts, Congress, state houses, town halls, and perhaps most importantly, at the ballot box, many have taken to conflating political defeat with a loss of rights and liberty. Only by depriving other people of their rights, so they claim, can conservatives and people of faith in this nation truly be free.
This month, many Republicans latched onto a complicated legal case in Houston to justify their hyperbolic warnings about impending doom for Christians in America. After Houston passed an equal rights ordinance this year, a pastor-led group tried — and failed — to collect enough valid petition signatures to force a referendum on repealing the ordinance. When a group of conservative activists and pastors filed a lawsuit demanding that officials accept the invalid petitions, pro-bono attorneys working for the city subpoenaed several pastors’ communications, including sermons, on petition collecting and related issues like homosexuality as part of the discovery process.
While many groups from the left and right alike called out the subpoenas as overly broad and intrusive, the Religious Right cited the legal move as proof that pastors will be, as the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody put it, “hauled off to jail for a hate crimes because they are speaking for traditional marriage.”
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who in 2012 warned that America was “at the edge of a precipice” and would soon see non-existent “hate speech” laws used “against Christian pastors who decline to perform gay marriages [or] who speak out and preach biblical truths on marriage,” agreed with Brody’s assessment.
(In a similar episode this month, the owners of a for-profit wedding chapel business filed a lawsuit against their hometown over a nondiscrimination ordinance, arguing that city officials have threatened them with prosecution and jail time for denying service to same-sex couples — even though officials haven’t pursued any legal action against the couple.)
We’ve seen this movie before. In 2007, members of a group called Repent America were charged after disrupting a gay pride event and refusing to abide by police orders. The way conservatives tell the story, godly missionaries were punished by law enforcement for exercising their First Amendment rights and “sharing the gospel,” but as court records show, the group tried to disturb the peace and protest inside an event without a permit.
In fact, if Religious Right were correct in their warnings, America should have experienced a wave of arrests targeting pastors, church-goers and Republicans following the passage of the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Predictions about the criminalization of the Bible, pastors locked in jail cells and concentration camps for Christians never came true, mainly because these prophecies had no basis in reality.
The Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Law was passed by Congress five years ago today, and so far, the far-right’s twisted and baseless claims about the law have all been proven false. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t stopped making the exact same discredited arguments five years after the bill’s passage:
End of Free Speech
Despite the hate crimes law’s provision making clear that it is applicable only to cases of violent crime and nothing “shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual’s expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual’s membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs,” Religious Right activists and their allies in the GOP nonetheless predicted that the 2009 law would bring free speech to an end.
“Gay activists will use it against preachers who present the Biblical view of homosexuality,” Rick Scarborough said at the time. “The federal hate crimes law doesn’t target crime, but free speech.” He also warned that the law’s passage would “criminalize pastors and ordinary citizens who speak out biblically against homosexuality,” telling members of his group, Vision America, that he may face arrest for “speaking out against sexual deviancy.”
Scarborough, a Texas anti-gay pastor and political organizer close to Ted Cruz, hasn’t backed down from his claims even years after the law has gone into effect. At the 2013 Values Voter Summit, Scarborough declared that the “infidels” in the Obama administration are “hell-bent on silencing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Christians wouldn’t rise up against the attacks, he feared, “until a bunch of us are thrown into concentration camps.”
The Traditional Values Coalition went as far as to claim that the hate crimes law would imprison Jesus Christ.
“I believe that ‘hate crimes’ is the most dangerous bill in America, it is precisely what they are using to silence Christians around the world,” Janet Porter, a Religious Right activist with the group Faith 2 Action, said in an interview the year before the bill was passed. “How much of a stretch is it, really, to say that because I would say to you homosexuality is a sin or it’s dangerous behavior, before that speech alone is worthy of jail time? And that’s what we’re facing.” Porter told a Washington, D.C., rally shortly after the law was passed that it “criminalizes Christianity” and “sends pastors to prison for biblical positions and speech.”
In an 2009 email message with the subject line, “The Senate Will Vote To Silence You!,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins claimed that “what ‘hate crimes’ legislation does is lay the legal foundation and framework for investigating, prosecuting and persecuting pastors, business owners, and anyone else whose actions reflect their faith.”
He also alleged that the law would “gag people of faith and conviction who disagree with the homosexual agenda” and that it “punishes a person’s beliefs — part of the Left's intolerant agenda to silence the voice of Christians and Conservatives in America and eliminate moral restraint.”
“If federal thought crimes laws are passed, your right to share politically incorrect parts of your Christian faith could become a federal crime,” Perkins warned. At another conservative event, Perkins said hate crimes laws will curtail freedom and breed “chaos in America.”
Rusty Lee Thomas of Operation Save America even encouraged opposition to the law by alleging that “there is a direct connection between the sins and crimes of abortion and the sodomite agenda and the Islamic terrorism that threatens our nation.”
One group of GOP and Religious Right figures claimed the law would be “a savage and perhaps fatal blow to First Amendment freedom of expression.”
E.W. Jackson, a Virginia pastor and GOP politician, told a conservative rally that the law “represents a virulent strain of anti-Christian bigotry and hatred” that is “another step in the process of robbing all Americans of the very freedoms the founding fathers pledged their lives for and the civil rights martyrs gave their lives for.”
Ohio-based televangelist Rod Parsley, best known for his work supporting George W. Bush’s re-election campaign and the passage of his state’s gay marriage ban, said that the hate crimes law would force him out of the pulpit.
“This deceptive ploy of liberal, homosexual agenda begins to lose its allure once you pull the mask back and take a closer look,” Parsley said. “The legislation that’s before our United States senators right now extends to speech and can punish people not for their actions but for their culturally incorrect thoughts. This legislation could become law, and you and I could find ourselves forbidden to speak from God’s word right here in America. I could no longer share my heart with you on critical issues, such as this, through the medium of television, or even in the pulpit of my own church.”
We can report that despite Parsley’s grim predictions, he is still very much “sharing his heart” as a preacher.
Outlawing the Bible
One group of Michigan pastors, joined by local Republican politician and American Family Association state chairman Gary Glenn, filed an unsuccessful legal challenge against the hate crimes law soon after it was enacted. The group’s legal representative, the conservative Thomas More Law Center, contended that “the sole purpose” of the law was “to criminalize the Bible and use the threat of federal prosecutions and long jail sentences to silence Christians from expressing their Biblically-based religious belief that homosexual conduct is a sin.”
Pastor Paul Blair of Reclaiming America for Christ also offered an ominous warning: “If preaching the Bible is now against the law, then let us be arrested.” One WorldNetDaily commentator said the law would “crack down” on Christians for “reading the Bible.”
“Christianity Is Now Outlawed,” declared the Christian Seniors Association, a front group of the Traditional Values Coalition, in a fundraising letter following the law’s passage. “Did you know that the new Hate Crimes Act that President Obama signed into law makes the Bible illegal ‘Hate Literature?’” the letter continued.
“Most Christians might as well rip the pages which condemn homosexuality right out of their Bibles because this bill will make it illegal to publicly express the dictates of their religious beliefs,” said Andrea Lafferty of the TVC. “The ultimate objective of this legislation is to claim that ‘hate speech’ — criticism of homosexuality — incites individuals to violence and must be suppressed and punished. This will violate the First Amendment rights of any person or group that opposes the normalization of homosexuality in our culture.”
In the paranoid conservative alternate reality, pedophilia has been legal for five years now thanks to the updated federal hate crimes law.
“The main purpose of this ‘hate crimes’ legislation is to add the categories of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity,’ ‘either actual or perceived,’ as new classes of individuals receiving special protection by federal law. Sexual orientation includes heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality on an ever-expanding continuum. Will Congress also protect these sexual orientations: zoophiles, pedophiles or polygamists?” asked televangelist Pat Robertson.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, similarly charged: “We have a record roll call vote that shows every Democrat on the Judiciary Committee voting to have pedophiles protected.”
King’s colleague Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, went one step further and said that as a result of the hate crimes law, courts would “have to strike any laws against bestiality” along with laws targeting “pedophiles or necrophiliacs.” Gohmert went on to warn that the law would effectively turn the U.S. into Nazi Germany.
Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, for his part, predicted that the law would extend legal protections to “bisexuality, exhibitionism, fetishism, incest, necrophilia, pedophilia, prostitution, sexual masochism, urophilia, voyeurism, and bestiality.”
Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center claimed the law “elevates those persons who engage in deviant sexual behaviors, including pedophiles, to a special protected class of persons as a matter of federal law and policy.”
Porter dubbed the law the “Pedophile Protection Act,” “summarizing” the law by completely making things up: “Pushing away an unwelcome advance of a homosexual, transgendered [sic], cross-dresser or exhibitionist could make you a felon under this law. Speaking out against the homosexual agenda could also make you a felon if you are said to influence someone who pushes away that unwelcome advance. And pedophiles and other sexual deviants would enjoy an elevated level of protection, while children, seniors, veterans and churches would not.”
Pedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia are still against the law and such laws have not been affected by the Hate Crimes Act, while declining “an unwelcome advance of a homosexual” is still very much legal. However, we are still waiting with bated breath for Porter’s lawsuit detailing how she was forced and legally bound to succumb to the charms of a homosexual enticer.
Can the Religious Right Be Trusted?
The many frantic, unfounded warnings about the perils the 2009 Hate Crimes Act are just one example of anti-gay activists’ penchant for manufacturing myths and brazenly distorting cases of supposed persecution.
Apocalyptic warnings and blatantly dishonest remarks have always been characteristic of the Religious Right's crusade against LGBT rights and we can expect such activists to continue to engage in such shameless fear mongering and misinformation before the 2014 election.
But, like the Religious Right’s warnings about the effects of the 2009 Hate Crimes Act, these dire predictions should be taken with a heavy dose of salt.
Last week, we reported on the quiet effort of national right-wing groups to, in the words of the Family Research Council, “flip” the Supreme Court of Montana by electing former state solicitor general Lawrence VanDyke, who has indicated that he will be friendly to business interests and social conservative causes.
We first heard of VanDyke’s campaign for the officially nonpartisan office at last month’s Values Voter Summit, where the Family Research Council’s political action committee had decided to highlight the race at a $100-a-head fundraiser featuring Rick Santorum, Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and a number of Republican members of Congress.
Yesterday, VanDyke’s campaign issued its fundraising report for the period that included the FRC fundraiser. In the period, the campaign brought in $48,000, nearly doubling its supply of cash. It’s impossible to tell how much of that came from the FRC’s fundraiser — much of it came from Montana residents and out-of-state attorneys but FRC’s impact is shown in a few notable contributions.
The FRC Action PAC itself contributed $320 to VanDyke’s campaign, the maximum contribution allowed so far. William Saunders, the top lawyer at the anti-choice group Americans United for Life, also contributed $320, while Gary McCaleb, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom contributed $200. An organizer for the Koch group Americans for Prosperity also kicked in $200.
Although we can’t know the impact of the FRC’s fundraiser — and we can't know for sure that these contributions stemmed from the event — these numbers illustrate the fact that in VanDyke, Corporate Right and Religious Right activists throughout the country have found common cause in a little-noticed but pivotal state court race.
Conservative religious leaders have a long track record of hyping supposed threats to religious liberty in America — specifically, to the religious liberty of conservative Christians. In fact, portraying Christians as a persecuted minority under siege by anti-freedom LGBT activists and secular humanists has become the right's primary strategy for reversing the advance of equality in America. But even in the long context of crying wolf over threats to religious freedom, Sen. Ted Cruz and his religious right allies have set new records for dishonest hype in their response to this week's controversy over subpoenas sent to a few religious leaders in Houston.
Some in the media ridicule that threat saying there is no danger of the government coming after pastors. That is the usual response." But he adds: "The specter of government trying to determine if what pastors preach from the pulpit meets with the policy views or political correctness of the governing authorities, that prospect is real and happening now.
As exciting as it is to hear the alarm bells and read the hyperventilating emails, the truth is far less dramatic. Sorry, Sen. Cruz, but the government is not policing sermons for political correctness. It's not going to start tossing anti-gay preachers in jail.
So what is the real story?
The immediate cause of the ruckus was a subpoena sent by attorneys for the city of Houston to several pastors who had been active in opposition to the city's new anti-discrimination law. Conservatives ran a signature-gathering campaign to put the law before the voters, but city attorneys ruled that so many of the signatures were not valid that the effort did not qualify for the ballot.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Religious Right law firm, stepped in and sued the city over that decision. As part of the discovery process in the lawsuit, attorneys for the city sent subpoenas to five prominent pastors asking for sermons and other communications they had about the ordinance, the signature gathering effort, and the controversy over homosexuality and gender identity.
Here's the problem. The subpoena was sent to pastors who are not party to the lawsuit, and it asked for some materials that do not seem directly relevant to the determination of whether signatures were collected in accordance with the law. By giving pundits something to scream about, the subpoena was a gift to Religious Right leaders and their political allies, who thrive on promoting the myth of anti-Christian religious persecution in the U.S. And they have run with it.
On Friday the city narrowed the scope of their discovery request somewhat. And it's entirely possible that a judge will further limit the amount of materials the city can collect in the Religious Right's lawsuit. That's how our legal system works.
Even some religious conservatives have denounced the Houston hype. In reality, the entire episode undermines right-wing claims that religious liberty is hanging by a thread in America. Indeed, it demonstrates that Religious liberty is widely respected as a core constitutional principle and a fundamental American value — by people across the religious landscape and our fractured political spectrum. If only Ted Cruz and his allies were as committed to the constitutional and legal equality of Houston's, and America's, LGBT citizens.
“There are two things throughout human history that welfare states, totalitarian states, utilitarian states have done to maintain their control and to force their worldview on all who are under their governance, and that is they have destroyed the family and they have silenced the church,” Blackwell told guest host Craig James.
The Houston subpoenas, he said, are part of “the big welfare state’s attempt to silence the church, to marginalize the church, to silence Christians so that they can actually concentrate power on reshaping not only their cities, their towns, their states, but also the country.”
He then urged Christians to speak out or else “buy into a domestic version of the terrorists outside of our country” who think “America is evil.”
Conservative Christians must fight back against the “political powers that ride roughshod over us when we relegate ourselves to the sidelines and fall into silence in the face of this sort of abuse of power and cultural attack on what has made us not only the freest country in all of human history, the most prosperous country in all of human history, but has also made us the most diverse country in all of human history,” he said. “So for folks to buy into this ‘blame America first,’ ‘America is evil,’ to buy into a domestic version of the terrorists outside of our country is ridiculous and cannot stand.”
Elsewhere in the program, Blackwell called the subpoenas “a blatant attempt to criminalize Christianity” and alleged that city officials are “engaging in a good, old-fashioned inquisition.”
“Just as the inquisition of old, it wasn’t arrested until good people overtook evil,” he added.
On Friday, a prayer breakfast is being held in Vancouver, Washington, at which the Family Research Council's Jerry Boykin is scheduled to be the keynote speaker.
Apparently organizers of the event were unfamiliar with Boykin's long history of anti-Muslim statements and right-wing radicalism until local Muslims brought it to their attention, at which point sponsors and other speakers began to distance themselves from Boykin and the event.
The local YMCA, which was a key sponsor and organizer, has now issued a statement announcing that it does not support Boykin's participation and the mayor has announced that he will not stick around to hear Boykin's remarks and will speak out against him when he delivers his own remarks at the breakfast while local officials have voiced their shock that organizers whould choose someone like Boykin for the event:
A planning committee on Tuesday voted to retain a controversial former Pentagon official and Christian conservative as keynote speaker for Friday’s Clark County Mayors’ & Civil Leaders’ Prayer Breakfast.
But the Clark County Family YMCA, one of the event’s sponsors, voted against keeping former Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin as keynote speaker, according to Roger Button, a YMCA chaplain and a member of the committee.
The truth is that the organizing committee knew little about Boykin at first, Button said, other than that he was a “great keynote speaker” who’d done a “wonderful job” at the national convention of the Full Gospel Men’s Fellowship in America. A local chapter of the Full Gospel Men’s Fellowship is the event planning partner who suggested bringing Boykin to Clark County for this 13th annual local prayer breakfast, set for 7 a.m. Friday at the Hilton Vancouver Washington.
“We were looking to honor our military veterans and first responders and he sounded like a good fit,” Button said. “We really didn’t look into it.”
Button said the Y has now decided that Boykin is too divisive. In a statement, the Y said:
“The purpose of the mayor’s prayer breakfast is to pray for, encourage and uplift our civic leaders, first responders and those that serve and protect our community. It is meant to be an uplifting event, one in which we call on the risen Christ to bless our leaders. Originally we had asked our keynote to speak based on his Christian testimony. In recent days statements made by the speaker have come to our attention that detract from the purpose and mission of the prayer breakfast. Therefore the YMCA does not support bringing this speaker to the Clark County Mayors’ & Civic Leaders’ Prayer Breakfast.”
On Monday, [Vancouver Mayor Timothy] Leavitt told The Columbian he had not been familiar with Boykin, but he was finding “intolerance” in the retired lieutenant general’s public statements. He said he had not planned to stick around for Boykin’s speech, but now is considering speaking out more forcefully during his own preliminary remarks. He also said he’d reached out to a member of the prayer breakfast planning committee to ask how Boykin was chosen and “if the committee knew that this individual was as controversial as he is.”
...City Councilman Jack Burkman said he’s been growing uncomfortable with the event for years, and had already planned to skip this year. The selection of Boykin only reinforced his decision, he said.
“I’ve gone to some of these in the past,” he said, “but I’ve had increasing concerns with government’s active participation in very strong faith-based activities. I think it raises a lot of questions.”
It’s a strongly Christian event, he said, “and that’s great.” But, politicians attending a prayer breakfast as politicians isn’t too different from politicians attending church as politicians, he said. “In many ways (the prayer breakfast is) a service. A church service. That’s what I’m not comfortable with. Elected officials don’t go to church and say, ‘I’m here as a council member.’ ”
He wasn’t familiar with Boykin, he said, until he read Tuesday’s Columbian. Then he started looking on the Internet.
“Wow, how did they make that decision?” he marveled. “It’s not new information. Boykin has been getting a lot of negative publicity for quite some time. This is a clear signal to me not to attend this event.”
Mayor Scott Higgins of Camas, who is also a pastor, said he is used to attending meetings and events where he doesn’t agree with many things he hears. He still plans to go, he said, but that doesn’t mean he endorses the speaker.
Vancouver city Councilor Alishia Topper posted on Facebook: “I’m in New York this Friday, but if I were home I would not attend this year’s prayer breakfast because of the keynote speaker. I do not support hate and am shocked the event organizers chose such a polarizing guest speaker. Organizers should reconsider their invitation and event sponsors should think about how sponsoring this event will make their business look.”
UPDATE: After initially saying that he would honor his committment to speak at the event but leave before Boykin spoke, Mayor Tim Leavitt has now issued a statement announcing that he is boycotting the prayer breakfast entirely due to Boykin's radical views and bigotry:
Today, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt announced he would boycott the 2014 Clark County Mayor and Civic Leaders Prayer Breakfast, scheduled for 7 a.m. Friday, Oct. 17 at the Hilton.
“The purpose of the prayer breakfast is to bring together people of many different faiths and religions to pray for, honor and encourage military personnel, public safety first responders, civic leaders and others who serve our community – and that is an effort that I do support,” said Leavitt. “In fact, the vision of the breakfast is ‘Inspiring Clark County residents to honor, encourage and support each other.’ But, it is apparent to me that the values and beliefs of the keynote speaker are not consistent with the original vision of this event. In fact, I’m certain that Lt. General Boykin’s position on a number of social, political and religious issues does not at all reflect the values of acceptance, tolerance and compassion our community strives for.”
When information about this year’s speaker, retired Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin, began circulating earlier this week, Leavitt said that he intended to honor his commitment to host the event, but did not intend to stay for the presentation. However, after personally researching and reviewing Boykin’s previous public statements, Leavitt strengthened his stance.
“I respect and commend the lieutenant general for his service to our country,” said Leavitt. “However, I can’t condone extremist values through my attendance and participation at the breakfast. Vancouver prides itself on being a welcoming community for all faiths, cultures and belief systems. Frankly, I’m stunned that the event planning committee, when given the option to correct a poor decision, chose to keep the invitation to Boykin. I encourage others, including the event sponsors, to carefully consider their attendance and support.”
Conservative legal advocates from throughout the country have been quietly pouring money into a Montana state supreme court race, hoping to topple a court majority that has bucked the U.S. Supreme Court on campaign finance issues and could soon have a voice in cases with national implications involving abortion rights and LGBT equality.
The Right’s chosen candidate is Lawrence VanDyke, a former state solicitor general with a perfect pedigree for pro-corporate and Religious Right donors. Not only has VanDyke indicated his support for the U.S. Supreme Court’s dismantling of campaign finance laws and lamented that the current Montana high court is insufficiently “pro-business,” but, in his position as solicitor general, steered the state government toward taking positions against abortion rights, marriage equality and gun restrictions in other states.
What's more, in his writings as a law student, VanDyke was unguarded in his social conservative views, fretting about same-sex marriage, endorsing discredited “ex-gay” therapy and defending the teaching of anti-scientific “Intelligent Design” in public schools.
The Right Sees An Opportunity In Montana
At last month’s Values Voter Summit in Washington, the Family Research Council’s political action committee hosted a private $100-a-head reception featuring conservative luminaries including Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, GOP congressmen Steve King, Vicky Hartzler and Mark Meadows, and congressional candidate Dave Brat of Virginia, who unseated former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in an upset primary election this year.
A flyer for the event announced that along with those national Republican politicians, FRC would be “showcasing a very important State Supreme Court candidate, Lawrence VanDyke of Montana, who we hope can flip the court in that state.”
VanDyke’s presence on the fundraiser’s roster was telling. As FRC’s flyer made clear, a VanDyke victory would change the ideological balance on a court that has been a thorn in the side of opponents of campaign finance reform and could soon be facing nationally watched cases on abortion rights and marriage equality.
VanDyke has not yet submitted a campaign finance report showing how much money, if any, FRC was able to bundle for him at the fundraiser, and his campaign did not respond to our inquiry about whether he was personally present at the Values Voter event. But a review of VanDyke’s campaign finance reports shows that his candidacy has attracted keen interest from out-of-state donors, including some of the country’s leading conservative legal activists.
Since filing for the race to unseat sitting Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat in March, VanDyke has raised about $78,000, more than one-third of which — roughly $29,000 — has come from 114 individual out-of-state donors. By contrast, Wheat has raised just under $85,000 for his reelection bid, only $1,100 of which came from just five out-of-state donors.
Among those who have contributed to VanDyke’s campaign are recognizable names in conservative legal circles. Kelly Shackelford, president of the right-wing legal group Liberty Institute (a major sponsor of the Values Voter Summit) contributed $100, while another top Liberty Institute official, Hiram Sasser, gave $320, the maximum gift allowable as of VanDyke's last fundraising report. Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network and a Harvard Law School classmate of VanDyke’s, and her husband Roger also each maxed out with $320 contributions. Thomas Spence, an official at the conservative Regnery publishing house also sent the maximum contribution to VanDyke’s campaign. Two employees of the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom have together contributed $370. Christopher Murray, a lawyer who served on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, also contributed $320.
Nearly $7,000 of VanDyke’s contributions have come from employees of the law firm Gibson Dunn, where Vandyke worked before entering public service. That includes $320 each from Theodore Olson, the conservative attorney argued the Citizens United case (but who has become better known as a marriage equality advocate), and controversial Bush appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada. VanDyke’s campaign also received $320 each from Eugene Scalia — the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and a Wall Street reform-buster in his own right — and his wife.
Montana’s Cowgirl Blog notes that prominent Montana social conservatives Greg and Susan Gianforte — who fund creationist efforts and support anti-gay policies — have also each contributed the maximum amount to VanDyke’s campaign. He has also received the maximum contribution from the Montana Gas & Oil PAC and — in the form of an in-kind gift of catering — from the PAC’s treasurer, Dave Galt.
Cowgirl Blog also notes that VanDyke got a major assist last month from a newly created group called Montanans for a Fair Judiciary, which sent a statewide mailer in favor of his candidacy. The group, which was registered last month, is staffed by a former Montana GOP official and a corporate lobbyist for oil and gas clients, among others.
And just last week, a Washington, D.C.-based group called the Republican State Leadership Committee Judicial Fairness Montana PAC — an offshoot a national group funded by big business interests including the Reynolds tobacco company and Koch Industries — bought $110,000 worth of television ads supporting VanDyke and slamming Wheat as soft on crime. The group has also been mailing out leaflets accusing Wheat of siding with “environmental extremists.”
All of this attention from national activists and corporate backers has caught the attention of a group of six retired Montana Supreme Court justices, who signed a letter last week calling VanDyke an “unqualified corporate lawyer,” adding, "Given [his] background, Mr. VanDyke is an excellent corporate pick although that is obviously not good news for Montanans.”
The letter from the judges notes that VanDyke has received the maximum allowable campaign contributions from numerous out-of-state lawyers who represent major corporations, including more than 20 at the Gibson firm - including at least one who represented Citizens United.
"Corporations are buying judicial races because they want judges who will not hold them accountable," the draft letter from the retired justices says. "If the disinformation they are spreading successfully manipulates Montanans into electing an unqualified corporate lawyer, we will lose our fair and impartial court."
‘Changing The Face of the Montana Supreme Court’
While VanDyke’s personal connections seem to behind quite a bit of his financial support from out-of-state conservative leaders, his featured spot at the Values Voter Summit hints that the conservative legal movement and the Religious Right see an opportunity in his candidacy.
Montana conservatives have made no secret of their desire to pack the state Supreme Court with justices in their ideological mold. Last year, the Great Falls Tribune published leaked emails between conservative Republicans in the state senate discussing a “long term strategy” for displacing more moderate Republicans in the state legislature and “changing the face of the Montana Supreme Court.”
National conservative groups have good reason to take an interest in the race as well.
Montana’s Supreme Court gained national attention in 2011 when it bucked the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of campaign finance regulation, ruling that the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United did not invalidate Montana’s century-old ban on corporate spending in elections. The 5-2 decision, in which Justice Wheat joined the majority, openly defied the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling. One of the two dissenting justices wrote that the state court must follow the high court’s precedent but used the opportunity to excoriate the Supreme Court for its Citizens United logic. On appeal, the Supreme Court summarily reversed Montana’s opinion, ending the state’s corporate spending ban.
Montana’s Supreme Court may soon also be in the center of the legal debates on same-sex marriage and abortion rights. State anti-choice groups have indicated that they might challenge Montana’s abortion clinic buffer-zone bill in the wake of the Supreme Court’s striking down of a similar bill in Massachusetts. In addition, marriage equality cases are working their way through both state and federal courts in Montana.
In an articlefor another school publication, VanDyke lamented that courts in Canada had been “forcing same-sex marriage on the populace” and warned of a “trend of intolerance towards religion as homosexual ‘rights’ become legally entrenched.” In the same article, he cited a study supporting debunked “ex-gay” therapy to support the “view that homosexuals can leave the homosexual lifestyle.” (The author of that study has since recanted.)
In public statements, VanDyke has indicated that he would have sided with the U.S. Supreme Court on Citizens United, defending the decision in a debate last month. And although his race is officially nonpartisan, VanDyke has made it very clear which side of the aisle he falls on, accusing his opponent of judging “like a liberal Democrat” and being “results-oriented” in his rulings — a loaded accusation favored by conservative activists.
VanDyke’s website also touts his support for the death penalty and an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment, noting his work as state solicitor general defending a bill that would have invalidated federal firearms regulations on weapons manufactured and kept in Montana. (The law was ultimately struck down in federal court). In that position, VanDyke also pushed for Montana signing on to Alabama briefs in favor of overturning semiautomatic weapon bans in New York and Connecticut. At the time, he bantered over email with Alabama’s solicitor general, Andrew Brasher, about shooting elk with semi-automatic firearms, attaching a picture of himself hunting with “the same gun used by the Navy Seals.”
Ultimately, Montana signed on to bothbriefs, and VanDyke evidently made a useful connection as well: This year, Brasher contributed the maximum amount to his Supreme Court campaign.
VanDyke, meanwhile, is running on the message that he will follow “the law, not politics” and accusing Justice Wheat of being overly partisan. In the same interview in which he lamented that the current state supreme court was unfavorable to business interests, he said, “I have not promised anybody that I’m going to be a pro-business judge or that I’m going to be a conservative judge...I’m going to be a fair and balanced judge.”
Part of this increase was attributable to the 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed outside groups to spend unlimited amounts supporting and opposing candidates. In the case of judicial elections, those candidates could be the ones deciding on the future of that very campaign spending.
It’s no wonder that the corporate right and the Religious Right have joined forces to back VanDyke’s candidacy. A little-noticed nonpartisan race in Montana could prove to be an effective long-term investment for a movement that’s trying to solidify a pro-corporate grip on the courts and win back lost legal ground abortion rights and LGBT equality.
This post has been updated to clarify the status of marriage equality cases in Montana.
On his radio program yesterday, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins criticized marriage equality supporters for trying to “marginalize and silence those who support traditional marriage,” warning that the success of the gay rights movement will have grave consequences.
Despite the recent string of court victories in favor of marriage equality, Perkins said “marriage will be an issue” on the campaign trail that “will not go away because it’s rooted in nature.”
“You can act like it’s not there, you can act like gravity doesn’t work, but I’m going to tell you it will catch up with you sooner or later and you are going to hit the ground and culturally we are going to hit the ground by ignoring the realities of marriage,” he said.
Later in the show, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel said that by declining appeals from states trying to uphold their bans on same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court effectively spread a “fire” around the country and is now trying to avoid the blame.
Instead of the Supreme Court stepping in and putting a stop to it to allow these marriage amendments to be upheld, something that they hinted at they might do last year, they just stood by the side, crossed their arms and said, ‘It’s not us, it’s the other courts that are doing it, we’re just not going to get involved.’ It’s like pushing a car off the cliff and watching it fall and then saying, ‘We’re not the ones who really caused the damage, it was the impact down below.’
But the Supreme Court started this, they literally took a match and threw it onto a gas can in 2013 [in the Windsor case]. And as that fire began to race across the country they had the ability to put it out and instead they just stood to the side and they’re not going to take the blame for it, but it literally is the blame of the United States Supreme Court with this 5-4 decision in 2013. It is irresponsible, absolutely irresponsible for this court to do that.
The Family Research Council knows the real reason people criticize Christopher Columbus: It’s because he was a Christian! In fact, according to FRC Vice President Dr. Kenyn Cureton, Columbus was such a great Christian that he even shared the Gospel with the people he enslaved.
He argued that Columbus only enslaved native peoples instead of killing them because he was a merciful leader (and he needed them to search for gold to help defeat the Muslims). He also said that Columbus defended the Arawaks from cannibals, a contested claim. Columbus also enslaved the Arawaks along with thousands of others.
“So he did do some things that weren’t right but his motives overall were, number one, to get gold to free Jerusalem but secondly to share the Gospel,” Cureton said. “He was very much motivated by his Christian faith and I think that is what is behind this effort to wipe his name out from history.”
Columbus’s supposed Christian paradise was so cruel that the Spanish government arrested him for his violent practices.