Witherspoon Institute

Rick Santorum Presents Latest 'Religious Persecution' Movie

Two current Religious Right fixations — the “persecution” of American Christians and the need for conservatives to do more to influence the pop culture — have come together in movies like “Persecuted” and “We the People—Under Attack.” The latest entry, “One Generation Away: The Erosion of Religious Liberty,” was screened by Rick Santorum at the Heritage Foundation on Monday night.

Santorum said the movie will be released in September. His EchoLight Cinemas is trying to create an alternative to Hollywood distribution channels by building a network of thousands of tech-equipped churches who will sell tickets for "One Generation Away" and other movies. He says the long-term strategy is to bring more people into churches and put the church back at the center of the culture.

"One Generation Away" is described as a documentary, but it’s really a preaching-to-the-choir call to arms for conservative Christians and pastors to get more involved in culture war battles while they still have the freedom to do so. Among the film’s producers are Donald and Tim Wildmon from the American Family Association, which Santorum said is packaging a shorter version of the movie into more of an activist tool.

The title comes from Ronald Reagan – specifically from a speech to the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce in 1961, a time in which Reagan was working with conservatives to rally opposition to Medicare – “socialized medicine”:

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.

The thrust of "One Generation Away" is that religious freedom in the United States is disappearing fast, and if the church doesn’t fight for it now, it will soon be gone forever. Before running the film on Monday, Santorum quoted Cardinal Francis George, who said during the debate about insurance coverage of contraception, “I expect to die in my bed. I expect my successor to die in prison. I expect his successor to be a martyr.” That’s just the kind of hyperbolic “religious persecution” rhetoric we have come to expect from Religious Right leaders and their allies in the Catholic hierarchy.

At one point toward the end of the movie, it seems as if the filmmakers might be striking a more reasonable tone, with a couple of speakers saying that Christians should stand up for the rights of people of different faiths — even though the AFA’s chief spokesman opposes First Amendment protections for non-Christians— and others actually acknowledging that it is problematic for American Christians to be complaining of “religious persecution” over policy disputes when Christians and others are facing horrific, deadly persecution in many other parts of the world.

But that caution is quickly abandoned as the movie makes a direct comparison of the status of the Christian church in America with the church in Germany as the Nazis came to power. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who tried to mobilize German Christians to resist Nazi tyranny and was executed by the regime, is held up as the model that American Christians need to be willing to follow.

Eric Metaxas, a Bonhoeffer biographer who became a Religious Right folk hero when he questioned President Obama’s faith at a National Prayer Breakfast attended by the president, warned that if the church doesn’t link arms to fight, all will be lost. “The good news,” he said, “is that the American church is slightly more attuned to the rumbling heard in the distance than the German church was in the 30s. The bad news is, only slightly, right?”

The movie cuts to Mike Huckabee saying that Bonhoeffer could have saved his life if he had been willing to soften his faith, but that instead he resisted and rebuked the Nazi regime. And then we’re back to Metaxas to complete the Nazi analogy:

 “The parallel today is simply that. You have a government, a state, which is getting larger and larger and more and more powerful, and is beginning to push against the church. There’s a window of opportunity where we can fight. If we don’t wake up and fight before then, we won’t be able to fight. That’s just what happened in Germany. And that’s the urgency we have in America now. And people that’s incendiary, or I’m being hyperbolic. I’m sorry, I wish, I wish, I wish I were. I’m not.”

Filmmakers said at the screening that they had conducted 75 interviews for the movie, and it sure feels like it.  It includes names that will be well-known to RWW readers, like Mike Huckabee, Tony Perkins, Harry Jackson, Tim Wildmon, Alveda King, Robert George, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, Eric Teetsel of the Manhattan Declaration, and Ryan Anderson and Jennifer Marshall of the Heritage Foundation.

Also appearing are Rep. Doug Collins; Rick Perry backer Robert Jeffress; Matthew Franck of the Witherspoon Institute, which sponsored the infamous and discredited Regnerus “family structures” study; Stephen McDowell of the dominionist Providence Foundation; Gregory Thornbury of Kings College; lawyers from the Alliance Defense Fund, the Beckett Fund, the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund; and a number of pastors.

The film also includes interviews with some opponents of the Religious Right, including Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Princeton’s Peter Singer, and Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Santorum told the audience at Heritage that he wishes he had even more of his opponents included in the film because “they scare the hell out of me” and would help motivate the right-wing base.

In order to keep the movie from being one brutally long succession of talking heads, the filmmakers resort to a tactic of constantly shifting scenes, a couple of seconds at a time, in a way that feels like they got a volume discount on stock images of Americana: boats on the water, kids playing softball, families walking together. There are also odd random fillers, like close-ups of the pattern on a couch in the room in which a speaker is sitting. The endless, repetitive succession of images actually makes the film feel even longer than it actually is. (Zack Ford at ThinkProgress had a similar reaction to this technique.)

The meat of the film, or the “red meat,” mixes the personal stories of people being  victimized by intolerant secularists and/or gay activists with miniature David Bartonesque lectures on the Christian roots of America’s founding; the fact that the phrase “separation of church and state” never appears in the U.S. Constitution; the notion that the American government is trying to replace “freedom of religion” with “freedom of worship” and require any expression of faith to take place behind church walls; and the disgracefulness of making any analogies between the civil rights movement and the LGBT equality movement. The 1947 Supreme Court decision in which Jefferson’s “separation of church and state” phrase was invoked by the Court and “changed everything” is portrayed as nothing more than a reflection of Justice Hugo Black’s hatred of Catholics.

Featured “persecution” stories include:

  • a long advertisement for Hobby Lobby and its owners, the Green family, which recently won its legal battle against the contraception mandate;
  • a baker and florist who ran afoul of their state’s anti-discrimination laws when they refused to provide services for a same-sex couple getting married;
  • cheerleaders at a public high school in Texas who were challenged by the Freedom From Religion Foundation for creating football game banners featuring Christian scriptural quotes;  
  • Catholic Charities being “forced” to give up adoption services rather than place children with same-sex couples;
  • an ACLU challenge to a large cross at the Mt. Soledad war memorial; and
  • the supposed frontal attack on the religious freedom of military chaplains as a result of allowing LGBT members of the armed forces to serve openly. On this issue, Tony Perkins declares, “The military is being used as a vanguard of radical social policy. And in order for that policy to permeate and to take root, you’ve got to take out the religious opposition.”

In spite of the parade of horrors, the movie tries to end on an upbeat note, saying that the early Christian church expanded while it was being suppressed, and that it will only take “one spark of revival” to change the nation.  A familiar theme at Religious Right conferences is that blame for America’s decline rests with churches that don’t speak up and pastors who don’t preach or lead aggressively enough. One Generation Away ends on this point, telling Christian pastors it is their responsibility to wake up and challenge their congregants to live their faith “uncompromisingly.”

During the Q&A after the screening, Santorum said the fact that Hobby Lobby was a 5-4 decision demonstrated the importance of the 2016 election. “Part of me almost wishes we’d lost,” says Santorum, because that would have made the threat clearer to conservative activists. “We are one judge away,” he said, adding that “if we get a Democratic president, our five, or four-and-a-half, justices are not going to hold out forever.”

“I just worry,” he said to the young people in the audience, “that the longer we delay, and America sleeps, and your generation is indoctrinated the way it is, the harder it will be to come back.”

Regnerus Study Backer Acknowledges That Marriage Equality Creates Family Stability

Updated

Buried in a National Catholic Register report on the biannual meeting of U.S. Catholic bishops this week is the surprising revelation that Brad Wilcox, one of the researchers behind Mark Regnerus’ infamously flawed study of same-sex parenting, admitted to attendees that most social scientists have found “no difference” between “a stable same-sex family and a stable heterosexual family.”

And when a Washington state bishop compared same-sex marriage to cohabitation, Wilcox responded that data suggests “when same-sex marriage is legalized and it is given cultural support, it will be as stable as heterosexual marriage" and that married same-sex couples “are more likely to have stable relationships when the legal regime is more supportive of their relationships.” 

Following his talk, Wilcox took a number of questions from bishops on the floor of the meeting. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput asked why, if marriage is so valuable for economic success, same-sex marriage is being legalized in so many states.

"Most of the scientists would say that there's no difference ... between a stable same-sex family and a stable heterosexual family," replied Wilcox, noting that those scientists might consider stability the "key factor, not other issues that might relate to a child's well-being."

Yakima, Wash., Bishop Joseph Tyson asked why same-sex marriage is not considered by the studies Wilcox cited to be as dangerous as cohabitation.

"I think that the assumption ... is that when same-sex marriage is legalized and it is given cultural support, it will be as stable as heterosexual marriage," Wilcox replied.

"Is there data to back that?" Tyson asked.

"The data suggest that same-sex couples -- and this is really preliminary -- are more likely to have stable relationships when the legal regime is more supportive of their relationships," Wilcox replied.

This acknowledgment of mainstream social science’s assessment of gay and lesbian parenting is important coming from someone who helped to shape the Regnerus study, the discredited attack on same-sex parenting that is still cited widely by marriage equality opponents. We wrote last year:

Documents obtained by the American Independent this year revealed that the Witherspoon Institute was closely involved in Regnerus’ work through the go-between of W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor at the University of Virginia who at the time ran Witherspoon’s program on family, marriage and democracy, which had recruited Regnerus to conduct the study on LGBT parents. Regnerus in turn hired Wilcox on contract to assist him with data analysis on the study. Along with working with Regnerus on his skewed interpretation of the data, Wilcox urged Regnerus to release the study in time to influence the U.S. Supreme Court in its upcoming marriage equality cases. (Regnerus later signed onto an amicus brief seeking to influence both cases, which extensively cited his own research).

Wilcox’s remark echo the Proposition 8 trial testimony of David Blankenhorn, in which he acknowledged the stability provided by marriage for same-sex couples. Blankenhorn later became a full-fledged marriage equality advocate.

UPDATE: The bishops’ group has posted video of the conference. It’s clear from the video that Wilcox isn’t completely on board with the social science on same-sex marriage, but  does acknowledge the consensus among his colleagues.

Interestingly, Wilcox did not mention same-sex marriage at all until it was brought up in the question-and-answer session.
 

Globalizing Homophobia, Part 3: A New Life for Discredited Research

This is the third post in a four-part series exploring how American right-wing groups have supported Russia’s recent spate of anti-gay laws and its crackdown on LGBT citizens.

When Russian lawmaker Alexei Zhuravlyov introduced a bill that would allow the state to remove children from openly gay parents – classifying homosexuality along with drug abuse and child abuse as offenses that merit the loss of custody – gay rights activists noticed something interesting in the text of the bill.

Zhuravlyov, who insisted, “In the case when a parent has sexual contact with people of their own gender, the damage that can be inflicted on the psyche of a child is enormous,” had in the text of his bill quoted extensively from a 2012 study conducted by University of Texas researcher Mark Regnerus that purports to show that having LGBT parents harms kids.

New evidence shows that the Regnerus study also influenced the architects of Russia’s ban on gay “propaganda” and its ban on the adoption of Russian orphans by gay couples and single people living in countries that allow marriage equality.

In the June 13 joint Duma committee hearing on the proposed gay adoption ban and a related “traditional values” roundtable discussion – attended by National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown and a number of far-right French activists – Regnerus’ research played a central role.

In her speech at the committee hearing, Yelena Mizulina, the chairwoman of the Duma’s committee on family, women and children and the sponsor of the “propaganda” bill, cited Regnerus to advocate for the adoption measure, claiming that Regnerus had provided the only “reliable” research on same-sex parents:

At the same time, the American scholar Mark Regnerus, who carried out an extensive study over the course of one and a half years of 3,000 people who had been raised in same-sex families, showed the opposite, and the data are absolutely stunning, they are published. They called for him to be fired from the university in Texas [where he worked]. An independent assessment was ordered, an independent commission, who totally confirmed the scientific validity of the study’s representativeness and the reliability of its conclusions.

Mizulina went on to hypothesize that gay parents would teach their children to be gay just as alcoholics would likely have children who drink, and compared the “social experiment” of marriage equality to the experiment of communism in Russia:

It is established that if the parents in a family smoke, their child will likely smoke. And in these families the share of children who smoke when they become adults is higher. If parents drink, the probability that children in these families will drink is much higher than in families where parents do not drink.

Why and on what basis is there an exception regarding imitation of the behavior of parents when we’re talking about homosexuality? Why? Where do they get that children will not imitate this particular behavior? It’s untenable, even without scientific studies. But scientific studies would of course be important here, too.

But this type of experiment, this sexual revolution as they call what is happening in Europe today, is a social experiment that the West is conducting on its own children.  Russia has had enough of social experiments.

Last century we had social experiments where the family was destroyed. It was argued that there would be no more families, that this institution would die out, and many others. And the West watched and did the opposite.

Mikhail Zoplev, a member of the Duma’s foreign affairs committee, had his own take, claiming that gay couples “renounce the ability to have their own children, so they say, ‘Give us those of others.’”

Why? By creating such pair--man with man or woman with woman—they renounce the ability to have their own children, so they say, ‘Give us those of others.’ What does this represent? It seems to me some very twisted logic.

A news report about the meetings on the TV Tsentr channel included an interview with Evgenii Makushkin, a Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development psychologist, who insisted that “a same-sex pair may raise a child with a host of sexual problems.” His evidence? An American study published in the Social Science Research journal – the Regnerus study.

Makushkin: The life principles of such a child [who has been raised by homosexual parents] may be completely distorted. The child develops psychological problems, problems learning materials in school, problems integrating with peers, problems orienting themselves during puberty. Towards whom will a child who has been raised in a homosexual family orient? It’s probably that a change in sexual orientation may even occur. This is indeed a new problem. In this way, a same-sex pair will produce a child with a host of sexual problems.

Voiceover: According to the results of a study by American psychologists, 31% of children in lesbian families and 25% of children in gay families were forced to have sex with their so-called parents In typical families in the US, this indicator stands at 8%. Almost one-third (28%) of children raised by gays or lesbian mothers cannot find steady employment.

At a July 4 meeting in France, a leader of the anti-gay group French Spring praised Mizulina for her adept use of the Regnerus study in pushing anti-gay measures.

The Regnerus study has captured the imaginations of anti-gay activists throughout the world. But in reality, it is complete bunk. Shortly after Regnerus published his work, the narrative behind it unraveled. It turned out that Regnerus had relied on a slew of flawed methodology and had only studied two people raised by same-sex couples. As one sociologist charged with auditing Regnerus’ study for an academic journal put it: “Since only two respondents were actually raised in gay or lesbian households, this study has absolutely nothing to say about gay parenting outcomes. Indeed, because it is a non-random sample, this study has nothing to say about anything.”

But Regnerus had never intended to conduct an honest assessment of the outcomes of children raised by gay and lesbian parents. Instead, Regnerus was an ideologue with a point to make and funders on the Religious Right were ready to help him make it. Regnerus received significant funding for his study from Religious Right groups: $700,000 from the Princeton-based anti-gay Witherspoon Institute and over $90,000 from the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation. Both groups have deep ties with the movement to prevent marriage equality: National Organization for Marriage cofounder Robert George also cofounded the Witherspoon Institute and sits on the board of the Bradley Foundation. In addition, George helped draft the Manhattan Declaration, a religious conservative manifesto that has drawn the support of a who’s who of Religious Right leaders.

Documents obtained by the American Independent this year revealed that the Witherspoon Institute was closely involved in Regnerus’ work through the go-between of W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor at the University of Virginia who at the time ran Witherspoon’s program on family, marriage and democracy, which had recruited Regnerus to conduct the study on LGBT parents. Regnerus in turn hired Wilcox on contract to assist him with data analysis on the study. Along with working with Regnerus on his skewed interpretation of the data, Wilcox urged Regnerus to release the study in time to influence the U.S. Supreme Court in its upcoming marriage equality cases. (Regnerus later signed onto an amicus brief seeking to influence both cases, which extensively cited his own research).

Wilcox’s interest in the Regnerus study went beyond influencing American law and public opinion. He is also active in the Illinois-based World Congress of Families, which promotes anti-gay policies throughout the world. This year, Wilcox was a keynote speaker at WCF’s summit in Sydney, along with leaders from the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America.

When word began to spread that Regnerus’ study was playing a key role in the Russian anti-gay movement, Regnerus backtracked, saying that the Russian effort to remove children from biological parents who are gay or lesbian was a “misuse” of his research.

While actively snatching children from gay parents might have been a step too far for Regnerus, he hasn’t stopped pushing his flawed findings around the globe. In fact, the same day that Regnerus claimed that Russian lawmakers had gone too far with his study, the anti-gay Alliance Defending Freedom announced that Regnerus would join it at a panel at the United Nations seeking to inject anti-gay politics into discussions of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

In our next post, we’ll look at the role the World Congress of Families has played in promoting anti-gay laws in Russia and throughout the world.

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