Russell Moore

Anti-Choice Groups React To Whole Woman’s Health Decision: Protect 'Vulnerable' Women, Elect Trump

The reactions from anti-abortion groups to the Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt have started pouring in. Most repeat the claim that the Texas law in question, which was meant to regulate the majority of the state’s abortion providers out of existence, was in fact an honest attempt to protect women’s health and stand up to unscrupulous providers. A few linked the decision to the upcoming presidential election, urging voters to elect a president who will nominate justices hostile to Roe v. Wade, as Donald Trump has promised he will do.

Americans United For Life, the legal architect of many TRAP laws, including the one in Texas, said that the law was meant to “protect women from a dangerous and greedy abortion industry” and repeated the increasingly common anti-choice talking point that legal abortion providers are the true “back alley”:

“Women lost today as the Supreme Court sides with the abortion industry, putting profits over women’s health and safety by opposing life-saving regulations and medically endorsed standards of patient care. Sadly, the commonsense laws that protect women in real, full service healthcare centers won’t be in effect in Texas abortion clinics, but Americans United for Life will continue to fight – in legislatures and in the courts – to protect women from a dangerous and greedy abortion industry,” said AUL Acting President and Senior Counsel Clarke Forsythe. …

“In striking down these commonsense requirements, the Supreme Court has essentially accepted the abortion industry’s argument that it should be allowed to keep its profits high and patient care standards low,” said Forsythe. “It inexplicably turned a blind eye to what it has repeatedly held since Roe v. Wade: states may regulate the provision of abortion to protect maternal health. This ruling endangers women nationwide as health and safety standards are at risk.”

“Today’s abortion clinics are the true ‘back alleys’ of abortion mythology,” noted Denise Burke, Vice President of Legal Affairs at AUL. “They consistently operate in the ‘red light district’ of American medicine where the problem of substandard abortion providers is longstanding and pervasive. The fight against this public health crisis will continue, despite today’s ruling.”

Stephen Aden of the Religious Right legal group Alliance Defending Freedom linked the law to Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion provider who was found guilty of a number of crimes related to a squalid clinic he ran, claiming that Texas’ law was “clearly designed to protect the health and safety of women in the wake of the Kermit Gosnell Scandal”:

“Abortionists shouldn’t be given a free pass to elude medical requirements that everyone else is required to follow. We are disappointed that the Supreme Court has ruled against a law so clearly designed to protect the health and safety of women in the wake of the Kermit Gosnell scandal. The law’s requirements were commonsense protections that ensured the maximum amount of protection for women, who deserve to have their well-being treated by government as a higher priority than the bottom line of abortionists. Any abortion facilities that don’t meet basic health and safety standards are not facilities that anyone should want to remain open.”

The Family Research Council similarly claimed that the Supreme Court decision “gives the abortion industry a free pass,” ridiculously claiming that abortion providers face less stringent regulation than hair salons and restaurants:

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins released the following statement:

"The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down H.B. 2 undermines the health and safety of vulnerable women. This decision is a loss for women and gives the abortion industry a free pass. The need to regulate abortion facilities is necessary to protect women against cut-and-run abortionists at shoddy abortion facilities. Mandating basic and necessary health and safety standards such as trained staff, corridors that could accommodate a stretcher in case of emergency, admitting privileges to a hospital, and up-to-date fire, sanitation, and safety codes should be beyond the politics of abortion. When abortion facilities are not held to the same standards as other facilities, women’s lives are endangered. In 2011 alone, 26,500 women experienced abortion-related complications, and close to 3,200 women required post-abortion hospitalization. Hair and nail salons, public pools, restaurants, and tanning centers must meet basic health and safety standards—shouldn’t abortion facilities? Abortion facilities cannot be exempt from following basic health standards.

"While the need to protect the health and safety of women failed to remain at the forefront of the Supreme Court's decision, we will continue our work to protect women and children from the predatory abortion industry,” Perkins concluded.

FRC’s Arina Grossu, Director of the Center for Human Dignity, released the following statement:

“One cannot be pro-woman and stand for the substandard facilities that many abortion centers operate which risk women’s lives. Striking down abortion facility regulations leaves the door open for continued and rampant disregard for women’s health and safety. Status-quo is not good enough," concluded Grossu.

Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver also claimed that the Supreme Court was siding with abortion clinics’ bottom lines over the health of women:

“How foolish a decision by the Supreme Court to strike down common sense regulations regarding health and safety,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “They expect us to believe their opinion is based on the Constitution? It certainly is not. This is a sad day and another dark chapter in the history of America. Women should not be relegated to substandard facilities in order to save abortion providers a few dollars.”

The Susan B. Anthony List, which acts as the political arm of the anti-choice movement, turned the conversation to the election, while never quite mentioning Trump by name:

“Today’s tragic decision by the Court means that Texas women will not be protected from the unsanitary conditions and even Gosnell-like horrors that permeate the abortion industry,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, referencing the 2013 trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, currently serving a life sentence for murdering babies after botched, late-term abortions, and for the negligent death of one mother, Karnamaya Mongar.

“The abortion industry cannot be trusted to regulate itself and they know it. That’s why they fought tooth and nail against common-sense health and safety standards and requirements for abortionists to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. We have documented page after page of incidents of abuse, negligence, and brutality since 2008. This decision means the filth and exploitation will continue unchecked.

“The stakes for the 2016 election could not be higher. The next president will be tasked with selecting Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement and up to three others. We must elect a pro-life president and safeguard today’s pro-life majorities in the House and Senate. Only with a pro-life Congress and White House can we begin to address the havoc wrought by the Supreme Court on America’s unborn children and their mothers.”

Frank Pavone of Priests for Life also linked the decision to the election:

The Supreme Court is now the Supreme Medical Board, setting its own standards for patient care in the United States. This decision is an outrageous usurpation of legislative power and it only underscores the critical importance of electing a President who will nominate -- and Senators who will confirm -- justices to the Supreme Court who will adjudicate, not write the law.

As did Tim Head, the executive director of Ralph Reed’s group, the Faith and Freedom Coalition:

“The U.S. Supreme Court once again failed to protect the rights, health and safety of women and unborn children today in its Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision. Texas and many other states have enacted common sense laws that protect the rights of the unborn and the health and safety of thousands of women subjected to the horrific conditions of abortion clinics across the country, and its shameful that the Supreme Court overturned these safeguards. The Court’s failure today is another example of the urgency to elect a pro-life President in November who will be responsible for filling the enormous vacancy left by Justice Scalia’s passing and possibly fill other seats on the Court. The pro-life community must also unite to elect legislators across the country who will work to protect women and unborn children.”

Fox commentator Todd Starnes referenced the need for the anti-choice movement to ensure ideological purity among judges, even those nominated by Republican presidents:

Russell Moore, the policy head of the Southern Baptist Convention, meanwhile, filmed a video outside the Supreme Court in which he claimed that the “sad and pathetic ruling that essentially leaves the abortion industry unregulated in a kind of wild west, laissez faire sort of situation in the state of Texas that we wouldn’t allow for any other industry.”

Christians, he said, “need to be standing up for our vulnerable unborn neighbors and their vulnerable mothers.”



Samuel Rodriguez Gives Trump Chance To 'Redeem The Narrative' With Latinos

Hispanic evangelical leader Samuel Rodriguez has a consistent political strategy: position himself as a nonpartisan advocate committed “not to the agenda of the elephant or the donkey but the lamb,” all while trying to convince Hispanic Christians to support socially conservative causes and politicians.

You might think that the immigration-reform-promoting Rodriguez would be in a bind with immigrant-demeaning Trump as the Republican nominee. But even though Rodriguez has been publicly critical of Trump’s rhetoric on immigration, he seems to be positioning himself to encourage Hispanic evangelicals to support the Republican candidate. He has said Trump blew it with his early campaign rhetoric and that the candidate must “redeem the narrative” with Latinos.

This week Bloomberg reported that Trump would be delivering a videotaped message to be shown at this weekend’s meeting of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), which Rodriguez heads, and whose board includes Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver. The pro-immigrant group America’s Voice called on Rodriguez not to let Trump deliver a message to the group given Trump’s “hateful, incendiary rhetoric directed at our communities.”

(Just days ago, Trump attacked NHCLC board member Russell Moore, a leading Southern Baptist official, as a “nasty guy with no heart.” Rodriguez, who co-authored with Moore a Wall Street Journal op-ed criticizing Trump’s immigration rhetoric and policies last July, said at the time that “an attack on Russell Moore is an attack on the entire evangelical community.”)

Rodriguez told the Washington Post earlier this week that he would wait to see if the message was “respectful” before deciding whether to show it. Today it is clear that Trump has satisfied Rodriguez, because the NHCLC put out a press release saying the group would show video messages from Trump and from Hillary Clinton on Friday evening.

While Rodriguez says he will not endorse a candidate, it’s hard to take him seriously as some kind of honest broker between the staunchly pro-choice Clinton and the muddled punish-the-woman Trump, who has said he would nominate Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade.  As we recently noted, Rodriguez has said, “I’m going to vote for protecting the Supreme Court from judges that are activists, that run counter to our Judeo-Christian value system.” And he has made it clear that he believes Hispanic Christians must make opposition to abortion, not support for immigrant families, the basis of their vote.

In an interview being promoted by Glenn Beck’s The Blaze today, Rodriguez doubles down on that message, saying it would be “morally reprehensible” for Christians to vote for a candidate who supports Planned Parenthood, saying they would need to “repent.”

“I want to speak to every single African American, Latino, and Anglo Christ follower who believes in biblical orthodoxy — how can we justify supporting anything — be it Republican or Democrat — that in any way, form or shape defends Planned Parenthood?”

Trump has repeatedly praised Planned Parenthood but says he wants to defund the women’s health organization unless they agree to stop providing abortion services.

Rodriguez told The Blaze that it would take “a miracle” for Trump to win over the Latino community, but suggested it could be possible if he apologizes and chooses a Hispanic running mate, mentioning Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez and Ted Cruz.

The supposedly nonpartisan Rodriguez has filmed a video promoting the Republican Party’s faith-outreach project. Only 16 percent of American Latinos identify themselves as evangelical, according to the Pew Research Center, but they are more likely than other Hispanics to vote Republican.

Samuel Rodriguez: Getting Conservative SCOTUS Trumps Immigration Reform

As head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Samuel Rodriguez has worked to get more Latino voters, especially evangelicals, to back conservative candidates, while at the same time trying to get Republicans to stop trash-talking Latino immigrants and back immigration reform.

But it appears that Rodriguez has thrown his lot in with Donald Trump, the very candidate who kicked off his campaign by trash-talking Latino immigrants and calling for mass deportations.

While he may be an outspoken advocate of immigration reform, when push comes to shove, as it has with Trump’s all-but-certain nomination, Rodriguez makes it clear that he is first and foremost a Religious Right culture warrior.

Rodriguez pushes the Religious Right line that religious freedom is threatened in America. There is an attempt to “silence Christians” in America, he says, and Christians cannot sit out elections because “today’s complacency is tomorrow’s captivity.” He also believes there is a spiritual battle under way to “annihilate” the family.

In the end, his advocacy for immigrant families takes a back seat to his opposition to legal abortion and marriage equality. He said as much at an Evangelicals for Life event in January, telling Latinos that it’s fine to march for immigration reform —“as long as it’s not amnesty or illegal immigration; we need to stop that” — but “we must be above all things pro-life.”

Although Rodriguez manages to cultivate a public image as a nonpartisan bridge-builder, he regularly partners with some of the most extreme voices within the Religious Right. The stridently anti-gay Liberty Counsel serves as NHCLC’s official “legislative and policy arm” and Liberty Counsel President Mat Staver serves as an NHCLC board member and its chief legal counsel. Last fall Rodriguez called Cindy Jacobs, who has predicted a new civil war between God-loving and gay-loving states,  “one of the most anointed voices, prophetic voices in the Kingdom of God.”

In a story last week by right-wing pundit Todd Starnes of Fox News, Rodriguez dismissed talk by some evangelical leaders that Christians should, in the words of pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Of evils choose none.” Rodriguez says not voting is “sacrificing your Christian worldview on the altar of political expediency. It is silly to talk about not voting for either candidate. Every single Christian should vote.”

And while Rodriguez doesn’t mention Trump by name, it is clear that he will not be voting for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders:

“I will vote my Christian values,” Rodriguez said. “It’s life, the family ethos, it’s religious liberty, it’s limited government. That’s the person I’m going to vote for.”

Rodriquez conceded that the 2016 candidates are not his “dream team” – but he’s only concerned about one issue – the Supreme Court.

“I’m going to vote for protecting the Supreme Court from judges that are activists – that run counter to our Judeo-Christian value system.”

This is a very different message than Rodriguez conveyed in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in July, which he co-wrote with Southern Baptist official Russell Moore, where he described Trump as an unchristian, unethical and unelectable politician.

Trump tweeted earlier this week that Moore is “a terrible representative of Evangelicals” and a “nasty guy with no heart!”

Unlike Rodriguez, Moore is standing by his opposition to Trump.


'God Help Us': Religious Right Leaders Mourn Ted Cruz's Defeat

For years, Religious Right activists have dreamed about a presidential candidate like Ted Cruz. The Texas senator pledged to bring tens of millions of new evangelical voters to the polls by running on his hostility to abortion rights, Planned Parenthood and Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality and the separation of church and state.

He won nearly unanimous support from movement leaders, who hoped that by uniting behind Cruz, they would finally get their candidate of choice in position to win the GOP nomination. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson gushed that Heidi Cruz would be the country’s “very first pro-life first lady” and many leaders fawned over Cruz’s firebrand preacher father.

In the end, Cruz was defeated by Donald Trump, who questioned whether Cruz was a true Christian, threatened to “spill the beans” on his wife and accused his father of plotting the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

While Trump has won the support of several movement figures such as Phyllis Schlafly, Robert Jeffress and Jerry Falwell Jr., and was a regular presence at Religious Right events, he did not win many fans with his frequent flip-flops on abortion rights, kind words for Planned Parenthood or his sordid personal history.

When Cruz dropped out of the presidential race last night, Religious Right leaders were quick to express grief:

Robert P. George, one the movement’s intellectual leaders and the founder of the National Organization for Marriage, put it simply:

Conservative pundit Steve Deace reaffirmed that he’d never support Trump:

Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, joked about how he will likely write in a vote for Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse rather than back Trump:

American Family Radio host Bryan Fischer, however, suggested that people should write in Cruz in the general election:

Erick Erickson, the founder of the conservative website RedState, said that he’d leave the GOP over a Trump nomination because he is “not down with white supremacists.”

“You’ve got Klan members, David Duke, the Aryan Nation supporting Donald Trump,” he told The Daily Beast. “If the Republican Party is willing to go along with that, then I think it’s fair branding, I think it’s very fair. If Republicans aren’t going to stand up to having their party hijacked by a group of Aryan Nation-types, then they get what they deserve.”

Fox News commentator Todd Starnes, who has an off again, on again relationship with Trump, asked God to “have mercy on our nation” after hearing the news about Cruz:

But like many other conservatives, Starnes said he still hopes Trump will win in November: “[I]f we can survive eight years of President Obama, we can certainly survive a charlatan like Donald Trump. But I'm fairly certain we could not survive four years of Hillary Clinton.”

Right Wing Round-Up - 3/25/16

Anti-Planned Parenthood Activist David Daleiden Gets Indicted, But The Anti-Choice Movement Still Feels Like It's Winning

In an interesting turn of events yesterday, a Texas grand jury that had been convened to investigate Planned Parenthood based on the claims of anti-abortion activist David Daleiden instead indicted Daleiden and a colleague on charges relating to their infiltration of the women’s health care organization.
In a statement responding to the charges, Daleiden called himself an "investigative journalist," something that he has been doing from the beginning of his project. In reality, Daleiden's "investigation" was rooted in a tradition of anti-abortion activists attempting to harass and intimidate abortion providers to prevent them from practicing, rather than a genuine effort to uncover the truth. In fact, one of Daleiden's associates at the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue, which helped to get his project off the ground, said that Daleiden's goal going into the project was to “obtain prosecutions” of Planned Parenthood officials.
So far, Daleiden's attempt to "obtain prosecutions" has come up empty.
But pushing for the prosecution of Planned Parenthood officials was only part of Daleiden’s plan. In a statement following the indictment, Daleiden claimed that the “admissions” of Planned Parenthood were “captured on video for all the world to see.” Never mind that the videos show no such “admissions” of law-breaking. The point of the videos was not just to make a case to law enforcement, but to sway public opinion.
On a large scale, that hasn't been successful: One poll showed barely a flutter in the public’s views about Planned Parenthood between August and September of last year, in the height of the visibility of Daleiden’s videos. Planned Parenthood's favorability ratings had already dropped over the last two decades, Gallup found, but mostly among Republicans, a trend that the polling agency attributed to the growing “politicization of Planned Parenthood."
What Daleiden’s project has done is to galvanize support among those who were already opposed to abortion rights. Protests in front of Planned Parenthood offices, driven by the old guard of the anti-abortion “rescue” movement, expanded and multiplied, with the support of much more visible anti-choice groups. At this year’s March for Life, it was impossible to go five minutes without hearing a mention of Daleiden or his videos, with speaker after speaker saying that their movement finally had winning momentum. In the days leading up to the march, Daleiden crossed the city to speak to protesters holding gruesome signs outside a construction site for a new Planned Parenthood clinic; to talk with Americans United for Life lawyers working on strategies to restrict abortion rights; and to be prayed over by Russell Moore and Jim Daly, evangelical leaders who are trying to put a kinder, gentler face on their movement.
Speakers at nearly every event noted with hope that a bill defunding Planned Parenthood recently made it through a Republican Congress, allowing anti-choice activists to say that all they need now is to elect a president who would sign it.
Now that Daleiden is facing prosecution, he’s in the company of many fellow members of the “rescue” movement, which his work grew out of. Among those who protest outside of clinics, or try to infiltrate them, arrest and jail time for violation of what they see as unjust laws is a badge of honor. At a protest last week in front of a new Planned Parenthood that is being built in Washington, D.C., before Daleiden spoke, one “rescue” movement leader asked who there would be willing to “lay their body in front of the door” or “handcuff yourself to construction equipment” in order to stop the building from opening. Another touted the work of one of Daleiden’s mentors to train “a whole army of David Daleidens” to infiltrate Planned Parenthood clinics throughout the country.
Yesterday’s indictment is unlikely to dissuade these activists, who feel that they are on the cusp of a David-and-Goliath victory. In fact, at events connected to the March for Life last week, speakers expressed hope that a separate lawsuit against Daleiden by Planned Parenthood would instead turn up unflattering information about the women's health provider and land it in hot water instead. So far, the opposite has been true. But, to the anti-choice movement, that just makes Daleiden seem even more like David, closer than ever to slinging the winning shot.

Evangelicals Gather Before March For Life To Plan Less Angry, Less White Anti-Abortion Movement

The annual March for Life brought thousands of people to Washington, D.C. on Friday, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. This year, Focus on the Family and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission teamed up to create more of an evangelical presence at the heavily Catholic march.  “Our burden was to see the reborn stand up for the unborn," said the Southern Baptists’ Russell Moore on Thursday. At Friday’s march, Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly acknowledged that evangelicals took “a while to come to the party” on abortion.

A few hundred people attended the first Evangelicals for Life conference, which began on Thursday and continued on Friday morning until the rally and march were set to begin. Among the conference speakers, in addition to Moore and Daly, were Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life and Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. 

The day started with Moore and Daly interviewing and praying for David Daleiden, whose videos have been at the center of the latest right-wing effort to destroy Planned Parenthood. Moore gave Daleiden a chance to respond to criticism that his deceptive tactics had required lying, asking if he was engaging in moral relativizing. Daleiden explained that his “undercover” work is different from lying because its ultimate purpose is truth-telling, an extremely dubious claim in this case.

Charmaine Yoest celebrated the anti-choice movement’s success at generating a “tidal wave” of restrictions on abortion, explaining as she did in her remarks at the World Congress of Families summit in October, that those victories were based on a strategic decision to focus on state legislatures, pass restrictions, and create opportunities for the Supreme Court to chip away at Roe. She called it a “stealth strategy” and an “under-the-radar” way to go on the offensive.

Yoest and other speakers argued that the movement’s continued success will depend on putting a more loving, compassionate, woman-focused face on the movement, directly challenging pro-choice advocates who ground their legal arguments in women’s dignity. Yoest described abortion as “fundamentally anti-woman” and abortion advocates as “the true misogynists in our society.”

Rodriguez, as he often does in conservative settings, tried to convince the audience not to “drink the Kool-Aid” about changing demographics being bad news for the anti-abortion movement. Rodriguez said pro-life Hispanics can provide a “spiritual firewall” for the movement.

In reality, progressive-voting Latinos created a firewall for President Obama, which may be why Rodriguez complained that “our voting pattern runs counter to what we preach about on Sunday” and declared, “If we are pro-life on Sunday, if we preach pro-life on Sunday, we cannot support a candidate that advocates abortion on Tuesday.” Rodriguez spoke directly to Latinos, saying it’s fine to march for immigration reform -- “as long as it’s not amnesty or illegal immigration; we need to stop that” -- but “we must be above all things pro-life.”

The most surprising and interesting remarks of the day came from Christian author Ron Sider, a pacifist and anti-hunger advocate who challenged a movement that calls itself pro-life to be more engaged in fighting global poverty, challenging subsidies to the tobacco industry, protecting the environment, fighting racism, and opposing capital punishment. He said white evangelicals would have more success at getting Black Christians into the anti-abortion movement if white Christians became supportive for Black Lives Matter.

Rodriguez also said the future of the movement had to be multiethnic, declaring that “the day of white, angry, pro-life advocates as a collective movement, that day is officially over.” He said that abortion providers target African American and Latino women, which he called “unbridled and unfettered racism.” Rodriguez said he is working with Bernice King, daughter of MLK, to launch later this year the National Christian Leadership Conference, “an organization for the purpose of advancing a culture of life, and we will be specifically targeting the Latino and African American communities.”

A few notes from afternoon breakout sessions:

  • Casey Mattox, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, talked about the anti-abortion movement’s legal and legislative successes at chipping away at the protection that Roe provided for women, and at current cases involving Texas’s restrictive law and states that have moved to bar Planned Parenthood from participating in Medicaid.
  • Roland Warren, president and CEO of CareNet, a network of pregnancy centers, talked about how they reach “abortion-minded people” online through keyword advertising and try to dissuade them by phone calls and email. He said pregnancy centers cannot provide enough support to women who choose to give birth, and called on churches to create specific ministries to provide long-term support.
  • A panel on global issues featured Rodriguez, the Heritage Foundation’s Jennifer Marshall, and Travis Wussow, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Director of International Justice and Religious Liberty. Marshall said the character of our culture affects the ability of the U.S. to lead on the world stage, either casting a shadow or shedding light. She insisted that anti-abortion advocates cannot overlook the entanglement of federal dollars in programs that promote abortion abroad. It makes a huge difference at the United Nations, she said, whether there’s a pro-life or pro-choice administration in the U.S. Asked whether she sees a link between abortion issues and the Obama administration’s promotion of gay rights as part of U.S. foreign policy, Marshall said that the State Department advances both, adding that “the idea of created reality, we are created in the image of God male and female, those Genesis 1 and 2 truths, all of them are being challenged right now. So there is an ontology, biblical anthropology, that is going to be very, very critical for churches to teach and to form young people." 

Richard Land 'Dismayed' By Trump’s Evangelical Support

Russell Moore, an influential evangelical leader who serves as the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s political arm, has not been shy about his disapproval of Donald Trump, even as Trump continues to lead polls of Republican-leaning evangelical voters. It turns out that Moore’s predecessor, Richard Land, has similar feelings about The Donald, telling a Christian radio program this week that he was “dismayed” by Trump’s “mystifying and somewhat depressing” popularity among evangelicals.

“I guess I would have to say that I’m somewhat dismayed that Donald Trump is doing as well as he is among evangelicals,” Land told South Carolina pastor Kevin Boling on his radio program on Tuesday. “I frankly take that as a failure on our part to adequately disciple our people. I mean, Donald Trump’s a showman, Donald Trump’s a master at manipulating the media, but when we have so many good candidates, from an evangelical perspective, why perhaps as many as one fifth of evangelicals are supporting Donald Trump, who among other things is in his third marriage, has acknowledged that he’s never really had anything that he’s needed to ask God for forgiveness for, I find mystifying and somewhat depressing.”

Land said the better choices for evangelicals would be Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.

Anti-Choice Activists Furious About GOP's Reversal On 20-Week Abortion Ban

Yesterday, Republican leaders in the House decided to pull a plan to vote on a national ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy after Republican women balked at a provision that would have exempted rape survivors only if they reported their assault to the police. The vote had been planned to coincide with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the anti-choice March for Life on the National Mall.

Anti-choice activists are, predictably, furious. After all, many saw the rape and incest exception as an unacceptable compromise in the first place. The bill, originally proposed by Rep. Trent Franks last year, included only an exception for abortions that could save the life of the pregnant woman. After Franks claimed in a hearing that “the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low,” GOP leaders quietly added a rape exception to the bill and picked a Republican woman, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, to handle the vote on the House floor.

Rep. Steve King of Iowa told the National Journal yesterday that he would fix the problem by eliminating the rape exception entirely: "I would not make exceptions for rape and incest, and then the reporting requirement would not be necessary.”

After House leaders decided to pull the bill yesterday, prominent anti-choice blogger Jill Stanek and the group Students for Life announced that they were putting together a last-minute protest at the offices of two Republican women, Reps. Renee Ellmers and Jackie Walorski, who reportedly led the fight against the rape reporting provision:

Conservative pundit Erik Erickson, in a late-night blog post, attacked Ellmers for her “two-faced ploy” and shot off a series of tweets giving her the “abortion Barbie” label he had previously bestowed on Wendy Davis:


Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm, responded with a press release saying he was “disgusted” by the House leadership’s “act of moral cowardice” and urged his supporters to call their members of Congress to protest the “breach of trust.”

“I am disgusted by this act of moral cowardice. If the House Republicans cannot pass something as basic as restricting the abortion of five-month, pain-capable unborn children, what can they get done?

“The Republicans in Congress should come and explain this atrocity to the hundreds of thousands of people gathering here in the nation’s capital to march for life. The congressional Republicans seem to think that pro-lifers will be satisfied with Ronald Reagan rhetoric and Nancy Pelosi results. They are quite wrong.”

House Republicans are now scheduled to vote on a bill Thursday that would prohibit federal funding for abortions. This scheduled vote coincides with the annual March for Life event, held in Washington, D.C., on or around the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion in the case Roe v. Wade.

Conservative columnist Ross Douthat seemed to capture the feelings of many abortion rights opponents:


Religious Right Leaders Join Vatican Man-Woman Marriage Event

Fresh off the synod on the family, at which conservative Catholic bishops rallied to assert ideological domination over the final report, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Inquisition) has announced that it will be hosting a colloquium this month on the “Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.” Trekking to Vatican City for the event will be some American anti-equality advocates: Rick Warren, the Southern Baptists’ Russell Moore, right-wing Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput, and Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The November 17-19 event will be co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The announcement of the colloquium says it will feature representatives from 14 religious traditions and 23 countries. Among them is Nicholas Okoh, the Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria, who has called homosexuality a manifestation of the devil and praised Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s “courage” in signing a harsh anti-gay law last December. Okoh said in January that people who oppose the law will face “disaster.”

The event will also premiere six short films about marriage; a trailer for the series is online now.

UPDATE: Russell Moore has explained why he's going to the Vatican:

Here’s what I hope comes out of the meeting. I hope that this gathering of religious leaders can stand in solidarity on the common grace, creational mandate of marriage and family as necessary for human flourishing and social good. I also hope that we can learn from one another about where these matters stand around the world. And I hope that those of us from the believers’ church tradition can represent well our views of how marriage is more than just a natural good (although it is never less than that), but is a picture of the gospel one-flesh union of Christ and his church.

Matt Barber: Satan Deceiving People Into Denouncing Ex-Gay Therapy

Upset with Southern Baptist official Russell Moore’s recent rebuke of ex-gay therapy, Matt Barber appeared on “The Janet Mefferd Show” yesterday to criticize Moore for failing to hold the anti-gay line when “the heat is on.”

Barber told Mefferd — who took to Facebook yesterday to attack Moore for “playing right into the hands of Big Gay” — that Satan is behind the foundering anti-gay cause: “It’s this homosexual issue that is the head of the spear. This is the issue that the Enemy is using to both divide the church and separate souls from God.”

Barber also claimed that the higher rate of sexual abuse reported in the gay community is proof that abuse makes people gay.

“We know conclusively that sexual abuse is one of the main catalysts for same-sex attraction,” he said. “And now we have Christian kids and other kids, Christian or not, who want to find freedom from a demonstrably self-destructive lifestyle.”

Actually, experts have not found a connection between sexual abuse and gay sexual orientation, but have found that gay people are targeted for abuse because of their sexual orientation.

“They want freedom from this identity, the same-sex attractions, that stem from a sexual assault at the hands of a person like a Jerry Sandusky for instance,” Barber said. “It is reckless, it is irresponsible of Russell Moore to give fodder to these sexual anarchists.”

Right Wing Bonus Tracks - 10/28/14

  • Upon leaving office, Michele Bachmann hopes to become the next Newt Gingrich.
  • Sarah Palin is "hopefully running for office in the future" apparently just to stick it to all the "haters."
  • While traveling to Canada, Peter LaBarbera was stopped by customs officials once again and had some of his materials confiscated.
  • Bryan Fischer says Religious Right voters need to decide now to get behind either Ted Cruz or Mike Huckabee for president in 2016.
  • Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has denounced ex-gay "reparative therapy."
  • Finally, Deacon Keith Fournier declares that anti-gay Christians will never stop fighting gay marriage: "The belligerent effort to silence supporters of marriage is fully underway. We will not, we must not, be silenced. The former President of the United States pandered to the Human Rights Campaign. We will resist them."

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.”

Marco Rubio Is The Real Victim Of The Gay Rights Movement

In an attempt to woo social conservatives in advance of a possible presidential bid, Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a speech at Catholic University today, where he attempted to come across as a uniter on social issues like marriage equality and abortion rights while assuring his party’s right flank that he agrees with their hardline policy positions.

The Florida Republican drew heavily from the Religious Right’s persecution narrative to claim that while LGBT people have faced discrimination in the past, he and fellow opponents of marriage equality are now the victims of widespread “intolerance.”

“We should acknowledge that our nation is marred by a history of discrimination against gays and lesbians,” he said. “There was once a time when our federal government not only banned the hiring of gay employees, it required federal contractors to identify and fire them. Some laws prohibited gays from being served in bars and restaurants, and many states carried out law enforcement efforts targeting gay marriages.”

“Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since then,” he continued. “Many committed gay and lesbian couples feel humiliated by the law’s failure to recognize their relationship as a marriage, and supporters of same-sex marriage argue that laws banning same-sex marriage are discrimination. I respect their arguments, and I would concede that they pose a legitimate question for lawmakers and society.”

But now, according to Rubio, it is gay-rights opponents whose rights are under attack.

He criticized judges who are “redefining marriage from the bench,” claiming that pro-marriage-equality decisions take away the rights of “Americans like myself” who oppose same-sex marriage: “Those who support same-sex marriage have a right to lobby their state legislature to change its laws. But Americans like myself who support keeping the traditional definition of marriage also have the right to work to keep the traditional definition of marriage in our laws without seeing them overturned by a judge.”

Calling tolerance a “two-way street,” he lamented that “today there is a growing intolerance on this issue, intolerance towards those who continue to support traditional marriage.”

“I promise you that even before this speech is over, I’ll be attacked as a hater or a bigot or someone who’s anti-gay,” he said. “This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy. Supporting the definition of marriage as one man and one woman is not anti-gay. It is pro-traditional marriage.”

The theme was repeated by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore, and Concerned Women for America’s Penny Nance, who joined a panel discussion after Rubio’s speech.

“I think the myth of somehow those who are concerned about these issues from a more conservative standpoint are simply going to evaporate, I think that that is actually fueling some of the things that Sen. Rubio talked about right now, when he did talk about this growing intolerance of those who would define marriage as a conjugal union of a man and a woman,” Moore said.

Nance praised Rubio for his “unifying” message, as opposed to the “divisive” tone of President Obama whom she said “has pitted gays against straights”:

“I believe that this president has been so divisive for this nation. He has pitted men against women, he has pitted wealthy against poor, he has pitted gays against straights, and I was so happy and encouraged by the tone that Sen. Rubio took. It was a unifying message that he gave us today, and I think it was a winning message.”

Sen. Rubio’s office has posted video of his remarks. His comments on LGBT equality and abortion rights begin about 13 minutes in:

Evangelical Leaders Warn Of 'Secular Totalitarianism' And 'Jail' For U.S. Christians

Religious Right leaders love to claim that Christians are threatened in the U.S., the subject of a forthcoming PFAW report on the Religious Right’s persecution complex. The latest example comes from the just-completed annual conference of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Russell Moore, who heads the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, hosted Rick Warren, David Platt, and Samuel Rodriguez for a June 9 panel on religious freedom in America through the lens of the Hobby Lobby case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

According to an account by Tom Strode in the Baptist Press, Rodriguez, who heads the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, warned, “Today’s complacency is tomorrow’s captivity. The firewall against secular totalitarianism is religious liberty and religious pluralism.”

“Secular totalitarianism” in this context is the requirement, being challenged in the Hobby Lobby case, that for-profit businesses provide insurance coverage that includes contraception methods to which the company’s owners have religious objections.

“The justices will decide whether “there is the freedom to dissent and the freedom to accommodate these conscientious objections in the governing of people’s lives and the running of their businesses,” Moore said. “This will have everything to do with everything that your church does for the next 100 years.”

Moore of course is ignoring, or rather obfuscating, the clear constitutional, legal, and policy distinction between churches, who are exempt from the requirement, and for-profit corporations, whose claim to a religious conscience is at the core of the Hobby Lobby case.

Rodriguez and Warren agreed that religious liberty is the civil rights issue of the future.  And panelists spoke as if Christians are on the verge of being jailed for their beliefs:

“I’m spending all of my time right now making sure that we stay out of jail,” [Moore] told the audience. “But there is one thing worse than going to jail, and that’s staying out of jail and sacrificing the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Warren responded, “This issue may take – just as it did with Martin Luther King – it may take some pastors going to jail. I’m in.”

The idea that pastors are going to be thrown into jail is a ridiculous argument that Religious Right leaders have used to oppose hate crimes legislation and laws against anti-gay discrimination in the workplace. This kind of rhetoric is not only ridiculous, it is also irresponsible and damaging. As People For the American Way Foundation’s Twelve Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics says in explaining that religious and political leaders should not “cry ‘wolf’” about religious persecution:

Inflammatory charges about religious persecution can lead to an angrier and more divisive political arena. If you believe your political opponents are actually out to take away your religious freedom, shut down your church, and literally criminalize Christianity—goals that some Religious Right figures attribute to political liberals—you have little reason to treat your opponents civilly or engage in a search for constructive common ground or compromise. Creating that kind of environment is not good for our country.

 It is possible to have a vigorous debate about political issues and about the separation of church and state without resorting to falsehoods about religious persecution.

The panel wasn’t a total bust, apparently. Unlike some Religious Right leaders, who claim that religious liberty protections apply only to Christians – or to a particular subset of Christians – news reports indicate that Rodriguez, Warren, and Moore said Christians should promote religious liberty for everyone in the context of religious pluralism. We don’t say this often about these guys, but we agree.

Right Wing Leftovers - 5/13/14

Dangers Of Supreme Court Prayer Ruling Quickly Become Clear

Dangers Of Supreme Court Prayer Ruling Quickly Become Clear

Dangers of Supreme Court Prayer Ruling Quickly Become Clear

Sometimes the damage from a bad court decision takes a while to make itself clear. Not so with last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a town’s practice of beginning council meetings with prayers that are overwhelmingly Christian. Conservative political and legal groups called it a win for religious freedom, but it only took a few days to see just how much unnecessary and divisive conflict the Court’s decision could generate in communities across America.

Late last week the mayor of the New Jersey town of Carteret cited the Supreme Court ruling to justify cancelling the use of the borough hall for a Saturday naturalization ceremony.  He was upset that the Immigration and Naturalization Service refused to allow the ceremony to begin with prayer. The INS says its rules are meant to ensure that naturalization ceremonies are "conducted in a meaningful manner which is welcoming and inclusive and excludes political, commercial and religious statements." But Mayor Daniel Reiman said the INS could "host its godless ceremony someplace else." (It was held in Newark.)

What a sad object lesson for those aspiring American citizens and their friends and families. Who knows how many different faiths were represented among them? It shouldn’t matter, because one of the most precious benefits of being an American is that your rights and standing as a citizen do not depend on your holding any particular set of religious beliefs.

But don’t tell that to Al Bedrosian, a member of the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors in Virginia. Last week after the Supreme Court ruling, Bedrosian declared that prayers to open board meetings should be given only by Christians. It is shameful that Bedrosian holds public office in Virginia, home of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson and the birthplace of the First Amendment. Bedrosian argued publicly several years ago that Christians should “rid ourselves of this notion of freedom of religion in America.” He said Christians “are being fed lies that a Christian nation needs to be open to other religions” and called it one of the “greatest moments in US Senate history” when a group of Christians disrupted a Hindu religious leader who was giving an opening prayer.

Both Reiman and Bedrosian are misinterpreting the Court’s decision. But these episodes bring even greater clarity to a reality to which the conservative majority on the Supreme Court demonstrated “blindness” – in the words of dissenting Justice Elena Kagan. That is the exclusionary and divisive reality – as opposed to the theory – of government bodies opening their meetings with sectarian prayer.

The case decided by the Supreme Court came concerned the upstate New York town of Greece.  For years, the town council has been inviting local clergy to open its meetings. Those clergy have been overwhelmingly Christian, and their prayers were sometimes highly sectarian, invoking “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross” or “the plan of redemption that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” These were not, as dissenting Justice Elena Kagan noted, ceremonial invocations like the “God save the United States and this honorable Court,” which begins Supreme Court sessions.

The town’s prayer policy was challenged by two citizens (one Jew and one atheist) who felt coerced by the invitations to Christian prayer, and who felt as if they were being made outsiders in their own town based on their religious beliefs. They argued that the practice violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which has been interpreted as preventing the government from favoring religion in general or any religion in particular.

Some people, particularly those in the religious majority, have a hard time seeing why such prayer is a big deal. As Paul Waldman writes for the Washington Post, “the ruling is about the privilege of the majority, the privilege to define your own beliefs, traditions, and practices as simply the water in which we all swim. If you’re in that majority, you tend to be shocked when anyone even questions whether those practices ought to be imposed on everyone and sponsored by the state.”

But imagine, as Kagan did, a Muslim who has come before the city council seeking a zoning variance to build an addition on her home. When she is asked to join in prayer celebrating the divinity of Jesus, she has the option of not participating, or leaving the room. Either option identifies her as somehow different from her neighbors and from the councilmembers who will decide the fate of her request.  A federal appeals court had ruled that the town’s practice was unconstitutional because, even if town officials had no bad intent, the consequence of the nearly uninterrupted parade of Christian prayers was to signal that Christianity was favored, and to make unequal citizens of people of other faiths or no faith.

Unfortunately, five Supreme Court justices disagreed, saying even an overwhelmingly Christian and sectarian prayer practice is OK unless there is a pattern of prayers denigrating other faiths or proselytizing or unless there is evidence that people are being legally coerced or punished for not participating. The Court has given a green light to “Christian Nation” advocates like Al Bedrosian to demand that their city council or county commission allow their official meetings to be regularly opened with explicitly Christian prayers.  Some Religious Right leaders have said that’s exactly what they’re going to do.

Right now, practices vary. Some government bodies don’t bother with prayer; others invite clergy to open meetings, with guidelines that prayers be respectful or nonsectarian. But even that nod toward pluralism is at risk: Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice said this ruling means government bodies can no longer make a distinction between nonsectarian prayer and “praying in Jesus’ name” and he told the Christian Broadcasting Network, “that will have an impact on a number of cases.”

It’s worth noting that some progressive Christians agree that “nonsectarian prayer” is a kind of oxymoron. But, says Washington Monthly blogger Ed Kilgore, that is not a reason to push for sectarian prayer; it is instead a reason to do away with legislative prayer altogether. He writes that the effort to push more prayer in official settings is “offensive to those who pray as much as to those who don’t.” The pro-church-state-separation Baptist Joint Committee had filed a brief in the case stating that “prayer is an expression of voluntary religious devotion, not the business of government.”

That brings us to a crucial distinction between what is constitutional and what is wise, particularly in a country that is increasingly diverse, with a growing number of people who claim no religious affiliation. As noted in People For the American Way Foundation’s Twelve Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics, “Some things that are legally permissible may still be damaging to religious tolerance and civic discourse, and should be discouraged.”

The Supreme Court did not rule that legislative bodies have to begin their meetings with prayer; it ruled that the Constitution allows them to. In spite of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s portrayal of legislative prayer as a unifying force, it seems likely that an aggressive push for more sectarian prayer to open official meetings will be anything but unifying. Elected officials should think twice before going down that road.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he prays that the Court is showing a way toward “a right kind of free marketplace of faith expression in American life.” But Moore is wrong: we already have a free marketplace of faith expression in America. The First Amendment has fostered a vibrant, flourishing, peaceful religious pluralism that is unmatched anywhere in the world. Christian media has a massive presence on television, radio, and online. But what too many “Christian Nation” advocates want, and what the Court is opening the door to, is a system in which a religious majority can more easily use the institutions of government to promote its religious beliefs and label others as outsiders.

And that is not the American Way. 

PFAW Foundation

Right Wing Round-Up - 4/22/14

Right Wing Leftovers - 4/1/14

  • Judith Reisman says that AIDS victims should file a class action lawsuit against condom manufacturers on the grounds that condoms "are not effectively designed to protect from disease those people who engage in sodomy."
  • "Kids Are Humans, Not Machines" reports a helpful new anti-Common Core documentary produced by Mike Farris and his Home School Legal Defense Association.
  • Matt Barber says that President Obama "has committed multiple offenses that taken by themselves are impeachable."
  • Ralph Reed and Russell Moore have written a joint op-ed supporting of immigration reform as a "moral imperative."
  • Finally, it is a little odd to watch conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck spend an entire segment mocking other people for believing crazy conspiracy theories.
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