Church-State

Ted Cruz And Mike Huckabee Follow David Lane's Christian-Nation Road Show To Michigan

Christian-nation activist David Lane is engaged in a multi-year, multi-state project to get conservative evangelical pastors more involved in electing right-wing candidates, and he is intent on making sure that the GOP nominates a 2016 presidential candidate to the Religious Right’s liking.

In spite of his extremism, Lane regularly gets Republican presidential candidates to attend his American Renewal Project events. On Monday night, Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee spoke at a Michigan Renewal Project “Pastors Policy Briefing.”

Lane generally tries to stay out of the media spotlight, unless it’s for a friendly face like the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody. Even the media-hungry Cruz and Huckabee slipped quietly into Lansing for the event, which the Detroit News picked up on a few days later.

Also speaking at the event was Chad Connelly, the former head of the South Carolina GOP who was hired by the Republican National Committee last year to strengthen the party’s relationship with conservative evangelicals. According to news reports at the time, the Southern Baptist Connelly was brought on to energize evangelicals, some of whom were feeling disillusioned by recent national GOP candidates and by what they saw as the party’s “softening” on marriage equality.

Among the other speakers listed in a promotion for Monday’s event in the August newsletter of the American Decency Association:  right-wing radio host Dennis Prager, “historians” David Barton and Bill Federer, the American Family Association’s Don Wildmon, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, former Congressman Bob McEwen, and Pastor Laurence White of the Texas Restoration Project.

It seems as if Cruz is equally at home in front of the camera and behind closed doors. The Detroit News reports that he “made a quiet visit to Michigan Sunday and Monday, meeting with Republican Party activists in events that were kept hush-hush until photos of the tea party stalwart and potential 2016 presidential candidate surfaced on social media.”

In addition to Lane’s event, the paper reports, “Cruz appeared at four events over the two-day period organized by Ron Weiser, the Ann Arbor developer and national Republican fundraiser with connections throughout the country.” The paper says Weisner is seeking the GOP nomination for a seat on the University of Michigan board of regents.  Among other attendees at Cruz events were Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Tea Party activist Wendy Day, who recently lost a GOP primary bid for seat in the state House.

Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee Answer The Call Of Christian Nation Extremist David Lane

Republican presidential hopefuls keep lining up to take part in events organized by David Lane, in spite of the activist’s extreme Christian-nation politics. On Friday, Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee were in Iowa to meet with conservative pastors organized by Lane's Iowa Renewal Project.

Jindal and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, both of whom are considering seeking the GOP nomination for the presidency in 2016, were the stars of a private Iowa Renewal Project event in Cedar Rapids organized by David Lane, a political activist from California who has been quietly mobilizing Christian conservatives in Iowa for seven years. He organized a similar pastors' gathering in Des Moines and booked Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, two other possible presidential candidates, as the featured speakers.

Lane’s events are normally closed to the press, but Jennifer Jacobs, a Register reporter, was allowed to attend. According to the Jacobs, Jindal spoke about his conversion to Christianity and the importance of his faith:

Jindal recalled how on live statewide TV at a campaign debate he was asked to identify the single most important moment in his life. "I smiled and thought to myself, 'That is the easiest question I've ever been asked," he said. "I just blurted out the truth: it was the moment that I found Jesus Christ,'" he told an audience of about 250 Christian conservative pastors and community leaders.

It's not always easy to be a Christian, Jindal said.

"It's like (God) has given us the book of life. He doesn't just look at the pages for today and tomorrow. He doesn't promise that our team is going to win happen today or tomorrow. He doesn't promise you that everything's going to happen exactly the way you want it. But he does something much much more important. ... He lets us look on the last page and on the last page our God wins."

According to the Register, while Jindal was warmly received, attendees agreed that Huckabee stole the show.

"Oh, nobody compares to Mike Huckabee," said audience member Jamie Johnson, a Christian conservative who is a member of the Iowa GOP's governing board. "Huckabee's likability is through the roof."

As Jacobs notes, “Huckabee leads polling as the Republican front-runner in Iowa, riding on popularity he built in 2008, when he won the GOP caucuses here.” In his remarks, Huckabee took on conservatives who want to talk only about liberty and low taxes but not moral issues.

"They say, "I don't want to hear about social issues. All I want to hear is about liberty and low taxes. Well, that's just delicious. Let me tell you something," said Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor. "... Liberty cannot function unless there are people who are willing to live with integrity." …

"Freedom can never function apart from a moral society," he told an audience of about 300 Iowans at a private event at the Hilton Doubletree hotel in Cedar Rapids. "And where is that going to come from? It had better come from the churches, and it had better come from pulpits and the people who are grounded in the word of God."

Rand Paul made a three-day swing through the state last week, but Huckabee denied that his remarks were a direct poke at Paul.

Asked if his "liberty" remarks were directed at the liberty movement that sprang from 2012 presidential candidate Ron Paul's campaign, and the activists who are now rallying around his son, Rand Paul, Huckabee told The Des Moines Register: "No, not at all. It's just the bigger picture. ... It's a word I would use regularly anyway."

Other excerpts from Huckabee’s speech, courtesy of the Des Moines Register:

ON THE U.S. SUPREME COURT: "We have a very weak Supreme Court right now. We've got to quit believing the Supreme Court is the supreme being. It's only one of three branches of government. It's not above the other two. ... And all three branches are under the tutelage of the people of this country in whom the ultimate power and authority power resides."

HOW TO SAVE THE COUNTRY: "It is important to elect the right people all the way from the city council to the White House. But if we want to change America, the real prescription is not to go out and just get certain people elected and hoping that they will bring spiritual revival. It's to pray for spiritual revival. And if God awakens this country spiritually, this country will elect the right people and they will do the right things."

ON PASTORS WHO SHY AWAY FROM POLITICS: "I hear pastors say, 'I'm just a shepherd of God, and I don't want to get involved in politics. It's a dirty business.' My brother, my sister, it is a dirty business. But It's dirty because the clean people have decided to leave it to the people who don't care whether it's dirty or not. ... I've never ever ever ever encouraged a pastor to endorse a candidate. Unless it's me. No, I've even said, 'Don't use your pulpit to endorse me.' As much as I would enjoy that, don't do it. Endorse the principles of God's words. Endorse the value of human life. Endorse the institution of marriage. Endorse those which are eternal and holy things."

 

GOP Candidate Michael Peroutka Fails To Shake Extremist Label With ‘Not a Racist’ Press Conference

For Republicans who would like to “rebrand” the party to reach more voters, Michael Peroutka is a nightmare.  Peroutka won the Republican primary for a county council seat in Anne Arundel County, which includes Maryland’s state capital. As we have been reporting, Peroutka is a Christian Reconstructionist who believes “It is not the role of civil government to house, feed, clothe, educate or give heath care to…ANYBODY!” He is an ardent supporter of the white nationalist League of the South, which promotes the secession of southern states, and whose leader recently wrote about “Fourth Generation Warfare” in which citizen hit squads would target “political leaders, members of the hostile media, cultural icons, bureaucrats, and other of the managerial elite without whom the engines of tyranny don't run."

Last week, Larry Hogan, the Republican nominee for governor, disavowed Peroutka over his extremist positions. Yesterday, Peroutka held a press conference in which he repeatedly claimed he is not a racist, vowed that he would not play the “race card game,” and produced two African American Republicans, Eric Knowles and Robert Broadus, to vouch for his not-racism.

But if the press conference was meant to dispel the notion that Peroutka is an extremist, it failed miserably. Peroutka repeatedly refused to disavow the League of the South, on whose board he has sat. He would not say it was a mistake to have called Dixie the national anthem at a League of the South convention. And he refused, in spite of repeated questions, to disavow the idea that the southern states should secede. In response to the suggestion that the Civil War settled the question of secession, he said “No moral issue is really ever settled by the point of a sword.” He repeatedly stated that secession is “a historical fact” and “a political reality.” The American Revolution was an act of secession, he said.  And it is a kind of secession when people move out of Maryland to escape its high taxes.

Huffington Post blogger Jonathan Hutson has video of the entire press conference. Unfortunately, nobody asked Peroutka about his belief that Maryland’s General Assembly is “no longer a valid legislative body” because it has passed laws he thinks are in violation of God’s law. Or about his participation in Larry Klayman’s “revolutionary” rally last year, whose goal was to force President Obama out of office. Or why state Republicans should support Peroutka, a former Constitution Party presidential candidate, given that it was less than a year ago that he wrote this:

“Anyone, including those who identify with the ‘Tea Party’, who loves America and desires real reform, would do well to disengage themselves from the Republican Party and their brand of worthless, Godless, unprincipled conservatism.”

Christian Reconstructionism And The GOP: 'Biblical Justice' vs Social Justice

There’s a reason so many Republican politicians seem to bring a religious fervor to their efforts to gut public institutions and social welfare spending. The modern day Religious Right draws much of its ideology from Christian Reconstructionists who teach that God gave specific duties to the government, the church, and the family.

According to this theological worldview, education and taking care of the poor are the responsibility of families and churches, and it is unbiblical for the government to take on these roles. That meshes well with the view of “constitutional conservatives” who believe, for example, the Constitution does not authorize any federal government role in education.

A stark example of the increasingly indistinct line between conservative Republicans and hard-core Christian Reconstructionists and dominionists (who believe the right kind of Christians are meant to have dominion over every aspect of society) can be found in the recent Republican primary victory of Michael Petrouka in a race for a county council seat in an Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Peroutka believes that any law that runs counter to God’s law is invalid, and that the Maryland General Assembly is itself no longer a valid legislative body. Here’s a concise summation of his approach to government:

Since civil government is ordained by God in order to protect God-given rights, then the function of civil government is to obey God and to enforce God’s law – PERIOD.

It is not the role of civil government to house, feed, clothe, educate or give heath care to…ANYBODY!

This religion-inflected ideological view of government is not relegated to inhabitants of the far-right fringe like Peroutka. David Barton, an influential Republican activist and “historian” who helped write the GOP’s national platform in 2012, claims that the Constitution was drawn directly from the Bible and the sermons of colonial preachers, and that its focus on individual freedom reflects the founders’ theology of individual salvation. In this view, the Tea Party’s belief in a radically limited federal government is not only a question of constitutional interpretation, it is a mandate of Holy Scripture.

Just this month, Barton promoted these views on “Praise the Lord,” the flagship program of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, which bills itself as the world’s largest religious network and America’s most-watched faith channel. “In the Bible, Jesus has a teaching about minimum wage,” Barton said. “In the Bible, Jesus has two teachings on capital gains tax.” The Bible, according to Barton, opposes those taxes as well as estate taxes and progressive income taxes. A flat tax is “what the Bible supports.”

On the same show Barton denounced government spending on welfare. “It’s not the government’s responsibility to take care of the poor and needy,” he said, “it’s the church’s responsibility.”

According to Barton, there are 205 verses in the Bible that instruct the family or church to take care of the poor, but not the government. “The government is told to do only one thing with taking care of the poor and that one thing is to make sure that when the poor come into court they get justice. That’s the only thing government is told….What we’re doing right now is for the first time in America we have ignored what the Bible says, the Bible says you don’t work, you don’t eat.” He went on to say that people “not having to work and getting free money…violates everything the Bible tells us” about dealing with the poor.

These themes are repeated in Social Justice: How Good Intentions Undermine Justice and Gospel, a booklet published last year by the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and the anti-environmentalist Cornwall Alliance. The booklet, written by Cornwall’s Calvin Beisner (according to him, at the request of the Family Research Council), was distributed at last month’s “Road to Majority” conference, which was organized by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition.

The premise of the booklet is that “social justice” is contrary to “Biblical justice.” If that sounds familiar, you may be recalling Glenn Beck’s diatribes against “social justice” a few years ago, when he urged people to leave their church if its website included the phrases “social justice” or “economic justice.”

It is wrong, Beisner writes, to try to mitigate inequality “through force of government.” Why? “Because God ordained the state to dispense justice, and the church to dispense grace.” According to Beisner, giving someone “unearned” benefits is grace, not justice. People should graciously serve the poor, he writes. “But if care for the needy is made a matter of justice to the needy rather than to God, then grace becomes law. Then, the needy—and those who merely profess to be needy—may claim the benefits of grace as their due by justice.”

In other words, government has no right to tax someone in order to help feed someone else.

That is a widely shared belief on the Religious Right. Speakers at Religious Right conferences like Reed’s June event, and Republican Members of Congress, can be heard justifying cuts in food stamps with an appeal to the Bible passage that David Barton quoted on TBN. That verse, depending on your translation, says something like “he who will not work shall not eat.”

Reps. Kevin Cramer and Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee cited that verse last year. Fincher said, “The role of citizens, of Christianity, of humanity, is to take care of each other, not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country.” In equating taxation for social services with theft, Fincher echoes Barton, Beisner, and others. (In context, by the way, the work-to-eat verse referred to early Christians who were so confident of the imminent return of Christ that they quit doing anything.)

Poor people turning to the government, Beisner writes in his anti-social-justice booklet, results in “the stultifying effects of wealth redistribution by the coercive power of the state.” Even worse, he says, “it blinds [poor people] to their deepest need: the grace of God offered in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

This is another theme of the Republican Party’s right wing. Sharron Angle, the GOP’s 2010 Senate nominee in Nevada, said during her campaign that entitlement programs are “idolatry” because they “make government our God.” Farris Wilks, the Texas fracking billionaire who gives huge amounts to the Heritage Foundaiton and other right-wing groups, declares that “the Torah is set up on the free enterprise system” and that “Yahweh never intended for us as a people to be afraid and reliant on government.” Former Sen. Jim DeMint, who now heads the Heritage Foundation, says “the bigger government gets, the smaller God gets.

Heritage is just one of the institutions working to make right-wing economics an article of faith just like opposition to gay rights and abortion. The Freedom Federation, one of the many right-wing entities created in the wake of Barack Obama’s 2008 election, brings both "mainstream" and fringe Religious Right groups together with the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. The Freedom Federation’s “Declaration of American Values” includes not only the expected rhetoric about traditional values, but also opposition to progressive taxation.

John Lofton, a right-wing pundit, is the spokesperson for Republican county council candidate Peroutka, and for Peroutka’s Christian Reconstructionist Institute on the Constitution, which has trained Tea Party activists on the biblical basis of the Constitution. Lofton has spoken on “God and Government” at Liberty University’s Helms School of Government. In 2012, in reference to an article about evangelicals disagreeing on budget priorities, Lofton wrote that “there should be no disagreement among those who believe the Bible is true. Because it is crystal clear that in God’s Word He gives NO AUTHORITY to civil government (Caesar) to give health, education or welfare to ANYBODY. If people need help, it is the role of the Church – God’s people – to provide this help and NOT government.”

Tea Party? Religious Right? GOP? Or all of the above?

Michael Peroutka Campaign Spox John Lofton: Public Officials' Job To 'Administer' God's Law

We’ve been reporting on the candidacy of Michael Peroutka, the 2004 presidential nominee for the U.S. Constitution Party and now the apparent GOP nominee for a county council seat in Anne Arundel, Maryland.  It is frankly hard to imagine a more extremist candidate for public office.  

He is a radical Christian Reconstructionist and southern secessionist who argues that the Maryland General Assembly is “no longer a valid legislative body” because it has passed laws he thinks are violations of “God’s law.” He took part in Larry Klayman’s “revolutionary” rally last November, which did not achieve its stated goal of forcing President Obama out of office. He asked the white nationalist League of the South for help in his campaign. His family foundation gave a dinosaur fossil to the Creationist Museum to keep it out of the hands of evolution-promoting scientists. And notably, for a GOP candidate, he disparages “the Republican Party and their brand of worthless, Godless, unprincipled conservatism.”

Peroutka’s partner at the Institute on the Constitution, David Whitney, ran for the same seat in the Democratic primary, and lost. But another ideological compatriot, Joseph Delimater, won the uncontested GOP primary for county sheriffFrederick Clarkson points out that Delimater’s campaign website argues that it’s the responsibility of a county councilman and sheriff to resist implementation of any law that violates God’s law.

Peroutka’s campaign spokesman John Lofton told the Capital Gazette newspaper that the candidate “would evaluate each piece of legislation to be sure it was authorized by God in the Bible, the U.S. Constitution and the Anne Arundel County Charter.” Lofton was communications director for Peroutka’s 2004 presidential campaign and has also served as communications director for Peroutka's Institute on the Constitution

Like Peroutka, Lofton has expressed contempt for the Republican Party, calling himself a “Recovering Republican,” and explaining on his website, “Being a Republican is not a disease; it is a choice – a very bad choice, but a choice nonetheless.”

Lofton was a movement conservative until he became enamored of Christian Reconstructionist R.J. Rushdoony and disillusioned that the conservative movement was not sufficiently focused on God. A few years ago he denounced the conservative movement, saying that “Dunghill Rejects” was the “perfect name” for “for the Godless, anti-Christian, modern ‘conservative movement.’”

Lofton has been invited to speak about God and Government at Liberty University’s Helms School of Government. He said the purpose of the Institute on the Constitution’s God and Government project – which encourages individuals to use public comment periods at local government meetings to deliver packaged two-minute statements – is “to tell our elected officials that government is from God and therefore their first duty is to obey God and to administer and apply his law.”

On his Christian Post blog, Lofton has asked whether President Obama is wearing a “What Would Satan Do?” bracelet and decreed that sending children to public schools is “spiritual child abuse” and a sin.

And in reference to an article about evangelicals disagreeing on budget priorities, he wrote that “there should be no disagreement among those who believe the Bible is true. Because it is crystal clear that in God's Word He gives NO AUTHORITY to civil government (Caesar) to give health, education or welfare to ANYBODY. If people need help, it is the role of the Church --- God's people --- to provide this help and NOT government.” He insists, “Man-made ‘laws’ that contradict God's Law are not law.”

Lofton’s Facebook page indicates that he shares Peroutka’s contempt for many contemporary political figures. He writes that President Obama “heads up the most powerful terrorist organization in the world, the American government.”

This week Lofton dismissed as “IDOLATROUS LINCOLN-WORSHIPPING CRAP” an article in which the Religious Right’s intellectual godfather, Robert George, wrote that Lincoln had, by saving the union, “completed, in a sense, America’s founding.”

On the 4th of July Lofton bragged that his local paper had printed his letter to the editor, which denounced the Laurel, Maryland, City Council for allowing a Hindu to open a meeting “by invoking false Gods,” which he called “an act of appalling idolatrous idiocy which invites God – the God of the Bible, the only true God there is – to curse us.”

Back in 2002, Lofton was interviewed by Stephen Colbert for The Daily Show. He denounced Lynn Cheney’s children’s book as “child abuse” for including Martin Luther King and a reference to the Day of the Dead holiday, which he said is “from the pit of hell.”

Hobby Lobby: 'Closely Held' Does Not Mean 'Mom and Pop'

In the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby, the Court held for the first time ever that a for-profit corporation counts as a “person” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and that a “closely held” corporation basically shares the religious exercise rights of its owners.  This leads American law into a treacherous minefield, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg made clear in her dissent.

It’s worth pointing out, as Justice Ginsberg also noted, “’Closely held’ is not synonymous with ‘small.’” Hobby Lobby is a massive corporation employing some 13,000 people, but there are other closely held companies that are much larger. In a footnote, Ginsberg mentions family-owned Mars, Inc. and closely held Cargill, which are both among the largest five private companies in the country. Guess which is number two? Koch industries, with $115 billion in revenue and 60,000 employees. Brothers David and Charles Koch reportedly own 84 percent. Rounding out the top five private companies are Dell and Bechtel. Those five companies employ more than 436,000 people. What religious claims might their owners find useful to make in undermining laws that protect their workers?

PFAW Foundation

NC Lt. Gov. Dan Forest: America 'Must Decide For Or Against God'

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest followed Texas Lt. Gov. candidate Dan Patrick to the microphone at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s 2014 Road to Majority conference. Forest joked about following another “Lieutenant Dan” and said he’d been backstage crossing things out because Patrick was already saying them. Indeed, Forest’s comments about the Constitution being grounded in “biblical truth” echoed Patrick’s Christian-nation address. “My friends,” Forest said, “America is at a great crossroads where it must decide for or against God.”

Excerpts from Dan Forest's remarks:

Forest quoted George Washington and Abraham Lincoln writing about the nation relying on God’s aid, and he said that the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was “one small declaration from tyranny, one giant declaration of dependence upon Almighty God.”

American leaders, he said, continued to rely on God until Supreme Court rulings on church-state separation:

In America, as time moved on, our leaders sought the help of the Lord through the great and terrible Civil War, through a Great Depression, through two great world wars and numerous other conflicts. Then, in 1947 our Supreme Court separated church and state and placed a high wall between the two. In 1962 our Supreme Court removed prayer from our public schools. In 1973, our Supreme Court ruled that it was OK to kill children still in the womb. In the span of a mere 25 years, we, the people allowed our nation to turn its back on God in the name of independence and freedom.

And he began a litany of ways he said America had turned its back on God:

We have forgotten God and we call it freedom.

We kill our children for convenience, and we call it freedom.

We enslave our poor in welfare and call it freedom.

We take from the hard working and give to the sluggard in the name of income equality and call it freedom.

We allow our children to become addicted to pornography in the name of free speech and we call it freedom.

We rack up mountains of debt on the backs of our grandchildren and we call it freedom.

We reward the criminal at the expense of the victim and we call it freedom.

We take God out of our schoolhouse, out of our statehouse, out of our courthouse and we call it freedom.

We allow a few individuals in the courts to determine the moral standard for all and we call it freedom.

Forest said the country must choose between “policy band-aids” and getting at the root of problems, which is that we as a nation have taken our eyes of God, “who is the giver of truth, virtue, and a moral compass.”

The heart of the matter is we have forgotten God. We have kicked him out of our house, out of our schoolhouse, out of our courthouse, and out of our statehouse, and now, out of our nation. We call it everything but what it is, we call it everything but sin, the turning away from God.

He said that the national focus on rebuilding after the 9/11 attacks was done in the name of freedom and security, but that we did it by our own strength rather than relying on God.

We don’t just need, my friends, to rebuild the walls of America. We need to rebuild the biblical foundation upon which the walls sit. We need to trust God. Fear only comes when we don’t believe that God is who he says he is. If God is the creator of the universe, if he allows our hearts to beat and our lungs to breathe, why do we not trust him? If we trust God, my friends, there is nothing we can’t accomplish. With him we can do anything. Apart from him we can do nothing. Seek first his kingdom and all these things will be given.

We continue to declare ‘God Bless America’ without doing our part, without prayer, without fasting, and repentance as a nation, without recognizing the sins we commit and humbling ourselves before the sovereign ruler of nations, and asking for forgiveness.

It is time for America to recognize that freedom does not come from being a nation of wealth, power, influence, abundance, and ease – but rather it comes from being a humble nation on its knees. It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

 

Texas Lt. Gov Nominee Dan Patrick's Christian-Nation Politics

Texas State Sen. Dan Patrick, the GOP nominee for Lt. Governor, addressed Friday night’s session of the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference. Patrick said that America is a Christian nation, that politics is about building God’s kingdom, and that America’s policies must be grounded in the Bible.

Excerpts from Dan Patrick's remarks:

Patrick portrayed his resounding come-from-behind victory over incumbent David Dewhurst as God’s will. He said he started every campaign appearance by saying,

“’I’m a Christian first, I’m a conservative second, and a Republican third. And if our party ever turns our back on the word of God or the principles of Ronald Reagan, I will become an independent.’ And this is the key to the future of our party the future of our country and the future of this nation.”

He explains his victory this way:

“We were solid on the issues. We never backed up from being bold for Jesus Christ. And, most importantly, we worked hard, and we left the victory to God…if you really believe God, then you take him at his word that he’ll handle the victory. And if you’re in the middle of God’s will, then that’s where you’re supposed to be.”

It was a dirty campaign, he said, but he told himself, “If the Lord wants me to win, I’ll win, and if not, that means he has something else he wants me to do.”

“We have too many candidates, and too many elected officials, that think politics and serving is about them. It’s about Him, it’s about building the kingdom for Him. That’s why this nation has been blessed.”

Patrick said the world needs America to return to its roots as a Christian nation:

 “We are a Christian nation. And the only way the world will survive is with a strong America. And a strong America will only be strong again if we stand on the word of God. Again, there’s a difference from believing in God and believing God. Even the Democrats believe in God. But when you believe God you must take him at his word and you can’t back up from that word. And that has to be the policy mindset of our elected officials. It should be biblically based, because every problem we have in America has a solution in the Bible. And that doesn’t mean we want a theocracy. But it does mean we can’t walk away from what we believe.”

Patrick said too many Republican candidates worry about offending voters. But, he said, “the left doesn’t even worry about offending God.” He added, “In fact, I would argue, that if you are a believer, and if you are a Christian conservative Republican and you won’t stand for your faith, that’s just as offensive to God. Because they may not know better, but we do.”

Patrick used the Texas governor’s race as an example of how “standing for God will keep us in power and win us the election in 2016.” He said “abortion queen” Wendy David lost Hispanic areas of Texas in her primary because Hispanic Catholics and evangelicals who “put God before party” will not vote for a Democrat who is “radical on the life issue.”  To get Hispanic voters, he said, Republicans must stand for life, marriage, school choice, and economic opportunity.

He warned that “the left” will attack messengers who stand on the foundation of the Bible. But, he asked, “If we won’t stand for Christ, if we won’t stand for the word of God in the Bible, then who will?

America, he said, is thirsty for a leader who will not only talk about public policy but about strengthening families and values. He asked for money and prayers, saying that conservatives shouldn’t take Texas for granted, given that Democrats are putting resources into making it a battleground state.

 “The job ahead is not easy. But Jesus said, ‘my yoke is easy.’ And if we all pull together, and we get up out of our church pews, and we get our pastors engaged, and we get our fellow Christians to register to vote and then get them out to vote. And we find leaders who are bold, then America has hope again.

And if we don’t, in our generation, in our time, then we will have failed our children, we will have failed our grandchildren, and we will have failed the world. And we will have failed, I believe, God’s belief and hope and wish that America is the country that He blessed to share the Word with the entire world.

So it’s on us. And I don’t want to put too much pressure on you. But it is on us. And I’m ready to do my duty, and I know you’re ready to do yours.”

Mike Huckabee's 2016 Themes? God In Textbooks And Attacks On Judges

Part of the Christian-nation lineup at this weekend’s Faith and Freedom Coalition Road to Majority conference was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a right-wing media figure and former (and likely future) presidential candidate.

Excerpts from Huckabee's remarks:

Huckabee said that he and his wife recently went to China to celebrate their 40th anniversary. He said he hadn’t been earlier because he doesn’t like the Chinese government — citing piracy and dumping but, oddly, not China’s repression of dissent and religious freedom.

He praised the flowering of entrepreneurship in China, saying the country is becoming more like America used to be and America is becoming more like China used to be. Huckabee compared NSA spying to Chinese control over Internet access. And more absurdly, he equated the Chinese government’s erasure from history of the massacre of protesters at Tiananmen Square with what he said was our country’s treatment of the role of God in America’s founding.

“And I thought I’m so glad that I’m in a country that would never erase a significant part of our history, and then I remember that we are erasing most of the history of this country. We’re telling young people that God had nothing to do with the foundation of this country when in fact there wouldn’t be a United States of America if it were not for the men and women of faith who got on their knees to pray and then got on their feet to fight, who took muskets off their mantles and took on the toughest  army that had ever existed in the world at that time and had no chance of creating a new country, but they did -- because of the Providence of God’s hand. And you try to find that in an American textbook today in a public school, and good luck doing it.

Maybe Huckabee’s desire to have public school textbooks teaching that God was behind America’s founding reflects the fact that he’s been hanging out with Christian-nation zealot David Lane, who wants to make the Bible a primary public school textbook. CBN’s David Brody reported on Friday that Lane has organized a European trip for Huckabee and pastors from key primary states.  Huckabee says the trip, called “Reagan, Thatcher, Pope John Paul II Tour: God Raising Extraordinary Leaders for Extraordinary Times,” is an opportunity to show “the human instruments used by God to change the world’s history.”

Huckabee clearly has a hankering to put himself in that category. At the Faith and Freedom conference, he railed against government regulation and “irrational people” running the government. He said abortion is “a curse for which we will answer.” He also signaled what may be a defining campaign issue if he decides to run: an attack on the federal courts.

And one of the things that I do not understand is why more Americans have not rallied in opposition to the notion that just because the Court says something that that is the final word. Have we not read our Constitution? Have we not reminded ourselves that we have three branches of government, not one, and all of those three branches are equal branches of government. One is them is not superior to either of the other two, and certainly not to both of the other two. This notion that when the Supreme Court says something it’s the last word is fundamentally unconstitutional and wrong. It is the Supreme Court, not the supreme branch.  And we have allowed guys and women in black robes not simply to interpret a law, but to transform a law, rewrite a law, and actually prescribe the fix and implement it, two responsibilities and functions that are left exclusively and totally to the legislative and executive branches.

It is high time that we recognize that one of the greatest threats to our liberty in this land is the notion of judicial supremacy. There is no such thing in the Constitution of judicial supremacy, and one of the ways in which we must transform America, unlike the way that our current occupant of the White House has transformed America, is to teach our children and to teach our peers that ultimately the authority in this country is not the courts, nor is it even the legislature or the executive branch, the ultimate authority in this country still remains the people of America, We the People.   And if we don’t truly believe that and exercise that, we will lose this country not because we have to, but because we have given it away.

Huckabee that he is optimistic, because there has never been a greater opportunity to show what freedom looks like – and it’s not just because there are a lot of conservative activists motivated to fight.

It’s because I believe that there is a God, and that his country would not be here without him, and that if this country will get on its knees and it will ask God’s forgiveness for how we have behaved. It’s not about the people who hate us, it’s about those of us who decide we wanna love God more than we wanna hate our enemies. And when we get on our knees in forgiveness, God will heal our land and He will restore us.

To those at the conference who seem overly pessimistic about the state of the country and the world, he said he’s “read the end of the book,” and his message is, “In the end, we win, and that’s good news.”

Ohio Board Of Education Member Calls On Religious Right To Take Over Education

One of Ralph Reed’s most infamous statements — “I want to be invisible. I do guerilla warfare…You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag” — came in an era of school board takeovers by stealth Religious Right candidates. But stealth is so 1990s. At the Road to Majority conference sponsored by Reed’s Faith and Freedom coalition last weekend, a member of the Ohio state board of education openly called on conservative Christians to take over the educational system and return it to a foundation of “biblical truth.”

Mark Smith, who was appointed to the board of education by Gov. John Kasich last year, is president of Ohio Christian University and president of the Ohio Faith and Freedom Coalition. He said at one board meeting that books like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” are “quite divisive” and part of an “underlying socialist-communist agenda.”

Excerpts from Smith's Friday night address to the 2014 Road to Majority conference:

At Road to Majority, Smith sounded as if he’s been reading discredited “historian” David Barton’s claims about the Constitution being drawn directly from the Bible.

“America, for 60 years we have tried to deny the source of truth. But we as a nation must not forget that truth, biblical truth, is what we were founded upon.  In fact, let me remind you, truth concepts like liberty, freedom, personal responsibility, law, justice, and hope are all words that came out of the Bible. They are words that our founders relied upon and they understood that biblical truth was our foundation.”

America was blessed for more than 200 years, Smith says, because it recognized God and biblical truth, and our current problems come from a rejection of those principles

“The first problem that I see is a God problem. Too many people think that they’re God, but we know that they are not. There is only one true God. In current society, you see people deciding critical issues by all manner of means, humanistic thinking, and polls. But many of them do not consider that the Lord our God is how they should be considering these issues.”

Smith also sees the desire for equality as a major problem.

“Secondly in America, we have a truth problem. Few understand foundational truth. The basis for our American doctrines and documents has been biblical truth....”

“In fact, let me remind you further that equality and liberty are in opposition to each other. We hear equality, equality, equality. If you begin to study what you’re being fed by the media and by the president that is in our office today, you would understand that this word equality and liberty are diametrically opposed.”

A third problem, he says, is an educational problem.

 “It’s no secret that our educational system is full of teachers and professors who desire to obfuscate truth, and these individuals are effectively [deconstructing] our nation. It’s been happening since John Dewey and his humanist manifesto.”

He said that Common Core, Race to the Top, and other efforts to “nationalize” the curriculum “are becoming an agenda that is hostile to the traditional family, promoting causes that we do not believe in, promoting sexual promiscuity — I’ve looked at the material and I refuse to accept it.”

He urged conservative Christians to join him in taking a stand for traditional marriage and to take back the country’s schools:

“You see I’m excited to lead the cause for the rebirth of faith values in America, the rebirth of embracing a love for God, the love for family, and a love for our nation. I like traditional marriage. I’m for traditional marriage. Let’s embrace traditional marriage....”

“I call on us to stand and to bring about change in a failed educational system that opposes freedom, capitalism, and personal responsibility, and that wastes billions of dollars on experiments on our children. It’s fine for us to take back our school system, and every one of you should be running for school boards, getting involved in the Department of Education, in the state board of education – and you should take it back as Faith and Freedom members, that is the hope for America.

Ohio Christian University seems to be doing its part. Its lobbyist helped push through the legislature a program that allows gifted high school students to take classes at OCU at taxpayer expense. The Akron Beacon Journal reported in February that OCU’s lobbyist C. Todd Jones “not only sits on the school board with Smith but chairs the committee” responsible for guidelines for the program. “He has actively lobbied the legislature and governor’s office on [the law] that would benefit the colleges at the same time he is running board meetings on the topic.”

As an example of its curriculum, the school says students taking the class Survey of American History “will be able to analyze the varied political, economic, religious, and cultural achievements of America in light of biblical truth,” according to an online course description.

Payment for a high school student taking such classes is deducted directly from money provided by the state to that student’s school district.

Dutch Sheets: God Needs An Army To Save America From 'Demonic' Destruction

Today’s “Prophetic Insight” comes via Dutch Sheets, a leader in the dominionist New Apostolic Reformation. It combines the kind of religious persecution rhetoric examined in PFAW’s recent report, “Persecution Complex,”with a triumphant assertion that God will destroy the people standing in the way of establishing God’s kingdom in America.

Back in 2012, Sheets gave the keynote at a conference organized by fellow prophet Cindy Jacobs with an assist from the Family Research Council.  Sheets mocked churchgoers who focused on things like pastoral care, saying he was looking for “warriors” who would assume their responsibility to legislate, govern, and manage the earth in partnership with God.

Sheets’ new prophetic word is that “God is not done with America,” in spite of a “demonic tide of destruction” that has been “unleashed upon our nation.” Sheets bemoans, “Politically, economically and humanistically, there is an agenda to make this nation never again look the way it has looked before.” He returns to his theme that Americans are not doing enough to build the kingdom of God on earth:

After making great advances in kingdom building, many have let discouragement and fear gain a foothold in their hearts. They've laid down their tools and folded their hands. Others are busy with good kingdom works, but don't dare challenge the status quo, much less, the systems aimed at shredding the moral fabric of our nation, destroying the institution of the family and stripping us of our religious freedoms.

As in the days of Ezra, "wicked counselors," known today as lobbyists, are diligently and strategically opposing God's people to advance the antichrist agenda in every sector of society. This is a fulfillment of the first few verses of Psalms 2, which describe those who hate God and take counsel together, devising plans to contend against Him and His people. These counselors think they've overthrown God's rule and conquered His people and, in their arrogance, openly decree this.

Sheets wraps himself in the kind of martyrdom rhetoric that is seemingly irresistible to Religious Right leaders:

Fellow warriors, we cannot fear that if we resist the government and the political activists, we might be taken out. Neither can we fear that we might go to jail, lose our government funding or tax-exempt status, or have our business shut down for speaking the truth or refusing to marry same-sex couples. Yes, these things are already happening—some are already paying a high price to stand for righteousness—but we cannot cower and live in a paralyzing fear. We must only move in the fear of the Lord.

But don’t worry, he says. God will laugh at those wicked counselors and then destroy them: “Lastly, God takes His rod and begins to break and shatter kingdoms in order to reestablish His reign in the earth. The good news is clearly laid out here—in the end, we win!”

Sheets tells a Bible story about prophets Haggai and Zechariah who worked with God’s government (Joshua the priest) and civil government (Zerubbabel the governor) to lead a reformation. Sheets clearly wants to play the part of prophet in the modern version of the story.

Zechariah later prophesied to Zerubbabel saying, this mountain in front of you is going to be brought low and become a plain. Not by might or power but by my Spirit, you will tear it down with shouts of grace, grace! This is a picture of what God wants to do in America!

God just needs warriors.

It is OK to grieve, like Jeremiah or Nehemiah, over the condition of our nation, but we must not give in to discouragement and fear. God is calling forth an army of faithful followers who will come up out of their discouragement to boldly push back the darkness.

Many leaders in government, health, education and ministry are having to make a decision right now—am I going to make my stand or am I going to compromise and yield to the enemy's plans? I, for one, say what America's founding fathers said upon signing the Declaration of Independence and, thereby, committing an act of treason against the crown: I pledge my life, my fortune, my sacred honor—everything to stop this insidious plan of hell. Will you join me?

Larry Tomczak, BarbWire Celebrate Memorial Day By Questioning Obama's Faith

Larry Tomczak, pastor and pundit, celebrated Memorial Day with an open letter questioning whether the country’s Commander-in-Chief, President Barack Obama, is really a Christian.  Of course, implicit in Tomczak’s letter is his belief that only the right kind of Christian, according to his standards, is fit to be president of the U.S. The letter was distributed by BarbWire, Matt Barber’s home for commentary from the far right, which topped the letter with a photo of Obama in front of what appears to be a Koran, with a Communist hammer and sickle over one shoulder and a Muslim crescent over the other.

Tomczak, who has a habit of invoking the specter of Nazi Germany when he talks about the fight against LGBT equality, manages to avoid a Nazi reference in this letter. He does cite Obama’s support for gay rights and marriage equality as evidence that Obama is not a Christian. Of course, Obama has plenty of company. For Tomczak, the millions of Christians who support LGBT equality and reproductive choice aren’t real Christians; neither are Catholics who aren’t “born-again.” Tomczak portrays Catholic schools as suspect and not likely to have given Obama “correct instruction in the Christian faith.”

Tomczak argues that Obama’s “beliefs, policies, social leanings and character” suggest that Obama is not an “authentic, obedient Christian” and says the president’s bad example allows Catholics like Kathleen Sebelius, Nancy Pelosi, and Caroline Kennedy “to continue in their wayward paths.”

Tomczak’s arrogant letter is filled with faux humility. He starts by saying he wants to “humbly” ask Obama about his faith, signs off “respectfully,” and in between assures President Obama that he loves and prays for him. Tomczak expresses hope that [the far from orthodox] Abraham Lincoln will speak to Obama “from the grave” and tell him “to repent and begin exercising the courageous Christian leadership America needs before it’s too late.” And he ends by encouraging Obama to consult with Billy Graham in order to become an “authentic” Christian.

That would be the same Billy Graham who praised Mitt Romney’s values during the 2012 presidential campaign and took out full-page ads encouraging North Carolina voters to back a constitutional ban on marriage equality and any kind of civil union or domestic partnership. Graham’s ministry is now run by his son Franklin Graham, an anti-gay zealot who praises Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay efforts, says  “true” Christians cannot support marriage equality, and not only questions Obama’s faith but says his administration is “anti-Christ.”

Rafael Cruz Blames End Of School-Sponsored Prayer For Crime, Teen Pregnancy

Rafael Cruz, the father of Sen. Ted Cruz, spoke at yesterday’s Family Research Council Watchmen on the Wall conference, where he made the case for the conservative pastors in the audience to throw themselves into politics.

Cruz argued that the First Amendment “in no way, shape or form” prevents “the church from having an influence on every area of society, as we should.”

“The church should be influencing the media, should be influencing arts and entertainment, sports, education, business and, yes, government,” he added, just so happening to list five of the seven pillars of Seven Mountains Dominionism.

To illustrate this, Cruz listed various instances where he claims the “church remained silent”: the 1963 ruling eliminating government-sponsored prayer in schools, because of which, he claimed, “teen pregnancy skyrocketed and violent crime skyrocketed”; Roe v. Wade; and the Supreme Court’s decision striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which he said led to the “erosion of the traditional family.”

“The question is, how long are we going to remain silent?” he said. “But the more important question is, will God hold us accountable for our silence?”

In Response To Uganda Documentary, IHOP Says It's 'Not Involved' in Politics

“God Loves Uganda,” a documentary about American evangelical involvement in inflaming anti-gay sentiment in that country, made its debut at last year’s Sundance Festival and reached a broader audience through this week’s broadcast on public television. The attention from this week’s broadcast has provoked a response from the International House of Prayer (IHOP).

Filmmaker Ross Williams was given extensive access to IHOP leaders, including evangelist Lou Engle, who believes Uganda has a special prophetic destiny.  The documentary includes footage of Engle at a rally with supporters of the infamous Anti-Homosexuality Act, where he tells the crowd he was “called” to encourage the Ugandan church for standing up for “righteousness” in the face of international pressure to drop the bill.  IHOP now says it has never supported the anti-gay law.

Charisma Magazine’s Jennifer LeClaire writes that IHOP and Lou Engle are being “falsely accused of ‘demonizing’ homosexuals in Uganda.” IHOP’s response says that while it believes all sex outside of the marriage of one man and one woman is sinful, “We honor the dignity and rights of all whose opinion differs from ours” and that IHOP is “open to civil dialogue and mutual respect.” The filmmakers, says IHOP, “pursued a deceptive means to achieve a hateful, polarizing result.”

In fact, Engle is a remarkably polarizing figure who has frequently describes those who disagree with him on abortion and marriage as being in league with Satan in a confrontation between good an evil. “God Loves Uganda” includes footage of Engle’s pro-Prop. 8 rally in California at which he warned that allowing same-sex couples to get married would unleash “sexual insanity” and a spirit “more demonic than Islam.” In 2011, he organized an event in Detroit that was pitched to local pastors as a unity event for people of faith to pray for Detroit’s economy when its actual purpose was to “invade Dearborn” and convert followers of “demonic” Islam to Christianity.

Perhaps the most laughable statement in IHOP’s response is this:

Our primary mandate as an organization is prayer and humanitarian action; it is not political. We are not involved in U.S. politics, let alone politics in another nation.

Not involved in US politics? Where do we begin?

Lou Engle, an IHOP co-founder, is a dominionist who believes the church’s role is to “rule history with God.”

"The church’s vocation is to rule history with God...The same authority that has been given to Christ Jesus for overwhelming conquering and dominion has been given to the saints of the most high....We’re God’s rulers upon the earth...We will govern over kings and judges will have to submit...We’re called to rule! To change history! To be co-regents with God!"

Engle has been intensely involved in US politics, hosting “The Call” prayer rallies in election years to denounce legal abortion and politicians that support it. He worked hard to mobilize support for anti-gay Proposition 8 in California.

In 2008 he passionately opposed the election of Barack Obama and declared that by choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate, McCain had “gone to war for America, for our families, and for our children. And this war, we cannot afford to lose.”

In 2009, Engle introduced Rep. Michele Bachmann and asked her to lead a prayer at an anti-health-care-reform “prayercast” organized by the Family Research Council.

More recently IHOP and its leader Mike Bickel were at the center of organizing dominionist leaders to put on “The Awakening,” a 2011 prayer rally that served as the launch of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign. Bickel served as the event’s MC. The head of IHOP’s Tallahassee branch, Pam Oslen, was on the Perry campaign’s Florida leadership team.

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

Bobby Jindal Courts 'Christian Nation' Crowd For 2016 Presidential Bid

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal would like to be president, so he spent the weekend at Liberty University doing what a Republican presidential wannabe does: courting Religious Right leaders by assuring them that he is one of them and shares their vision for America.  Jindal spoke at Liberty’s commencement address on Saturday, where he spouted Religious Right talking points about the “war” on religious liberty by a “left” that wants to “silence people of faith.” And on Friday night, he spent two hours talking about his faith in a session with politically influential pastors organized by Christian-nation zealot David Lane.

The Washington Post’s Tom Hamburger reports that Jindal talked the pastors through his conversion from Hinduism to Protestantism in high school, while not spending much time on his conversion to Catholicism a few years later in college. Jindal positions himself solidly in the conservative religious coalition by calling himself an “evangelical Catholic.”  According to the Post,

The visiting pastors flew to Lynchburg over the weekend at the invitation of the American Renewal Project, a well-funded nonprofit group that encourages evangelical Christians to engage in the civic arena with voter guides, get-out-the-vote drives and programs to train pastors in grass-roots activism. The group’s founder, David Lane, has built a pastor network in politically important states such as Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and South Carolina and has led trips to Israel with Paul and others seeking to make inroads with evangelical activists.

The group that Lane invited to Lynchburg included Donald Wild­mon, a retired minister and founder of the American Family Association, a prominent evangelical activist group that has influence through its network of more than 140 Christian radio stations.

As regular RWW readers know, the Post’s description, while accurate, only begins to describe David Lane, who we reported last year is “an anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-Mormon, Christian-nation absolutist who has declared war, not only on secularism and separation of church and state, but also on establishment Republicans who don’t embrace his vision of an America in which the Bible serves as ‘the principle textbook' for public education and a ‘Christian culture’ has been ‘re-established.’” Lane believes Christians “must be retrained to war for the Soul of America and quit believing the fabricated whopper of the ‘Separation of Church and State.’” He says America must repent for breaking the founders' covenant with God or face the wrath of God, which he said last year would include car bombings in Los Angeles, Des Moines, and Washington, D.C. as a consequence of abortion rights, the national debt, and “homosexuals praying at the inauguration.”

Jindal’s personal appeal to Religious Right leaders may encourage them to take a closer look at his record. Given his hostility to abortion rights and LGBT equality and his record of privatizing public education, using tax dollars to promote creationism, and rejecting Medicaid expansion, far-right pastors will probably like what they see. 

Religious Right Sees Opportunity In Supreme Court Prayer Ruling

Religious Right groups are celebrating yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling upholding sectarian prayer at official public meetings – like city council sessions – and narrowly defining what would amount to unconstitutional religious coercion of people attending. The case is Town of Greece v. Galloway.

Though divided on their reasoning, the Court’s five conservative Justices upheld a practice in which, month after month, year after year, town leaders reached out to Christians and Christians only to offer opening prayers at town meetings, prayers that were often quite sectarian in nature.  The very few exceptions were in response to this lawsuit.  Although town leaders said that members of other religions could lead the opening prayer if they asked to, they had hardly let that be widely known, and they continued to reach out only to Christians.

SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston characterized the Court’s ruling as “[s]topping just short of abandoning a historic barrier to religion in government activity.” Conservative and religious groups hostile to church-state separation are gushing over the ruling and hope it is a sign of more to come.

The Becket Fund signaled that it hopes yesterday’s decision will just be the first step in further dismantling rulings upholding church-state separation.  From Deputy General Counsel Eric Rassbach:

“The Court’s landmark decision today echoes the wisdom of the Founders. Not only did the Court uphold the centuries-old practice of legislative prayer, it also started the work of bringing the entire law of church and state onto a firmer foundation in the words of the Constitution.”

David Corman, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the Town of Greece:

“Opening public meetings with prayer is a cherished freedom that the authors of the Constitution themselves practiced,” he said. “Speech censors should have no power to silence volunteers who pray for their communities just as the Founders did.”

The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer celebrated the ruling as a “monster win” and said it was proof that “we are fighting a winnable war,” because the “Supreme Court has ruled that you can have sectarian prayers, prayers in the name of Jesus Christ, to open any legislative session, any lawmaking body – a county commission can do it, a city council can do it, a state government can do it.”  

Fischer he went on at great length endorsing Justice Clarence Thomas’s position that the First Amendment does not limit states’ constitutional right to, for example, declare the Southern Baptist Church to be the official state church and force people to support the church with taxes.  Fischer, in fact, called Thomas “a stud on the issue of religious liberty.” (Fischer says he wouldn’t personally support coercive state establishment, but he supports Thomas’s constitutional analysis, and says it should be applied to interpret that the federal government has no right to tell public schools whether and how prayer is permitted.)  Fischer is delighted that the Supreme Court’s majority decision discussed the fact that the Continental Congress opened with “emphatically Christian” prayer.

Gordon Klingenschmitt:

Hallelujah!  Today YOU helped score a VICTORY at the U.S. Supreme Court, reaching the pinnacle of seven years of work and prayer with The Pray In Jesus Name Project.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that it's OK for pastors to pray "in Jesus' name" at city council meetings. 

Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins:

"The court today has upheld our first and most fundamental freedom. The court has rejected the idea that as citizens we must check our faith at the entrance to the public square. We applaud the majority on the court for getting that right. This is an historic victory for all Americans of faith and for the common-sense reading of the Constitution itself. The Court's affirmation of the right of Americans to practice their faith in public life and the public square is a major win for the religious liberty we have always cherished.”

Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition called it a victory that would empower Religious Right activists to push elected officials to bring sectarian prayer into more official settings:

Reed also announced that, armed with today’s Supreme Court decision, Faith & Freedom Coalition would redouble its efforts to encourage opportunities for prayers offered at meetings by town boards, city councils, and county commissions nationwide.  The organization has in the past mobilized public support for local officials who have allowed such prayers at government meetings.

“Speech honoring God and invoking His blessing on our land should be welcomed, not treated with hostility,” said Reed.  “With today’s decision, the government officials that faith-based voters help to elect can provide a forum for such expressions without fear of being reversed by future courts.”

Concerned Women for America celebrated, saying the decision “lifts up the best in our country.” CWA President Penny Nance managed to slam what she said has been “a push to establish atheism as the official religion of our land” and claim that the Supreme Court’s ruling was a win for everyone, “even the staunchest atheists.”

Those who object to these practices do not seek to exercise their religious liberty; they merely feel hostile towards other people’s religious practices and seek to silence them. They seek to silence those with whom they disagree….

The Founders of this great nation benefited and relied heavily on prayer to seek the guidance they needed to establish the foundations of our nation. When the first Congress met on September 7, 1774, it began with an amazing prayer “in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.” No religious oppression or favoritism followed from that practice, only the blessings of freedom and liberty, including the freedom of religious thought, belief, or even non-belief.

Everyone wins, including the staunchest atheists, when we allow the free exercise of religion or non-religion according to a person’s conscience.

Fox News pundit Todd Starnes, who specializes in promoting fictitious threats to religious freedom, declared that “the Obama administration has been waging a war against people of the Christian faith,” somehow neglecting to mention that the Obama administration had actually weighed in on the side of the Town of Greece and its overwhelmingly Christian prayers.  Starnes said it is “always a good day when the anti-Christian folks get smacked down by the Supreme Court” but said the fact that it was a 5-4 decision should be a “wake-up call” for Americans that elections matter.

Gary Bauer made the same point:

Here's the good news: The Supreme Court today upheld public prayers, even Christian prayers, at government meetings in 5-to-4 decision.

But that is the bad news too! The free exercise of religion depends on just one vote….

Now a win is a win. But don't miss the fact that this victory for religious liberty was won by the narrowest of margins. One more liberal appointment and the Supreme Court could easily ban prayers before town council meetings and legislative sessions. If that were to happen, our Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto would surely be next.

Your vote at the ballot box has a direct impact on our federal courts. Federal judges, including those on the Supreme Court, are appointed (by the president) and confirmed (by the Senate) by the men and women we elect to public office. 

 

Bryan Fischer: Reading Clarence Thomas Is Like 'Listening To Myself'

American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer said on his radio program today that he loved Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway so much that after reading an excerpt to his audience, he remarked, “I’m reading this and I’m thinking, man, I’m listening to myself.”

As Peter noted, Thomas argued that “the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not apply to the states at all,” a view shared by Fischer.

“Clarence Thomas is sounding like me,” Fischer said. “There’s no restrictions on what states can do, according to the First Amendment.”

Supreme Court Upholds Sectarian Prayer At Official Meetings: Religious Right Cheers

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court today overturned a ruling by the Second Circuit appeals court and upheld the practice of an upstate New York town that begins its council meetings with prayers that are almost always given by Christian clergy. Religious Right groups are celebrating the ruling; Ralph Reed announced that his Faith and Freedom coalition would use the ruling to “redouble its efforts” to encourage more prayers at city and county government meetings. Both the decision and the Religious Right's responses are likely to invite more religiously divisive church-state conflicts.

Justice Clarence Thomas used his concurring opinion to argue, as he has before, that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not apply to the states at all; in other words, he believes there is no constitutional reason that a state cannot have an official religion. Fortunately, the decision in this case is far narrower than that.

It is, as Justice Stephen Breyer says in the opening sentence of his dissent, a “fact-sensitive” case. It did not revolve around the question of whether legislative prayer is unconstitutional – the Court has previously upheld legislative prayer in Marsh v Chambers – but in part whether the way clergy were invited to give prayers to open town council meetings was sufficiently inclusive. In Breyer’s words,

“The question in this case is whether the prayer practice of the town of Greece, by doing too little to reflect the religious diversity of its citizens, did too much, even if unintentionally, to promote the ‘political division along religious lines’ that ‘was one of the principal evils against which the First Amendment was intended to protect.’” [quoting from the Court’s 1971 decision in Lemon v Kurtzman]

Also at issue was whether a town council meeting, at which members of the public are appealing to councilmembers for specific action, is more susceptible to being a coercive environment than a prayer given by a chaplain to a group of lawmakers about to start their legislative day. For example, the council hears debates on individual applications from residents and business owners seeing zoning permits and other licenses. In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan recognizes that the Court has upheld the historical tradition of legislative prayer, but writes that the town hall meetings in Greece are a kind of hybrid, “occasions for ordinary citizens to engage with and petition their government, often on highly individualized matters.” That, she says, requires special care that each member of the community is respected as an equal citizen, something the Town of Greece has not done.

While the plaintiffs in the Town of Greece case did not argue that town leaders were motivated by religious bias, they argued that the selection process led almost exclusively to prayers being given by Christian ministers, and to prayers that were not just ceremonial invocations but quite explicitly sectarian. Kagan writes that town meetings need not be religion-free zones, saying that “pluralism and inclusion in a town hall can satisfy the constitutional requirement of neutrality,” but concluded that the board of the Town of Greece did nothing to recognize religious diversity, and that its practice “does not square with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government.” She offers a hypothetical of a Muslim resident coming before the board to see a zoning variance to build an addition on her home:

“But just before she gets to say her piece, a minister deputized by the Town asks her to pray ‘in the name of God’s only son Jesus Christ.’ She must think – it is hardly paranoia, but only the truth—that Christian worship has become entwined with local governance. And now she faces a choice—to pray alongside the majority as one of that group or somehow to register her deeply felt difference….She does not wish to be rude to her neighbors, nor does she wish to aggravate the Board members whom she will soon be trying to persuade. And yet she does not want to acknowledge Christ’s divinity, any more than many of her neighbors would want to deny that tenet. So assume she declines to participate with the others in the first act of the meeting—or even, as the majority proposes, that she sands up and leaves the room altogether…At the least, she becomes a different kind of citizen, one who will not join in the religious practice that the Town Board has chosen as reflecting its own and the community’s most cherished beliefs. And she thus stands at a remove, based solely on religion, from her fellow citizens and her elected representatives.

Everything about that situation, I think, infringes the First Amendment…That the Town Board selects, month after month and year after year, prayergivers who will reliably speak in the voice of Christianity, and so places itself behind a single creed. That in offering those sectarian prayers, the Board’s chosen clergy members repeatedly call on individuals, prior to participating in local governance, to join in a form of worship that may be at odds with their own beliefs. That the clergy thus put some residents to the unenviable choice of either pretending to pray like the majority or declining to join its communal activity, at the very moment of petitioning their elected leaders. That the practice thus divides the citizenry, creating one class that shares the Board’s own evident religious beliefs and another (far smaller) class that does not. And that the practice also alters a dissenting citizen’s relationship with her government, making her religious difference salient when she seeks only to engage her elected representatives as would any other citizen.”

Kagan writes that the Court majority opinion reflected “two kinds of blindness.” First, it missed the difference between traditional legislative prayer and the setting of the town council, a difference she described as a “chasm,” and the fact that the prayers in Greece are mostly addressed to the public rather than lawmakers. She said the majority “changes the subject” rather than addressing the sectarian content of the prayers delivered in Greece, such as those invoking “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross” or “the plan of redemption that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” These are not, as she says, the recitation of “God save the United States and this honorable Court” invoked at the beginning of Supreme Court sessions.

Kagan cites George Washington’s well-known letter to the Newport Hebrew Congregation, in which he assured members of that congregation that the First Amendment does not simply tolerate people of minority faiths, rather all possess the same “immunities of citizenship.”

Writes Kagan:

For me, that remarkable guarantee means at least this much: When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another. And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines. I believe, for all the reasons I have given, that the Town of Greece betrayed that promise. I therefore respectfully dissent from the Court’s decision.

Breyer also joined Kagan’s dissent, as did Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor. The case is Town of Greece v. Galloway.

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