Church-State

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.

Pat Robertson Fears Islamist-Atheist Takeover Of America

Today on the 700 Club, Pat Robertson pointed to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent description of the United Kingdom as a “Christian country” as a source of hope against the Islamist-atheist hordes attacking America.

“This nonsense about separation of church and state has gotten way, way beyond the bounds of what the Founders of our Constitution thought,” Robertson said. “We’re under assault by militant Islamists, militant atheists, secularists, those who want to destroy all of the fabric of faith in our society.”

Later in the program, the televangelist warned that “there are people representing the Muslim Brotherhood who are in the highest councils of the security apparatus of the United States of America advising our leaders as to how to deal with terrorism. Nonsense.”

Supreme Court Declines to Review New Mexico Rejection of Wedding Photographer Case

The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected a request to consider Elane Photography v. Willock, a case brought by a wedding photography business that had been penalized for violating a New Mexico law against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. After the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously rejected its free speech and religious liberty claims, the company appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that taking pictures is expressive activity protected by the First Amendment, and that the government has no right to force a photographer to take a particular picture. The Supreme Court declined to take the case.

People For the American Way is committed to religious liberty, freedom of expression, and LGBT equality, and recognizes that people who support both religious freedom and full legal equality for LGBT people can and do disagree on where lines should be drawn in such cases.  A small business person who wants to run a business that reflects their values can be a sympathetic figure. Some believe a mom-and-pop company whose owners have religious objections to same-sex marriage should have the right to turn away a gay couple under those circumstances.  But it is hard to identify a legal principle by which a business covered by an anti-discrimination law would be allowed to ignore the law on the basis of the owner’s religious beliefs on marriage, but not on the basis of his religious beliefs on segregation or gender inequality.

The tension between the rights of a business owner and the ability of a legislature to ban discrimination as a matter of public policy finds eloquent expression in New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Bosson’s concurrence in the Elane Photography case.  The court unanimously upheld a finding by the state’s Human Rights Commission that refusing to provide services to a same-sex couple had violated anti-discrimination law. Bosson wrote that the court’s ruling means that the business owners “are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives. Though the rule of law requires it, the result is sobering.”

More from Bosson’s opinion:

On a larger scale, this case provokes reflection on what this nation is all about, its promise of fairness, liberty, equality of opportunity, and justice. At its heart, this case teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others. A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of our nation’s strengths, demands no less. The Huguenins [the business owners] are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish, they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead. The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more. But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life…In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs , so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.

Bosson’s opinion recognizes that there are competing interests at play and that can make line-drawing difficult.  He treats the religious liberty questions respectfully.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped Religious Right from portraying the decision, and Bosson’s opinion, as pure tyranny.  A lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom called the decision “a blow to our client and every American’s right to live free.” Cases in Colorado and Oregon involving bakery owners that declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and faced punishment for violating anti-discrimination laws have generated similar rhetoric. 

Most Americans do not see tyranny in the balancing act that legislatures and courts are engaged in. They believe the principle staked out in PFAW Foundation’s Twelve Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics: it is legitimate for government to require religious organizations and individuals to abide by rules and regulations that promote the common good. A poll conducted by Third Way and HRC just before the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act found that 68 percent of Americans believe that small business owners should not be allowed to refuse service to gays or lesbians, regardless of their religious beliefs. When asked specifically about wedding-related services like catering, flowers, or cakes, nearly as many – 64 percent – were opposed to laws that would allow small businesses to deny services based on their religious beliefs.

PFAW

BarbWire: Liberal Christians, Non-Christians, 'People Of The World' – Satanic, Satanic, Satanic!

Given Matt Barber’s own penchant for extremely harsh rhetoric, it’s not surprising that his newish website BarbWire has become a home for anti-gay hostility and Religious Right alarmism over the impending death of religious freedom in America.

Today’s offering comes from Gina Miller, who is described as “a conservative Christian political writer and radio/television voice professional.” Miller’s article, “Why Are Christians (Really) the World’s Most Persecuted Group?” was written in response to a column from Middle East Forum that BarbWire had linked to. Its author had argued that Christians are persecuted because Christianity is the world’s biggest religion, it seeks converts, and is a religion of martyrdom. No, Miller says, Satan is the reason Christians are persecuted. And Satan is operating through a lot of channels.

Islam, she says, is Satanic.

Islam is a demonic, militant-political-religious ideology born of the children of Ishmael, and like them, it has greatly proliferated.  It is one of Satan’s premiere deceptions, tyrannically ensnaring countless millions of people….

Those who adhere to Islam naturally have a demonically-inspired hatred for the people of the Lord, but as the Bible says, they hate everyone.  However, it is with the deepest of hatreds that they regard Christians and Jews, because their hatred is Satan’s hatred, and it goes well beyond simple dislike or disagreement on principles.  It goes to the heart of the spiritual essence of the foundational struggle, to the basic forces of darkness and light.

But it’s not just Islam. Every non-Christian religion is Satanic, she says, and so are liberal Christians:

From the beginning of time, Satan and the other fallen angels (demons) have made war against the Lord and His creation.  It is their sole mission to steal, kill and destroy what God has made and to keep as many people as possible from the knowledge of salvation through Jesus.  In this mission, they have heaped deception upon deception for mankind.  They have created countless false doctrines and distractions to mislead and deceive people into taking the path to Hell.  The world’s false religions—all those whose foundation is not solely the Gospel of Christ—lead to one place:  eternal damnation and separation from God.  This includes false, so-called “Christian” religions that deny Christ as the only Way to salvation, and instead, rely on traditions of men and on works to “earn” salvation, something we could never earn.

The frenzied, irrational hatred people of the world have for Christians is inspired by, and based in, Satan’s hatred for God and His people.  It’s a demonic hatred found in people who have rejected the Lord.  Have you ever noticed that there is not the same deep hatred for non-Christians and non-Christian religions?  Satan doesn’t hate his own work; he aggressively promotes and supports it.  Supernatural hatred for Christians and Jews exists because they are God’s people, the real deal, chosen by Him from the foundation of the world to be miraculously reconciled to Him.  We simply remind Satan of his eternal defeat and the fact that his time as “the god of this world” is short and growing to a close.  He is furious in his great loss.

And, of course, supporters of church-state separation (described by Miller as people who want to “eradicate all vestiges of Christianity in America”) are Satanic:

At the same time, as we watch our world marching inexorably toward the horror of the very last days and the period of great tribulation, those of us who put our trust in the Lord must not lose courage or hope.  The Word of the Lord is true, and every bit of it will come to pass.  This is why we see such a feverish effort by satanically-inspired people to eradicate all vestiges of Christianity in America today.  The campaign has its source in the demonic realm.  

Barber himself is no stranger to such rhetoric.  He has said Satan is behind the marriage equality movement and the Obama administration’s support for LGBT equality

The Perils of Religious Politicking

Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, a centrist Democrat facing a tough re-election campaign, launched a new political ad this month, and both the ad and the responses to it have highlighted the challenges of mixing religion and politics in ways that respect religious freedom, pluralism, and the spirit of the Constitution.

In Pryor’s new ad, he doesn’t talk about political issues or his opponent; he just talks about the Bible.

“I’m not ashamed to say that I believe in God and I believe in His word. The Bible teaches us no one has all the answers. Only God does. And neither political party is always right. This is my compass, my north star. It gives me comfort and guidance to do what's best for Arkansas. I’m Mark Pryor, and I approve this message because this is who I am and what I believe.”

The centrality of faith in Pryor’s life is well-known. But the ad was slammed by Brad Dayspring at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who mockingly suggested the ad contradicted comments Pryor had made last year: “The Bible is really not a rule book for political issues. Everybody can see it differently.”  But I don’t see the contradiction. In both, Pryor seems to be acknowledging that even people who look to the Bible for guidance can disagree on particular policy positions. Dayspring’s attack drew a surprising rebuke from Pryor’s Republican opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, who called the NRSC response “bizarre and offensive.”

The ad has drawn a mixed response from progressive commentators. Ed Kilgore at the Washington Monthly praises Pryor for “basically saying the Bible teaches some humility and reserves wisdom and final judgment to Gold Almighty, not to his self-appointed representatives on earth.” But Paul Waldman at the American Prospect takes issue with Pryor’s “I’m not ashamed” line, suggesting it is a dog-whistle for those who believe the Religious Right’s charge that Christianity is under attack in America.

Waldman notes, however, that the ad could have been a lot worse, reminding us of this notorious Rick Perry ad from 2012 which starts with very similar “I’m not ashamed” language but then gets “much more vulgar.”

A more recent example of the “a lot worse” school of religion and politics came from Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia, who is currently running for the Senate. In a six-minute speech from the floor of the House of Representatives in September, he mixed personal religious testimony with Christian-nation claims that the government should be run according to his interpretation of the Bible.

Broun’s remarks start with a core Christian Reconstructionist principle: that God ordained family, church and government and gave each a specific area of authority. But, he says, because of “this mistaken idea that we’re supposed to have a separation of church and state, the family and the church have abdicated a lot of its duties over to government.” (Reconstructionists believe that God did not authorize government to be involved, for example, in education or the reduction of poverty; that role is meant for family and church.)

Broun calls the Bible “the basis of our nation,” and says the fact that we aren’t running society accordingly will mean the death of our Republic.  The founding fathers, he says, were “Bible-believing Christians” who believed that “every aspect of life should follow the dictates of God’s inerrant word. That’s what I believe in. That’s what we should all believe in.”

This message is not new for Broun. Last year Kilgore wrote about a Broun speech in which he said that evolutionary science is “from the pit of hell” and that the Bible is a “manufacturer’s handbook” that “teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society,” as well as our lives as individuals. “That’s the reason as your Congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C.”

There are important distinctions between Pryor’s ad and Broun’s speeches.  It is helpful to look at them through the prism of People For the American Way Foundation’s 12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics. These “rules of the road” are meant to generate a broader conversation about how we can create and sustain a civic space that reflects the principles of the Constitution and the values of respectful civic discourse, one that welcomes the participation of people of all faiths and people of none. Consider this passage from the 12 Rules:

Public officials are free to talk about their faith, the role it plays in their lives, and how it influences their approach to issues, but must not use the power of their office to proselytize or impose particular religious beliefs or practices on others.

Pryor’s ad seems to be intended to keep to the appropriate side of this rule, where Broun clearly violates the rule by proselytizing from the floor of the House.

In addition, Broun, like David Barton and other Religious Right leaders, claims that the right-wing position on every political issue finds some grounding or justification in the Bible, which should be the final word on every policy matter.  Broun’s insistence that every aspect of law and society should fit his interpretation of the Bible also violates another rule, “It is appropriate to discuss the moral and religious dimensions of policy issues, but religious doctrine alone is not an acceptable basis for public policy.” In contrast, Pryor’s ad explicitly says that he doesn’t claim to have all the answers, even though he uses the Bible as his moral compass.

A Religious Right critic of Pryor’s ad broke another of PFAW Foundation’s rules: “Religion should not be used as a political club.” As blogger Jeremy Hooper noted, Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition was “outraged” by Pryor’s ad. She said his claim to be guided by the Bible “the furthest thing from the truth” because he had voted for the Employment Non Discrimination Act, which protects people from being discriminated at work based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Lafferty is of course free to believe that fairness is not a biblical value; but she shouldn’t denigrate the sincerity of Pryor’s faith because he disagrees.

Still, Pryor’s ad is a cautionary tale about the fact that, as he himself has said, the intersection of faith and politics can be difficult to navigate.  It can come across as saying, “vote for me because I’m a Christian,” a message that fails to respect America’s constitutional ideals and growing religious pluralism. And it could be seen as uncomfortably close to the message of Mike Huckabee’s 2008 primary campaign against Mitt Romney in Iowa, which essentially boiled down to, “vote for me because I’m the right kind of Christian.” Candidates or campaigns that suggest only Christians, or certain kinds of Christians, are worthy of public office violate the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution’s prohibition on a religious test for public office. 

With Christian-nation advocates like David Lane organizing all over the country for the 2014 and 2016 elections, there’s little doubt that the months ahead will bring some downright toxic mixing of religion and politics.

PFAW

Cruz Ally David Lane: America Must Renew Christian Covenant with God

Christian nation” advocate David Lane is organizing pastors in more than a dozen states in order to elect like-minded candidates, and hopes to get conservative evangelicals to coalesce around a presidential candidate in 2016 (it’s early, but Ted Cruz seems to have an inside track). On Thanksgiving, Lane urged American Christians to ask God for mercy and forgiveness for “what we Christians have allowed to happen to America in our lifetime.”

Lane argues that the pilgrims, who believed that their undertaking was “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith,” created a covenant with God that America must renew in order to survive. Of course the United States of America was created when the U.S. Constitution was adopted, more than a century and a half after the pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. Lane argues that “the Founders established America legally as a Christian nation at the state level, rather than the Federal” – and he approvingly cites state constitutions at the time that required officeholders to be Protestant Christians.  

“To argue that America’s Founders were not Christians — and the foundation laid was not upon Christ Jesus — is at best ignorant, and at worst dishonest,” he says.

Lane, who has been demanding the return of the Bible as a primary textbook in America’s public schools, says, “Restoring Christian education is a matter of life-and-death.” The last three or four generations of American students, he says, have been failed by secularism. “Instead of developing Christian character, secularism has dispersed the sacraments of that pagan religion and indoctrinated America’s children and culture with a false, dead religion.”

Lane finished his Thanksiving column – distributed through the right-wing Western Journalism Center – as he frequently does, with a call for “a Gideon or Rahab the Harlot” to stand. Both are biblical characters who according to the Old Testament were used by God to help destroy enemies of the Israelites.

Biker Belinda Bee: God's People Taking Country Back

One of the speakers at Larry Klayman’s rally launching the Second American Revolution was Belinda Bee, a coordinator of 2 Million Bikers to DC. The group initially came together in protest of a 9-11 event called Million American March Against Fear (which some dubbed the Million Muslim March). At the time the biker group was denied a permit to protest, which Bee told Fox News was part of a “political agenda.” In the end, thousands of bikers did roll through Washington that day. At Klayman’s rally, Bee expressed contempt for President Obama – she referred to him as “whatever it is in office over there” – and for the federal government.  “We are homeland security. We are our own government. The government does not tell us what to do. We’re supposed to tell them.”

By teaming up with Klayman and his call for Americans to overthrow the current government and start over, the biker group seems to have expanded its vision far beyond an annual 9-11 protest. Bee’s remarks were heavily focused on America’s relationship with God, and she seemed to call for abandoning every constitutional amendment after the first ten:

Our mission statement starts off with: We at 2 Million Bikers to DC do believe in God, Country, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights – as written. That means there should not be change. We don’t care about all of those Bill of Rights that came after the original. We want to go back to our Founding Fathers’ views and beliefs. We are one nation under God, and without God, we are not America. I’m gonna tell you right now, the first thing that I hear somebody talk about is ‘I have freedom from religion.’ No sir that’s not what it says, it says freedom of religion. Do not preach to me about this not being a God country. It was founded on God. They came over here and left to come here to be able to have the freedom to be a Christian, and to have the God that we have, that brought this country together, that this country was created after.

Bee may want to think through her position: getting rid of all those later amendments and returning to the vision of the founders would not only make slavery legal and abolish women’s right to vote, it would also allow President Obama to run for a third term.

Bee also targeted the supposed threat of Sharia law and churches that accept “perversion” – presumably homosexuality.

You know what, y’all? I want to explain something. This is no longer about Democrat. This is no longer about Republican. This is about getting rid of those who are trying to enslave us. This is about getting rid of those who are trying to push their Sharia law on us. Let me tell you something. [audience: “Christian blood in this earth!”] That’s it. We are God’s people and if we don’t get our own churches to stand up and quit submitting and talking about, it’s ok for us to be different. Perversion is perversion and per the Bible it is not acceptable in God’s eyes. And we’ve got to quit letting others tell us it’s ok. It’s not. … And who are we?  We are God fearing Americans. We are homeland security, and we’re taking our country back.

Bee and a colleague said the group is launching political organizations in every state, will mount a major campaign in 2014, and is preparing to launch a social networking site that will be based outside the United States and therefore beyond the prying eyes of the NSA.

Ted Cruz Meeting David Lane's Religious Test For The Presidency

We’ve been covering the political organizing of Christian-nation advocate David Lane, and the way that Republican presidential hopefuls flock to his events in important primary states like Iowa and South Carolina. Recent news reports make it even clearer that one of Lane’s goals is to establish a de facto religious test for the Republican presidential campaign – a violation of the spirit of the U.S. Constitution and the first of our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s “12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics.”

Ted Cruz, who appeared at a Lane-organized event in Iowa this summer, spoke at Lane’s “Rediscovering God in America” event in South Carolina on Monday along with an array of Religious Right figures. Before the event Lane had described the goal:

“Everyone knows what they’re running for,’’ Lane said. “We want to know where you are coming from. What we’re looking for is what’s behind the curtain.’’

Thanks to Cruz and his father, it’s pretty clear “what’s behind the curtain” when it comes to Cruz’s faith – a belief that he has been anointed by God to help lead America.  US News reports on Monday’s event in South Carolina:

…during a gathering of 400 South Carolina pastors here Monday, attendees laid their hands upon Sen. Ted Cruz and asked God to grant him the strength to continue to be “as bold as a lion” and “fearless before all men.”

The Texas freshman now famous for his role in the government shutdown gave every indication he’d do all in his power to make sure their prayers are answered.

In his speech, Cruz delivered a clarion call to defend a litany of important causes to the evangelical leaders in the room: From the Ten Commandments and ‘Under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance to standing with Israel, in support of traditional marriage and against abortion.

The religious standard to which Lane plans to hold presidential contenders, and his fondness for Cruz, were even more explicit in comments reported in the New York Times this weekend. Lane is describing the Iowa event at which Cruz and Rand Paul appeared:

“One of the pastors said to Rand, ‘We’ve beat all around this, I don’t want to beat all around this anymore, let’s be real specific: Would you define yourself as born again?’” recalled David Lane, a Christian conservative organizer. “He said, ‘I’m born again.’ ”

Still, Mr. Lane underscored the advantage Mr. Cruz has with some evangelicals. Asked about the Texas senator’s faith, he responded, “Cruz is obviously born again and goes to First Baptist Houston.”

Lane wants to make sure that there’s no repeat of the GOP’s nomination of anyone who is not “born again” in a manner that meets his approval. During the last presidential campaign, Lane was deeply troubled by Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. When Rick Perry backer Robert Jeffress made anti-Mormon statements, Lane wrote that “juxtaposing traditional Christianity to the false god of Mormonism, is very important in the larger scheme of things.”

If Cruz or any of the Republican presidential hopefuls has any problems with Lane’s divisive approach to religion and politics, they’re keeping it to themselves.

Larry Taunton At FRC: US Must Choose Between Christianity And Tyranny

Larry Taunton, an author whose Fixed Point Foundation is devoted to advocating for the truth of Christianity in the public arena, spoke at the Family Research Council Wednesday on the topic of “Combating Secularism in the Public Square.” Having recently injured his foot in a stumble, he joked that he wished he had a better story, that he’d been “kicking around a few liberals.” 

Taunton’s FRC speech  recycled much of the language in an article he wrote last year mocking the “Reason Rally” in Washington, D.C. as the “Rally for Nothing in Particular.” It reiterated the main thrust of his book, The Grace Effect: societies do better when there are enough Christians around to bring grace to the culture, and societies are in danger when they no longer have Christianity at their center.

Citing “new atheists” such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins (whose books he called “sheer nonsense”), Taunton argued that there is “growing hostility toward Christianity” and an effort to “drive Christianity from western life and culture.” Like many speakers at Religious Right events, he argued that a big source of America’s problems is that Christians and the church are not outspoken enough.

Taunton argues that how people answer questions about God determines our view of mankind and our view of government, particularly whether government is meant to serve man or man to serve the state. He warned that “we live in a time when the state is deemed to be the answer to all things.” The notion that “all men are created equal,” he said, makes sense only in a Christian context. And he warned that “we cannot dismiss God from public life and retain human dignity, worth and meaning, because those things can only be given by God.” More explicitly, he said, “society cannot and will not stand in the absence of belief in God.”  Taunton says some secular societies, like those in Western Europe, are “still running off of their accumulated Christian capital. But beware. When the fumes in that tank are spent, tyranny cannot be far away.”

In a response to a question from FRC’s notoriously anti-gay Peter Sprigg, Taunton expressed a sort of grudging admiration for the “gay and lesbian lobby,” which he said has changed America’s cultural conversation even though it represents a “tiny percentage” of the population.  He said many young people who identify as homosexual see God as a “cosmic spoilsport” and the church as hostile.  Citing research he did for an Atlantic article on young atheists, he said one young lesbian viewed Christians not as a group but as a “gang.”  Taunton said that in reaching out to people, he does not believe in compromising the gospel, but he encourages Christians to consider whether they are “projecting grace” in the way they communicate.  Odd, then, that he praised the Family Research Council, whose approach to LGBT people could hardly be any less grace-projecting.

AFA Lunch at VVS: Call for 'Aggressive' and 'Offensive' Church in Culture War

The American Family Association hosted a luncheon on Friday at the Values Voter Summit. The featured speaker, Rep. Randy Forbes, was a no-show, though the audience was assured his non-appearance had nothing to do with ads being run in his district urging him to stay away.  Whatever was keeping Forbes so busy that he couldn’t break away didn’t prevent Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) from making it to the VVS hotel to give some opening remarks. Aderholt praised the activists, saying that the only way for America to be saved is for the country not to forget its founding values.  In Forbes’ absence we also heard from Jerry Boykin, the retired general who is now a VP at the Family Research Council, and Lea Carawan, the director of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation.

Boykin was his blunt self, asserting, “we are in a culture war today like America has never been” and complaining that the problem was with the church in general and with “Christians in name only” in particular.  “The majority of the Christians in America today are dead, asleep,” he groused. “They are not involved in what’s going on in our culture. They’re not engaged in this culture war. They are not putting their faith into action.”  He said it was the church that brought about the Revolutionary War and the abolition of slavery through the Civil War.  When he looks at America today, he said, “There is no other solution to our ills than for the church to wake up, get off your dead behinds and get in this culture war that we’re involved in.”

Carawan picked up on Boykin’s message, saying that members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus and affiliated members in state legislatures are disappointed that they aren’t getting more backup from churches.  For example, she said, members of the Maine legislature have had to do the organizing to get pastors involved in a push for a “religious liberty” bill.  Carawan said the caucus was committed to an “offensive strategy” – one example she gave was Pennsylvania legislation requiring the display of “In God We Trust” in all the state’s public schools. 

Carawan said the prayer caucus favors a neutral public square and religious liberty for all Americans, but in the next breath said “we are equally committed to advocate, aggressively engage the public for advocating that Judeo-Christian values be reflected in our laws and policy, because somebody’s values are going to be reflected in laws and policies.” The founding fathers, she said, fought “so that we could have Judeo-Christian values reflected in our government, laws, and policy.” The founders understood, she said, “that it is only Christianity, Judeo-Christian principles, that provides the only valid moral basis that will secure freedom for all Americans.”

Carawan warned that “the strategy of the secular progressive agenda is simple and dangerous:  use the limitless financial resources at their disposal and the power of government to overwhelm and bury religious freedom in the ash heap of history. And that’s their plan. Not on our watch. Not on our watch. We’ve relied on defending our freedom in the courts. But this isn’t sufficient. We have to go on the offensive. We have to be aggressive. We have to stand up. We have to be intentional and strategic.”

Pat Robertson Marks 9/11 By Blaming Separation Of Church And State For Inviting Radical Muslim 'Fifth Column' Into America

Two days following 9/11 terrorist attacks, televangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell blamed the attacks on “the pagans, the abortions, the feminists and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way.”

Today, Robertson remembered 9/11 by attacking former president George W. Bush for calling Islam a “religion of peace.”

“They believe that anybody who doesn’t submit is at war with them and they are prime targets, and for the Western nations to welcome this fifth column into their midst is just committing suicide,” Robertson claimed.

“The reason is they have lost their faith in God, they have lost their faith in Jesus Christ, they don’t believe in what the Bible says and the core values of our society have gone away,” Robertson continued. “We’ve done it here in America, we’ve abolished prayer in the schools, we’ve taken out Bible-reading in the schools and little by little by little we’ve eroded the rights—we keep talking about separation and this that and the other.”

Watch:

Robertson made the remarks following a report by Dale Hurd which linked radical Islamic groups to liberals. “Muslims and the European left continue their strange political partnership; while they’re polar opposites when it comes to women’s rights, abortions and homosexuality, Muslims vote for the left while the left grows its constituency by encouraging Muslim immigration and the spread of Islamic values,” Hurd claimed. “America too has been knowingly trying to advance the cause of Muslim radicals in Syria and Egypt.”

Alabama Government Agency Prays Against Gay Marriage

The Alabama Public Service Commission kicked off a meeting on power rates last week with a prayer against gay marriage and reproductive rights. John Delwin Jordan, who was at the meeting to testify on behalf of the Prattville Tea Party, opened up the meeting in prayer after receiving a laudatory introduction by Twinkle Cavanaugh, the head of the PSC.

After asking attendees if they believed in the power of prayer, Jordan concluded his prayer by lamenting, “We’ve taken you out of our schools; we’ve taken you out of our prayers; we’ve murdered your children; we’ve said it’s OK to have same-sex marriage, God. We have sinned.”

Birmingham News columnist John Archibald writes that the sectarian, political prayer may have helped Cavanaugh frame the debate over the PSC’s pro-corporate bent:

She gets – and Alabama Power gets – exactly what they want. They want the issue lost in passionate belief, an ideological tussle designed to pit tree-huggers against coal miners, conservationists against those concerned with jobs, liberals against conservatives.



Which is the best reason to remember what these hearings are about.

They are about Alabama Power's rate structure. Period. It is a structure – though debated to near incomprehension at these hearings – that is high for residential customers and low for industry. It allows the company to write off an $8 million salary for CEO Charles McCrary as Operations and Maintenance, at a government-regulated monopoly.

It lets the company take a return on equity 30-40 percent higher than the national average, according to testimony today that was not disputed, and allows it to take hundreds of millions in higher profits that could be saved by ratepayers and pumped back into the economy.

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul Rally Right-Wing Pastors in Iowa

As we noted earlier this week, Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul were the main draws at “Rediscovering God in America,” an event for conservative pastors in Iowa that was organized by Christian-nation advocate David Lane under the auspices of the Iowa Renewal Project.  According to a report in the Des Moines Register, Cruz knew his audience:

In a fiery, Bible-quoting first speech during his first time in Iowa, Republican Ted Cruz called on evangelical conservatives to demand their GOP elected officials actually stand for the conservative principles they pretend to believe in.

“Belief, saying I believe in something, is not sitting there quietly doing the golf clap,” Cruz told hundreds of Iowa Christian conservative ministers this morning at a private conclave in Des Moines….

Cruz lectured for 30 minutes, his voice at times rising to a shout. He answered questions for another 20 minutes, then stood at the center of a circle as pastors laid their hands on him and the whole audience – a predominantly white group with about 20 black pastors – bowed heads to pray for him.

As we have reported, event organizer David Lane has declared war on Republicans who are insufficiently conservative or aggressive. That’s something he has in common with Cruz, who complained during his presentation that Republicans in Congress would not have the guts to defund Obamacare in upcoming appropriations battles. And he portrayed himself as courageous warrior for right-wing causes: "The biggest applause and loudest whistles came when Cruz talked about abolishing the IRS. He said that’s “viewed as scary radical talk” in Washington, and that career politicians don’t want it to happen."

Cruz also touched on another of David Lane’s favorite themes: the responsibility of pastors to move America by being more aggressively political.

He told the pastors they have a special charge to urge their flocks to become more active in politics.

“It is so easy to hide from the public square. It is so easy to say the challenges of the country are someone else’s problem. But the pastors, and your husbands and wives who are here, ya’ll are not content to do that and I’m so grateful for that.”

The Register says that Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, who is making the Religious Right circuit on his own these days, was also in attendance.

The Register also reports on Rand Paul's speech:

Republican Rand Paul thinks the country needs to find its way back to Christian values and the traditions of the founders, he said in Iowa today.

“What America needs is not just another politician or more promises,” he said. “What America needs is a revival.”

According to the Register, Paul couched his less-interventionist foreign policy in terms of denying U.S. support for "haters of Christianity."

To an audience of about 650, Paul said some Republicans have the mistaken belief that the way for the nation to project strength is through war.

“Jesus reminds us what our goal should be when he proclaims: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,’” Paul said. “This does not mean we never go to war. But it means we should do so reluctantly, and seek an end expeditiously.”

Paul said the U.S. Senate is now attempting to arm Islamic rebels in Syria, many of whom are Al Quaeda.

“There is an irony that is impossible to escape: Our taxpayer dollars will fund Islamic rebels who may well be killing Christians,” he said. “In country after country, mobs burn the American flag and chant ‘death to America.’ Congress responds by sending more of your money to these haters of Christianity.”

And, in the line that drew a standing ovation and the most passionate applause of his speech, he said: “I say not one penny more to any nation that is burning our flag.”

 

Republican Presidential Hopefuls' Favorite 'Christian Nation' Extremist

Senators and presidential hopefuls Rand Paul and Ted Cruz will head to Iowa this week as featured speakers at a closed-door event for conservative pastors that has been organized by David Lane, 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.” He decries Supreme Court rulings on prayer and Bible reading in public schools, and says, “It’s easily defended that America was founded by Christians, as a Christian nation.”

Cruz and Paul may be motivated by the fact that a similar David Lane-organized pastors briefing is credited with Mike Huckabee’s win in the 2008 Iowa caucus.  Evangelical political strategist Doug Wead has described Lane as “the mysterious, behind the scenes, evangelical kingmaker who stormed into Iowa in 2008 and tilted the whole thing from Romney to Huckabee,” even though subsequent renewal projects failed to deliver South Carolina and Florida to Huckabee.

Still, Lane, a self-described “political operative,” has plans that go well beyond Iowa.  The “Rediscovering God in America” event scheduled for July 17 and 18 is just one of an ongoing series of pastors briefings that are central to the American Renewal Project’s 12-state strategy to turn out conservative evangelical voters in the 2013-2014 election cycle.  (Those states: Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina, Alaska, Arkansas, North Carolina, Nevada, South Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia.) 

In December, Lane described his project’s goal this way: “to engage the church in a culture war for religious liberty, to restore America to our Judeo-Christian heritage and to re-establish a Christian culture.” And he has a clear message to representatives and senators: “Vote to restore the Bible and prayer in public schools or be sent home. Hanging political scalps on the wall is the only love language politicians can hear.”

Lane is abundantly clear about his belief that the choice facing America is a return to its founding as a Christian nation or a continued descent into what he describes as paganism. He wrote  in December:

America was a Christian nation. The Mayflower Compact declared, “In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, having undertaken – for the glory of God, and the advancement of the Christian faith…”

Let’s decide if America is a Christian nation or a pagan nation – and get on with it; the sooner the better.

Lane told the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody that “America has left God” and that “unrighteousness” is “the greatest threat to freedom.” Brody says Lane “believes it’s time to remove politicians from office who have led America down this immoral and unsustainable broken path.” 

A Christian-Nation Warrior Within the GOP

To be fair to Paul and Cruz, they are only the latest Republican presidential hopefuls who have allied themselves with the zealous David Lane in order to tap his network of politically engaged pastors. Lane has been holding “pastors briefings” in 15 states since the mid-1990s. He wrote last year that state Restoration and Renewal projects had hosted more than 10,000 pastors and spouses in ten states since 2005 alone, in events that have been used to engage pastors in anti-gay initiative battles and introduce them to politicians favored by Lane. Pastors’ expenses are covered with money from the American Family Association and other religious right mega-donors. The American Renewal Project operates as a project of the AFA; Lane also operates the California-based Pastors and Pews. 

Texas Governor Rick Perry is also reportedly scheduled to participate in this week’s Iowa gathering, which may confirm his apparent interest in another run for the presidency.  Perry has a long-term relationship with Lane.  In 2005 and 2006, Lane and his network played a huge role in mobilizing support for Perry’s re-election as governor. Six pastors briefings were held around the state, and all six were addressed by Perry.  As Governor, Perry hasn’t disappointed Lane and his friends.

Heading into the 2012 election cycle, Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann, Haley Barbour, and Newt Gingrich spoke to 600 pastors, ministry leaders and spouses at a March 2011 Iowa Renewal Project Pastor’s Policy Briefing. But as the primaries approached, Lane was not satisfied with the field. He played a key role in organizing conservative religious leaders to push Perry into the presidential race.  And he masterminded and served as national finance chair for “The Response”, an August 2011 prayer rally that served as Perry’s unofficial campaign launch.

Lane enthusiastically applauded anti-Mormon attacks on Mitt Romney made by Perry backer Robert Jeffress at the Values Voter Summit in October 2011.  The Daily Beast revealed emails between Lane and religious broadcaster Dick Bott in which Lane praised Jeffress, saying the message “juxtaposing traditional Christianity to the false god of Mormonism, is very important in the larger scheme of things.”

After Perry’s candidacy imploded, Religious Right leaders split between Gingrich and Santorum, dooming last-ditch efforts to prevent Romney from becoming the GOP nominee.  Lane backed Gingrich.  He organized a conference call in Florida in late January 2012 to which he said he invited some 125,000 Florida evangelicals, including 2,400 pastors; the call reportedly had 1,000 participants and a recording was emailed to the other 124,000. But obviously he failed to prevent Romney from becoming the nominee.

During the flap over Perry backers’ attacks on Romney’s Mormonism, Lane had actually told broadcaster Bott that he would sit out the 2012 elections rather than vote for Romney. But whether or not Lane actually cast his personal vote for Romney, he continued mobilizing conservative Christians in an effort to defeat Barack Obama.  In Ohio, for example, Lane was part of a major effort by Republican evangelicals to put Romney over the top in that state.  Lane organized “several glitzy mass rallies for the state’s churchgoers featuring high-profile religious and political leaders,” the Washington Times reported last November. Lane and Ralph Reed each produced voter guides for “Ohio’s faithful.”

Although Perry’s tanking disrupted Lane’s plans to get conservative evangelicals to coalesce around a single candidate in 2012, it seems clear that he has similar intentions for 2016. He told the Houston Chronicle in June, “We’re going to try to eliminate the stuff that they [GOP leaders] do to us every four years, which is picking somebody who has no chance of being viable and they kill us off and we have the McCains and Romneys left.”

At War With the GOP

Lane’s comment about “the McCains and Romneys” is just the tip of the iceberg of contempt that he has for what he sees as a cowardly, compromising Republican establishment. He denounces moderate Republicans who are “bound and determined to deposit homosexuality – and homosexual marriage – into the Grand Old Party.” And he insists, “Those doing this to our country must be removed from office and from leadership.” (These aren’t necessarily idle threats: Lane was at the center of the successful 2010 campaign to remove from office three Iowa Supreme Court justices who had been part of a unanimous ruling in favor of marriage equality. “Lane called the judges “Judicial Gods” who believe they have the “right to rule a free people” and “impose their will” however they see fit.”)

Lane was outraged last year when many Republican Party leaders abandoned Senate candidate Todd Akin in the wake of his infamous comments about “legitimate rape”— Lane was especially indignant because at the same time the GOP was backing openly gay Senate candidate Richard Tisei in Massachusetts.  Lane mobilized support for Akin among conservative pastors and complained loudly about the GOP. “Following the pounding of Todd Akin by the GOP kings and lieutenants in the last 36 hours, I’ve come to the conclusion that the real issue is the soul of America,” he wrote in an email to activists. In October, almost 400 pastors who had gathered for a Pastors’ Policy Briefing in Missouri prayed over Akin, whose cause Lane said was “the opening battle for the soul of the Republican Party.” After all, he argues, “someone’s values must reign supreme.”

After the 2012 elections, Lane drew his battle lines:

The moderate GOP chieftains and lieutenants’ philosophy of government and set of values – in the long run – are incompatible with Christian morality and principles. As these secular “pastors” – the GOP chieftains and lieutenants – seek to bully and dictate their worldly, amoral ethics – according to their importance, omnipotence and power of the purse – there can be no amicability and meeting of minds….

Christian conservatives are coming to their moment of truth within the Republican Party. Be friendly and disarm, or annoy and aggravate the GOP kings and lieutenants by laying down the law on Christian principles and Christian values.

….

Another way to put it is: I don’t think that “restoring America” is a Christian imperative. Being a witnesses [sic] to the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the imperative. If that restores America, wonderful; if it means that America collapses – like Rome – the byproduct of the Permanent Republican Majority or a decadent, sinful, immoral culture and people, the church is God’s permanent “nation.” 

Lane writes that after launching a public fight for putting the Bible, Jesus, the Ten Commandments back into public schools, “then we will watch Providence call for ‘punishment executed by angels‘ to those who oppose His word.”

Lane says he believes there is “good news in the current Republican collapse and failure – brought about as a byproduct of the amoral, empty philosophy of the Permanent Republican majority” – and that is a political opening for evangelicals. In February, Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody said that Lane’s battle against Republicans who are more worried about the party than “sustaining a moral and righteous nation” is “the next confrontation to watch.”

Pastors as Cause of and Solution to America’s Descent into Hell

It is a recurring theme at Religious Right gatherings that the real reason for America’s slide from greatness into moral decay is that its preachers aren’t preaching aggressively enough. Lane is also in this camp. The relatively media-shy Lane told the New York Times in 2011, “From my perspective, our country is going to hell because pastors won’t lead from the pulpits.”

He complains that the “the Church didn’t even shudder when the Bible, prayer, Jesus, and the Ten Commandments were removed from the public schools in 1963.” And he says there was “not a peep from the Christian Church” in response to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, when the church “should have initiated riots, revolution, and repentance.”

Lane is fond of quoting Peter Leithart’s Between Babel and Beast. Last fall he included this segment in one of his frequently repetitive online commentaries: 

American churches have too long discipled Christians in Americanism, and that makes Christian involvement in the American polity far smoother than it ought to be. Churches must repent of our Americanism and begin to cultivate martyrs—believers who are martyrs in the original sense of ‘witness’ and in the later sense of men and women ready to follow the Lamb all the way to an imperial cross.

In a different commentary, this one for WND, Lane also quotes from Between Babel and Beast:

Until American churches actually function as outposts of Jesus’ heavenly empire rather than as cheerleaders for America – until the churches produce martyrs rather than patriots – the political witness of Christians will continue to be diluted and co-opted.

Lane also quotes Leithart in a June 2013 commentary that seemed to be too much even for the virulent WND, which has removed the post. Here’s part of the Leithart he approvingly quotes:

Americanists cannot break Babelic or bestial power because they cannot distinguish heretical Americanism from Christian orthodoxy. Until we do, America will lurch along the path that leads from Babel to Beast. If America is to be put in its place – put right – Christians must risk martyrdom and force Babel to the crux where it has to decide either to acknowledge Jesus [as] imperator and the church as God’s imperium or to begin drinking holy blood.

To that bracing section Lane adds his own words:

Where are the champions of Christ to save the nation from the pagan onslaught imposing homosexual marriage, homosexual scouts, 60 million babies done to death by abortion and red ink as far as the eye can see on America? Who will wage war for the Soul of America and trust the living God to deliver the pagan gods into our hands and restore America to her Judeo-Christian heritage and re-establish a Christian culture?...

As to the future of America – and the collapse of this once-Christian nation – Christians must not only be allowed to have opinions, but politically, Christians must be retrained to war for the Soul of America and quit believing the fabricated whopper of the ‘Separation of Church and State,” the lie repeated ad nauseum by the left and liberals to keep Christian America – the moral majority – from imposing moral government on pagan public schools, pagan higher learning, and pagan media….

Christian America is in ruins…

You ask, “What is our goal?” To wage war to restore America to our Judeo-Christian heritage with all of our might and strength that God will give us. You ask, “what is our aim?” One word only: victory, in spite of all intimidation and terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory, America will ultimately collapse.

He sees the solution as the political organizing he does among pastors.  “Bible-believing pastor,” he wrote last fall, “without overstating it, the survival of America is on your shoulders.” According to the New York Times, at a 2011 briefing in Iowa Mike Huckabee “lavished praise on Mr. Lane for ‘bringing pastors together so they go back to their pulpits and light them on fire with enthusiasm, to make America once again the greatest country on earth under God.’”

Lane’s increasingly war-like rhetoric has given people pause. Lane frequently closes his commentaries – including the one recently pulled from WND -- with the question, “Will a Gideon or Rahab the Harlot please stand.” In the Old Testament, Gideon is called by God to defeat the armies of enemies of the Israelites and end the worship of false gods. Rahab the Harlot is another Old Testament character: she enabled the Israelites’ conquest of the city of Jericho by helping two spies sent into the city by Joshua. She and her family were the only ones spared when the city was destroyed and every other man, woman and child was killed. Politicians who stand with Lane might consider asking him just what he means by his frequently repeated calls for a Gideon or Rahab to stand up among American evangelicals.

This IS the Religious Right – and the GOP’s Dominant Right Wing

Sadly, Lane’s extremist views and rhetoric do not make him much of an outlier among today’s hard-right political figures. He is closely allied with major Religious Right leaders and has no problem attracting current and former members of Congress and Republican presidential aspirants to his closed-door gatherings.  Among those scheduled to take part in this week’s Iowa event are Christian-nation “historian” David Barton, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, and the American Family Association’s Don Wildmon.  In 2010, Lane joined Barton and anti-gay activist Jim Garlow, and Lane offered a 12-day, $4000, Next Great Awakening Tour of historical sites in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington.

Also part of this week’s program in Iowa is Lane’s friend Laurence White, who says “if we do not stop abortion then God will destroy and God should destroy America.” Another participant is Ken Canfield, who ran for Governor of Kansas in 2006 on a platform calling for a “no exceptions” ban on abortion; he came in second in a crowded GOP primary .

Lane, like other Religious Right leaders, sees the acceptance of homosexuality as a sign that America has turned its back on God. In one column he approvingly cites an author who describes gays and lesbians as “parasites, depending for their cultural survival on couples that birth the next generation.” Last summer he asked pastors to “exhort the flock, entrusted to you by the Living God, to refrain from shopping at Target Stores until its leadership ends pushing homosexual marriage in America.”

He’s even got the Tea Party’s anti-big-government rhetoric down. He wrote in February as sequestration approached,  “we should immediately begin the mobilization of pastors and pews to contact—read tongue-lash and rail against – local Congressman and U.S. Senators to decry the immoral debt being piled on our kids and grandkids because Congress lacks the guts to make hard, painful decisions and cut spending.”

In fact, Lane covers all the issues important to the modern day right, connecting them to court decisions upholding the separation of church and state, which he says created a religion of secularism:

This ‘religion of secularism’ has produced red ink as far as the eye can see, homosexuals praying at the Inauguration, tax-funded abortion, homosexual marriage in several States, Evangelicals held in contempt, and God expelled from the classrooms of America – and the public square.

Lane is connected to Champion the Vote, a project of United in Purpose, which had aimed to unseat President Obama with an effort “to mobilize 5 million unregistered conservative Christians to register and vote according to the Biblical worldview in 2012.” United in Purpose produced DVDs of Lane’s 2011 event in Orlando to distribute for house parties. In the wake of Rick Perry’s supposedly non-political “Response” rally, the American Family Association sent out emails to those who registered for the event  to engage them in Champion the Vote.  It said the Response “was just the beginning of a nationwide initiative to return America to the principles on which she was founded, with God at the center of our nation.”

Politicians like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul should be held to account for partnering politically with David Lane. But given the increasingly small differences between the GOP’s right wing and its really right wing, we probably shouldn’t expect politicians cozying up to Lane to show any discomfort with his extremism. As Ted Cruz said in another context, “If standing for liberty , if standing for free market principle and the Constitution makes you a wacko bird, then, then I am a very proud wacko bird.”

Gay Marriage Violates the Separation of Church and State, Apparently

On Wallbuilders Live today, David Barton and Rick Green hosted Baptist pastor Danny Holliday, who was active in the campaign to block marriage equality legislation in the Illinois legislature. Green kicked off the show by comparing Holliday’s anti-gay activism to John Adams’ push for the adoption of the Declaration of Independence: “He was like John Adams at the Continental Congress, the guy behind the scenes that was working day and night to make sure we got the Declaration of Independence.”

Barton also wanted people to know that there is nothing “gay” about being gay.

“I’m not going to call it gay marriage; it’s homosexual marriage,” Barton pointed out. “Our friend Ken Hutcherson says he’s the gayest guy he knows because he’s not going to give the word gay up to homosexuals; gay means happy, bright and cheerful and that’s not what homosexuality is.”

Holliday told the hosts that marriage equality for gays and lesbians violates the separation of church and state. Under his Barton-esque view, Holliday said the separation of church and state actually means that the government has “no right to disregard what God says” about marriage or other issues.

It’s not about the character or integrity of people who are gay, it’s not about them. The issue is God defined marriage and since our Constitution, our Declaration of Independence and the oath of office in the state of Illinois recognize almighty God, then we have no right to disregard what God says about the institution of marriage. They don’t have a right to step beyond the veil, that separation of church and state, because it is God who gives us religious freedom and not the state.

Gay Legislator Blocked from Speaking in 'Rebellion Against God's Law'

Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Sims, an openly gay legislator, was blocked from speaking on the floor of the state House on Wednesday by a colleague who believed Sims’ plans to speak about the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage decision would be in "open rebellion against God’s law.”

According to WHYY, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe raised a procedural objection to stop Sims from speaking during a part of the House session in which legislators often give wide-ranging remarks.

"I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God's law," said Metcalfe, R-Butler.

Metcalf is a far-right legislator who has sponsored a marriage amendment to the state’s Constitution and “birther” legislation, and called for overturning birthright citizenship under the 14th Amendment in order to “bring an end to the illegal alien invasion.”

Sims, who said he appreciated the apologies and support he received from other Republican members of the House, has asked the legislature to reprimand Metcalfe for his comments. 

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