Culture War

Becket Fund Pretends It's Not Fighting The Culture Wars

Politico is up with a profile of the Becket Fund, one of the Religious Right legal groups that has pushed, via Hobby Lobby and related cases, to expand the definition of “religious liberty” to allow corporations and individuals as well as religious institutions to opt out of laws they say violate their religious beliefs.

The article by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux quotes Stanford Law School professor Michael McConnell saying nice things about Becket, but it doesn’t mention that Becket steered $1.6 million to Stanford and McConnell for a religious liberty law clinic that opened at the school last year.

In Politico, McConnell attributes to Becket the idea that religious freedom “is not – in most contexts – a culture war issue.” At a forum on religious liberty at the Newseum last year, Becket’s Mark Rienzi also suggested that religious liberty is not a culture war issue.

In reality, redefining “religious liberty” has become the central culture war issue and the primary legal and public relations strategy chosen by conservative evangelicals and their allies in the Catholic hierarchy to resist the advance of LGBT equality and restrict women’s access to reproductive care. Becket is at the center of this strategy. A corollary strategy is portraying Christians in America as the victims of religious persecution; Becket lawyers appear in Rick Santorum’s latest movie, “One Generation Away: The Erosion of Religious Liberty.”

While it is true that support for religious freedom crosses political and religious lines, and it is admirable that Becket, unlike some other Religious Right legal groups, defends the freedom of religious minorities as well as conservative Christians, it is hard to accept with a straight face the idea that Becket’s lawyers are not culture warriors.

Let’s review some of Becket’s culture-war credentials:

  • In addition to Robert George, the intellectual force behind the Manhattan Declaration and the Catholic bishops’ “religious liberty” strategy, Becket’s board includes culture warriors like the Family Research Council’s Ken Blackwell and right-wing mega-funder Sean Fieler.
  • Earlier this year, Becket celebrated the Supreme Court’s ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway, in which the Court upheld sectarian prayer at official public meetings and narrowly defined what would amount to unconstitutional religious coercion of people attending those meetings. Becket signaled that it hoped the decision would lead to the further dismantling of court rulings that uphold church-state separation.
  • Last year a Becket blog post about a legal victory for a Colorado voucher program that diverts public education funds to religious schools was headlined “Needy Kids 1, Anti-Catholic Bigots 0.”
  • In the fall of 2012, Becket co-sponsored an event for the Manhattan Declaration — itself a call to the culture-war barricades. According to an admiring report by Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, Becket President William Mumma “noted that in today’s culture wars ‘religion is not an accidental victim, it is the target’ for radical secularists. ‘When government tries to murder religion it may murder religious liberty but not religion,’ he promised, as faith will survive amid persecution.”
  • Becket’s executive director Kristina Arriaga joined hard-core culture warriors in supporting the Pray and A.C.T. group created by dominionist Lou Engle in advance of the 2010 elections.
  • In 2008 Becket ran a full-page ad in the New York Times charging that anti-Prop 8 protesters were “thugs” engaged in a “religious war” of violence and intimidation against the Mormon church; founder Kevin “Seamus” Hasson responded to criticism with a comparison of “radical secularist” Prop 8 protestors to radical Islamist terrorists.

Winners of Becket’s Canterbury Medal over the past decade include Robert George; ultraconservative Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who has waged what a local columnist called a “war on Obama” over the HHS mandate; Eric Mataxas, the author whose 2012 prayer breakfast speech delighted right-wing activists with its thinly veiled attacks on President Obama’s faith; and Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks, a strong defender of the LDS Church’s anti-equality efforts.

One more quibble with the Politico story: its headline – “God’s Rottweilers” – does give a sense of the group’s intensity, but it also implies that Becket is working for God. Media coverage all too often portrays culture war issues as a struggle between religious people and “radical secularists” when in fact there are also many religious individuals and organizations actively opposed to the Religious Right’s agendas on LGBT equality, women’s access to reproductive care, and the relationship between church and state.

Dinesh D'Souza's 'America' - The Book Is Not Better Than The Movie

This week Dinesh D’Souza’s “America: Imagine the World Without Her” is sitting at the top of the New York Times “nonfiction” bestseller list. Earlier this month, the movie version crossed the $14 million dollar mark, which moved it into six place overall for earnings by a political “documentary.”

But D’Souza is not just out to make money, of course. At a June screening of “America,” right-wing strategist Ralph Reed called D’Souza “a national treasure for our cause.” D’Souza’s last movie, “2016: Obama’s America,” was designed to keep Barack Obama from being elected.  “America” is an attempt to prevent Hillary Clinton from being elected in 2016, wrapped in an attack on the progressive movement.

At a time when corporate power and profits are at record highs, “America” the movie argues that America the country is being led down the road to national “suicide” and socialist tyranny in a plan that was conceived by organizer Saul Alinsky and is being carried out by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Central to this long-term leftist scheme to bring about American decline has been an effort to convince Americans to be ashamed of the country’s history so that they will support a reduced role for America in the world.

In the movie, D’Souza sets out to refute progressive “indictments against America: We stole the country from the Native Americans, we stole the labor of the African Americans, we took half of Mexico in the Mexican War. Today our foreign policy and free market system are forms of theft.” D’Souza says this “new story of American shame” is “not just an attack on the one percent. It’s an attack on all of us. We are a nation of immigrants and settlers and we are the ones accused of these crimes.” 

D’Souza interviews some leftists and liberals as foils, including Noam Chomsky, Ward Churchill, and Michael Eric Dyson, and turns to Alexis de Tocqueville, writing more than 150 years ago, as a “more reliable” source. De Tocqueville understood, D’Souza says, that slavery and the treatment of Native Americans were nothing unique to America, but reflected a universal “conquest ethic.” Throughout history, he says, wealth was built by conquest and theft. But America is uniquely based on a different idea – the idea of acquiring wealth not by taking it from someone else but through innovation, entrepreneurship and trade.

In the process of taking on these progressive “indictments” of American history, D’Souza essentially tells Native Americans, African Americans, and Mexican Americans that in the big picture they really have nothing to complain about, and could be successful if they were just willing to work rather than spending all their time complaining.

D’Souza is proud of himself for being willing to take on racial taboos, which he calls “the enemies of history and truth.” His point seems to be that African Americans were not uniquely abused by slavery and so they should stop thinking the country owes them something. Yes, he says, enslavement was theft of life and labor. But Irish people were also sold into indentured servitude. And some free blacks also owned slaves. Slave-owning founders should not be viewed as hypocrites but as pragmatists who had to accept slavery as the price of creating the U.S. And besides, slavery is part of the “universal conquest ethic” but “what’s uniquely American is the fighting of a great war to end it.”

The movie ignores Jim Crow, but tells the story of Madam C.J. Walker, an African American woman who was born just after the Civil War and who became wealthy by building a successful business in the early 20th Century. In the movie, an actress playing Walker lectures workers about freedom and opportunity and hard work. Of course, the movie does not mention her support for the NAACP or her active involvement in its anti-lynching campaigns. D’Souza claims she is left out of history because her success “confounds the shaming narrative.”

D’Souza also interviews Star Parker, a familiar figure at right-wing conferences, whose I-used-to-be-lazy-and-on-welfare shtick suggests that it is only an unwillingness to work hard that keeps people from being successful. In remarks made after the screening, D’Souza said nonwhite immigrants are doing better than African Americans because the latter have adopted a strategy of “agitate, agitate, agitate” rather than “work, work, work.”

In the movie, D’Souza portrays American foreign policy and global capitalism as fundamentally noble. So why are progressives out to destroy America and its place in the world?

The answer is Saul Alinsky. “America” portrays Alinsky as the ruthless mastermind of a plot to bring socialism to America, and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as his equally ruthless acolytes. Hillary Clinton turned down a job offer from Alinsky after she graduated from college because she had more nefarious plans. “While Alinsky wanted the radicals to pressure the government, Hillary wanted the radicals to become the government,” D’Souza says. Why shame people from the outside when you can intimidate them from the inside? “Hillary figured it out,” says D’Souza, “Obama is now carrying it out.”

D’Souza wraps up the movie with a disjointed section on the surveillance state. D’Souza says the government is gathering information on all Americans so that it can target political opponents, the way he says the Obama administration has targeted conservatives through the IRS and other agencies. Not very convincingly, he portrays his recent prosecution for violating campaign finance laws – he has pleaded to a felony and faces sentencing in September – as part of this ideological warfare.

All of which is a long way of saying the movie is a jumbled, self-indulgent, right-wing mess, aside from the slanted take on American history. Critics have not been kind to “America,” which has a 9% rating from movie review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers put the movie in the “Scum Bucket,” calling D’Souza a “lunatic.”

But plenty of good books have been made into mediocre movies, right? At the screening, D’Souza described the book as the “intellectual spine” of the movie, and said it had been hard to fully communicate all of the book’s ideas and make the movie entertaining.

So, if the book any better? Sadly, no. If anything, D’Souza’s polemics are even more ridiculous and incendiary when he has the space to spell them out. For example, “Today’s progressivism is less indebted to Marx than it is to Lenin.”

D’Souza’s take on race and civil rights is particularly noteworthy given events in Missouri that have focused national attention on the unequal treatment of people of color by police and the justice system.

D’Souza says the Civil Rights movement was hardly revolutionary because racism was already on the decline after World War II.  Government-enforced segregation was bad, he acknowledges, because it represented “a triumph of government regulation over the free market.” But private discrimination is not theft and should not have been banned, he says, writing, “Private employers should no more be forced to hire employees than employees should be forced to work for employers against their will.”

“Somewhat weirdly, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not merely outlaw discrimination by the government; it also outlawed most forms of private discrimination. While I consider these restrictions on the private sphere to be unwise and unnecessary, they are also understandable.”

D’Souza says the election of Barack Obama, the existence of affirmative action programs, and changing attitudes toward racial intermarriage are all evidence of the continuing decline in racism in America.

“Blacks know it too: ask blacks today to recall when they personally experienced racism—when for example someone called them ‘nigger’—and many are hard pressed to give a single example.”

So there’s no reason for whining about racism, or God forbid, reparations. “Racism today is not strong enough to prevent blacks or any other group from achieving its aspirations,” he says, adding a couple pages later,

“Progressives are still chasing the windmills of old-style racism, whipping the nation into a frenzy every time there is some obscure incident. The reason blacks remain so far behind whites, however, has very little to do with racism. It has to do with African American cultural backwardness.”

Here are some other highlights:

·         Obama: “Obama is simply part of a fifty-year scheme for the undoing and remaking of America,” he writes. So how did Obama get elected? “There is a one-word answer: slavery.”

·         Clinton: “If Hillary Clinton is elected in 2016, the baton will have passed from one Alinskyite to another. In this case, Alinsky’s influence will have taken on a massive, almost unimaginable, importance. Obama will have had eight years to remake America, and Hillary will have another four or perhaps eight to complete the job. Together these two have the opportunity to largely undo the nation’s founding ideals.”

·         Native Americans: “The Indians were here first, but they were only sparsely and sporadically occupying the land. Consequently, many settlers regarded America as largely unoccupied, although the Indians surely disagreed with that perspective. Too bad the two groups could not amicably work out a way to share and benefit from this vast country.” Too bad? “They couldn’t, I believe, because both groups continued to espouse at least elements of the conquest ethic. Neither wished to be taken from, but both were willing to take when they had the power and the inclination to do so.” D’Souza has little sympathy for those “forlorn” Indians who “seem to prefer the joy of victimhood – and the exertions of claiming reparations of one sort or another –to the joy of entrepreneurial striving” – unlike those who are making money with casinos.

·         Immigration: “Immigration—legal and illegal—is the mechanism that today’s progressive organizers are counting on to undo the consequences of the Mexican War, and make the dream of Aztlan a reality.”

D’Souza asserts that “in no circumstance over the past hundred years” has America “stolen the wealth of any other country.” It’s not foreigners, but Americans, who are victimized by the federal government, “the biggest thief of all,” he writes. “In fact, progressives have turned a large body of Americans—basically, Democratic voters—into accessories of theft by convincing them that they are doing something just and moral by picking their fellow citizens’ pockets.”

With this line of reasoning, D’Souza aligns himself with the proponents of biblical economics, who argue that the government has no right to tax someone in order to alleviate someone else’s poverty.  “It does not promote the common good for the state to insist that successful people pay other people’s medical bills,” he says, describing Obamacare and progressive taxation as forms of theft. Transfer payments, unlike roads, do not constitute “general welfare.” Rather, “It constitutes a forcible extortion from one group and an unearned benefit to another.” The federal government is therefore not an instrument of justice but “an instrument of plunder.”

As in the movie, D’Souza takes time in the book to complain about his own prosecution (even though he admits having broken the law) and to suggest that the current surveillance state is part of the progressive movement’s strategy to impose totalitarianism: “Surveillance is simply the means to ensure that no one is safe.” He writes, “If progressives enforce their agenda through total control and compliance, America will truly be an evil empire, and it will be the right and duty of American citizens to organize once again, as in 1776, to overthrow it.” (Of course, aggressive surveillance began well before the Obama presidency, and progressives have been among those opposing government overreach.)

D’Souza denounces what he says is the progressive plan to diminish America’s influence globally, and closes the book with a warning about what the world might look like when its dominant force is not America but China, whose growing economic power is translating into greater military force and geopolitical influence. Similar concerns may be shared across the political spectrum, but having celebrated China’s adoption of market economics and economic growth, and having defended the export of American manufacturing jobs to cheap-labor China – trends that cannot be blamed on the Obama presidency –D’Souza does not make it clear what he would have American leaders do to forestall China’s rising influence. If he has a solution, he’s keeping it to himself.

The same can be said for the plight of unemployed and underemployed American workers. It doesn’t matter that you’re willing to work hard if there are no jobs to be had. And while D’Souza describes inequality as an essential element of the free market economy, he does not address the fact that in recent decades American workers have received almost none of the benefits of increasing productivity. His lectures to African Americans that their unwillingness to work hard is the only obstacle to their success ignore both evidence of continuing impacts of structural racism – reflected for example in exploitive mortgage underwriting – and the brutal consequences of the recent economic downturn on the already huge disparities of wealth between white and African American (and Latino) households.

The facile ideology of “America: Imagine the World Without Her” – both book and movie – should be no surprise. D’Souza’s entire career, beginning with his work at the right-wing Dartmouth Review and continuing through stints at the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, has been nurtured by far-right funders. His claim to being a “scholar” is grounded in his authorship of a series of polemical books, including “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” an exercise in ideological excess that even some conservative commentators found embarrassing. He champions traditional values, but in 2012 he resigned as president of the Christian King’s College after news that he had traveled with, and become engaged to, a woman who was separated from but still married to her husband.  Like his old friend Ann Coulter, D’Souza has learned that there is seemingly no end to the money to be made, and fame to be enjoyed, by repackaging and peddling ideological diatribes to the country’s right-wing activists.

 

Boykin: America on 'Precipice of Total Destruction' Due to 'Silent' Church

Retired Gen. Jerry Boykin – anti-Muslim crusader, Religious Right folk hero, and Family Research Council Vice President – was one of the speakers at Liberty Counsel’s recent Awakening conference. Boykin, who has accused Barack Obama of turning the U.S. into a “Marxist nation,” told Awakening attendees that the country is “on the precipice of total destruction” and he blames the church for not standing up and being “the dominant influence on our society.”

The Bible tells us, woe unto you who call good evil and evil good. And that’s exactly what we’re doing in America today. We’re calling good evil and evil good, and we’re paying the penalty for it because we’re losing our nation. Our values are changing so rapidly. We’re on the precipice of total destruction if we don’t turn this around and I mean that. I’ll say it again, we’re on the precipice of total destruction if we don’t turn our value system around….The question that we have to ask ourselves, and I ask you to ponder this, where is that church that Alexis de Tocqueville talked about in America today? Where is that church that should be the dominant influence on our society, that should influence everything that we do, the way we think, the way we act. Where is that church today? … Across the nation the church has been silent. The church is not the dominant influence in America today. It doesn’t shape our values because the church has been silent, where we’re now calling good evil and evil good even inside the churches across America today, and it’s killing us as a nation.

FRC Slams Obama 'Sin Requirement'

“Stop Obama’s Sin Requirement” screams the envelope of the latest direct mail letter from the Family Research Council. The letter inside takes the Religious Right’s attacks on the Obama to new depths of rhetorical ridiculousness: 
 
President Obama has decreed:
Christians must violate their consciences and sin…or else.
 
The letter is of course a continuation of the Religious Right’s campaign to portray rules requiring insurance coverage for contraceptives as an apocalyptic attack on religious freedom in America. And, the letter warns, that’s just the start. 
Washington is aggressively moving to silence the influence and freedom of Christians in every sphere of society. Churches and ministries, charities, Christian bookstores, radio and television stations, Christian businesses will face coercion—censorship—silencing—denial of licenses—even being shut down.
 
Why? Because the Obama Left has made it clear they have a goal: marginalize Christianity, make it irrelevant and powerless to influence morality, the role of the family, and the course of our nation. And as the role of the Church is diminished—expand the federal bureaucracy.
 
They want to replace the effective work of churches and charities and essentially replace them with government programs—more constly, less effective programs.
 
They want to get religion out of the equation and make America utterly unrecognizable as a nation founded upon Christian principles. There is an unprecedented ideology of hostility toward the Christian religion in Washington today.
 
….
One prominent church leader has said, “what war and disease cannot do to the congregation, the government of the United States will. It will shut them down.”
The call to arms over religious liberty is signed by Tony Perkins – the same Tony Perkins who recently stood with Rick Santorum and applauded his pastor who screamed that America was founded to be a Christian nation and anyone who doesn’t like it should “get out!”

AFA: Vote to end ‘Evil’ Obama’s ‘all-out war on Christians’

It’s not exactly a surprise when the American Family Association, home of the consistently unhinged Bryan Fischer, uses over-the-top rhetoric in its attacks on President Obama.  Still, the latest fundraising letter from AFA President Tim Wildmon is memorably apocalyptic in tone:

In a very real way the year 2012 is as important to our nation as was the year 1776.

Just as then, this year Americans must choose between freedom and tyranny.

Wildmon goes on to call the administration’s recent regulations on insurance coverage of contraception “but the latest instance of the Obama Administration’s all-out war on Christians.”

Wildmon cites "the choice God put before the Israelites before He would allow them to enter into the Promised Land" and says

I believe God is asking America to make that same choice now:

              Life and good … or death and evil.

Wildmon suggests Obama’s re-election would bring God’s wrath on America:

 …everyone here at AFA is convinced that the elections this November will determine whether or not America will survive as a nation. After all, God has been long-suffering with us for decades now. How long will his patience last?

But, he says, if tens of millions of Christians register and vote for men and women who “respect our Christian heritage, will fight to protect religious freedom, and will work to build America’s crumbing moral foundation,” then

We can literally save America! As a nation we can stand before Almighty God and tell Him:

We love You, Lord! As a people, we will walk in Your ways and keep Your commandments!

The response card accompanying the letter seeks donation to “help elect godly leaders and to restore America to a nation that honors the one, true God.”

Santorum Says He Doesn’t Want to Impose His Values on the Rest of Us

On Meet the Press yesterday, David Gregory questioned GOP presidential frontrunner Rick Santorum about the social issues – opposition to reproductive choice and gay rights – on which he has built his career. Stunningly, Santorum denied that he has focused on social issues and claimed, “There’s no evidence at all that I, that I want to impose those values on anybody else.”

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

 
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: It's so funny. I get the question all the time. Why are you talking so much about these social issues, as they, as, as people ask about me about the social issues.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, no, wait a minute.
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Look, the...
MR. GREGORY: You talk about this stuff every week. And by the way, it's not just in this campaign.
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: No, I talk about, I talk...
MR. GREGORY: Sir, in this campaign you talk about it. And I've gone back years when you've been in public life and you have made this a centerpiece of your public life. So the notion that these are not deeply held views worthy of question and scrutiny, it's not just about the press.
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah, they, they are deeply held views, but they're not what I dominantly talk about, David. You're taking things that over a course of a 20-year career and pulling out quotes from difference speeches on, on issues that are fairly tangential, not what people care about mostly in America, and saying, "Oh, he wants to impose those values." Look at my record. I've never wanted to impose any of the things that you've just talked about. These are, these are my personal held religious beliefs, and in many forums that I, that, that are, in fact, religious, because I do speak in front of church groups and I do speak in these areas, I do talk about them. But there's no evidence at all that I, that I want to impose those values on anybody else.


This is, of course, a bunch of baloney. While Santorum has spent a lot of time in his presidential campaign talking up regressive tax policies, irresponsible deregulation and anti-environmentalism, the core of his brand has always been social conservatism. His campaign has consistently and explicitly distinguished his anti-choice, anti-gay record with Mitt Romney’s in order to successfully appeal to culture-warring voters.

Santorum has also never shied away from wanting to “impose” his far-right values on the rest of the country. In a 2005 interview with NPR, for instance, he railed against the libertarian wing of the Republican party, saying, “They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do. Government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulation low and that we shouldn't get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn't get involved in cultural issues, you know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world.”

And here he is at a Republican debate in November discussing how our civil laws must “comport with God’s law”:

The former senator has said that states should be allowed to outlaw birth control and gay relationships, but supports the federal law banning recognition of legal same-sex marriages. He supports so-called “personhood” laws, which would not only outlaw all abortions regardless of circumstances, but would jeopardize legal access to contraception. He says that as president, he would reinstate Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, putting the careers of openly gay members of the military at risk. Yet he says he doesn’t want to “impose” his far-right values on the rest of us.

Santorum’s interview on Meet the Press is far from the first time he’s claimed that he’s not overly interested in social issues. PFAW’s Right Wing Watch found a speech he gave in 2008 in which he claimed that it’s liberals who have made sex an issue on the campaign trail. For liberals, he said, politics “comes down to sex” and that the Democratic Party has become “the party of Woodstock.”:

And it’s just insidious. And it’s most of the time focused on the sexual issues. If you’re a hard-core free-market guy, they’re not going to call you “zealous”. They’re not going to call you “ultra-conservative”. They’re not going to do that to you.
It comes down to sex. That’s what it’s all about. It comes down to freedom, and it comes down to sex. If you have anything to with any of the sexual issues, and if you are on the wrong side of being able to do all of the sexual freedoms you want, you are a bad guy. And you’re dangerous because you are going to limit my freedom in an area that’s the most central to me. And that’s the way it’s looked at.
...
Woodstock is the great American orgy. This is who the Democratic Party has become. They have become the party of Woodstock. The prey upon our most basic primal lusts, and that’s sex. And the whole abortion culture, it’s not about life. It’s about sexual freedom. That’s what it’s about. Homosexuality. It’s about sexual freedom.
All of the things are about sexual freedom, and they hate to be called on them. They try to somehow or other tie this to the Founding Father’s vision of liberty, which is bizarre. It’s ridiculous.
 

 

PFAW

America as a 'Christian Nation' -- A Conversation with Experts on Religion, History, Law and the Constitution

One year before the 2012 election, the role of religion in our public life is already a hot topic in the presidential race. The idea that America is, or should be, a "Christian nation" is taught by Religious Right figures such as "historian" David Barton. What do "Christian Nation" advocates get wrong about American history and the role of religion in public life, and what are the implications of their policy demands? Join us for a conversation with scholars on religion, history and the Constitution.

Who’s Who at the Values Voter Summit: A Guide to the Anti-Gay, Anti-Muslim, Anti-Mormon, Anti-Choice Activists Spending the Weekend with the GOP

This weekend, nearly every major GOP presidential candidate, along with the top two Republicans in the House of Representatives, will speak at the Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of the leaders of the Religious Right movement to integrate fundamentalist Christianity and American politics.
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