Nothing like putting things in perspective.
At the end of a week in which Religious Right leaders, cable TV pundits, and conservative politicians acted as if freedom were being destroyed because a rich TV star was suspended for making offensive racist and anti-gay comments, the Parliament in Uganda passed a bill that threatens gay people with life in prison.
And with that vote, all the alarmist bluster about persecution from Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal and every Religious Right leader who saw a chance to boost year-end fundraising by jumping on the martyrdom bandwagon was made to look ridiculous.
This week’s news gave us plenty of evidence about real persecution, and it had nothing to do with Duck Dynasty. The face of persecution is not Phil Robertson, but the terrified LGBT people in Uganda who fear that they are about to be hunted. Persecution looks like gay teenagers in Russia being beaten by thugs, and like gay parents who have the ability to leave Russia fleeing because anti-gay political leaders are threatening to take their children from them. Persecution looks like LGBT people all over the globe whose lives and freedom are threatened by new laws that enshrine discrimination and define them as criminals. Persecution looks like LGBT teens in Jamaica facing vigilante violence. And on and on.
Newsweek reported a week ago that Ethiopia had declared war on gay men this year, noting, “A representative from the Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council Against Homosexuality announced that the council was making ‘promising’ progress in convincing the government to introduce the death penalty to punish ‘homosexual acts.’”
How do American conservative religious and political figures respond to this kind of persecution? Not with shouts of outrage but with enthusiastic cheering. It is no small irony that many of those most loudly screaming "persecution" over Robertson's suspension have been equally vocal supporters of international efforts to literally criminalize homosexuality.
Brian Brown, Pat Buchanan, Matt Barber, and a sad parade of other religious conservatives fawn over Russia’s violently anti-democratic strongman Vladimir Putin as if he were Christendom’s new Defender of the Faith. Putin, in Barber’s words, is being allowed to “out-Christian our once-Christian nation.” (Of course many American Christians want nothing to do with Barber or his interpretation of the faith.)
And to their lasting shame, American Religious Right leaders’ financial and political support have been inflaming anti-gay passions in Uganda for years. Lou Engle and Scott Lively actually traveled to Uganda and helped rally support for the bill. The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, who takes such umbrage at FRC’s designation as a hate group, dismissed criticism of the Uganda law in its earlier and more sinister incarnation, calling the proposed law an effort to “uphold moral conduct.”
There’s no indication that the Uganda bill’s passage is causing any noticeable soul-searching among the far right. Far from it. The American Family Association’s always-repellant Bryan Fischer invoked the Duck Dynasty flap in celebrating the passage of the anti-gay law in Uganda: “Uganda stands with Phil. Makes homosexuality contrary to public policy. It can be done.”
Actually, as offensive as Phil Robertson’s statements were, they pale in comparison to Fischer’s. Robertson hasn’t suggested, as far as I know, that gay people should be arrested and put in prison for life. And I seriously doubt that Robertson has ever traveled to Russia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, or Australia to promote legal discrimination against and criminalization of LGBT people or anyone who advocates for equality, the way right-wing figures like Engle, Lively, Brown, Mat Staver, Peter LaBarbera, Paul Cameron, and others have.
No worries about the Olympics on the American Right. In fact the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society is excited about having its 2014 “World Congress of Families” summit in Moscow, which they see as a new stronghold for “traditional values” against the secular moral squalor of Western Europe.
Conservative activists were prepared to see Phil Robertson as a victim of religious persecution because they’ve been primed for years with the “religious liberty” narrative being pushed by Religious Right leaders and their conservative Catholic allies. They portray criticism as persecution. They equate being on the losing side of policy debates with being under the heel of oppression. And when courts and legislatures struggle with the challenge of balancing religious liberty with other constitutional values like equality under the law, they see only black-and-white battles between good and evil.
Their rhetoric cheapens and distorts the meaning of terms like tyranny. Anti-religious persecution is a violent, heartbreaking reality for Christians in many parts of the world. But not for the privileged and powerful figures in the United States who wrap themselves in the mantle of martyrdom.
The next time you hear some talking head on Fox talk about persecution, think about people in the Central African Republic who are caught in sectarian violence verging on genocide. Or think about LGBT people whose lives and freedom are threatened every day in the name of Christian values.
Washington, DC – The proper role of religion in American politics has been the subject of vigorous – and sometimes toxic – debate for over two centuries. Today, in the midst of campaign-season claims about America’s founding as a “Christian nation” and hyperbolic rhetoric about religious persecution, People For the American Way Foundation calls for a more constructive conversation with a new report, 12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics, authored by PFAW Foundation senior fellow Peter Montgomery with a foreword by journalist Bill Moyers.
"12 Rules" takes on a number of current debates, including those over required contraception insurance coverage, marriage equality, and the role of religion in the 2012 presidential campaign. This edition builds on earlier releases of "12 Rules" in 1984 and 1994.
The full report can be found online here.
“Religious liberty is at the heart of what it means to be an American, but it is also at the center of some of our fiercest debates,” said Peter Montgomery. “How do we balance the constitutional principles of free exercise of religion and the separation of church and state when they come into tension with each other? And how can people of faith bring their religious values into the public arena without turning religion into a political club? As our religious landscape becomes increasingly diverse, it is important that we grapple with these issues in ways that are more constructive than divisive. We hope these Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics will launch many constructive conversations around these topics.”
“Our political climate is being poisoned by inflammatory charges of anti-religious and anti-Christian persecution,” said Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way Foundation. “We can look around the world to see what religious persecution looks like, and we think it’s wrong to cry wolf over political and policy disputes. We are strong advocates for First Amendment freedoms. But something can be legal without being wise. The principles in this report should be embraced by people of all religious and political beliefswho long for a more respectful and responsible debate in the public arena.”
This new edition of "12 Rules" will be launched at an event in Washington, DC featuring a discussion with Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim American elected to Congress.
It has been known for years that Chick-fil-A supports right-wing groups. The company has given out gift cards at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit. At a recent Religious Right gathering, a speaker talked about how wonderful it was to live and work in Atlanta, where, he said, there’s a Baptist church on every corner and the streets are paved with Chick-fil-A.
So I am no fan of Chick-fil-A, but I’m a big fan of freedom, and that includes Chick-fil-A’s freedom to open its restaurants, even in cities where progressive political leaders don’t like the reactionary politics promoted by the company and its owners.
There’s been a robust campaign by advocates for LGBT equality to call more attention to Chick-fil-A’s contributions to “traditional family” groups, which total in the millions of dollars. But the feathers really flew when company president Dan Cathy made comments in an interview with Baptist Press bragging about his company’s position on marriage – “guilty as charged” -- and his comments to an Atlanta radio station.
I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’” said Cathy.
I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about,” he added.
It’s no surprise that Cathy’s comments have stirred supporters of LGBT equality to respond. Much of that response has been in the best traditions of free speech and protest. In Washington, D.C., this week, the Human Rights Campaign organized a protest in front of a Chick-Fil-A food truck. Other activists have rallied outside Chick-Fil-A stores and some students have protested the company’s presence on their campuses.
In addition, a number of political leaders have spoken out in defense of marriage equality and in opposition to the company’s support for discrimination. Twenty years ago, I would never have imagined elected officials taking the time to publicly criticize a business on behalf of the ability of same-sex couples to get married. It’s a good thing – a sign of amazing progress.
But a couple of politicians have gone too far – suggesting that the power of government should be used to prevent the company from opening restaurants based on its political donations and the positions of its owners. That’s not a good thing. As a matter of principle, the government shouldn’t treat individuals differently based on their political or religious beliefs, or companies based on the political activities and contributions of their owners. As others have noted, we wouldn’t want cities or states to have the power to prevent the opening of stores whose owners support LGBT equality or other progressive causes.
People For the American Way’s headquarters is located in the District of Columbia, where elected officials have recognized that LGBT people should be treated equally under the law. DC’s progressive public policies stand in stark contrast to the anti-equality work of groups like the Family Research Council, but we would never suggest that the DC government could or should have prevented FRC from planting its headquarters in the center of downtown DC. Our commitment to freedom and equality should extend to those who don’t share it.
February 14, 2012
The Honorable Lamar Smith, Chairman
The Honorable John Conyers, Ranking Member
House Committee on the Judiciary
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Trent Franks, Chairman
The Honorable Jerrold Nadler, Ranking Member
House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution
H2-362 Ford House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairmen Smith and Franks and Ranking Members Conyers and Nadler:
We are writing to request that the House Judiciary Committee hold hearings this year on the need to amend the Constitution to remedy the damage done to our nation by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and related cases. That decision, along with prior and subsequent cases, have unleashed a flood of corporate and special interest money that threatens to undermine the integrity of our elections and our democracy.
In Citizens United, the Court ruled that corporations are guaranteed the same free speech rights as real people to influence elections, thereby ruling that governmental restrictions on corporate spending to influence elections are invalid and unconstitutional. As to that astounding principle, Justice Stevens noted in his dissent that the framers “had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings, and when they constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind.”
Congress may pass legislation to try to mitigate the effects of this decision, for example to provide for public disclosure of election expenditures. But such measures, while beneficial, cannot undo the harm done by the Court in Citizens United v. FEC. Only amending the Constitution can fully secure the American people’s authority to regulate corporate influence in our elections and restore our democracy.
So far in the 112th Congress, there have been 13 constitutional amendment resolutions about this issue introduced in the House and Senate. While these resolutions vary in scope and approach, they all were introduced because of the growing realization that the problems created by Citizens United and related decisions are so immense and so fundamental that they can only be addressed through constitutional remedies.
Americans have become increasingly distressed at the toxic effects of unrestrained corporate and special interest money that is influencing our political system. Fully 92% of the American people believe that the extent of corporate influence on our political system is a problem. Just one month after the Citizens United decision, polling revealed that eighty percent of Americans opposed the ruling.
As activists have mobilized and protested across the country on the occasion of the second anniversary of the Court’s decision, and as city and county councils and state legislatures take up and pass resolutions calling for amending the Constitution to reverse Citizens United, it is time for Congress to explore in earnest the range of resolutions that have been introduced to undo the harmful effects of the Court’s decision.
We urge you to use this session of the 112th Congress to advance the very healthy and critical debate about how the Constitution should be amended to return our democracy to the people.
A New Way Forward
African American Ministers in Action
Alliance for Democracy
Americans for Democratic Action
Campaign for America's Future
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Environmental Health
Communications Workers of America
East Bay Citizens for Action
Food Empowerment Project
Free Speech for People
Friends of the Earth
Indiana Alliance for Democracy
Institute for Policy Studies - Global Economy Project
International Forum on Globalization
Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution
Main Street Alliance
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Move to Amend
National Education Association
Oil Change International
People For the American Way
Pesticide Action Network North America
Rebuild the Dream
Story of Stuff
Sum of Us
The Other 98%
We the People Campaign
Where's Our Money
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Working Families Win
cc: House Judiciary Committee, Members