First Amendment

Freedom for 'Phobes

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.

PFAW Foundation

Hold House hearings on amending the Constitution to remedy Citizens United

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.

Sincerely,

350.org
A New Way Forward
African American Ministers in Action
Alliance for Democracy
Americans for Democratic Action
Backbone Campaign
Campaign for America's Future
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Environmental Health
CivicSponsor
Codepink
Coffee Party
Common Cause
Communications Workers of America
Consumer Action
Consumer Watchdog
Democrats.com
Earthworks
East Bay Citizens for Action
Ethical Markets
Food Empowerment Project
Free Speech for People
Friends of the Earth
Greenpeace
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
MoveOn
National Education Association
Oil Change International
People For the American Way
Pesticide Action Network North America
Public Campaign
Public Citizen
Rebuild the Dream
Roots Action
Story of Stuff
Sum of Us
The Other 98%
U.S. PIRG
United Republic
We the People Campaign
Where's Our Money
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Wolf PAC
Working Families Win

cc: House Judiciary Committee, Members

Hold Senate hearings on amending the Constitution to remedy Citizens United

February 14, 2012

The Honorable Patrick Leahy, Chairman
The Honorable Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member
Senate Committee on the Judiciary
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Richard Durbin, Chairman
The Honorable Lindsey Graham, Ranking Member
Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairmen Leahy and Durbin and Ranking Members Grassley and Graham:

We are writing to request that the Senate 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.

Sincerely,

350.org
A New Way Forward
African American Ministers in Action
Alliance for Democracy
Americans for Democratic Action
Backbone Campaign
Campaign for America's Future
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Environmental Health
CivicSponsor
Codepink
Coffee Party
Common Cause
Communications Workers of America
Consumer Action
Consumer Watchdog
Democrats.com
Earthworks
East Bay Citizens for Action
Ethical Markets
Food Empowerment Project
Free Speech for People
Friends of the Earth
Greenpeace
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
MoveOn
National Education Association
Oil Change International
People For the American Way
Pesticide Action Network North America
Public Campaign
Public Citizen
Rebuild the Dream
Roots Action
Story of Stuff
Sum of Us
The Other 98%
U.S. PIRG
United Republic
We the People Campaign
Where's Our Money
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Wolf PAC
Working Families Win

cc: Senate Judiciary Committee, Members

Boykin's Myopic View of the First Amendment

It sure is amazing how a little public attention can get even the most bigoted right-wing activist like Jerry Boykin to backtrack and start playing the victim.

For years, Boykin has been leading a crusade against Islam, saying that Muslims do not deserve First Amendment protections and should not be allowed to build mosques in America.  But then, when he  was recently scheduled to speak at the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast in Ocean City, Maryland and we called attention to his long history of religious bigotry, Boykin suddenly changed his tune:

Boykin took a much different tack after delivering his speech: "The Muslim people are a precious people and I respect them and their right to worship, so long as they don't fall into the category of a radical who wants to destroy the Constitution."

The idea that Boykin respects Muslims and their right to worship is laughable, as the notion that Islam might have ever contributed anything useful to civilization is outrageous to him:

It is views like this, not to mention the other bizarre things he has said, that recently caused Boykin to withdraw from a scheduled speaking engagement at the upcoming West Point National Prayer Breakfast.

But now he is making the rounds of sympatheic right-wing outlets claiming his views have been misrepresented, playing the victim, and generally complaining that his First Amendment rights are being violated, as he did to Tony Perkins and Tim Wildmon yesterday:

This is going to get worse unless the American people - and particularly people for faith, Christians - rise up and say that we're going to draw a line in the sand ... The contract their Congressman, they let their Congressman know that this is not their values, that they believe in the First Amendment, not only free speech, but the freedom of religion. And I think they have to get the leadership involved in this and I think that the Administration needs to hear though the Congress that there are a lot of Americans who do not endorse this sort of thing. Where's it going to stop?

This is rich, coming from a man who says that Muslims should be banned from building mosques in America and that Islam itself deserves no First Amendment protections:

Apparently Muslims do not deserve to be protected by the Frist Amendment whatsoever ... whereas holding Boykin accountable for his open bigotry is a fundamental violation of his First Amendment rights.

Jeffress Warns that First Amendment Protections will “Kindle the Anger of God Against Us”

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Robert Jeffress, a prominent endorser of Rick Perry, is not happy about the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom. In fact, Jeffress warns in a sermon posted online today, the religious protections of the First Amendment will “kindle the anger of God against us”:

Although our Constitution grants every citizen the right to worship or not worship any god he chooses, that right in no way changes God’s attitude toward idolatry. God does not change. Any nation that chooses to publicly renounce the true God in order to embrace and elevate other gods is going to face God’s judgment. That is what the Word of God says. And I closed that editorial in the Washington Post by saying, how ironic that the Air Force, which is trying to protect our nation against terrorist attacks, how ironic that our nation is doing the very thing that is guaranteed to kindle the anger of God against us.

And ladies and gentlemen, when God chooses to judge us, remember how he did it with Israel? He used a pagan nation that worshipped pagan gods to bring his punishment on Israel. And I believe he will do the same with us, and when he chooses to do that, no military power, no matter how strong we are, will be able to protect us against the judgment of Almighty God.

Jeffress refers to the Air Force's facilitaton of worship by members of minority faiths. Like Jeffress, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) has ripped into the Air Force for its equal treatment of religious minorities and televangelist John Hagee has claimed that pagan worship in the military is the reason why the U.S. is unable to win wars.

Jeffress sums up the Almighty’s beef with the First Amendment thus: “What we call diversity, God calls idolatry”:

 

Earlier in the sermon, Jeffress claimed that a school shooting in Kentucky was divine retribution for a series of Supreme Court decisions on prayer in public schools.

The Smithsonian’s Censorship Forum....Over Four Months Too Late

A Smithsonian panel reveals that Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough did a huge disservice to the institution he leads and to free expression in the United States by removing a work of art from the National Portrait Gallery after a manufactured right-wing uproar.

The First Amendment Only Applies to Christians? PFAW Asks Candidates to Tell Bryan Fischer that the First Amendment Protects All Americans

People For the American Way today asked GOP presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Haley Barbour to publicly tell the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer that the First Amendment applies to all Americans, when they appear on his radio show later today.

As Smithsonian Continues to Duck Controversy, PFAW Report Draws Lessons On How Not to Respond to Political Bullies

A new report from People For the American Way draws lessons on ways institutions can respond to right-wing-generated controversies, by evaluating the chain of events that led to the Smithsonian’s removal of a work of art from the National Portrait Gallery.

How Not to Respond to Political Bullies: Lessons from the Smithsonian’s Response to the Manufactured Right-Wing Controversy Over Hide/Seek

A new report from People For the American Way draws lessons on ways institutions can respond to right-wing-generated controversies, by evaluating the chain of events that led to the Smithsonian’s removal of a work of art from the National Portrait Gallery.

Court Rejects “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”

In a step forward for equality for all Americans, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips of California ruled yesterday that the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy violates servicemembers' Fifth Amendment due process rights and their First Amendment speech rights.

Supreme Court Rules Against Government-Aided Discrimination

The Supreme Court ruled today in a 5-4 decision that a publicly funded law school need not provide funding and recognition to a campus group with policies that discriminate based on religion and sexual orientation.

Senator Cornyn Exposes Right’s Hypocrisy on Judicial Philosophy

Senator John Cornyn today accused Solicitor General Elena Kagan of displaying “disregard for the First Amendment and freedom of speech” by defending laws that limited corporate influence on elections.

Supreme Court End-of-Term Analysis: 2005-06 Term

The 2005-06 term was clearly a period of transition for the Supreme Court, as Chief Justice Roberts replaced Chief Justice Rehnquist, and two justices in a sense replaced Justice O’Connor Justice Alito took her seat on the Court while Justice Kennedy replaced her as the “swing” vote in a number of closely divided cases. And while a relatively large number of the Court’s decisions this term were unanimous (generally where the Court was able to agree on a narrow approach and avoid divisive issues as in the New Hampshire abortion case), the new justices clearly pushed the Court towards the right in several important, closely divided cases.
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