Religious Freedom

House GOP Follows Orlando Tragedy with a License to Discriminate

On July 12, the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, an odious anti-LGBT bill that would redefine and hijack the Constitution’s protection of religious liberty.
PFAW

The Movers Behind The Anti-LGBT 'Religious Liberty' Movement

This post originally appeared on Right Wing Watch.

In the first few months of this year, for the second year in a row, more than 100 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures, many of them promoted under the banner of protecting religious liberty.  A new report by People For the American Way Foundation, “Who is Weaponizing Religious Liberty?,” explains that “it takes a right-wing village to turn a cherished American principle into a destructive culture-war weapon.”

The report makes clear that the wave of anti-equality legislation promoted in the name of religious liberty is not an outgrowth of local conflicts but the latest step in a long-term campaign by national Religious Right legal and political groups to resist legal equality for LGBT people. As Americans have come to know and embrace their LGBT family members and friends, harsh anti-gay rhetoric has become less effective, says the report, leading social conservatives to try to reclaim the moral and political high ground by reframing debates over marriage equality and nondiscrimination protections as questions of religious liberty.

These efforts are being promoted by “a network of national Religious Right organizations that oppose legal recognition for the rights of LGBT people,” notes the report, which profiles some of the leading organizations while noting that they “represent the tip of the iceberg of a much larger movement that is trying to eliminate legal access to abortion and roll back legal protections for LGBT people, couples, and families — and trying to do so in the name of religious liberty.”

The groups covered in the report include:

·         Family Research Council and FRC Action

·         Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action

·         National Organization for Marriage

·         Alliance Defending Freedom

·         Liberty Counsel

·         American Family Association

·         Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

·         American Principles Project

The report includes links to additional resources on the organizations behind the Right’s use of religious liberty as political strategy for resisting equality. 

PFAW Foundation

The Year Bryan Fischer Became 'Mainstream'

Back in 2011, when Mitt Romney was in the starting months of his presidential campaign, he accepted an invitation to speak at the Values Voter Summit, an annual event organized by the Family Research Council. The VVS always attracts an assortment of far-right activists, but that year Romney was scheduled to speak directly before Bryan Fischer, an inflamatory American Family Association official and radio host who had viciously insulted everyone from LGBT people to women to Muslims to Native Americans to medal of honor recipients to Romney’s fellow Mormons.

After facing a public outcry for choosing to appear beside Fischer, Romney called out Fischer in his speech — albeit not by name — decrying the “poisonous language” of “one of the speakers who will follow me today.”

After that year, Fischer was nowhere to be found at the Values Voter Summit, although his employer, the American Family Association, continued to cosponsor the event.

Then, in January of last year, Fischer was, for a moment, edged further out of the conservative mainstream. When a group of 60 members of the Republican National Committee embarked on a trip to Israel organized by Christian-nation advocate David Lane and paid for by the AFA, the RNC was forced to answer why it was sending members on a junket financed by a group whose spokesman was one of the most vitriolic voices of hate in the country — and one who said the First Amendment applies only to Christians. Facing a diplomatic incident with the GOP, the AFA finally stripped Fischer of his title with the organization, although he kept his daily radio program with its affiliate, American Family Radio.

But that was then and this is now.

Earlier this month, we reported that Fischer was scheduled to join Sen. Ted Cruz at a campaign rally in Mississippi. The event was eventually canceled: not because of Fischer’s extremism but because Cruz was reportedly ill .

And, although Fischer remains one of the most hateful voices on the Right, he is hardly any more controversial than many of the figures with whom the leading Republican candidates have surrounded themselves in 2016 — or even, in some cases, the candidates themselves. As soon as the GOP began to ostracize Bryan Fischer, it was taken over by Bryan Fischer’s ideology.

Fischer himself pointed this out on his radio program last week as he prepared to discuss a column in which he reiterated his long-held views that Muslims immigrants should be barred from the U.S., American Muslims should be shut out of the U.S. military and state governments should ban the construction of mosques. Things that he’s been saying for years, he said, that were once perceived as “outlandish” and “off-the-charts lunacy,” have now “become virtually mainstream.”

He’s right. In fact, when we began to look through some of Fischer’s most controversial statements — which are bad enough that he was publicly rejected by the 2012 Republican nominee — we found that they weren’t too different from things that Republican presidential frontrunners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz say every day.

Although Fischer has campaigned for Cruz and openly despises Trump, his ideology and rhetoric is echoed by both campaigns. (Although, thankfully, neither candidate has called for stoning whales … at least not yet.)

On Muslim immigration...

Fischer: ‘Stop Muslim immigration into the United States’

Fischer was far ahead of the trend when it came to anti-Muslim bigotry,calling as early as 2010 for the U.S. to block all Muslim immigration, “repatriate” Muslims who are already here, ban American Muslims from serving in the U.S. military, and impose a policy of “no more mosques, period.” Fischer repeated these demands just last week.

Trump: ‘A total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States’

He was several years behind Fischer, but Trump called last year for a temporary ban on all of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims entering the United States and deporting Syrian refugees who have been resettled in America, which have since become central planks in his platform. Echoing Fischer, Trump has also said that if he were to become president, he would have “no choice” but to close some mosques and once flirted with the idea of setting up a government database to monitor all Muslims. Cruz, for his part, has called for banning the resettlement of Muslim refugees from Syria.

On religious freedom for Muslims ...

Fischer: ‘Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims’

Fischer justifies his anti-Muslim plans by claiming that the First Amendment does not apply to Muslims or any other non-Christian religion and asserts that any religious liberty rights extended to non-Christians are simply a “courtesy”:

Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.

Cruz: ‘Patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods’

When Cruz called for the U.S. to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods” in response to this week’s terrorist attacks in Belgium, it came as no surprise since he has surrounded himself with advisers who argue, like Fischer, that Muslims do not deserve the same civil rights and civil liberties as other Americans.

One Cruz adviser, the Family Research Council’s Jerry Boykin, has explicitly said that “Islam is not a religion and does not deserve First Amendment protections.” In an interview with Fischer, Boykin called for “no mosques in America.”

Trump, for his part, has repeatedly called for government profiling of Muslims.

On Mormonism and Mitt Romney ...

Fischer: ‘I’m more Mormon’ than Mitt Romney

Fischer has never been a fan of the Mormon faith, insisting that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to Mormons and warning that a Mormon president like Romney would threaten the nation’s “spiritual health.” However, when Fischer deemed Romney to not be anti-gay enough, he declared that he himself was “more Mormon” than the candidate.

At one point, Fischer clarified that he had “love” for Mormons and just wanted them “to come into the full light of the truth” and abandon their faith.

Trump: ‘Are you sure he’s a Mormon?’

Although Trump may “love the Mormons,” he has been out on the campaign trail with Robert Jeffress , an extremist pastor who says that Mormonism and Islam are demonic faiths “from the pit of hell” (and that the Roman Catholic Church was created by Satan). It was in a radio interview with Fischer at the 2011 Values Voter Summit that Jeffress, who was stumping for Rick Perry, declared that Romney is not a “true” Christian because Mormonism is a “cult.”

Like Fischer, Trump has questioned Romney’s faith after Romney criticized him, asking a crowd in Utah: “Are you sure he’s a Mormon?”

On LGBT rights ...

Fischer: ‘Rainbow jihadists’ on the Supreme Court ‘blasted the twin pillars of truth and righteousness into rubble.’

Fischer reacted with predictable reason and restraint to the Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell marriage equality ruling, comparing it to 9/11, Pearl Harbor and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and referring to the justices in the majority as “rainbow jihadists.”

Cruz: The gay community is waging ‘jihad’ against religious freedom

In this case, Fischer may have picked up a turn of phrase from Cruz, who several weeks before the Obergefell ruling accused LGBT rights activists of waging “jihad” against the religious freedom of Christians.

On the role of women ...

Fischer: God ‘designed’ women to be good secretaries

Fischer explained back in 2014 that he wouldn't consider male applicants for receptionist and secretary positions at his church because God “designed” women “to be warm, to be hospitable, to be open-hearted, to be open-handed, to have their arms open, to be welcoming, to be receptive, to create a nurturing, welcoming environment.”

Trump: ‘It really doesn't matter what they write, as long as you've got a young and beautiful piece of ass’

Trump may have a different view of women in the workplace than Fischer, but it isn’t any more enlightened.

On science ...

Fischer: ‘Liberals are absolutely anti-science when it comes climatology and global warming’

Fischer contends that when it comes to climate change, it’s the scientists who are “absolutely anti-science,” citing God’s promise to Noah in the Bible that he would never again destroy the earth with floods. He also believes that the theory of evolution is “completely irrational and scientifically bankrupt ”and argues that people who believe in evolution should be “disqualified from holding public office.” Fischer has filled the vacuum left by actual science with some of his own creative theories, such as that dinosaurs were actually giant, 1,000-year-old lizards.

Cruz: ‘Climate change is not science, it’s religion’

Cruz similarly thinks that it’s climate scientists who are being illogical, telling Glenn Beck last year that “climate change is not science, it's religion.” Trump is also “not a big believer” in climate change, which he has dismissed as “bad weather” and a Chinese fabrication designed to destroy the U.S. economy.

While Cruz has deflected questions about evolution, his father and campaign surrogate, Rafael Cruz, has called the theory “baloney” and suggested that it was a communist plot to “destroy the concept of God.”

On the military ...

Fischer: We’ve ‘feminized’ the medal of honor by giving it to service members who haven’t killed people

In 2010, Fischer reacted to the awarding of the medal of honor to an Army sergeant who had rescued two of his fellow soldiers in battle by lamenting that we have “feminized” the military honor by awarding it “for preventing casualties, not for inflicting them."

Trump: ‘I like people who weren’t captured’

Trump, who, like Fischer, has never served in the military, made headlines last summer when he attacked Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for his time as a prisoner of war, saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.”

“Hobby Lobby II” Distorts the Principle of Religious Freedom

The following is a guest blog by Rev. Faye London, a member of the VASHTI Women’s Initiative within People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council.

The Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell case – which has now been consolidated with similar cases under the name Zubik v. Burwell – is a continuation of a strategy by the Right to gut the Affordable Care Act since they have been unable to repeal it. All of these cases are framed as "religious freedom" cases, yet trying to limit women’s reproductive freedom is based on a twisted understanding of what the original Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was meant to address.

Congress passed RFRA more than 20 years ago when the Supreme Court refused to protect native and indigenous individuals from being denied government benefits because of drug tests detecting peyote, a substance that was used in their religious ceremonies. RFRA was passed to protect people from having their free exercise of religion violated by the government.

Like so many others, this law has become a victim of targeted reinterpretation. In 2014, the Hobby Lobby decision made it legal for a corporation to act as an individual with regard to religious freedom. It also redefined religious freedom, so that people and corporations could use RFRA to avoid obeying laws that offend their religious beliefs, but don’t actually limit their free exercise of religion. Several states also considered laws intended to make it legal for any person or business to cite religion in order to ignore laws prohibiting discrimination against same gender loving people. And while that aspect of the debate was all over the news, the threat to women’s health posed by laws like this grew quietly in the background.

The case now at the Supreme Court attacks a vital piece of the puzzle by which ACA protects women's health by requiring health insurance to include contraception coverage without charge. There is an accommodation already in the law that sets an alternative route to coverage for women who work for nonprofit religious organizations that disapprove of contraception. All the organization has to do is fill out a very short and simple form or write a letter stating that as an organization they do not want to provide contraception, and they are relieved from that responsibility and the government takes over, directing the insurance company to pay for the contraception rather than the religious nonprofit. The Little Sisters of the Poor organization and others are saying that signing a one-page form is an "undue burden" on them morally, as it still constitutes participation in opening the way for women to access "sinful" contraceptive care.

This new trend is just another way to strip rights from poor people who depend on these services for survival. It is not about religious freedom. The accommodation is sufficient to protect the Little Sisters' religious freedom. This is about controlling women's bodies (and particularly poor women's bodies, since women of means can afford to pay out of pocket), in order to make space for those who would relieve themselves of any responsibility for ethical treatment of their employees or the public.

PFAW Foundation

Discriminatory "Religious Freedom" Bill is Bad for Our State

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

I am one who believes that we must be vigilant about protecting true religious liberty, which has been a guiding principle throughout our country's history. As the First Amendment makes clear, all people have a right to practice, or not to practice, any religion they choose. Laws that truly protect individuals' exercise of religion prevent the government from infringing on our rights.

But the state legislature is considering a bill (HB 757) that, though framed in the language of protecting First Amendment religious freedom, at its core is about one thing: discrimination. HB 757 was recently amended and passed by the state Senate and is now being considered by the House. As Americans United explains it, the bill would allow "any individual or 'faith-based' business, non-profit entity, or taxpayer-funded organization to ignore any law that conflicts with their religious beliefs about marriage." In other words, businesses and organizations could cite religion in order to refuse service to certain groups of people.

This bill could lead to any number of nightmare situations. Restaurant owners who refuse to serve same-sex or interracial couples. Domestic violence shelters that turn away unmarried mothers and their children. Adoption agencies that refuse to place a child with parents of different faiths.

It's not the first time Georgia has considered passing a "right to discriminate" bill. Why are our state representatives wasting time, again and again, pushing legislation that would harm Georgians and threaten to drive businesses out of the state? The bill's sponsor even admitted last week that the legislation could protect the Ku Klux Klan as a "faith-based" organization. This bill is too extreme for Georgia, plain and simple. 

While the new title of part II of HB 757, "the First Amendment Defense Act of Georgia," may sound like it's about true religious protection, the bill is actually a cynical attempt to turn the idea of religious liberty into a sword to attack other people's rights, rather than to truly shield their own religious practices from improper government interference. That's not what religious liberty is about. Moreover, using religion as a tool to harm others is an idea that a strong majority of Georgians reject. According to new data from the Public Religion Research Institute, 57 percent of Georgians oppose allowing small businesses to refuse service to gays and lesbians on religious grounds.

Many faiths, including my own, teach that we should fight for the oppressed. Disguising a push for a "right to discriminate" under the mantle of First Amendment religious freedom is an insult to those moral principles. It's an insult to people of faith who take seriously the call to walk with, and fight for, the most vulnerable among us. 

As a Baptist pastor and as a Georgian, I urge our legislators to do the right thing by rejecting HB 757. On the senate floor, Sen. Nan Orrock said, "Be able to tell your grandchildren that you didn't vote for state-sanctioned discrimination." To that, I say: Amen.

Rev. Timothy McDonald III is Senior Pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta and Co-Chair of People For the American Way's African American Ministers In Action.

PFAW Foundation

Tony Perkins' Selective Posturing on Religious Liberty

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins’ self-important “State of the Family” address on Monday was not just about chaos and blood in the streets caused by marriage equality and other “confusion” about the definition of the family. It was also about religious liberty, and Perkins’ familiar charge that the “far left” wants to deny religious Americans both their freedom of speech and their freedom of religion:

“Desperate to preserve its power, the far left now seeks to label all of its critics as extremists or haters and aggressively seeks to silence all who oppose its agenda. But we should take heart even from this. Our opponents seek to limit our freedom of speech because they fear its power. They seek to restrain the expression of our convictions because they are unsure of the truth of theirs. The freedom of expression is the very essence of liberty. But there can be no liberty in America without religious liberty. In our hearts we know this to be true.”

America’s founders, said Perkins, “believed that the best account of our personal and civic duties comes not from the whims of the political class but from the transcendent truths of scripture itself.”

“It is easy to see why we now sail such dangerous seas. Many of our nation’s leading politicians and jurists believe that religion is a toxin in public life, something to be quarantined within the four walls of our churches. They want our culture stripped of the guidance of faith, the centrality of family, and the liberties that are our divine birthright. Not only will it be impermissible to publicly acknowledge the God who made us. It will be unlawful to act on our deepest understanding of Him and His commandments. Acting on conscience will be a bar to public service. It’ll be a reason to be fined or fired.

In his speech, Perkins declared, “Religious liberty must become a priority again within our foreign policy.”

The history of the last century is clear. Totalitarians of every stripe have made suppression of all religious freedom or the liberty of some religions the target of their regimes. Especially dangerous are those who feed on religious hatred. We must promote and defend religious liberty as a human right for all faiths to be able to live freely wherever they are and whoever they are. Why? Because advocating for religious liberty lets the oppressed throughout the world know that they have a friend in America. And, it sends a message to the terrorists and the tyrants as well. That knowledge bears long-term fruit for our own security. And frankly, it’s simply the right thing to do for a nation whose national motto is In God We Trust.”

Much of this statement, coming from someone else, would be unobjectionable. But coming from Perkins, it is jaw-droppingly hypocritical.

Perkins and his Family Research Council colleagues have not consistently advocated for religious liberty for people of all faiths. For example, when Religious Right groups were rallying opposition to the misnamed “Ground Zero Mosque,” FRC’s Ken Blackwell was among them. Perkins said just last month that banning Muslims from immigrating to the U.S. would not be imposing a religious test because “only 16 percent of Islam is a religion.” He has said that people are free to make their own theological choices, but that our nation was founded on “Judeo-Christian principles” and that “those who practice Islam in its entirety” will “destroy the fabric of a democracy.”

Retired Gen. Jerry Boykin, now FRC’s executive vice president, has also pushed the idea that Muslims do not deserve the protection of the First Amendment because Islam “is not just a religion, it is a totalitarian way of life.” On Bryan Fischer’s radio show in 2011 Boykin declared, “No mosques in America,” explaining, “A mosque is an embassy for Islam and they recognize only a global caliphate, not the sanctity or sovereignty of the United States.”

Perkins has even argued that Christians who support marriage equality for same-sex couples don’t have the same religious liberty protections as Christians like him because “true religious freedom” applies only to those with “orthodox religious viewpoints.” He has dismissed as “supposed Christians” those who support reproductive choice.

And Perkins has also criticized the military for accommodating “fringe religions” and suggested that it is not the government’s role “to try to put all religions on the same plane.”

In his remarks about religious freedom in the military, Perkins claimed that Boykin had been forced to withdraw from a West Point prayer breakfast “because of the pressure from atheist groups.” In reality, the most influential protest against Boykin’s appearing at West Point probably came from dozens of the military academy’s faculty and cadets, most of them Christians, who thought Boykin’s remarks painting the U.S. as waging a holy war against Islam were irresponsible and could threaten the lives of service members overseas.

Perkins also urged Congress to pass the co-called First Amendment Defense Act, which would give legal protection to those practicing anti-gay discrimination. Perkins called the bill “a first and a vital step” and he celebrated the fact that candidates Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum have pledged to sign FADA in their first 100 days if the legislation makes it to their desk. 

Religious Right: Bible Dictates Laws & Economic Policy But Islam Not a Religion Because It Is A Political & Economic System

Donald Trump’s call to bar all Muslims from entering the country was widely recognized as an appeal for explicit religious discrimination and generated significant pushback.  But many of Trump’s right-wing defenders have turned to an argument that has long bounced around Religious Right circles: that Muslims are not entitled to the religious liberty protections of the First Amendment because Islam is somehow not a religion. A few years ago, for example, retired Lt. Gen Jerry Boykin called Islam “a totalitarian way of life” that “should not be protected under the First Amendment.”

At this week’s Republican presidential debate, Rick Santorum explained why he believes Islam is not protected under the First Amendment, an argument made repeatedly by the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer. Here’s Santorum:

The fact of the matter is, Islam is different. I know this is going to come as a shock to a lot of people, and I mean this sincerely. Islam is not just a religion. It is also a political governing structure. The fact of the matter is, Islam is a religion, but it is also Sharia law, it is also a civil government, it is also a form of government. And, so, the idea that that is protected under the First Amendment is wrong.

Conservative columnist and radio host Andrew McCarthy has similarly defended Trump’s comments, saying that Islam is not merely a religion because it “has ambitions to be more than a religion, that is to say that it is an ideological, sweeping system that does not recognize a division between spiritual life on the one hand and political and civic life on the other.”

Back in September, Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins defended similar comments by Ben Carson:

“Religious freedom and our liberty is ordered liberty under the Constitution,” Perkins said. “And as Dr. Caron pointed out, and I know this is driving the left crazy, that Islam is not just a religion, Islam is an economic system, it is a judicial system, it is a compressive system which is incompatible with the Constitution. That’s what Dr. Carson said and he happens to be correct.”

More recently, Perkins defended Trump with a dubiously specific statistic, saying that “only 16 percent of Islam is a religion — the rest is a combination of military, judicial, economic and political system.” Televangelist Pat Robertson also said this month that people should not view Islam as a religion but rather a “political system masquerading as a religion.”

Wait a minute. Aren’t these the same people who repeatedly insist that the Bible is the final authority on everything, from laws regulating personal relationships to economic and tax policy, and environmental protection? Anti-marriage-equality activists have insisted that the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling was in violation of “God’s law” and therefore “illegitimate.” 

David Barton, an oft-discredited “historian” and Republican Party activist who is currently heading up a Ted Cruz super PAC, argues that the Bible opposes minimum wage laws, estate taxes, capital gains taxes, any progressive form of taxation and even net neutrality. He says the Constitution came right out of the Bible. If you applied Tony Perkins’ calculations to David Barton’s Bible, what percentage would come up as religion?

Many Religious Right leaders have embraced Seven Mountains dominionism, which is grounded in the belief that the right kind of Bible-believing Christians are meant to control all the important spheres of culture, including government, business, education, and entertainment. For example, the American Pastors Network’s Sam Rohrer says this:

Government leaders are charged with wielding the Word of God as an instrument of Justice, promoting God’s moral law as the foundation of right and wrong, encouraging those who do well biblically, and executing judgment on those who break the law.

Along those lines, three Republican presidential candidates, including current Iowa frontrunner Ted Cruz, recently joined a “religious freedom” rally organized by a pastor who argues that the Bible requires the government to execute gay people.

And don’t forget David Lane, whose American Renewal Project is mobilizing conservative pastors to get more involved in politics — and who argues that America was founded for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith, and that the Bible should be a primary textbook in public schools.

So, a thought for Religious Right leaders: If you are going to argue for stripping Muslims of their First Amendment religious liberty protections based on your interpretation of Islam as an enterprise that is more political and ideological than religious, you may have to trim your own political sails quite a bit. Either that, or quit pretending you are proponents of religious freedom, and admit that you, like Bryan Fischer, believe the First Amendment applies only to Christians, or, like Tony Perkins, that gay-supporting Christians don’t deserve the same legal protections because a “true religious freedom” has to “come forth from religious orthodoxy.” Just don’t try to pretend your definition of “religious freedom” owes anything to Thomas Jefferson or the First Amendment. 

Scott Lively: 'Religious Freedom' Only Applies To Christians, And That's Why God’s Punishing Us With Gay Rights

In an interview with The Dove TV on Friday, anti-gay activist Scott Lively insisted that Christians are being denied their First Amendment rights because of gay rights, while simultaneously asserting that the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom applies only to Christians.

In fact, Lively explained, it is because the United States has grown to accept “religious pluralism” that God is now punishing us with abortion rights and LGBT equality.

“Well, I don’t actually believe in ‘religious freedom,’ the way that the term is used,” Lively explained. “I know that when you use it and when most people use it, you’re talking about Christianity. We’re not talking about freedom for Islam and freedom for Buddhism and Hinduism as if they’re equal with God.

“The number-one Commandment is ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ And when we forget that and we start accepting this concept of religious pluralism and we say that Jesus Christ is really no higher an authority in America than Buddha or Mohammed or even Satan, that’s when we have really dropped the ball and we have brought disfavor from God on us.”

Legal abortion (or, as he put it, the “pro-abort juggernaut of death”) and gay rights, he insisted, could have been stopped if America had earned “the favor of God.”

“If even one man, just one man, had the favor of God,” he said, “with the flimsiest of plans, he could have stopped that, he could have stopped the gay agenda in very short order.”

He went on to mourn for the soldiers in the Revolutionary War who “died with the cry ‘no king but Jesus’ on their lips” and for “all the patriots since them who have died on the battlefield believing that American values meant godliness and morality, not sexual perversion and killing.”

Lively then, with great self-awareness, lamented that the First Amendment is “being chipped away very rapidly” leading to the “persecution” of people like himself.

Later in the interview, Lively claimed that thanks to abortion rights and LGBT equality, “we really are now under occupation.. by cultural Marxists” just as France was occupied by the Nazis in World War II.

The “cultural Marxists,” he said, have now ensured that everyone in America is “forced to participate in gay culture,” and are working toward the next step, which is “punishment of all dissenters.”

“The folks that are pushing this, they want to come after every Christian,” he warned, “they hate Christianity, they want to punish, they are going to aggressively pursue every person.”

But he had some good news: “I’m more blessed than I’ve ever been, and yet I’m being persecuted more than anybody else in America.”

Why The Right's Response To Marriage Equality Is Anything But Principled

This post by PFAW and PFAW Foundation Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon was originally published in the Huffington Post. 

Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and other conservative leaders have recently lashed out against the Supreme Court's decision on marriage equality by proclaiming that local clerks who don't personally agree with marriage equality should not be required to issue marriage licenses or perform weddings for same-sex couples - even though it's their job to provide that service to the public.

Their logic is fundamentally flawed. Civil marriage is a civil function, not a religious one. Government employees allowing someone to access their legal rights are not doing anything religious, nor are they condoning the actions being licensed any more than with any other type of license.

That's why when government employees in our country have had religious objections to divorce and remarriage, they have still had to do their jobs. And when government employees have had religious objections to interracial marriages, they have still had to do their jobs. So, too, have government officials with other religious objections to whether or how certain couples get married.

But when the particular religious belief in question is opposition to lesbians and gays, that's apparently a different matter altogether. Now, suddenly, we're told that government employees need to have their religious liberty "protected."

A principle of religious liberty that is invoked only in the context of one particular religious belief is no principle at all. It is a pretext.

The far-right movement that is coalescing around these "protections" allowing civil servants to impose their religious beliefs on others and deny them service does not have clean hands in this regard. While they proclaim loudly that they just want to "live and let live," the policies they have pursued vigorously for decades have aggressively sought to prevent LGBT people from having basic human rights. The Right's new clamor for "protections" is just another form of homophobia.

If the religious right simply wanted to "live and let live," they would not have spent these past decades seeking to impose their religious beliefs about homosexuality on others both through custom and through force of law. They would not have boycotted television networks for airing shows portraying LGBT people as ordinary people. Nor would they have screamed bloody murder when popular celebrities came out of the closet. They would not have fought to prevent us from raising children. They would not have battled to ensure that surviving members of couples be denied Social Security survivor benefits. They would not have opposed letting us serve our country in the intelligence services or in the military. They would not have put so much energy into convincing Americans that we are sexual predators going after their children. They would not have tried to bar us from teaching in public schools. They would not have threatened us with criminal prosecution just for our private, consensual sexual conduct.

Whether it's religious refusals specific to marriage, more general Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in a post-Hobby Lobby world, or Sen. Mike Lee's misleadingly named "First Amendment Defense Act," the Right is yet again attacking LGBT people. With a growing number of Americans - and now the Supreme Court - affirming that the right to marry is a right guaranteed to all regardless of sexual orientation, some on the Right have come to understand that their best tactic to fight marriage equality is to couch their homophobic goals with the language of "religious liberty" instead of explicitly speaking out against LGBT rights. But it's up to all of us to make sure that they do not succeed in these efforts to portray themselves as virtuous defenders of religious liberty, because in reality they're just waging another war against LGBT people.
 

PFAW

North Carolina Pastor Speaks Out About Discriminatory 'Religious Freedom' Marriage Law

In response to a bill authorizing public officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages becoming law in North Carolina this morning, Dr. Terence K. Leathers – a pastor at Mt. Vernon Christian Church in Clayton, North Carolina and a member of People For the American Way's African American Ministers In Action – released the following statement:

“Shame on our legislature for making this harmful and unnecessary bill become law. As a pastor, I believe this is not only a blow for the dignity of all North Carolinians but also a blow for true religious liberty.

“Governor McCrory did the right thing when he vetoed this bill, and the fact that our legislature overrode it shows just how far they will go in misusing the principle of religious liberty in order to discriminate. This is a sad day for our state.”

Last week, Dr. Leathers published an op-ed in The Huffington Post calling on the legislature not to misuse religious freedom to license public officials to discriminate.

PFAW

Clayton, NC Pastor Speaks Out About Discriminatory Marriage Law

In response to a bill authorizing public officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages becoming law in North Carolina this morning, Dr. Terence K. Leathers – a pastor at Mt. Vernon Christian Church in Clayton, North Carolina and a member of People For the American Way's African American Ministers In Action – released the following statement:

“Shame on our legislature for making this harmful and unnecessary bill become law. As a pastor, I believe this is not only a blow for the dignity of all North Carolinians but also a blow for true religious liberty.

“Governor McCrory did the right thing when he vetoed this bill, and the fact that our legislature overrode it shows just how far they will go in misusing the principle of religious liberty in order to discriminate. This is a sad day for our state.”

Last week, Dr. Leathers published an op-ed in The Huffington Post calling on the legislature not to misuse religious freedom to license public officials to discriminate.

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Pamela Geller Is Not a Hero, But...

This piece was originally published in The Huffington Post.

I am grateful to live in a country where even someone as hateful as Pamela Geller can speak her mind. She can smear President Obama as the "jihadist in the White House" and speculate that he "choked up" with tears when he ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden. She can say that Pope Francis' call for "affection and respect" towards Muslims means he has "become an imam." She can compare Jewish Americans who support President Obama to Nazi appeasers and call comedian Jon Stewart "the most disgusting Jew on the planet." She can suggest banning Muslims from becoming airline pilots. She can then claim that anyone who doesn't want to hear her speak is "enforcing the Sharia."

I am also grateful to live in a country where the law protects Geller's right to say these things.

Sunday's incident, in which two gunmen tried to attack an anti-Islam event that Geller and virulently anti-Muslim Dutch politician Geert Wilders hosted in Texas, was deeply troubling. Our freedom of speech means nothing if people are too afraid to speak. We saw this in a different context earlier this year when Sony pulled a raunchy geopolitical buddy comedy from theaters under threat of terror attacks. Say what you will about Pamela Geller, she has not backed down from any of her vile positions under fear of violence.

But it's important to remember that the fact that she was attacked for her speech doesn't make Geller a hero, or her speech any less hateful. As Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall put it yesterday, "a hate group is a hate group the day after someone takes a shot at them just like it was the day before."

Local Muslim groups had the right idea when they stayed away from Geller's event,declining to protest so that they wouldn't give Geller the attention she so desperately wanted. Those who expose her hateful rhetoric -- like my PFAW colleagues -- also do important work, making sure the public knows that just because she is targeted by violent idiots doesn't make her a serious thinker or a hero.

I know that Geller won't back down from her hateful rhetoric after this event-- in fact, the attempted attack will probably embolden her and cause some to take her more seriously. And we shouldn't stop criticizing Geller -- or, as she puts it, "enforcing the Sharia" -- when she's wrong.

As People For the American Way wrote in 2009 in response to a renewed spate of inflammatory right-wing rhetoric, Americans must "be willing to use their First Amendment freedoms to challenge those who exploit their political positions or media megaphones to promote lies that are intended to inflame rather than inform, that encourage paranoia rather than participation, and whose consequences are at best divisive and at worst, violently destructive."

PFAW

Gov. Pence's Claims Ignore Indiana "Religious Freedom" Law's History

Indiana's Mike Pence is less than convincing in his claims about that state's new RFRA law.
PFAW

Hobby Lobby Comes Home to Roost as States Consider "Religious Freedom" Legislation

This op-ed was originally published at The Huffington Post.

Over the last twenty years, 19 states have passed laws modeled on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was enacted in 1993 with broad bipartisan support. But just this year, almost the same number, 15, have seen such bills introduced, generating enormous controversy across the country, particularly in Indiana where Gov. Mike Pence signed the new state RFRA into law.

Why the huge uptick now? As one of those involved in the original drafting and passage of RFRA in 1993, I think it's a combination of the perceived dangers to the far right from the move towards LGBT marriage equality and the perceived opportunity created just last year by the 5-4 Supreme Court's rewriting of RFRA in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

Even before the Supreme Court agreed to decide the marriage equality issue, the far right has highlighted the supposed dangers to small businesses like bakers and florists who do not want to serve LGBT couples because of religious objections. Under RFRA as passed in 1993, and under the protection from the First Amendment's Free Exercise doctrine that it was meant to restore, RFRA wouldn't have offered much help. First, neither had been applied to non-religious corporations, which had never been thought to have religious freedom rights. Second, it would have been very hard to argue that a neutral law banning discrimination against LGBT people would have created a "substantial burden" on actual religious exercise, which is required to qualify for a RFRA-type exemption. For example, in one case the Supreme Court rejected the claim that requiring federal welfare recipients to submit social security numbers was such a burden even when it conflicted with an applicant's religious beliefs. And even if such a burden were created by obeying an anti-discrimination or other general law, pre-Hobby Lobby law would not have helped a religious claimant: as the Court ruled in rejecting a religious exemption to a requirement that a religious farmer withhold social security taxes, such an exemption would improperly "operate to impose the employer's religious faith on the employees" and others.

But then came Hobby Lobby.

In that case, writing for a bare majority of the Court, Justice Alito ruled that religious objections by a corporation's owners exempted them under RFRA from providing contraceptive coverage through insurance to employees under the Affordable Care Act. As Justice Ginsburg explained in dissent, rather than interpreting RFRA to restore prior case law, the majority interpreted it as going beyond prior Court decisions to maximize benefits to religious claimants. In particular, she explained, the Court effectively re-wrote RFRA so that it could be invoked by for-profit corporations, and so that the original law protecting individuals against a "substantial burden" on the exercise of religion was transformed to allow claims by a business owner that complying with a neutral law offended their religious beliefs in some way. Under the majority's view, Justice Ginsburg suggested, RFRA could be interpreted to "require exemptions" in cases where religious beliefs were used to justify actions that discriminated on the basis of race, gender, and sexual orientation. Pointedly, Justice Alito responded only that "prohibitions on racial discrimination" would be safe from a RFRA exemption claim, but said nothing about gender or LGBT status.

So for far-right activists and legislators concerned about LGBT marriage equality and other rights, Hobby Lobby provided the perfect opportunity: pass state RFRA laws and effectively grant a religious exemption claim from LGBT anti-discrimination laws and local ordinances, based on the Court's re-writing of RFRA's language. Indeed, in communicating with supporters about the Indiana RFRA law, the far-right Family Research Council specifically called it the "Hobby Lobby bill."

Even better, rhetoric directed at outsiders could be cloaked in general language about protecting religious freedom, not attacking LGBT rights. Supporters could even invoke Democratic supporters of RFRA like President Clinton and claim that neither RFRA nor its state counterparts had been interpreted to allow discrimination, as Indiana Gov. Pence has tried to do. These claims ignore the fact that it wasn't until last year that the Supreme Court effectively rewrote the language in RFRA so that it was transformed from a shield for religious liberty into a sword against anti-discrimination protections. And previous supporters like President Clinton have made clear their opposition to this year's state RFRA proposals.

Under pressure, the neutral façade of recent state RFRA proposals has crumbled. When pushed to amend a state RFRA proposal in Georgia to make clear that it could not be used against anti-discrimination ordinances, a Georgia legislator admitted that one of the reasons for the bill was to allow it to be invoked by the small business owner who had religious objections to providing services to an LGBT couple. And when an amendment was added in the Georgia House Judiciary Committee to state that the RFRA bill was not to be used against discrimination laws, the bill was promptly tabled on March 26, with a supporter stating that the amendment would "gut" the bill.

As of now, the fate of RFRA bills in Georgia and elsewhere is uncertain and Gov. Pence has asked the legislature for an amendment to "clarify" that Indiana's RFRA law cannot be used to deny services to anyone. That would be a welcome step - one that flies in the face of the clear intent of some of the bill's backers, which was clearly to enshrine such a "right" for Indiana businesses. Language has been adopted elsewhere to make clear that state RFRAs cannot be used against anti-discrimination bills; such a provision is currently in Texas' RFRA, although there is a proposal to remove it. Before Hobby Lobby, such language might not have been necessary. After Hobby Lobby, it is crucial.

PFAW

What's Wrong With State 'Religious Liberty' Legislation?

Misleading rhetoric is being used to promote laws that threaten to turn a shield for religious freedom into a sword against laws that protect Americans from discrimination

Tony Perkins Uses Meriam Ibrahim To Promote Anti-Obama, Anti-Gay Agenda

The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins has excitedly touted a big “get” for this week’s Values Voter Summit: Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman who was persecuted by the Sudanese government over charges of apostasy. Evangelicals in the U.S. were part of the international chorus of voices who worked to keep a spotlight on Ibrahim’s plight, and Ibrahim may wish to thank some of the activists who advocated for her freedom.

But Perkins and FRC have another agenda entirely: They have been using Ibrahim as a prop in their relentless, over-the-top attacks on the Obama administration — and their claims that Christians in America are themselves facing government persecution.

Ibrahim’s vividly compelling case — for being a Christian, she was shackled to a prison floor with one small child while pregnant, then gave birth in jail — drew worldwide attention. Ibrahim had a Muslim father but was raised by a Christian mother, and in 2011 she married a Catholic American, Daniel Wali.  She was arrested last September after being charged with apostasy — abandoning the Muslim faith — and for adultery given that the court didn’t recognize her marriage to a Christian.  This May she was sentenced to receive 100 lashes and be hanged.

An Amnesty International campaign on her behalf generated more than a million signatures. European leaders condemned her treatment and called for her release. In the U.S., religious and political leaders called for her freedom. A petition on the White House website pushed by Perkins and others gained more than 50,000 signatures.

On May 15, the White House condemned her sentence in a statement by National Security Council Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden, which urged the government of Sudan to respect Ibrahim’s religious freedom andto respect the fundamental freedoms and universal human rights of all its people.” The State Department also expressed concerns in May; Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement in June.

Ibrahim was freed on June 23, then re-arrested and detained briefly when she tried to leave the country. She was sheltered by the U.S. embassy for about a month until she was permitted to leave Sudan in late July. She is now living with her husband and children in New Hampshire.

Perkins has repeatedly used Ibrahim’s plight as a way to hammer the Obama administration. 

In late May, Perkins fumed:

While many international groups have taken up efforts to pressure the Sudanese government to release Meriam and her children, the Obama administration has said little, and done nothing.

Think about this: two innocent American children are imprisoned abroad as their life hangs in the balance. If President Obama will not act in a situation like this, what will he act upon? Does Obama care?

Fox News’ hosts got in on the act, even as its own website was contradicting those claims.  A May 31 Fox News story by Joshua Rhett Miller was headlined, “US 'fully engaged' in case of Sudanese woman sentenced to die for Christian faith.” It included a quote from the State Department:

Through the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, the White House and the State Department, we have communicated our strong concern at high levels of the Sudanese government about this case,” State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson wrote FoxNews.com in an email. “We have heard from many, many Americans that they are deeply alarmed by [Ibrahim’s] plight. We have conveyed these views to the Government of Sudan.”

Yet the video at the top of that very story on the Fox News website featured Perkins saying the U.S. government was doing “so far, nothing that we can tell” other than condemning Ibrahim’s treatment. Megyn Kelly fumed that the State Department had “refused to say bupkis” about what the U.S. government was doing. If Perkins or Kelly were aware of the possibility that U.S. officials may have believed that quiet diplomacy would be more effective, they gave no hint of it.

Other conservatives piled on: On June 11, Nina Shea at the Hudson Institute wrote, “And, as Ibrahim looks toward an appeals court review of her case, President Obama and the U.S. State department have been silent about it.”

On June 12, FRC and Concerned Women for America held a rally in front of the White House. Perkins was joined by Obama-bashers Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Trent Franks. Perkins’ remarks were wildly inflammatory.  “There was a time when people of faith could sit down inside the White House and talk about these issues,” he said. Claiming that administration inaction was threatening the lives of Ibrahim’s children, Perkins said, “If this president is content with the blood of small children on his hands, then God help him.”

Perkins continued throughout the summer to complain that the Obama administration was doing nothing to help Ibrahim, even though he was told otherwise on his own radio show by a Republican congressman. On June 23, Perkins had Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., on his radio show to talk about the case. As Brian reported in RWW, Meadows undermined Perkins’ attacks on the administration:

Asked if the State Department was working to help Ibrahim and her children, Meadows reported that the U.S. has in fact worked vigorously behind the scenes to free Ibrahim: “I got off of a call not more than an hour or so ago and a number of agencies across the board are working hand-in-glove to make sure that this is handled quickly and efficiently. And I am heartened by what I heard on that phone call and really encouraged that this is a government that cares about people. Sometimes I wish they would speak up louder and quicker, but I can tell you behind the scenes a number of agencies are working to make sure that they are safe.”

In July, Perkins testified about the case at a congressional subcommittee hearing. One of his fellow panelists, Grover Rees, who served as a U.S. ambassador during the George W. Bush presidency, said that even though Ibrahim’s husband had said he was rebuffed by a U.S. consular officer when he sought help, Rees believed that government agencies were doing what they could. Rees said that “the State Department seems to be making amends, supplying appropriate attention and care.”

Perkins has even kept up the Obama-bashing rhetoric since Ibrahim’s release and safe passage to the U.S. In August, Perkins cited the case as a reason people think Obama is a Muslim.

Perkins isn’t alone. In August, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer allied himself with ISIS’s characterization of Iraq’s Yazidi minority and griped, “Obama will fight for Satan-worshipers but not for Christians!”

ISIS has been beheading Christian children and crucifying Christians by the side of the road. Christians for months have been fleeing Iraq in droves ahead of the murderous hordes of Al Qaeda. And Obama yawns.

When Christian wife and mother Meriam Ibrahim is imprisoned in Sudan for being a Christian, and forced to give birth in a filthy jail cell while shackled to the wall, Obama yawns. While Christian pastor and American citizen Saeed Abedini languishes in the hellhole of an Iranian prison, Obama yawns.

But when worshipers of Lucifer get in trouble at the hands of the same blood-thirsty savages, suddenly Obama springs into action.

What this reveals about the president’s religious sympathies I will leave for others to decide. But it can’t be good.

Real Persecution vs the Religious Right’s Persecution Complex

We have previously suggested that American religious conservatives should be ashamed of equating their policy disagreements or losses in legal disputes with the kind of brutal religious persecution experienced by Meriam Ibrahim and so many Christians and other religious minorities around the globe. But Perkins and others have been happy to use her case to promote their narrative that Christianity in the U.S. is on the verge of being criminalized.

Advocates for LGBT equality are often portrayed as persecutors of Christians, as in Perkins’ statement in June that he was wondering, “When are they going to start rolling out the boxcars to start hauling off Christians?” As part of FRC’s announcement that Ibrahim would be speaking at the Values Voter Summit, Perkins said: 

"Meriam's bold stand for Jesus Christ as she faced death has touched the hearts of people in every nation. Her incredible example of courage should inspire Christians in America to be bold and courageous in their faith as we witness growing religious hostility here in our country.”

At a July 23 hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, Perkins said:

“It is difficult to look at these facts [about Ibrahim’s case] and not understand then in the light of the current administration’s unilateral reinterpretation of religious freedom domestically. This administration believes religious beliefs should be quarantined to private spaces and excluded from the public space. This truncated view of religious freedom domestically, more accurately described as the freedom of worship, is matched by the administration’s failure to even address the growing threats to religious freedom internationally.”

In August, Dusty Gates, who works for the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, wrote in Crisis magazine that liberals were uncomfortable supporting Ibrahim because they don’t support religious freedom in the U.S.

Naturally, this victory for freedom (liber) is being celebrated, at least to some degree, by liberals of all kinds. A human being freed from oppression, especially from such extreme persecution as Ibrahim faced, seems to be a grand slam for the liberal cause. But with the Ibrahim case, as well as the larger situation of global anti-Christian persecution, is causing liberals to sweat a little. Just as they stand up to cheer, it seems that their impending jubilation is cut short; subdued by a palpable fear that maybe they shouldn’t be celebrating the thing they want to celebrate. “A victory for freedom? Hoora… Oh wait, for religious freedom? Uh oh….”

Gates even slammed the welcome given Ibrahim by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, saying the Nutter’s comparison of Ibrahim to Rosa Parks rather than to other religious martyrs was “a subtle attempt to hijack Ibrahim’s story: taking it out of its full context and using it as a vehicle for the liberal agenda.”

In June, Christian author Benjamin Corey called out right-wing claims of religious persecution in the United States:

Meanwhile in the United States, we’re going about our daily lives panicking with cries of religious persecution as well…although, they’re not the cries one would think. Instead of a collective focus on wide-spread human rights abuses and religious persecution in places like Sudan, North Korea where an estimated 33,000 Christians have been incarcerated in prison camps, or the estimated thousands who actually die for their religious faith each year, we’re focused on a first world version of persecution that’s not really persecution at all.

When A&E temporarily made the decision to disassociate with Phil from Duck Dynasty over anti-gay comments he made in the media, it was labeled as “persecution”.

When public business owners in the baking industry have insisted on the right to discriminate and faced just accountability, it becomes another example of “persecution”.

We even have potential presidential candidates perpetuating such a persecution complex, with figures like Rick Santorum falsely stating that people who oppose same sex marriage are being sent to re-education camps.

With all of the legitimate and horrifying human rights violations occurring in the world, some in America have sadly adopted a very first world, privileged, and self-centered version of persecution. Instead of doubling efforts to shed light on international abuses, we’ve seen a flood of first world persecution claims– from internet trolls right up to the right wing members of government.

…Let’s reserve the “persecution” word for the real thing– such as what we saw in the case of Meriam Ibrahim.

Using Ibrahim to Attack LGBT Human Rights

Perkins has also used Meriam Ibrahim’s case to promote his attacks on the Obama administration’s advocacy for the human rights of LGBT people who face brutal persecution in many countries. In June, he wrote,

President Obama, who can't find a few minutes to call for Meriam Ibrahim's release from a Sudanese prison, had plenty of time to fly to New York and fundraise for homosexual activists.

In a late August direct mail piece, Perkins complained angrily about the “utterly shocking” fact that the rainbow flag was flown over the US embassy in Israel during a gay pride celebration.

“This would be outrageous enough all by itself—but the reality of the big picture is more frightening by far. The global Obama crusade for gay rights is happening against a backdrop of the total collapse of his real foreign policy responsibilities. We are witnessing an unprecedented level of anti-Christian persecution around the world, a colossal, international, multifront assault on religious freedom. Yet in response to these atrocities, the administration has remained all but silent….This administration is pressuring other nations to adopt Barack Obama’s radical gay agenda—but not to observe the most basic universal human right of religious freedom.”

The rest of Perkins’ letter goes back and forth between portraying the administration as fixated on gay rights and unconcerned about persecuted Christians. “We had no choice but to stand up for Meriam — because the Obama administration wouldn’t, and didn’t.”

“I urge you to stand with FRC Action again today as we fight back against the Obama administration’s outrages — their devotion to the cause of sexual immorality and their simultaneous indifference toward Christians suffering persecution for their faith.”

All the while Perkins portrays advocacy for the human rights of LGBT people — who certainly face brutal persecution in many parts of the world — as extremism.

When we see the rainbow flag of the homosexual movement flying over our embassies in Tel Aviv, London, and Prague, we can see with our own eyes what an extremist is sitting in the Oval Office.

Similar language appears in a September 6 fundraising email from Perkins, which says in part:

With President Obama promoting the homosexual movement around the world through the Obama administration, yet not working to prevent Christians from being persecuted, jailed, even tortured and killed for their faith, FRC Action’s work has grown more important than ever before.

As far as we can tell, Perkins and other Religious Right leaders haven’t raised much of a ruckus about the persecution of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who faces 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes after being convicted of “insulting Islam” by calling for religious tolerance, or about the imprisonment in Indonesia of Alexander Aan for publicly declaring himself an atheist.

The Values Voter Summit

Meriam Ibrahim may consider an appearance at the extremism-heavy Values Voter Summit as an opportunity to thank the thousands of Americans who advocated on her behalf while she was suffering in a Sudanese prison cell, and to celebrate the freedom of religion that she and her family enjoy in America.

Unfortunately, her attendance at the Values Voter Summit will put her in the company of people like the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, who argues that the First Amendment does not protect religious minorities in the U.S., and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, who argues that Christians whose beliefs on the equality of LGBT people differ from his do not deserve “true religion freedom.” And it will include many activists, like the Benham Brothers, who cry anti-Christian persecution despite their own record of working to restrict the religious and political freedoms of others.

Americans of every political and religious stripe can admire Ibrahim’s exceptional strength and courage in the face of real persecution. The same cannot be said for those who are trying to exploit her moral authority to advance their own political agendas.

Rick Santorum Presents Latest 'Religious Persecution' Movie

Two current Religious Right fixations — the “persecution” of American Christians and the need for conservatives to do more to influence the pop culture — have come together in movies like “Persecuted” and “We the People—Under Attack.” The latest entry, “One Generation Away: The Erosion of Religious Liberty,” was screened by Rick Santorum at the Heritage Foundation on Monday night.

Santorum said the movie will be released in September. His EchoLight Cinemas is trying to create an alternative to Hollywood distribution channels by building a network of thousands of tech-equipped churches who will sell tickets for "One Generation Away" and other movies. He says the long-term strategy is to bring more people into churches and put the church back at the center of the culture.

"One Generation Away" is described as a documentary, but it’s really a preaching-to-the-choir call to arms for conservative Christians and pastors to get more involved in culture war battles while they still have the freedom to do so. Among the film’s producers are Donald and Tim Wildmon from the American Family Association, which Santorum said is packaging a shorter version of the movie into more of an activist tool.

The title comes from Ronald Reagan – specifically from a speech to the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce in 1961, a time in which Reagan was working with conservatives to rally opposition to Medicare – “socialized medicine”:

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.

The thrust of "One Generation Away" is that religious freedom in the United States is disappearing fast, and if the church doesn’t fight for it now, it will soon be gone forever. Before running the film on Monday, Santorum quoted Cardinal Francis George, who said during the debate about insurance coverage of contraception, “I expect to die in my bed. I expect my successor to die in prison. I expect his successor to be a martyr.” That’s just the kind of hyperbolic “religious persecution” rhetoric we have come to expect from Religious Right leaders and their allies in the Catholic hierarchy.

At one point toward the end of the movie, it seems as if the filmmakers might be striking a more reasonable tone, with a couple of speakers saying that Christians should stand up for the rights of people of different faiths — even though the AFA’s chief spokesman opposes First Amendment protections for non-Christians— and others actually acknowledging that it is problematic for American Christians to be complaining of “religious persecution” over policy disputes when Christians and others are facing horrific, deadly persecution in many other parts of the world.

But that caution is quickly abandoned as the movie makes a direct comparison of the status of the Christian church in America with the church in Germany as the Nazis came to power. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who tried to mobilize German Christians to resist Nazi tyranny and was executed by the regime, is held up as the model that American Christians need to be willing to follow.

Eric Metaxas, a Bonhoeffer biographer who became a Religious Right folk hero when he questioned President Obama’s faith at a National Prayer Breakfast attended by the president, warned that if the church doesn’t link arms to fight, all will be lost. “The good news,” he said, “is that the American church is slightly more attuned to the rumbling heard in the distance than the German church was in the 30s. The bad news is, only slightly, right?”

The movie cuts to Mike Huckabee saying that Bonhoeffer could have saved his life if he had been willing to soften his faith, but that instead he resisted and rebuked the Nazi regime. And then we’re back to Metaxas to complete the Nazi analogy:

 “The parallel today is simply that. You have a government, a state, which is getting larger and larger and more and more powerful, and is beginning to push against the church. There’s a window of opportunity where we can fight. If we don’t wake up and fight before then, we won’t be able to fight. That’s just what happened in Germany. And that’s the urgency we have in America now. And people that’s incendiary, or I’m being hyperbolic. I’m sorry, I wish, I wish, I wish I were. I’m not.”

Filmmakers said at the screening that they had conducted 75 interviews for the movie, and it sure feels like it.  It includes names that will be well-known to RWW readers, like Mike Huckabee, Tony Perkins, Harry Jackson, Tim Wildmon, Alveda King, Robert George, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, Eric Teetsel of the Manhattan Declaration, and Ryan Anderson and Jennifer Marshall of the Heritage Foundation.

Also appearing are Rep. Doug Collins; Rick Perry backer Robert Jeffress; Matthew Franck of the Witherspoon Institute, which sponsored the infamous and discredited Regnerus “family structures” study; Stephen McDowell of the dominionist Providence Foundation; Gregory Thornbury of Kings College; lawyers from the Alliance Defense Fund, the Beckett Fund, the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund; and a number of pastors.

The film also includes interviews with some opponents of the Religious Right, including Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Princeton’s Peter Singer, and Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Santorum told the audience at Heritage that he wishes he had even more of his opponents included in the film because “they scare the hell out of me” and would help motivate the right-wing base.

In order to keep the movie from being one brutally long succession of talking heads, the filmmakers resort to a tactic of constantly shifting scenes, a couple of seconds at a time, in a way that feels like they got a volume discount on stock images of Americana: boats on the water, kids playing softball, families walking together. There are also odd random fillers, like close-ups of the pattern on a couch in the room in which a speaker is sitting. The endless, repetitive succession of images actually makes the film feel even longer than it actually is. (Zack Ford at ThinkProgress had a similar reaction to this technique.)

The meat of the film, or the “red meat,” mixes the personal stories of people being  victimized by intolerant secularists and/or gay activists with miniature David Bartonesque lectures on the Christian roots of America’s founding; the fact that the phrase “separation of church and state” never appears in the U.S. Constitution; the notion that the American government is trying to replace “freedom of religion” with “freedom of worship” and require any expression of faith to take place behind church walls; and the disgracefulness of making any analogies between the civil rights movement and the LGBT equality movement. The 1947 Supreme Court decision in which Jefferson’s “separation of church and state” phrase was invoked by the Court and “changed everything” is portrayed as nothing more than a reflection of Justice Hugo Black’s hatred of Catholics.

Featured “persecution” stories include:

  • a long advertisement for Hobby Lobby and its owners, the Green family, which recently won its legal battle against the contraception mandate;
  • a baker and florist who ran afoul of their state’s anti-discrimination laws when they refused to provide services for a same-sex couple getting married;
  • cheerleaders at a public high school in Texas who were challenged by the Freedom From Religion Foundation for creating football game banners featuring Christian scriptural quotes;  
  • Catholic Charities being “forced” to give up adoption services rather than place children with same-sex couples;
  • an ACLU challenge to a large cross at the Mt. Soledad war memorial; and
  • the supposed frontal attack on the religious freedom of military chaplains as a result of allowing LGBT members of the armed forces to serve openly. On this issue, Tony Perkins declares, “The military is being used as a vanguard of radical social policy. And in order for that policy to permeate and to take root, you’ve got to take out the religious opposition.”

In spite of the parade of horrors, the movie tries to end on an upbeat note, saying that the early Christian church expanded while it was being suppressed, and that it will only take “one spark of revival” to change the nation.  A familiar theme at Religious Right conferences is that blame for America’s decline rests with churches that don’t speak up and pastors who don’t preach or lead aggressively enough. One Generation Away ends on this point, telling Christian pastors it is their responsibility to wake up and challenge their congregants to live their faith “uncompromisingly.”

During the Q&A after the screening, Santorum said the fact that Hobby Lobby was a 5-4 decision demonstrated the importance of the 2016 election. “Part of me almost wishes we’d lost,” says Santorum, because that would have made the threat clearer to conservative activists. “We are one judge away,” he said, adding that “if we get a Democratic president, our five, or four-and-a-half, justices are not going to hold out forever.”

“I just worry,” he said to the young people in the audience, “that the longer we delay, and America sleeps, and your generation is indoctrinated the way it is, the harder it will be to come back.”

Benham Brothers Reveal What Love And Liberty Mean To The Religious Right

Benham Brothers Reveal What Love and Liberty Mean To the Religious Right

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
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