religious persecution rhetoric

Rick Wiles Warns Ebola Pandemic Will Lead To Ban On Churches

End Times radio host Rick Wiles seems to have mixed feelings about the Ebola virus. On one hand, Wiles speculated a few weeks ago that if Ebola were to become a global pandemic, it “ could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography and abortion .” On the other hand, Wiles is pretty sure that American Christians are on the verge of being rounded up and imprisoned and that an Ebola outbreak might give President Obama a convenient excuse to pack Americans into FEMA camps .

On his “Trunews” broadcast yesterday, Wiles came down again on the anti-Ebola side, worrying that it would lead to the government enforcing a ban on Americans going to church. “We may find ourselves one day being told by soldiers, ‘You can’t go to church,’” he warned.

Rick Santorum Falsely Claims Students 'Can't Pray In School'

Today, Vocativ posted an interview with Rick Santorum, who is promoting his new movie “One Generation Away,” which is about the supposed “erosion of religious liberty” in the United States.

Unsurprisingly, Santorum cites a number of myths about religious liberty in schools, including claiming that “you can’t pray in school” and that public schools "can't talk about the impact" of the Bible on "Western civilization." In reality, students have a constitutionally protected right to pray in school, as long as that prayer is not school-sponsored. In addition, schools are allowed to teach about the Bible and its impact on history.

The movie argues that the observant are being forced to practice in private, for few hours in church on Sundays. But on a personal level, can’t you observe your religion wherever you want?

Not necessarily. You can’t pray in school, but it’s good to have prayer. Are people offended by prayer? Sure. But the constitution gives us the right to offend. There are a lot of things today in America that offend me.

Right, but isn’t school different? There are lots of rules in school that don’t apply to the rest of society.

This is a fallacy. By making such a judgment, you’re communicating what’s good and bad. Not having the Bible taught in school is a mistake. The Bible is the basis upon which Western civilization was built. It is the most influential book of all. And yet it’s not taught. In school, they can’t talk about the impact of this book. This is, in fact, putting forth a view of history that is ahistorical. It’s hard to not look at the history of Western civilization and not see faith.

So what about the Quran? Should that be taught in school, too?

I would absolutely encourage more teaching about Islam. Maybe 50 years ago, when Islam had third-world status and not international status—maybe that was different. But given what’s going on, it’s important to teach it.

Ralph Reed Compares 'War On Faith Being Waged Here In America' To Violent Persecution Abroad

Glenn Beck invited Ralph Reed onto his program this morning to discuss the violent oppression of Christians in countries like Syria and Sudan, such as the case of Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman who was sentenced to death for her faith but has now reached safety in the U.S. Of course, the two inevitably slipped away from talking about the actual brutal persecution of Christians in those countries to the supposed persecution of Christians in America through things like health insurance coverage for contraception and same-sex marriage.

After talking about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Beck told Reed, “We have a problem with hostility to religion here in America too.”

When Beck asked Reed why American pastors aren’t speaking out enough about the persecution of Christians throughout the world, Reed said that one reason “is because we’ve had our own war on faith being waged here in America, not obviously with bombs and bullets and tear gas, but rather with court rulings and executive orders and laws that seek to marginalize the role of faith in our own society.”

“So if people are sitting around wondering, why aren’t we doing more, it’s because we’ve been callous about it in our own midst.”

Jim DeMint Tells Dr. Chaps You Can't 'Understand Our Country’ Without 'A Faith Lens'

Demon-obsessed pastor and Colorado GOP state House nominee Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt apparently had a ball at last month’s Western Conservative Summit, where he managed to corner any number of GOP luminaries for interviews that he has been rolling out over the last few weeks on his “Pray In Jesus Name” program.

On yesterday’s program, Klingenschmitt unveiled his interviews with Colorado congressional candidate Ken Buck and Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint (previous interviews have included Sen. Mike Lee,Ben Carson, and being part of a gaggle of reporters filming Sen. Ted Cruz).

DeMint gave Klingenschmitt the Christian-nation views he was searching for, telling him that it’s impossible to “understand our country and what made it so exceptional” without seeing it through “a faith lens because that’s the way our founders looked at it.”

“We need to get the government to stop purging faith from all aspects of our society,” he added.

Rick Wiles: Christians In America Will Soon Be 'Arrested Or Possibly Killed'

End Times radio host Rick Wiles issued a dire warning on his program Wednesday, claiming that “the persecution against Christians in America has started” and will soon “worsen” to the extent that “any man or woman who dares to stand up against this tyranny is in danger of being smeared, arrested or possibly killed.”

He added that the government might soon “set up” Christian conservatives by hacking into their computers and planting false evidence of crimes.

The persecution against Christians in America has started. It won’t go away anytime soon. In fact, it will only worsen in the months and years to come. Any man or woman who dares to stand up against this tyranny is in danger of being smeared, arrested or possibly killed. Accusations of tax evasion and other crimes will be leveled against Christian leaders who refuse to shut up.

One of the most effective methods to deal with troublemakers is to set up that person so that he or she appears to be involved in a scandal. And with today’s technology, it is very easy to create images that look real. And you can hack into a computer and plant criminal evidence.

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.”

Tony Perkins' Christian-Persecution Report Highlights Persecution of Tony Perkins

The Family Research Council came out yesterday with a report on "hostility to religion in America," a collection of anecdotes from the past 14 years supposedly illustrating the persecution of conservative Christians in the U.S.

Some anecdotes highlighted in the report are troubling incidents that FRC admits were later rectified. Others are incidents that we might not all count as examples of religious hostility — for instance Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean being “mocked and ridiculed” for her answer to a question on same-sex marriage in 2009. Still others are stories of dubious accuracy — for instance, the story of a girl in Florida supposedly punished for praying at school, who just so happened to be the daughter of the man in charge of promoting Todd Starnes’ book on Christian persecution.

And then there was this:

Minister’s Invitation to National Prayer Luncheon Revoked because of His Comments on Homosexuality in the Military – February 2010*

An ordained minister and Marine Corps veteran was punished for speaking out on a topic unrelated to his planned comments at the National Prayer Luncheon at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C. The minister criticized President Obama’s call to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, resulting in his invitation to speak at the National Prayer Luncheon being rescinded. The minister criticized the action as “black-listing” to suppress unwanted viewpoints.

Who is this unnamed minister who was disinvited from the National Prayer Luncheon? He wasn’t just a minister who had criticized “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal. He was none other than the Family Research Council’s own president Tony Perkins.

This attempt to gloss over Perkins’ identity to make him seem like an innocent bystander to a vast anti-Christian agenda highlights a key strategy in the Religious Right’s persecution narrative. Like David and Jason Benham, who lost a TV contract with HGTV after Right Wing Watch reported on their vocal and public anti-gay, anti-choice activism (and who are also featured in FRC’s report), Tony Perkins is not just a private citizen who holds anti-gay views. He’s the leader of a major organization that opposed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” with misleading claims and demeaning rhetoric. You can agree or disagree with Perkins being disinvited from the prayer luncheon. But FRC would like us to believe that disagreement with Tony Perkins is the very same thing as hostility to religion.

Benham Brothers Ready To Die In Battle

The Religious Right mythologizing of David and Jason Benham continues. The Benham brothers – whose plans for a reality TV show on HGTV were scrapped by the network after Right Wing Watch reported on the brothers’ anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-Islam activism – were featured speakers at last week’s Road to Majority conference, sponsored by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition. And they’re on the schedule for the much bigger Values Voter Summit in September.

A Christian Post story on their appearance at Road to Majority frames their experience in typical martyrs-to-their-faith rhetoric, saying their reality show “was canceled because they spoke about their Christian views.”

Now, we don’t know exactly what motivated HGTV’s decision, but it seems to be a pretty good bet that it had nothing to do with the fact that the Benhams are outspoken about their Christian faith, and more to do with the fact that they had been outspoken advocates of limiting other people’s rights – as when Jason urged Charlotte, North Carolina, officials to deny permits for LGBT pride events, or when David took part it protests against the Islamic community center that critics inaccurately dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

The Religious Right revels in manufacturing martyrs. And the Benham brothers are happy to play the part, portraying themselves as targets of a demonic gay rights movement that is out to silence its critics. “If people remain silent, then it’s going to continue to get worse. But when folks step up, and speak boldly the truth, and then it can actually get pushed back,” David told the Christian Post. “You have to be willing to die. I mean, Jason and I had to be willing to lose our show. We had to be willing to lose a book deal…”

In their Road to Majority remarks, the Benham brothers portrayed themselves as warriors.

“We just remember June the 6th, 1944. We know what happened at D-Day. We know what happened on Omaha and Utah beach. There’s something about those men that our dad taught us when we were kids. And he said, ‘Boys, don’t you ever run from bullets. You run toward the bullets.’ There are cultural bullets flying, all over today, especially religious liberty. And what’s happening right now is many spiritual leaders, elected leaders, they are running from bullets. But there’s a remnant of people that are ready to stand and say ‘I’m not running from these bullets any more. I’m gonna take this beach…’”

One of the brothers invoked Meriam Ibrahim, a Christian woman who had been jailed in Sudan for refusing to renounce her faith (and who, it was reported today, is now safe in the US embassy), and then invoked Mel Gibson’s bloody battle epic “Braveheart.”

“Just like in the movie Braveheart, when all the Scottish Army was standing there, and they all had their gear on, and they were lined up and they were unified, and they were ready to fight but not a single one of them wanted to fight.  And then as William Wallace and a few men rode in on horses with blue face paint on. They were ready to pick a fight. And what I see before me right now are a bunch of people with some blue face paint on – so let’s go get it!"

Dutch Sheets: God Needs An Army To Save America From 'Demonic' Destruction

Today’s “Prophetic Insight” comes via Dutch Sheets, a leader in the dominionist New Apostolic Reformation. It combines the kind of religious persecution rhetoric examined in PFAW’s recent report, “Persecution Complex,”with a triumphant assertion that God will destroy the people standing in the way of establishing God’s kingdom in America.

Back in 2012, Sheets gave the keynote at a conference organized by fellow prophet Cindy Jacobs with an assist from the Family Research Council.  Sheets mocked churchgoers who focused on things like pastoral care, saying he was looking for “warriors” who would assume their responsibility to legislate, govern, and manage the earth in partnership with God.

Sheets’ new prophetic word is that “God is not done with America,” in spite of a “demonic tide of destruction” that has been “unleashed upon our nation.” Sheets bemoans, “Politically, economically and humanistically, there is an agenda to make this nation never again look the way it has looked before.” He returns to his theme that Americans are not doing enough to build the kingdom of God on earth:

After making great advances in kingdom building, many have let discouragement and fear gain a foothold in their hearts. They've laid down their tools and folded their hands. Others are busy with good kingdom works, but don't dare challenge the status quo, much less, the systems aimed at shredding the moral fabric of our nation, destroying the institution of the family and stripping us of our religious freedoms.

As in the days of Ezra, "wicked counselors," known today as lobbyists, are diligently and strategically opposing God's people to advance the antichrist agenda in every sector of society. This is a fulfillment of the first few verses of Psalms 2, which describe those who hate God and take counsel together, devising plans to contend against Him and His people. These counselors think they've overthrown God's rule and conquered His people and, in their arrogance, openly decree this.

Sheets wraps himself in the kind of martyrdom rhetoric that is seemingly irresistible to Religious Right leaders:

Fellow warriors, we cannot fear that if we resist the government and the political activists, we might be taken out. Neither can we fear that we might go to jail, lose our government funding or tax-exempt status, or have our business shut down for speaking the truth or refusing to marry same-sex couples. Yes, these things are already happening—some are already paying a high price to stand for righteousness—but we cannot cower and live in a paralyzing fear. We must only move in the fear of the Lord.

But don’t worry, he says. God will laugh at those wicked counselors and then destroy them: “Lastly, God takes His rod and begins to break and shatter kingdoms in order to reestablish His reign in the earth. The good news is clearly laid out here—in the end, we win!”

Sheets tells a Bible story about prophets Haggai and Zechariah who worked with God’s government (Joshua the priest) and civil government (Zerubbabel the governor) to lead a reformation. Sheets clearly wants to play the part of prophet in the modern version of the story.

Zechariah later prophesied to Zerubbabel saying, this mountain in front of you is going to be brought low and become a plain. Not by might or power but by my Spirit, you will tear it down with shouts of grace, grace! This is a picture of what God wants to do in America!

God just needs warriors.

It is OK to grieve, like Jeremiah or Nehemiah, over the condition of our nation, but we must not give in to discouragement and fear. God is calling forth an army of faithful followers who will come up out of their discouragement to boldly push back the darkness.

Many leaders in government, health, education and ministry are having to make a decision right now—am I going to make my stand or am I going to compromise and yield to the enemy's plans? I, for one, say what America's founding fathers said upon signing the Declaration of Independence and, thereby, committing an act of treason against the crown: I pledge my life, my fortune, my sacred honor—everything to stop this insidious plan of hell. Will you join me?

The Persecution Myth: New Report Takes On The Right's Deceptive Rallying Cry

Every day we hear figures on the Religious Right declaring that conservative Christians in America are being persecuted by a government that has embraced, in the words of Samuel Rodriguez, “secular totalitarianism.”

This narrative has helped to feed the opposition to gay rights and reproductive rights, and has even been used to advocate against the rights of religious minorities. And it continues even as Christians and members of other minority faiths face real persecution throughout the world.

The Right has managed to gain traction with this narrative by providing a never-ending supply of martyrdom myths. These stories of children banned from praying and of Christmas celebrations curtailed are carried to a wide audience by people like Fox News’ Todd Starnes — and are often quickly proved to be completely apocryphal.

In a new report, "The Persecution Complex: The Religious Right’s Deceptive Rallying Cry," we look at the machine that produces those myths and how they are then used to influence public policy:

The tales of horror keep pouring in: Two middle school girls are forced into a lesbian kiss as part of an anti-bullying program; an Air Force sergeant isfired because he opposes same-sex marriage; a high school track team is disqualified from a meet after an athlete thanks God for the team’s victory; a Veterans Affairs hospital bans Christmas cards with religious messages ; a man fixing the lights in a Christmas tree falls victim to a wave of War-on-Christmas violence; an elementary school student is punished for praying over his school lunch; a little boy is forced to take a psychological evaluation after drawing a picture of Jesus.

None of these stories is true. But each has become a stock tale for Religious Right broadcasters, activists, and in some cases elected officials. These myths – which are becoming ever more pervasive in the right-wing media – serve to bolster a larger story, that of a majority religious group in American society becoming a persecuted minority, driven underground in its own country.

This narrative has become an important rallying cry for a movement that has found itself on the losing side of many of the so-called “culture wars.” By reframing political losses as religious oppression, the Right has attempted to build a justification for turning back advances in gay rights, reproductive rights and religious liberty for minority faiths.

Read the rest here .

Peter and I also discussed the report in a conference call with PFAW members a couple of weeks ago. You can listen to that here:

PFAW Report Exposes Deceptive New Religious Right Strategy

WASHINGTON –  Right-wing groups that oppose advances in marriage equality and reproductive justice have increasingly embraced a new tactic to push their agenda: the claim that opposition to them on policy amounts to oppression of their religious beliefs. A new report from People For the American Way exposes how the anti-gay, anti-choice Religious Right uses false and misleading stories to portray itself as a victim of religious persecution and intolerance. 

The report, “The Persecution Complex: The Religious Right’s Deceptive Rallying Cry,” illustrates how Religious Right activists and elected officials have attempted to portray the increasing unpopularity of their stances on a number of cultural issues as evidence of oppression of their religious faith and represent themselves as the only holdouts in a society that is turning its back on moral values.

“Religious Right leaders hold themselves up as the victims,” stated People For the American Way’s President Michael B. Keegan. “This is a powerful talking point, even if not true. We need to expose these distortions for what they really are—an attempt to protect the Right’s ability to discriminate and push its policy preferences on the rest of us.”

The report explores a number of myths that have become widespread on the Religious Right, despite having little or no basis in reality:

  • Two middle school girls are forced into a lesbian kiss as part of an anti-bullying program
  • An Air Force sergeant is fired because he opposes same-sex marriage
  • A high school track team is disqualified from a meet after an athlete thanks God for the team’s victory
  • A Veterans Affairs hospital bans Christmas cards with religious messages
  • A man fixing the lights in a Christmas tree falls victim to a wave of War-on-Christmas violence
  • An elementary school student is punished for praying over his school lunch
  • A little boy is forced to take a psychological evaluation after drawing a picture of Jesus

None of these stories is true.

These unfounded stories feed into a narrative that portrays conservative Christians as the victims of LGBT rights, reproductive justice, religious pluralism and secular government. This narrative, in turn, has fueled the legislative and legal efforts to turn back any progressive advances.   

“Using the resonant rhetoric of religious persecution, bolstered by often-bogus stories of purported anti-Christian activities, the Religious Right has attempted to tip the balance away from pluralism and accommodation to a legal system that allows individuals and businesses to broadly exempt themselves from policies they disagree with,” the report states. “Even when that means trampling on the religious rights of others.”

Read the full report here.

###

Evangelical Leaders Warn Of 'Secular Totalitarianism' And 'Jail' For U.S. Christians

Religious Right leaders love to claim that Christians are threatened in the U.S., the subject of a forthcoming PFAW report on the Religious Right’s persecution complex. The latest example comes from the just-completed annual conference of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Russell Moore, who heads the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, hosted Rick Warren, David Platt, and Samuel Rodriguez for a June 9 panel on religious freedom in America through the lens of the Hobby Lobby case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

According to an account by Tom Strode in the Baptist Press, Rodriguez, who heads the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, warned, “Today’s complacency is tomorrow’s captivity. The firewall against secular totalitarianism is religious liberty and religious pluralism.”

“Secular totalitarianism” in this context is the requirement, being challenged in the Hobby Lobby case, that for-profit businesses provide insurance coverage that includes contraception methods to which the company’s owners have religious objections.

“The justices will decide whether “there is the freedom to dissent and the freedom to accommodate these conscientious objections in the governing of people’s lives and the running of their businesses,” Moore said. “This will have everything to do with everything that your church does for the next 100 years.”

Moore of course is ignoring, or rather obfuscating, the clear constitutional, legal, and policy distinction between churches, who are exempt from the requirement, and for-profit corporations, whose claim to a religious conscience is at the core of the Hobby Lobby case.

Rodriguez and Warren agreed that religious liberty is the civil rights issue of the future.  And panelists spoke as if Christians are on the verge of being jailed for their beliefs:

“I’m spending all of my time right now making sure that we stay out of jail,” [Moore] told the audience. “But there is one thing worse than going to jail, and that’s staying out of jail and sacrificing the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Warren responded, “This issue may take – just as it did with Martin Luther King – it may take some pastors going to jail. I’m in.”

The idea that pastors are going to be thrown into jail is a ridiculous argument that Religious Right leaders have used to oppose hate crimes legislation and laws against anti-gay discrimination in the workplace. This kind of rhetoric is not only ridiculous, it is also irresponsible and damaging. As People For the American Way Foundation’s Twelve Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics says in explaining that religious and political leaders should not “cry ‘wolf’” about religious persecution:

Inflammatory charges about religious persecution can lead to an angrier and more divisive political arena. If you believe your political opponents are actually out to take away your religious freedom, shut down your church, and literally criminalize Christianity—goals that some Religious Right figures attribute to political liberals—you have little reason to treat your opponents civilly or engage in a search for constructive common ground or compromise. Creating that kind of environment is not good for our country.

 It is possible to have a vigorous debate about political issues and about the separation of church and state without resorting to falsehoods about religious persecution.

The panel wasn’t a total bust, apparently. Unlike some Religious Right leaders, who claim that religious liberty protections apply only to Christians – or to a particular subset of Christians – news reports indicate that Rodriguez, Warren, and Moore said Christians should promote religious liberty for everyone in the context of religious pluralism. We don’t say this often about these guys, but we agree.

Religious Right's Persecution Narrative Gains Traction, Even As Most Americans Oppose Them On Policy

Polling released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute underscores the success that the Right has had in pushing its religious persecution narrative, even as majorities of Americans support the policies that the Right claims are threatening religious liberty.

PRRI finds that a “majority (54%) of Americans believe that the right of religious liberty is being threatened in America today,” including 80 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of white evangelical Protestants.

But at the same time, large majorities support the very policies that the Right is claiming are persecuting people of faith, including the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate and LGBT nondiscrimination policies.

PRRI found that 61 percent of Americans believe that publicly-held corporations should “be required to provide their employees with health insurance that includes contraception at no cost” and that smaller majorities support the same requirement for privately-held corporations, small businesses, and even religiously-affiliated institutions.

What’s more, PRRI reports that “Americans overwhelming reject the notion that small business owners should be allowed to refuse to provide services or goods to individuals because they are gay or lesbian, atheist, Jewish or black, even if doing so would violate the owners’ religious beliefs.”

Only 16 percent wanted to allow small businesses to refuse services to gays and lesbians, only slightly more than the 10 percent who still think businesses should be allowed to refuse service to black people because of their race.

The results of PRRI’s research show the enormous success that the Religious Right is having in building its narrative of religious persecution, even as the public opposes its actual policy goals.

ACLJ: Blasphemy Laws For Me, But Not For Thee?

Yesterday, Miranda reported on the seemingly contradictory views of the American Center for Law and Justice’s European and Slavic affiliates when it comes to blasphemy laws. The ECLJ has been vocal in opposing blasphemy laws in Muslim-majority countries, but the SCLJ supported passage of a new anti-blasphemy law in Russia. The law provides for fines, “correctional labor” and up to three years behind bars for “public actions expressing obvious disrespect toward society and committed to abuse the religious feelings of believers.” SCLJ’s co-chairman Vladimir Rehyakovsky expressed some reservations about the final form of the law, but said it was “very important” to have such a law in place.

So, where does the ACLJ stand on blasphemy laws?  On one hand, it is proud of its opposition in international forums like the United Nations to blasphemy laws that are used by Islamist governments to restrict religious expression.  In 2011, the ACLJ said the UN’s Human Rights Committee endorsed an ECLJ-backed position that “no right exists to protect the reputation of an ideology, rather human rights belongs to individuals.”

But more than a decade ago, in response to an “Ask Jay” question posted on the ACLJ’s website, the group’s chief counsel, Jay Sekulow, said it was “an unfortunate situation” that states no longer have laws against blasphemy, something he blamed on “the ACLU and those who trumpet the First Amendment as a license to really degrade people.”  Sekulow bemoaned the fact that “religion lacks protection in the law.”

Joe from Rhode Island asks: In Black’s classic law dictionary, blasphemy is illegal. When did it become legal to mock a person’s faith in God?

Jay answers: Black’s is the standard of legal definitions that law students are given around the country and Black’s is still cited in Supreme Court decisions. Not only in English common law but also in most states in the USA, blasphemy was prohibited speech. Clearly, the ACLU and those who trumpet the First Amendment as a license to really degrade people have changed that and that’s an unfortunate situation. But you’re absolutely correct, Black’s Law Dictionary is right. There are many definitions like that in Black’s, but religion lacks protection in the law. Not only is religion seen as irrelevant, but religion is trivialized and even mocked. This behavior has become an accepted part of who we are as a people and in some cases the Supreme Court hasn’t been particularly helpful in that context. The composition of the Supreme Court is obviously something we’re always watching because we know that with the more conservative court obviously some of our values will be more protected. Things have changed drastically if you look at our history, and it’s not even old history. Our country is still very young, but things are very different since our founding. We’re continuing to hope here at the American Center for Law and Justice that history will continue to change in a way that protects the rights of religious people across America. This is what we’re working toward. Selection of Supreme Court Justices is critical in the interpretation of these kinds of cases.

So it appears that the ACLJ is ready to champion free speech when it comes to opposing blasphemy laws in Muslim-majority countries, but supports restrictions on blasphemy in place where Christians are in the majority.  Perhaps that double standard is not much of a surprise, given that the ACLJ, which portrays itself as a champion of religious liberty, helped lead opposition to the construction of a Muslim community center in New York that critics inaccurately called the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

The ACLJ is a legal group founded by televangelist Pat Robertson and run by Jay Sekulow and his son Jordan in a manner that is very lucrative for the Sekulow family.

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

Dangers Of Supreme Court Prayer Ruling Quickly Become Clear

Bobby Jindal Courts 'Christian Nation' Crowd For 2016 Presidential Bid

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal would like to be president, so he spent the weekend at Liberty University doing what a Republican presidential wannabe does: courting Religious Right leaders by assuring them that he is one of them and shares their vision for America.  Jindal spoke at Liberty’s commencement address on Saturday, where he spouted Religious Right talking points about the “war” on religious liberty by a “left” that wants to “silence people of faith.” And on Friday night, he spent two hours talking about his faith in a session with politically influential pastors organized by Christian-nation zealot David Lane.

The Washington Post’s Tom Hamburger reports that Jindal talked the pastors through his conversion from Hinduism to Protestantism in high school, while not spending much time on his conversion to Catholicism a few years later in college. Jindal positions himself solidly in the conservative religious coalition by calling himself an “evangelical Catholic.”  According to the Post,

The visiting pastors flew to Lynchburg over the weekend at the invitation of the American Renewal Project, a well-funded nonprofit group that encourages evangelical Christians to engage in the civic arena with voter guides, get-out-the-vote drives and programs to train pastors in grass-roots activism. The group’s founder, David Lane, has built a pastor network in politically important states such as Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and South Carolina and has led trips to Israel with Paul and others seeking to make inroads with evangelical activists.

The group that Lane invited to Lynchburg included Donald Wild­mon, a retired minister and founder of the American Family Association, a prominent evangelical activist group that has influence through its network of more than 140 Christian radio stations.

As regular RWW readers know, the Post’s description, while accurate, only begins to describe David Lane, who we reported last year is “an anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-Mormon, Christian-nation absolutist who has declared war, not only on secularism and separation of church and state, but also on establishment Republicans who don’t embrace his vision of an America in which the Bible serves as ‘the principle textbook' for public education and a ‘Christian culture’ has been ‘re-established.’” Lane believes Christians “must be retrained to war for the Soul of America and quit believing the fabricated whopper of the ‘Separation of Church and State.’” He says America must repent for breaking the founders' covenant with God or face the wrath of God, which he said last year would include car bombings in Los Angeles, Des Moines, and Washington, D.C. as a consequence of abortion rights, the national debt, and “homosexuals praying at the inauguration.”

Jindal’s personal appeal to Religious Right leaders may encourage them to take a closer look at his record. Given his hostility to abortion rights and LGBT equality and his record of privatizing public education, using tax dollars to promote creationism, and rejecting Medicaid expansion, far-right pastors will probably like what they see. 

Todd Starnes Says LGBT Activists Will Demand Christians Be Deported; Religious Right Got There First

Fox News pundit Todd Starnes joins the parade of right-wing outrage about the Home & Garden Television Network pulling the plug on a show featuring David and Jason Benham after Right Wing Watch reported on David’s anti-gay activism.  Starnes posted a story about HGTV’s decision, then promoted it with a tweet that said,

Hmm, you mean the way Family Research Council spokesman Peter Sprigg said in 2008 that he would like to export homosexuals from the U.S. because homosexuality is destructive to society?  Sprigg apologized for using language that “did not communicate respect for the essential dignity of every human being as a person created in the image of God.” But since then he has said that gay sex should be criminalized.

Religious Right Sees Opportunity In Supreme Court Prayer Ruling

Religious Right groups are celebrating yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling upholding sectarian prayer at official public meetings – like city council sessions – and narrowly defining what would amount to unconstitutional religious coercion of people attending. The case is Town of Greece v. Galloway.

Though divided on their reasoning, the Court’s five conservative Justices upheld a practice in which, month after month, year after year, town leaders reached out to Christians and Christians only to offer opening prayers at town meetings, prayers that were often quite sectarian in nature.  The very few exceptions were in response to this lawsuit.  Although town leaders said that members of other religions could lead the opening prayer if they asked to, they had hardly let that be widely known, and they continued to reach out only to Christians.

SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston characterized the Court’s ruling as “[s]topping just short of abandoning a historic barrier to religion in government activity.” Conservative and religious groups hostile to church-state separation are gushing over the ruling and hope it is a sign of more to come.

The Becket Fund signaled that it hopes yesterday’s decision will just be the first step in further dismantling rulings upholding church-state separation.  From Deputy General Counsel Eric Rassbach:

“The Court’s landmark decision today echoes the wisdom of the Founders. Not only did the Court uphold the centuries-old practice of legislative prayer, it also started the work of bringing the entire law of church and state onto a firmer foundation in the words of the Constitution.”

David Corman, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the Town of Greece:

“Opening public meetings with prayer is a cherished freedom that the authors of the Constitution themselves practiced,” he said. “Speech censors should have no power to silence volunteers who pray for their communities just as the Founders did.”

The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer celebrated the ruling as a “monster win” and said it was proof that “we are fighting a winnable war,” because the “Supreme Court has ruled that you can have sectarian prayers, prayers in the name of Jesus Christ, to open any legislative session, any lawmaking body – a county commission can do it, a city council can do it, a state government can do it.”  

Fischer he went on at great length endorsing Justice Clarence Thomas’s position that the First Amendment does not limit states’ constitutional right to, for example, declare the Southern Baptist Church to be the official state church and force people to support the church with taxes.  Fischer, in fact, called Thomas “a stud on the issue of religious liberty.” (Fischer says he wouldn’t personally support coercive state establishment, but he supports Thomas’s constitutional analysis, and says it should be applied to interpret that the federal government has no right to tell public schools whether and how prayer is permitted.)  Fischer is delighted that the Supreme Court’s majority decision discussed the fact that the Continental Congress opened with “emphatically Christian” prayer.

Gordon Klingenschmitt:

Hallelujah!  Today YOU helped score a VICTORY at the U.S. Supreme Court, reaching the pinnacle of seven years of work and prayer with The Pray In Jesus Name Project.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that it's OK for pastors to pray "in Jesus' name" at city council meetings. 

Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins:

"The court today has upheld our first and most fundamental freedom. The court has rejected the idea that as citizens we must check our faith at the entrance to the public square. We applaud the majority on the court for getting that right. This is an historic victory for all Americans of faith and for the common-sense reading of the Constitution itself. The Court's affirmation of the right of Americans to practice their faith in public life and the public square is a major win for the religious liberty we have always cherished.”

Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition called it a victory that would empower Religious Right activists to push elected officials to bring sectarian prayer into more official settings:

Reed also announced that, armed with today’s Supreme Court decision, Faith & Freedom Coalition would redouble its efforts to encourage opportunities for prayers offered at meetings by town boards, city councils, and county commissions nationwide.  The organization has in the past mobilized public support for local officials who have allowed such prayers at government meetings.

“Speech honoring God and invoking His blessing on our land should be welcomed, not treated with hostility,” said Reed.  “With today’s decision, the government officials that faith-based voters help to elect can provide a forum for such expressions without fear of being reversed by future courts.”

Concerned Women for America celebrated, saying the decision “lifts up the best in our country.” CWA President Penny Nance managed to slam what she said has been “a push to establish atheism as the official religion of our land” and claim that the Supreme Court’s ruling was a win for everyone, “even the staunchest atheists.”

Those who object to these practices do not seek to exercise their religious liberty; they merely feel hostile towards other people’s religious practices and seek to silence them. They seek to silence those with whom they disagree….

The Founders of this great nation benefited and relied heavily on prayer to seek the guidance they needed to establish the foundations of our nation. When the first Congress met on September 7, 1774, it began with an amazing prayer “in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.” No religious oppression or favoritism followed from that practice, only the blessings of freedom and liberty, including the freedom of religious thought, belief, or even non-belief.

Everyone wins, including the staunchest atheists, when we allow the free exercise of religion or non-religion according to a person’s conscience.

Fox News pundit Todd Starnes, who specializes in promoting fictitious threats to religious freedom, declared that “the Obama administration has been waging a war against people of the Christian faith,” somehow neglecting to mention that the Obama administration had actually weighed in on the side of the Town of Greece and its overwhelmingly Christian prayers.  Starnes said it is “always a good day when the anti-Christian folks get smacked down by the Supreme Court” but said the fact that it was a 5-4 decision should be a “wake-up call” for Americans that elections matter.

Gary Bauer made the same point:

Here's the good news: The Supreme Court today upheld public prayers, even Christian prayers, at government meetings in 5-to-4 decision.

But that is the bad news too! The free exercise of religion depends on just one vote….

Now a win is a win. But don't miss the fact that this victory for religious liberty was won by the narrowest of margins. One more liberal appointment and the Supreme Court could easily ban prayers before town council meetings and legislative sessions. If that were to happen, our Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto would surely be next.

Your vote at the ballot box has a direct impact on our federal courts. Federal judges, including those on the Supreme Court, are appointed (by the president) and confirmed (by the Senate) by the men and women we elect to public office. 

 

FRC Warns 'Modern Caesar,' 'King George III' Obama Using Gay Rights To 'Punish' Christians

In a fundraising sent out last week, the Family Research Council plays up fears of impending Christian persecution in America to warn that President Obama’s positions on gay rights and reproductive choice are meant to “silence” and “punish” conservative Christians.

“You, as a person of faith, are especially at risk because your values and beliefs are standing in the way of the goals of this growing lawlessness,” warns FRC president Tony Perkins.

“Is President Barack Obama becoming a modern Caesar? Or a 21st century version of King George III -- the out-of-control monarch who triggered the American Revolution with his reckless disregard of English laws and biblically-based rights?” Perkins wonders.

Emphases are his:

Is President Barack Obama becoming a modern Caesar? Or a 21st century version of King George III -- the out-of-control monarch who triggered the American Revolution with his reckless disregard of English laws and biblically-based rights?

These may be shocking questions to ask, but I can tell you that thoughtful people inside Washington, D.C., and outside of it are VERY worried. They are worried that President Obama and his administration are so bent on "transforming" America that they are willing, perhaps even planning, to dismiss the laws and Constitution that keep us a free nation.

And the targets include you: your faith, your values, your freedom.

In my 20-plus years of active involvement in the government process, I've never seen anything like the encroaching tyranny I'm seeing today by the Obama administration.

And if we don't join together and stop the abuse of power by the President and his allies, I fear we could lose our freedoms.

You, as a person of faith, are especially at risk because your values and beliefs are standing in the way of the goals of this growing lawlessness :

· You believe in sexual morality. They believe government should protect and fund sexual immorality and punish dissenters like you.

· You believe in the legal exclusivity of natural marriage. They believe you are dangerous. They think coercion is justified to silence you. They have openly declared that the right to homosexual behavior overrules your constitutional right to disagree with their "new morality."

· You believe in the sanctity of human life from conception until natural death. They believe you should be forced to pay for drugs that can destroy human embryos, ObamaCare rationing and other immoral mandates.

The Founders rejected King George III and wanted a government of laws, not men. Yet President Obama and his administration are acting like an imperial monarch. Like Caesar or King George -- not the president envisioned by the Founding Fathers! We must take firm action.

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