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:
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.
Religious Right groups have publicly seethed at the Southern Poverty Law Center's decision a couple of years ago to designate several of them as hate groups for consistently spreading false, inflammatory, and defamatory propaganda about LGBT people. It is now clear that Religious Right leaders are hoping to exploit this week's shooting at the Family Research Council to try to damage the SPLC.
FRC's Tony Perkins said this week that the SPLC gave the shooter "license" to attack the organization by calling it a hate group. Liberty Counsel's Matt Barber accused the SPLC of having blood on its hands. The American Family Association and Traditional Values Coalition were among others who blamed SPLC for the attack. Religious Right groups have long equated any criticism of their positions or tactics as attacks on their freedom of speech and religion; now they are taking it a step further to say that critics must stop calling out their hateful rhetoric and naming it as such.
It is important not to let Religious Right groups exploit this violence - which was quickly and unequivocally condemned by progressive movement leaders, including People For the American Way President Michael Keegan - to divert attention from the Religious Right's anti-gay extremism. As Right Wing Watch has noted, FRC was not labeled a hate group because of a simple policy disagreement, as FRC's backers would have you believe; the SPLC cited very specific examples of FRC's wildly inflammatory anti-gay language.
You don't have to look far. Last year Perkins called gay-rights activists vile, hateful, pawns of Satan. In 2010, Perkins responded to President Obama's call for civility on the issue of homosexuality by slamming the president for criticizing Uganda's kill-the-gays bill. Perkins described the infamous law as "enhanced penalties for crimes related to homosexuality" and an effort to "uphold moral conduct." FRC spokespeople have supported laws criminalizing homosexuality overseas and here in the U.S.
Perkins, of course, has lots of company in the anti-gay right who are now joining in the attack on SPLC.
One of them is Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, who went on CNN on Thursday to say it is "totally irresponsible and unacceptable" to call FRC a hate group. But Brown was flummoxed when CNN anchor Zoraida Sambolin confronted him with an actual example of FRC rhetoric claiming that "one of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the 'prophets' of a new sexual order." Brown repeatedly refused to acknowledge that such rhetoric is hateful, exposing his call for "civility" as nothing but empty political posturing.
Speaking of civility, Brown has presided over at least one anti-gay rally at which a fellow speaker said gays were worthy of death. And NOM welcomed onto its board author Orson Scott Card, who had written that the advance of marriage equality was tyranny worthy of revolution:
How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn. [...] American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die.
Christian publisher Thomas Nelson Inc. is offering a July 4 special, with several books available at the patriotic price of $17.76. Among them is the American Patriot’s Bible, edited by Atlanta-based pastor and Religious Right figure Richard Lee. Nothing could better demonstrate the effort by Religious Right leaders to claim a divine blessing for their political views and their view of America’s founding.
The American Patriot’s Bible attracted some unflattering attention when it came out in 2009. Ethics Daily reported that some critics charged that it “promotes idolatry and glorifies nationalistic violence.” One of those critics was theologian and pastor Greg Boyd, author of The Myth of a Christian Nation, who called the Patriot's Bible "one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever witnessed coming from a Christian publishing house.” Boyd published an in-depth critique that ended this way:
In the Introduction Dr. Richard Lee promises that, "If you love America and the Scriptures, you will treasure this Bible." I truly love America and deeply love the Scriptures, but for just this reason, I was thoroughly appalled by this Bible.
But not everyone was appalled. In 2010, Glenn Beck told viewers that he had a copy of the Patriot’s Bible at home and one at his office and said, “this should be in every person’s home.” Lee was part of Beck’s show on the eve of his “Restoring Honor” rally, and has been active in Religious Right efforts to shape the 2012 campaign and defeat President Barack Obama.
Spending a little time with the Patriot’s Bible makes it clear why the Gingrich campaign invited Lee to serve on its faith leaders coalition during this year’s presidential primary. Religious Right political rhetoric appears in an introduction and in articles sprinkled throughout the Patriot’s Bible. It complains that Supreme Court rulings against requiring prayer and Bible readings in the public schools amounted to “censoring religious activities long considered an integral part of education.”
On abortion: “If people and nations do not grant ultimate respect and protection to both the born and the unborn, all other professed morals and values are meaningless.”
On marriage: “The plan of God, nature, and common sense is a man and a woman producing children within the institution of marriage. What that plan is lost, “marriage” and “family” become meaningless, and a nation and its people will follow the road to ruin….”
The American Patriot’s Bible also promotes Religious Right propaganda about the supposed threat to religious liberty in America:
Our freedom to serve God and to promote the gospel in our land is disintegrating. We are engaged in a great spiritual battle that threatens our county, our families, and our lives. Only God’s intervention will return America to solid footing and restore a moral nation that righteousness will exalt.
And, for those who keep hoping that the Religious Right is going to fade away:
When fighting for the right, we must never cease until we prevail. The battle is not always won by the strongest, the smartest, or the most elite, but ultimately it comes to those who persist and persevere.
Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition kicked off its 2012 conference with a splashy show of the Reed’s political muscle in the form of three U.S. Senators. Rob Portman of Ohio, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, and Marco Rubio of Florida all delivered speeches that reflect Reed’s goal for 2012 and beyond: merging the messages and organizing energies of the overlapping Tea Party and Religious Right movements to elect conservative Republicans.
“American exceptionalism” was a major theme of the day – defined generally as America being uniquely blessed by God for its commitment to limited government and free-market economics grounded in a belief that individual rights come from God. And – no surprise -- President Obama was portrayed as an enemy of faith and freedom.
Portman declared that the Obama administration had treated freedom of religion as a “second-class right.” He argued that life should be held sacred “from conception til death.”
DeMint charged the President with wanting a country and economy run from the top down, and called for a stop to government “purging faith” from the American way of life. “We need to realize we’re blessed,” said DeMint. “We need to know that we’re in trouble. And we need to know that 2012 may be our last chance to turn this thing around.”
Reed introduced Rubio as one of the greatest talents and most transformational figures that any of us have ever seen. Rubio, who is hawking a new book, argued that social and fiscal conservatism are indistinguishable, and that the notion of God as the source of freedom is essential to freedom itself. “You cannot have your freedom without your faith, because the source of your freedom is your faith.” He argued that calling for the wealthy to pay more taxes is “divisive” and pits Americans against each other for the purposes of winning an election, claiming, “that is never who we have been.” (Surely even Rubio does not actually believe that the Republican Party and Tea Party have never run divisive campaigns in order to win elections.)
Listening to Rubio, you can understand why GOP strategists have such high hopes for him. He calls on people to help their neighbors. He says the conservative movement is not about imposing its values on others or leaving people behind. He says conservatives want drinking water to be clean and the air to be breathable. (In reality, of course, policies backed by today’s far-right GOP would indeed impose their values on others, leave millions of Americans behind, and eviscerate regulations that protect our families’ food, air, and water.)
Before the conference started, an FFC press release claimed that its activists will be “phoning, mailing, and knocking on the doors of 27 million conservative and pro-family voters, distributing 35 million voter guides, and making a total of 120 million voter contacts” in 2012. At today’s luncheon, Reed encouraged members of the audience to imagine what could happen with another 10 or 20 senators like Rubio. Yes, just imagine.
Last week, PFAW’s Right Wing Watch reported that a who’s who of Religious Right activists had recently gathered in the Capitol, with the endorsement of Speaker John Boehner, for a George Washington-themed prayer event.
Last night, Rachel Maddow did a segment on the event, drawing heavily from Right Wing Watch research to expose the extremism of its participants:
Right Wing Watch uncovered video of Lou Engle claiming that marriage equality would “unleash” a “sexual insanity”; Engle praying against health care reform with Sen. DeMint and then-Sen. Brownback; Jim Garlow saying that Satan is attacking the U.S. with marriage equality; David Barton claiming that AIDS can’t be cured because it’s God’s punishment for being gay; and the head of Alveda King’s group saying that supporting abortion rights is akin to supporting terrorism.
Here at People For the American Way, we spend a lot of time monitoring right-wing figures who seem far out of the mainstream. And then the Speaker of the House invites them to the Capitol.
Phyllis Schlafly is an all-around right-wing activist who has been around forever. You could say she was Tea Party before her time, railing against liberals and taxes and the UN's threat to US sovereignty. Her 2009 "How to Take Back America" conference was an amazing gathering at which health care reform was described as fascism, President Obama was described by Rep. Trent Franks as an "enemy of humanity," and attendees were encouraged to buy guns and ammo to defend themselves against impending tyranny.
But Schlafly’s real bread and butter is the hostility to feminism that fueled her campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment – and it was her anti-feminist schtick that she brought to George Washington University in D.C. last night. I use the word schtick because it’s hard to take seriously Schlafly’s caricature of feminists as anti-men, anti-marriage, anti-family, and anti-child-rearing, not to mention claims like these:
What? Feminists don’t believe women can be successful? That didn’t ring true to the many GW students, women and men, who politely protested Schlafly’s appearance. During the Q&A, one challenged Schlafly directly, saying her mother is a feminist, a role model of happiness, and had instilled in her children a love of family. The student said Schlafly seemed to be having a 40-year old argument with quotes plucked from early feminist writers.
Schlafly did have her admirers. The young woman who introduced her said Schlafly had given her an example of how to stand up against the emerging “gender-interchangeable society.” Schlafly returned to that theme later, saying that feminists don’t want equality for women, they want “gender interchangeability.”
Schlafly reveled in the recent flap about Ann Romney never having to work outside the home, since she saw it as proof that feminists have no respect for mothers who choose to answer to a husband rather than a boss. But Schlafly was not on message with the Romney campaign’s claims that women have accounted for almost all job losses during the Obama administration. Schlafly, who repeatedly claimed that the Obama administration is utterly controlled by feminists, “proved” her case by saying that feminists had successfully demanded that most jobs created by federal stimulus funds went to women.
Schlafly touched on a few other issues, such as her opposition to marriage equality (though she seemed to say she didn’t think civil unions were worth fighting about). And she pushed the same theme being pushed by Ralph Reed and other strategists trying to build a broad electoral coalition: you can’t separate fiscal and social conservatism. She took a shot at Mitch Daniels for seeking a “truce” on social values, something she called “impossible.”
In the end, she told the young women, they should get married before having babies, and they should ignore feminists who might poison their attitude toward life by telling them that women are victims of the patriarchy. She derided the notion of a "glass ceiling" and denied that unequal pay is a problem. Men, she said, are willing to do dangerous jobs that women aren't, because "women like nice inside jobs with carpeted offices." American women, she said, are the most fortunate people who have ever lived. Why, in Africa, she said, some women have to wash their clothing in the river. “We have all these wonderful modern conveniences that men have invented for our pleasure.”
Here's an addition to our recap of right-wing direct mail, this time from Phyllis Schlafly, the long-time anti-feminist and all-around right wing activist. Like most of the other recent mail, the letter from Schlafly is about raising money with over-the-top rhetoric about the tyranny being visited upon America by President Obama. "He's taken control of your healthcare and stolen your money. Now he wants to dictate to your church," warns the envelope. "Stop Obama's War on Faith." Inside, more of the same:
The culture of dicatorship is rearing its ugly head. The forcef of imperial government and totalitarian treatment of American citizens are growing stronger every day.
Under the guise of "health care" and "tolerance" and "equality," Barack Obama is using all the power he can grasp in order to control how we live and what we believe. He is exploiting eveyr legal and illegal loophole to consolidate governmenet power into his own hands.
He's trying to control our standard of living by restricting our energy use. Hey's trying to control theminds of our children by imposing a national curriculum in the schools. And now, he's using his hated ObamaCare health law to assault religious liberty....
Let there be no doubt about it. Barack Obama is at war with the vast majority of Americans who believe in God and the freedom to worship. Now it the time for you and me to stand up for religious liberty....
If Obama wins this battle and gets his way, religiously affiliated hospitals, schools, colleges, and charities all over America will be forced to pay for abortion drugs, sterilization procedures, and contraceptives.
If Obama gets by with thisk you can be sure that the next steps will be ordering priests, ministers and rabbis to perform same-sex marriages. God will be stripped out of the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" will be banished to the dustbin of history."
Here’s a Friday treat: highlights from recent right-wing direct mail. In the past week or so, in addition to an invitation to this September’s Values Voter Summit:
Jerome Corsi, a rabidly Obama-hating birther and crazy-theory-promoter extraordinaire sent a VERY CONFIDENTIAL emergency request for money for his Freedom’s Defense Fund. Although Corsi told me that it’s “imperative that the media not know what Freedom’s Defense Fund has planned,” I’m going to let you in on the secret. Corsi says he’s going to “saturate the television with attacks aimed directly at Obama.” Corsi’s letter accuses Obama of “race-baiting” and “class warfare,” which isn’t surprising given that the president is, in Corsi’s words, “nothing more than a Socialist agitator in the mold of Sol Alinsky.” According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website, Freedom’s Defense Fund raised and spent nearly $3 million in the 2010 election cycle.
From the prolific folks at the American Family Association, a “declaration of spiritual emergency.” According to the AFA’s Tim Wildmon, the nation’s problems, including “the Obama administration’s blatant attempt to destroy religious freedom in this country” are evidence of what’s wrong with our nation: “As a people, we have divorced ourselves from God.” Wildmon warns that “the ‘internal invader’ that threatens to destroy our nation is, in a word, secularism!” Wildmon’s letter is evidence of the increasingly close political alliance between the Religious Right and the Catholic Right in their joint effort to portray Obama as an enemy of religious liberty: it includes a quote from the pope himself complaining about new “cultural currents” in America “which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.”
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council contributes yet another screed warning that President Obama’s “war on religion” could “irreversibly transform America.” Perkins says of Obama: “His vision is to plant a dense forest of secularism (a non-Christian America) and socialism (a government-run America) that can never, ever be cut down or uprooted.”
Long before Kony 2012 became an Internet sensation, the film’s director, Jason Russell, was a hit with the Religious Right and the broader evangelical community. Russell, the founder of Invisible Children, has been lavished with praise on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and on stage at Jerry Falwell’s university. Additionally, as Bruce Wilson has explored, Invisible Children has received substantial funding from extremely conservative Christian groups and foundations. Why?
We just always felt really, not offended, but felt it was too delicate of a choice to put the cross on our website, or to put a fish on the website because you're honestly dealing with the truth, and the creator, and so to make a brand around that and to have money flow in and out around that idea, at least in our paradigm, felt cheap or inauthentic. … That's just me candidly speaking. […]
Host: What conversations have you guys had about the holistic rehabilitation of some of the children you guys have worked with, and what role their spiritual development might play in some of the rehabilitation you believe should take place in their lives.Russell: For us, the mentors that are rehabilitating the children who've been affected by this for, it is not a question whether spirituality plays into it or doesn't. It is not something like a line item on an annual report or anything. It's like, of course. I've never met a Ugandan who is an atheist. […]Their spiritual life is so much more engaged and involved in their day to day, that having a spiritual holistic healing element to these children who have been affected by the war is a no-brainer. It's totally a part of the healing and the message. And at the same time it's difficult to communicate that or translate to the West who has been raised on science, logic, and reasoning and not so much the spiritual realm.
Host: How have you guys wrestled with the issues of faith, not only in your personal lives but in the stories of your organization, as you guys have become more and more a topic of mainstream conversation?Russell: For myself, I accepted Christ into my heart when I was 5, and my first experience with Africa was on a mission trip spreading the gospel through drama. There was a disillusionment, or a distaste, for that approach to the Christendom message being spread. I felt that there was a bridge that needed to be built. […]We're not afraid to say "I'm a lover of Christ and what he brought to Earth and what he's doing in the world." But there's such a delicate balance to bringing that into the work arena when it comes to the culture right now.I think that, there's been a lot of criticism that we've had over the years, but when it comes down to it, we are not afraid to say "I as an individual am this." But Invisible Children, it's not its mission to bring Christ's message to the invisible children. And when people say, "well why don't you bring Christ to those children in Uganda?" And my answer has always been, because they know Christ far more than I or anyone in Western world or in the Christian church knows Christ, because it's truly all that they've ever had. […]
Listen to the highlights of the podcast interview here:
Russell touched on similar topics at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University last November:
If the organizers of the national prayer breakfast ever want a sitting president to attend their event again, they need to expect that any leader in his right mind is going to ask — no, demand — that he be allowed to see a copy of the keynote address that is traditionally given immediately before the president’s.That’s how devastating was the speech given by a little known historical biographer named Eric Metaxas, whose clever wit and punchy humor barely disguised a series of heat-seeking missiles that were sent, intentionally or not, in the commander-in-chief’s direction….
Standing no more than five feet from Obama whose binder had a speech chock full of quotes from the Good Book, Metaxas said of Jesus:“When he was tempted in the desert, who was the one throwing Bible verses at him? Satan. That is a perfect picture of dead religion. Using the words of God to do the opposite of what God does. It’s grotesque when you think about it. It’s demonic.”“Keep in mind that when someone says ‘I am a Christian’ it may mean absolutely nothing,” Metaxas added for good measure, in case anybody missed his point.
This year promises to be one of challenges for Christians as the Obama administration continues to destroy religious freedom in America.
The first step in the fulfillment of this radical utopian dream is silencing Christians like you. After all, it is we Christians who are at the heart of the resistance to the Obama agenda.
I know for a fact that those who want America to be a godless nation are counting on Christians to retreat to the safety of our own communities and surrender the broader culture to them.They are confident that Christians won’t have the courage, or motivation, to defend their faith. They think we are too comfortable and lazy.Don’t play into their hands….As you contemplate the new year that lies before us, please join with FRC to help reclaim our culture for Christ.
On Friday, Nov. 11, right-wing activist Lou Engle and the group Transformation Michigan will host The Call: Detroit, a prayer rally whose stated purpose is to convert Muslims to Christianity to prevent what Transformation Michigan calls “the advance of the enemy.”
When speaking with mainstream news outlets, The Call: Detroit’s organizers have attempted to downplay their anti-Muslim rhetoric, painting the rally as an inclusive gathering for people of faith to pray for Detroit’s depressed economy. However,Engle and Transformation Michigan’s statements to supporters show that The Call will present something much more harmful and divisive: an attempt to stir up misunderstanding and fear of Detroit and Dearborn’s Muslim populations while promoting a view of government exclusively by and for conservative Christians.
Rev. Charles Williams II, Pastor of Detroit’s Historic King Solomon Baptist Church and a member of People For the American Way's African American Ministers in Action , urged people of faith to reject the divisive and politically charged extremism of The Call, and to join together in prayer for a future that lifts up all the people of Michigan, regardless of faith and ethnicity.
“All of us in Detroit have been praying hard for the future of our city and everyone in it,” said Rev. Williams. “We need to keep on praying and we need to keep on working hard for economic and social justice that lifts up every person, rich and poor. What we don’t need is more divisiveness and fear.
"Religious leaders who support this event should really take a look at what its undertones are all about. As a Christian pastor I support prayer, but not to bash another religion, nor to hide behind the subterfuge of political gamesmanship.
“Our Muslim neighbors in Detroit and Dearborn want the same things that all of us want – jobs to support our families and the freedom to live our lives as we choose. Those like Rev. Engle who come into the state stir up fear about a mythical ‘Muslim takeover’ and set us against each other, distract from the real problems that we face. We can’t face our problems and lift ourselves up if we are busy tearing each other down. Let’s work, and pray, together for the future of our city.”
More information about The Call: Detroit is available at People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch: http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/fact-sheet-call-detroit
Even before the opening bell at the Values Voter Summit, the Liberty Counsel hosted a breakfast on messaging and outreach to Hispanic Americans. Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver shared the stage with Tony Calatayud, a Miami-based activist who works for the Spanish language arm of Christian radio Salem Communications. Calatayud, who helped Marco Rubio get elected to the U.S. Senate from Florida, now travels the country helping to identify and support conservative Hispanic candidates with the group Conservadores.