Last week, I, a progressive, attended Values Voter Summit. I was there to soak up the conservative vibes and better understand the far-right. I expected to leave with nothing more than a disconcerted feeling, having listened to people disparage gay and transgender people and degrade women’s health for two days. Instead, I left with what every college student wants most: a $25 Chipotle gift card.
Here’s what happened. It was Saturday and I was at the first breakout session of the afternoon, “The Silencing of Free Speech for Christians in the Media and in Education.” The session was a panel on Christian persecution, which according to panelists Dave Garrison of Ohio Christian University, Kate Obenshain of Fox News, and Kelly Shackelford of Liberty Institute, is sweeping the nation through things like gay rights and reproductive freedom.
Obenshain opened the session by calling for any students in the audience (whom she probably assumed were all from Liberty University, since the event was heavily attended by LU students) who knew the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. If anyone wanted to come to the front of the room and recite it, she said, they would be rewarded with a $25 gift card to Chipotle. Her challenge was met with silence. The group of LU students sitting at the front of the room apparently either did not know the Preamble to the Constitution that every speaker at the Summit had invoked, or were too nervous to stand in front of the crowd.
Obenshain asked again, and when she was met with silence again she said she would open the floor to any adults in the room.
It was at that moment that I thought, “Hey, I’m a student… I’ve known the Preamble since 7th grade… I like Chipotle…” and raised my hand. I was called to the front of the room and handed a microphone. Pausing after each clause (because I had memorized the Preamble by watching Schoolhouse Rock and needed to sing it in my head), I recited the Preamble. The crowd applauded, Shackelford shook my hand, and I was handed my reward. I hurried back to my seat, met on my way back with high fives from older men in the audience.
Not to sound ungrateful for free food, but I’ve often considered that, if I could do that day again, I might do a few things differently. In a perfect world, I would have identified myself, and let it sink in that the person in the room who knew the Constitution was a progressive college student there for an internship with a progressive organization.
All in all, at least after a weekend of homophobia, transphobia, and thinly veiled racism and misogyny, I got a good story… and four free burritos.
We understand how difficult it might be for Religious Right activists to find cases of “anti-Christian persecution” in the U.S., especially for people like Todd Starnes and Bryan Fischer, who have done their best to rile up Christian conservatives in an effort to depict themselves as the truly marginalized and victimized class in America.
Shackelford whipped out a mix of new and old “persecution” cases. He told the crowd, for instance, that his organization had defended “senior citizens who were told that their federally funded meals were being taken away because they were praying over their meals and that would violate the separation of church and state.” Unsurprisingly, that’s just not true. As Chris Rodda pointed out after Shackelford told this story at an event last year, what actually happened was that back in 2003 three senior citizens in a Texas town complained that a city-owned senior center was hosting pastors and gospel bands during meal hours. The city council tried, in a move that was ultimately rejected in court, to restrict such activity — it did not take away anyone’s meals.
Shackelford then went on to allege that a Florida college professor directed his students to step on a sheet of paper with “Jesus” written on it. The lesson in question was created by a professor from St. Norbert College, a Catholic institution in Wisconsin, and was not about religion at all, but rather the importance of symbols:
One of the "most distinguishing features" of humans (compared to other animals) is the way they view symbols, some of which are quite powerful, he said. That's the message of the exercise. When the students hesitate to step on the word "Jesus," they understand that a piece of paper has meaning to them because of the word, which helps them understand the force of symbols, he added.
At St. Norbert, [Jim] Neuliep said he has been doing the exercise for 30 years -- without any complaints. He said that the discussion that follows tends to involve students "talking about how important Jesus is to them, and they defend why they won't step on it. It reaffirms their faith." And at the same time, he said, they learn about symbols.
The most dishonest point of Shackelford’s speech, however, was when he described the case of Marco Perez, a Florida father who said his daughter was told by a cafeteria worker that it is “not good” to pray before she eats. At the time, Perez was working to promote Starnes’ book on supposed cases of anti-Christian persecution in America and Starnes was, coincidentally, the first one to report on the story. Starnes did not mention his connection to Perez in his original report, only adding the disclosure later after the connection was revealed.
Shackelford insisted that Perez’s daughter ultimately received an apology for the incident. What he conveniently left out was the fact that the culprit identified by Perez’s daughter wasn’t in or near the cafeteria at the time and the school found no evidence whatsoever of the incident taking place. A spokesman said the school “apologized for the incident she believes occurred, but there was nothing warranted or found” in the investigation. Liberty Institute senior counsel Jeremy Dys, who was representing Perez, at first accepted the school’s apology but then rejected it, saying it wasn’t a “real apology.”
That’s right: Liberty Institute’s senior counsel rejected an apology because the school’s investigation found that the student’s story was baseless, and now this is the same apology that Liberty Institute’s president is citing as proof that the school admitted fault.
He then brought up the cases of Sgt. Phillip Monk, whose tall tale of “persecution” was roundlydebunked when his story fell apart under an Air Force investigation, and Cpt. Wes Modder, whom Shackelford claimed was going to be kicked out of the military simply for opposing same-sex marriage, which, as you may have guessed, was not the case.
If Shackelford wants to find some more false examples of persecution that have been parroted by the Religious Right, we are happy to provide him with further cases, seeing that it seems that he doesn’t mind giving a speech riddled with dishonest claims.
It seemed quite fitting that the Values Voter Summit closed out two days of speakers, including eight Republican presidential hopefuls, by featuring two preachers who warned that God's judgment upon America is inevitable.
"When a nation drives out God, it always brings in other gods," Cahn said. "This god is the god of darkness. Kali is also the god of death and destruction, here over New York City. We are racing to judgment and I believe a great shaking is coming."
For good measure, Cahn also declared that the jailing of Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis was also a sign of God's impending judgment.
Following Cahn was Joel Rosenberg, who likewise warned that God's judgment was inescapable, though he provided a bit of hope that we might be able to at least forestall it if we were to outlaw and end abortion.
"We're facing implosion," he stated. "We're not just facing a rough patch, we're facing implosion. We cannot kill 58 million babies and escape the judgment of God ... The train has left the station. Judgment is coming. There is no way out."
Star Parker spoke at the Values Voter Summit on Saturday afternoon, where she ranted about gay marriage and warned that its legalization is "bringing horrible hostility into the public square."
"We have 500,000 orphans in our foster system," she said. "Most God-fearing Christians don't even know we have an orphan system, but those homosexuals know because now that they're married, that's where they're going to get their children, right out of our foster system!"
Liberals have "declared a war on marriage, weakened women and opened the door to this culture of meaningless," she warned. "The feminist movement was nothing more than the promotion of monism, the elimination of gender binary. It's an attack on the Creator, the created, the distinction. He said if we look at marriage, we see Him. Conjugal and sacramental marriage is the capstone of creation and, as a result of its collapse, homosexuality is now dividing us and bringing horrible hostility into the public square."
"As the Apostle Paul defined in Romans," she said with disgust, "men leaving the natural use of the woman, burning in their lust for one another. Men with men, committing what is shameful."
Right-wing radio host Mark Levin spoke at the Values Voter Summit today, where he declared that secularism has become the established religion of the United States and the Supreme Court is now essentially imposing secular Sharia upon the entire nation.
The media and the "Sunday show dress-up hosts," Levin stated, are too stupid to understand that the First Amendment was not intended to create a separation of church and state, but rather simply to prevent the establishment of a theocracy.
"The federal government is not supposed to establish a religion," he said. "What we have now though is the federal government as a religion, secularism has become a religion. And just as in Muslim countries they have these Sharia courts to enforce Sharia law, well, we have a Supreme Court that exists to enforce apparently secularism."
Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council introduced Kim Davis at the Values Voter Summit this evening, where the Kentucky county clerk received the Cost of Discipleship Award for prohibiting her office from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples in repeated violation of court orders.
"These are times in history that are unlike anything that we had before," Staver declared. "God birthed Kim Davis, and Joe Davis, and each one of you for this moment in American and world history ... [God is] looking for people who love Jesus Christ and who will stand for Him, who will not flinch when their time is called and that person is Kim Davis and Joe Davis. May God raise up more."
Perkins echoed that sentiment, proclaiming that it is time for Christians who hold public office "to resist the edicts of unelected and virtually unaccountable rulers who issue unjust edicts that conflict with the truth of God."
"Kim Davis should not be an outlier," Perkins said. "Kim Davis should not be something that surprises America. There should be Kim Davises in every elected office, at every level ,who say 'No' to judges who redefine the revealed truth of God."
At that point, Davis was welcomed onto the stage to a long standing ovation, where she then delivered a very short speech declaring that "I am only one, but we are many!"
In a rather transparent attempt to appeal to the Christian conservatives who make up the audience at the Values Voter Summit, Donald Trump brought a Bible with him to the podium when he spoke today, because "it brings back so many memories."
Trump them proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes delivering his standard stump speech, which consisted of relentless boasting interspersed with personal attacks on his rivals and vague but grandiose promises to solve all of this nation's problems.
At one point, after wondering why we even need to hold an election considering that he is leading in all the polls, Trump took a moment to assure the audience that he is actually a nice person.
"People were not sure I was a nice person," he said, "and I am. I am. I am. I am. I'm a giving person. I believe in God, I believe in the Bible. I'm a Christian. I have a lot of reasons. I love people."
Trump later closed out his speech by hoisting his Bible in the air and declaring "this is the key."
Donald Trump offered up his typical word salad to the Values Voter Summit today, but this time while hoisting his Bible in the air and claiming that it is “the reason” that he is leading among evangelical voters in Iowa and declaring that it is “the key” to saving America.
“The word ‘Christmas.’ I love Christmas," he said. "I love Christmas. You go to stores, you don’t see the word ‘Christmas.’ It says ‘Happy Holidays’ all over. I say, 'Where’s Christmas?’ I tell my wife, ‘Don’t go to those stores. I want to see Christmas. I want to see Christmas.’ Other people can have their holidays but Christmas is Christmas. I want to see ‘Merry Christmas.’ Remember the expression ‘Merry Christmas’? You don’t see it anymore. You’re going to see it if I get elected, I can tell you right now.”
Of course, Trump himself has waged war on Christmas:
Rick Santorum kicked off his remarks at the Values Voter Summit today by declaring that the United States will never be a great nation or receive God's blessing so long as gay marriage and the right to an abortion remain legal.
Bragging that he has attended every VVS event since it began 10 years ago, Santorum thanked those in attendance for "standing up and bringing to this city the issues that are at the core of the problems in this country."
"America is never going to be a great country if we're a country that kills our children in the womb, ever!" he said. "We're never going to be blessed by God if we're a country that kills our children in the womb. We are never going to be a great country if we allow for the destruction of the American family, that's what's happened over the last 50 years."
The chief organizer of the Values Voter Summit, FRC’s Tony Perkins, criticized Trump when the candidate initially declined an invitation to the summit, claiming that Trump was neglecting conservative evangelicals and wasn’t trying to “talk about issues they care about” in “a way that is convincing.”
But given that the Values Voter Summit has traditionally been an event at which speakers are wildly cheered for delivering bigoted remarks and self-righteous tirades, Trump will probably fit right in.
He also expounded on his feelings about God during an interview on the Christian Broadcasting Network today:
Well I say God is the ultimate. You know you look at this? Here we are on the Pacific Ocean. How did I ever own this? I bought it fifteen years ago. I made one of the great deals they say ever. I have no more mortgage on it as I will certify and represent to you. And I was able to buy this and make a great deal. That’s what I want to do for the country. Make great deals. We have to, we have to bring it back, but God is the ultimate. I mean God created this (points to his golf course and nature surrounding it), and here’s the Pacific Ocean right behind us. So nobody, no thing, no there’s nothing like God.
Yesterday, the Family Research Council announced that Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who became a Religious Right hero for prohibiting her office from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, would be receiving an award at its upcoming Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C.
It turns out that Kim is not the only member of the family who has been transformed into a Religious Right celebrity, as her second/fourth husband Joe Davis will be a featured speaker at an upcoming "Stand in the Gap for Truth" rally being organized by the Tennessee Pastors Network, which is an arm of the American Pastors Network.
Davis will be speaking along with Richard Land, E.W. Jackson, Rafael Cruz and several others:
Joe Davis had been living a quiet life in Kentucky with his wife, Kim. But this summer, the Davises were thrown into the national spotlight over religious freedoms and the rights all Americans have when it comes to their closely held religious convictions.
As Kim returned to work in the Rowan County’s clerk’s office yesterday, after being jailed for six days for refusing to issue marriage licenses to any couple, Joe is traveling to Nashville to rally others to stand for their freedoms like his wife did.
On Thursday, Joe Davis, often seen wearing his signature straw hat and overalls, will be a part of an exciting and much-needed event that will help motivate Tennesseans to defend their religious freedom and uphold God’s design for the nation at the “Stand in the Gap for Truth” Rally, hosted by the Tennessee Pastors Network (TNPN, www.tnpastors.net).
Starting at 11 a.m. Sept. 17, the rally will take place at the Legislative Plaza, 301 6th Ave N in Nashville. Pastors throughout Tennessee who are part of TNPN will partner with state legislators to host the event that will engage Tennesseans to address the most talked-about issues of the day such as shifting marriage and family foundations, an unworkable immigration system, weak terrorism laws, failing education, a damaging nationalized health care system, lack of religious freedom protections and the blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“This summer, Kim and Joe Davis have been a part of a religious freedom battle of a lifetime,” said TNPN President Dale Walker. “And now, we are honored to welcome Joe to the ‘Stand in the Gap for Truth’ Rally, as he has shared about their experiences that have essentially changed this nation’s history. We are thankful for those like the Davises who have stood for freedom—not only for themselves, but for all Americans. In Nashville on Thursday, we want to fill the Legislative Plaza with thousands who want to take that stand, too.”
FRC head Tony Perkins has already compared Davis to the previous award winner, Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman who, unlike Davis, actually faced persecution for her faith, as she was arrested and imprisoned by Sudan’s government for converting to Christianity. Leading up to Ibrahim’s appearance at the FRC event, Perkins attempted to use her story to attack the Obama administration, even though her U.S. supporters actually thanked the State Department for working diligently to secure her release. An attorney working on Ibrahim’s case, who is also a Religious Right figure, criticized Perkins for his rhetoric.
In announcing the award, Perkins praised Davis for her “courage” in standing up to “militant secularists”:
“We are pleased to announce that Kim Davis will be honored at this year's Values Voter Summit. After meeting with her last week, I can tell you that Kim Davis wasn’t looking for this fight, but she is not running from it either. What militant secularists are almost certainly afraid of is what is coming to pass: courage is breeding courage. When other people might have cowered in fear, Kim took a stand. And today, millions of Americans stand with her and for the religious freedom upon which our nation was founded.
“Far from the media's portrayal, Kim isn't trying to impose her views on anyone, she is simply asking that her orthodox religious views be accommodated.
“The courage of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis isn't just changing the conversation -- it's changing the political landscape. In places like Missouri, where state officials watched with horror as Davis was hauled off to jail for her Christian beliefs, leaders are moving quickly to protect their people from the same fate. The Supreme Court created this mess -- now it's incumbent on states to protect the victims mired in it.
“While the Court redefined marriage, it did not redefine the First Amendment. Thank goodness for people of courage like Kim Davis, who refuses to let religious liberty be trampled by legal tyranny. We applaud her. In the face of intense pressure, she's shown more courage than 99 percent of the elected officials in Kentucky,” concluded Perkins.
Perkins addressed the rally in front of the Kentucky prison where Davis was detained after a federal judge held her in contempt of court but doesn’t seem to know some basic facts surrounding the case. For example, Perkins told Fox News that Davis wasn’t barring her deputy clerks from issuing marriage licenses, even though Davis explicitly said at the time that she was doing just that.
Every year, Republican leaders flock to the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, which gives them a chance to curry favor with Religious Right activists and gives FRC President Tony Perkins a chance to assert his political influence.
So it caused a minor hubbub last year when Perkins pointedly refused to invite presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Chris Christie to speak at the summit, saying that they “shouldn’t take it the wrong way” but they “just weren’t on the top of the list” for “values voters.”
Bush, for his part, seems to have been doing what he can to woo Perkins, meeting with him at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year and saying that he has “a lot of respect for Tony and his group.”
Interestingly, the Christian Post reported yesterday that Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump had turned down his invitation to speak at the summit and Perkins was miffed, saying that Trump was “not interested” in speaking with evangelicals:
Although some polls have shown that the misogynistic real estate mogul who once favored abortion and carries liberal views on same-sex marriage has had no trouble gaining the support of Evangelicals , Perkins asserted that Trump's refusal to speak at the conference is a sign that he has no interest in conversing with Evangelicals.
"We have got the Values Voters Summit coming up and Donald Trump has passed. He is not going to come," Perkins said. "I think that is going to send a message to Evangelicals and values voters that he wants their support, but he is not really interested in having a conversation with them."
"I think that is probably about the time, in about three or four weeks, people are going to start thinking more seriously about this as we move forward into the year," Perkins continued. "[Trump's absence], whether it was intended to or not, it will send a message."
"I think [Trump] is going to have to have conversations with Evangelicals and talk about issues they care about. He hasn't really done that in a way that is convincing," Perkins argued. "Could [Trump] make some progress with Evangelicals? I think he could if he tried, but I don't really see that happening right now."
Ted Cruz spoke at David Barton's "Pastors' Briefing" last night on Capitol Hill.
Even Joe Arpaio thinks Donald Trump has gone too far with his anti-immigration rhetoric, which is quite an accomplishment.
Speaking of Trump, he has reportedly turned down an invitation to speak at the upcoming Values Voter Summit.
Dave Daubenmire credits the prayers of his "Salt and Light Brigade" for Kim Davis' release from jail.
Finally, Phyllis Schlafly says that "when the Supreme Court ruled that all 50 states must license same-sex unions on the same terms as marriage, the court was implicitly declaring that Christianity and the Bible are wrong."
A number of prominent figures on the Religious Right have also spoken to or defended the CCC, in a sign of the uneasy and often hiddenalliancesbetween the Religious Right and racist groups.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, now a GOP presidential candidate, submitted a video presentation to the CCC’s 1993 national convention, which the group’s newsletter later reported was a smash it. TPM:
Then-Lt. Gov. Huckabee was invited to speak at the group's 1993 national convention by the its founder, Gordon Lee Baum, according to a 2008 Huffington Post report. Baum told The Huffington Post that Huckabee "sent an audio/video presentation saying 'I can't be with you but I'd like to be speaker next time'" because he was compelled to remain in Arkansas during the convention while then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker (D) travelled out of state.
The group's 1993 newsletter, which was obtained by Edward Sebesta, who researches neo-Confederate groups, hailed Huckabee's videotaped address as a smash hit.
"Ark. Lt. Governor Mike Huckabee, unable to leave Arkansas by law because the Governor was absent from the state, sent a terrific videotape speech, which was viewed and extremely well received by the audience," the newsletter read.
Huckabee agreed to speak in person at the group’s convention the next year but canceled after a human rights group told him that he’s be sharing the stage with a white supremacist and Holocaust denier.
Back when he was a Louisiana state legislator, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins spoke to a 2001 meeting of the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens. When asked about it several years later, Perkins said he could not “remember speaking at the event.” Unfortunately for him, there’s a picture:
Perkins also has ties to David Duke, a Louisiana politician and Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
The Alabama chief justice, a Religious Right hero who is currently battling the federal courts in an effort to stop marriage equality in his state, addressed CCC’s national conference in 1995, reports Buzzfeed.
This is hardly Moore’s only troubling racist tie. Much of his career has been financed by Michael Peroutka, a former board member of the neo-Confederate League of the South, who shares many of his views on the role of “biblical law.” (SPLC reports that the League of the South’s and CCC’s “membership rolls overlap a good deal” and that the two groups have collaborated on events.)
John Eidsmoe is the intellectual godfather of a strain of Christian nationalism that takes to an extreme the idea that “God’s law” must always be put before “man’s law.” He is a former legal advisor to Justice Moore and now works for the Foundation for Moral Law, a group that Moore founded. He is also famously a mentor of former Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Perhaps even more than the Religious Right, the anti-immigrant movement sometimes has a hard time drawing a line between itself and the explicitly racist white nationalist and white supremacist movements. For instance, the work of white supremacist Sam Francis, an editor for and enthusiastic endorser of the CCC, occasionally ends up cited in the work of more “mainstream” anti-immigrant activists.
Coulter took it upon herself in her 2009 book “Guilty,” to defend GOP politicians who had spoken to CCC, writing that the group’s statements in opposition to “forced integration” and “efforts to mix the races of mankind” were in no way endorsements of segregation:
Republican politicians who had given speeches to a conservative group, the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), were branded sympathizers of white supremacists because some of the directors of the CCC had, decades earlier, been leaders of a segregationist group, the Citizen Councils of America, which were founded in 1954. There is no evidence on its Web page that the modern incarnation of the CCC supports segregation, though its “Statement of Principles” offers that the organization opposes “forced integration” and “efforts to mix the races of mankind.” But mostly the principles refer to subjects such as a strong national defense, the right to keep and bear arms, the traditional family, and an “America First” trade policy.
Another prominent anti-immigrant activist with ties to CCC is Roy Beck, head of the influential lobbying group Numbers USA, who addressed the group in the late 1990s. The Center for New Community dug up this photo:
Perkins accomplished this sleight of hand once again in an email to FRC members today urging them to donate to the group in exchange for a “Nasrani” pin expressing solidarity with Iraqi and Syrian Christians who are being persecuted by ISIS. But Perkins doesn’t just ask for members to support their fellow Christians in the Middle East who are facing actual, violent persecution — he compares the persecution of Christians at the hands of ISIS to the supposed persecution of Christians in America.
“Please take a stand for persecuted Christians in America….and everywhere!” the email reads.
In an Iranian prison, a man is praying . . . for Christians in America.
In a hidden location in North Korea, a kneeling circle of believers cry out to God . . . for Christians in America.
I know of no stronger evidence of the connection between the persecuted church overseas and the persecuted church in America than this: they are praying for us!
That's why I urge you to allow me to send you a Nasrani Pin as my thank you for your gift to help FRC stand for religious freedom in America as Christian faith comes under growing attack -- and also speak out for the persecuted Christians overseas.
The man in an Iranian prison who Perkins refers to is Saeed Abedini, an American pastor who has been detained in Iran since 2012. Abedini did indeed send an open letter to Christians in America on the National Day of Prayer saying that he would be praying for America on that day. But he also mentioned several times the “freedom” enjoyed by American Christians to practice their religion. In a letter to President Obama, which the president read during his own National Day of Prayer remarks, Abedini similarly said that he was “proud to be part of this great nation of the United States of America that cares for religious freedom around the world.”
Perkins and FRC should be commended for any work they are doing to free prisoners like Abedini. But using the plight of Abedini and those like him to stoke fear that liberal social policies will lead to the persecution of Christians in America is another thing entirely.
In fact, Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, the Religious Right group that is leading the fight among American evangelicals for Abedini’s release, criticized Perkins in a congressional hearing earlier this year for his over-the-top talking points linking policies he doesn’t like to the real suffering of Christians at the hands of groups like ISIS:
Neurosurgeon-turned-conservative-activist Ben Carson announced his intention to run for president today, which gives us the opportunity to look back at some of the most outrageous statements he has made since bursting onto the national stage with his fiery anti-Obama speech to the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast.
While some candidates may regret unfortunate “gaffes,” Carson actually boasts about his extreme views, propensity for conspiracy theories and sometimes downright bizarre statements. He also relishes the blowback to such remarks, charging that any criticism of his claims amounts to an attack on free speech.
Here are just five of the wildest statements Carson has made since entering the political arena:
1) “Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery”
Not only is Obamacare the “worst thing” since slavery, Carson told the 2013 Values Voter Summit, but it also “is slavery in a way because it is making all of us subservient to the government.”
In an interview the next year, Carson said that Obamacare is worse than the September 11, 2011 attacks, later suggesting that Obama wanted to “take over health care” in order to “take control” and build a “socialist/communist” country. “If there were no Fox News and if there was no conservative radio, we would already be Cuba,” he said, after warning that Obama won’t be “happy unless Fox News were shut down and there was no more criticism of his actions.”
2) Not sure “there will even be an election in 2016”
Carson envisions a doomsday scenario in which Americans will have to combat ISIS fighters crossing the southern border because the Obama administration will refuse to do so.
“Think about Nazi Germany,” Carson said last year. “Most of those people did not believe in what Hitler was doing. But did they speak up? Did they stand up for what they believe in? They did not, and you saw what happened. And if you believe that same thing can't happen again, you’re very wrong.”
5) Obama may be “guilty of treason”
Carson, who repeatedlyaccuses Obama of violating the Constitution, said during the Department of Homeland Security funding fight earlier this year that Americans should “start talking about treason” if the president refused comply with the GOP’s demands to reverse his executive actions on immigration.
“If things are done that are contrary to the security of this country, whoever does them is guilty of treason,” he said.
Speaking from the pulpit of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in May 2004, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Dobson’s words were simulcast into churches across the country as part of a “Battle for Marriage” rally that just happened to coincide with President George W. Bush’s hard-fought reelection campaign. Three months earlier, the president himself had announced to the nation that “to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America.”
Opposition to same-sex marriage emerged as a key component of the president’s reelection strategy that year, as the Bush campaign worked with Religious Right leaders, including Dobson, to marshal conservative voters to the polls to back state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage and other unions. Ballot measures in 11 states, all successful, aided the president’s reelection bid and helped to swing the momentum, for a time, to the side of the anti-gay Right.
While a federal constitutional amendment banning marriage for gay and lesbian couples had failed to clinch the required votes from eitherhouse of Congress, after the 2004 election, Dobson stressed that “mainstream Americans” supported such an amendment, knowing that they “could not stand idly by while the radical gay agenda was forced down their throats.”
A decade later, Dobson left Focus on the Family, reportedly in part because the organization he had founded refused to give a leadership position to his divorced son. Dobson and his son Ryan now host a radio program called “Family Talk” and Focus has moved on under the less fiery leadership of Jim Daly. Ted Haggard, the pastor of the church where Dobson spoke at the 2004 “Battle for Marriage,” eventually left his post after acknowledging that he had relationships with men. An architect of Bush’s 2004 re-election strategy, Ken Mehlman, announced six years later that he is gay. Another Bush campaign strategist, Karl Rove, said in 2013 that he could see a future GOP presidential nominee endorsing gay marriage.
This dramatic shift toward marriage equality may culminate this year when the Supreme Court hears arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, a collection of cases challenging the constitutionality of the remaining state-level bans on same-sex marriage.
But the Religious Right is not ready to give up what was, until recently, a winning culture-war issue.
Now, as even many conservative pundits are predicting that the Supreme Court will strike down the remaining state bans on same-sex marriage, Religious Right leaders are preparing their response.
In a conference call with other movement figures, Dobson was steadfast in his opposition. If the Supreme Court strikes down the state bans and states across the country fail to convene “a state constitutional convention to re-examine the Constitution” on marriage, Dobson warned, “we’re going to see a general collapse in the next decade or two.”
Worse, Dobson said, there could be a war: “Talk about a Civil War, we could have another one over this.”
This style of apocalyptic rhetoric surrounding the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision is not uncommon in a movement whose leaders are preparing to commit civil disobedience and calling on states to defy the court if it issues a broad ruling in favor of marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples.
The Religious Right’s current strategy in the fight against marriage equality — claiming to be the real victims while making wild warnings about imminent anti-Christian persecution — was previewed in the 2009 signing of the Manhattan Declaration and the campaign against the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act the same year.
That same year, Religious Right activists launched a relentless, but unsuccessful, campaign against the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded the federal hate crimes law to include crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The Right alleged that the bill would criminalize Christian teachings and the Bible, throw pastors in jail, quash free speech and legalize pedophilia and other illegal sex acts. In the five years following the law’s enactment, none of the wildpredictions about its effects have come close to materializing. But that hasn’t stopped the Religious Right from recycling the very same discredited claims to warn against nationwide marriage equality.
For example, Rick Scarborough, a prominent Texas pastor and activist with close ties to politicians including Sen. Ted Cruz, has repeated his unfounded claims about the 2009 hate crimes act almost verbatim when discussing the potential dangers of legalizing same-sex marriage. As did Mike Huckabee, who told pastors on a conference call that preaching against homosexuality will be criminalized. Just this month, Scarborough warned that if gay couples are no longer barred from marriage, preaching from the Bible will become a crime and anti-gay conservatives will be throwninjail. Five years ago, he made almost exactly the same dire warning about the hate crimes act.
The Religious Right’s apocalyptic rhetoric about marriage equality has only become more incendiary as many of the ban’s defenders begin to expect that they will lose at the Supreme Court.
Nazi Germany, Jim Crow comparisons
Increasingly, Religious Right leaders have been portraying the push for equal rights for the LGBT community as a fascist, Nazi-style movement that will usher in a wave of oppression. And much like how Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement resisted Jim Crow, these activists argue, conservatives must also defy gay rights laws that they view as equally if not more oppressive.
Bryan Fischer, the conservative radio host and former American Family Association spokesman, regularly claims that gay people are modern-dayNazis and to blame for the rise of Nazism in Germany, asserting that Adolf Hitler was “an active homosexual” who recruited gays into his cause because “homosexual soldiers basically had no limits and the savagery and brutality they were willing to inflict on whomever Hitler sent them after.”
David Lane has said that Christians in America “must risk martyrdom” over the issue of marriage equality. Likewise, American Family Association governmental affairs director Sandy Rios has repeatedlyurged opponents of gay rights to “prepare for martyrdom.”
Even more frequently, anti-gay activists maintain that gay rights will usher in a new form of slavery and Jim Crow.
“Apparently someone forgot to tell the Stormtroopers in the homosexual movement about the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, and freedom of both will and conscience,” Fischer said last year. “The leaders of the Gay Gestapo have become our new slave masters. They can now send us to the hole if we refuse the massa’s demands.”
Fischer has also charged that gay rights measures violate the constitutional ban on slavery, and even declared that as a result of gay rights, “Jim Crow is alive and well, we’ve got Jim Crow laws right back in operation, Christians are the new blacks.”
Brian Brown, the head of the National Organization for Marriage, has similarly claimed that gay rights advocates are practicing an “anti-religious” version of Jim Crow, while Fox News pundit and RedState editor Erick Erickson has said that “gay rights activists use the tactics of Bull Connor to push for what they declare civil rights.”
Perkins, the Family Research Council leader, is one of the most visible and vocal figures in the Religious Right, frequently appearing on national television and hosting his own daily radio show. Perkins also organizes an annual conference, the Values Voter Summit, which brings top Republican politicians together with Religious Right activists. But despite his veneer of respectability, Perkins is just as extreme as activists considered to be on the far-right fringe: He has spoken out in defense of Uganda’s “kill the gays” measure and called gay rights supporters Satanic, among other things.
Perkins has also taken to warning that if the Supreme Court sides with marriage equality advocates, the U.S. will see a full-blown revolution.
Perkins warned in 2012 that if the Supreme Court were to strike down same-sex marriage bans throughout the country, “I’m telling you what, I think you will create a firestorm of opposition. I think that could be the straw that broke the camel’s back, when you look at a nation that is so divided along these moral and cultural issues that you could have — I hate to use the word — a revolt, a revolution. I think you could see Americans saying, ‘you know what, enough of this,’ and I think it could explode and just break this nation apart.”
“They’re sowing the seeds of the disillusion of our republic,” Perkins said of gay marriage supporters in 2014. “I think there’s coming a point that they’re going to push Christians to a point where they’re not going to be pushed anymore, and I think we’re very quickly coming to that point.”
As the Supreme Court considered a pair of marriage cases in 2013, Perkins said that the threat of a revolution may keep the justices from striking down same-sex marriage bans:
I believe the court will push as far as they think they can without creating a social upheaval or a political upheaval in this country. They’re smart people, I think, they understand how organizations and how societies work and if you get your substructure out of kilter with the superstructure, if you get government out of whack with where the people are and it goes too far, you create revolution. I think you could see a social and cultural revolution if the court goes too far on this.
Just last month, Perkins again predicted that the Supreme Court could trigger an uprising with a ruling in favor of marriage equality: “If the court imposes upon the nation a redefinition of marriage, I don’t think the nation is going to accept it, I absolutely don’t, and the conflict that is going to come as a result of it.”
Perkins may not find much support for his anti-gay revolution from the public at large, but he may find his some willing participants in his fellow Religious Right leaders.
“The church and people of faith and values need to rise up” against such a ruling, he said in 2013. “We just simply cannot allow this to become the law of the land.”
The previous year, Staver warned that marriage equality “could be the unraveling of the United States” and trigger a civil war:
This is the thing that revolutions literally are made of. This would be more devastating to our freedom, to our religious freedom, to the rights of pastors and their duty to be able to speak and to Christians around the country, then anything that the revolutionaries during the American Revolution even dreamed of facing. This would be the thing that revolutions are made of. This could split the country right in two. This could cause another civil war. I’m not talking about just people protesting in the streets, this could be that level because what would ultimately happen is a direct collision would immediately happen with pastors, with churches, with Christians, with Christian ministries, with other businesses, it would be an avalanche that would go across the country.
After the Supreme Court struck down a key portion of DOMA, Staver declared that the country was “crossing into the realm of rebellion, we’re crossing into the realm of revolution.”
The Alabama Example
After the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision led to a string of federal court decisions striking down bans on same-sex marriage, Religious Right leaders pleaded for governors and other state officials to openly flout the rulings.
Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate, said state and local officials should simply refuse to enforce such rulings, explaining: “Well, the courts have spoken and it’s an important voice, but it’s not the voice of God and the Supreme Court isn’t God.”
Finally, they found their answer in Roy Moore, the elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
Moore emerged as a conservative hero over a decade ago, when he defied orders to remove a Ten Commandments monument that he installed in the courthouse rotunda during his previous term as chief justice. When the standoff eventually led to Moore losing his post, he parlayed his newfound fame into two unsuccessful gubernatorial campaigns and even a presidential “exploratory committee.” Moore also launched his own far-right legal advocacy group, the Foundation for Moral Law.
Moore returned to the court after winning a statewide election in 2012 and two years later, he once again made national headlines when he ordered state probate judges, who are responsible for issuing marriage licenses, to disregard a Bush-appointed federal judge’s decision striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Moore demanded that the state flout the ruling, saying that it had no need to implement the decision.
His case against marriage equality is simple: “Homosexuality is wrong and we all know it. Marriage of the same sex is wrong and we all know it.” Moore’s legal advocacy organization, now led by his wife, defended his order to probate judges by explaining that “homosexual conduct is still sin, and we must stand firm for what is right.”
Moore took his show to the road, telling a rally in Texas held in his honor that he hopes he will not have to “give his life” in the fight against gay marriage. He warned at a Family Research Council event that the government will soon legalize “parent-and-child” marriages and justify “taking your children simply by the same logic they’re following.”
“Christians need to stand up and do their duty to God as their duty to their country,” he said.
Some Republicans and their allies in the Religious Right hope that Moore’s defiant stance will serve as a model for the rest of the country.
A bill introduced in Texas not only declares that the state does not have to follow any U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, but it goes one step further by blocking funding for the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The bill would go so far as to punish state employees who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, barring such employees from “a salary, pension, or other employee benefit.”
In North Carolina, a group of Republican lawmakers want to create a religious exemption for officials in charge of issuing marriage licenses who don’t want to follow a recent court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. Staver’s group, Liberty Counsel, filed a lawsuit “requesting emergency protection from the state courts for any magistrate who refuses to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple.”
GOP lawmakers in Oklahoma reacted to a court ruling striking down their state’s marriage ban by proposing a bill which would remove any judge who issues a marriage license to a same-sex couple and deny salaries, benefits and pensions to any state employees involved in marrying gay couples. Another bill in Oklahoma would remove judges from the marriage licenses process altogether and instead restrict marriage duties to “an ordained or authorized preacher or minister of the Gospel, priest or other ecclesiastical dignitary of any denomination who has been duly ordained or authorized by the church to which he or she belongs to preach the Gospel, or a rabbi.”
End of the Line
While social conservative leaders have mostly focused on the purported repercussions of a decision that they see as unfavorable, they also have a plan in case the court sides with their arguments: demand that states roll back same-sex marriage rights and re-impose bans previously removed by the voters, lawmakers or courts.
For now, though, right-wing leaders will be focused on doing what they always do: misleading their supporters about the so-called dangers of gay rights, making reckless charges of religious persecution, and supporting unconstitutional means to promote their discriminatory goals.
However, Dobson and his allies do see the silver lining of legal gay marriage. In a conversation with Dobson the week before the Supreme Court’s oral arguments in the marriage cases, pastor Jim Garlow and former National Organization for Marriage president Maggie Gallagher predicted that Americans will ultimately reject gay marriage once the country experiences its horrible consequences; that is, if America is able to survive that long.
On Saturday, roughly 2,000 activists gathered at Faith Assembly, a megachurch in Orlando, for the Awakening, an annual “Prayer and Patriotism event” organized by the Christian Right legal group Liberty Counsel. The Awakening, which Liberty Counsel organizes under the auspices of an amalgam of Religious Right groups called the Freedom Federation, brings together activists from the evangelical Right with the GOP politicians who want their votes.
At this year's event, GOP politicians including Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal (via video) and RNC faith director Chad Connelly shared a stage with far-right activists including "ex-gays," a phony ex-terrorist and at least two Religious Right leaders who insist that AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality.
Here are five takeaways from a day with the core of the Religious Right.
1. Gay Marriage Will Send Christians To Jail
While some on the Right may be trying to shy away from the issue of marriage equality now that it could be on its way to a Supreme Court victory, the activists at the Awakening were not among them. Throughout the conference, marriage between gay and lesbian couples was portrayed as a demonic and existential threat to liberty, one that if allowed to proceed would end in Christianity being outlawed and Christians thrown in jail.
The Republican National Committee’s faith outreach director, Chad Connelly, who was moderating a panel on abortion rights, echoed the Religious Right’s rhetoric when he warned that LGBT rights activists are “coming for the church.”
Far-right pastor Rick Scarborough, who was sitting beside him, agreed that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality, pastors will be forced to “participate in same-sex marriage ” or be thrown in jail. Liberty Counsel’s Harry Mihet, moderating a separate panel, issued a similar warning.
Scarborough repeated his warning when he told activists that a pro-equality Supreme Court ruling would outlaw anti-gay speech, thus undermining “the whole nature of America.”
Multiple speakers compared a potential Supreme Court decision on marriage equality to Dred Scott, the infamous pre-Civil War decision that barred African Americans from citizenship, declaring that it should be met with similar resistance.
2. Losing The Church on Gay Rights Issues
Although the Awakening took place in what appeared to be a generationally diverse, multiethnic church, the crowd at the conference was overwhelmingly older and white. Throughout the conference, speakers bemoaned the fact that the Religious Right was losing support among younger Christians for its political agenda, especially its opposition to LGBT rights.
Liberty University’s Rena Lindevaldsen told the audience at a breakout panel on “sexual rebellion” that when fellow conservative Christians ask her what the “big deal” is about LGBT rights, she responds “it’s a big deal because it’s a big deal to God.” Marriage equality, she told the enthusiastic audience, matters to God because it is “the heart of where Satan’s attacking”:
Evangelist Franklin Graham also lamented that “a lot of pastors have quit preaching against homosexuality” out of fear of offending people in their churches who might have gay relatives. He told the audience that “God will bless you and he’ll honor you” if you “don’t shut up” about gay rights and abortion:
This was a crowd that had not given up on discredited “ex-gay” therapy. An “ex-lesbian” activist, Janet Boynes, was given a main stage speaking slot and “ex-gay” activist Greg Quinlan earned a roaring round of applause from the audience at the “sexual rebellion” panel when he announced that he had been “out of homosexuality for 27 years.”
3. A Spiritual Battle Against Islam And Progressivism
Just as the crowd at the Awakening was upset that the conservative movement and the church have supposedly become less invested in fighting LGBT rights, they were also wary of any overtures between Christians and Muslims.
Graham declared that “Islam is a wicked system” and blasted Christians who say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.
Kamal Saleem, the self-proclaimed “ex-terrorist” whose personal story has never quite held up to scrutiny , also warned that churches are being “invaded by ‘Chrislam,’” lamenting that Americans are oblivious to the dangers of radical Islam: “We’re watching American Idol and they are doing jihad.” He also warned of what he called “jihad of the womb,” or Muslim immigrants giving birth in order to outnumber Christians.
What activists at the Awakening saw as a war against Islam was merely part of a larger “spiritual battle” between good and evil, God and Satan. In the panel discussion he led on LGBT rights, Matt Barber declared that there is an “Islamo-progressive axis of evil” with a “common enemy”: Christians.
Maine pastor Ken Graves repeated that theme when he declared that American Christians are fighting “militant Islam” and “militant homofascism” and secularists who want to establish a “secular humanist caliphate”:
4. Time Is Running Out On America, And It’s Up To The Church To Save It
Throughout the day, speakers warned that America is running out of time before it is lost forever, and that it is up to conservative Christians to get involved in politics to save the country.
Graham told the crowd that he is more politically outspoken than his father, Billy Graham, because America is in a more dire state of secularism. “When my father was born, the Ten Commandments were on the wall of every school in America. When my father was born, the teachers still led the class in the Lord’s Prayer. Our country is not that anymore,” he said, declaring that the 2016 election is the last chance for the Religious Right to save the country.
Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and likely 2016 GOP presidential candidate, delivered a similar message, warning that “we are heading down in a direction that, let’s be honest, no civilization has ever been able to recover from.” Conservative Christians, he declared, must reinvest themselves in politics in order, to among other things, put the Bible in public schools:
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, another likely GOP presidential hopeful, told the crowd that prayer was needed to bring about “spiritual revival” and change the political direction of the country: “If God’s people truly pray down a spiritual awakening, then the political landscape will change.”
“This country did not start because some people had some brilliant ideas, although they did. This country happened because God’s providence was the foundation of their brilliant ideas,” Huckabee said. “Because of his inspiration, this country has been sustained throughout all of its history because of God’s specific intervention in helping us to win battles we should never have one and in keeping us from losing battles we should have lost.”
5. The Religious Right And The GOP Still Need Each Other
One of the strangest moments of the day came when a George W. Bush impersonator walked onto the stage with Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver as he introduced Huckabee. Staver jokingly reassured the audience that it was not the former president’s brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has clashed with the Religious Right over gay rights issues. It seemed to be a spontaneous addition to the program, it was hard not to see it also as a reminder to the audience of the potential power of the evangelical vote.
Unlike the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, which has become the flagship gathering of the GOP and the Religious Right, the Awakening tends to attract only true believers in the cause. This year, Santorum and Huckabee spoke, while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal submitted a video message. Connelly, who heads the GOP’s outreach to evangelical voters, moderated a panel on abortion rights, but largely deflected difficult questions from the far-right crowd.
Connelly did not, however, shy away from right-wing conspiracy theories, responding to a question about the “culture of death” in end-of-life care by claiming that the Affordable Care Act’s mythical “death panels” are “a reality":
It was clear throughout the day that however wary the Religious Right and the GOP establishment may be of each other, they still need each other. Speakers like Graham urged conservative Christians to revive the powerful Religious Right pressure machine to win GOP politicians to their side, whether or not they agreed with their issues. Meanwhile, the presence of the GOP candidates and Connelly indicated that this is a voting bloc that is still important to the party, however extreme its priorities may be.