Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, after teaming up with Christian nationalist extremists to host his “The Response” prayer rally in Baton Rouge earlier this year, is now continuing his project of endearing himself to the far fringes of the Religious Right by addressing an annual conference hosted by Liberty Counsel this weekend.
Liberty Counsel’s “The Awakening” event will bring Jindal, along with fellow likely GOP presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, together with some of the most unapologetically extreme Religious Right leaders, including Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad Rafael.
With speakers from John Eidsmoe, a founding father of the Religious Right’s current Christian nationalist thought, to Kamal Saleem, the phony ex-terrorist and prolific anti-Obama conspiracy theorist, the candidates are sure to be treated to an exciting array of far-right ideas.
The Awakening is organized by Liberty Counsel, a legal arm of Liberty University founded and chaired by Mat Staver. Staver is particularly invested in anti-LGBT activism both in the U.S. and abroad, where he has spoken out in favor of laws criminalizinghomosexuality. Here at home, he has warned that marriage equality will help bring about God’s destruction of America and will be “the beginning of the end of Western Civilization.”
Staver’s extremism is not limited to LGBT rights. For instance, at the 2010 Awakening conference, Staver agreed with an audience member who asked if the Affordable Care Act created a private army of Brownshirts for President Obama.
Kamal Saleem claims to be an ex-terrorist who worked for a number of Islamist groups before coming to America to build sleeper cells and ultimately converting to Christianity. The fact that Saleem’sstory doesn’t add up — and that he’s suspiciously reluctant to talk about the details — hasn’t stopped him from being a popular speaker on the Religious Right conference circuit, where he impresses audiences with his insider knowledge that President Obama is a secret Muslim out to destroy America.
In 2012, he told The Awakening that when President Obama appeared to be pledging allegiance to the flag, he was actually taking part in an Islamic prayer. The same year, he warned the Values Voter Summit that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be shutting down churches in America within the year:
Eidsmoe has specifically warned that gay rights will bring about divine judgment on the U.S. and wrote a whole book, “Gays & Guns,” arguing against allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, warning that they might molest children.
Eidsmoe, who has gotten in trouble in the past for speaking to white supremacist groups, is currently the “senior counsel and resident scholar” at the Foundation for Moral Law, the Christian nationalist group founded by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, a longtime ally.
Rick Scarborough, a Baptist pastor and the head of the Religious Right group Vision America, is one of the most extreme voices in the anti-LGBT movement. Although he insists that he is neither a Democrat or Republican, but a “Christ-ocrat,” he frequently allies with likeminded Republican politicians including Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee to get his followers to the polls.
Scarborough has also dabbled in anti-immigrant nativism, warning that “more non-white families” in the U.S. would lead to fewer Christians and that “if this country becomes 30 percent Hispanic we will no longer be America.”
Graham’s opinion of the Obama administration was only reinforced when he was disinvited from speaking at an event at the Pentagon because of hishistory of anti-Muslim rhetoric. He has since claimed that the White House has been “infiltrated by Muslims” and is being run by Muslims who “hate Israel and hate Christians.” Just this week, he speculated that Obama’s mother “must have been a Muslim,” which he said explains why the president supposedly won’t fight ISIS.
Barber is fond of comparing his opponents to Nazis, calling supporters of reproductive rights “modern day Nazis” and LGBT rights advocates “Rainbowshirts” who have “broken out the long knives” to go after Christians. At the same time, he has supported repressive anti-LGBT regimes around the world, praising Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay crackdown and saying he’d like to see a ban on “gay propaganda” in the U.S., and defending Uganda’s harsh criminal penalties for LGBT people.
Fox News pundit Todd Starnes was riled up during President Obama’s State of the Union, taking to Twitter to call the address “verbal water boarding” and joke that Obama will probably offer “free marijuana” to college students.
Starnes was also very displeased that Obama didn’t mention an Iranian-American pastor, Saeed Abedini, who is in Iranian jail, which Starnes wrote was evidence that Iran’s leaders are Obama’s “Muslim BFFs”:
Obama: :Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran.” Ah yes, where his Muslim BFFs are torturing an American Christian pastor. #sotu
Starnes may have missed his own network’s reporting that Obama will be meeting today with Abedini’s wife and children in Boise, Idaho, to discuss the pastor’s imprisonment.
This isn’t the first time Starnes has used the Abedini case to claim that Obama doesn’t care about imprisoned Christians.
The Fox News commentator falsely claimed during a 2013 Values Voter Summit speech that the president had refused to make a phone call to Iran’s president to urge the pastor’s release. “He cannot utter the words ‘Saeed Abedini’ from his lips,” he said of the president.
Just days beforehand, however, Fox News reported that Obama had in fact addressed the jailing of Abedini and other U.S. citizens in the country in a rare phone call with the Iranian president.
Sharia law is taking over the western world, or at least it is in the fevered imaginations of right-wing commentators, who this week made wild accusations about the Obama administration and others aiding extremist groups. Naturally, they also found time to criticize gay rights too.
We think this bears repeating now that a report is making the rounds that Morgan recently turned away a father and son of South Asian descent after asking them if they were Muslim.
The Arkansas Times talked with the young man who was reportedly turned away along with his father:
"My dad and I used to go to this gun range," said the young man, who asked not to be identified by name, "but we haven’t had as much of a chance to go in recent years since I've been at college. It's changed ownership recently."
"When we went in, a woman asked, ‘Where are you guys from?’ We told her we were from Hot Springs. She said, "this is a Muslim free shooting range," so if we are [Muslim] and if we don’t like the rule, then leave. We said that we’re not Muslim, but my dad asked, ‘Why is it Muslim free?’ and they started having a conversation. Then, all of a sudden, I don’t know what went wrong, but she stopped us from filling out the paperwork and said ‘I don’t think you guys should be here.’ She told us to leave or she’d call the cops on us."
Not wanting to cause a scene, they left.
"We’re brown; I don’t know if she assumed we were Muslim," he continued. "When she first asked us, she said, ‘I would hope if you were Muslim you guys wouldn't be cowards and would be up front about it.'" The student told the Times he was born in the U.S. and lived in Hot Springs for ten years before going to college in a different Arkansas town; he considers Hot Springs his home.
He recalls reading about the "Muslim free" shooting range, he says, but "I didn't know it was this place." Once he made the connection, he said, "I kept quiet because I just wanted to have some fun and shoot some guns." He says going shooting with his dad is just something they do occasionally: "father-son time, guy time."
In an interview with the Washington Post, Morgan denied turning the pair away because of their ethnicity and said she did so because they appeared to be “under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” But she did not back away from her ban on Muslim customers, explaining to the Post that the whole reason she opened her gun range was because she had received “death threats because of posting the truth about Islam.” She insisted that she won’t change her policy unless the Koran is altered to remove passages that she believes prescribe violence.
Morgan insisted that she doesn’t “believe all Muslims are terrorists,” although she seemed to say the opposite in a recent tweet:
If you align with a religion whose prophet is a mass murderer/pedophile that commands death to all non-Muslims, then YOU ARE A TERRORIST.
“I don’t believe all Muslims are terrorists,” Morgan said, adding she has “no idea which Muslims are going to be devout and follow those 109 dictates and those who won’t.” So in her mind, the safest thing to do is to ban all Muslims from her club. “I can’t trust that they can be safe to handle guns” in front of non-Muslims, she added.
There’s another reason Morgan doesn’t take much comfort in the vast numbers of Muslims who are not violent: She believes Islam will remain fundamentally a threat until the religion is permanently reformed by removing the more than 100 passages from the Koran that she believes demand violence from its followers.
Morgan isn’t alone in her belief. At the gun range, she said, “business is booming” since she announced the ban.
The gun range itself, in a way, owes its existence to Morgan’s interpretation of the Koran. “I didn’t even own a gun five years ago,” she said, adding that she learned to shoot because of “death threats because of posting the truth about Islam” on the internet. After that Morgan kept “training and training and training” until she became an instructor. Before all this, she worked in TV news — part of the media that has now become one of her biggest adversaries.
The Benham Brothers: After reporting on HGTV’s plans for a new home improvement reality show starring notorious anti-gay, anti-choice extremist David Benham and his brother Jason back in May, the Benham brothers have now taken their tale of "persecution!" throughout the Religious Right speaking circuit.
Gordon Klingenschmitt: What a year for Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt! Klingenschmitt, whose whole career has been based on a myth about his supposed religious persecution in the military, used his “Pray in Jesus Name” program this year to spread the word that it’s basically child abuse for a kid to be raised by gay parents, and that transgender people are just in need of an exorcism and a spanking. (Of course, this is a man who once tried to perform an exorcism on President Obama.)
But in between spouting anti-gay vitriol and denouncing Obamacare, Klingenschmitt somehow managed to run a campaign for a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives and won! Congratulations to Colorado’s new anti-gay, demon hunting state legislator.
Texas State Board of Education: This year, we nominate the Texas State Board of Education for an Equine Posterior Achievement Award for their approval of social studies textbooksthat were more about the ideological beliefs of the board members than, you know, actual history.
AFP is spending $85,000 running ads that accuse Wheat of being an “extreme” partisan…citing his votes on bipartisan bills as a state legislator. In an interview with the Missoulan, Wheat called the ads “garbage”:
The ads say Wheat, a justice on Montana’s high court since 2010, “has a history of supporting extreme, partisan measures,” citing his votes as a state senator for a 2003 sales tax package and for an increase in hunting and fishing license fees in 2005, and his 2012 dissent in a Supreme Court ruling upholding natural gas well permits.
“Our (intent) is to educate voters on the positions that Mike Wheat has taken in the past and hold him accountable for those positions,” Lahn said.
Wheat, in an interview, called the ad “garbage” and said it has little or nothing to do with the type of a justice he’s been or will be.
The ad sponsor “is just one of the Super-PACs funded by the Koch Brothers, who want you to believe it’s only for `educational’ purposes,” Wheat said. “It’s not education at all; it’s pure politics.”
In addition to $275,000 combined that Wheat and VanDyke have reported raising for their campaigns, the race has seen spending now by four outside groups, including AFP-Montana.
Two other groups are supporting VanDyke, including the Republican State Leadership Committee, which reported Thursday it’s spent $330,000 on TV ads and mailers, and one group is supporting Wheat.
Lahn said AFP-Montana initially is spending $85,000 for its ads criticizing Wheat.
The AFP ad says Montanans “deserve a fair and impartial Supreme Court” and urge voters to call Wheat “and tell him to keep his extreme politics out of the Montana Supreme Court.”
Among other things, the ad refers to Wheat’s 2003 vote as a senator for a sales tax package that also reduced property and income taxes, and his 2005 vote for a bill increasing hunting and fishing license fees.
The sales tax measure passed the Senate with bipartisan support but died in the House; the hunting and fishing license bill passed with bipartisan support.
Similar dire warnings about the federal hate crimes law that was passed five years ago today have proven to be utterly false.
The apocalyptic rhetoric is a reaction to the advances in LGBT rights, including the legalization of same-sex marriage in dozens of states and the passage of non-discrimination ordinances in municipalities across the country. Along with categories such as race, gender, religion, age and ability, more localities are recognizing sexual orientation and gender identity as traits warranting protection from discrimination in the public domain.
As anti-gay politicians lose in the courts, Congress, state houses, town halls, and perhaps most importantly, at the ballot box, many have taken to conflating political defeat with a loss of rights and liberty. Only by depriving other people of their rights, so they claim, can conservatives and people of faith in this nation truly be free.
This month, many Republicans latched onto a complicated legal case in Houston to justify their hyperbolic warnings about impending doom for Christians in America. After Houston passed an equal rights ordinance this year, a pastor-led group tried — and failed — to collect enough valid petition signatures to force a referendum on repealing the ordinance. When a group of conservative activists and pastors filed a lawsuit demanding that officials accept the invalid petitions, pro-bono attorneys working for the city subpoenaed several pastors’ communications, including sermons, on petition collecting and related issues like homosexuality as part of the discovery process.
While many groups from the left and right alike called out the subpoenas as overly broad and intrusive, the Religious Right cited the legal move as proof that pastors will be, as the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody put it, “hauled off to jail for a hate crimes because they are speaking for traditional marriage.”
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who in 2012 warned that America was “at the edge of a precipice” and would soon see non-existent “hate speech” laws used “against Christian pastors who decline to perform gay marriages [or] who speak out and preach biblical truths on marriage,” agreed with Brody’s assessment.
(In a similar episode this month, the owners of a for-profit wedding chapel business filed a lawsuit against their hometown over a nondiscrimination ordinance, arguing that city officials have threatened them with prosecution and jail time for denying service to same-sex couples — even though officials haven’t pursued any legal action against the couple.)
We’ve seen this movie before. In 2007, members of a group called Repent America were charged after disrupting a gay pride event and refusing to abide by police orders. The way conservatives tell the story, godly missionaries were punished by law enforcement for exercising their First Amendment rights and “sharing the gospel,” but as court records show, the group tried to disturb the peace and protest inside an event without a permit.
In fact, if Religious Right were correct in their warnings, America should have experienced a wave of arrests targeting pastors, church-goers and Republicans following the passage of the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Predictions about the criminalization of the Bible, pastors locked in jail cells and concentration camps for Christians never came true, mainly because these prophecies had no basis in reality.
The Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Law was passed by Congress five years ago today, and so far, the far-right’s twisted and baseless claims about the law have all been proven false. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t stopped making the exact same discredited arguments five years after the bill’s passage:
End of Free Speech
Despite the hate crimes law’s provision making clear that it is applicable only to cases of violent crime and nothing “shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual’s expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual’s membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs,” Religious Right activists and their allies in the GOP nonetheless predicted that the 2009 law would bring free speech to an end.
“Gay activists will use it against preachers who present the Biblical view of homosexuality,” Rick Scarborough said at the time. “The federal hate crimes law doesn’t target crime, but free speech.” He also warned that the law’s passage would “criminalize pastors and ordinary citizens who speak out biblically against homosexuality,” telling members of his group, Vision America, that he may face arrest for “speaking out against sexual deviancy.”
Scarborough, a Texas anti-gay pastor and political organizer close to Ted Cruz, hasn’t backed down from his claims even years after the law has gone into effect. At the 2013 Values Voter Summit, Scarborough declared that the “infidels” in the Obama administration are “hell-bent on silencing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Christians wouldn’t rise up against the attacks, he feared, “until a bunch of us are thrown into concentration camps.”
The Traditional Values Coalition went as far as to claim that the hate crimes law would imprison Jesus Christ.
“I believe that ‘hate crimes’ is the most dangerous bill in America, it is precisely what they are using to silence Christians around the world,” Janet Porter, a Religious Right activist with the group Faith 2 Action, said in an interview the year before the bill was passed. “How much of a stretch is it, really, to say that because I would say to you homosexuality is a sin or it’s dangerous behavior, before that speech alone is worthy of jail time? And that’s what we’re facing.” Porter told a Washington, D.C., rally shortly after the law was passed that it “criminalizes Christianity” and “sends pastors to prison for biblical positions and speech.”
In an 2009 email message with the subject line, “The Senate Will Vote To Silence You!,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins claimed that “what ‘hate crimes’ legislation does is lay the legal foundation and framework for investigating, prosecuting and persecuting pastors, business owners, and anyone else whose actions reflect their faith.”
He also alleged that the law would “gag people of faith and conviction who disagree with the homosexual agenda” and that it “punishes a person’s beliefs — part of the Left's intolerant agenda to silence the voice of Christians and Conservatives in America and eliminate moral restraint.”
“If federal thought crimes laws are passed, your right to share politically incorrect parts of your Christian faith could become a federal crime,” Perkins warned. At another conservative event, Perkins said hate crimes laws will curtail freedom and breed “chaos in America.”
Rusty Lee Thomas of Operation Save America even encouraged opposition to the law by alleging that “there is a direct connection between the sins and crimes of abortion and the sodomite agenda and the Islamic terrorism that threatens our nation.”
One group of GOP and Religious Right figures claimed the law would be “a savage and perhaps fatal blow to First Amendment freedom of expression.”
E.W. Jackson, a Virginia pastor and GOP politician, told a conservative rally that the law “represents a virulent strain of anti-Christian bigotry and hatred” that is “another step in the process of robbing all Americans of the very freedoms the founding fathers pledged their lives for and the civil rights martyrs gave their lives for.”
Ohio-based televangelist Rod Parsley, best known for his work supporting George W. Bush’s re-election campaign and the passage of his state’s gay marriage ban, said that the hate crimes law would force him out of the pulpit.
“This deceptive ploy of liberal, homosexual agenda begins to lose its allure once you pull the mask back and take a closer look,” Parsley said. “The legislation that’s before our United States senators right now extends to speech and can punish people not for their actions but for their culturally incorrect thoughts. This legislation could become law, and you and I could find ourselves forbidden to speak from God’s word right here in America. I could no longer share my heart with you on critical issues, such as this, through the medium of television, or even in the pulpit of my own church.”
We can report that despite Parsley’s grim predictions, he is still very much “sharing his heart” as a preacher.
Outlawing the Bible
One group of Michigan pastors, joined by local Republican politician and American Family Association state chairman Gary Glenn, filed an unsuccessful legal challenge against the hate crimes law soon after it was enacted. The group’s legal representative, the conservative Thomas More Law Center, contended that “the sole purpose” of the law was “to criminalize the Bible and use the threat of federal prosecutions and long jail sentences to silence Christians from expressing their Biblically-based religious belief that homosexual conduct is a sin.”
Pastor Paul Blair of Reclaiming America for Christ also offered an ominous warning: “If preaching the Bible is now against the law, then let us be arrested.” One WorldNetDaily commentator said the law would “crack down” on Christians for “reading the Bible.”
“Christianity Is Now Outlawed,” declared the Christian Seniors Association, a front group of the Traditional Values Coalition, in a fundraising letter following the law’s passage. “Did you know that the new Hate Crimes Act that President Obama signed into law makes the Bible illegal ‘Hate Literature?’” the letter continued.
“Most Christians might as well rip the pages which condemn homosexuality right out of their Bibles because this bill will make it illegal to publicly express the dictates of their religious beliefs,” said Andrea Lafferty of the TVC. “The ultimate objective of this legislation is to claim that ‘hate speech’ — criticism of homosexuality — incites individuals to violence and must be suppressed and punished. This will violate the First Amendment rights of any person or group that opposes the normalization of homosexuality in our culture.”
In the paranoid conservative alternate reality, pedophilia has been legal for five years now thanks to the updated federal hate crimes law.
“The main purpose of this ‘hate crimes’ legislation is to add the categories of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity,’ ‘either actual or perceived,’ as new classes of individuals receiving special protection by federal law. Sexual orientation includes heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality on an ever-expanding continuum. Will Congress also protect these sexual orientations: zoophiles, pedophiles or polygamists?” asked televangelist Pat Robertson.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, similarly charged: “We have a record roll call vote that shows every Democrat on the Judiciary Committee voting to have pedophiles protected.”
King’s colleague Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, went one step further and said that as a result of the hate crimes law, courts would “have to strike any laws against bestiality” along with laws targeting “pedophiles or necrophiliacs.” Gohmert went on to warn that the law would effectively turn the U.S. into Nazi Germany.
Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, for his part, predicted that the law would extend legal protections to “bisexuality, exhibitionism, fetishism, incest, necrophilia, pedophilia, prostitution, sexual masochism, urophilia, voyeurism, and bestiality.”
Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center claimed the law “elevates those persons who engage in deviant sexual behaviors, including pedophiles, to a special protected class of persons as a matter of federal law and policy.”
Porter dubbed the law the “Pedophile Protection Act,” “summarizing” the law by completely making things up: “Pushing away an unwelcome advance of a homosexual, transgendered [sic], cross-dresser or exhibitionist could make you a felon under this law. Speaking out against the homosexual agenda could also make you a felon if you are said to influence someone who pushes away that unwelcome advance. And pedophiles and other sexual deviants would enjoy an elevated level of protection, while children, seniors, veterans and churches would not.”
Pedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia are still against the law and such laws have not been affected by the Hate Crimes Act, while declining “an unwelcome advance of a homosexual” is still very much legal. However, we are still waiting with bated breath for Porter’s lawsuit detailing how she was forced and legally bound to succumb to the charms of a homosexual enticer.
Can the Religious Right Be Trusted?
The many frantic, unfounded warnings about the perils the 2009 Hate Crimes Act are just one example of anti-gay activists’ penchant for manufacturing myths and brazenly distorting cases of supposed persecution.
Apocalyptic warnings and blatantly dishonest remarks have always been characteristic of the Religious Right's crusade against LGBT rights and we can expect such activists to continue to engage in such shameless fear mongering and misinformation before the 2014 election.
But, like the Religious Right’s warnings about the effects of the 2009 Hate Crimes Act, these dire predictions should be taken with a heavy dose of salt.
Last week, we reported on the quiet effort of national right-wing groups to, in the words of the Family Research Council, “flip” the Supreme Court of Montana by electing former state solicitor general Lawrence VanDyke, who has indicated that he will be friendly to business interests and social conservative causes.
We first heard of VanDyke’s campaign for the officially nonpartisan office at last month’s Values Voter Summit, where the Family Research Council’s political action committee had decided to highlight the race at a $100-a-head fundraiser featuring Rick Santorum, Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and a number of Republican members of Congress.
Yesterday, VanDyke’s campaign issued its fundraising report for the period that included the FRC fundraiser. In the period, the campaign brought in $48,000, nearly doubling its supply of cash. It’s impossible to tell how much of that came from the FRC’s fundraiser — much of it came from Montana residents and out-of-state attorneys but FRC’s impact is shown in a few notable contributions.
The FRC Action PAC itself contributed $320 to VanDyke’s campaign, the maximum contribution allowed so far. William Saunders, the top lawyer at the anti-choice group Americans United for Life, also contributed $320, while Gary McCaleb, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom contributed $200. An organizer for the Koch group Americans for Prosperity also kicked in $200.
Although we can’t know the impact of the FRC’s fundraiser — and we can't know for sure that these contributions stemmed from the event — these numbers illustrate the fact that in VanDyke, Corporate Right and Religious Right activists throughout the country have found common cause in a little-noticed but pivotal state court race.
Conservative legal advocates from throughout the country have been quietly pouring money into a Montana state supreme court race, hoping to topple a court majority that has bucked the U.S. Supreme Court on campaign finance issues and could soon have a voice in cases with national implications involving abortion rights and LGBT equality.
The Right’s chosen candidate is Lawrence VanDyke, a former state solicitor general with a perfect pedigree for pro-corporate and Religious Right donors. Not only has VanDyke indicated his support for the U.S. Supreme Court’s dismantling of campaign finance laws and lamented that the current Montana high court is insufficiently “pro-business,” but, in his position as solicitor general, steered the state government toward taking positions against abortion rights, marriage equality and gun restrictions in other states.
What's more, in his writings as a law student, VanDyke was unguarded in his social conservative views, fretting about same-sex marriage, endorsing discredited “ex-gay” therapy and defending the teaching of anti-scientific “Intelligent Design” in public schools.
The Right Sees An Opportunity In Montana
At last month’s Values Voter Summit in Washington, the Family Research Council’s political action committee hosted a private $100-a-head reception featuring conservative luminaries including Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, GOP congressmen Steve King, Vicky Hartzler and Mark Meadows, and congressional candidate Dave Brat of Virginia, who unseated former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in an upset primary election this year.
A flyer for the event announced that along with those national Republican politicians, FRC would be “showcasing a very important State Supreme Court candidate, Lawrence VanDyke of Montana, who we hope can flip the court in that state.”
VanDyke’s presence on the fundraiser’s roster was telling. As FRC’s flyer made clear, a VanDyke victory would change the ideological balance on a court that has been a thorn in the side of opponents of campaign finance reform and could soon be facing nationally watched cases on abortion rights and marriage equality.
VanDyke has not yet submitted a campaign finance report showing how much money, if any, FRC was able to bundle for him at the fundraiser, and his campaign did not respond to our inquiry about whether he was personally present at the Values Voter event. But a review of VanDyke’s campaign finance reports shows that his candidacy has attracted keen interest from out-of-state donors, including some of the country’s leading conservative legal activists.
Since filing for the race to unseat sitting Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat in March, VanDyke has raised about $78,000, more than one-third of which — roughly $29,000 — has come from 114 individual out-of-state donors. By contrast, Wheat has raised just under $85,000 for his reelection bid, only $1,100 of which came from just five out-of-state donors.
Among those who have contributed to VanDyke’s campaign are recognizable names in conservative legal circles. Kelly Shackelford, president of the right-wing legal group Liberty Institute (a major sponsor of the Values Voter Summit) contributed $100, while another top Liberty Institute official, Hiram Sasser, gave $320, the maximum gift allowable as of VanDyke's last fundraising report. Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network and a Harvard Law School classmate of VanDyke’s, and her husband Roger also each maxed out with $320 contributions. Thomas Spence, an official at the conservative Regnery publishing house also sent the maximum contribution to VanDyke’s campaign. Two employees of the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom have together contributed $370. Christopher Murray, a lawyer who served on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, also contributed $320.
Nearly $7,000 of VanDyke’s contributions have come from employees of the law firm Gibson Dunn, where Vandyke worked before entering public service. That includes $320 each from Theodore Olson, the conservative attorney argued the Citizens United case (but who has become better known as a marriage equality advocate), and controversial Bush appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada. VanDyke’s campaign also received $320 each from Eugene Scalia — the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and a Wall Street reform-buster in his own right — and his wife.
Montana’s Cowgirl Blog notes that prominent Montana social conservatives Greg and Susan Gianforte — who fund creationist efforts and support anti-gay policies — have also each contributed the maximum amount to VanDyke’s campaign. He has also received the maximum contribution from the Montana Gas & Oil PAC and — in the form of an in-kind gift of catering — from the PAC’s treasurer, Dave Galt.
Cowgirl Blog also notes that VanDyke got a major assist last month from a newly created group called Montanans for a Fair Judiciary, which sent a statewide mailer in favor of his candidacy. The group, which was registered last month, is staffed by a former Montana GOP official and a corporate lobbyist for oil and gas clients, among others.
And just last week, a Washington, D.C.-based group called the Republican State Leadership Committee Judicial Fairness Montana PAC — an offshoot a national group funded by big business interests including the Reynolds tobacco company and Koch Industries — bought $110,000 worth of television ads supporting VanDyke and slamming Wheat as soft on crime. The group has also been mailing out leaflets accusing Wheat of siding with “environmental extremists.”
All of this attention from national activists and corporate backers has caught the attention of a group of six retired Montana Supreme Court justices, who signed a letter last week calling VanDyke an “unqualified corporate lawyer,” adding, "Given [his] background, Mr. VanDyke is an excellent corporate pick although that is obviously not good news for Montanans.”
The letter from the judges notes that VanDyke has received the maximum allowable campaign contributions from numerous out-of-state lawyers who represent major corporations, including more than 20 at the Gibson firm - including at least one who represented Citizens United.
"Corporations are buying judicial races because they want judges who will not hold them accountable," the draft letter from the retired justices says. "If the disinformation they are spreading successfully manipulates Montanans into electing an unqualified corporate lawyer, we will lose our fair and impartial court."
‘Changing The Face of the Montana Supreme Court’
While VanDyke’s personal connections seem to behind quite a bit of his financial support from out-of-state conservative leaders, his featured spot at the Values Voter Summit hints that the conservative legal movement and the Religious Right see an opportunity in his candidacy.
Montana conservatives have made no secret of their desire to pack the state Supreme Court with justices in their ideological mold. Last year, the Great Falls Tribune published leaked emails between conservative Republicans in the state senate discussing a “long term strategy” for displacing more moderate Republicans in the state legislature and “changing the face of the Montana Supreme Court.”
National conservative groups have good reason to take an interest in the race as well.
Montana’s Supreme Court gained national attention in 2011 when it bucked the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of campaign finance regulation, ruling that the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United did not invalidate Montana’s century-old ban on corporate spending in elections. The 5-2 decision, in which Justice Wheat joined the majority, openly defied the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling. One of the two dissenting justices wrote that the state court must follow the high court’s precedent but used the opportunity to excoriate the Supreme Court for its Citizens United logic. On appeal, the Supreme Court summarily reversed Montana’s opinion, ending the state’s corporate spending ban.
Montana’s Supreme Court may soon also be in the center of the legal debates on same-sex marriage and abortion rights. State anti-choice groups have indicated that they might challenge Montana’s abortion clinic buffer-zone bill in the wake of the Supreme Court’s striking down of a similar bill in Massachusetts. In addition, marriage equality cases are working their way through both state and federal courts in Montana.
In an articlefor another school publication, VanDyke lamented that courts in Canada had been “forcing same-sex marriage on the populace” and warned of a “trend of intolerance towards religion as homosexual ‘rights’ become legally entrenched.” In the same article, he cited a study supporting debunked “ex-gay” therapy to support the “view that homosexuals can leave the homosexual lifestyle.” (The author of that study has since recanted.)
In public statements, VanDyke has indicated that he would have sided with the U.S. Supreme Court on Citizens United, defending the decision in a debate last month. And although his race is officially nonpartisan, VanDyke has made it very clear which side of the aisle he falls on, accusing his opponent of judging “like a liberal Democrat” and being “results-oriented” in his rulings — a loaded accusation favored by conservative activists.
VanDyke’s website also touts his support for the death penalty and an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment, noting his work as state solicitor general defending a bill that would have invalidated federal firearms regulations on weapons manufactured and kept in Montana. (The law was ultimately struck down in federal court). In that position, VanDyke also pushed for Montana signing on to Alabama briefs in favor of overturning semiautomatic weapon bans in New York and Connecticut. At the time, he bantered over email with Alabama’s solicitor general, Andrew Brasher, about shooting elk with semi-automatic firearms, attaching a picture of himself hunting with “the same gun used by the Navy Seals.”
Ultimately, Montana signed on to bothbriefs, and VanDyke evidently made a useful connection as well: This year, Brasher contributed the maximum amount to his Supreme Court campaign.
VanDyke, meanwhile, is running on the message that he will follow “the law, not politics” and accusing Justice Wheat of being overly partisan. In the same interview in which he lamented that the current state supreme court was unfavorable to business interests, he said, “I have not promised anybody that I’m going to be a pro-business judge or that I’m going to be a conservative judge...I’m going to be a fair and balanced judge.”
Part of this increase was attributable to the 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed outside groups to spend unlimited amounts supporting and opposing candidates. In the case of judicial elections, those candidates could be the ones deciding on the future of that very campaign spending.
It’s no wonder that the corporate right and the Religious Right have joined forces to back VanDyke’s candidacy. A little-noticed nonpartisan race in Montana could prove to be an effective long-term investment for a movement that’s trying to solidify a pro-corporate grip on the courts and win back lost legal ground abortion rights and LGBT equality.
This post has been updated to clarify the status of marriage equality cases in Montana.
When Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), told the Values Voter Summit on Friday that the U.S. is witnessing the rise of “self-imposed Sharia law” due to the gay rights movement, it turns out that he was just getting started.
The next day, Johnson — whose group represents evangelical radio and television programs — hosted a panel discussion on how the First Amendment is “under siege” by liberals. Johnson and his fellow panelists Craig Parshall, an NRB official and husband of right-wing talk show host Janet Parshall, and Canadian Religious Right activist Charles McVety, stoked fears about the persecution of Christians in the United States, including warning that Janet Jackson’s decade-old “wardrobe malfunction” could lead to laws criminalizing anti-gay speech.
Johnson suggested that the anti-gay Benham brothers somehow had their constitutional rights violated when HGTV dropped their planned reality show, and repeatedly made misleading claims about a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. He warned that without Citizens United, “private citizens” would be barred from “weighing in on elections,” which of course implies that citizens did not have those rights prior to 2010, when the case was decided.
McVety, the Canadian, claimed that the U.S. is on the verge of doing away with the First Amendment because he has heard “whispers of hate speech” laws on the horizon, alleging that even quoting from the Bible may soon become a criminal offense in America. Outside of the “whispers” he claims to have heard, McVety cited no evidence at all substantiating his claim about the imminent passage of unconstitutional hate speech laws.
McVety explained his theory that U.S. activists will use ISIS propaganda videos of hostage beheadings as an excuse to enact laws banning hate speech. “I can see it coming in America,” he said.
Johnson also tried to find evidence to back up the panel’s dire warnings of constitutional collapse, warning that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) may cite the fines levied against Janet Jackson for her 2004 Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” as a precedent for fining conservative TV personalities under the guise of preserving public order and decency.
The halftime show controversy, of course, occurred a decade ago without any of the horrible results that Johnson predicted, and the NRB actually supported the FCC in the case. Seeing that the NRB filed an amicus curiae brief under Parshall’s name defending the FCC’s fine [PDF], Johnson appears to suggest that his own organization is threatening the First Amendment.
Parshall also grasped at straws in an effort to find evidence of imminent dangers to the First Amendment.
After discussing “Spanish inquisition-type investigations” taking place in America and a “tsunami” of threats to the freedom of speech, Parshall could only cite the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case that struck down anti-sodomy laws. He said the ruling paved the way for hate speech laws because of the majority opinion’s use of international law in its decision.
Since U.S. courts citing foreign laws isnothingnew, we can only assume that Parshall merely cited Lawrence to raise fears about the gay-Sharia menace that Johnson previously warned about.
Parshall then railed against hate speech policies on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, which of course have their own policies that users agree to uphold and do not represent the government.
Parshall also pointed to the Amish beard shaving case — in which a group of people from an Amish sect were charged with breaking federal hate crime laws, among other counts, for forcibly and violently shaving the beards and cutting the hair of former sect members — to claim that the Justice Department used the hate crime charges against the Amish beard-cutters in order to give them more leeway for future prosecutions over hate speech.
An appeals court recently overturned the religious-based hate crime conviction, finding that prosecutors couldn’t prove that the attacks were motivated for religious reasons, rather than familial, political or personal disputes (two of the victims were the parents of their assailants).
Essentially, the NRB panel’s extreme claims about the imminent annihilation of the bedrock of the U.S. Constitution came down to a string of possibly-maybe-this-could-happen incidents that wed together Janet Jackson, ISIS and Amish beard-cutters.
Johnson concluded his remarks by saying that the “NRB will be for the First Amendment what the NRA is for the Second Amendment.”
If that means making completely outlandish statements and developing doomsday conspiracy theories to spur political outrage and raise money, then his comparison is right on.
One thing was clear at last week’s Values Voter Summit: many of the Religious Right’s leaders and allied politicians know that their stances on abortion rights and LGBT equality are becoming more and more toxic to the average voter, and less and less popular within the GOP.
Many speakers at the conference tried to reframe the debate on issues such as same-sex marriage, insisting that opponents of LGBT rights are becoming an oppressed minority in America. This delusion even seeped into matters such as foreign policy, with speakers attacking President Obama as an Islamist sympathizer who refuses to take military action against ISIS, even while he was doing exactly that.
Naturally, one politician was able to prey upon the many fears and fantasies of the far-right: Ted Cruz.
Even as the Values Voter Summit subtly changed its tone on some familiar issues, five tried and true tactics of the Religious Right were unchanged at last week’s event:
5. Make Audacious Persecution Analogies
While addressing the plight of Christians in the Mideast and people such as Meriam Ibrahim in Sudan and Saeed Abedini in Iran — both of whom are actually the victims of shocking anti-Christian persecution — Values Voter Summit speakers often attempted to claim that conservative Christians face similar abuses and comparable treatment in America.
Maggie Gallagher, the founder of the National Organization for Marriage, told attendees that marriage equality opponents will be “oppressed” due to their opinions, and Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel predicted Big Government persecution of Christians on behalf of “the intolerant homosexual lobby.”
4. Demand Religious Freedom… Except For Muslims
For a conference dedicated to protecting religious liberty and addressing the supposed persecution of Christians in America, there sure was plenty of animosity towards Muslims.
Conference speakers including Michele Bachmann, Robert Dees, Gary Bauer and Brigitte Gabriel dedicated their remarks to the threat of Islam, with several conflating Al Qaeda and ISIS with all of Islam and suggesting that the U.S. government somehow declare war on the religion.
It was surreal to watch several Values Voter Summit speakers criticize President Obama for not going after ISIS at the same time as a U.S.-led coalition was launching a daily torrent of airstrikes against ISIS and the Al Qaeda-affiliated group Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria and Iraq.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a likely GOP presidential candidate, said Obama doesn’t believe that ISIS leaders need to be “hunted down and killed and destroyed.”
Bachmann declared that the president was ignoring her sage advice on how to handle ISIS: “You kill their leader, you kill their council, you kill their army until they wave the white flag of surrender. That’s how you win a war!”
2. Push Back Against The GOP
There was a palpable fear throughout the conference that the Republican Party is moving away from the Religious Right, as more and more GOP candidates either refuse to highlight the movement’s anti-choice and anti-gay positions or are openly trumpeting support for abortion rights and gay marriage.
Just before the conference took place, Focus on the Family, the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council issued a letter announcing their vow to defeat two openly gay Republican House candidates and the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Oregon, who is pro-choice and running advertisements boasting of her support for marriage equality.
NOM president Brian Brown criticized Republicans for blaming the party’s stances on social issues for losses in the 2012 election. “It’s not our fault,” Brown insisted as he introduced unabashedly anti-gay politician Rick Santorum at the summit.
Later, at a NOM-sponsored panel, Brown accused gay rights supporters of attempting to “hijack” the GOP. While one panel at the summit attempted to explain the potential for libertarians and social conservatives to build a political alliance, it seems many in the audience didn’t want anything to do with the libertarian message.
1. Throw Them Red Meat
Ted Cruz once again won the summit’s presidential candidate straw poll, with Ben Carson, who didn’t attend the summit this year but was well-represented by campaigners from the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee, finishing in second place. Cruz and Carson notably outpaced Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, two favorites of Religious Right movement who both spoke at the summit.
Cruz packed his speech with warnings about imminent threats to the Second Amendment and religious freedom, and listing objects of conservative derision: IRS, Common Core and Obamacare.
On Friday, PFAW’s Director of Communications Drew Courtney joined Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC’s Politics Nation to discuss the summit, as well as the Republican party’s ongoing lurch to the right.
“The difference between the fringe Right of the party and the establishment is less and less,” Courtney told Sharpton. “That’s not because the fringe is getting less extreme; it’s because the establishment has been dragged to the right along with them.”
Shortly after Russia passed its new spate of anti-gay laws, Glenn Beck said he was so offended by one Russian commentator who called for the mass killing of gays and lesbians that he would “stand with GLAAD” against the growing tide of anti-gay bigotry and “hetero-fascism” in the country.
Then, this weekend, Beck took the same stand against growing Russian “hetero-fascism” in his closing speech at the Values Voter Summit, even though many of the summit’s sponsors and his fellow speakers have openly backed harsh anti-gay laws in Russia and throughout the world.
To begin with, Tony Perkins, the president of the summit’s chief sponsor, the Family Research Council, defended Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill when it included provisions making homosexuality a crime punishable by life imprisonment or death.
Maybe Beck was trying to hold Religious Right leaders at the summit to task for their support of brutal anti-gay policies. But if that’s the case, Beck should start confronting them directly when they come on his show, rather than singing their praises and appearing at their conferences while calling policies they support “fascist.”
Bachmann, a leading anti-gay Republican, said that “it’s not an issue,” telling Signorile, “In fact, it’s boring.”
The Minnesota congresswoman now appears to be walking back her remarks, suggesting in an interview with WorldNetDaily that she is the victim of a media attack:
In a follow-up interview with WND, however, Bachmann clarified her comments.
“What I said is that this won’t be the issue that drives the 2014 election,” Bachmann said. “I told the reporter it’s getting boring having them only press this issue with Republicans while ignoring Democrats.
“The media loves to divide us on this issue. They look for something all the time,” Bachmann told WND. “I said nothing different. I’m the woman who carried the traditional marriage amendment in Minnesota, and I stand firm in my belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman.”
Bachmann’s aide told WND she wasn’t brushing off the radio host, she was merely making a quick, parting comment as she was leaving.
On Saturday, a group of Religious Right activists at the Values Voter Summit were pitched on the possibility and necessity of a stronger union between social conservatives and libertarians, a discussion that was heavily tinged with the rhetoric of anti-Christian persecution that dominated the weekened.
In a panel titled “Moral Decline Causes Big Government,” the American Principles Project’s Maggie Gallagher (formerly of the National Organization for Marriage), the director of Rand Paul’s PAC, Doug Stafford, and conservative pollster Kellyanne Conway made their best case for libertarians to adopt social conservative causes — or, given the makeup of the crowd, for social conservatives to be open to an alliance with libertarian conservatives.
Gallagher brought up the Religious Right’s fears about the persecution of conservative Christians by the LGBT rights movement, warning that with the current Supreme Court she was “not optimistic” about preventing marriage equality from becoming law in all 50 states, and that if that happens, there will be “more cases where people are being oppressed…for their views on marriage.”
Libertarians, Gallagher said, should share the concern of social conservatives about gay rights advocates “using the government to impose this new, strange sexual orthodoxy” and their fears of “the horrible things the left is going to do.” She warned that the window for a stronger alliance was narrow, because if LGBT rights advocates succeed, “there’s not a way to build a winning conservative coalition.”
She also made an ideological case for libertarians to join social conservatives, arguing that “the decline of marriage” caused the growth of “pretty much every part of government, besides the defense budget, in America.”
“When the family falls apart, the government grows to step in,” she said.
Conway told the crowd that “values voters and libertarians have a great deal in common” from opposition to “big government” and abortion rights to being “sick of lawyers in black robes making stuff up” to a refusal to “redefine” family to be “whatever feels cool.” She also saw an opening to win over libertarians with the Religious Right’s increasing reliance on persecution rhetoric, or what she called the “assault on religious liberty in so many parts of our culture.”
Stafford echoed Conway, explaining that many libertarians oppose abortion rights and putting in a plug for the two groups to work together and with liberals to end the drug war.
Whatever the few libertarians in the room might have thought of the panel’s appeals, however, the bulk of the social conservative crowd seemed deeply skeptical of any attempt to woo libertarians. The biggest round of applause at the event came when a man came to the microphone, introduced himself as a pastor and proceeded to deliver a soliloquy against such “sins” as homosexuality. In an apparent jab at Sen. Paul’s position that marriage equality legislation should be left to the states, the pastor said, “Don’t let the states decide on marriage. God has already decided!”
As the panel ended, after little discussion of the morality of same-sex marriage, the woman next to me turned to me and shook her head. The panelists, she said, “didn’t listen to a thing that pastor said.”
On Saturday afternoon, Liberty Counsel hosted a panel discussion at the Values Voter Summit on “The Assault of Constitutional Rights Under a Nanny State.” The discussion linked concerns about NSA surveillance – a concern shared by many progressive groups – to the Religious Right’s fear of anti-Christian persecution through the Affordable Care Act and LGBT rights.
Liberty Counsel founder and chair Mat Staver quickly used a discussion about the danger of letting national security agencies collect reams of data to stoke fears about government persecution of conservative Christians.
With the amount of metadata that can be collected off a smart phone, Staver said, “they can actually know that someone was at the Values Voter Summit and list those people as suspect conservative activists.”
“Of course, this administration would never want to do that,” he added sarcastically.
Bringing up fears that the IRS is targeting conservative organizations, Staver said, “I believe every other administrative agency is being used in a very similar way to target the opponents of President Obama.”
When a questioner asked about the danger of the government spying on Christians under the guise of national security, Staver agreed: “Your concern is a legitimate one and we’re going to see more and more of that.”
The bulk of the discussion focused on fears that gay rights will lead to the persecution of conservative Christians.
Staver and Liberty Counsel attorney Harry Mihet pointed to the lawsuit against anti-gay activist Scott Lively by the group Sexual Minorities of Uganda for Lively’s role in crafting draconian anti-gay legislation in Uganda. Staver warned that the lawsuit, which is still pending in U.S. courts, represents an attempt by “the intolerant homosexual lobby” to “punish people who travel overseas to speak on pro-family or pro-life issues in other countries” and to “intimidate” others into not going.
Mihet saw a deeper goal. “The end game plan here is to punish not only speech that takes place overseas but also speech that takes place here in the United States,” he said. “They are not bashful or subtle about the game plan here, this is it.”
They also discussed bans in California and New Jersey on providing “ex-gay” therapy to minors, which Mihet said were part of an “intense and coordinated effort to silence people of faith when it comes to the subject of homosexuality.”
“Folks, we’re talking abut the United States of America, not China, not Russia, not communist Romania where I grew up,” he said, adding that he saw a future where “the only thing that matters is the sexual orthodoxy that the government wants you to adopt.”
One of the more surprising parts of the discussion came when Staver directly addressed the tension between the Religious Right’s call to defy court rulings it doesn’t agree with on gay rights and what it sees as the Obama administration’s ignoring of court decisions that it doesn’t like. “We have the Supreme Court being the ultimate arbiter and everybody abides by that,” he said, but “it wasn’t always that way.” He mentioned that Presidents Jefferson, Jackson and Lincoln all bucked court decisions that they felt were wrong. “We’re seeing that in the opposite way today with Eric Holder,” he continued. Although he disagreed with many of Holder’s decisions, he said, “this is something that Jefferson, Jackson and Lincoln did back in history.”
How fitting that a conference ostensibly about guarding religious liberty included several speakers who used their time to level attacks against Muslim-Americans, including Brigitte Gabriel of the anti-Muslim group Act! for America.
Gabriel, whose organization focuses on fighting Muslim campus affinity groups and passing dubiously-constitutional laws barring sharia law, claimed in her speech this morning that around 180-300 million Muslims are “radical Islamists who are willing to strap bombs on their bodies and walk into this room and blow us all up to smithereens.”
These days, Erickson lamented, people “worship science” and “believe we were an accident of a primordial goo, particles bumping into each other after the Big Bang that created bacteria that created amoeba that created something that led to something that led to something, a missing link, and then men, somewhere in there there’s a monkey apparently.”
After mocking evolution as dumb and incompatible with the religious faith, even cracking a joke about the Fox series “Cosmos,” Erickson said “I see a world that is opposed to us in this room because we’re headed home to eternity, we’re just passing through.”
“There is a last day, pick a side and the right side wins,” he said, adding: “You have got to love someone enough that you don’t want them to go to Hell.”
“We’re talking about undergoing that change and trying to help other people see that because now you realize we’ve got generations of people in our nation that really don’t understand godliness at any level, they don’t know,” he said.
Later in his remarks, Robertson prayed that the heathens outside of the Values Voter Summit will one day become just as wise and godly as the Robertson clan: “I pray for even our American brothers and sisters who aren’t there yet, I pray for them, because I want our nation to rise up and be great again.”
In their speech to the summit, the Benham twins argued that just as ISIS beheads their victim with a sword, progressive groups like Right Wing Watch “silence” conservatives by quoting them verbatim.
Jason Benham kicked it off by likening himself and his brother to Jesus Christ — a theme throughout their speech — and later David said that Christians in America are facing persecution just like Christians in the Mideast who are coming under attack from violent groups such as ISIS.
“There is a radical agenda that has come in our nation,” David explained, “the weapon of choice for the agenda in the Middle East is a sword, but the weapon of choice for the agenda in America is silence. They demand silence.”