This op-ed was originally published at The Huffington Post.
Over the last twenty years, 19 states have passed laws modeled on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was enacted in 1993 with broad bipartisan support. But just this year, almost the same number, 15, have seen such bills introduced, generating enormous controversy across the country, particularly in Indiana where Gov. Mike Pence signed the new state RFRA into law.
Why the huge uptick now? As one of those involved in the original drafting and passage of RFRA in 1993, I think it's a combination of the perceived dangers to the far right from the move towards LGBT marriage equality and the perceived opportunity created just last year by the 5-4 Supreme Court's rewriting of RFRA in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
Even before the Supreme Court agreed to decide the marriage equality issue, the far right has highlighted the supposed dangers to small businesses like bakers and florists who do not want to serve LGBT couples because of religious objections. Under RFRA as passed in 1993, and under the protection from the First Amendment's Free Exercise doctrine that it was meant to restore, RFRA wouldn't have offered much help. First, neither had been applied to non-religious corporations, which had never been thought to have religious freedom rights. Second, it would have been very hard to argue that a neutral law banning discrimination against LGBT people would have created a "substantial burden" on actual religious exercise, which is required to qualify for a RFRA-type exemption. For example, in one case the Supreme Court rejected the claim that requiring federal welfare recipients to submit social security numbers was such a burden even when it conflicted with an applicant's religious beliefs. And even if such a burden were created by obeying an anti-discrimination or other general law, pre-Hobby Lobby law would not have helped a religious claimant: as the Court ruled in rejecting a religious exemption to a requirement that a religious farmer withhold social security taxes, such an exemption would improperly "operate to impose the employer's religious faith on the employees" and others.
But then came Hobby Lobby.
In that case, writing for a bare majority of the Court, Justice Alito ruled that religious objections by a corporation's owners exempted them under RFRA from providing contraceptive coverage through insurance to employees under the Affordable Care Act. As Justice Ginsburg explained in dissent, rather than interpreting RFRA to restore prior case law, the majority interpreted it as going beyond prior Court decisions to maximize benefits to religious claimants. In particular, she explained, the Court effectively re-wrote RFRA so that it could be invoked by for-profit corporations, and so that the original law protecting individuals against a "substantial burden" on the exercise of religion was transformed to allow claims by a business owner that complying with a neutral law offended their religious beliefs in some way. Under the majority's view, Justice Ginsburg suggested, RFRA could be interpreted to "require exemptions" in cases where religious beliefs were used to justify actions that discriminated on the basis of race, gender, and sexual orientation. Pointedly, Justice Alito responded only that "prohibitions on racial discrimination" would be safe from a RFRA exemption claim, but said nothing about gender or LGBT status.
So for far-right activists and legislators concerned about LGBT marriage equality and other rights, Hobby Lobby provided the perfect opportunity: pass state RFRA laws and effectively grant a religious exemption claim from LGBT anti-discrimination laws and local ordinances, based on the Court's re-writing of RFRA's language. Indeed, in communicating with supporters about the Indiana RFRA law, the far-right Family Research Council specifically called it the "Hobby Lobby bill."
Even better, rhetoric directed at outsiders could be cloaked in general language about protecting religious freedom, not attacking LGBT rights. Supporters could even invoke Democratic supporters of RFRA like President Clinton and claim that neither RFRA nor its state counterparts had been interpreted to allow discrimination, as Indiana Gov. Pence has tried to do. These claims ignore the fact that it wasn't until last year that the Supreme Court effectively rewrote the language in RFRA so that it was transformed from a shield for religious liberty into a sword against anti-discrimination protections. And previous supporters like President Clinton have made clear their opposition to this year's state RFRA proposals.
Under pressure, the neutral façade of recent state RFRA proposals has crumbled. When pushed to amend a state RFRA proposal in Georgia to make clear that it could not be used against anti-discrimination ordinances, a Georgia legislator admitted that one of the reasons for the bill was to allow it to be invoked by the small business owner who had religious objections to providing services to an LGBT couple. And when an amendment was added in the Georgia House Judiciary Committee to state that the RFRA bill was not to be used against discrimination laws, the bill was promptly tabled on March 26, with a supporter stating that the amendment would "gut" the bill.
As of now, the fate of RFRA bills in Georgia and elsewhere is uncertain and Gov. Pence has asked the legislature for an amendment to "clarify" that Indiana's RFRA law cannot be used to deny services to anyone. That would be a welcome step - one that flies in the face of the clear intent of some of the bill's backers, which was clearly to enshrine such a "right" for Indiana businesses. Language has been adopted elsewhere to make clear that state RFRAs cannot be used against anti-discrimination bills; such a provision is currently in Texas' RFRA, although there is a proposal to remove it. Before Hobby Lobby, such language might not have been necessary. After Hobby Lobby, it is crucial.
Anti-gay Presbyterian theologian Robert Gagnon stopped by the American Family Association radio program “Today’s Issues” today to discuss the decision of the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country, the Presbyterian Church (USA), to approve of same-sex marriage.
When the AFA’s Ed Vitagliano asked Gagnon “how in the world our culture has moved so rapidly” on acceptance of homosexuality, Gagnon responded that there were “lots of factors,” including a “full-court press” from elites and “natural concerns” about gay people wanting to form life-long unions.
Another factor, he asserted, is “heterosexual guilt.”
“A lot of heterosexuals have, you know, we’ve not done all that well in some areas of sexual ethics,” he said. “That includes issues of divorce, remarriage, that includes premarital sex, includes abortion. And if you can give a pass on the issue of homosexual practice, in effect it’s a way of exempting our own guilt, and it’s accommodating in a way that’s self-serving.”
Later in the interview, Gagnon cited a passage from Corinthians in which the Apostle Paul disciplines a man who has had sex with his father’s wife as evidence that gay people are “at high risk” of being left behind when the Kingdom of God is established.
“The repercussions for somebody living out of same-sex attractions such that they are actively entertaining those thought desires in their thought life without repentance at any point…or, even worse, engaging in it in the behavior, according to Paul, according to the united witness of scripture, they’re putting themselves at high risk of not inheriting the Kingdom of God,” he said.
Noting that homosexuality might be even more of a grievous sin than incest, Gagnon paraphrased the story: “Paul is very clear at the incestuous man, ‘Okay, if you engage in this behavior, you’re putting yourself at high risk of being excluded from the Kingdom of God. So the only last recourse we have as a church to wake you up, and also not to send a signal to the rest of the church that sexual purity doesn’t matter, is to put you on church discipline, not as a punitive measure, but as a remedial measure so that you will wake up, come to your senses and return to the church, the place of shelter and protection away from the wilds of the Enemy, the Satan, the Adversary.’”
“And that’s not Paul not loving the incestuous man,” he concluded. “It’s Paul showing he really loves the incestuous man. He cares enough for the offender to try to reclaim him to the Kingdom of God, which is what Jesus did in his ministry to sexual sinners and to exploitative tax collectors.”
Operation Save America, the radical anti-choice group that grew out of the original Operation Rescue, will be holding a multi-day event in Montgomery, Alabama, in June to express its support for Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s activism against marriage equality and abortion rights.
OSA head Rusty Lee Thomas writes in a press release today that the event will bring together “hundreds of gentle Christians from across the nation” for a march drawing on “the historical lessons of Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma.”
A description of the event on the group’s website boasts that “[f]or years, Operation Save America has stood faithfully with Chief Justice Roy Moore, a poet, warrior, statesmen [sic].” It specifically praises Moore’s work to develop a legal framework to support radical anti-choice “personhood” laws and his ongoing standoff with the federal courts over marriage equality.
(In case you weren’t familiar with Moore’s poetry, here’s a representative example.)
We are praying for God to record His name in Montgomery and by His Spirit bid His people come to bring the Gospel of the Kingdom to the gates of hell (Abortion mills in Alabama). They will not prevail against the Church of the living God (Matthew 16:18). They never have and they never will. Jesus is Lord!
For years, Operation Save America has stood faithfully with Chief Justice Roy Moore, a poet, warrior, statesmen. Through his many battles, we supported his righteous stands in the face of persecution and tyranny. Today, the Alabama Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Moore continues to stand against injustice and once again we are going to come alongside to help.
Moore, along with Justice Tom Parker, have rendered Decisions from the court that directly or indirectly have taken on Roe vs. Wade. Currently, Moore is acting faithfully as a Lower Magistrate to resist “Gay Marriage” in his state. He is taking another just stand and once again, we will stand with him.
Alabama is also working on establishing “Personhood” for the preborn child who is made in the image of God. Alabamians are willing to stand upon the self-evident truth established by God’s Word and we our coming to stand with them.
There are at least four death camps in Alabama still applying their grisly trade to murder babies made in the image of God. This evil defiles the land and invokes God’s judgments upon us. We are coming to stand in the gap and make up the hedge. We want to give God a reason to show mercy in the midst of the American holocaust.
It’s not surprising that Operation Save America, one of the most radical anti-choice groups in the country, would find ideological kinship with Justice Moore.
Thomas has claimed that the September 11, 2001 attacks were divine punishment for legal abortion. OSA’s former director, Flip Benham (father of the new Religious Right martyrs David and Jason Benham), also used the organization to promote a fringe right agenda:
As leader of OSA, Benham has condemned the interfaith Sandy Hook memorial, protested in front of mosques while shouting “Jesus Hates Muslims” and blamed the Aurora shooting on the Democratic Party, which he said promotes a “culture of death.”
He has also protested LGBT pride events, interrupted church services during a sermon by “ sodomite Episcopalian bishop” Gene Robinson and was found “guilty of stalking a Charlotte abortion doctor after passing out hundreds of ‘wanted’ posters with the physician's name and photo on it.”
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.”
The RNC’s Connelly also made a plug for conservative churches to engage in partisan politics , urging pastors to buck IRS rules preventing politicking from the pulpit and declaring that “voting is not political, it’s spiritual.”
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.
As we mentioned earlier, the mood at Saturday’s Awakening conference in Florida around the issue of gay marriage was utter panic, and nowhere was that expressed more clearly than in a panel titled “Same-Sex Marriage and Sexual Rebellion: Freedom Under Fire,” moderated by off-the-rails anti-gay pundit Matt Barber and featuring a pastor, two “ex-gay” activists, and Rena Lindevaldsen, the Liberty University dean who has murky ties with the case of an “ex-lesbian” who fled the country with her daughter to defy a court order giving the child's other mother custody.
Lindevaldsen set the tone for the discussion when she lamented that too many conservative Christians aren’t committed to fighting gay rights and instead ask her “why is this such a big deal and why does it matter?”
"It's a big deal because it's a big deal to God," she declared.
Quoting the late Chuck Colson , she told the audience, “In every action we take, we are either helping to create a hell on Earth, or bringing down a foretaste of heaven…We are either advancing the rule of Satan or establishing the reign of God.”
“There’s no middle ground, there’s no neutrality, there is no compromise,” she added, telling Christians who are on the fence about gay rights that “it’s not loving” to let gay people “go on not knowing that God has a better plan for their lives, this is not the way that God designed them to be.”
“This is the heart of where Satan’s attacking,” she said. “He is seeking to destroy human sexuality and marriage. Why? Because we are the reflection, marriage is the reflection of the relationship between Christ and his church. And so if you’re going to destroy the only human reflection we have of that, we’re going to destroy marriage.”
Our friends at American Bridge captured the audio:
Later in the panel, “ex-gay” activist Greg Quinlan similarly warned Christians not to be taken in by LGBT rights, saying that the Human Rights Campaign’s famous equals sign bumper stickers are “not about equality” but “about dominance” and hide an effort to destroy the Constitution.
(Audio again via American Bridge):
When you see that blue bumper sticker with that bright yellow sign, it’s not about equality, it’s about dominance. It’s about silencing any voice that’s against what they want to do. And the real issue is this — I want you to understand this. The Constitution of the United States is a Calvinist document — I’m not a Calvinist — it’s a Christian document, it was written by reformers, based on the word of God. The problem that the secular left has, secular progressives, whatever label you want to put on them, the anti-God folks, our Constitution. And their goal is to undo it, if that means by reinterpreting it rewriting it, but it is to undo it.
So know this, especially the homosexual agenda, if I go down the list, I got a thing called “the big pink plan for a lavender culture,” another talk I do, which goes to what the agenda is. I was there when they were talking about what they want to do. It’s not about equality, it’s about dominance.
At a panel discussion on abortion rights at this weekend’s Awakening conference, the topic at one point turned to how abortion rights advocates are supposedly nasty and mean while anti-choice activists are kind and compassionate to their adversaries.
This caused Vision America’s Rick Scarborough to recall the time God disrupted a protest of “radical homosexuals” from the gay rights group ACT UP when the late Jerry Falwell was speaking at his church in Texas.
Falwell, Scarborough recalled, asked him to send pitchers of ice water out to the protesters outside those church, “and those radical gays were just astounded by the kindness.”
Then, Scarborough recalled, “God got involved” and in an apparent act of solidarity with Falwell’s magnanimity drove away the “radical homosexuals” with a torrential downpour.
Falwell was speaking in our church back in the days of ACT UP. Radical homosexuals showed up, I mean the police literally stood between them and our congregation. Rev. Falwell said, ‘Rick, while I’m preaching, send your men out there with pitchers of ice water because it was a roaring July day in Texas. And so our men when out there and those radical gays were just astounded by the kindness.
And then God got involved. This is really humorous to think about and remember. But right about halfway through Dr. Falwell’s sermon, with these radical gays outside, we heard a clap of thunder and lightning…and a torrential rain fell. By the time he finished, the sun was shining, but the gays were wet and gone.
So, sometimes when we radically live the faith, God gets involved.
Earlier this year, the restaurant chain Chipotle stopped selling pork at several hundred stores after cutting ties with one of its suppliers for violating the chain's animal welfare standards.
Today, Sen. James Lankford and Rep. Randy Forbes published a truly absurd op-ed in The Christian Post using Chipotle as an example of the importance of protecting the "corporate conscience" of Christian business owners who want to discriminate against gay customers.
Seemingly unaware of the very clear difference between a company refusing to do business with a particular supplier and one openly discriminating against an entire class of people, Lankford and Forbes argue that "protecting corporate conscience" is vital so that the right of Christians to discriminate against gays is protected in the name of religious freedom:
It is crucial that the same freedom enjoyed by the leadership of Chipotle remains equally available to business owners of faith. Indeed, much more so as freedom of religion is explicitly protected by the First Amendment. We cannot simultaneously laud the leaders of a business motivated by a commitment to environmental sustainability and discriminate against the leaders of a business motivated by religious belief.
If a decision based on moral convictions is celebrated, shouldn't a decision based on the free exercise of religion – a right guaranteed in the Constitution – be even more so?
To be sure, religious freedom is not just a choice of convenience – it is a fundamental right given to all Americans by the Constitution. As we recognize Chipotle's decision, let's remember that a clear constitutionally supported civil right of religious freedom should be cherished and respected in every corner of this nation.
We live in a country whose laws respect freedom and diversity, and our Constitution has always had robust protections for all Americans to live and work by their religious convictions. Americans do not check their religious freedom at the door when they leave their home or place of worship and enter the public sphere.
We must not fall prey to the hypocrisy of defending the freedom of operating a business on convictions of sustainability, but reject that same freedom when the convictions are based in faith.
At Saturday’s Awakening conference, an annual Religious Right confab organized by Liberty Counsel, the mood surrounding LGBT rights had reached full-blown panic.
Nearly two years after the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision let loose a cascade of federal court decisions legalizing marriage between same-sex couples in dozens of states, the Religious Right activists gathered in a megachurch in Orlando were bracing for a Supreme Court decision that could establish marriage equality nationwide.
At a panel titled “Activism in the Age of Lawlessness,” four Religious Right leaders — John Eidsmoe, Rick Scarborough, William Murray and Harry Mihet — gathered to suss out what the movement’s response should be to pro-LGBT court rulings that they find to be “lawless.”
John Eidsmoe, the influential Christian nationalist thinker who served as a mentor to Michele Bachmann, outlined the issue, explaining to the audience that “‘rule of law’ ultimately means ‘rule of the highest law,’” or God’s law.
Eidsmoe, who now works for the Religious Right group founded by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who is urging judges in his state to defy a federal court ruling on marriage equality, argued that you are only disobeying the law if you disobey “the law of God.”
“You disobey a law only when those who have that law are breaking a higher law, the law of God,” he said. “And in fact, if you follow the decree of a tyrant when he is defying the law, you are complicit in his defiance. Disobedience then becomes not only a right, it becomes a duty.”
Eidsmoe explained that the idea of civil disobedience had been perverted since biblical times, since the idea of not violating your conscience should only apply if “your conscience is in accord with the word of God.”
Rick Scarborough, the head of Vision America, warned that a Supreme Court decision for marriage equality would be worse for the Religious Right than Roe v. Wade because “with abortion, you can opt out, you don’t have to participate in that.”
He claimed that, in contrast, a marriage equality decision would outlaw anti-gay speech, the exact same erroneous prediction he made following the passage of the 2009 Hate Crimes Law.
“We’ll get up the day after that ruling, and in fact a few hours after that ruling when it’s widely disseminated, and you’ll find yourself, those of us who believe that homosexuality is a sexual sin — perversion if you will — those of us who believe that homosexual marriage is unnatural and forbidden by God and who have taught that our entire lives…when that law is passed you are then going to breaking the law when you preach or teach what you’ve always taught or what you’ve always preached,” he claimed.
“Fundamentally, it undermines the whole nature of America,” Scarborough concluded.
Liberty Counsel attorney Harry Mihet, who was moderating the panel, echoed Scarborough’s dire warnings when he declared that there would be “no way to escape this issue” and that it might “in the near future” land anti-LGBT pastors in jail… just like Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We have to draw the line in the sand and stand firm on the truth of the Word, and not to shy away from a fight, not to quit, not to be silent, but to actually speak truth and love to a society that has a desperate need to hear it,” he said. “And there may come a time when you will have to lose your job because that’s what you’ve done. There may come a time in the near future when you have to lose your liberty and go to jail like Martin Luther King did.”
Chad Connelly, the Republican National Committee’s official in charge of reaching out to evangelical voters, told a breakout session at the far-right Awakening conference on Saturday that conservative pastors must get involved in politics because LGBT activists are “coming for the church.”
When an audience member in a session about abortion rights asked what to do about a pastor who refuses to participate in politics, Connelly responded that “voting is not political, it’s spiritual” and urged pastors to violate rarely-enforced regulations that prevent churches from being involved in partisan politics in order to keep their tax-exempt status.
Referring to cases where businesses have run afoul of nondiscrimination laws by refusing service to gay and lesbian couples, Connelly said, “Who would have thought that a florist or a baker or a photographer or, for goodness sakes, a wedding chapel would be sued when there were competitors that they could have gone to? They’re coming for the church.”
Listen, voter registration is not political, it’s spiritual. Voting is not political, it’s spiritual. So witness and testimony to the community what you believe in. No wonder we get legislation we don’t agree with, no wonder we get candidates and elected officials we don’t agree with, because our people aren’t engaged.
So if your pastor’s saying, ‘It’s a legal issue, I can’t do this,’ ask them how many churches have lost their tax-exempt status. It’s a finite number: zero. By definition, you’re tax exempt. If there’s no freedom of speech in the pulpit, there’s no freedom of speech, brothers and sisters. And if we can’t say the truth from the pulpit, guess what, we can’t say the truth anywhere.
Who would have thought that a florist or a baker or a photographer or, for goodness sakes, a wedding chapel would be sued when there were competitors that they could have gone to. They’re coming for the church.
He ended by asking the audience to “please help us pressure your pastors” to get involved in elections, but adding that “it’s not a party or political issue.”
Later in the same discussion, far-right pastor Rick Scarborough warned that “every pastor is going to be directly assaulted” by the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on marriage equality, claiming that a pro-equality ruling would force churches to “participate in same-sex marriage” or face fines or imprisonment.
In a speech to this weekend’s Awakening conference in Florida, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver declared that a ruling in favor of marriage equality from the Supreme Court would deserve “no more respect than Dred Scott or Buck v. Bell,” court rulings that, respectively, denied citizenship to African Americans and allowed mandatory state sterilization of mentally disabled people.
“I say this: If the Supreme Court can’t get it right, or any judge get it right, on the fundamental, observable, natural created order of marriage as the union between a man and a woman, they can’t get it right on anything, that’s their own opinion, and it deserves no more respect than Dred Scott or Buck v. Bell,” he declared.
He warned the audience that a “clash is coming” between religious liberty and LGBT rights that is “unprecedented in American history.”
“Tax exemption, income tax exemption, property tax exemption, everything is going to be impacted,” he said. “You cannot navigate around this. This is a collision of two trains coming in opposite directions on the same track. We are on the precipice of a collision of unprecedented magnitude.”
This weekend’s Awakening conference, an annual event hosted by the Religious Right legal group Liberty Counsel and attended by any number of far-right activists and a few GOP presidential candidates, was dominated by the theme that the Christian Right is in a spiritual war against a satanic coalition of LGBT rights, Islam and progressivism.
Nobody summed it up quite as well as Ken Graves, a pastor from Bangor, Maine, who declared to the audience sitting in a megachurch in Orlando that they were in a fight against “militant homofascism” that “seeks to take over our land and make it Sodom” and secular humanists who, in conjunction with militant Islam, want to “destroy everything we have” and establish a “secular humanist caliphate.”
Evoking Seven Mountains dominionism, the doctrine that seeks to deliver control of the “seven mountains” of society to conservative Christians, Graves declared that it is the secular humanists who now “have every major institution.”
He then pulled a Bible out of his pocket and bellowed to the crowd: “Why should we be intimidated if what has been placed in our hands is the very word of God?”
RWW’s Paranoia-Rama takes a look at five of the week’s most absurd conspiracy theories from the Right.
This week, we learned from the Right that gay people and immigrants are out to destroy our freedoms, with the help of President Obama, who is secretly preparing to stay in office for a third term.
5) Gay Marriage Threatens Freedom
Speaking with an Iowa talk show host this week, Sen. Ted Cruz once again appealed to the anti-gay Right when he railed against judges, like the members of the Iowa Supreme Court, who strike down bans on same-sex marriage. Cruz alleged that such rulings pose “ a real danger to our liberty” and are in defiance of the Constitution:
Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council also described marriage equality as a threat to freedom this week, writing that the Supreme Court is “headed for another Dred Scott opinion” if it finds same-sex marriage bans to be unconstitutional, referring to the ruling which said that African Americans could not be U.S. citizens.
“If the Court overturns marriage, it will not only further delegitimize itself as an institution, it will gravely damage American society,” he said. “And it will undermine the ‘consent of the governed’ — the only basis for just laws.”
Blackwell, notorious for his efforts as Ohio’s secretary of state to stifle voting in the 2004 election, went on to compare judges who rule in favor of marriage equality to officials in the Jim Crow South who restricted the voting rights of African Americans: “We should remember Selma and the ‘Bloody Sunday’ that was necessary to achieve the too-long-denied equal voting rights for all our citizens. Today, rogue federal judges are engaged in the most massive case of voter suppression we have seen since the days of Jim Crow! Across the country, but especially in the South, black Americans joined other citizens in voting to affirm true marriage.”
But neither Blackwell nor Cruz can claim the prize for the most distraught outburst against gay marriage of the week, as that honor belongs to Indiana politician John Price, who suggested that Americans should “flee” the U.S. before the Supreme Court rules on marriage rights.
4) Gay Twilight Zone
So how exactly does LGBT equality threaten freedom?
Well, according to Texas GOP Chairman Tom Mechler, writing in an op-ed titled “ Free speech, rights are under attack,” the LGBT rights movement is threatening his freedom not to see photos of gay people:
I’ve watched with dismay the controversy surrounding Amarillo Town Club’s family membership policy, which was placed prominently before our community by the Amarillo Globe-News on March 2 with its front-page article showing a picture of two angry-looking homosexual women.
The story was also mentioned by a reader in a letter to the editor (Letter: Shame on Amarillo Town Club, March 6, amarillo.com) who believed the business’ conduct was “shameful.”
Shameful? Sometimes I feel like we are living in the twilight zone.
Mechler went on to write that people who criticize his view that same-sex marriage shouldn’t be legalized are actually attacking the freedom of speech: “What I find troubling is the incredible attack that has been launched on free speech. I love this country, and as an American the Bill of Rights gives me the right to say what I please.”
3) Immigrants Will Take Your Guns
Gun Owners of America executive director Larry Pratt is a staunch opponent of immigration reform since he believes that new citizens will vote Democratic and “take away our guns.”
Pratt expanded on this theory in an interview with Armed America Radio recently, explaining that immigrants have a “dependent mentality” and thus don’t understand what it’s like to want to protect yourself from bodily harm.
“A dependent class that depends on the government for their income, for all kinds of financial and other assistance, is not generally of a mind to be able to protect itself, which is after all the most important part about living, is staying alive from one moment to the next in case some dirtbag wants to try to terminate you,” he said. “And if you don’t think enough of your own freedom to take charge of that aspect of your existence, then of course you’re likely to expect handouts and ‘more, more, more’ because you have a dependent mentality.”
2) Another Petraeus Conspiracy Theory
When David Petraeus resigned as CIA director in response to allegations, to which he has since pled guilty, that he leaked classified information to a woman with whom he was having an affair, several conservative pundits rallied to his defense. According to these commentators, along with at least one GOP congressman, Petraeus was actually the victim of an Obama administration plot to stop him from exposing the truth about the 2012 Benghazi attack. In reality, since leaving the CIA, Petraeus has dismissed conspiracy theories surrounding the Benghazi attack and praised then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s response.
On Wednesday, as Media Matters notes, Rush Limbaugh made a similar claim, alleging that administration officials knew Petraeus was leaking sensitive material but “kept it in reserve” and acted on it only “when Petraeus refused to go out and spout the company line on Benghazi.” Limbaugh said that Clinton knew that this cover-up of the cover-up occurred, and that is why she used a personal email account at the State Department: “And so Mrs. Clinton knew that they knew, because she was secretary of state when they sent Petraeus out there to spout the company line and refused to do it. Plus she knew Obama — so that server is to keep things from Obama.”
1) Obama’s Third Term!
WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah wants his readers to know that he takes very seriously concerns “out there across the fruited plain” that President Obama will defy the U.S. Constitution and remain in office after the end of his second term. In fact, WND is so worried about this conspiracy theory that it even asked potential GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson how the American people can stop Obama’s (non-existent) plot.
Since “Obama himself may not even be constitutionally eligible for office,” according to Farah, there is reason to believe that “he and his family might remain in Washington after leaving office” since he has no respect for the Constitution anyway. After all, Farah believes that the Obama family enjoys lavish vacations and is “living it up” on the taxpayers’ dime so much that they may refuse to leave the White House.
Farah even suggested that groups like People For the American Way are paving the way for the third Obama term since there is “simply no organized opposition to Obama’s illegal, criminal actions and behavior.” The only one who can stop Obama, Farah writes, may be Hillary Clinton.
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 criminalizing homosexuality. 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’s story 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.
Saleem uses his literally unbelievable personal story to sell a wide range of conspiracy theories, including claims that President Obama attends a mosque in Washington, DC, on Christmas (while he is simultaneously in Hawaii) and that Islamists are working through Sasha and Malia Obama’s babysitters to establish a shadow government.
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:
John Eidsmoe is one of the leading voices behind the Religious Right’s effort to rewrite American history and law to reflect a specific “biblical worldview.” Former Rep. Michele Bachmann, who was a research assistant on Eidsmoe’s influential 1987 book “Christianity and the Constitution,” cites him as an in influence and his work has permeated the segment of the Religious Right that seeks to take “dominion” over America to avoid God’s judgment.
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 maintains that AIDS is God’s “judgment” for “an immoral act,” warns that the appointment of gay ambassadors would be perfect justification for God to nuke America, and once suggested filing a class action lawsuit against homosexuality.
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.”
Franklin Graham, a son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, couples his international humanitarian work with an apocalyptic approach to American politics. He predicted that President Obama’sreelectionwould bring about God’s destruction of America and railed that Americans “turned our back on God” by reelecting the president.
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.
While he may worry that God is getting ready to judge America for President Obama, Graham has implied that the Almighty is smiling on Russian President Vladimir Putin because of his crackdown on LGBT rights in his country. Graham, who has long claimed that Christianity is on the road to being criminalized in the U.S., said last year that pastors must be prepared to get their “heads chopped off” in the fight against gay rights.
Matt Barber, a former Liberty Counsel official who still hosts a daily radio program with Staver, is best known for his over-the-top bigoted anti-gay rhetoric.
Barber often frames his battle against LGBT equality and reproductive rights as a “spiritual war” in which he is on the side of God. He has called marriage equality the “bidding of the Devil” and warned that by legalizing same-sex marriage, America is “ tempting the wrath of God.” He claims that HIV/AIDS is divine punishment for homosexuality.
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.
In a discussion yesterday about how marriage equality is destroying Massachusetts, anti-LGBT activists Brian Camenker and Sandy Rios suggested that more kids in Massachusetts are gay and bisexual because of the “brainwashing” and “peer pressure” taking place in public schools.
“It’s a huge percentage,” Rios said. “It’s just amazing, they’re experimenting and being exposed to this stuff, things they would have never thought of, so they are trying it.”
Camenker said that he is familiar with kids “who have gone into this lifestyle because of the peer pressure in the schools, and I also know kids that got into it and because of the proper intervention by their parents got out of it and are leading normal lives now.” He added that “often just bringing a kid to a normal environment for a while will help straighten the boy or girl out, just not being subjugated to the brainwash.”
Brian Camenker of the anti-LGBT group MassResistance appeared on “Sandy Rios In The Morning” yesterday to discuss how marriage equality is ruining Massachusetts, a problem that Camenker previously described in great detail to “The Daily Show.” Rios, the American Family Association’s governmental affairs director, said that people need to know the facts about gay marriage’s supposedly disastrous consequences since people “watch HGTV and they see gay couples happily cohabitating and they don’t understand what’s behind all of this.”
“This is kind of like trying to talk about the Holocaust without showing pictures,” Rios said. “They killed Jews. So that’s bad, but if you don't understand what they actually did — you need to know, ladies and gentlemen, what is actually being taught to the kids because really, some of it Brian can’t even say, most of it you can’t even say.”
Rios was especially upset about a pamphlet on sexual health designed for the gay community, known as “The Little Black Book.” While the pamphlet is geared towards adults, Camenker said that it was pushed on children.
“This book is focused on teenagers and it tells them very graphically how to perform the most ridiculous, horrible homosexual sex acts,” Camenker said. “There’s no way I can tell you this because they are so disgusting…. You’ll get sick just reading them.”
On his radio program yesterday, Bryan Fischer responded to reports of ocular syphilis cases among gay men in California by declaring that homosexuality is now turning people blind. This led Fischer to promote the myth that immigrants are bringing measles and polio-like illnesses into the U.S and to claim that immigrants and gay people are bringing back diseases once thought to be eradicated.
Fischer eventually connected the health story back to a popular slogan used to protest racial discrimination: “All we’ve heard over the last number of months is ‘black lives matter,’ ‘black lives matter,’ ‘black lives matter.’ I agree, black lives matter. If you’ve got a behavior, you’ve got a conduct, you’ve got a lifestyle that is resulting in potentially blinding health risks for black males and their risk is five times higher than white males, I would say if black lives matter, it is time we started doing something about that.”
Fischer, who supports criminalizing homosexuality, said that by “warning homosexuals of the consequences of homosexual behavior,” he is showing them far more love “than those who are urging them to engage in conduct, celebrating conduct, promoting conduct, providing special privileges on the basis of conduct that can leave its practitioners both blind and dead.”