Yesterday, PFAW Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin previewed his upcoming report, The Supreme Court in the Citizens United Era, during a member telebriefing. Executive Vice President Marge Baker and Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon also joined the call to answer questions from members and discuss PFAW efforts to promote fair and just courts. Drew Courtney, Director of Communications for PFAW, moderated.
To kick off the call, Raskin reviewed another period during which the Court granted unprecedented constitutional rights to corporations. Lochner v. NY, Raskin explained, began an era in which government at every level was prevented from interfering with corporate contracts—and thereby prevented from passing sensible health and safety regulations.
Today, said Raskin, we’re in an analogous period, with the Supreme Court now using the First Amendment as an excuse for expanding or inventing the political and religious rights of corporations. This time, it’s beyond what we’ve ever seen before; the Citizens United and the Hobby Lobby cases both demonstrate how the Court is putting the interests of corporations over the rights of people and making it more difficult to hold corporations accountable for their actions. Other cases allow corporations to insulate themselves through a host of legal immunities while at the same time, they’re able to spend unlimited amounts of money influencing who gets elected to office.
In responding to a question from a PFAW member, Baker outlined the two key ways to fight the Court’s trend of empowering corporations over people: Elect Presidents who will nominate, and Senators who will confirm, Justices who share the ideology that corporations shouldn’t be favored in their legal rights over people; and amend the Constitution, which PFAW and other groups are working on now. She also directed PFAW members to www.united4thepeople.org and www.getmoneyoutaction.org to get more involved in these issues.
MADISON - Today, People For the American Way joined with Democracy 2020 coalition organizations to call for a defeat of Question 1, a constitutional amendment from right-wing extremists in the Wisconsin Legislature to make the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court a partisan position.
“Question 1 is a naked power grab by one branch of our state government trying to politicize another,” said Scott Foval, PFAW Regional Political Coordinator. “Defending fair and non-partisan courts is a line that must be held in the Badger state. We cannot allow politicians who think no one is paying attention to rewrite the rulebook.”
Foval was one of many activists at today’s press conference calling for a “No” vote on Question 1 in the upcoming Spring Elections on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. The conference was held at noon at the Wisconsin State Capitol, and other speakers included Mike Wilder from the Democracy 2020 Coalition / Wisconsin Voices, Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice At Stake, former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, and Legislative Policy Director Analiese Eicher from One Wisconsin Institute.
On Saturday, roughly 2,000 activists gathered at Faith Assembly, a megachurch in Orlando, for the Awakening, an annual “Prayer and Patriotism event” organized by the Christian Right legal group Liberty Counsel. The Awakening, which Liberty Counsel organizes under the auspices of an amalgam of Religious Right groups called the Freedom Federation, brings together activists from the evangelical Right with the GOP politicians who want their votes.
At this year's event, GOP politicians including Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal (via video) and RNC faith director Chad Connelly shared a stage with far-right activists including "ex-gays," a phony ex-terrorist and at least two Religious Right leaders who insist that AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality.
Here are five takeaways from a day with the core of the Religious Right.
1. Gay Marriage Will Send Christians To Jail
While some on the Right may be trying to shy away from the issue of marriage equality now that it could be on its way to a Supreme Court victory, the activists at the Awakening were not among them. Throughout the conference, marriage between gay and lesbian couples was portrayed as a demonic and existential threat to liberty, one that if allowed to proceed would end in Christianity being outlawed and Christians thrown in jail.
The Republican National Committee’s faith outreach director, Chad Connelly, who was moderating a panel on abortion rights, echoed the Religious Right’s rhetoric when he warned that LGBT rights activists are “coming for the church.”
Far-right pastor Rick Scarborough, who was sitting beside him, agreed that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality, pastors will be forced to “participate in same-sex marriage ” or be thrown in jail. Liberty Counsel’s Harry Mihet, moderating a separate panel, issued a similar warning.
Scarborough repeated his warning when he told activists that a pro-equality Supreme Court ruling would outlaw anti-gay speech, thus undermining “the whole nature of America.”
Multiple speakers compared a potential Supreme Court decision on marriage equality to Dred Scott, the infamous pre-Civil War decision that barred African Americans from citizenship, declaring that it should be met with similar resistance.
2. Losing The Church on Gay Rights Issues
Although the Awakening took place in what appeared to be a generationally diverse, multiethnic church, the crowd at the conference was overwhelmingly older and white. Throughout the conference, speakers bemoaned the fact that the Religious Right was losing support among younger Christians for its political agenda, especially its opposition to LGBT rights.
Liberty University’s Rena Lindevaldsen told the audience at a breakout panel on “sexual rebellion” that when fellow conservative Christians ask her what the “big deal” is about LGBT rights, she responds “it’s a big deal because it’s a big deal to God.” Marriage equality, she told the enthusiastic audience, matters to God because it is “the heart of where Satan’s attacking”:
Evangelist Franklin Graham also lamented that “a lot of pastors have quit preaching against homosexuality” out of fear of offending people in their churches who might have gay relatives. He told the audience that “God will bless you and he’ll honor you” if you “don’t shut up” about gay rights and abortion:
This was a crowd that had not given up on discredited “ex-gay” therapy. An “ex-lesbian” activist, Janet Boynes, was given a main stage speaking slot and “ex-gay” activist Greg Quinlan earned a roaring round of applause from the audience at the “sexual rebellion” panel when he announced that he had been “out of homosexuality for 27 years.”
3. A Spiritual Battle Against Islam And Progressivism
Just as the crowd at the Awakening was upset that the conservative movement and the church have supposedly become less invested in fighting LGBT rights, they were also wary of any overtures between Christians and Muslims.
Graham declared that “Islam is a wicked system” and blasted Christians who say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.
Kamal Saleem, the self-proclaimed “ex-terrorist” whose personal story has never quite held up to scrutiny , also warned that churches are being “invaded by ‘Chrislam,’” lamenting that Americans are oblivious to the dangers of radical Islam: “We’re watching American Idol and they are doing jihad.” He also warned of what he called “jihad of the womb,” or Muslim immigrants giving birth in order to outnumber Christians.
What activists at the Awakening saw as a war against Islam was merely part of a larger “spiritual battle” between good and evil, God and Satan. In the panel discussion he led on LGBT rights, Matt Barber declared that there is an “Islamo-progressive axis of evil” with a “common enemy”: Christians.
Maine pastor Ken Graves repeated that theme when he declared that American Christians are fighting “militant Islam” and “militant homofascism” and secularists who want to establish a “secular humanist caliphate”:
4. Time Is Running Out On America, And It’s Up To The Church To Save It
Throughout the day, speakers warned that America is running out of time before it is lost forever, and that it is up to conservative Christians to get involved in politics to save the country.
Graham told the crowd that he is more politically outspoken than his father, Billy Graham, because America is in a more dire state of secularism. “When my father was born, the Ten Commandments were on the wall of every school in America. When my father was born, the teachers still led the class in the Lord’s Prayer. Our country is not that anymore,” he said, declaring that the 2016 election is the last chance for the Religious Right to save the country.
Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and likely 2016 GOP presidential candidate, delivered a similar message, warning that “we are heading down in a direction that, let’s be honest, no civilization has ever been able to recover from.” Conservative Christians, he declared, must reinvest themselves in politics in order, to among other things, put the Bible in public schools:
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, another likely GOP presidential hopeful, told the crowd that prayer was needed to bring about “spiritual revival” and change the political direction of the country: “If God’s people truly pray down a spiritual awakening, then the political landscape will change.”
“This country did not start because some people had some brilliant ideas, although they did. This country happened because God’s providence was the foundation of their brilliant ideas,” Huckabee said. “Because of his inspiration, this country has been sustained throughout all of its history because of God’s specific intervention in helping us to win battles we should never have one and in keeping us from losing battles we should have lost.”
5. The Religious Right And The GOP Still Need Each Other
One of the strangest moments of the day came when a George W. Bush impersonator walked onto the stage with Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver as he introduced Huckabee. Staver jokingly reassured the audience that it was not the former president’s brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has clashed with the Religious Right over gay rights issues. It seemed to be a spontaneous addition to the program, it was hard not to see it also as a reminder to the audience of the potential power of the evangelical vote.
Unlike the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, which has become the flagship gathering of the GOP and the Religious Right, the Awakening tends to attract only true believers in the cause. This year, Santorum and Huckabee spoke, while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal submitted a video message. Connelly, who heads the GOP’s outreach to evangelical voters, moderated a panel on abortion rights, but largely deflected difficult questions from the far-right crowd.
Connelly did not, however, shy away from right-wing conspiracy theories, responding to a question about the “culture of death” in end-of-life care by claiming that the Affordable Care Act’s mythical “death panels” are “a reality":
It was clear throughout the day that however wary the Religious Right and the GOP establishment may be of each other, they still need each other. Speakers like Graham urged conservative Christians to revive the powerful Religious Right pressure machine to win GOP politicians to their side, whether or not they agreed with their issues. Meanwhile, the presence of the GOP candidates and Connelly indicated that this is a voting bloc that is still important to the party, however extreme its priorities may be.
If anyone had said four months ago that we’d still be waiting for the Senate to hold a confirmation vote for Loretta Lynch, no one would have believed it. Yet here we are. Although she was approved by the Judiciary Committee three weeks ago, Mitch McConnell just can’t bring himself to schedule a floor vote for her.
Lynch is supremely qualified to be AG. Progressives and conservatives alike have written to the Senate praising Lynch and urging her confirmation. In fact, not a single one of the Republicans’ own witnesses at her confirmation hearing actually opposed her confirmation.
Yet Republicans in the Senate continue to make a partisan brawl out of a consensus nomination.
Until now, regardless of which party was in the White House or in control of the Senate, the attorney general nominee has gotten a confirmation vote very quickly upon committee approval. But Lynch’s nomination has been languishing on the Senate floor for nearly three weeks, longer than the wait-time for the past five attorney general nominees combined.
McConnell has jettisoned his promise to allow a vote this week. At the beginning of next week, Lynch will have been waiting for a floor vote as long as the previous seven attorneys general combined:
Click chart for larger image.
McConnell’s latest excuse for delay is that the Senate needs to vote on a human trafficking bill first … a bipartisan bill that Republicans politicized by inserting an anti-choice provision.
The Lynch nomination was a great opportunity for Republicans to show the American people that they can govern. Instead, they’ve shown the American people that they won’t pass up any opportunity to play politics, as they pile unheard-of delay after delay on the person who should already have been confirmed as our nation’s first African American woman attorney general.
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.”
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.
Sen. Ted Cruz told Iowa talk radio host Jan Mickelson yesterday that he plans to introduce a constitutional amendment to allow states to ban gay and lesbian couples from marrying because court decisions in favor of marriage equality present “a real danger to our liberty.”
The Texas Republican deflected Mickelson’s questions on whether states could simply ignore a Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality, saying he preferred his constitutional amendment as a solution. “If the courts were following the Constitution, we shouldn’t need a new amendment, but they are, as you put it quite rightly, making it up right now and it’s a real danger to our liberty,” he said.
Cruz told a group of Iowa pastors yesterday that judges who have made decisions in favor of marriage equality are “ignoring their oaths, ignoring the Constitution and legislating from the bench.”
Concerned Women for America’s legal counsel, Mario Diaz, stopped by Iowa CWA director Tamara Scott’s radio program last week to discuss the Supreme Court’s upcoming consideration of a number of marriage equality cases.
Scott, who is also a Republican National Committee member, told Diaz that LGBT rights advocates, “the group that exploits the term ‘tolerant’ as their poster,” are actually “so incredibly intolerant to anyone with an opposing view.”
Diaz agreed that a collision between LGBT rights and religious liberty is “inevitable,” and that a Supreme Court marriage equality victory would lead to the “criminalization of religious beliefs.”
“And it is one of the great tragedies that I think I put now at the feet of the Supreme Court, if they are considering finding a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in the Constitution, they must consider, and I hope they are, that they will be effectively opening the door for the criminalization of religious beliefs, especially Christian beliefs.”
Later in the interview, Scott and Diaz agreed that LGBT rights victories in the courts amount to, in Diaz’s words, a “transformation of the form of government we have.”
Pointing to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s comment that it wouldn’t take “a large adjustment” for Americans to adapt to same-sex marriage, Diaz said she is planning to wave a “magic wand and declare that the country’s ready now to move to same-sex marriage.”
“And in a few years, when the country’s ready for polygamy, then the country’s ready for that also, and we continue down that track to anything that the majority of us agree about. It’s just preposterous,” he added.
National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown joined Iowa Republican National Committee member Tamara Scott on her radio program last week, where the two discussed the upcoming Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.
Brown told Scott that a pro-equality decision would be “illegitimate” and anti-LGBT groups would have to emulate the anti-choice movement after Roe and “build a movement that continues to stand and proclaim the truth.”
He compared a potential marriage equality decision to infamous Supreme Court rulings upholding the Fugitive Slave Act, the prohibition on citizenship for African Americans, and school desegregation.
“It may be a generation or two down the line, but this lie about what it means to be a human being cannot stand. It cannot stand,” he said. “And just because the Supreme Court says it’s so, it doesn’t make it so. The Supreme Court has had horrible decisions in the past, horrible decisions like the Dred Scott decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, the Fugitive Slave Act, Roe v. Wade. Just because the Supreme Court said it was so didn’t make it so, and there was an obligation for people living in those times to stand up and say ‘no this is wrong’ and to fight with every ounce of their being for the truth.”
He added that the movement would have to contend with “some weakness from Republican leaders on the marriage issue.”
Earlier in the interview, Scott asked Brown about the decision to approve hormone therapy for Chelsea Manning, which Scott joked was part of a “witness protection program.”
“Well, I don’t know about that, but I do know that once you redefine what it means, or attempt to redefine what it means to be a man and a woman, then this clearly is the next step,” Brown responded. “And I don’t think people, at times we may not think deeply about what we’re being asked to accept, especially on the issue of same-sex marriage, but what we’re essentially being asked to accept is the very deconstruction of what it means to be a mother and father, husband and wife, and what it means to be a human being.”
“And once you go down this road of acting as if the biological reality of mothers and fathers, husbands and wives doesn’t matter, it doesn’t exist, then the next step is to say that gender itself is a construct. And we’re seeing that across the country, the next step on quote-unquote ‘transgender rights,’” he said.
He added that transgender rights measures would have "profound consequences" that are being seen "across the country."
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore doesn’t seem to quite understand the LGBT community that he is so set against, telling the Associated Press this weekend that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality, bisexual and “transgendered” people will then demand to marry two people each. “Can they marry two persons, one of the same sex and one of the opposite sex? Then, you've got a family of four or how many?" he asked:
Moore argues that no federal court, even the U.S. Supreme Court, has the right to define marriage.
"You're taking any definition of a family away. When two bisexuals or two transgendered marry, how large is that family? Can they marry two persons, one of the same sex and one of the opposite sex? Then, you've got a family of four or how many?"
Moore also resisted comparisons of his standoff with the federal courts over marriage equality to former Gov. George Wallace’s stand against desegregation, saying that one major difference is that Wallace eventually backed down, and he won’t:
Moore's actions have drawn inevitable comparisons to former Gov. George Wallace's 1963 largely symbolic "stand in the schoolhouse door" aimed at preventing desegregation at the University of Alabama, nine years after education segregation was ruled illegal.
Moore said there is another difference.
"George Wallace moved," he said, noting how the former governor eventually stepped aside.
"I can't move from my position because I'm bound to uphold the Constitution," Moore said.
Matt Barber joined Steve Deace on his radio program yesterday to discuss the actions of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who’s urging judges in his state to defy a federal judge and refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
Barber told Deace that whether or not the United States Supreme Court has “the authority to redefine the institution of marriage, which cannot be done, it’s contrary to reality to say that it’s anything other than the male and female,” Moore is on “solid legal ground” in claiming that the Alabama Supreme Court takes precedence over the federal district court that issued the marriage ruling.
Deace asked Barber why the conservative movement was less willing to defy the federal courts during Judge Moore’s 2003 standoff over placing a Ten Commandments monument in his courthouse or after Roe v. Wade, “when the court said, ‘We’re going to start just massacring, dismembering little innocent babies.’”
Barber agreed that states should have simply ignored the court’s ruling in Roe: “Why, back when the courts issued their ridiculous, non-scientific ruling in Roe v. Wade, why didn’t states like Texas and other states say, ‘Okay, well thank you for your opinion, but nope, here in the state of Texas, you kill an unborn child, you’ve committed murder, we’re going to throw you in jail for it’?”
Later in the interview, Deace repeated his prediction that a sweeping marriage ruling would ignite an even greater culture war battle than Roe did.
Barber agreed, saying the “goal all along” of the “sin-based, sodomy-based marriage” movement has been to persecute Christians.
“Religious liberty and so-called gay marriage cannot coexist in harmony,” he said. “If the Supreme Court goes Roe v. Wade on this decision and divines a new-fangled right to sin-based, sodomy-based marriage, Christians will be being persecuted across the country. They will be told, ‘You either put your stamp of approval on sin or you will be pushed to the fringes and marginalized and you will not be able to carry a job or function in society.’ That’s been their goal all along anyway.”