The website GetReligion.org has been around in various permutations for more than a decade, providing a home for conservative-leaning criticism about mainstream media coverage of religion, and more specifically, news coverage that misses or ignores the importance of religion to a story. “The press…just doesn’t get religion,” is the site’s tagline, a quote from journalist and political analyst William Schneider. But a recent post by contributor Jim Davis seems to fall solidly in the “not getting it” category.
In a post about a gay American pastor who was detained by police and expelled from Russia, Davis writes that the Associated Press “blows a minor incident into a major issue.” Davis may be trying a little too hard to strike a snarky tone. Here’s how his story starts:
Don’t read this yet. Get yourself a chair. Put down that cup of whatever you're drinking.
The Associated Press reports that – Dun-dun-DUNN! – Russia doesn't like gays. And especially pro-gay-rights churches.
I know, right? That might have knocked your socks off.
The Associated Press story strikes me as a pretty straightforward recounting of what happened to Jim Mulcahy, an American pastor with the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Churches. According to the story, Mulcahy was sitting around a table with friends when four uniformed police showed up at the door, took the teacup out of his hand, and took him to the police station, “threatening to handcuff him if he refused to cooperate.” He was ordered out of the country on vague charges of engaging in unspecified religious activity (according to the story, police had said they heard he was planning to conduct a wedding for a gay couple).
Davis responds: “What? They took his teacup? The threatened to cuff him? The monsters!”
If I were unexpectedly arrested in a foreign country, denied access to important medication, and ordered out of the country, I don’t think the experience would feel like a big joke. I don’t know Davis but I expect the same would hold true for him. But Davis goes on with a tone that suggests Mulcahy should have known that the Russians don’t like gays, and so he shouldn’t be surprised at what happened to him. And he says AP is making a mountain out of a molehill.
OK, maybe I've been a bit cavalier with this. I wouldn't be amused if, say, a Jew or Baptist were arrested just for trying to practice their faith. I fully get the right for freedom of expression for everyone, including those with whom I disagree.
Still, on a scale of religious persecution, the Mulcahy-Samara story rates somewhere below a 2. Cloddish cops, stringent laws, a flinty judge, those are all there. But shootings, hate speech, mass expulsions – or throat cuttings, as happened to an elderly priest in France yesterday – this story doesn't come close. I suspect that if it weren't about gays, it might not have gotten AP's attention at all.
This comparison doesn’t make sense. It’s not as if the extensively-covered killings he mentions were ignored by AP so they could run with Mulcahy’s story. In fact, what got the AP’s attention was that “the arrest was filmed by state-controlled channel NTV, whose reports often take an especially truculent, pro-Kremlin stance.” That suggests the arrest was staged to provide an anti-gay and anti-American propaganda boost for the Russian government. That makes it newsworthy, especially since strongman Vladimir Putin is participating in a mutual admiration society with Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.
The AP story doesn’t ignore the religion angle, reporting on Russia’s growing intolerance of free expression by LGBT people, and on new restrictions on public expression of religion by any churches other than the Russian Orthodox Church, which is closely aligned with Putin's government.
As we have noted before, many American religious conservatives have been willing to overlook Putin’s crackdown on dissent, free speech and religious freedom because they admire his anti-gay policies and his defense of “Christian civilization” against the secular democracies of Western Europe.
To paraphrase Davis, if this story were about the arrest and expulsion of an American pastor who wasn’t a gay man, I suspect Davis and Get Religion wouldn’t have been so dismissive of it.
In the lead-up to the last presidential election, conservative bloggers thought they had discovered a grand conspiracy among pollsters to suppress Mitt Romney’s polling numbers, a claim that Romney’s campaign appeared to have embraced as well, and declared that the polls must be “unskewed” to find the truth.
Yesterday, radio host Alex Jones and WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah urged Jones’ listeners not to believe the polls showing Trump trailing Clinton, saying that in reality the two are either neck-and-neck or Trump has a double-digit lead.
Jones said that liberals are “attacking” and “stabbing people” in hopes of intimidating Trump supporters from voting because they know “Trump’s going to win with a Reagan-style landslide.” Trump campaign sources, according to Jones, tell him that “Hillary is just trying to act like she’s really winning and have the media say it because they’re looking at stealing the election.”
The bogus polls, he said, will help Clinton get away with the theft. He added that he wears his Trump hat in “communist areas” to inspire people to be more open about their support for the presumptive GOP nominee.
On Fox News host Sean Hannity’s official website, a blog post complained the poll “is heavily skewed.” On his June 27 radio show, Hannity cited the partisan breakdown and described it as a “misleading poll” because the media is “in the tank for Hillary.”
Hannity apparently didn’t learn his lesson about attempting to unskew polls in 2012, when he was saying things like, “These polls are so skewed, so phony, that we need to start paying attention to what’s going on so that you won’t be deflated.”
In a post purporting to highlight “More Polling Tricks” from an “EXTREMELY SKEWED” poll, conservative blogger Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit complained this week that “Reuters freighted their poll with 20 percent more Democrats than Republicans” and concluded that “we can safely say that Trump appears to be in much better shape than the poll suggests and could likely be headed to a landslide victory in November.”
Hoft made a similar argument in September of 2012, complaining that a CNN poll showing Obama leading Romney “drastically oversampled Democrats to get this stunning result.” He then went on to cite Dean Chambers, who said that when “unskewed” the CNN poll showed Romney leading by eight percent.
Wayne Allyn Root, an activist who has campaigned with Donald Trump and fed him conspiracy theories, demanded last week that American Muslims and Latinos apologize for terrorism and crime, claiming that “if Jews were running over the border and illegally coming into America and they all wanted welfare and some of them turned out to be terrorists,” he would similarly want them barred from the country.
“I’ve never seen any major protest by Muslims in the United States of America, like in Dearborn, Michigan, which is a majority-Muslim city, I’ve never seen anyone apologize for their own people,” Root told Florida talk radio host Joyce Kaufman during a discussion of the recent mass shooting in Orlando. “I happen to be Jewish, Joyce. And if Jews were running over the border and illegally coming into America and they all wanted welfare and some of them turned out to be terrorists, some of them turn out to be drunk drivers murdering people, some of them were just murderers and rapists, I would have no problem saying let’s seal the border, I don’t want any more Israelis coming over the border. None. I can’t take it anymore. I have no problem, I’m not a hypocrite. So even if they were my fellow Jews, it doesn’t matter. I like my fellow Jews if they’re law-abiding.”
“So I don’t understand why there’s no Muslims speaking out,” he said, “I don’t understand why there’s no Hispanics speaking out and saying, ‘By the way, I’m Hispanic, I love Hispanics, I want Donald Trump to love Hispanics, but we need a wall because I want legal Hispanics, not illegal Hispanics.’”
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali died this weekend at the age of 74. In addition to being an extraordinary athlete -- 'The Greatest of All Time' -- Ali was also a courageous activist who publicly challenged racism throughout his life.
Ali was also a friend of People For the American Way. In 1981, PFAW founder Norman Lear and director Jonathan Demme created a series of PSAs to emphasize that the right to freely express opinions was a critical piece of the American way.
The spots end with the tagline: "Freedom of thought. The right to have and express your own opinions. That's the American Way." Ali appeared in two of them, below. We're proud that Muhammad Ali was a part of our organization's history, and we're proud to honor his legacy with our ongoing work to fight bigotry and protect our basic rights.
By Miranda Blue, Elliot Mincberg and Brian Tashman
Republicans in the Senate, pushed by outside conservative interest groups, are promising to block President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and arguing that the next president should fill the current vacancy, in the hope that a Republican president will name a conservative ideologue to the bench.
Even if the Senate does confirm Garland, the next president will likely be charged with nominating at least one person to the Supreme Court, and possibly more. Since it looks like either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz will win the Republican presidential nomination, looking at both men’s past statements gives us an idea of the kind of justices that Republicans are hoping for.
Trump and Cruz have both signaled that they would appease their base by nominating justices who would shift the court far to the right. Cruz has lamented that some justices nominated by Republican presidents have strayed from the party line on issues like abortion rights and has vowed that he would appoint “rock-ribbed conservatives” who have a “long paper trail” to demonstrate their “conservative” bona fides.
Both candidates have indicated that they would nominate judges who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark abortion rights and marriage equality decisions. Trump, although he appears not to understand the central legal issue of Roe, has said that the decision “can be changed” through the right judicial nominations since “you know, things are put there and are passed but they can be unpassed with time.” Cruz has warned that unless a true conservative like him picks the next justice, the Supreme Court will soon be “mandating unlimited abortion.” Trump has said that Obergefell was wrongly decided, while Cruz has called the decision “fundamentally illegitimate” and said it can be ignored by the president.
Cruz has made the future of the court a centerpiece of his campaign, while Trump may not actually understand how the Supreme Court works. But both have made clear that as president they would work to shift the court even farther to the right on the issues important to social conservatives and to the corporate Right.
What would a court shaped by a President Trump or a President Cruz look like? Looking at a few of the possible judicial nominees whose names have been dropped by candidates or who have been recommended by the Heritage Foundation, we can get an idea of the kind of ideological conservatives whom Republicans are hoping to put on the bench.
William H. Pryor
One possible Supreme Court nominee whom Trump has specifically praised is William H. Pryor, selected by President George W. Bush to be on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Formerly Alabama’s attorney general, Pryor has a history of extreme right-wing activism, severely criticizing not just women’s right to choose under Roe v. Wade but even the constitutionality of the New Deal.
Pryor has called Roe the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.” He has claimed that with the New Deal and other measures, the U.S. has “strayed too far in the expansion of the federal government,” and asserted that it “should not be in the business of public education nor the control of street crime.” As a judge, he has helped uphold a restrictive Georgia voter ID law and joined just one other judge on the 11th Circuit in claiming that “racially disparate effects” should not be enough to prove a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, even though the Supreme Court has ruled precisely the opposite.
Pryor came first on a wish list of Supreme Court picks that the Heritage Foundation published shortly after Trump promised to consult them before naming justices.
Trump has also repeatedly named Diane Sykes, a Seventh Circuit federal appeals court judge appointed by President George W. Bush, as a potential Supreme Court nominee. Sykes, who previously served on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and a trial court, has also won high praise from the Heritage Foundation and from right-wing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
She showed her anti-reproductive-choice views in providing a lenient sentence to two anti-abortion protesters who had to be forcibly removed from blocking the entrance to a Milwaukee abortion clinic and had previously been arrested 100 times for such offenses; Sykes nevertheless praised them for their “fine character” and expressed “respect” for the “ultimate goals” the blockade “sought to achieve.”
The third name on Heritage’s list of possible Supreme Court nominees is Judge Steven Colloton, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, after previous service for Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and as a U.S. attorney.
Colloton has been at the forefront of a number of troubling Eighth Circuit rulings, including writing decisions that reversed an $8.1 million award to whistleblowers who helped bring a defective pricing and kickback claim against a large corporation and a nearly $19 million class action judgment against Tyson Foods for violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. He also joined a ruling making the Eighth Circuit the only appellate court in the country that found that the Obama administration’s efforts to accommodate religious universities and other religious nonprofit objectors to the provision of contraceptive coverage under the ACA was insufficient, an issue now being considered by the Supreme Court.
Even more troubling, Colloton has dissented from a number of Eighth Circuit rulings that have upheld the rights of employees, consumers and others against big business and government agencies. He dissented from a decision giving African-American shoppers the opportunity to prove discrimination claims against a large department store, and then saw his view prevail by one vote when the full Eighth Circuit reheard the case. In another case, he dissented from a decision finding that a city had violated the Voting Rights Act by improperly diluting the voting strength of Native Americans.
This post has been updated to clarify the circumstances of a case in which Sykes asserted in a dissent that a jury verdict should have been upheld despite evidence that one juror was disqualified from serving.
Back in 2011, when Mitt Romney was in the starting months of his presidential campaign, he accepted an invitation to speak at the Values Voter Summit, an annual event organized by the Family Research Council. The VVS always attracts an assortment of far-right activists, but that year Romney was scheduled to speak directly before Bryan Fischer, an inflamatory American Family Association official and radio host who had viciously insulted everyone from LGBT people to women to Muslims to Native Americans to medal of honor recipients to Romney’s fellow Mormons.
After facing a public outcry for choosing to appear beside Fischer, Romney called out Fischer in his speech — albeit not by name — decrying the “poisonous language” of “one of the speakers who will follow me today.”
After that year, Fischer was nowhere to be found at the Values Voter Summit, although his employer, the American Family Association, continued to cosponsor the event.
Then, in January of last year, Fischer was, for a moment, edged further out of the conservative mainstream. When a group of 60 members of the Republican National Committee embarked on a trip to Israel organized by Christian-nation advocate David Lane and paid for by the AFA, the RNC was forced to answer why it was sending members on a junket financed by a group whose spokesman was one of the most vitriolic voices of hate in the country — and one who said the First Amendment applies only to Christians. Facing a diplomatic incident with the GOP, the AFA finally stripped Fischer of his title with the organization, although he kept his daily radio program with its affiliate, American Family Radio.
But that was then and this is now.
Earlier this month, we reported that Fischer was scheduled to join Sen. Ted Cruz at a campaign rally in Mississippi. The event was eventually canceled: not because of Fischer’s extremism but because Cruz was reportedly ill .
And, although Fischer remains one of the most hateful voices on the Right, he is hardly any more controversial than many of the figures with whom the leading Republican candidates have surrounded themselves in 2016 — or even, in some cases, the candidates themselves. As soon as the GOP began to ostracize Bryan Fischer, it was taken over by Bryan Fischer’s ideology.
Fischer himself pointed this out on his radio program last week as he prepared to discuss a column in which he reiterated his long-held views that Muslims immigrants should be barred from the U.S., American Muslims should be shut out of the U.S. military and state governments should ban the construction of mosques. Things that he’s been saying for years, he said, that were once perceived as “outlandish” and “off-the-charts lunacy,” have now “become virtually mainstream.”
He’s right. In fact, when we began to look through some of Fischer’s most controversial statements — which are bad enough that he was publicly rejected by the 2012 Republican nominee — we found that they weren’t too different from things that Republican presidential frontrunners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz say every day.
Although Fischer has campaigned for Cruz and openly despises Trump, his ideology and rhetoric is echoed by both campaigns. (Although, thankfully, neither candidate has called for stoning whales … at least not yet.)
On Muslim immigration...
Fischer: ‘Stop Muslim immigration into the United States’
Fischer: ‘Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims’
Fischer justifies his anti-Muslim plans by claiming that the First Amendment does not apply to Muslims or any other non-Christian religion and asserts that any religious liberty rights extended to non-Christians are simply a “courtesy”:
Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.
Cruz: ‘Patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods’
When Cruz called for the U.S. to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods” in response to this week’s terrorist attacks in Belgium, it came as no surprise since he has surrounded himself with advisers who argue, like Fischer, that Muslims do not deserve the same civil rights and civil liberties as other Americans.
One Cruz adviser, the Family Research Council’s Jerry Boykin, has explicitly said that “Islam is not a religion and does not deserve First Amendment protections.” In an interview with Fischer, Boykin called for “no mosques in America.”
At one point, Fischer clarified that he had “love” for Mormons and just wanted them “to come into the full light of the truth” and abandon their faith.
Trump: ‘Are you sure he’s a Mormon?’
Although Trump may “love the Mormons,” he has been out on the campaign trail with Robert Jeffress , an extremist pastor who says that Mormonism and Islam are demonic faiths “from the pit of hell” (and that the Roman Catholic Church was created by Satan). It was in a radio interview with Fischer at the 2011 Values Voter Summit that Jeffress, who was stumping for Rick Perry, declared that Romney is not a “true” Christian because Mormonism is a “cult.”
Like Fischer, Trump has questioned Romney’s faith after Romney criticized him, asking a crowd in Utah: “Are you sure he’s a Mormon?”
On LGBT rights ...
Fischer: ‘Rainbow jihadists’ on the Supreme Court ‘blasted the twin pillars of truth and righteousness into rubble.’
Fischer reacted with predictable reason and restraint to the Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell marriage equality ruling, comparing it to 9/11, Pearl Harbor and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and referring to the justices in the majority as “rainbow jihadists.”
Cruz: The gay community is waging ‘jihad’ against religious freedom
In this case, Fischer may have picked up a turn of phrase from Cruz, who several weeks before the Obergefell ruling accused LGBT rights activists of waging “jihad” against the religious freedom of Christians.
On the role of women ...
Fischer: God ‘designed’ women to be good secretaries
Fischer explained back in 2014 that he wouldn't consider male applicants for receptionist and secretary positions at his church because God “designed” women “to be warm, to be hospitable, to be open-hearted, to be open-handed, to have their arms open, to be welcoming, to be receptive, to create a nurturing, welcoming environment.”
Trump: ‘It really doesn't matter what they write, as long as you've got a young and beautiful piece of ass’
While Cruz has deflected questions about evolution, his father and campaign surrogate, Rafael Cruz, has called the theory “baloney” and suggested that it was a communist plot to “destroy the concept of God.”
On the military ...
Fischer: We’ve ‘feminized’ the medal of honor by giving it to service members who haven’t killed people
In 2010, Fischer reacted to the awarding of the medal of honor to an Army sergeant who had rescued two of his fellow soldiers in battle by lamenting that we have “feminized” the military honor by awarding it “for preventing casualties, not for inflicting them."
Trump: ‘I like people who weren’t captured’
Trump, who, like Fischer, has never served in the military, made headlines last summer when he attacked Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for his time as a prisoner of war, saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.”
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins’ self-important “State of the Family” address on Monday was not just about chaos and blood in the streets caused by marriage equality and other “confusion” about the definition of the family. It was also about religious liberty, and Perkins’ familiarcharge that the “far left” wants to deny religious Americans both their freedom of speech and their freedom of religion:
“Desperate to preserve its power, the far left now seeks to label all of its critics as extremists or haters and aggressively seeks to silence all who oppose its agenda. But we should take heart even from this. Our opponents seek to limit our freedom of speech because they fear its power. They seek to restrain the expression of our convictions because they are unsure of the truth of theirs. The freedom of expression is the very essence of liberty. But there can be no liberty in America without religious liberty. In our hearts we know this to be true.”
America’s founders, said Perkins, “believed that the best account of our personal and civic duties comes not from the whims of the political class but from the transcendent truths of scripture itself.”
“It is easy to see why we now sail such dangerous seas. Many of our nation’s leading politicians and jurists believe that religion is a toxin in public life, something to be quarantined within the four walls of our churches. They want our culture stripped of the guidance of faith, the centrality of family, and the liberties that are our divine birthright. Not only will it be impermissible to publicly acknowledge the God who made us. It will be unlawful to act on our deepest understanding of Him and His commandments. Acting on conscience will be a bar to public service. It’ll be a reason to be fined or fired.
In his speech, Perkins declared, “Religious liberty must become a priority again within our foreign policy.”
The history of the last century is clear. Totalitarians of every stripe have made suppression of all religious freedom or the liberty of some religions the target of their regimes. Especially dangerous are those who feed on religious hatred. We must promote and defend religious liberty as a human right for all faiths to be able to live freely wherever they are and whoever they are. Why? Because advocating for religious liberty lets the oppressed throughout the world know that they have a friend in America. And, it sends a message to the terrorists and the tyrants as well. That knowledge bears long-term fruit for our own security. And frankly, it’s simply the right thing to do for a nation whose national motto is In God We Trust.”
Much of this statement, coming from someone else, would be unobjectionable. But coming from Perkins, it is jaw-droppingly hypocritical.
Perkins and his Family Research Council colleagues have not consistently advocated for religious liberty for people of all faiths. For example, when Religious Right groups were rallying opposition to the misnamed “Ground Zero Mosque,” FRC’s Ken Blackwell was among them. Perkins said just last month that banning Muslims from immigrating to the U.S. would not be imposing a religious test because “only 16 percent of Islam is a religion.” He has said that people are free to make their own theological choices, but that our nation was founded on “Judeo-Christian principles” and that “those who practice Islam in its entirety” will “destroy the fabric of a democracy.”
And Perkins has also criticized the military for accommodating “fringe religions” and suggested that it is not the government’s role “to try to put all religions on the same plane.”
In his remarks about religious freedom in the military, Perkins claimed that Boykin had been forced to withdraw from a West Point prayer breakfast “because of the pressure from atheist groups.” In reality, the most influential protest against Boykin’s appearing at West Point probably came from dozens of the military academy’s faculty and cadets, most of them Christians, who thought Boykin’s remarks painting the U.S. as waging a holy war against Islam were irresponsible and could threaten the lives of service members overseas.
Perkins also urged Congress to pass the co-called First Amendment Defense Act, which would give legal protection to those practicing anti-gay discrimination. Perkins called the bill “a first and a vital step” and he celebrated the fact that candidates Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum have pledged to sign FADA in their first 100 days if the legislation makes it to their desk.
For decades, the Religious Right has used public school students as pawns in the "culture wars," fighting to impose a political agenda on textbooks and curricula in school districts across the country. This has included battles over sex education, school-led prayer, publicly funded vouchers for religious institutions, and shaping what children learn by controlling the content of textbooks and access to books in school libraries and classrooms. People For the American Way Foundation has a long record of resisting censorship and defending the freedom to learn.
People For the American Way Foundation is a sponsor of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read -- and an opportunity for readers, authors, publishers, booksellers, and First Amendment advocates to call for continued vigilance against efforts to restrict that freedom. This year’s Banned Books Week has a focus on Young Adult books, which are challenged more frequently than any others.
"These are the books that speak most immediately to young people, dealing with many of the difficult issues that arise in their own lives, or in the lives of their friends,” says Judith Platt, chair of the Banned Books Week National Committee. These are the books that give young readers the ability to safely explore the sometimes scary real world. As author Sherman Alexie said in response to the censorship of one of his young adult novels, “Everything in the book is what every kid in that school is dealing with on a daily basis, whether it’s masturbation or racism or sexism or the complications of being human. To pretend that kids aren’t dealing with this on an hour-by-hour basis is a form of denial.”
Banned Books Week is celebrated each year because efforts are underway in many parts of this country to remove “offensive” materials from public libraries, school libraries, and classroom reading lists. Arguments can be made for involving parents in the education of their children, and giving them an opportunity to voice objections when some reading material runs counter to their own values, but problems arise when that parent wants to dictate what all children can or cannot read. In the Coda to Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury said: “There’s more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.”
"Banned Books Week is my favorite week of the whole year. Seriously, it's better than Christmas.... Promoting books that have been banned or challenged shines a light on these attempts at censorship. It is an eye-opening experience for many.... We are basically a country built by rebels. When someone tells us 'you can't read that,' we naturally pick it up and read it."
Graham thinks several hundred cases a year isn't much to get worked up about. But those numbers are a very conservative estimate of the problem. As Chris Finan of the American Booksellers for Free Expression pointed out recently, the American Library Association believes that as many as 80 percent of challenges go unreported. A Freedom of Information Act research project in two states confirmed this; the vast majority of formal challenges are never revealed publicly.
And what about librarians or school officials who seek to steer clear of controversy by avoiding potentially controversial books altogether? There is no doubt that this kind of chilling effect is real. A survey of over 600 librarians released by the School Library Journal in 2009 revealed that 70 percent reported that the possible reaction from parents affected their decisions not to buy a book. About half of librarians reported that they had gone through a formal challenge, and 20 percent of them revealed that the experience affected their book-buying decisions going forward.
So there's strong evidence that there are far more challenges than are reported, and that those challenges affect institutions over the long run. Self-censorship, as the School Library Journal put it, is "a dirty secret that no one in the profession wants to talk about."
While individual challenges don’t always succeed in removing a book from a school curriculum or forcing a textbook publisher to alter its content, they can have far-reaching effects. Attacks on ethnic studies curricula or challenges to books that deal frankly with the lives and histories of marginalized communities can have divisive results beyond their original goals. For example, organizing a protest of a textbook that supposedly “promotes jihad” may not accomplish its stated goal, but might still succeed in stoking fear and resentment against Muslim Americans in that community.
Attacks on multicultural curricula in schools – like Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies classes – are joined by continuing efforts to ban books that acknowledge gay and lesbian families, teach about world religions, or deal frankly with the history of race in America. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, People For the American Way Foundation tracked challenges to books and curricula that included frank discussions of sexuality, race, and the less palatable truths of American history. In the 2000s, challenges focused also on books accused of promoting the “occult” or “undermining” Christianity, leading the Harry Potter series to top the American Library Association’s list of the most challenged books of the decade.
One common theme among many challenged books is their frank portrayals of the experiences of marginalized people. Toni Morrison’s Beloved and The Bluest Eye are unflinching explorations of being a Black woman in America. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian chronicles a Native American teenager’s experiences living in an impoverished reservation, while going to school in a wealthy nearby town. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man explores African-American identity in the mid-20th century. Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima, is a landmark piece of Chicano literature. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale offers a dystopian tale about the oppression of women. Marjane Satrapi’s renowned graphic novel Persepolis, is about a girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution.
And here are some things you can do to fight censorship in your community:
1. Attend school board meetings. School boards and other school decision-makers need to hear from parents, students, and community members who oppose censorship. Attend school board meetings, and stay in touch with board members and principals — even when there are no censorship challenges — to let them know that you care about fair, accurate, and inclusive schools.
2. Stay informed. If a parent or activist group challenges a book in your community's school or district, read the book and learn about its author and its history. Then share what you've found with fellow community members and the local media. A strong, well-informed argument is always an effective weapon against misinformation and prejudice.
3. Make some noise. Start a petition among students and parents in your school or district in support of a challenged book or curriculum, and tell the local media about it. You could also consider holding a protest in favor of the challenged material. In most cases, activists challenging books represent a small fraction of a community; it sends a powerful message when the rest of the community speaks up for its values
4. Look for outside voices. While the most effective arguments against censorship are made by local students and parents, in some cases it can be helpful to bring in outside experts. If the author of a challenged book is living, consider inviting him or her to join a discussion in your community or to send a statement to school leaders. Free speech advocacy groups, including the National Coalition Against Censorship, the American Library Association, and People For the American Way Foundation can also provide resources and advice on how to fight for free speech in schools.
5. Run for office. If you don't like the way your elected officials handle censorship challenges, consider becoming an elected official yourself! Run for school board or volunteer to serve on a school committee that handles challenges against books.
In Croatia, a county court has upheld a ruling of the Zagreb Municipal Court that Zagreb Pride, an LGBT rights group, had violated the personal honor and dignity of a journalist by placing her on its annual list of candidates for “homophobe of the year” in 2013. The Court ruled that Zagreb Pride must pay more than 41,000 krona (a bit over $6,000) in fines and court fees. Zagreb Pride officials contend this case is an outgrowth of an organized campaign by conservative Catholic groups and their allies that led to a 2013 referendum banning marriage by same-sex couples.
The journalist, Karolina Vidović-Krišto, had been placed on the list after producing a television segment in December 2012 which used the research of American anti-gay activist Judith Reisman, who is affiliated with Liberty University, to criticize sex-education curricula. When Vidović-Krišto was suspended by state television after the show, Reisman rallied to her defense, and the journalist was reportedly among those who helped organize Reisman’s 2013 trip to Croatia. Reisman also visited in 2014.
said that sex education classes are designed to brainwash children into thinking they might be gay, transgender or “all kinds of other things” and “these kids become fodder for adult predators, that’s exactly what they become”;
appeared in an anti-gay “documentary” called “Light Wins,” in which she argues that parents should sue teachers and school administrators who allow students to read gay novels, which she says violates a federal law that makes it illegal to “groom children for sex”;
said Gay-Straight Alliance clubs and anti-bullying campaigns are modeled on Hitler Youth efforts to “sever schoolchildren from their parents’ religious and sexual training”;
wrote that condoms are not meant for anal sex and called for a “class action lawsuit by AIDS victims and their loved ones” against the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Planned Parenthood and teachers and school systems that promoted condom use;
and warned that the Boy Scouts’ vote to end the ban on participation by gay youth would lead to increased pedophilia, and agreed with right-wing radio host Rick Wiles that the Boy Scouts change was about “getting sexual predators into the Boy Scouts.”
Not surprisingly, Reisman’s visit to Croatia was controversial and was criticized by some scientists as well as activists. Reisman faced a number of outspoken critics, whom she denounced as “thugs.” She spoke to parliamentarians and to college students, by whom she was not well received ; when she responded to critical questions by charging that students had been indoctrinated by communists, the school’s dean asked whether she realized how young these students were. He also challenged her credentials to speak about brain chemistry in regard to her promotion of an “erototoxin” theory that pornography leads to “mating confusion.”
Zagreb Pride officials, who say that challenging anti-gay rhetoric and actions are central to their reason for being, are calling the recent ruling an attack on free expression. The Croatian Journalists Association hosted a Zagreb Pride press conference last week.
"The Constitution guarantees us the freedom of speech, and Zagreb Pride's mission is to publicly reveal homophobia, so our basic duty is to react every time we see someone acting against homosexuals," Zagreb Pride representative Marko Jurcic told a news conference in the offices of the Croatian Journalists Association, calling on citizens to support the association and freedom of expression.
Another report from the press conference quotes Jurcic calling for solidarity from citizens in support of free speech and human rights. Also speaking were Sandra Benčić from the Center for Peace Studies and Natasa Bijelic from CESI, who put the case in the larger context of the growing neo-conservative threats to sexual and reproductive rights in Europe.
Zagreb Pride leaders have vowed to challenge the decision to the Constitutional Court as a matter of freedom of expression, and to develop a strategy for taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo managed to tie two of the biggest issues of the week together on Tuesday when he railed against efforts to take down Confederate flags, saying that the Koran is an even more dangerous symbol, and then claimed that thanks to the Supreme Court’s recent marriage equality decision, such comments will soon be illegal.
When Newsmax’s Steve Malzberg asked Tancredo to discuss a Facebook post he recently wrote comparing the Confederate flag to the Koran, Tancredo responded that efforts to “erase” the flag are misguided.
“However,” he continued, “there is something else out there, our president really happens to enjoy it, we teach about it in the public schools, we tell people, kids in the public schools to respect it. It’s called the Koran and it’s responsible for far more, far more murders, enslavement, the most horrible things, and it’s still going on. It’s not history, it’s still happening. And that, we don’t ban it, heavens no, we even tell kids we gotta read it in our schools and respect it.”
Malzberg then changed the subject, asking Tancredo about the Supreme Court’s marriage decision, which Tancredo said was connected. Not only will the decision eventually lead to the criminal prosecution of pastors, he claimed, but soon “everything I just said” about the Confederate flag and the Koran will be “outlawed” due to the institution of unconstitutional hate speech prohibitions.
“Mark my words, that’s what’s coming,” he said. “Dark days ahead, Steve.”
Marco Rubio was the subject of a fawning profile on today’s edition of “The 700 Club,” in which host Pat Robertson hailed the GOP presidential candidate as “the Democrats’ worst nightmare.”
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, Rubio warned that gay marriage represents “a real and present danger” to America because gay rights advocates are bent on labeling any anti-gay messages, including those from churches, as “hate speech.”
“We are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech because today we’ve reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage, you are labeled a homophobe and a hater,” Rubio said. “So what’s the next step after that? After they’re done going after individuals, the next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church, is hate speech. That’s a real and present danger.”
But it's important to remember that the fact that she was attacked for her speech doesn't make Geller a hero, or her speech any less hateful. As Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall put it yesterday, "a hate group is a hate group the day after someone takes a shot at them just like it was the day before."
Local Muslim groups had the right idea when they stayed away from Geller's event,declining to protest so that they wouldn't give Geller the attention she so desperately wanted. Those who expose her hateful rhetoric -- like my PFAW colleagues -- also do important work, making sure the public knows that just because she is targeted by violent idiots doesn't make her a serious thinker or a hero.
I know that Geller won't back down from her hateful rhetoric after this event-- in fact, the attempted attack will probably embolden her and cause some to take her more seriously. And we shouldn't stop criticizing Geller -- or, as she puts it, "enforcing the Sharia" -- when she's wrong.
As People For the American Way wrote in 2009 in response to a renewed spate of inflammatory right-wing rhetoric, Americans must "be willing to use their First Amendment freedoms to challenge those who exploit their political positions or media megaphones to promote lies that are intended to inflame rather than inform, that encourage paranoia rather than participation, and whose consequences are at best divisive and at worst, violently destructive."
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre dedicated his speech today at the group’s annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, to attacking Hillary Clinton, at one point even resorting to listing a series of “gate” scandals attributed to her and her husband, including “Vince Foster Gate” and “White House Coffee Gate.”
“Hillary Clinton has more ‘gates’ than a South Texas cattle ranch,” LaPierre said. “And Americans know it.”
Later, he warned that “Hillary Rodham Clinton will bring a permanent darkness of deceit and despair, forced upon the American people to endure.”
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.
The Catholic League's Bill Donohue created a bit of controversy last week when he responded to the deadly attack on the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo that killed a dozen people by declaring that the victims essentially brought the attack upon themselves by intentionally insulting Muslims and other religious believers.
Donohue's statement was met with outrage even by other conservatives, but Donohue has consistently defended his position, telling Newsmax's Steve Malzberg on Friday that if an outraged Christian were to kill artist Andres Serrano over his infamous "Piss Christ" image, it would partially be Serrano's own fault.
"I don't mind Mel Brooks. I don't mind edginess. I don't even mind irreverence," Donohue insisted. "I do have a problem with toilet speech."
Artists must stop producing "filth," he declared, saying that while he would be opposed to someone killing Serrano for his "Piss Christ" image, it would be Serrano's own fault were that to happen.
People For the American Way Foundation President Michael Keegan issued the following statement in response to today’s attack on staff members of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo in Paris:
“Today’s vicious attack on the staff of the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo has left all of us heartbroken. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims and to all the people of France.
“I hope that defenders of liberty throughout the world will respond not with nervous self-censorship but with a renewed commitment to vibrant, messy, democratic debate.
“There can be no democracy and no liberty without a fiercely defended freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The threats to speech come not just from governments but from those who would use violence and fear to shut down speech that they dislike. Democratic governments and their people must stand up to these violent bullies and refuse to be intimidated.
“As with the threats against Sony last month, the speech we defend isn’t always high art or civil debate. But it still needs its chance to be heard. We commend those of all religions who are risking their lives fighting around the world for the right not just to speak, but to argue, joke, insult and offend. It’s impossible to be free without it.”
Glenn Beck ran an hour-long commercial-free broadcast of his television program Monday night so that he could tell his audience about a series of health problem that he has been battling for the last several years. Recounting everything from seizures and inexplicable pain to vision problems and vocal chord paralysis, Beck revealed that, at one point, doctors informed him that he probably had no more than five years left before he was completely incapacitated by various medical problems. Eventually Beck announced that thanks to changes in diet, lifestyle changes, and therapy from the doctors at the Carrick Brain Center in Dallas, he has largely overcome those problems.
In response to Beck's revelations, some medical experts came forward to say that Beck's diagnosis and the treatment he has been receiving were nothing but pseudo-scientific quackery. Beck, in turn, took to Facebook last night to say that he can't believe that people could be so "nasty" as to assert that his medical issues were fake, saying that anyone who would say such a thing is obviously just a sad and lonely person who is out to pick a fight:
Just a note before I go to bed. A couple of thoughts.
I am reading the go giver. It is great! A must read for anyone that wants to change the world.
Also, I have read some pretty nasty things about how I am faking my illness. Yep. That's me. I am making it all up. So incredible. Anyway, I just want you to know that soon, I will not be holding my sweet wife back from answering these posts herself. You don't want a piece of her, because she is about to give it to you. . Of course, I might just be making her up as well. Maybe I am not even married, I am just saying I am to sell gold rings.
I love it when The Lord gives me the wisdom and peace to just laugh at how people treat us. Even better is when he also couples it with real empathy.
I first laugh and then wonder how dark and lonely their life must be that they really believe that people are that evil that they would actually live this big of a lie over multiple years. Then it hits you. How lonely they must be that they want and need to pick fights just to have someone notice them.
It is sad.
Anyone else remember Beck saying last year that the health issues then impacting Hillary Clinton and Teresa Heinz Kerry were probably government cover-ups?
Yesterday, Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Secretary of State John Kerry, was rushed to this hospital after apparently suffering from some sort of seizure ... but Glenn Beck isn't buying it because he just doesn't trust anything that the government says, which is why he suspects that the entire thing was orchestrated as a distraction from the "huge scandal" that Secretary Kerry was on his boat while a military coup took place in Egypt last week.
While it may be true that Heinz Kerry (or, as Beck called her, "Mrs. Ketchup") did end up in the hospital, Beck "can't give you any sympathy now because you've lied to us too many times" ... just as when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was hospitalized with a blood clot last year in an effort to cover-up Benghazi.
Though Clinton's blood clot was tied to a concussion she received after she fainted while suffering from the flu, Beck said "if she really had some weird thing in the hospital, then it should prohibit her from ever becoming president.
"She shouldn't be President of the United States if she going into the hospital for some sort of heart condition or brain condition or whatever she was in the hospital for," Beck said, "or was that just a scam so that we didn't talk about [Benghazi]"?
“Just as Christians in the West in Ronald Reagan’s time helped us against the evil of communism, we now have to return our debt to Christians who are suffering under totalitarianism in the West,” he says. “This so-called liberalism, tolerance, and freedom, these are just words, but behind them you can see the totalitarianism.”
Asked for examples of this totalitarianism, he cites legal battles over U.S. businesses not providing flowers or cakes for gay weddings and the use of tear gas against anti-gay-marriage protesters in France. “We saw all of this in the 1920s in the Soviet Union. We know how it starts when the protection of minorities becomes the policy of the state,” he says.
Keating’s profile makes it clear that Malofeev, currently under sanctions from the EU and Canada for allegedly financing Ukrainian rebels, has big ideas. He is monarchist who wants to see a return of the Czars and the reconstruction of the Russian empire. “We the Russian people are a divided nation, just as the Germans were after the Second World War,” he told Keating.
One of his Malofeev’s big ideas is a new Orthodox conservative television network modeled on the Fox News. “We want to show the news in the way that Orthodox people, who are 70 to 80 percent of the population, see it.” The Orthodox Church has been a valuable ally for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s nationalist and anti-gay policies, and it seems likely that Malofeev’s openly propagandist channel will not meet the same fate as other independent news networks under Putin’s regime.
In an interview with the Russian website Colta earlier this month, Hanick voiced his support for a Russian law banning the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors and said that he had thought that gay rights organizations would also support the law. He also praised Fox News founder Roger Ailes for pioneering of unabashedly biased journalism, envisioning a world where journalists act as lawyers, presenting either side of a case and clearly stating their allegiances. Ailes, he gushed, “changed television forever.”
As we have notedbefore, Jesse Lee Peterson of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny has carved out quite a niche for himself as a black conservative commentator who is quite willing to defend just about any white person accused of racism by arguing that it is black people who are the true racists in America.
So naturally, Steve Malzberg brought Peterson onto his Newsmax radio program today to share his thoughts on the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which Peterson declared to be perfectly justified because Brown was a "thug," just like Trayvon Martin.
"I've said from day one that Michael Brown is a thug," Peterson declared, using as evidence "the fact that he was running from the cops, period, because good folks do not run from police officers, they follow their instructions."
"I just think that it's a shame," he continued, "that in America today, that criminals are given the benefit of the doubt - especially black criminals because white criminals are not - but black criminals are given the benefit of the doubt and the police officers are the suspects. I don't know what has happened to my country."
When Malzberg sought to clarify that Peterson had, in fact, called Brown a "thug," Peterson asserted that he had, saying that Trayvon Martin was also thug.
The late night programming on the Cartoon Network, known as Adult Swim, plans to air the non-animated show "Black Jesus" portraying Jesus as a "black guy living in the hood." The show depicts him living in Compton Gardens and makes a mockery of our Lord. The foul language used in the trailer, including using the Lord's name in vain, is disgusting. In addition, there is violence, gunfire and other inappropriate gestures which completely misrepresent Jesus. This is blasphemy!
1MM will defend our Savior because He is Holy! Adult Swim is obviously not a family network, and this program is set to air later in the evening when children should be asleep, but that is no excuse. Adult Swim has crossed the line by belittling the Christian religion with foul jokes.
We need to send a loud and clear message to Adult Swim, its owner Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. (a Time Warner Company), and all potential advertisers of "Black Jesus" that this kind of programming is insulting and completely unacceptable. Adult Swim is not ridiculing any other religion currently and wouldn't dream of mocking Mohammed or Muslims.
If we speak with one voice now, we can keep this program from ever seeing the light of day. Christians must take a stand and not be silent. Networks like Adult Swim continue to mock Christianity, and we will not stand for it. Christians should no longer sit idly by and allow this blasphemy to continue without speaking up in protest. "Black Jesus" is anoher attempt to distort the truth about Christianity. There is power in numbers! Forward this to everyone you know in a fight to keep this show off the air.
Today, the larger AFA took up One Million Moms’ plea, sending an email to its members with the subject line, “Cartoon Network to air blasphemy.” It contains a link where members can send an email to TBS and Cartoon Network executives reading:
Dear President Levy and President Miller:
I am disappointed that TBS' Cartoon Network and Adult Swim plans to air "Black Jesus."
We are told in Hebrews that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Obviously, "Black Jesus' makes a mockery of the Christian faith. It would be beneficial to all if TBS and Adult Swim showed a little more respect for Christians who believe the Bible.
I am joining others in asking you to cancel plans to air this show.
I know that American Family Association will keep us posted on which companies underwrite this program with advertising. I am prepared to contact them personally and urge them to pull all commercial support from the Cartoon Network.