Religious Liberty

What If Hobby Lobby Wins?

David Barton, an influential conservative activist who helped write the Republican Party’s 2012 platform, argues that the Bible opposes the minimum wage, unions and collective bargaining, estate taxes, capital gains taxes, and progressive taxation in general. Should a company whose owners share Barton’s views be allowed to ignore laws that protect workers by claiming that those laws violate the company’s religious beliefs?

That’s a questions being asked as the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether it will recognize for the first time ever that for-profit corporations can make religious freedom claims under federal law.

When an actual human being goes to court with a claim that the federal government is violating their freedom to practice their religion, judges consider several questions in applying the Religious Freedom Restoration Act: Does the law or policy in question place a substantial burden on the person’s religious exercise? If so, can it be justified because the law is advancing a compelling government interest and doing so in the least restrictive way?

That’s pretty straightforward, even if individual cases require tough judgment calls about what constitutes a substantial burden and a compelling government interest. But what happens when a for-profit corporation claims a law violates its exercise of religion? Can a business have a religious conscience?

That crucial question is being considered by the Supreme Court in two cases brought by for-profit corporations claiming their religious freedom is violated by a requirement that their insurance plans include comprehensive contraception coverage. In Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, business owners say their companies should not be required to provide their employees with insurance that covers kinds of contraception that violate the business owners’ religious beliefs or what they say are the religious beliefs of the corporation itself.

Legal scholars have weighed in on both sides of the claim. While federal courts have never recognized a for-profit corporation’s right to make a religious exercise claim, they have also never explicitly ruled that there is no such right. In the cases now before the Supreme Court, two appeals courts disagreed with each other. The Tenth Circuit sided with Hobby Lobby but the Third Circuit said, “[W]e simply cannot understand how a for-profit secular corporation—apart from its owners—can exercise religion.”

If the Supreme Court sets a new precedent granting for-profit corporations a soul, so to speak, where will it end? Law professors Ira Lupu and Robert Tuttle warn that it would produce “a massive redistribution of legal leverage away from employees and to their employers.” And, they write, “If Hobby Lobby’s claims prevail…other employer claims under RFRA will be very difficult to deny. Some current cases involve objections to coverage of all pregnancy prevention services. In the future, others may involve protection of employees with respect to different medical services, collective bargaining, family leave, or invidious discrimination.”

The Becket Fund, the conservative legal group representing Hobby Lobby, dismisses concerns about opening the floodgates to all kinds of religious objections, saying it hasn’t happened under RFRA to date. But of course, no Court has yet invited the flood of objections by giving business owners the right to claim corporate exemptions for religious belief.

Justice Elena Kagan raised this concern during oral argument, asking Hobby Lobby’s lawyer Paul Clement about employers who might have religious objections to sex discrimination laws, minimum wage laws, and child labor or family leave laws. Clement said he doubted the “parade of horribles” would happen. But Justice Kagan replied that if the Court were to adopt his argument, “then you would see religious objectors come out of the woodwork with respect to all of these laws." Solicitor General Paul Verrilli noted that if the Court grants corporations a right to make free exercise claims, judges will have to grapple with potential harm to employees and other third parties.

But it’s not just employees who could be hurt by such a ruling – it could be companies themselves. David Gans, writing for Slate, made an interesting observation: corporate America is staying out of this case almost completely, which is surprising given its eagerness to use federal courts to promote corporate interests. Gans says that not a single Fortune 500 company filed a brief in the case. Neither did the Chamber of Commerce or the National Federation of Independent Business. The corporate voices that did weigh in — the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce — oppose Hobby Lobby’s claims because recognizing a corporate right to the free exercise of religion would “wreak havoc in corporate boardrooms.”

Gans cites a brief from a group of corporate law scholars “who argued that Hobby Lobby’s argument would eviscerate the fabric of corporate law” because ascribing a business owner’s religious views to the corporation would treat the owner and company as one and the same. “Such an unprincipled, idiosyncratic exception from corporate law fundamentals, the scholars argued, would breed confusion in the law, lead to costly litigation, and undermine critical aspects of corporate law designed to spur creativity and innovation.”

Mary Ann Glendon, a law professor who serves on Becket’s board, has argued that if we want businesses to behave responsibly, “they must be treated as having some moral agency.” The Supreme Court, she says, “should take the opportunity to confirm that businesses can and should have consciences.” It’s a nice thought. But given right-wing efforts to merge the Tea Party and Religious Right, and foster a growing belief that far-right economics and anti-government ideology are grounded in religious dogma, it seems highly unlikely that the consequence of giving conservative business leaders a powerful new tool for undermining government regulation would be more socially responsible corporate behavior.

Ben Stein: End Poverty By Abolishing Church-State Separation

In an American Spectator column last week, conservative pundit Ben Stein argued that Americans living in poverty aren’t really poor because “they almost always have indoor plumbing,” and in any case they just “envy” the wealthy and are victims of their own “self-sabotage.”

He adds that federal policies can’t address poverty, and that instead what’s needed is an end to the separation of church and state: “What will make the genuinely poor stop sabotaging themselves? Maybe, just maybe, if we let God back into the public forum it would help. I have seen spiritual solutions work miracles.”

So, I just don’t see the problem in there being so many billionaires except for bare envy — an extremely basic emotion. It is an emotion that the politicians and academics and race haters have been able to stir up for a long, long time. It leads to jobs for Democrats but not much else.

...

In olden times, poverty was the common human condition. In the USA, as recently as the Great Depression, poverty was commonplace. FDR might have exaggerated when he described one-third of the nation as “ill housed, ill fed and ill clad...” But surely he was not far off.

Now, real poverty, where Americans lack cars or air conditioning (imagine that we now consider it poverty to lack something that was the ne plus ultra of luxury in my youth!) or solid food is extremely rare. Yes, the government designates many tens of millions as poor, but they almost always have indoor plumbing (which my mother did not have in her small town in the Catskills) and they are super nourished as opposed to mal-nourished. They get food stamps. They get free medical care. They get vouchers for many of the needs of life.

This is not to deny their sorrow and I am sad for them. But why are they poor? Senator Elizabeth Warren, a genuine moron, not a fake one, says it’s because of “corporations.”

No, federal policy does not generally cause long-term unemployment and poverty. In general. Obviously, there are exceptions.

My humble observation is that most long-term poverty is caused by self-sabotage by individuals. Drug use. Drunkenness. Having children without a family structure. Gambling. Poor work habits. Disastrously unfortunate appearance. Above all, and counted in the preceding list, psychological problems (very much including basic laziness) cause people to be unemployed, have poor or no work habits, and enter and stay in poverty.

Impoverished people have personal problems. They may have had terrible childhoods. They may have been the victims of abuse. They are often the victims of their own abuse of drugs and alcohol. But they are not the victims of corporations or of the Federal Reserve. Their sad backgrounds lead them into self-destruction.

Is there any public policy that can help them? We just don’t know so far. But whipping up hate against the successful simply cannot do it. There is no connecting mechanism between envy and greater productivity. Quite the opposite. Envy legitimizes class hatred and idleness (see “higher education — 2014”) and produces nothing.

What will make the genuinely poor stop sabotaging themselves? Maybe, just maybe, if we let God back into the public forum it would help. I have seen spiritual solutions work miracles.
 

Safe Schools Letter Campaign Wraps Another Week, Twelve Groups Have Gone on Record

The letter-a-day campaign for safe schools that PFAW is leading just finished another week, and now twelve groups have gone on record with Congress in support of safe schools legislation. Together, we are sending loud and clear the message that all students deserve far better than what they're getting when it comes to bullying and harassment in schools.
PFAW

Ginni Thomas And Lila Rose Discuss Cultural 'Erosion,' 'Natural Law,' 'Tyrant' In White House

Anti-choice activist Lila Rose of Live Action was Ginni Thomas’ guest this week on her Daily Caller interview show, where the two discussed how to fix the “erosion” of American culture and return to “natural law.”

Thomas, a Tea Party activist who is married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, asked Rose, “Years from now when history books are written about this culture, what are they going to see, and how do we stop the erosion?”

The Live Action founder responded, “Years from now, when history books are written about our culture, what I pray, and what I believe they will say is that we wandered from our founding principles, but we came right back and we embraced them more boldly than ever before.”

She went on to reject the idea of secular government, warning that it leads to human rights abuses, and to call President Obama a “tyrant.”

“Secular is somehow saying there’s no God, there’s no higher power, there’s no higher law,” she said. “You can’t say that because then when you have a tyrant in power – which you often, sadly, do – and I believe there’s aspects of tyranny in who you have in power now – then whole groups of people, their rights are not respected, their rights are not protected and you have human rights abuses.”

Evangelicals Gather In Texas For Get Out The Vote Effort, With Eternity In Mind

Today, Religious Right leaders including Rick Scarborough, David Barton, Jim Garlow and Glenn Beck are meeting with Religious Right and Tea Party activists in Dallas at a summit “bringing together leaders of conservative organizations from around the country to brainstorm and strategize on how to get out the vote for the 2014 midterm elections.”

The summit is being jointly organized by Rick Scarborough’s Tea Party Unity and United In Purpose, a voter-mobilization group funded largely by Silicon Valley venture capitalists that partnered with several dozen Religious Right and Tea Party groups in the lead-up to the 2012 elections with the goal of getting five million new evangelical Christian voters to the polls .

United In Purpose, which received national news coverage for its data-driven efforts in 2011 and 2012, has what you might call a long-term goal: it is closely tied to advocates of “Seven Mountains Dominionism,” who aim to have conservative Christians take control of every aspect of government, business and the culture in order to pave the way for the return of Christ.

United in Purpose is led by Bill Dallas, a former broadcast executive who is also on thesteering committee of Tea Party Unity. The board of its political armconsists of Barton, a pseudo-historian and “Seven Mountains” advocate, and former congressman Bob McEwan. Its education arm’s board consists of Ken Eldred – a major funder of the Seven Mountains movement -- and pollster George Barna.

United in Purpose was involved with Rick Perry’s 2011 “The Response” prayer rally, the event that meant to launch the Texas governor’s presidential campaign but ended up just highlighting his extremism because of its ties with Seven Mountains theology.

After the Response rally, the American Family Association sent an email to everyone who had registered for The Response urging them to join United In Purpose’s new project: a voter mobilization effort called “Champion The Vote.”

“The Response was just the beginning of a nationwide initiative to return America to the principles on which she was founded, with God at the center of our nation,” wrote AFA president Tim Wildmon. The goal of the new project, he announced, was to “mobilize 5 million unregistered conservative Christians to register and vote according to the Biblical worldview in 2012.”

The project’s website says its mission is “to get unregistered Christians registered to vote, educated in the Biblical worldview, and voting accordingly on Election Day.” As part of this “worldview” education, the group distributes a guide called “Developing a Biblical Worldview,” which explains that “there are basically two worldviews: Biblical and atheistic.” The guide includes a helpful “worldview comparison chart” contrasting the two mindsets. For instance, the guide reports, the biblical worldview on marriage is “one man united with one woman” while the atheistic worldview is “lives by no real moral code – do whatever feels good, no accountability, self serving, me focused.”

As well as its get out the vote efforts, the group organized a series of conferences in the lead-up to the 2012 election, including one organized by Christian Nation and Dominionist advocate David Lane, who famously predicted that God would arrange car bombings in cities across the country in reaction to an openly gay poet’s reading at the inauguration. The group produced DVDs of Lane’s event to distribute to voter mobilization house parties.

United In Purpose has also provided steady funding to the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the group run by evangelical immigration reform proponent Sam Rodriguez. In 2012, UIP granted $30,000 to Rodriguez’s group. In 2011, it provided Rodriguez’s group with $300,000, nearly one-third of its entire budget. Rodriguez’s support for immigration reform has caused him to be painted as something of a moderate in the media, but he is in fact a conservative culture warrior and a leader in the New Apostolic Reformation, a movement closely tied to Seven Mountains dominionism. Until 2011, Rodriguez was a vice president of the dominionist Oak Initiative.

The speakers at this week’s summit in Dallas include prominent advocates of Seven Mountains theology, including Garlow and Barton. Beck has also featured Seven Mountains dominionists on his program.

During the 2012 presidential primary, Scarborough urged GOP voters to reject Mitt Romney because of his Mormonism, saying, “Because of the state of the spiritual life of our country right now, I just think that’s a place I don’t want to go.” (Although in the same interview, he went out of his way to praise Beck, also a Mormon, as “most prominent spokesperson for our values in the radio field.”) Garlow also fought against Romney’s nomination, saying he was not “visceral on the issues that are cardinal to me.”

We can imagine that the leaders gathered in Dallas today are disappointed in how their efforts turned out in 2012 and are looking for a change in strategy for launching candidates with their own “biblical worldview” into office.

Mark Creech: Antichrist Obama Will Cause God To Destroy America Like Tower Of Babel

Rev. Mark Creech, the head of North Carolina’s American Family Association affiliate, the Christian Action League, is out with a new column in the Christian Post suggesting that President Obama is the Antichrist and explaining that America is tempting God to punish us like he destroyed the Tower of Babel.

“Many Bible scholars believe this very type situation will repeat itself in the last days – the day before Christ's return,” Creech writes of Babel. “A strong man will rise up, commonly believed to be the anti-Christ. He will unite the world in a cultural, political, and religious federation. As in Babel, the end will reflect a world determined to be rid of God.”

He adds that we’re seeing such a situation in America, implying that President Obama is the Antichrist who will bring about the Earth’s last days: “A popular leader rises who is given almost god-like, messianic qualities by the media and others – one who single-handedly seeks to concentrate power – one the Christian Left and proponents of the erroneous doctrine of social justice treat as an anointed one.”

“Our culture has largely abandoned trust in God for the opiate of government provision and hope, while endorsing via legalization abominable acts that God condemns,” he warns. “Fair warning, America! Look to Babel. This can't end well.”

The story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis chapter 11 is a historical narrative of the first recorded form of government gone awry. The apostle Paul wrote, "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come" (I Corinthians 10:11).

What are some of the principles in this account that forewarn us of the corruption of governments and their ultimate end?

First, beware of charismatic leadership that unifies the masses in rebellion to God. The Bible says Nimrod was "a mighty one in the earth" (Genesis 10:9).

Second, beware of governmental concentrations of power in rebellion to God

Third, beware of a false religious or moral premise that influences government in rebellion to God.

It's frightening when true religion or morality is co-opted for some wicked enterprise and denigrated to the point that its objective becomes exactly the opposite of what it was meant to represent. This is more likely the scenario that occurred in Babel.

Genesis also says the Lord descended in judgment upon the scene. God is longsuffering and reluctant to supernaturally interfere in wrath, but He will never indefinitely stand for His purposes being thwarted. God confounded their language and forced the families of the earth to move away from Babel and accomplish what God had intended all along. That's the way it always works.

Many Bible scholars believe this very type situation will repeat itself in the last days – the day before Christ's return. A strong man will rise up, commonly believed to be the anti-Christ. He will unite the world in a cultural, political, and religious federation. As in Babel, the end will reflect a world determined to be rid of God.

Nevertheless, no matter what an individual's eschatological persuasion, the fact is, nations have seen this state of affairs occur throughout history over and again. And, it never ends well.

We're seeing it in America. A popular leader rises who is given almost god-like, messianic qualities by the media and others – one who single-handedly seeks to concentrate power – one the Christian Left and proponents of the erroneous doctrine of social justice treat as an anointed one. Our culture has largely abandoned trust in God for the opiate of government provision and hope, while endorsing via legalization abominable acts that God condemns.

Fair warning, America! Look to Babel. This can't end well.

William Murray: 'Morally And Spiritually, Russia Today Is The Nation America Was In The 1950s'

William Murray, head of the Religious Freedom Coalition and Government Is Not God PAC, writes in WorldNetDaily today that President Obama and the media have a “hatred for Russia” because “morally and spiritually, Russia today is the nation America was in the 1950s.”

He cites Russia’s harsh anti-abortion laws, ban on gays in the military, the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in government, and flat tax.

Why do President Obama and the Western media have such hatred for Russia? What is all the Russia bashing really about?

In Russia the clergy are allowed to enter the schools to give instruction in the Bible. Prayer is allowed in the public schools in Russia, as well. It is against the law to sell or give pornographic literature to anyone under the age of 18. Marriage in Russia is allowed only between one man and one woman.

Last year President Putin signed a law outlawing advertisements for abortion. In 2011 Russia passed a law requiring health warnings to women before getting an abortion, and now the Duma is considering outlawing abortions completely unless the mother is in immediate danger of death. (In the old Soviet Union, abortion was the primary means of birth control).

There is no complicated tax code in Russia; they have the kind of flat tax the Republicans have pushed in the U.S. for years. In Russia everyone pays the 13 percent income tax regardless of how much they earn. The year after this flat tax was instituted in 2001, the Russian economy took off like a rocket and tax revenues increased as well. Russia is not a communist country any longer. Russia has as many or maybe even more millionaires than the United States. There is free enterprise; anyone can start a business, and many people do.

In the Russian Army the chaplains are allowed to preach the Gospel and pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Homosexual behavior is not allowed in the Russian military and punishable by court martial. (The U.S. military just held its first officially approved drag queen contest at the Kadena Air Base.)

Why do Barack Obama and the liberal media hate Russia so much but have such love for nations that are anti-Christian and repressive such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia? Morally and spiritually, Russia today is the nation America was in the 1950s.

Barber & Staver: 'President Obama Clearly Hates Christianity'

As Brian reported last week, Mat Staver is very upset that Rajiv Shah, a Hindu USAID official, was allowed to deliver the keynote address at the National Prayer Breakfast last month, saying it was proof of Obama's "insensitivity to Christianity."

On today's "Faith and Freedom" radio program, Staver and co-host Matt Barber continued to complain about it, with Barber asserting that the National Prayer Breakfast organizers never should have agreed to allow an "anti-Christian speaker" to speak at the event even if it meant that Obama would not attend because, by refusing to attend, it would demonstrate to everyone that "President Obama clearly hates Christianity" and reveal that he "does not respect religious freedom":

Staver: This is President Obama who brings into the National Prayer Breakfast someone who doesn't mention Jesus, somebody who is not a Christian, somebody who is not a believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is Obama, who goes after Little Sisters of the Poor because he doesn't really care for religious freedom.

Barber: Unbelievable, Matt. And shame on the organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast. They should have just let the chips fall where they may; President Obama clearly hates Christianity. He claims to be a Christian but he hates what the Bible teaches, so let him not come. That speaks volumes. The American people already know he's anti-Christian. Just let him be anti-Christian. They don't need an anti-Christian speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Staver: Unfortunately they didn't want that to happen ... because it would be the first time in the history of the prayer breakfast that a president didn't show up.  But I would say it's par for the course for President Obama not to show up. Let him not show up because it reveals who he really is: somebody who does not respect religious freedom.

For the record, Shah did positively mention Jesus several times during his remarks.

BarbWire: Liberal Christians, Non-Christians, 'People Of The World' – Satanic, Satanic, Satanic!

Given Matt Barber’s own penchant for extremely harsh rhetoric, it’s not surprising that his newish website BarbWire has become a home for anti-gay hostility and Religious Right alarmism over the impending death of religious freedom in America.

Today’s offering comes from Gina Miller, who is described as “a conservative Christian political writer and radio/television voice professional.” Miller’s article, “Why Are Christians (Really) the World’s Most Persecuted Group?” was written in response to a column from Middle East Forum that BarbWire had linked to. Its author had argued that Christians are persecuted because Christianity is the world’s biggest religion, it seeks converts, and is a religion of martyrdom. No, Miller says, Satan is the reason Christians are persecuted. And Satan is operating through a lot of channels.

Islam, she says, is Satanic.

Islam is a demonic, militant-political-religious ideology born of the children of Ishmael, and like them, it has greatly proliferated.  It is one of Satan’s premiere deceptions, tyrannically ensnaring countless millions of people….

Those who adhere to Islam naturally have a demonically-inspired hatred for the people of the Lord, but as the Bible says, they hate everyone.  However, it is with the deepest of hatreds that they regard Christians and Jews, because their hatred is Satan’s hatred, and it goes well beyond simple dislike or disagreement on principles.  It goes to the heart of the spiritual essence of the foundational struggle, to the basic forces of darkness and light.

But it’s not just Islam. Every non-Christian religion is Satanic, she says, and so are liberal Christians:

From the beginning of time, Satan and the other fallen angels (demons) have made war against the Lord and His creation.  It is their sole mission to steal, kill and destroy what God has made and to keep as many people as possible from the knowledge of salvation through Jesus.  In this mission, they have heaped deception upon deception for mankind.  They have created countless false doctrines and distractions to mislead and deceive people into taking the path to Hell.  The world’s false religions—all those whose foundation is not solely the Gospel of Christ—lead to one place:  eternal damnation and separation from God.  This includes false, so-called “Christian” religions that deny Christ as the only Way to salvation, and instead, rely on traditions of men and on works to “earn” salvation, something we could never earn.

The frenzied, irrational hatred people of the world have for Christians is inspired by, and based in, Satan’s hatred for God and His people.  It’s a demonic hatred found in people who have rejected the Lord.  Have you ever noticed that there is not the same deep hatred for non-Christians and non-Christian religions?  Satan doesn’t hate his own work; he aggressively promotes and supports it.  Supernatural hatred for Christians and Jews exists because they are God’s people, the real deal, chosen by Him from the foundation of the world to be miraculously reconciled to Him.  We simply remind Satan of his eternal defeat and the fact that his time as “the god of this world” is short and growing to a close.  He is furious in his great loss.

And, of course, supporters of church-state separation (described by Miller as people who want to “eradicate all vestiges of Christianity in America”) are Satanic:

At the same time, as we watch our world marching inexorably toward the horror of the very last days and the period of great tribulation, those of us who put our trust in the Lord must not lose courage or hope.  The Word of the Lord is true, and every bit of it will come to pass.  This is why we see such a feverish effort by satanically-inspired people to eradicate all vestiges of Christianity in America today.  The campaign has its source in the demonic realm.  

Barber himself is no stranger to such rhetoric.  He has said Satan is behind the marriage equality movement and the Obama administration’s support for LGBT equality

'Persecuted': Religious Right Movie Thriller About The Death Of Freedom In America

Ah, Friday night at CPAC. If you weren’t joining the “drunken yuck monkeys” whose loutish behavior so incensed Matt Barber, and you weren’t attending the white nationalist party whose invitation was shared by the Southern Poverty Law Center, you could catch an advance screening of Persecuted, a movie scheduled for release later this year.  Some of us who attended the screening felt pretty persecuted ourselves by being forced to watch the trailer over and over and over again in the half hour before show time. Maybe that was a plan to put us on emotional edge for this “thriller” about religious liberty in America being destroyed by the sinister forces of freedom, equality, and religious pluralism.

Since I’m writing about a movie few people have seen, I will say for the record, SPOILER ALERT.

But first a little context: Bemoaning the dominance of liberals in Hollywood is a familiar theme at right-wing conferences like CPAC and the Values Voter Summit. But conservatives in Hollywood are organizing. And they’re working hard to convince studios to produce more films with “pro-family” and religious themes. (Son of God and Noah are examples.) A Friday morning panel on the topic featured actor and former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson; Persecuted producer Daniel Lusko; Gerald Molen, a producer of Dinesh D’Souza’s 2016: Obama’s America and his upcoming film America; and D’Souza himself. If anyone had qualms about having Dinesh D’Souza being held up as a “values” icon, they kept it to themselves.

But back to Persecuted, which features Thompson, Dean Stockwell, Bruce Davison, and James Remar. The cast includes a couple of well-known Christian performers, comedian Brad Stine and singer Natalie Grant. As in real life, Fox News’s Gretchen Carlson plays a journalist.

As a movie, the film is Preposterous. But as an insight into the paranoia and worldview of Religious Right activists, Persecuted is as fascinating as it is disturbing.

The plot revolves around an evil senator who is obsessed with a piece of legislation, “The Faith and Fairness Act.” It’s never clear exactly what the Act does, but it seems to force all religions to operate under a single umbrella organization, and to allow members of any faith the ability to preach in others’ houses of worship. It thus combines the Religious Right’s fear that liberals are itching to silence Christian broadcasters by reviving the long-defunct Fairness Doctrine, and their resentment that people view them as intolerant for believing their faith is the only avenue to truth and God.

Standing tall against this plot is evangelist John Luther (John Calvin/John Wesley and Martin Luther?). Luther is sort of a Billy Graham figure who has overcome a past of drug abuse to become a national figure.  His ministry, we are told, reaches more people than the evening news. Early in the movie, the evil Senator Harrison tries to bully Luther into backing his legislation at a religious rally; when Luther refuses to compromise his faith for the senator’s political gain, Harrison puts in motion an elaborate plot to destroy him. The also-evil president of the United States is in on the scheme: he looks a little bit like Ted Kennedy and sounds more than a little bit like Bill Clinton.

The plan involves murdering a teenage girl and framing Luther as her rapist and murderer. While Luther is on the run, Harrison corrupts the rest of the ministry’s leadership with promises of “earmarks” and personalized tax breaks, and they throw the ministry’s support behind the senator’s new law. 

Somehow, Luther, the most hunted man in America, is able to sneak into the launch event for Sumac, the new organization that brings together Jews, Christians, and Muslims and brings to fruition Sen. Harrison’s “dream of a tradition of faith as diverse as our skins.” If the point about the dangers of diversity and religious pluralism isn’t obvious enough, the senator says America is “no longer a Christian nation…it never has been,” echoing a statement by President Obama that caused spluttering outrage among right-wing Christian leaders. By the way, in the movie, the whole governmentally-forced-religious-merger thing is justified as a response to the threat of terrorism.

Still with me? Luther has an amazing knack for evading government agents disguised only by sunglasses and a hoodie, and shows a remarkable ability to outrun professional killers even with a bullet in his back. Eventually, with help from his dad (confusingly, and without explanation, a Catholic priest), another young priest, some honorable FBI agents, and Gretchen Carlson, Luther is able to clear his name, but at great price: his father is killed by Secret Service assassins.

The movie doesn’t quite wrap things up in a happy-ending bow. There’s a climactic scene in which the good FBI agents come to the rescue, and Luther, despite having nearly bled to death, manages to kill the murderous Secret Service agent. Next thing we know, he is making his post-recovery return to his ministry’s headquarters, where all the sell-out executives are still in place, telling him how much money has been pouring in along with cards from well-wishers. Luther glares at them, grabs his Bible, and heads to the White House, where the sinister president introduces Luther at a press conference and, as he is headed to the podium, whispers in his ear to say nice things.

The movie ends with Luther clutching the podium and staring into the camera. Will he speak Truth to power? Will he denounce the president and his money-grubbing ministry colleagues? How soon will filming start on the sequel?

Let’s review the symbolism in Persecuted. The enemies of religious liberty are those who use the language of fairness and equality and those who say America is not a Christian nation. Religious pluralism is portrayed not as a matter of respecting freedom for every faith tradition, but as a deceptive, coercive tool of government to erase religious difference and put all faiths under the politically correct thumb of government. Other religious leaders are either co-conspirators or complicit sheep. The only non-Christians I remember in the film were those sitting silently on the dais as Sen. Harrison launched his religious takeover project. Oh, and about that growing cohort of religions “nones” in America? Luther’s dad tells him at one point that those who believe in nothing must destroy him in order to achieve their goals. And with the exception of some FBI agents, government officials are as soulless and devoid of scruples as the characters on House of Cards.

Luther and his father symbolize the alliance between right-wing evangelicals and conservative Catholics. We aren’t told how it is that Luther’s father came to be a Catholic priest, but perhaps he was an Episcopalian who left for the Catholic Church when his own denomination became insufficiently conservative on sexuality issues. After Luther finds his father murdered, he spends the rest of the cat-and-mouse drama with his dad’s bloody rosary beads wrapped around his hands: a symbol of the shared willingness for martyrdom pledged by conservative evangelical and Catholic signers of the Manhattan Declaration?

It’s hard to say what kind of impact Persecuted might find, but any contribution it makes to our civic discourse is likely to be negative. Its backers clearly hope that a marketing campaign targeting conservative Christians will find an audience and help push a trend toward bigger-budget movies with that audience in mind. 

Whether or not Persecuted is a box-office success, it is one more story-telling weapon in the arsenal of the right-wing media machine that is dedicated to promoting the ideology that America was meant by God to be a Christian nation, and that the federal government and the forces of pluralism and “political correctness” are agents of tyranny bent on forcing Christians to bend to their will.  Sort of like Ben Carson’s speech at CPAC.

Staver: Dalai Lama Visit, Hindu Prayer Breakfast Speaker Show Obama's 'Insensitivity To Christianity'

In an interview on VCY America's Crosstalk yesterday, Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver criticized President Obama for being “very pro-homosexual” and “pro-Muslim,” and “doing more harm to our foundational, fundamental values than any president in American history.”

Asked by host Jim Schneider about the “really troubling” decision to invite the Dalai Lama to give an opening prayer at the Senate yesterday, Staver responded that the Dalai Lama's presence in the Senate and the choice of Rajiv Shah, a Hindu USAID official, to deliver an address at the National Prayer breakfast showed the president’s “insensitivity to Christianity.”

Staver criticized new IRS rules that allow legally married same-sex couples to jointly file federal tax returns and "pro-Muslim" EEOC guidelines for allowing religious dress in the workplace, which is ironic since Staver purports to represent a "religious liberty" group.

Schneider: We’ve received from the IRS, they issued a video clip that they posted on YouTube giving instructions to those that are so-called same-sex marriage partners, telling them that if they’re marriage took place in a state or country that recognizes so-called same-sex marriage, that they may claim married filing jointly on their return. The IRS is just going full-bore on this regard.

Staver: Well, it is the IRS going full bore. This is the administration focusing on things that are unnecessary and hurtful, rather than focusing on the job that they’re supposed to do.

This is the IRS that has been targeting conservative organizations and Tea Party groups, pro-Israel and pro-family organizations. This is the IRS that refuses to present testimony before Congress. And this is the IRS that now has the proposed rules to silence 501(c)4 organizations, which are going to primarily hurt conservative organizations.

And now, instead of focusing on what they should do, they’re promoting the so-called lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and whatever else of the alphabet you want to add to that, agenda. This is a very pro-homosexual administration, from President Obama right down to all the people that work underneath him. Not only here in America, but they’re pushing this agenda around the world as well. It is a very damaging agenda. This president is doing more harm to our foundational, fundamental values than any president in American history.

Schneider: Two more issues that have happened today, Matt. Today, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the EEOC, issued a very comprehensive statement on religious garb and grooming in the workplace, rights and responsibilities. What’s behind this?

Staver: Well, what’s behind it, obviously, is the president’s pro-Muslim position. And obviously, when you look at the examples, there are examples for all different kinds of religions, and particularly Muslim religions, but I really don’t see much mention at all of Christianity. This is as though Christianity doesn’t exist.

They then moved on to the Dalai Lama’s visit and the Hindu speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast, which Staver said illustrated the president’s “insensitivity to Christianity.”

Schneider: CNSNews.com is reporting that this very morning, the Dalai Lama delivered the opening prayer at the United States Senate, encouraging prayer to Buddha and all other gods. Just really troubling. We’re not a country that’s founded on ‘all other gods,’ are we?

Staver: No, and in fact if you go back to the National Prayer Breakfast just a few weeks ago in Washington, DC, after Ben Carson spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast a year ago, President Obama for six months or so threatened to not return. And unfortunately, some of the leaders, not wanting to have the first president of the Unites States not attend, ultimately caved in to his pressure, and he’s the one, we are told, that selected the person to speak. The person to speak, now, for the very first time in the National Prayer Breakfast history was not a Christian, but I believe was Hindu, and didn’t mention anything about Christianity or God. This was someone who was picked by Obama, and under those circumstances, Obama would have now agreed to come. I would have said, then go ahead and be the first president. It would certainly show some of your insensitivity to Christianity that you’ve been showing ever since you were inaugurated.

Tea Party Call: Without A Christian President, You Get 'Pain, Suffering, Disease And Death'

Last week’s Tea Party Unity conference call – after an eventful conversation between Don Feder and Rick Scarborough  –  featured a presentation from Neil Mammen, author of Jesus is involved in politics!: Why aren’t you? Why isn’t your church?

Mammen fielded a question from a caller who asked, “Do you think that we should insist that the next president should have strong religious beliefs to set good examples here in America?” because “Reagan, who ended the Cold War, was by using his Christian beliefs back in the ‘80s, and Obama, who is destroying America with his disbeliefs and his persecution of Christianity here in America, is doing great harm.”

“Who better to run a country than someone who loves that law, who will respect that law, who knows the Lawgiver?” Mammen responded. “So absolutely, yes. And anytime you get somebody who disdains law, doesn’t care for the law, who hates the Lawgiver and doesn’t think he deserves his sceptre, doesn’t think that the law giver knows what’s good for you, for us, then naturally you’re going to get pain, suffering, disease and death.”

Phyllis Schlafly's Ludicrous Lie

Most RWW readers probably had little intention of reading Phyllis Schlafly’s latest column, entitled “Obama’s War on the First Amendment.” But just in case you were interested, we can spare you the time. Its ridiculous nature is encapsulated in one paragraph:

Obama has made it clear that he doesn’t want any expression of religious faith in any public place, including buildings or schools or events. He wants to redefine the First Amendment from “free exercise” to “freedom of worship,” which means you would only be able to go inside your church, shut and perhaps lock the doors, and say a prayer where no one else can hear you.

Actually that transparently false first sentence is enough. No expression of religious faith in any public space? Has Phyllis Schlafly ever listened to an Obama speech? Did she watch either of his inauguration ceremonies? His National Prayer Breakfast addresses?

It’s one thing to disagree with the Obama administration’s position requiring insurance coverage of contraception, and to take a position that private corporations have the right to exempt themselves from laws that company owners say violate their religious beliefs. It’s another to make the ludicrous leap that the administration is out to force all religious expression behind closed doors.

In her column, Schlafly says “Make no mistake; we are in a war for religious liberty.” Clearly, in Schlafly’s war, truth is already a casualty.

Iowa Republicans Pick Anti-Gay Crusader And Roy Moore Backer To Co-Chair Party

Last month, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called for Michigan GOP committeeman Dave Agema to resign over anti-gay, anti-Muslim comments. Apparently, the Iowa Republican Party didn’t get the message. Barely a week after the Agema controversy broke, the Iowa GOP picked an anti-gay crusader to be the state party co-chair.

Danny Carroll, a former state representative who took over as the Iowa GOP’s co-chair on February 3, is a lobbyist for The Family Leader, the right-wing social issues group run by Bob Vander Plaats, who is considering running for Senate. While Vander Plaats’ over-the-top rhetoric is better known, Carroll is equally adamant in his opposition to gay rights and his Christian-nation view of government.

Back in 2010, Danny Carroll, then the head of Iowa Family Policy Center, refused to endorse the candidacy of Republican Terry Brandstad even after he won the gubernatorial primary because of what he saw as Brandstad’s insufficient opposition to gay rights. Brandstad merely wanted to pass a state constitutional amendment overturning the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2009 marriage equality ruling; Carroll’s preferred candidate, Vander Plaats, led a campaign to target and oust the judges behind the ruling. Carroll assured Vander Plaats’ supporters that they were “answering to God Almighty.” After the election, Vander Plaats was hired to head The Family Leader, a new umbrella group that encompassed the Iowa Family Policy Center.

At a Family Leader conference last year, Carroll insisted that more important than the breakdown of families was the “crisis is in the definition of family” – that is, the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage. He said the group was pushing for a state constitutional amendment on marriage equality because “just about every problem facing society today could be fixed, eliminated or significantly reduced if we held up marriage between one man and one woman for life.”

Over the past several years, Carroll has used his influence in Iowa to back candidates who share his far-right views. In 2008, he co-chaired Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign in Iowa. In 2012, he went for Michele Bachmann, who he declared was “biblically qualified” for the presidency.

But Carroll’s first choice in 2012 was maybe even further to the right than Bachmann: He backed the short-lived presidential campaign of Alabama Judge Roy Moore, who became famous for defying a court order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from a government building, and who now wants to hold a Constitutional Convention to pass an amendment banning same-sex marriage. When Moore dropped out of the race, Carroll lamented, “He’s a great guy. I love him and respect him. He’s a hero, that’s for sure. And he’s an honorable person. I can’t say anything negative against Judge Moore. Just the reality of politics, I guess.”

Carroll seems to share Moore’s leanings. In a speech in 2010, Carroll blamed the Supreme Court ruling banning school-organized prayer for recent teen suicides in Iowa and railed against legal abortion and gambling. He said these trends could only be reversed by electing people “who will stand up and unashamedly and without apology assure us that they will be guided by absolute and timeless Christian morals that comes from a regular reading of God’s Word.”

“I am through apologizing for what this country was founded on: a firm conviction that a free people cannot be self-governed unless they have a strong conviction to religion and morality,” he added.

In an interview with radio host Jan Mickelson earlier this month, Carroll agreed with Mickelson’s assessment that his appointment to serve alongside the Ron Paul-supporting state party chair A.J. Spiker represented “a marriage between the Paulistas and the evangelicals, or the Teavangelicals” in Iowa. In a possible signal that the party was patching things up, Carroll last week endorsed Brandstad’s reelection bid.

Carroll is hardly alone as a hard-right social conservative in the state-level leadership of a party that just last year proposed softening its image to expand its base. As Brian noted last month, it was odd that Priebus singled out Agema, since anti-gay sentiment is a common feature among RNC committee members. In fact, in Iowa, Carroll will be serving alongside RNC committeewoman Tamara Scott, who once warned that gay marriage will lead to man-Eiffel Tower marriage and who blamed the recession in part on legalized same-sex marriage.

Ted Cruz vs. The Religious Right: Is Putin Tyrant Or Savior?

Is it possible to talk about human rights abuses in Russia in the context of the Olympics and not once mention Russia’s anti-gay laws, the rising tide of anti-gay violence, or the controversy over the impact that Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law might have on athletes and visitors? Sure, if you’re Sen. Ted Cruz speaking at an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation. 

Cruz, darling of the Religious Right and Tea Party, slammed Russia’s “increasingly autocratic” president at the January 28 Heritage event.  He portrayed Vladimir Putin as a tyrant systematically working to crush Ukrainian independence and reassemble the old Soviet Union. And of course he took the opportunity to slam the Obama administration, which he said was not standing up forcefully for human rights.

Following Cruz to the microphone was Katrina Lantos Swett, Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Swett, a “proud Democrat,” detailed a litany of anti-democratic laws adopted in Putin’s Russia, including “religious freedom” and “extremism” laws that give the government wide latitude to discriminate against minority religions, including Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Pentecostal Christians.  She said the Russian government is undermining civil society with severe restrictions on protests and the return of Soviet-era tactics like sentencing dissidents to psychiatric treatment. Swett did mention the anti-gay “propaganda” law in her list of Putin’s anti-democratic actions.

There are a couple remarkable things about this panel, other than finding myself in agreement with Cruz about something (Putin is an anti-democratic strongman).

First, in his 26-minute speech and during the Q&A, at an event about human rights and the Olympics, Cruz did not breathe a word about the raging controversy over Russia’s attacks on the rights and lives of LGBT people. The closest Cruz came was mentioning, as an example of Putin’s efforts to crush dissent, his moves against “a punk rock band.” Cruz joked about his unwillingness to say the band’s name (Pussy Riot).

Second, Cruz is clearly at odds with anti-gay and anti-abortion leaders in the U.S. who have been busily praising Putin as the defender of traditional values and savior of Christianity. Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber, for example, has said Putin is being allowed to “out-Christian our once-Christian nation.” The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer has called Putin “the lion of Christianity, the defender of Christian values, the president that’s calling his nation back to embracing its identity as a nation founded on Christian values.”

In fact there is a whole gaggle of Religious Right leaders who have, as Miranda has reported, fallen all over themselves to praise Putin and his anti-free-speech, anti-gay crackdown. And some of them have done more than just praise Putin. Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage traveled to Russia to build support for anti-gay legislation. The Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society is excited about heading to Moscow for its 2014 “World Congress of Families” summit.

Cruz was eager to criticize the Obama administration for not advocating more strongly for human rights in Russia, but what does he have to say about his Religious Right pals who are actively praising and enabling Putin’s anti-democratic moves? And who have attacked the Obama administration’s efforts to promote the human rights of LGBT people abroad? We’re listening.

Defining Religious Liberty: Little Sisters' Little Victory

Among the many court cases challenging contraception requirements under the Affordable Care Act, the case involving the Little Sisters of the Poor has been, and continues to be, a strange one. The latest wrinkle came on Friday in what SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston calls a “partial win” for the order of nuns.

The Little Sisters, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, appealed to the Supreme Court to prevent the group from having to sign a form documenting its religious objection to providing contraception coverage while its broader challenge to the law moves through the courts. The Tenth Circuit had rejected a similar request.

Under the Obama administration’s accommodation for religious groups, that form would exempt the organization from providing or paying for contraception coverage, and that responsibility would pass to the group’s insurer. In a brief to the Supreme Court, the Solicitor General’s office said that by Becket’s reasoning, a Quaker couldn’t be required to attest to his religious objections before being absolved of military obligations. But Becket insisted that the form acted as a “permission slip” that would trigger contraception coverage, and that would make the nuns complicit.

What makes this argument even stranger is the fact that the Little Sisters’ insurer is classified as a “church plan,” which is exempt from enforcement of the ACA requirement. So whether or not the Little Sisters signed the form, their lay employees would still not have access to coverage.

On Friday, the Supreme Court granted the Little Sisters’ request for an injunction, with a proviso. The group did not have to sign the government’s religious objection form, but it did have to notify the Department of Health and Human Services of its religious objections by letter. The Becket Fund declared victory and announced itself “delighted” by the Court’s compromise.

So, to recap: requiring a religious organization to sign a form opting out of providing contraception coverage is religious tyranny, but requiring a religious organization to send a letter to HHS stating its objections to providing contraception coverage is a victory for religious freedom.

Just wait until the Supreme Court hears the more far-reaching Hobby Lobby case, in which Becket and its client seek to establish the principle that for-profit companies can opt out of laws protecting their employees if those laws conflict with the religious beliefs of the corporation’s owners.

 

PFAW Foundation

Celebrating Religious Freedom

January 16 is Religious Freedom Day, which commemorates the Virginia General Assembly’s approval of Thomas Jefferson’s historic Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a precursor to the religious liberty protections in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In this year’s Religious Freedom Day proclamation, President Barack Obama writes,

Today, America embraces people of all faiths and of no faith. We are Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, atheists and agnostics. Our religious diversity enriches our cultural fabric and reminds us that what binds us as one is not the tenets of our faiths, the colors of our skin, or the origins of our names. What makes us American is our adherence to shared ideals -- freedom, equality, justice, and our right as a people to set our own course.

America proudly stands with people of every nation who seek to think, believe, and practice their faiths as they choose. In the years to come, my Administration will remain committed to promoting religious freedom, both at home and across the globe. We urge every country to recognize religious freedom as both a universal right and a key to a stable, prosperous, and peaceful future.

As we observe this day, let us celebrate America's legacy of religious liberty, embrace diversity in our own communities, and resolve once more to advance religious freedom in our time.

Melissa Rogers, a widely respected advocate for religious liberty who currently serves as special assistant to the president and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, also published a reflection on Religious Freedom Day.

Rogers celebrates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which passed Congress by unanimous consent in 2000 with backing from a politically and religiously diverse coalition. RLUIPA (pronounced R-loopa) has helped Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, people who practice Native American traditional religions and others protect their ability to meet and worship, and has helped people in prisons, jails, mental institutions, and state-run nursing homes preserve their religious freedom.

The values embodied in RLUIPA are universal ideals.  Department of Justice attorneys have provided technical assistance on issues involving construction of places of worship to government officials in Spain, Indonesia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and other countries wrestling with these same issues.  In 2012, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee won the right to move into its new mosque with the help of a RLUIPA suit brought by the Department of Justice. On the day of the court decision, the mosque’s Imam, Sheikh Ossama Bahloul, remarked that America’s dedication to religious freedom can serve as a model for others around the world, and added:   “I think this is an opportunity for us all to celebrate the freedom and liberty that, in fact, exist in America and to teach our young people to believe even more in the U.S. Constitution.”

People For the American Way and PFAW Foundation celebrate religious freedom by working to uphold the First Amendment’s twin pillars of religious liberty: the Establishment Clause, which mandates the separation of church and state and prevents government from playing religious favorites, and the Free Exercise Clause, which protects individuals’ right to worship and exercise their faith free from government interference.

Religious liberty is central to the American Way, but it has also become a rallying cry for Religious Right leaders and their political allies, who all too often portray criticism as persecution, and policy disagreement as tyranny. That poisons our political climate.

Like other constitutional guarantees, religious liberty is fundamental but not absolute, particularly when it comes into tension with other principles like equality under the law or protecting public health. Advocates for religious freedom frequently disagree about how to apply religious liberty principles in specific cases, and where courts should draw the lines in cases balancing competing interests.  These are complex and often very contentious issues. People For the American Way Foundation’s “12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics” set out principles for bringing religion and religious values into the public arena in ways that are constructive rather than divisive. 

PFAW

AFA Bashes Beyonce For Disrespecting Juicebar Jesus

The American Family Association has jumped on board a mini-controversy over an Instagram photo posted by Beyonce in which the singer sits in front of the image of Jesus in an Andy Warhol rendition of The Last Supper at a Miami juicebar.

In an interview with the Christian Post, AFA president Tim Wildmon took the opportunity to link the Instagram photo to the Duck Dynasty contraversy, claiming that the lack of an outcry over the juicebar photo proves the existence of a "double-standard" for Christians.

Is nothing sacred anymore? This is clearly an act of disrespect towards Jesus Christ, whom Beyoncé covers up with her pose. This had to be done intentionally. However, you will not see the media condemn her for offending Christians in the same way they did Phil Robertson for offending homosexuals because there is a double-standard. Christians are the only group in America you can bash with impunity.

h/t Miami New Times

Share this page: Facebook Twitter Digg SU Digg Delicious