Religious Liberty

Religious Right's Persecution Narrative Gains Traction, Even As Most Americans Oppose Them On Policy

Polling released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute underscores the success that the Right has had in pushing its religious persecution narrative, even as majorities of Americans support the policies that the Right claims are threatening religious liberty.

PRRI finds that a “majority (54%) of Americans believe that the right of religious liberty is being threatened in America today,” including 80 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of white evangelical Protestants.

But at the same time, large majorities support the very policies that the Right is claiming are persecuting people of faith, including the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate and LGBT nondiscrimination policies.

PRRI found that 61 percent of Americans believe that publicly-held corporations should “be required to provide their employees with health insurance that includes contraception at no cost” and that smaller majorities support the same requirement for privately-held corporations, small businesses, and even religiously-affiliated institutions.

What’s more, PRRI reports that “Americans overwhelming reject the notion that small business owners should be allowed to refuse to provide services or goods to individuals because they are gay or lesbian, atheist, Jewish or black, even if doing so would violate the owners’ religious beliefs.”

Only 16 percent wanted to allow small businesses to refuse services to gays and lesbians, only slightly more than the 10 percent who still think businesses should be allowed to refuse service to black people because of their race.

The results of PRRI’s research show the enormous success that the Religious Right is having in building its narrative of religious persecution, even as the public opposes its actual policy goals.

7 Outrageous Rants From GOP House Candidate Jody Hice On Blood Moons, Sandy Hook, Women And 'Judicial Terrorists'

When Baptist pastor Jody Hice made it into a runoff election last week to succeed Georgia Rep. Paul Broun in the U.S. House, Tim Murphy at Mother Jones did a great public service by reading Hice’s 2012 book, in which he alleged that gay people have a secret plot to “sodomize” kids and posited that Muslims don’t deserve First Amendment rights.

While Hice might have crystalized his thinking in his book, his long record as an activist and host of a syndicated radio show reveals his views on many other subjects, including mass shootings, the role of women in politics and the appearance of "blood moons."

1. Hice has no problem with women entering politics as long as they ask their husbands first

Hice weighed in on a 2004 Athens Banner-Herald story on an increase in women holding political office in Georgia, saying that he didn’t “see a problem” with a woman entering politics as long as she’s “within the authority of her husband.”

''If the woman's within the authority of her husband, I don't see a problem,'' Dr. Jody Hice of the Bethlehem First Baptist church in Barrow County said of women in positions of political power.

2. He warned that homosexuality “enslaves” people “in a lifestyle that frankly they are not”

In a November, 2013, radio program, Hice reacted to laws banning so-called “conversion therapy” for minors by lamenting that by banning harmful “ex-gay” therapy, “we are enslaving and entrapping potentially hundreds of thousands of individuals in a lifestyle that frankly they are not.”

He went on to compare being gay to alcoholism, drug addiction, “tendencies to lie” and “tendencies to be violent.”

3. He doesn’t think Muslims should have First Amendment rights, but can’t bother to pronounce their names

In his book, Hice writes that “[a]lthough Islam has a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology. It is a complete geo-political structure, and as such, does not deserve First Amendment protection."

The pastor elaborated on this theory in a speech to a Tea Party group in 2011, where he specified that he only wanted to deny First Amendment rights to Muslims who “embrace all of Islam.”

Hice told the standing room-only crowd that there is an important distinction between many Muslims and Islam.

"Our general concept is a Muslim is someone who adheres to Islam. That is true to an extent, but that is not the whole truth," Hice said.

There are some religious Muslims who follow the five tenets of Islam but don't subscribe to the entirety of what is laid out in the Quran, he said.

"Now those individuals would be included in our First Amendment" protections to 'worship as you want to worship,'" Hice said. "The problem is for those others who embrace all of Islam."

He went on to allege that there are “200 Islamic organizations in the United States that answer directly to the Muslim Brotherhood,” which along with “secularism” amount to “the number one threat” to “our worldview”:

Broadening the conversation pertaining to the potential introduction of Sharia law and other aspects of global Islam into the United States, Hice said there are 200 Islamic organizations in the United States that answer directly to the Muslim Brotherhood.

“It’s about controlling your behavior, when and where you can worship and legal issues. The number one threat is to our worldview and whether we chunk it for secularism or Islam,” Hice said. “So get involved and stay involved. Hold elected officials accountable and pray for our country.”

But he couldn’t name any of the people he was afraid were taking over America, because, as the Newnan Times-Herald reported, “he usually can't pronounce Muslim names anyway, he said.”

4. He warned that “looking cross-eyed” at a transgender person is now a “hate crime”

In an August, 2013, radio program, Hice lamented that “you can’t even speak against a person who is a cross-dresser or a man who wants to believe himself to be a woman” without being convicted of a “hate crime.”

5. He blamed Sandy Hook shooting on America’s “kicking God out of the public square “

After the Sandy Hook massacre, Hice blamed mass shootings on America’s “kicking God out of the public square,” specifically the end of government-sponsored prayer in schools.

6. He advised listeners to “take notice” of the possibility that blood moons could signal “world-changing events”

Hice devoted a segment of his radio program last month to advising listeners to “take notice” and “have your antennas up” about John Hagee’s prediction that recent “blood moons” signal impending “world-changing events.”

7. Two years after 9/11, he complained of “our freedoms being hijacked by judicial terrorists"

Hice made his name in Georgia as the head of Ten Commandments-Georgia, whose goal is to display copies of the Ten Commandments at public buildings throughout the state. Hice led the battle to display a copy of the Ten Commandments in Barrow County, raising money to pay tens of thousands of dollars to Virginia attorney Herb Titus (who has since become a birther activist), but sticking the county with the $150,000 in legal fees it was ordered to pay to the ACLU.

At a November, 2003, rally for a bill drafted by Titus and Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore that would have stripped federal courts of the ability to decide many church-state separation cases, Hice declared, ''We need to send a message -- we are sick and tired of our freedoms being hijacked by judicial terrorists.''

''We are no longer going to tolerate the continual assault on our God, our faith and our freedom by ... these judges of tyranny,'' said the Rev. Jody Hice, pastor of Bethlehem First Baptist Church and president of Ten Commandments-Georgia Inc. ''We need to send a message -- we are sick and tired of our freedoms being hijacked by judicial terrorists.''

In 2005, when the Athens Banner-Herald’s editorial board blasted him for sticking the county with legal fees from his losing Ten Commandments case, he punched back, accusing the ACLU of being an “anti-religious, anti-moral and utterly anti-American” group that perpetrated an act of “moral terrorism” by suing over his Ten Commandments display.

Also in the editorial, there were some examples of the ACLU representing religious cases. The editorial implied I do not understand their compassionate activities. The fact is, the vast majority of ACLU cases are anti-religious, anti-moral and utterly anti-American, at least from the perspective of America's mainstream. It is no secret the founder of the ACLU was a communist, who specifically instructed his followers to "wave flags" and appear patriotic while undermining the values of America's heritage. It is an erroneous endeavor to try and make the ACLU look pristine when it comes to defending religious liberties.

It is easy to be a "Monday-morning quarterback" and rationalize unfounded accusations. Anyone can advise TC-Ga. of the "reasonable" and "honorable" thing to do. The fact is, we tried.

We should bear in mind the real issue regarding tax money. What are tax dollars for if not to defend our rights? Just look at what our tax dollars are doing to protect us from terrorism. In my opinion, what happened to Barrow County was an act of "moral terrorism," and someone must defend us, even if it includes tax dollars. And if you are going to be upset about spending tax money, instead of blaming TC-Ga.

EW Jackson Warns ACLU & Freedom From Religion Foundation Are Agents of 'Demonic Power'

Bishop E.W. Jackson, the former Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of Virginia who is now a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, spoke at last week’s FRC Watchmen on the Wall conference, where he warned that America is being “threatened from within” and that church-state separation groups like the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation are literally representatives of “demonic power.”

Jackson told the roomful of conservative pastors that the ACLU and the FFRF are “not simply human beings who disagree with us.” Instead, he said, the groups’ church-state separation efforts come from “demonic power moving to shut down the power of God that comes through prayer.”

Earlier in his speech, Jackson told a story about a woman who his friend met on a plane who was weeping for Israel. While Israel faces risks such as a nuclear Iran, Jackson said, “I wonder if we as Americans are as serious about the fact that we are threatened from within and that there are people who want to fundamentally transform the nature of this country, who really do not believe that we are a providential nation.”

Jackson added a dig at the theory of evolution: “All men are created – not evolved, but created – equal.”


 

ACLJ: Blasphemy Laws For Me, But Not For Thee?

Yesterday, Miranda reported on the seemingly contradictory views of the American Center for Law and Justice’s European and Slavic affiliates when it comes to blasphemy laws. The ECLJ has been vocal in opposing blasphemy laws in Muslim-majority countries, but the SCLJ supported passage of a new anti-blasphemy law in Russia. The law provides for fines, “correctional labor” and up to three years behind bars for “public actions expressing obvious disrespect toward society and committed to abuse the religious feelings of believers.” SCLJ’s co-chairman Vladimir Rehyakovsky expressed some reservations about the final form of the law, but said it was “very important” to have such a law in place.

So, where does the ACLJ stand on blasphemy laws?  On one hand, it is proud of its opposition in international forums like the United Nations to blasphemy laws that are used by Islamist governments to restrict religious expression.  In 2011, the ACLJ said the UN’s Human Rights Committee endorsed an ECLJ-backed position that “no right exists to protect the reputation of an ideology, rather human rights belongs to individuals.”

But more than a decade ago, in response to an “Ask Jay” question posted on the ACLJ’s website, the group’s chief counsel, Jay Sekulow, said it was “an unfortunate situation” that states no longer have laws against blasphemy, something he blamed on “the ACLU and those who trumpet the First Amendment as a license to really degrade people.”  Sekulow bemoaned the fact that “religion lacks protection in the law.”

Joe from Rhode Island asks: In Black’s classic law dictionary, blasphemy is illegal. When did it become legal to mock a person’s faith in God?

Jay answers: Black’s is the standard of legal definitions that law students are given around the country and Black’s is still cited in Supreme Court decisions. Not only in English common law but also in most states in the USA, blasphemy was prohibited speech. Clearly, the ACLU and those who trumpet the First Amendment as a license to really degrade people have changed that and that’s an unfortunate situation. But you’re absolutely correct, Black’s Law Dictionary is right. There are many definitions like that in Black’s, but religion lacks protection in the law. Not only is religion seen as irrelevant, but religion is trivialized and even mocked. This behavior has become an accepted part of who we are as a people and in some cases the Supreme Court hasn’t been particularly helpful in that context. The composition of the Supreme Court is obviously something we’re always watching because we know that with the more conservative court obviously some of our values will be more protected. Things have changed drastically if you look at our history, and it’s not even old history. Our country is still very young, but things are very different since our founding. We’re continuing to hope here at the American Center for Law and Justice that history will continue to change in a way that protects the rights of religious people across America. This is what we’re working toward. Selection of Supreme Court Justices is critical in the interpretation of these kinds of cases.

So it appears that the ACLJ is ready to champion free speech when it comes to opposing blasphemy laws in Muslim-majority countries, but supports restrictions on blasphemy in place where Christians are in the majority.  Perhaps that double standard is not much of a surprise, given that the ACLJ, which portrays itself as a champion of religious liberty, helped lead opposition to the construction of a Muslim community center in New York that critics inaccurately called the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

The ACLJ is a legal group founded by televangelist Pat Robertson and run by Jay Sekulow and his son Jordan in a manner that is very lucrative for the Sekulow family.

Religious Right 'Freedom And Liberty' Group ACLJ Backed Russian 'Gay Propaganda' And Blasphemy Bans

The American Center for Law and Justice, the group founded by televangelist Pat Robertson to be a right-wing counter to the American Civil Liberties Union, bills itself as a champion of the “ongoing viability of freedom and liberty in the United States and around the world.”

But the ACLJ – which has joined in the Religious Right chorus claiming that progressive policies are causing American Christians to lose their religious freedom – has never been so keen on the civil liberties of those with whom they disagree, especially in its work overseas. As we’ve noted in the past, the ACLJ led the fight to block the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in Manhattan and through its African affiliate has backed efforts to prevent legalized abortion in Kenya and to keep homosexuality illegal in Zimbabwe.

And in recent years, the ACLJ’s European and Russian branches have also supported key parts of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on gay rights and civil liberties, even as the group has served as a watchdog for Russia’s evangelical minority in the face of government persecution.

Both the European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ) and the Slavic Center for Law and Justice (SCLJ) affiliates voiced support for Russia’s 2013 gag order on gay-rights advocacy. In addition, following the 2012 Pussy Riot protest, the SCLJ called for a law criminalizing religious blasphemy. One of its leading attorneys then helped draft one proposed version of the law.

In 2012, the last year for which records are available, the ACLJ directed $300,000 to funding the SCLJ with the “goal of protecting religious rights and freedoms of individuals and associations in Russia.” Its bigger overseas project is the European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ), based in Strasbourg, France, to which it gave $1.1 million in 2012. The ACLJ’s chief counsel, Jay Sekulow, founded the SCLJ's overseas branches and serves as the chief counsel of the European affiliate. A handful of sources list him as the chief counsel of the Russian affiliate as well, although it is unclear if he still serves in that capacity.

The ACLJ did not respond to a request for comment on the work of its work in Russia.

Shortly after the feminist punk band Pussy Riot staged a protest at a Russian Orthodox cathedral – for which they were ultimately sentenced to two years in a penal colony for “hooliganism” – the SCLJ issued a press release endorsing the efforts of Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, an Orthodox Church official, to criminalize blasphemy, which at the time was punishable by just a small fine. The press release argued that “seemingly innocuous mischief of a few aggressive individuals led to real religious conflicts that posed a threat to people’s lives and health,” and recommending “harsh punishments” for people found guilty of blasphemy.

The press release called for Russian officials “to toughen laws against incitement of religious hatred and hostility, but also against insult to the religious feelings of the faithful and assaults against their shrines and temples. We also believe that there is an urgent need to introduce harsh punishments for disseminating such information on the Internet.”

The cynical, blasphemous actions in the Church of Christ the Savior that took place this week aroused a broad public outcry. The participants of the women’s feminist punk group Pussy Riot ran into the church wearing masks and performed a blasphemous song with a political subtext right before the altar. They recorded the “performance” on video. Based on these recordings, a video clip was put together and posted on social networks, after which a flood of blasphemous and anti-church comments appeared online.

SCLJ recently raised the issue of the danger of dissemination through social networks of blasphemous information that insults the religious feelings of the faithful, at times openly inciting interreligious conflicts. Today we see that this concern is becoming even more acute and urgent. Criticism of certain religious views and beliefs is undoubtedly possible; however, insult and humiliation of the dignity of individuals who hold them or profess any religion is simply unacceptable.

The main problem is that the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation does not currently contain adequate penalties for such acts. The maximum punishment that can be brought down upon the participants in this blasphemous act at the Church of Christ the Savior is that they will be cited for an administrative offense and required to pay a small fine. However, the consequences of their activities may be very serious.

It should be noted that such cases are not rare. SCLJ staff members have often come upon similar situations in other regions of the country. Moreover, in many cases, seemingly innocuous mischief of a few aggressive individuals led to real religious conflicts that posed a threat to people’s lives and health.

Law enforcement agencies typically respond to incidents of this nature by glossing over any anti-religious motives. No one wants crimes motivated by religious hatred and hostility. Therefore, officials strain to limit charges to “hooliganism” and sometimes refuse to open a criminal case at all.

In this regard, SCLJ supports the initiative of Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin to toughen laws against incitement of religious hatred and hostility, but also against insult to the religious feelings of the faithful and assaults against their shrines and temples. We also believe that there is an urgent need to introduce harsh punishments for disseminating such information on the Internet.

In September of 2012, members of the Duma introduced a bill that would criminalize “insulting citizens’ religious views and feelings.”

Despite SCLJ’s initial call for an anti-blasphemy law, the group’s co-chair Vladimir Rhyakovsky was apparently not thrilled with the first draft of the law. Rhyakovsky, a member of Putin’s Council on Civil Society and Human Rights, joined with a fellow council member to propose a revised version of the bill that proposed more moderate penalties for violation and created “zoned” free speech areas, but also, disturbingly, would have made the definition of “insulting religious feeling” even vaguer to cover such beliefs as “patriotism” and “commitment to traditional values.”

In June, 2013, Putin signed the final version of the blasphemy ban. The Moscow Times summarized its provisions:

The blasphemy law will punish “public actions expressing obvious disrespect toward society and committed to abuse the religious feelings of believers,” with potential punishment of up to three years behind bars, fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($15,430), and compulsory correctional labor, Lenta.ru reported.

It also stipulates fines of 80,000-300,000 rubles and a prison term of up to three months for hindering the activities of religious organizations and preventing religious rites from being conducted.

A fine of over 200,000 rubles can be levied for deliberate destruction of religious or theological literature.

Ryakhovsky – speaking in his capacity as a member of the human rights council – said after the Duma passed the bill that while he felt that it was “very important” to pass such a law and acknowledged that some of the human rights council’s proposals had been adopted, he was still concerned that “the problem of legal ambiguity remains,” which could “lead to arbitrary application and interpretation of the law, and willful use of it by law enforcement agencies.”

“Whenever the law, and especially criminal law, contains room for arbitrary interpretation, it is fraught with negative consequences,” he said. “I believe that this law is better than the one that was originally proposed, but on the other hand – it is not what it should be.”

That an ACLJ affiliate advocated for a blasphemy law – even if its leader offered only tepid support for the final product – is especially unsettling given that the group has strongly opposed blasphemy bans in its work at the United Nations. In a comment to the UN’s human rights committee in 2011, the ECLJ urged the committee to adopt a strong condemnation of blasphemy laws, such as those in Islamist countries. “Blasphemy prohibitions and laws regarding the defamation of religions violate the very foundations of the human rights tradition by protecting ideas instead of the person who hold those ideas,” the ECLJ wrote in a memo cosigned by its director, Gregor Puppink.

“Freedom of expression includes the right to be controversial, insulting, or offensive, even when such expression targets ideas that are devoutly held beliefs,” the group added.

The SCLJ and its leaders may have had mixed feelings about the final version of the blasphemy ban, but they offered more enthusiastic praise to another bill that Putin signed the same day: a ban on the distribution of “gay propaganda” to minors, essentially a gag order on gay-rights advocacy.

After the Duma passed the “propaganda” ban, Ryakhovsky’s fellow SCLJ co-chairman, Anatoly Pchelintsev, told Voice of America that although he would “refine” parts of the bill, it addressed an important problem. “You only have to turn on a few TV channels to become convinced: promotion of homosexuality is there in both direct and hidden forms,” he said.

Co-chair of the Slavic Center for Law and Justice Anatoly Pchelintsev told Voice of America that he believes there is such a thing as homosexual propaganda, and that it must be combated as much as possible. “You only have to turn on a few TV channels to become convinced: promotion of homosexuality is there in both direct and hidden forms.”

However, Pchelintsev believes there is no need to apply the law in all cases, since it is primarily minors who need protection against homosexual propaganda. “Adults are capable of understanding what is good and what is bad,” added Pchelintsev.

Pchelintsev says that he shares the opinion of Sergei Nikitin about the necessity of refining some of the terminology used in the bill. “You have to know what “propaganda” is before banning it.”

Pchelintsev told another outlet that he was “very pleased” about the move toward adopting the law because LGBT people should be allowed to “live as they want to, but without propagandizing their way of life.”

“I’m against homosexual propaganda, especially among minors. I am for strong families, but in this case I admit that there may be some kind of anomaly, it’s difficult to say in what way exactly—psychological, biological, or something else, but the problem exists—there are people like this. And let them live as they want to, but without propagandizing their way of life,” believes the scientific director of the Institute for Religion and Law, lawyer Anatoly Pchelintsev. “So I’m very pleased about the adoption of this law on the federal level. The key will be that it works and guarantees some kind of punishment. In my view, citation for an administrative offense is sufficient, violations like this do not fall under the purview of criminal law.”

The ACLJ’s European affiliate also voiced support for the “propaganda” ban. In an essay last year, ECLJ’s director, Gregor Puppinck, wrote that the law was “intended to protect children from messages about LGBT practices” that portray homosexuality as “favorable to or equivalent to marital relationships.” He portrayed Russia’s suppression of gay rights as a beacon of hope to France and the rest of Western Europe, showing that the trend toward gay rights is “strong, but not inevitable.”

ECLJ has worked closely with a number of French groups that have been touting Putin’s social conservative crackdown as a model for Europe. Last month, Puppinck joined a delegation of French activists in a visit to Russia to meet with leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and members of parliament to discuss partnering in “protecting traditional values.”

Although participants in the meeting said that they avoided foreign policy subjects, the visit by the delegation just a few weeks after Russia’s seizure of Crimea provoked some controversy in France, including criticism from a French Catholic leader who said, “If they think that Russia protects human rights, they should go for a tour of Crimea.” The magazine Nouvel Observateur accused the delegation of endorsing Putin’s propaganda of “Russia as a paradise of Christian values.”

In response to the Nouvel Observateur piece the president of the leading French anti-gay group Manif Pour Tous denied that anybody of authority in her group had participated.

But the ECLJ was far from shy about its own participation. According to the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative in Strasbourg, it was Puppinck who requested that he organize the delegation of French activists who support “the traditional concept of the family and oppose abortion, euthanasia, etc.”

We haven’t been able to find any detailed accounts of the visit, but one member of the delegation, the Russian Orthodox church’s representative in Strasbourg, repeated the idea of Russia as the moral protectors of Europe. “Russia is a unique country in Europe,” said Abbot Philip Rybykh. “It seeks to protect the natural order of life, and not the various deviations from it.”

Another report notes that the delegates reached the conclusion that “Western societies would do well to emulate” Russia’s “religious awakening.”

Puppinck reportedly said during the visit that he was “very impressed” by Russia’s newly established “moral” policies, specifically citing the drop in the country’s abortion rate. Russia’s anti-gay policies and protecting Europe from the “contagion” of gay rights were also reportedly objects of discussion.

Benham Brothers Reveal What Love And Liberty Mean To The Religious Right

Benham Brothers Reveal What Love and Liberty Mean To the Religious Right

Dangers Of Supreme Court Prayer Ruling Quickly Become Clear

Dangers Of Supreme Court Prayer Ruling Quickly Become Clear

Dangers of Supreme Court Prayer Ruling Quickly Become Clear

Sometimes the damage from a bad court decision takes a while to make itself clear. Not so with last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a town’s practice of beginning council meetings with prayers that are overwhelmingly Christian. Conservative political and legal groups called it a win for religious freedom, but it only took a few days to see just how much unnecessary and divisive conflict the Court’s decision could generate in communities across America.

Late last week the mayor of the New Jersey town of Carteret cited the Supreme Court ruling to justify cancelling the use of the borough hall for a Saturday naturalization ceremony.  He was upset that the Immigration and Naturalization Service refused to allow the ceremony to begin with prayer. The INS says its rules are meant to ensure that naturalization ceremonies are "conducted in a meaningful manner which is welcoming and inclusive and excludes political, commercial and religious statements." But Mayor Daniel Reiman said the INS could "host its godless ceremony someplace else." (It was held in Newark.)

What a sad object lesson for those aspiring American citizens and their friends and families. Who knows how many different faiths were represented among them? It shouldn’t matter, because one of the most precious benefits of being an American is that your rights and standing as a citizen do not depend on your holding any particular set of religious beliefs.

But don’t tell that to Al Bedrosian, a member of the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors in Virginia. Last week after the Supreme Court ruling, Bedrosian declared that prayers to open board meetings should be given only by Christians. It is shameful that Bedrosian holds public office in Virginia, home of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson and the birthplace of the First Amendment. Bedrosian argued publicly several years ago that Christians should “rid ourselves of this notion of freedom of religion in America.” He said Christians “are being fed lies that a Christian nation needs to be open to other religions” and called it one of the “greatest moments in US Senate history” when a group of Christians disrupted a Hindu religious leader who was giving an opening prayer.

Both Reiman and Bedrosian are misinterpreting the Court’s decision. But these episodes bring even greater clarity to a reality to which the conservative majority on the Supreme Court demonstrated “blindness” – in the words of dissenting Justice Elena Kagan. That is the exclusionary and divisive reality – as opposed to the theory – of government bodies opening their meetings with sectarian prayer.

The case decided by the Supreme Court came concerned the upstate New York town of Greece.  For years, the town council has been inviting local clergy to open its meetings. Those clergy have been overwhelmingly Christian, and their prayers were sometimes highly sectarian, invoking “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross” or “the plan of redemption that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” These were not, as dissenting Justice Elena Kagan noted, ceremonial invocations like the “God save the United States and this honorable Court,” which begins Supreme Court sessions.

The town’s prayer policy was challenged by two citizens (one Jew and one atheist) who felt coerced by the invitations to Christian prayer, and who felt as if they were being made outsiders in their own town based on their religious beliefs. They argued that the practice violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which has been interpreted as preventing the government from favoring religion in general or any religion in particular.

Some people, particularly those in the religious majority, have a hard time seeing why such prayer is a big deal. As Paul Waldman writes for the Washington Post, “the ruling is about the privilege of the majority, the privilege to define your own beliefs, traditions, and practices as simply the water in which we all swim. If you’re in that majority, you tend to be shocked when anyone even questions whether those practices ought to be imposed on everyone and sponsored by the state.”

But imagine, as Kagan did, a Muslim who has come before the city council seeking a zoning variance to build an addition on her home. When she is asked to join in prayer celebrating the divinity of Jesus, she has the option of not participating, or leaving the room. Either option identifies her as somehow different from her neighbors and from the councilmembers who will decide the fate of her request.  A federal appeals court had ruled that the town’s practice was unconstitutional because, even if town officials had no bad intent, the consequence of the nearly uninterrupted parade of Christian prayers was to signal that Christianity was favored, and to make unequal citizens of people of other faiths or no faith.

Unfortunately, five Supreme Court justices disagreed, saying even an overwhelmingly Christian and sectarian prayer practice is OK unless there is a pattern of prayers denigrating other faiths or proselytizing or unless there is evidence that people are being legally coerced or punished for not participating. The Court has given a green light to “Christian Nation” advocates like Al Bedrosian to demand that their city council or county commission allow their official meetings to be regularly opened with explicitly Christian prayers.  Some Religious Right leaders have said that’s exactly what they’re going to do.

Right now, practices vary. Some government bodies don’t bother with prayer; others invite clergy to open meetings, with guidelines that prayers be respectful or nonsectarian. But even that nod toward pluralism is at risk: Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice said this ruling means government bodies can no longer make a distinction between nonsectarian prayer and “praying in Jesus’ name” and he told the Christian Broadcasting Network, “that will have an impact on a number of cases.”

It’s worth noting that some progressive Christians agree that “nonsectarian prayer” is a kind of oxymoron. But, says Washington Monthly blogger Ed Kilgore, that is not a reason to push for sectarian prayer; it is instead a reason to do away with legislative prayer altogether. He writes that the effort to push more prayer in official settings is “offensive to those who pray as much as to those who don’t.” The pro-church-state-separation Baptist Joint Committee had filed a brief in the case stating that “prayer is an expression of voluntary religious devotion, not the business of government.”

That brings us to a crucial distinction between what is constitutional and what is wise, particularly in a country that is increasingly diverse, with a growing number of people who claim no religious affiliation. As noted in People For the American Way Foundation’s Twelve Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics, “Some things that are legally permissible may still be damaging to religious tolerance and civic discourse, and should be discouraged.”

The Supreme Court did not rule that legislative bodies have to begin their meetings with prayer; it ruled that the Constitution allows them to. In spite of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s portrayal of legislative prayer as a unifying force, it seems likely that an aggressive push for more sectarian prayer to open official meetings will be anything but unifying. Elected officials should think twice before going down that road.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he prays that the Court is showing a way toward “a right kind of free marketplace of faith expression in American life.” But Moore is wrong: we already have a free marketplace of faith expression in America. The First Amendment has fostered a vibrant, flourishing, peaceful religious pluralism that is unmatched anywhere in the world. Christian media has a massive presence on television, radio, and online. But what too many “Christian Nation” advocates want, and what the Court is opening the door to, is a system in which a religious majority can more easily use the institutions of government to promote its religious beliefs and label others as outsiders.

And that is not the American Way. 

PFAW Foundation

Todd Starnes Says LGBT Activists Will Demand Christians Be Deported; Religious Right Got There First

Fox News pundit Todd Starnes joins the parade of right-wing outrage about the Home & Garden Television Network pulling the plug on a show featuring David and Jason Benham after Right Wing Watch reported on David’s anti-gay activism.  Starnes posted a story about HGTV’s decision, then promoted it with a tweet that said,

Hmm, you mean the way Family Research Council spokesman Peter Sprigg said in 2008 that he would like to export homosexuals from the U.S. because homosexuality is destructive to society?  Sprigg apologized for using language that “did not communicate respect for the essential dignity of every human being as a person created in the image of God.” But since then he has said that gay sex should be criminalized.

Tony Perkins, Arbiter Of Christianity, Says Pro-Gay Christians Don't Have Same Religious Rights As Conservatives

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins implied today that Christians who support gay rights don’t have the same religious rights as conservative Christians because “true religious freedom” only applies to “orthodox religious viewpoints.”

Last month, a group of North Carolina ministers and same-sex couples, along with the United Church of Christ denomination, filed a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

The clergy argue that because of a law that makes it a misdemeanor for a member of the clergy to perform a marriage ceremony without a state license, the same-sex marriage ban violates the religious rights of clergy who wish to perform such ceremonies.

When a caller on Monday’s edition of “Washington Watch” asked Perkins about his views on the case, Perkins replied that the ministers don’t have the same religious rights as others because they aren’t real Christians and therefore aren’t protected by the “true religious freedoms” given to Christians.

As we know, only Tony Perkins gets to decide who is and isn’t a Christian and has religious rights under the law.

Caller: I wanted to see if I can get your response to the members of the clergy in Charlotte that are suing for the right to perform gay marriages, saying that the ban on gay marriage infringes on their religious rights. It’s my understanding that they are a Christian organization, it’s normally the other way around, and so I’m curious to hear what you got to say about it.

Perkins: I would use that term ‘Christian’ loosely. That title is — let’s talk biblical, here’s the deal, it’s like with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that we worked on in Mississippi and failed in Arizona and other places, here’s a test of what is a true religious freedom, a freedom that’s based on orthodox religious viewpoints. It has to have a track record, it has to come forth from religious orthodoxy.

You cannot point to the Christian faith and say that same-sex marriage has been a key teaching of the church. You can only point to the opposite, that the church has stood against sexual immorality in terms of sexual relations of those outside of marriage and in particular homosexual behavior. There is no place, there is nothing for them to stand on and say that same-sex marriage has standing in the orthodox Christian faith.

They’re playing games here, trying to turn the effort that so many Americans are now faced with of preserving religious freedom, they’re now trying to do a jujitsu move and say, ‘We’re going to use religious freedom to say we have a right to do same-sex marriage.’ Well, there is no foundation for that, there is no orthodox Christian holding that has ever said marriage is between people of the same sex.

Religious Right Sees Opportunity In Supreme Court Prayer Ruling

Religious Right groups are celebrating yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling upholding sectarian prayer at official public meetings – like city council sessions – and narrowly defining what would amount to unconstitutional religious coercion of people attending. The case is Town of Greece v. Galloway.

Though divided on their reasoning, the Court’s five conservative Justices upheld a practice in which, month after month, year after year, town leaders reached out to Christians and Christians only to offer opening prayers at town meetings, prayers that were often quite sectarian in nature.  The very few exceptions were in response to this lawsuit.  Although town leaders said that members of other religions could lead the opening prayer if they asked to, they had hardly let that be widely known, and they continued to reach out only to Christians.

SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston characterized the Court’s ruling as “[s]topping just short of abandoning a historic barrier to religion in government activity.” Conservative and religious groups hostile to church-state separation are gushing over the ruling and hope it is a sign of more to come.

The Becket Fund signaled that it hopes yesterday’s decision will just be the first step in further dismantling rulings upholding church-state separation.  From Deputy General Counsel Eric Rassbach:

“The Court’s landmark decision today echoes the wisdom of the Founders. Not only did the Court uphold the centuries-old practice of legislative prayer, it also started the work of bringing the entire law of church and state onto a firmer foundation in the words of the Constitution.”

David Corman, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the Town of Greece:

“Opening public meetings with prayer is a cherished freedom that the authors of the Constitution themselves practiced,” he said. “Speech censors should have no power to silence volunteers who pray for their communities just as the Founders did.”

The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer celebrated the ruling as a “monster win” and said it was proof that “we are fighting a winnable war,” because the “Supreme Court has ruled that you can have sectarian prayers, prayers in the name of Jesus Christ, to open any legislative session, any lawmaking body – a county commission can do it, a city council can do it, a state government can do it.”  

Fischer he went on at great length endorsing Justice Clarence Thomas’s position that the First Amendment does not limit states’ constitutional right to, for example, declare the Southern Baptist Church to be the official state church and force people to support the church with taxes.  Fischer, in fact, called Thomas “a stud on the issue of religious liberty.” (Fischer says he wouldn’t personally support coercive state establishment, but he supports Thomas’s constitutional analysis, and says it should be applied to interpret that the federal government has no right to tell public schools whether and how prayer is permitted.)  Fischer is delighted that the Supreme Court’s majority decision discussed the fact that the Continental Congress opened with “emphatically Christian” prayer.

Gordon Klingenschmitt:

Hallelujah!  Today YOU helped score a VICTORY at the U.S. Supreme Court, reaching the pinnacle of seven years of work and prayer with The Pray In Jesus Name Project.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that it's OK for pastors to pray "in Jesus' name" at city council meetings. 

Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins:

"The court today has upheld our first and most fundamental freedom. The court has rejected the idea that as citizens we must check our faith at the entrance to the public square. We applaud the majority on the court for getting that right. This is an historic victory for all Americans of faith and for the common-sense reading of the Constitution itself. The Court's affirmation of the right of Americans to practice their faith in public life and the public square is a major win for the religious liberty we have always cherished.”

Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition called it a victory that would empower Religious Right activists to push elected officials to bring sectarian prayer into more official settings:

Reed also announced that, armed with today’s Supreme Court decision, Faith & Freedom Coalition would redouble its efforts to encourage opportunities for prayers offered at meetings by town boards, city councils, and county commissions nationwide.  The organization has in the past mobilized public support for local officials who have allowed such prayers at government meetings.

“Speech honoring God and invoking His blessing on our land should be welcomed, not treated with hostility,” said Reed.  “With today’s decision, the government officials that faith-based voters help to elect can provide a forum for such expressions without fear of being reversed by future courts.”

Concerned Women for America celebrated, saying the decision “lifts up the best in our country.” CWA President Penny Nance managed to slam what she said has been “a push to establish atheism as the official religion of our land” and claim that the Supreme Court’s ruling was a win for everyone, “even the staunchest atheists.”

Those who object to these practices do not seek to exercise their religious liberty; they merely feel hostile towards other people’s religious practices and seek to silence them. They seek to silence those with whom they disagree….

The Founders of this great nation benefited and relied heavily on prayer to seek the guidance they needed to establish the foundations of our nation. When the first Congress met on September 7, 1774, it began with an amazing prayer “in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.” No religious oppression or favoritism followed from that practice, only the blessings of freedom and liberty, including the freedom of religious thought, belief, or even non-belief.

Everyone wins, including the staunchest atheists, when we allow the free exercise of religion or non-religion according to a person’s conscience.

Fox News pundit Todd Starnes, who specializes in promoting fictitious threats to religious freedom, declared that “the Obama administration has been waging a war against people of the Christian faith,” somehow neglecting to mention that the Obama administration had actually weighed in on the side of the Town of Greece and its overwhelmingly Christian prayers.  Starnes said it is “always a good day when the anti-Christian folks get smacked down by the Supreme Court” but said the fact that it was a 5-4 decision should be a “wake-up call” for Americans that elections matter.

Gary Bauer made the same point:

Here's the good news: The Supreme Court today upheld public prayers, even Christian prayers, at government meetings in 5-to-4 decision.

But that is the bad news too! The free exercise of religion depends on just one vote….

Now a win is a win. But don't miss the fact that this victory for religious liberty was won by the narrowest of margins. One more liberal appointment and the Supreme Court could easily ban prayers before town council meetings and legislative sessions. If that were to happen, our Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto would surely be next.

Your vote at the ballot box has a direct impact on our federal courts. Federal judges, including those on the Supreme Court, are appointed (by the president) and confirmed (by the Senate) by the men and women we elect to public office. 

 

Supreme Court Upholds Sectarian Prayer At Official Meetings: Religious Right Cheers

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court today overturned a ruling by the Second Circuit appeals court and upheld the practice of an upstate New York town that begins its council meetings with prayers that are almost always given by Christian clergy. Religious Right groups are celebrating the ruling; Ralph Reed announced that his Faith and Freedom coalition would use the ruling to “redouble its efforts” to encourage more prayers at city and county government meetings. Both the decision and the Religious Right's responses are likely to invite more religiously divisive church-state conflicts.

Justice Clarence Thomas used his concurring opinion to argue, as he has before, that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not apply to the states at all; in other words, he believes there is no constitutional reason that a state cannot have an official religion. Fortunately, the decision in this case is far narrower than that.

It is, as Justice Stephen Breyer says in the opening sentence of his dissent, a “fact-sensitive” case. It did not revolve around the question of whether legislative prayer is unconstitutional – the Court has previously upheld legislative prayer in Marsh v Chambers – but in part whether the way clergy were invited to give prayers to open town council meetings was sufficiently inclusive. In Breyer’s words,

“The question in this case is whether the prayer practice of the town of Greece, by doing too little to reflect the religious diversity of its citizens, did too much, even if unintentionally, to promote the ‘political division along religious lines’ that ‘was one of the principal evils against which the First Amendment was intended to protect.’” [quoting from the Court’s 1971 decision in Lemon v Kurtzman]

Also at issue was whether a town council meeting, at which members of the public are appealing to councilmembers for specific action, is more susceptible to being a coercive environment than a prayer given by a chaplain to a group of lawmakers about to start their legislative day. For example, the council hears debates on individual applications from residents and business owners seeing zoning permits and other licenses. In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan recognizes that the Court has upheld the historical tradition of legislative prayer, but writes that the town hall meetings in Greece are a kind of hybrid, “occasions for ordinary citizens to engage with and petition their government, often on highly individualized matters.” That, she says, requires special care that each member of the community is respected as an equal citizen, something the Town of Greece has not done.

While the plaintiffs in the Town of Greece case did not argue that town leaders were motivated by religious bias, they argued that the selection process led almost exclusively to prayers being given by Christian ministers, and to prayers that were not just ceremonial invocations but quite explicitly sectarian. Kagan writes that town meetings need not be religion-free zones, saying that “pluralism and inclusion in a town hall can satisfy the constitutional requirement of neutrality,” but concluded that the board of the Town of Greece did nothing to recognize religious diversity, and that its practice “does not square with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government.” She offers a hypothetical of a Muslim resident coming before the board to see a zoning variance to build an addition on her home:

“But just before she gets to say her piece, a minister deputized by the Town asks her to pray ‘in the name of God’s only son Jesus Christ.’ She must think – it is hardly paranoia, but only the truth—that Christian worship has become entwined with local governance. And now she faces a choice—to pray alongside the majority as one of that group or somehow to register her deeply felt difference….She does not wish to be rude to her neighbors, nor does she wish to aggravate the Board members whom she will soon be trying to persuade. And yet she does not want to acknowledge Christ’s divinity, any more than many of her neighbors would want to deny that tenet. So assume she declines to participate with the others in the first act of the meeting—or even, as the majority proposes, that she sands up and leaves the room altogether…At the least, she becomes a different kind of citizen, one who will not join in the religious practice that the Town Board has chosen as reflecting its own and the community’s most cherished beliefs. And she thus stands at a remove, based solely on religion, from her fellow citizens and her elected representatives.

Everything about that situation, I think, infringes the First Amendment…That the Town Board selects, month after month and year after year, prayergivers who will reliably speak in the voice of Christianity, and so places itself behind a single creed. That in offering those sectarian prayers, the Board’s chosen clergy members repeatedly call on individuals, prior to participating in local governance, to join in a form of worship that may be at odds with their own beliefs. That the clergy thus put some residents to the unenviable choice of either pretending to pray like the majority or declining to join its communal activity, at the very moment of petitioning their elected leaders. That the practice thus divides the citizenry, creating one class that shares the Board’s own evident religious beliefs and another (far smaller) class that does not. And that the practice also alters a dissenting citizen’s relationship with her government, making her religious difference salient when she seeks only to engage her elected representatives as would any other citizen.”

Kagan writes that the Court majority opinion reflected “two kinds of blindness.” First, it missed the difference between traditional legislative prayer and the setting of the town council, a difference she described as a “chasm,” and the fact that the prayers in Greece are mostly addressed to the public rather than lawmakers. She said the majority “changes the subject” rather than addressing the sectarian content of the prayers delivered in Greece, such as those invoking “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross” or “the plan of redemption that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” These are not, as she says, the recitation of “God save the United States and this honorable Court” invoked at the beginning of Supreme Court sessions.

Kagan cites George Washington’s well-known letter to the Newport Hebrew Congregation, in which he assured members of that congregation that the First Amendment does not simply tolerate people of minority faiths, rather all possess the same “immunities of citizenship.”

Writes Kagan:

For me, that remarkable guarantee means at least this much: When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another. And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines. I believe, for all the reasons I have given, that the Town of Greece betrayed that promise. I therefore respectfully dissent from the Court’s decision.

Breyer also joined Kagan’s dissent, as did Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor. The case is Town of Greece v. Galloway.

Supreme Court Upholds Sectarian Prayer at Official Meetings

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court today overturned a ruling by the Second Circuit appeals court and upheld the practice of an upstate New York town that begins its council meetings with prayers that are almost always given by Christian clergy. Religious Right groups are celebrating the ruling; Ralph Reed announced that his Faith and Freedom coalition would use the ruling to “redouble its efforts” to encourage more prayers at city and county government meetings. Both the decision and the Religious Right's responses are likely to invite more religiously divisive church-state conflicts.

Justice Clarence Thomas used his concurring opinion to argue, as he has before, that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not apply to the states at all; in other words, he believes there is no constitutional reason that a state cannot have an official religion. Fortunately, the decision in this case is far narrower than that.

It is, as Justice Stephen Breyer says in the opening sentence of his dissent, a “fact-sensitive” case. It did not revolve around the question of whether legislative prayer is unconstitutional – the Court has previously upheld legislative prayer in Marshv Chambers – but in part whether the way clergy were invited to give prayers to open town council meetings was sufficiently inclusive. In Breyer’s words,

“The question in this case is whether the prayer practice of the town of Greece, by doing too little to reflect the religious diversity of its citizens, did too much, even if unintentionally, to promote the ‘political division along religious lines’ that ‘was one of the principal evils against which the First Amendment was intended to protect.’” [quoting from the Court’s 1971 decision in Lemon v Kurtzman]

Also at issue was whether a town council meeting, at which members of the public are appealing to councilmembers for specific action, is more susceptible to being a coercive environment than a prayer given by a chaplain to a group of lawmakers about to start their legislative day. For example, the council hears debates on individual applications from residents and business owners seeing zoning permits and other licenses. In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan recognizes that the Court has upheld the historical tradition of legislative prayer, but writes that the town hall meetings in Greece are a kind of hybrid, “occasions for ordinary citizens to engage with and petition their government, often on highly individualized matters.” That, she says, requires special care that each member of the community is respected as an equal citizen, something the Town of Greece has not done.

While the plaintiffs in the Town of Greece case did not argue that town leaders were motivated by religious bias, they argued that the selection process led almost exclusively to prayers being given by Christian ministers, and to prayers that were not just ceremonial invocations but quite explicitly sectarian. Kagan writes that town meetings need not be religion-free zones, saying that “pluralism and inclusion in a town hall can satisfy the constitutional requirement of neutrality,” but concluded that the board of the Town of Greece did nothing to recognize religious diversity, and that its practice “does not square with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government.” She offered a hypothetical of a Muslim resident coming before the board to see a zoning variance to build an addition on her home:

“But just before she gets to say her piece, a minister deputized by the Town asks her to pray ‘in the name of God’s only son Jesus Christ.’ She must think – it is hardly paranoia, but only the truth—that Christian worship has become entwined with local governance. And now she faces a choice—to pray alongside the majority as one of that group or somehow to register her deeply felt difference….She does not wish to be rude to her neighbors, nor does she wish to aggravate the Board members whom she will soon be trying to persuade. And yet she does not want to acknowledge Christ’s divinity, any more than many of her neighbors would want to deny that tenet. So assume she declines to participate with the others in the first act of the meeting—or even, as the majority proposes, that she sands up and leaves the room altogether…At the least, she becomes a different kind of citizen, one who will not join in the religious practice that the Town Board has chosen as reflecting its own and the community’s most cherished beliefs. And she thus stands at a remove, based solely on religion, from her fellow citizens and her elected representatives.

Everything about that situation, I think, infringes the First Amendment…That the Town Board selects, month after month and year after year, prayergivers who will reliably speak in the voice of Christianity, and so places itself behind a single creed. That in offering those sectarian prayers, the Board’s chosen clergy members repeatedly call on individuals, prior to participating in local governance, to join in a form of worship that may be at odds with their own beliefs. That the clergy thus put some residents to the unenviable choice of either pretending to pray like the majority or declining to join its communal activity, at the very moment of petitioning their elected leaders. That the practice thus divides the citizenry, creating one class that shares the Board’s own evident religious beliefs and another (far smaller) class that does not. And that the practice also alters a dissenting citizen’s relationship with her government, making her religious difference salient when she seeks only to engage her elected representatives as would any other citizen.”

Kagan writes that the Court majority opinion reflected “two kinds of blindness.” First, it missed the difference between traditional legislative prayer and the setting of the town council, a difference she described as a “chasm,” and the fact that the prayers in Greece are mostly addressed to the public rather than lawmakers. She said the majority “changes the subject” rather than addressing the sectarian content of the prayers delivered in Greece, such as those invoking “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross” or “the plan of redemption that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” These are not, as she says, the recitation of “God save the United States and this honorable Court” invoked at the beginning of Supreme Court sessions.

Kagan cites George Washington’s well-known letter to the Newport Hebrew Congregation, in which he assured members of that congregation that the First Amendment does not simply tolerate people of minority faiths, rather all possess the same “immunities of citizenship.”

Writes Kagan:

For me, that remarkable guarantee means at least this much: When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another. And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines. I believe, for all the reasons I have given, that the Town of Greece betrayed that promise. I therefore respectfully dissent from the Court’s decision.

Breyer also joined Kagan’s dissent, as did Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor. The case is Town of Greece v. Galloway.

PFAW Foundation

Iowa GOP Senate Candidates Vow To Block Judges Who Won't Follow 'Biblical' Law

The Iowa-based Religious Right group The Family Leader held a forum for Republican US Senate candidates on Friday, at which the group’s view that “God instituted government” figured heavily. In fact, nearly every candidate at the debate vowed that if they were to be elected to the Senate they would block federal judicial nominees who do not follow what they perceive as “natural law” or a “biblical view of justice.”

Bob Vander Plaats, head of The Family Leader, opened the forum by declaring, “At The Family Leader, we believe God has three institutions: It would be the church, the family, and government.”

He warned that policies such as legal abortion and marriage equality would cause God to cease blessing the country. “As we have a culture that runs further and further from God’s principles, His precepts, from God’s heart, it’s only natural consequences that we’re going to suffer,” he said.

“You cannot run away from the heart of God and expect God to bless the country," he concluded.

Several of the candidates echoed this theme during the forum. When moderator Erick Erickson, the right-wing pundit, asked the candidates what criteria they would look for in confirming federal judges, three out of four said they would demand faith in God or adherence to “natural law.”

Sam Clovis, a college professor and retired Air Force colonel, answered that he has  “a very firm litmus test” on judges: “Can that judge…explain to me natural law and natural rights?”

Joni Ernst, who is currently a state senator, agreed, adding that federal judges should understand that the Constitution and all of our laws “did come from God” and that senators should “make sure that any decisions that they have made in the past are decisions that fit within that criteria.”

Former federal prosecutor Matt Whitaker argued that neither Clovis’ nor Ernst’s answer had gone “far enough.” He said that he would demand that federal judicial nominees be “people of faith” and “have a biblical view of justice.”

“As long as they have that worldview, then they’ll be a good judge,” he said. “And if they have a secular worldview, where this is all we have here on earth, then I’m going to be very concerned about how they judge.”

This all must have been very pleasing to Vander Plaats, who in 2010 orchestrated the ousting of Iowa Supreme Court justices who had ruled in favor of marriage equality, and who has repeatedly insisted that marriage equality is unconstitutional because it "goes against" the Bible and the "law of nature."

Geller Accuses Obama of Using Easter Message To 'Proselytize For Islam'

Anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller is, of course, very upset that President Obama dared to mention Islam in passing in his radio address commemorating Easter and Passover this weekend, and claims that the president attempted to “proselytize for Islam" when he listed Muslims, along with Christians, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs, as people who share a “common thread of humanity."

After speaking in detail about how he and his family would be celebrating the Resurrection of Christ and remembering “the grace of an awesome God, who loves us so deeply that He gave us his only Son, so that we might live through Him,” the president said:

The common thread of humanity that connects us all – not just Christians and Jews, but Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs – is our shared commitment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

The inclusion of Muslims on that list infuriated Geller, who accused the president of using the address to “proselytize for Islam. On Easter. It’s sick.”

“Does Obama ever mention Christians or Jews or Hindus when he makes his long-winded Ramadan messages?” she asks.

As a matter of fact, in the president’s Ramadan message last year, he expressed a very similar sentiment:

For the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, Ramadan is a time for thoughtful reflection, fasting and devotion. It is also an opportunity for family and friends to come together and celebrate the principles that bind people of different faiths – a commitment to peace, justice, equality and compassion towards our fellow human beings. These bonds are far stronger than the differences that too often drive us apart.
 

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.

Share this page: Facebook Twitter Digg SU Digg Delicious