Religious Liberty

Hobby Lobby: 'Closely Held' Does Not Mean 'Mom and Pop'

In the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby, the Court held for the first time ever that a for-profit corporation counts as a “person” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and that a “closely held” corporation basically shares the religious exercise rights of its owners.  This leads American law into a treacherous minefield, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg made clear in her dissent.

It’s worth pointing out, as Justice Ginsberg also noted, “’Closely held’ is not synonymous with ‘small.’” Hobby Lobby is a massive corporation employing some 13,000 people, but there are other closely held companies that are much larger. In a footnote, Ginsberg mentions family-owned Mars, Inc. and closely held Cargill, which are both among the largest five private companies in the country. Guess which is number two? Koch industries, with $115 billion in revenue and 60,000 employees. Brothers David and Charles Koch reportedly own 84 percent. Rounding out the top five private companies are Dell and Bechtel. Those five companies employ more than 436,000 people. What religious claims might their owners find useful to make in undermining laws that protect their workers?

PFAW Foundation

Anti-Gay Activists Hopeful Hobby Lobby Will Lead To License To Discriminate

Anti-gay activists are rejoicing at the Supreme Court's decision in Hobby Lobby today, in part because they are hopeful that the decision will pave the way for one of their own policy goals: to use the religious liberty argument to push for broad exemptions for corporations from nondiscrimination laws.

Liberty Counsel's Matt Barber is hopeful that the decision bodes well for those trying to use religious freedom as a cloak to justify discrimination against LGBT people:

Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality has a similar take:

There may be reason for them to be optimistic. As SCOTUSblog pointed out, the majority's opinion pointedly leaves open "the question of whether the Government has a similarly compelling interest in preventing discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation." 

With respect to implications for other kinds of religious-based discrimination, the Court writes that racial discrimination in hiring will not be permitted under RFRA because "The Government has a compelling interest in providing equal opportunity to participate in the workforce without regard to race, and prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to acheive [sic] that critical goal." Note that this leave open the question of whether the Government has a similarly compelling interest in preventing discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation.

UPDATE: TPM has more on this.

UPDATE II: Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association has joined the chorus:

Hobby Lobby Opens Up a Minefield

The Hobby Lobby ruling opens the door to handing even more power to large corporations, including the power to ignore anti-discrimination laws.
PFAW Foundation

Supreme Court Distorts Religious Liberty Law in Hobby Lobby Decision

WASHINGTON — In response to today’s 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., People For the American Way Foundation President Michael Keegan released the following statement:

“Arguing that ‘closely held’ for-profit corporations have religious rights and can use those ‘rights’ to deny needed health care to employees is absurd. Threatening to prevent millions of women from accessing birth control doesn’t protect anyone’s religious liberty — it is a distortion of the very idea of religious liberty.

“Unfortunately, this decision is not surprising coming from a Court that ruled only four years ago that corporations have the political rights of real people. Hobby Lobby is one more step in the Supreme Court majority’s ongoing attack on the rights of everyday Americans, handing corporations even greater power over our lives. What rights will corporations be given next? This decision opens up a minefield, potentially paving the way for all kinds of harmful claims in the name of corporate religious rights.”

Earlier this year, People For the American Way Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin authored a report on the case titled, “The Gospel of Citizens United: In Hobby Lobby, Corporations Pray for the Right to Deny Workers Contraception.”

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Benham Brothers Ready To Die In Battle

The Religious Right mythologizing of David and Jason Benham continues. The Benham brothers – whose plans for a reality TV show on HGTV were scrapped by the network after Right Wing Watch reported on the brothers’ anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-Islam activism – were featured speakers at last week’s Road to Majority conference, sponsored by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition. And they’re on the schedule for the much bigger Values Voter Summit in September.

A Christian Post story on their appearance at Road to Majority frames their experience in typical martyrs-to-their-faith rhetoric, saying their reality show “was canceled because they spoke about their Christian views.”

Now, we don’t know exactly what motivated HGTV’s decision, but it seems to be a pretty good bet that it had nothing to do with the fact that the Benhams are outspoken about their Christian faith, and more to do with the fact that they had been outspoken advocates of limiting other people’s rights – as when Jason urged Charlotte, North Carolina, officials to deny permits for LGBT pride events, or when David took part it protests against the Islamic community center that critics inaccurately dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

The Religious Right revels in manufacturing martyrs. And the Benham brothers are happy to play the part, portraying themselves as targets of a demonic gay rights movement that is out to silence its critics. “If people remain silent, then it’s going to continue to get worse. But when folks step up, and speak boldly the truth, and then it can actually get pushed back,” David told the Christian Post. “You have to be willing to die. I mean, Jason and I had to be willing to lose our show. We had to be willing to lose a book deal…”

In their Road to Majority remarks, the Benham brothers portrayed themselves as warriors.

“We just remember June the 6th, 1944. We know what happened at D-Day. We know what happened on Omaha and Utah beach. There’s something about those men that our dad taught us when we were kids. And he said, ‘Boys, don’t you ever run from bullets. You run toward the bullets.’ There are cultural bullets flying, all over today, especially religious liberty. And what’s happening right now is many spiritual leaders, elected leaders, they are running from bullets. But there’s a remnant of people that are ready to stand and say ‘I’m not running from these bullets any more. I’m gonna take this beach…’”

One of the brothers invoked Meriam Ibrahim, a Christian woman who had been jailed in Sudan for refusing to renounce her faith (and who, it was reported today, is now safe in the US embassy), and then invoked Mel Gibson’s bloody battle epic “Braveheart.”

“Just like in the movie Braveheart, when all the Scottish Army was standing there, and they all had their gear on, and they were lined up and they were unified, and they were ready to fight but not a single one of them wanted to fight.  And then as William Wallace and a few men rode in on horses with blue face paint on. They were ready to pick a fight. And what I see before me right now are a bunch of people with some blue face paint on – so let’s go get it!"

Larry Pratt Claims 'Most Of The Mosques In Our Country' Are Promoting Terrorism

Gun Owners of America executive director Larry Pratt is furious about Hillary Clinton’s recent remark that the gun lobby is a “minority of people” who “hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people.”

Pratt told Tea Party News Network host Tim Constantine on Tuesday that Clinton’s remark means she thinks that all gun owners are terrorists and is therefore ignoring Islamic terrorism, which he claimed is being taught in “most of the mosques in our country.”

“That means that they’re not willing to look at Islam and realize that Islam teaches killing other people,” he said. “Pure Islam from the Koran says that anybody who doesn’t agree exactly with Islam is to be killed, or enslaved at best. So, there’s your real terrorist. And it’s in most of the mosques in our country. You want to find the real terrorists, Mrs. Clinton, check out mosques.”

Texas Lt. Gov Nominee Dan Patrick's Christian-Nation Politics

Texas State Sen. Dan Patrick, the GOP nominee for Lt. Governor, addressed Friday night’s session of the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference. Patrick said that America is a Christian nation, that politics is about building God’s kingdom, and that America’s policies must be grounded in the Bible.

Excerpts from Dan Patrick's remarks:

Patrick portrayed his resounding come-from-behind victory over incumbent David Dewhurst as God’s will. He said he started every campaign appearance by saying,

“’I’m a Christian first, I’m a conservative second, and a Republican third. And if our party ever turns our back on the word of God or the principles of Ronald Reagan, I will become an independent.’ And this is the key to the future of our party the future of our country and the future of this nation.”

He explains his victory this way:

“We were solid on the issues. We never backed up from being bold for Jesus Christ. And, most importantly, we worked hard, and we left the victory to God…if you really believe God, then you take him at his word that he’ll handle the victory. And if you’re in the middle of God’s will, then that’s where you’re supposed to be.”

It was a dirty campaign, he said, but he told himself, “If the Lord wants me to win, I’ll win, and if not, that means he has something else he wants me to do.”

“We have too many candidates, and too many elected officials, that think politics and serving is about them. It’s about Him, it’s about building the kingdom for Him. That’s why this nation has been blessed.”

Patrick said the world needs America to return to its roots as a Christian nation:

 “We are a Christian nation. And the only way the world will survive is with a strong America. And a strong America will only be strong again if we stand on the word of God. Again, there’s a difference from believing in God and believing God. Even the Democrats believe in God. But when you believe God you must take him at his word and you can’t back up from that word. And that has to be the policy mindset of our elected officials. It should be biblically based, because every problem we have in America has a solution in the Bible. And that doesn’t mean we want a theocracy. But it does mean we can’t walk away from what we believe.”

Patrick said too many Republican candidates worry about offending voters. But, he said, “the left doesn’t even worry about offending God.” He added, “In fact, I would argue, that if you are a believer, and if you are a Christian conservative Republican and you won’t stand for your faith, that’s just as offensive to God. Because they may not know better, but we do.”

Patrick used the Texas governor’s race as an example of how “standing for God will keep us in power and win us the election in 2016.” He said “abortion queen” Wendy David lost Hispanic areas of Texas in her primary because Hispanic Catholics and evangelicals who “put God before party” will not vote for a Democrat who is “radical on the life issue.”  To get Hispanic voters, he said, Republicans must stand for life, marriage, school choice, and economic opportunity.

He warned that “the left” will attack messengers who stand on the foundation of the Bible. But, he asked, “If we won’t stand for Christ, if we won’t stand for the word of God in the Bible, then who will?

America, he said, is thirsty for a leader who will not only talk about public policy but about strengthening families and values. He asked for money and prayers, saying that conservatives shouldn’t take Texas for granted, given that Democrats are putting resources into making it a battleground state.

 “The job ahead is not easy. But Jesus said, ‘my yoke is easy.’ And if we all pull together, and we get up out of our church pews, and we get our pastors engaged, and we get our fellow Christians to register to vote and then get them out to vote. And we find leaders who are bold, then America has hope again.

And if we don’t, in our generation, in our time, then we will have failed our children, we will have failed our grandchildren, and we will have failed the world. And we will have failed, I believe, God’s belief and hope and wish that America is the country that He blessed to share the Word with the entire world.

So it’s on us. And I don’t want to put too much pressure on you. But it is on us. And I’m ready to do my duty, and I know you’re ready to do yours.”

After Attacking Woman At Heritage Panel, Brigitte Gabriel Smears Her In Fundraising Email

Earlier this week, a media firestorm erupted around a Heritage Foundation panel about the 2012 Benghazi attack, which featured a number of anti-Muslim activists including ACT! for America’s Brigitte Gabriel and Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy.

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank attended the event, and wrote about an ugly exchange in which a Muslim woman in the audience asked a question about Muslim representation at the event, and was met with a tirade from Gabriel, who told her that the “peaceful majority” of Muslims was “irrelevant,” made a comparison to Nazi Germany, and demanded to know if the woman was an American.

Milbank’s column, in turn, caused outrage from  the conservative media and from Politico, who claimed that he misrepresented the event, although, as Milbank later pointed out, his critics were not actually there to see Gabriel’s diatribe and the enthusiastic response of the Heritage crowd.

Now, Gabriel is responding to criticism of her remarks in trademark fashion, by attempting to smear the woman who asked her the question.

In a fundraising email yesterday, Gabriel claimed that she had found “additional information” about the woman that “begins to bring into more focus the possible real reason for her ‘question’ at Monday’s event.” Gabriel breathlessly reports that the woman, Saba Ahmed, has been active in politics before (not a huge surprise for someone attending a panel event in Washington). She then tries to link Ahmed to an attempted terror plot in Portland (Ahmed was a family friend of the suspect, and has not in any way been implicated in it). And to top it all off, Gabriel reports that Ahmed was once arrested for something completely unrelated.

This line of attack should not come as a huge surprise from someone who has used similarly tenuous connections to claim that former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin was a Muslim Brotherhood agent, an accusation that Gaffney repeated at the panel.

Gabriel concludes her email by repeating her remark from the panel that “it is time we take political correctness and throw it in the garbage” and asking for money from her supporters.

Although the only focus of Monday’s Heritage event was getting to the bottom of the Benghazi attack and holding those responsible accountable for their actions (or lack of action), my panel was asked a rather unusual question by a woman in the audience, Saba ‘Queen’ Ahmed – a woman portraying herself as a young Muslim student concerned about the discrimination of Muslims.


Ms. Ahmed has been described by many in the media as a “young Muslim law student.” However as is so often the case, there is just a little more to the story.

The additional information we found about Ms. Ahmed begins to bring into more focus the possible real reason for her “question” at Monday’s event – and a possible explanation about why she attended the discussion and left immediately after her question and our exchange:

  • She is CEO/President of Saba Ahmed, LLC a Washington, DC, lobbying firm.
  • She is the friend of the family of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the Somali-American accused of attempting to bomb a Portland Christmas tree lighting ceremony in 2010. (In fact, here is a photo of her leaving his court proceedings!)
  • She is a former candidate for U.S. Congress. (Right: Image from her campaign website)
  • She has been active in Democratic politics as well as with the radical “Occupy” movement.
  • She was an assistant of former Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski and also for U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
  • She was arrested for a “stalking incident” in Florida.

I am glad that I had the opportunity to address Ms. Ahmed’s comments directly and respectfully – even though they had nothing to do with the issue of the event. It was an important educational moment.

I stand by how I closed my remarks on Monday:

It is time we take political correctness and throw it in the garbage where it belongs, and start calling a spade a spade.

I have received letters and e-mails from all over the country in support of my response to Ms. Ahmed. I am humbled by, and appreciative of, this support and encouragement. And I want you to know that I intend to continue standing up to individuals like this who seek only to misrepresent the truth and who use the liberal media to spread falsehoods about the Islamist threat that surrounds us.

UPDATE: On Sean Hannity's program last night, Gabriel again attacked Ahmed, saying “she took the limelight instead of standing up as an American.” Hannity then spent several minutes hounding Ahmed.

Phyllis Schlafly Claims 'Russians Are Warming Up To Religious Freedom Just As Americans Are Rejecting It'

It seems that Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly has gotten on board with the Religious Right’s admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s increasing merger of his government with the Russian Orthodox Church.

In her radio address this week, Schlafly laments that it “certainly was a shock when the president of Russia lectured Americans that we are ‘becoming godless.’”

“Russians are warming up to religious freedom just as Americans are rejecting it,” she warns, claiming that “that the atheists are trying to censor all mention of religion out of every public place and event.”

Schlafly might want to speak to a few Russian Protestants before she celebrate’s Putin’s embrace of religious freedom.

It certainly was a shock when the president of Russia lectured Americans that we are “becoming godless.” In his last “state of the nation” speech, Vladimir Putin told Russia that the United States was moving away from Christian values. Back in the 1980’s, Ronald Reagan was making similar comments about Russia!

So is the United States still one nation under God? In a recent article, Dr. Ben Carson says yes. Americans still live in a culture that operates under many of Christianity’s basic assumptions about life. But with increasing numbers of Americans becoming reluctant to mention God in public, we are in danger of forgetting our roots and discarding our rights. The liberals are trying to use the 1st Amendment as a weapon to silence religious speech. But to whom is the 1st Amendment directed? It says “Congress shall make no law.” The 1st Amendment binds the hands of Congress: it doesn’t restrict the rest of us.

...

So if Russians are warming up to religious freedom just as Americans are rejecting it, what does this mean for the United States? It’s clear that the atheists are trying to censor all mention of religion out of every public place and event. If we do nothing, if we allow the atheists to eliminate God from our culture, we will be rejecting the principles that made our nation so great. But if we embrace our heritage, the principles that launched America will guide us strong into the future.

Dutch Sheets: God Needs An Army To Save America From 'Demonic' Destruction

Today’s “Prophetic Insight” comes via Dutch Sheets, a leader in the dominionist New Apostolic Reformation. It combines the kind of religious persecution rhetoric examined in PFAW’s recent report, “Persecution Complex,”with a triumphant assertion that God will destroy the people standing in the way of establishing God’s kingdom in America.

Back in 2012, Sheets gave the keynote at a conference organized by fellow prophet Cindy Jacobs with an assist from the Family Research Council.  Sheets mocked churchgoers who focused on things like pastoral care, saying he was looking for “warriors” who would assume their responsibility to legislate, govern, and manage the earth in partnership with God.

Sheets’ new prophetic word is that “God is not done with America,” in spite of a “demonic tide of destruction” that has been “unleashed upon our nation.” Sheets bemoans, “Politically, economically and humanistically, there is an agenda to make this nation never again look the way it has looked before.” He returns to his theme that Americans are not doing enough to build the kingdom of God on earth:

After making great advances in kingdom building, many have let discouragement and fear gain a foothold in their hearts. They've laid down their tools and folded their hands. Others are busy with good kingdom works, but don't dare challenge the status quo, much less, the systems aimed at shredding the moral fabric of our nation, destroying the institution of the family and stripping us of our religious freedoms.

As in the days of Ezra, "wicked counselors," known today as lobbyists, are diligently and strategically opposing God's people to advance the antichrist agenda in every sector of society. This is a fulfillment of the first few verses of Psalms 2, which describe those who hate God and take counsel together, devising plans to contend against Him and His people. These counselors think they've overthrown God's rule and conquered His people and, in their arrogance, openly decree this.

Sheets wraps himself in the kind of martyrdom rhetoric that is seemingly irresistible to Religious Right leaders:

Fellow warriors, we cannot fear that if we resist the government and the political activists, we might be taken out. Neither can we fear that we might go to jail, lose our government funding or tax-exempt status, or have our business shut down for speaking the truth or refusing to marry same-sex couples. Yes, these things are already happening—some are already paying a high price to stand for righteousness—but we cannot cower and live in a paralyzing fear. We must only move in the fear of the Lord.

But don’t worry, he says. God will laugh at those wicked counselors and then destroy them: “Lastly, God takes His rod and begins to break and shatter kingdoms in order to reestablish His reign in the earth. The good news is clearly laid out here—in the end, we win!”

Sheets tells a Bible story about prophets Haggai and Zechariah who worked with God’s government (Joshua the priest) and civil government (Zerubbabel the governor) to lead a reformation. Sheets clearly wants to play the part of prophet in the modern version of the story.

Zechariah later prophesied to Zerubbabel saying, this mountain in front of you is going to be brought low and become a plain. Not by might or power but by my Spirit, you will tear it down with shouts of grace, grace! This is a picture of what God wants to do in America!

God just needs warriors.

It is OK to grieve, like Jeremiah or Nehemiah, over the condition of our nation, but we must not give in to discouragement and fear. God is calling forth an army of faithful followers who will come up out of their discouragement to boldly push back the darkness.

Many leaders in government, health, education and ministry are having to make a decision right now—am I going to make my stand or am I going to compromise and yield to the enemy's plans? I, for one, say what America's founding fathers said upon signing the Declaration of Independence and, thereby, committing an act of treason against the crown: I pledge my life, my fortune, my sacred honor—everything to stop this insidious plan of hell. Will you join me?

The Persecution Myth: New Report Takes On The Right's Deceptive Rallying Cry

Every day we hear figures on the Religious Right declaring that conservative Christians in America are being persecuted by a government that has embraced, in the words of Samuel Rodriguez, “secular totalitarianism.”

This narrative has helped to feed the opposition to gay rights and reproductive rights, and has even been used to advocate against the rights of religious minorities. And it continues even as Christians and members of other minority faiths face real persecution throughout the world.

The Right has managed to gain traction with this narrative by providing a never-ending supply of martyrdom myths. These stories of children banned from praying and of Christmas celebrations curtailed are carried to a wide audience by people like Fox News’ Todd Starnes — and are often quickly proved to be completely apocryphal.

In a new report, "The Persecution Complex: The Religious Right’s Deceptive Rallying Cry," we look at the machine that produces those myths and how they are then used to influence public policy:

The tales of horror keep pouring in: Two middle school girls are forced into a lesbian kiss as part of an anti-bullying program; an Air Force sergeant isfired because he opposes same-sex marriage; a high school track team is disqualified from a meet after an athlete thanks God for the team’s victory; a Veterans Affairs hospital bans Christmas cards with religious messages ; a man fixing the lights in a Christmas tree falls victim to a wave of War-on-Christmas violence; an elementary school student is punished for praying over his school lunch; a little boy is forced to take a psychological evaluation after drawing a picture of Jesus.

None of these stories is true. But each has become a stock tale for Religious Right broadcasters, activists, and in some cases elected officials. These myths – which are becoming ever more pervasive in the right-wing media – serve to bolster a larger story, that of a majority religious group in American society becoming a persecuted minority, driven underground in its own country.

This narrative has become an important rallying cry for a movement that has found itself on the losing side of many of the so-called “culture wars.” By reframing political losses as religious oppression, the Right has attempted to build a justification for turning back advances in gay rights, reproductive rights and religious liberty for minority faiths.

Read the rest here .

Peter and I also discussed the report in a conference call with PFAW members a couple of weeks ago. You can listen to that here:

Kris Kobach Flirts With Obama 'Secret Muslim' Conspiracy Theory

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — who doubles as an influential anti-immigrant and anti-voting-rights activist — flirted with the far-right conspiracy theory that President Obama is secretly a Muslim on his radio program last month.

Discussing the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s annual report, Kobach claimed that the Obama administration is ignoring the persecution of Christians in many Muslim countries, an issue that he said Americans are overlooking.

“Is it because the whole issue of Islam is something that we just don’t talk about because some people have questioned what exactly the president’s religious faith is?” he asked.

“When it comes to this issue it doesn’t matter what the president’s religious beliefs are,” he added, using the classic strategy of GOP politicians who encourage the “Obama is a Muslim” myth while never quite affirming it.

The Wilks Brothers: Fracking Sugar Daddies For The Far Right

Last June, presidential hopefuls Rand Paul and Ted Cruz traveled to Iowa for an event convened by David Lane, a political operative who uses pastors to mobilize conservative Christian voters. 

Lane is a Christian-nation extremist who believes the Bible should be a primary textbook in America’s public schools, and that any politician who disagrees should be voted out. Lane’s events are usually closed to the media, but he has given special access to the Christian Broadcasting Network’s sympathetic David Brody.  Brody’s coverage of the Iowa event included short video clips of comments by brothers Farris and Dan Wilks, who were identified only as members of Lane’s Pastors and Pews group.

CBN’s Brody reported, “The Wilks brothers worry that America’s declining morals will especially hurt the younger generation, so they’re using the riches that the Lord has blessed them with to back specific goals.”  One of those goals may be David Lane’s insistence that politicians make the Bible a primary textbook in public schools. 

Here’s Dan Wilks speaking to Brody: “I just think we have to make people aware, you know, and bring the Bible back into the school, and start teaching our kids at a younger age, and, uh, you know, and focus on the younger generation.”  And here’s Farris: “They’re being taught the other ideas, the gay agenda, every day out in the world so we have to stand up and explain to them that that’s not real, that’s not proper, it’s not right.”

That was the first time we had heard of the billionaire Wilks brothers, who have become generous donors to right-wing politicians and Republican Party committees.  While both Farris and Dan have given to conservative groups and candidates, it is older brother Farris whose foundation has become a source of massive donations to Religious Right groups and to the Koch brothers’ political network. Farris also funds a network of “pregnancy centers” that refuse, on principle, to talk to single women about contraception (married women need to check with their husband and pastor).

Like David Barton, Farris thinks conservative economics are grounded in the Bible. Like Mitt Romney, he says people shouldn’t vote for politicians who promise “free this, free that.” Like any number of Religious Right leaders, he saw Barack Obama’s re-election as a harbinger of the End Times and he believes God will punish America for embracing homosexuality. Unlike all of them, he’s on the list of the world’s richest people.

They’re Fracking Billionaires!

Dan and Farris Wilks became successful working in and then running the masonry business that was started by their father; they have now turned the company over to the next generation of Wilks men.  But Dan and Farris really hit the big time when they got in on the ground floor with fracking, the controversial natural gas drilling technique that has boomed over the past decade. 

The fracking boom has produced a surge in wealthy Texans. In 2002, the Wilks brothers created Frac Tech, which produced equipment used in fracking, or in industry parlance, “well stimulation services.”  In May 2011, Dan and Farris sold Frac Tech to a group of investors led by Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund for $3.5 billion. Their share was reportedly 68% of that total, and they showed up on the 2011 Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans with an estimated net worth of $1.4 billion each.  The most recent Forbes list put their estimated wealth at $1.5 billion each. (In our gilded age, that puts them near the bottom of the Forbes 400, and barely gets them into the top 40 in Texas. But you can still do an awful lot with $3 billion.)

The Wilks brothers have gone on a land-buying spree out West, amassing huge holdings in Montana, Idaho, Texas, Kansas, and Colorado.  In December 2012, the Billings Gazette reported that they had amassed more than 276,000 acres in Montana, or more than 430 square miles; more recent reports say they own more than 301,300 acres in the state.  Among their purchases was the historic 62,000-acre N Bar Ranch, which had been listed for $45 million. 

The brothers reportedly started building an airstrip that summer across from the N Bar Ranch headquarters to make travel to their property on their 18-passenger corporate jet a little easier. The Wilks brothers have proposed a land swap with the Bureau of Land Management to consolidate their holdings; last month their attorney said they were “blindsided” when BLM said it would not trade the 2,700-acre Durfee Hills after hunters complained about losing access to the land and its elk.

In January 2013, they bought a nearly 18,000-acre ranch in Idaho, which brought their total in that state to almost 36,000 acres.  In 2011, Farris was reported to have paid $16 million for what was then the most expensive ski-accessible home in the history of Snowmass Village, Colorado. 

An Aspen newspaper reported in 2012 that Dan owned two homes in Aspen, one worth $8.3 million and another worth $4.9 million. At the end of 2012 they bought the Advancial Tower, a 17-story skyscraper in Dallas reportedly appraised at $16.25 million. And last August, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that the Wilks brothers had bought 122 acres of land in a business park in Southlake, Texas. Farris also reportedly paid to have a “world class” recording studio installed in his 20,000-square-foot home and to have his church’s audio-visual system similarly upgraded.

Members of the Wilks family have been philanthropists in their hometown over the years, funding, for example, a community center and mobile emergency command post for local fire departments.   More recently they have distributing their wealth in support of right-wing causes and conservative politicians. According to Forbes, Dan has six children, Farris has 11.

A(nother) Foundation for the Far Right

The Wilks brothers and their wives have stashed a sizeable chunk of money in charitable foundations: Farris and his wife Joann created The Thirteen Foundation, while Dan and his wife Staci started Heavenly Father’s Foundation. The Thirteen Foundation has become a major funder to Religious Right organizations and to right-wing political outfits that are part of the Koch brother’s network.

In 2011, Farris and Joann each put $50 million into The Thirteen Foundation, and they started writing huge checks. In 2011 and 2012, the last year for which giving records are publicly available, the foundation gave away more than $17 million. Here’s where much of it went:  

Media Revolution Ministries (Online for Life)                             $2,242,857

American Majority Inc                                                               $2,114,100

State Policy Networks                                                              $1,526,125

Focus on the Family                                                                 $1,400,000

Franklin Center for Gov't and Public Integrity                          $1,309,775

Life Dynamics Inc.                                                                    $1,275,000                  

Liberty Counsel                                                                        $1,000,000

Heritage Foundation                                                                   $700,000

Family Research Council                                                              $530,000

Texas Right to Life Committee Education Fund                           $310,000

Texas Home School Coalition                                                      $250,000

Heartbeat International                                                              $197,000

Wallbuilders Presentations, Inc                                                    $85,000

National Institute of Marriage                                                       $75,000

These gifts amount to a massive infusion of funds into some of the most aggressive right-wing organizations that are fighting legal equality for LGBT people, access to contraception and abortion services for women, and promoting the Tea Party’s vision of a federal government that is constitutionally forbidden from protecting American workers, consumers, and communities by regulating corporate behavior. 

American Majority, the Franklin Center, the Heritage Foundation, and the State Policy Networks are all part of the Koch brothers’ right-wing political network, promoting policy attacks on public employees and their unions, outsourcing public resources for private profit, privatization of public education, and more:

  • The Franklin Center, closely allied to the American Legislative Exchange Council and other right-wing groups, produces and supports ideological advocacy sites that that it pretends is “nonpartisan” journalism.
  • American Majority trains and supports Tea Party activist networks.
  • The Heritage Foundation is a right-wing propaganda behemoth masquerading as a think tank. It promotes Religious Right social conservatism and Tea Party anti-government ideology, arguing that the two are “indivisible.”
  • The State Policy Network comprises mini-Heritage Foundations – right-wing “think tanks” at the state level that work closely with ALEC and right-wing lawmakers.

The Thirteen Foundation’s gifts are a boon to some of the most extreme Religious Right groups in the country. Among the recipients:

  • The Liberty Counsel, a legal advocacy group affiliated with Liberty University, is home to right-wing legal activist Mat Staver and the increasingly unhinged Matt Barber. Liberty Counsel promotes extreme anti-Obama and anti-gay rhetoric, warning that the country is descending into religious tyranny and on the verge of revolution.  Staver and Barber support laws criminalizing homosexuality and call the Obama administration’s opposition to such laws in other countries “immoral.”
  • The Family Research Council, designated an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, hosts the annual Values Voter Summit, the annual family reunion for far-right religious and political groups and right-wing politicians. FRC and its leader Tony Perkins oppose equality for LGBT Americans and promote the myth of anti-Christian persecution in the U.S.
  • Wallbuilders promotes the historical revisionism of “historian” David Barton, whose claims have been widely discredited but who remains influential within the Religious Right and the GOP. In addition to his “Christian Nation” history, Barton argues that the Bible opposes the minimum wage, progressive taxation, capital gains taxes, the estate tax, and unions and collective bargaining.

See the section on the War on Women below for information about anti-choice organizations on the list. Other gifts supported Prime Time Christian Broadcasting, Inc., which runs God’s Learning Channel, “a satellite network dedicated to bringing the gospel of the kingdom into the entire world and teaching everyone about the Torah and the true roots of Christianity“; the Wounded Warrior Project; and a number of local churches that seem to be affiliated with the church at which Farris is an elder. One gift that seems like an outlier was $50,000 to the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, which funds legal services for the poor, advocates for immigration reform, and filed a lawsuit on behalf of a binational same-sex couple.

Farris’s brother Dan and his wife Staci each gave $55 million to their Heavenly Father’s Foundation, according to the group’s 2011 990 form. That year the foundation reported $110 million in income but only $309,000 in disbursements, mostly to the Mountain Top Church in their hometown of Cisco ($287,000) with smaller amounts to a pregnancy center called the Open Door ($20,000) and to the American Diabetes Association ($2,000).

Its 2012 contributions were primarily to several churches but also included ministries that provide meals to the poor, a five-year pledge to a local domestic violence crisis center, $20,000 to the Open Door pregnancy center, $1.7 million to a drug and alcohol treatment center whose 30th anniversary celebration in May featured Mike Huckabee, and intriguingly, $100,000 to the Eastland County District Attorney’s office to cover “budget shortage.”

Of course, individual contributions that Wilks family members make to advocacy organizations are not publicly reported.

In Politics, Paying to Play

The Wilks brothers made a bit of a splash in Montana when it was revealed that they were the top donors to 2012 Republican legislative candidates in the state.  A February 2013 report by the National Institute on Money in State Politics found that Dan and Farris Wilks and their wives “donated to more than 70 candidates, all Republicans, and generally gave the maximum contribution allowed by law to legislative candidates, $160 for a general election.”

The report said that 70 percent of Republican legislators got contributions from the Wilkses. (AP noted that all bills aimed at regulating fracking in the 2011 legislature were killed by Republican-led committees.) According to the Institute, 64 of the state-level candidates they supported won – 63 legislators and Attorney General Tim Fox.

The Wilkses also gave heavily to Dennis Rehberg, a former Republican U.S. congressman from Montana who gave up his seat to mount an unsuccessful challenge against Sen. Jon Tester in 2012, and to Steven Daines, the Republican who won the House seat vacated by Rehberg and who is now running to for U.S. Senate. 

Collectively, Dan and Farris and their wives gave the Rehberg and Daines campaigns each $10,000 in 2012, with another $37,500 going to the Rehberg Victory Committee, a joint fundraising committee that funneled money to Rehberg’s campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Farris and Joann have together given $10,400 toward Steve Daines’s 2014 reelection.

Their political giving has not been limited to Montana.  In Texas, according to state campaign finance records, the brothers each gave $25,000 to Texans for Rick Perry in 2012.  Farris also gave $2,500 to State Rep. Stefani Carter, the first Republican African American woman to serve in the state House; Farris and Joann also gave $5,000 to the failed Supreme Court campaign of Steve Smith. 

Last year, Perry announced he would not run for a fourth term as governor.  Earlier this year, state Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor, reported nearly $31,000 in in-kind contributions from Farris and Dan for use of an airplane. Farris also gave $1,000 in January to the Texas Home School Coalition PAC.

This year, in the election for California’s 44th Assembly District, Dan, Staci, and Farris Wilks have given thousands to the campaign of Rob McCoy, a conservative evangelical pastor who is also backed by Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and Mike Huckabee. In the June 3 primary, the Wilks-backed McCoy came in second place to Democrat Jacqui Irwin, a City Councilwoman from Thousand Oaks, beating the more moderate Republican candidate, businessman Mario de la Piedra. Irwin and McCoy will face off in the general election.

During the 2012 election cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission’s database, the brothers and their wives together contributed $125,000 to the Romney Victory Committee, a joint fundraising committee benefitting the Romney campaign and the Republican Party. 

Joann also contributed $25,000 to the Faith Family Freedom Fund, a “soft money” fund run by a former Family Research Council executive and housed in FRC’s Washington, DC building. The fund makes independent expenditures for or against candidates; in 2012 it spent in support of Todd Akin, George Allen, Steve King, and other right-wing candidates, and against Claire McCaskill, Tim Kaine, Barack Obama, and other Democratic candidates.

In 2011, Farris gave the National Republican Congressional Committee $2,500, and he gave $7,600 to the National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund between 2010 and 2012. In 2010 Farris gave Nevada Senate candidate and Tea Party darling Sharron Angle $1000 and in 2008 he gave $2,500 to the McCain-Palin Victory Committee.

Wilks and the War on Women

As Kate Sheppard reported last August for Mother Jones, The Thirteen Foundation’s 2011 gift to Life Dynamics, a Texas-based anti-abortion group, funded a campaign to mass-mail DVDs to lawyers encouraging them to sue abortion clinics into oblivion.  Crooks and Liars blogger Karoli has noted that Life Dynamics “actively engages in espionage against organizations serving women” and operates campaigns to harass doctors who perform abortions. 

The more than $2 million that The Thirteen Foundation gave to Media Revolution Ministries in 2012 allowed for a vast expansion of the group, which had only an $80,000 budget the year before. The group, also known as Online for Life, says it “implements cutting-edge Internet and traditional marketing outreaches to connect with abortion-determined women and men.” In other words, they try to “intercept” women who search for abortion information and send them to anti-choice “pregnancy centers.”  

Those funds may have been used to help “pregnancy centers” buy ads on search terms like “abortion clinics” to “intercept” women who went online.  NARAL Pro-Choice America cited Online for Life’s Google ads  when it announced in April that  its investigations had led Google to take down ads from crisis pregnancy centers that violated the search engine’s rules against deceptive advertising.

The Thirteen Foundation also gave $450,000 in 2011 to Care Net, a network of Christian “pregnancy centers” whose “standards of affiliation” include this requirement:

The pregnancy center does not recommend, provide, or refer single women for contraceptives. (Married women seeking contraceptive information should be urged to seek counsel, along with their husbands, from their pastor and physician.).

The Wilks are also backers of Open Door, a local Christian “crisis pregnancy center” to which the Thirteen Foundation gave more than $90,000 in 2012. Farris and Joann have also been benefactors of Texas Right to Life.

The Wilks Worldview

With the exception of the brief interaction with CBN’s David Brody, the Wilks brothers have generally been media-shy. But the worldview of Farris, the older of the two brothers, whose foundation is backing the Religious Right and Tea Party movements, is quite clearly revealed in the sermons he preaches.

In addition to his business ventures, Farris, the older brother, is also a pastor at the church founded by his father, The Assembly of Yahweh (7th Day).  The church’s doctrine seems to be an amalgam based on the elder Wilks’ anachronistic interpretations of the Bible. It combines biblical literalism with a heavy emphasis on the Old Testament: The church celebrates its Sabbath on Saturday, follows the dietary rules laid down in Leviticus, and celebrates Jewish holidays but not “the religious holidays of the Gentiles,” which include “Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, White Sunday, Good Friday, and Halloween.”  (I had to look up White Sunday, which is a traditional Samoan holiday. There’s a significant Samoan community in Texas).  Women may not speak during worship.

The church’s doctrinal points align with the Religious Right on many policy issues.  Abortion is “murder,” including pregnancies resulting from rape and incest. Homosexuality is “a serious crime – a very grievous sin.”

A number of Farris Wilks’ sermons can be heard through his church’s website.  Back in November 2012, he was pretty despondent about the re-election of Barack Obama:  “I do believe that our country died that Tuesday night, to all that’s honorable, that’s good, that’s ambitious, and that has justice. The old way of life that we will take care of ourselves, we will be self-sufficient as much as we are able, the pride in pulling your own weight, or paddling your own canoe.”  The sermon includes small-government quotes from Thomas Jefferson, anti-socialist quotes from Winston Churchill, and a bootstraps approach to poverty. “The best way to get out of poverty is to go to work,” he says. “That is one of the simplest ways to make it go away.”

Wilks said he was “refreshed” by biblical texts about the End Times, speculating that the election went the way it did “because maybe it’s time to wrap up some things, maybe it’s time to move on to the next one thousand years.”  And he warned of persecution against Christians:

I will tell you now that you need to be ready for a little bit more scoffing and ridicule than maybe we’ve experienced in the past, because I think not only us but the Christian community at large is coming under attack, not only in America but throughout the world.  We see it on the late night talk shows. One man in particular. And some time you think, man, it would almost be nice if the judgment would happen so we can see what would happen to those people. …for the things they are saying, which are so vulgar and violent against Yahweh…his mercy must be inexhaustible to put up with that…

Several months later, after his participation in the David Lane event in Iowa, Wilks was feeling motivated to do more to impact the future of America.  In a July 2, 2013, sermon he referred to claims made by discredited Religious Right “historian” David Barton about the country’s founders and Barton’s assertion that many of our laws come from the scriptures.  And in a sermon he described as a “study of Sodom and Gomorrah,” he laid out his belief that the country is facing a clear choice:

As most of you probably know by now, we are in a battle for our society. Will we follow the secular religion of man, him being supreme, and evolving, or will we submit to Elohim, who has the right to give us laws and commandments to follow since he is the one who created us? Who is in charge? Is it man, or is it our creator?

He read scripture passages that referred to the story of God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in what he said was punishment for “base and demented” sexual practices, the tolerance of which in America “could bring about the end of our nation.” He warned that allowing same-sex couples to get married would soon lead to bestiality being promoted and accepted. “I do believe we live in a nation that will start to vomit some of its people out,” he warned.  After reading a passage from Isaiah in which the land and its inhabitants are cursed for their depravity, he said:

I fear that that is where we are as a nation. We have been in the blessed part of our nation, but I think we’re coming to the point now…we’re going to reap what we have sown, and what we have sown has not been good…what it says here, that the earth lies polluted under its inhabitants. Think of all the murder that has happened in this country….all the babies that have been murdered…think of all the perversions in the realm of sexual perversion of all kinds…all the breaking of Yahweh’s covenant….and so you recognize that at some point Yahweh’s going to say it’s time to wrap up… it’s time to move on to a kingdom of people that want to serve me, that want to be redeemed, that want salvation…we have to draw some lines in the sand for ourselves….

He also mocked environmentalism and the effort to save certain animals or the polar caps.  “We didn’t create the Earth so how can we save it?”  When you realize that Yahweh is in control, “it’s much simpler,” he says. “You can turn over some of those responsibilities to him.” Maybe the melting of polar ice is us “getting a little scorched here” as a message from God.

Later last summer he returned to the Sodom and Gomorrah theme, denouncing the gay pride movement as an example of lust and defiance of authority described in the Bible. “What we’re fighting against today is not a sexual revolution particular to our own enlightened age, but it’s a return to pre-Christian pagan sexual immorality or perversion.”

And Farris sounded like the most extreme anti-gay Religious Right leaders in portraying gay people as child predators: 

If we all took on this lifestyle, all humanity would perish in one generation…So this lifestyle is a predatorial lifestyle in that they need your children and straight people having kids to fulfill their sexual habits. They can’t do it by their self. They want your children….But we’re in a war for our children. They want your children. So what will you teach your children? A strong family is the last defense.

And, he said, they won’t stop, predicting that pedophilia and bestiality will soon be legal.

Just before Christmas he preached on spiritual apathy in America. He warned that apathy is closing church doors in America just as liberalism and secularism. He railed against people forgetting the Sabbath and spending too much time on entertainment. He warned that God would lift his “mantle of protection” against the U.S. because it is no longer protecting the family.

Earlier this year, Farris preached on “Government That We Can Believe In.”  In that sermon, he proclaimed that he loves America but that all nations fail at some point. The founding fathers did a good job, but the nation’s cornerstones are now crumbling: “It’s because of the lack of morality, the lack of continuity of one like belief in our heavenly father – those are the things that are bringing our nation to its knees.”

But this sermon focused less on sexual immorality and more on the threat of socialism. Yahweh, he preached, is “someone who respects private ownership” and the Torah is “set up on the free enterprise system.”

He said “there are only two basic ideas in the whole world” – and those are free enterprise and socialism. The U.S., he warned, is “inching closer to socialism.” You either have more government or more freedom; the more money taken from you in taxes, the fewer choices you have in life. He acknowledged that he has a “personal stake” in this, saying he pays a “huge amount” in taxes.

He urged congregants not to vote for politicians who promise “free this, free that,” saying that would lead us to become one of the poor nations of the world. “Yahweh never intended for us as a people to be afraid and reliant on government.”

An Answer to Prayer?

Televangelist James Robison recently told participants in a Tea Party Unity conference call that he is praying for a merger of the Tea Party and the Religious Right.  It’s enough to make one wonder where Robison has been for the past few years.  There has always been a overlap between the Tea Party and the Religious Right movements.  And since the early days of the anti-Obama Tea Party organizing, right-wing strategists like Ralph Reed and Rick Scarborough have been trying to more fully merge the organizing energies of the two movements into an electoral machine. 

Groups like the Family Research Council and Heritage Foundation have worked hard to limit the influence of libertarians in the conservative movement by portraying social and economic conservatism as “indivisible,” while Republican activists like “historian” David Barton have claimed that there is a biblical underpinning for the far-right’s anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-government agenda.

Maybe the miracle Robison was really looking for was a big pile of cash to fund his next project. In which case, the answer to his prayers might be found in the person of Farris Wilks, preacher, right-wing activist, and billionaire.

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.

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