Religious Liberty

Tony Perkins: Totalitarian Obama Colluding with ‘Anti-Christian Extremists’ to ‘Neuter the Church’

The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins is out with his latest anti-Obama screed. In a fundraising letter dated July 17, Perkins slams the president and his administration for “colluding” with the Southern Poverty Law Center as part of a nefarious plan to create a totalitarian government. Perkins complains about the Justice Department utilizing SPLC’s expertise on extremist groups in training sessions; his letter includes a petition to congressional leaders calling for a formal investigation of the SPLC and its relationship with the Obama administration.

Perkins has been on the rhetorical warpath against the SPLC since it labeled FRC an anti-gay hate group for a history of false and denigrating statements about gay people. In addition, he blames the SPLC for an attack on FRC’s headquarters by a gunman last year. In the new letter, Perkins repeats those claims and ties the SPLC and the Obama administration together in a conspiracy to “sow discord, undermine the Constitution, and bully people of faith.”  Here are some excerpts from the four-page letter:

The anti-Christian crusade instigated by the SPLC has already resulted in an armed terrorist attack on Family Research Council headquarters in Washington, D.C…

The President needs to be exposed for colluding with the SPLC to stifle debate on social policy issues by means of intimidation, fear-mongering, and spreading lies…

The majority of Americans do not agree with the President’s leftist agenda to remake our country into a socialist state ruled by a totalitarian government bureaucracy. And the President knows this. So he is using—and abusing—his presidency to steamroll the American people and implement his radical vision for America…

With less than four years left in office, President Obama is going for broke to accomplish his far-left agenda. In addition to the collusion between his administration and the SPLC, Planned Parenthood, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations, President Obama is using the bully pulpit and power of the presidency to promote abortion and same-sex “marriage” while stifling religious freedom at the same time…

This assault on religious freedom in the military is part of a wider plan to neuter the Church and its stand for the timeless values of faith, family and freedom in America…

Moreover, it’s no secret that President Obama is willing to spend your tax dollars to further his plans for legalizing same-sex “marriage”, increasing access to abortion, and silencing Christians...

We cannot side on the sidelines. We cannot close our eyes and hope this will go away. We must stand boldly, yet in love, against hate-filled anti-Christian groups who incite hatred and violence to intimidate us into silence.

Thank you in advance for standing with us in defense of what is right. With God’s grace, we will stop this pernicious evil against people of faith in America.

Given Perkins’ belief that Obama’s re-election was a symptom of “a deeper moral and spiritual problem” in America, and his willingness to promote rabid anti-Obama conspiracy theories, his new letter is not terribly surprising. But it’s good to keep in mind the next time you hear him or some other FRC spokesperson calling for more civility in the public arena.

Tea Party Senators Kick Off Ralph Reed's Faith & Freedom Conference

Four of the Tea Party’s favorite senators – Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, and Marco Rubio of Florida – addressed the kick-off lunch for this year’s “Road to Majority” conference, which is sponsored by Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition.

Rand Paul made his case for a humbler foreign policy, suggesting that anti-abortion “pro-life” advocates should also think about the lives of 18- and 19-year old soldiers sent abroad before applauding a politician who talks with bravado about pre-emptive wars.  He said that even when American soldiers go to war with the best of intentions, the law of unintended consequences can be merciless.

Paul told activists that there is a worldwide “war on Christianity” that is being waged not only by “liberal elites” but also by American taxpayers through the country’s financial support of countries that persecute Christians. “American taxpayer dollars are being used to enable a war on Christianity in the Middle East.”

Paul took the requisite political shot at Barack Obama, saying the "scandals" surrounding the administration were causing the president to lose his "moral authority" to lead the country.

Johnson said the root cause of the country’s problem was that too many Americans were either never taught or have forgotten the “foundational premise” of the country. The nation’s founders, he said, understood that while government is necessary, its growth is something to fear. “Far too many Americans,” he said, “are willingly trading their freedom and ours for the false sense, the false promise of economic security.”

Johnson said he would like Americans to take their disgust about the IRS, or Benghazi, or the NSA, and apply it in a broader way to the federal government.  He said people who talked about restoring trust in government have the wrong idea.  What we should do, he said, is foster a healthy distrust of the government.

Lee said conservatives had not focused too much on families, but too little.  He said conservatives have to have an agenda that includes “forgotten” families at the bottom rung of the economic ladder, policies that address the effect of stagnant wages, rising costs of housing, etc. He called for a new “conservative reform” agenda that didn’t seem all that new: tax cuts to encourage entrepreneurship, school choice, and welfare reform, as well as an end to “corporate welfare.” 

Lee said conservatives are opposed to big government because a small government encourages a healthy civil society. Conservatives, he said, aren’t about a “you’re on your own” philosophy, but rather a “we’re in this together” one. But in his take, “in this together” does not involve the government. Without an intrusive government, he said, communities and churches would take care of people. Remember, Lee is the guy who believes the welfare state is unconstitutional, along with restrictions on freedom such as child-labor laws.

Marco Rubio has taken some heat from some of his fellow conservatives recently for his advocacy of immigration reform.  Reed is on record supporting comprehensive reform, but talking points for the activists’ post-lunch lobbying on Capitol Hill reflect tensions within the movement.  While it talked about the biblical basis for a compassionate immigration policy, it also talked about the rule of law and a so-called “enforcement trigger.”  One of the talking points says, “Alongside our principles, we vehemently oppose amnesty and guaranteed paths to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently residing in the country.”

Rubio revisited his campaign theme of American exceptionalism.  He used a biblical passage from Matthew chapter 5 to encourage activists to keep bringing their faith into their political activism, especially, he said, at a time when people are told they should silence their faith.

Rubio expanded on the notion that Christians should be the “salt of the earth” and a light unto the world to take on the foreign policy portion of Rand Paul’s remarks, without naming Paul specifically. A call to retreat from the world, he said, is a call for America to hide its light, and there is no nation that can replace the U.S. and its example of freedom:

“Our light must shine so that others will look to us and give glory to our heavenly father.”

Rubio made a couple of references to protecting marriage, but none of the senators explicitly addressed the battle over marriage equality. Talking points for activists’ afternoon lobbying visits on Capitol Hill were clearer. “Public polling overstates the support for same-sex marriage,” claim the talking points “The American people have overwhelmingly supported traditional marriage in votes on state referenda and initiatives.”

Also on the lobbying agenda: asking representatives to support the House of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act, which would allow churches and preachers to engage in explicit electoral politicking without consequences for their nonprofit tax status.

Geller Lashes Out at 'Enemy' Media, 'Toxic' Public Schools, Justice Department 'Tools'

An event in Eastern Tennessee last week sponsored by the American Muslim Advisory Council, meant to be a discussion of “public discourse in a diverse society,” was taken over by a crowd of anti-Islam protesters that spilled out of the building.

Among the protesters, of course, was Pamela Geller, who, according to a video posted this weekend, grabbed a bullhorn and warned the audience of the “enemy” media who “shill for Islamic supremecists,” public schools that “marinate” children’s “brains in leftist, toxic fumes” and the “tools” at the Department of Justice, which she claimed is a “de facto legal arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Geller went on to claim that her free speech rights were in danger, threatening, “Without freedom of speech, peace-filled men must resort to violence. And we don’t want to!”

As Little Green Footballs notes, pay close attention to the spelling of the sign behind Geller. 

Geller: What we’re seeing is a complete disinformation campaign, an obfuscation, a covering up by the ene-media. They are the enemy. They shill for Islamic supremecists and jihadist-aligned groups, and we have to leapfrog over that information superhighway.

Audience member: The Common Core curriculum is being shoved down our throats in this state!

Geller: You’ve got to fight back, ma’am. You’ve got to get on the school boards. You’ve got to get involved. Let me tell you something, we are living on the fumes of the Greatest Generation that defeated evil. That’s what we’re doing. This generation has to fight, and our children have been completely compromised in the public school system, where they inculcate them, they marinate their brains in leftist, toxic fumes.

Geller: The freedom of speech is a line in the sand, because without freedom of speech, peace-filled men must resort to violence. And we don’t want to! They came and they want to criminalize speech that’s inflammatory. Really? So, the whole New York Times and the L.A. Times and ABC News, they gotta go to jail. Who decides what’s inflammatory? If you read my Twitter feed, if you read my Facebook comments, they call me the most vile names, and really the death threats, I have a file this big. You know what, it’s free speech.

Enough already. Enough already with the nonsense. It’s a way of silencing critics of Islam, it’s a way of imposing the Sharia. That’s what they do. And these tools, and that’s what they are, these tools in the Justice Department, which has become, by the way, in the Obama administration, a de facto legal arm of the Muslim Brotherhood…

Wisconsin GOP Lawmaker Argues Income Limits on School Vouchers 'Penalize Married Couples'

Wisconsin state legislators are in the final days of negotiations on a plan that would expand private school vouchers statewide (they are currently only available in Milwaukee and Racine). The current deal on the program would cap voucher enrollment at one percent of a districts students, but Gov. Scott Walker and other lawmakers would like to expand them further. That includes Republican state Sen. Glenn Grothman, who told Jack Craver of The Capital Times today that not allowing wealthy families who can already afford to send their children to private school to participate in the program would “penalize married couples.”

One of the major concerns in recent years about school vouchers is that they often benefit families who already have the money to send their kids to private schools.

At the same time, the Legislature expanded the state-paid voucher program to Racine. And now, data show that nearly half of the students receiving vouchers in that city were already enrolled in private schools before the program was put in place.

But Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, an outspoken advocate for expanding vouchers to all people and all school districts, says he believes there’s a good side to higher-income families participating in the program: It promotes marriage.

“I think the major thing is we cannot allow the voucher program to penalize married couples,” he told me in a brief phone conversation Monday morning. “In Milwaukee, we raised (the limit) to 300 percent of the federal poverty line and we began to get more married couples in the program, and I don’t want to back off on that.”

The veteran legislator is worried that current negotiations over a further expansion of vouchers to other districts may result in lower income thresholds for voucher recipients and thus reduce the number of two-parent families participating in the program.

Grothman is the same state senator who authored a bill last year to label single parenthood as “a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.”

Boykin Claims Mythical Christian Persecution in Military 'Threatening the Future of America'

For a number of weeks, the Family Research Council has been shamelessly pushing a myth, concocted by Fox News contributor Todd Starnes, that the Obama administration is conducting a “Christian cleansing” of the military. Never mind that the “cleansing” story is totally untrue -- and that even Glenn Beck’s The Blaze has thoroughly debunked it – in a fundraising email today, FRC’s Jerry Boykin claims that it is part of a “shocking anti-Christian movement that is threatening the future of America.”

The military’s longstanding policy, which applies to members of all faiths, is that "service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one's beliefs (proselytization).” But according to Boykin, this means that Christians “could be prosecuted as enemies of the state” and that it will “destroy military recruiting across the services as Americans realize that their faith will be suppressed by joining the military.”

Tony has asked me, as a 36-year veteran of military service, to add my perspective to the shocking anti-Christian movement that is threatening the future of America.

Here is the situation: The very troops who defend our religious freedom are at risk of having their own taken away. Less than a month ago, anti-Christian and left-wing activists met at the Pentagon with military leaders. What issues would be of such importance to gain such a high-level hearing?

According to these far-left activists, religion is one of the chief problems plaguing our troops. As the Washington Post reported, some are saying that "religious proselytizing" is at the top of the list of problems in the armed forces--even on par with sexual assault.

As a result of such complaints from the Left, the Air Force has--according to the Post--published, but not yet distributed, a new document with the directive that leaders of all levels (including chaplains) may not "promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion."

The penalty these secularists are seeking for those who don't comply with their view of religious speech is court-martial.

If this policy goes forward, Christians within the military who speak of their faith could be prosecuted as enemies of the state. This has the potential to destroy military recruiting across the services as Americans realize that their faith will be suppressed by joining the military.

Stakelbeck Condemns Obama for Defending Right to Build Mosques; Fears Muslim 'Infiltration' of the Bible Belt

Next time Christian Broadcasting Network correspondent Erick Stakelbeck talks about religious liberty, just remember that he doesn’t seem to extend that freedom to Muslims. During a conference call with the group Tea Party Unity, Stakelbeck attacked the Obama administration for having “literally” intervened in cases to defend the construction of mosques.

Stakelbeck said he is outraged that the Obama administration is trying to stop residents from blocking the construction of mosques because how dare the Justice Department defend the First Amendment!

He was also livid that Muslims may want to build “a $5 million mega-mosque,” just as we are sure he is angry that a Southern Baptist congregation in Dallas constructed a $130 million megachurch.

But then again, what do you expect from a sports reporter-turned-terrorism “expert” who has championed anti-Muslim activists like “mosque buster” Gavin Boby?

Caller: How is it we can get these facilities, because I’m not going to call it a church or a religion, how can we get them shut down?

Stakelbeck: Well look under this administration, good luck, because I’m just working on a chapter in my new book about how this administration when locals, in places like Murfreesboro, Tennessee, when local residents are up in arms about a mosque being built, the Obama Department of Justice literally intervenes, files amicus briefs in support of the mosque, we’ve seen this time and time again. Here’s a statistic for you, folks, in the year 2001 there were 1,200 mosques in America; now, just twelve years later after 9/11, that number has doubled to over 2,000 mosques, that’s a 74 percent increase since 9/11 alone, that is astounding and it is not a coincidence. Under the Obama administration the floodgates are open even more; they are literally intervening in these mosque cases around the country, in small towns with very small Muslim populations. I’m sorry, if you have a 200-strong Muslim population, why do you need a $5 million mega-mosque? And where is the money coming from? Look no further than Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. So getting mosques shut down in this era, in the age of Obama? Good luck. What you’re going to see is more mosques built.

Stakelbeck told another caller that “there is a concerted effort by Islamists to infiltrate the very heartland of American society,” particularly the Bible Belt.

Just to be clear, Muslims represent just 1% of the population of Tennessee and less than 0.5% in other Bible Belt states like Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Arkansas.

But maybe they’re all just hiding in national parks….

Caller: We are seeing so much Saudi in middle Tennessee, I mean they have the best health care in the Saudi embassy, we have classes at the university, so we are just seeing a major, major influx of Saudi nationals here in middle Tennessee.

Stakelbeck: Folks, it’s not a coincidence. Middle Tennessee is the buckle of the Bible Belt. This is not just in New York City, Boston, Chicago, LA, traditional gateway cities for immigrants, anymore; there is a concerted effort by Islamists to infiltrate the very heartland of American society. I write about this in my book “The Terrorist Next Door,” I call it “Southern Inhospitality,” and that’s what we’re seeing, and you’re seeing it in a major way in that Nashville area where you have tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville.

Ted Cruz, Archbishop Lori Will Address FRC's 'Watchmen' Pastors

The Family Research Council’s Watchmen on the Wall conference is an annual gathering for pastors and other church leaders to hear from a panoply of right-wing speakers and get motivated to “transform America.” Our coverage of last year’s event highlights speakers’ attacks on evolution, secularism, Islam, LGBT people, and other tools of Satan.

This year’s conference, which takes place in Washington DC May 22-24, has been promoted by FRC for months.  In April, FRC sent an excited alert that Sen. Ted Cruz, a Tea Party and Religious Right favorite who is reportedly mulling a 2016 presidential bid, had confirmed.

Based on other confirmed speakers, it seems likely that there will be two major themes to this year’s gathering: 1) religious liberty in America is under attack by Obama and his gay allies; and 2) only the church – led by uncompromising fired up pastors – can save freedom and America.

A notable addition to the cast of conservative evangelicals is William Lori, Archbishop of the Diocese of Baltimore and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Lori has led the bishops’ attack on the Obama administration’s proposed regulations requiring insurance coverage of contraception.  Lori, who believes that “aggressive secularity” is “becoming the established ‘religion’ in our country today,” will be right at home with his friends at the Family Research Council. A typical FRC Action mailing from Tony Perkins earlier this year said President Obama is out to “crush freedom.” The same letter warns about “death panels” under Obamacare, which Perkins calls “the tip of the tyranny-iceberg.”

Also entertaining the Watchmen will be Rep. James Lankford, who earlier this year blamed gun violence on “welfare moms” overmedicating their kids with psychiatric drugs because they “want to get additional benefits.”  At FRC’s Values Voter Summit in September, Lankford said of the dispute over contraception coverage, “this is not a war on women, this is a war on people of faith.” 

Also confirmed is Ergun Caner, who lost his position at Liberty University after Muslim and Christian bloggers, and then journalists, began to expose the falsehoods in the Jihadi-to-Jesus life story that Caner had used to make a name for himself in the post-9/11 evangelical universe. Caner will probably echo his remarks at the 2009 Values Voter Summit, where his message to Christians who were not being outspoken enough on the issues of the day: “You need to preach, teach, and reach, or just shut up and get out of our way.”

Anti-gay activist Harry Jackson is quick to invoke Satan and other demonic powers as the forces behind the gay rights movement, which he portrays as an enemy of religious freedom. He has charged that a “radical” gay element is trying to “close down every church in America.” In fact, one of his columns was titled,” Why do Gays Hate Religious Freedom?”  Jackson’s apocalyptic anti-Obama rhetoric did not convince many Black Christians to vote against Obama, but Jackson thinks they’ll be sorry. God, he says, will “take out” those who chose “race over grace.” Jackson is a long-time FRC ally; he and Perkins co-authored Personal Faith, Public Policy, which calls Supreme Court rulings on church-state issues “assaults” on Christianity.

Jim Garlow, a California pastor who led church backing for Prop 8 in California and was then tapped by Newt Gingrich to run one of his political groups, had warned before the election that an Obama reelection would destroy the country.  During an FRC post-election special Garlow said that Christians should expect massive persecution from the government.  At last year’s Watchmen on the Wall conference, Garlow spoke at a press conference attacking President Obama’s use of religious language to describe his support for marriage equality. Evoking the words of a colonial preacher, Garlow said, “if necessary, here we die.” In an FRC DVD promoting Watchmen on the Wall, Garlow says an FRC-produced video was crucial to the Prop 8 win.

Richard Land is retiring in October after 25 years as head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty commission; he was dogged by controversy during the past year over plagiarism charges and racially inflammatory remarks he made regarding the Trayvon Martin killing.  Land has charged that the only reason the Obama administration proposed regulations on contraception coverage was to "set the precedent of ramming this down our throats and forcing us to surrender our First amendment freedom of religion." Land says God will unleash judgment on America for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Watchmen will also hear from Jacob Aranza, whose 1983 book Backward Masking Unmasked warned that rock music was encoded with satanic messages that would entice teens into drug use and abnormal sexual behavior. Aranza says he burned “hundreds of thousands” of albums in those days. More recently, Aranza was an endorser of Rick Perry’s “Awakening” and participated in Religious Right strategy sessions convened by James Robison to try to prevent Obama’s re-election. In 2011, Aranza and Perkins appeared together on Robison’s television show, and Aranza gushed about Perkin’s work to mobilize pastors:

Tony Perkins is one of the great heroes in America today. He is a hero because it is unseen. He is uniting and equipping the most important people in America, and that's the pastors in America. If the local church is the hope of the world then pastors are the hope of the local church. Tony Perkins exists to encourage them and to equip them and to empower them. He's taking regular pastors -- the average church in America, James, as you know is less than 200 people; 80% of the churches in America are 200 or less -- and he is taking men like that and he is turning them into absolute heroes, just like pastors in Maine who are literally changing the moral fiber of an entire state because he has equipped them and empowered them and told them they're the people that are supposed to be the hedge of builders, and he is encouraging them to do just that.…I believe that as you speak you are literally trumpeting a sound that is encouraging pastors across America and families across America that are Christians to unite together to see God once again bring spiritual awakening to our nation.

JC Church is one of FRC’s pastor leaders “networking churches in Ohio to answer the call on moral issues.”  His 3 Cord Alliance, which is affiliated with FRC, teaches pastors “how to bring sound scripturally based influence and change to your community.” Church has been praised by Phil Burress of Citizens for Community Values: “I believe that if all the pastors in Ohio were like Pastor Church, we would have an army that Satan could not stop. He understands that America is led by the pulpit and we count on him to unite fellow pastors and their congregations to be the salt and light we so desperately need in the world today.”

Jack Hibbs is a California-based preacher who also pushed Prop 8; in 2011 he helped lead an unsuccessful effort to overturn the state’s SB 48, which he charged would lead to public schools indoctrinating students.  In a video urging pastors to get involved, he said it is not enough to teach and preach the word of God, pastors needed to be “culture changers for Christ.” Leading into the 2012 election Hibbs was outspoken about the fact that Christians should vote for Romney over Obama. In a radio show the day after the 2012 elections, He says he was on the phone with Tony Perkins on election night and they had both believed that the outcome was up to the church: “The answer wouldn’t be determined in the White House or the statehouse….the answer for righteousness or unrighteousness, for light or for darkness, for liberty or tyranny, would be decided by the pastors.” Given the way things turned out, Hibbs says “I believe the responsibility, the outcome, and the fallout falls into the hands of the pulpits of America’s pastors who did not speak up….” Hibbs also echoes Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” remarks: “those who are looking for handouts, they don’t want to work, they want the government to give things to them, overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama.” Hibbs said he was disappointed but not discouraged, because “God’s on the throne” and therefore “God has appointed him to be our president for God’s purposes – OK that means God has got some pretty gnarly purposes coming for America.”

There’s a special role at the conference for FRC’s executive vice president, retired Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin.  Boykin retired from the military after being reprimanded by then-President Bush for making speeches depicting the war on terrorism as a Christian holy war against Islam. FRC hired Boykin last year after he was disinvited from speaking at West Point after faculty and cadets objected.  Boykin and his Religious Right allies portrayed his mythical martyrdom as an attack on freedom of speech and religion. At last year’s Values Voter Summit, Boykin invoked Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler in denouncing what he said is an effort to move Americans away from belief in a sovereign God.  He says everything President Obama is doing is right out of the” Communist Manifesto.”

Perkins seems to be counting on Boykin to strong-arm pastors at the conference into making a concrete commitment to political activism. In an insert in a packet mailed to pastors, Perkins says Boykin will offer the “concluding challenge” – and he insists that pastors book their flights home no earlier than 4pm so that they can stay.  “During the Briefing, we will share details of the strategic plan the Lord is using to bring revival and renewal in communities around the nation through the engagement of pastors. At the end, we have a ‘call to decision’ or ‘invitation’ sort of like many of you do in a worship service. Just as you want those attending your worship service to stay and respond, we would respectfully ask the same of you.” Perkins has some leverage – FRC picks up most of the tab for one pastor from each church.

FRC launched Watchmen on the Wall in 2004. A 2010 promotional DVD said the group was up to 14,000 pastors; it said Perkins’ goal was to have 40,000 Watchmen pastors by 2015. Pastors who sign up get access to regular briefings, model sermons, and other toolkits for mobilizing their congregations and communities.  The same promotional video contains a clip of “historian” David Barton quoting 19th Century preacher Charles Finney saying, in effect, that if the country is going to hell, it’s pastors’ fault.  The notion that America can only be saved by more aggressive preachers is a recurring theme at Religious Right gatherings, including Liberty Counsel’s recent Awakening conference.

Hypocrisy, McCarthyism & “Christian Persecution”

It seems like with every election, congressional hearing or large gathering of its activists, the Right reaches new lows. Here are some updates on what we’re up against right now.

Rewarding Hypocrisy -- Sanford and Cruz

This week, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford staged a political comeback and won a special election to reclaim the U.S. House seat he once occupied. Sanford had left office mired in scandal about his extramarital affair and ran a campaign centered on his own humility and learned compassion -- although, apparently his experience did nothing to dissuade him from his moralizing anti-choice and anti-gay positions. I pointed out in a piece on the Huffington Post yesterday that Sanford trumpeted his new personal understanding of "human grace as a reflection of God's grace," but his ideas of grace, choice and personal freedom as they apply to his own story don’t seem to be pushing him in the direction of supporting those things for same-sex couples, women, religious minorities or really anyone who is not just like him.

Sanford’s just the tip of the iceberg.

This past weekend NRA convention speakers from Glenn Beck and Rick Santorum to Sarah Palin and NRA president Wayne LaPierre attacked “the Left,” the Obama administration, the media and, basically, their straw man version of The (uber-liberal) Establishment for using fear tactics to scare Americans into supporting common sense gun reforms like background checks… while in the same breath stoking paranoia about every manner of “big government” tyranny, like the forced disarmament of America’s law abiding gun owners.  

Another NRA convention speaker, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is being discussed in right-wing circles (and by Cruz himself) as potential presidential candidate in 2016. Cruz is a Tea Party super star who is making waves by challenging the traditional role of freshmen U.S. senators and recently gained notoriety for leading the filibuster of the background check requirement for gun purchases (the one 90% of Americans support) and then insulting his fellow Republican senators at a Tea Party event. But Sen. Cruz was born in Canada. Where are all the Tea Party “Birthers” who claimed that President Obama was born in Kenya and therefore he didn’t qualify as a “natural born citizen,” making him ineligible to run for president, even if his mother was an American citizen??

Whether it’s based on race, politics or ideology, the hypocrisy here is palpable … as it was when Cruz bragged to the NRA about vowing to filibuster any gun safety reform, no matter how common-sense or popular, but in the same speech, tore into Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for requiring a 60 vote threshold to advance one of his preferred “pro-gun” bills, which incidentally had less support in the Senate than background checks.

It seems that it’s not so much a good redemption story the Right loves as it is blatant hypocrisy that gets rewarded with support and popularity.

McCarthyism

It must be political witch hunt season because Republicans in Congress – fueled by their allies in the right-wing media – are embarking on some serious fishing expeditions in attempts to smear the president, his nominee for Labor Secretary Tom Perez and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee channels Sen. Joe McCarthy perhaps more than any other sitting member of Congress in his overzealous twisting of facts and events to “support” his hyperbolic allegations like President Obama’s is “the most corrupt government in history” and Hillary Clinton and her inner circle staged a vast “cover up” surrounding the embassy attack in Benghazi. Issa, who himself is no stranger to ethical questions (again with the hypocrisy -- they can’t help themselves), along with his allies, who include most congressional Republicans, the Religious Right and virtually the entire conservative movement, are clearly being motivated by their expectations that former Sec. of State Clinton will be a formidable candidate for president in 2016, so they are trying to tar her in advance.    

Issa and his House cohorts have been involved in the attacks on Tom Perez as well, although the real obstruction is taking place in Senate, where Perez’s confirmation vote has been delayed again by Republicans on the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee. While obstructing an eminently well qualified Latino nominee seems like a funny way to demonstrate the GOP’s “rebranding” and appeal to Latino voters, the attacks on Tom Perez have truly been as vicious as they are baseless. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) alluded to Perez being “a dishonorable man,” and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) contorted claims about an incident involving the city of St. Paul, MN to assert that Perez wanted to “hurt poor people” simply because he was in a position of power from which he could do so.

This week, PFAW delivered 50,000 petition signatures to the Senate HELP Committee urging an end to the obstruction and swift action to confirm Tom Perez, and we’ll continue to keep the pressure on.

Religious Right’s Persecution Fantasy

Claim after claim after claim of “persecution,” used as examples of a “war on Christians” by Religious Right activists, talk show hosts and politicians, gets thoroughly debunked. But even as these examples are firmly established as myths, right-wing leaders, and even lazy mainstream journalists, continue to cite them in their speeches and reporting. PFAW’s Right Wing Watch released an In Focus report in the first weeks of the Obama administration in 2009 about the Right’s use of a “big lie” strategy about a war on Christians to stoke the base’s false fears of religious persecution. We are seeing every day in our Right Wing tracking that the playbook we identified remains in constant use.

Corporate Court(s)

A new study by the Constitutional Accountability Center details the remarkable success corporate special interests like the Chamber of Commerce have had before the current Supreme Court. Certainly as, if not even more, notable, another study published in The Minnesota Law Review ranked all 36 Supreme Court justices of the last 65 years based on their pro-corporate bent. While all five of the current Court’s conservative justices made the top 10, President George W. Bush’s nominees and the two most recent conservative additions to the Court, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, were at the very top of the list.

Meanwhile, a separate study from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service confirms what we’ve been pointing out for years -- that President Obama’s judicial nominees are being treated exceptionally poorly by Senate Republicans. Emblematic of the obstruction of President Obama’s nominees has been the situation with respect to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, often called the nation’s second most powerful court. Republicans are fighting tooth and nail to preserve the DC Circuit’s rightward tilt even at the cost of maintaining vacancies that severely hinder the Court’s ability to do its job.

PFAW will continue to call attention to and fight the GOP’s unprecedented judicial obstruction in the DC Circuit and the entire federal judiciary. We expect several confirmation battles on the horizon, with new nominations expected to be announced by the White House in coming weeks, and we’ll be employing various strategies to make sure senators are feeling the heat in their own states over the GOP’s unconscionable obstruction.

PFAW

The Myth of American Christians as Persecuted Minority, part 256

The claim that American Christians are facing horrible persecution for their religious beliefs – and are on the verge of being rounded up and thrown into jail by tyrannical secularists – has been a staple of Religious Right groups’ rhetoric for decades. And as conservative evangelicals’ anti-gay views have lost popular support, they’ve doubled down on their claims that gay rights are incompatible with religious liberty. In recent years, conservative Catholics have joined in crying “religious persecution” in response to the advance of marriage equality for same-sex couples and the Obama administration’s requirement for insurance coverage of contraception.

On CNN’s Belief Blog, correspondent John Blake has given voice to these claims in a post titled “When Christians become a ‘hated minority.’” That headline hinted that this piece would be problematic. And that was confirmed with the opening sentence, which cites the Family Research Council’s Peter Sprigg, who goes on to say that anti-gay Christians are victims who are being forced into the “closet.”

Where to begin?

We could start with the problem of Peter Sprigg being a spokesperson for tolerance. In Blake’s story, Sprigg is quoted saying “Maybe we need to do a better job of showing that we are motivated by Christian love” and “Love is wanting the best for someone, and acting to bring that about.” It’s hard to square Sprigg’s assertion that he is motivated by the best interests of gay people, given that he:

  • has called for the criminalization of homosexual conduct both in the U.S. and abroad;
  • said he would like to “export” gays from the U.S. rather than support legislation to give same-sex couples equal treatment under immigration law;
  • dislikes the idea of a gay judge, because he says gays don’t make good role models;
  • opposes making children raised by a same-sex couple eligible for social security benefits if a parent’s spouse dies;
  • dismisses anti-bullying and safe-school programs as attempts to indoctrinate impressionable children
  • has suggested that schools should be allowed to fire openly gay teachers and coaches;
  • has cheered the kidnapping of a child by a mother who refused to abide by a court’s order to share custody with her former partner.

Sprigg says the “real goal of homosexual activists” is not protection from discrimination or marriage equality, but is “to create a society in which it is unacceptable for anyone, ever, anywhere to say that homosexual conduct is wrong, or that homosexual relationships are anything other than fully equal to heterosexual ones.” The CNN piece also cites Bryan Liften, a professor at Moody Bible Institute, saying Christians should be able to publicly say that God designed sex to take place within a marriage between a man and a woman.

Should be? If you haven’t noticed, plenty of Christians have been saying that loudly and proudly and with millions of dollars they have used to enshrine that belief into a majority of state constitutions. People like Sprigg and his boss Tony Perkins, Brian Brown from the National Organization for Marriage, and any number of conservative evangelicals and Roman Catholic bishops have pretty much an open invitation to say so on national television and before state legislative and congressional committees. Not to mention through their own radio and television networks and vast church networks. Or from the platform of the Republican convention.  Freedom of expression, including anti-equality expression, is alive and well.

The CNN post does include Christians with differing views on gay rights, and who acknowledge that simply claiming religious backing for one’s beliefs does not insulate those views from criticism in the public arena. Neither does disagreement equate to discrimination or persecution. Conservative Christians did not see it as a form of religious discrimination to enshrine their view of marriage into laws and state constitutions; but as public opinion shifts and more states make equality the law, they warn of dire threats to their freedom.

Among the Religious Right horror stories linked to in the CNN piece are complaints about pastor Louie Giglio’s withdrawal from President Obama’s second inaugural ceremony in the face of criticism about anti-gay remarks that surfaced online. Criticism of those remarks – even anger and disappointment among pro-equality Obama supporters over Giglio being given a place of honor at the inaugural – does not mean, as some pundits claimed, that people of faith are no longer welcome in the public square. Anyone who heard the prayers, music, and speeches at the inaugural would see that such claims are ludicrous.

It should be noted that Religious Right groups made similarly shrill claims that the addition of sexual orientation to federal hate crimes laws would result in preachers being thrown into jail for quoting scripture on homosexuality. And they claimed that allowing gay members of the armed forces to serve openly would destroy the military. Those claims have been proven to be not just wrong but ridiculous.

Baker quotes evangelical blogger Joe Carter (who used to work at Family Research Council), warning that young people will abandon anti-gay churches “for fear of being called haters.” What is far more likely is that many young Christians will leave anti-gay churches because they have gay friends and disagree with both the anti-gay theology and anti-equality policy positions of the Religious Right. And some may continue to hold traditional theological views on homosexuality while supporting legal equality as a civil matter. Polling shows that the generation gap on LGBT issues is huge within as well as outside the evangelical community – and that many young Christians are disillusioned with the anti-gay fixation of many church leaders.

The CNN piece finishes blogger Carter saying “he foresees a day when any church that preaches against homosexuality will be marginalized. Just as many churches now accept divorce, they will accept sexual practices once considered sinful.”

So let’s end with a consideration of divorce. The Catholic Church denies its religious blessing to divorced couples who get remarried without obtaining a religious annulment of their previous marriage. Many evangelical churches also frown on divorce. But all marriages – first, second, third, or fourth – are treated equally under civil law (good news for Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh!).  Yet no one is arguing that the status quo on divorce amounts to an attack on religious freedom – or that Christians who oppose divorce have been marginalized or hounded out of the public square. Their religious beliefs about divorce coexist with public policy that reflects societal reality and the opinions of a religiously diverse America. 

Congressmen Scalise and Gohmert Fall for Debunked Fox News Story on Supposed Plan to Court Martial Christians

Fox News correspondent Todd Starnes likes to report on culture war issues and frequently highlights examples of supposed anti-Christian persecution. He plucks the examples from Religious Right media outlets, which then turn around and point to Starnes’ Fox News stories for validation.

Fox example, one recent Starnes story alleged that a New York school was forcing girls to kiss each other as part of an anti-bullying seminar. But the ‘forced lesbianism’ story was baseless [PDF], and the school superintendent had to write to Starnes to urge him to, you know, report stories accurately [PDF].

In another instance of shoddy journalism, Starnes claimed that the military was deliberately blocking access to a Southern Baptist website as part of a “Christian cleansing” of the armed forces by the Obama administration. Well, as it turns out, the website was automatically blocked over malware issues and the Southern Baptist Convention’s own director of information systems acknowledged that there was malware on the SBC website, not any anti-Christian animus in the military, was responsible for the mishap.

So it came as no surprise to learn that a new Starnes column about the military getting ready to court martial Christians, since picked up by organizations like the Family Research Council, was also completely groundless.

Starnes contends that Obama administration officials are working with church-state separation activists to begin kicking Christians out of the military and cracking down on their religious freedom.

As Warren Throckmorton points out, the Defense Department guidelines on proselytizing and religious bias that has so enraged Starnes and others was actually put in place in 2008 during the Bush administration and the language clearly “draws a distinction between simply speaking about one’s faith and coercion.” Throckmorton also notes that Starnes twisted a statement from a Pentagon spokesman “to make it seem as though the outcome of religious proselytizing cases would be court martial.”

The Tennessean and Stars and Stripes have also debunked the story, but don’t tell Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who in an interview with Starnes said that Obama is trying to make Christian service members leave their faith:

“Under President Obama’s military you are no longer allowed to share your faith,” he said – noting that the policy is putting Christians in a tough position. “Do you follow President Obama or do you follow God and the teachings of Jesus?”

“That’s pretty tough when your commander in chief puts you on the horn for that dilemma,” he added.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) similarly told Tony Perkins on Washington Watch earlier this week called the story “yet another attack on religious liberty that we’ve seen from the Obama administration.”

Perkins: The idea that members of the military who share their faith, directly or indirectly, could be potentially court martialed, is this stunning or what?

Scalise: It’s frightening and shocking. Unfortunately it is yet another attack on religious liberty that we’ve seen from the Obama administration and it’s just been an endless assault from so many different angles. Of course it comes off the heels of the FDA approving the morning-after pill. There are just so many things that this administration is doing that go against a lot of the Christian beliefs that this country was founded upon and I think it really needs to be pushed back hard on.

While the victimhood narrative of oppressed white straight evangelicals is beloved by the Religious Right and trumpeted by Fox News, conservative activists may want to at least try to find real incidents of persecution and real journalists if they want people to ever believe them.

PFAW Foundation Statement on the Passing of Bob Edgar

People For the American Way Foundation president Michael Keegan released the following statement on the passing of Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause:

“All of us at People For the American Way Foundation are saddened to learn of the passing of Bob Edgar, a true progressive hero. Bob devoted his life to public service, as a member of Congress, a leader for progressive people of faith and a tireless advocate for our democracy. His kindness, good humor and commitment to holding our nation up to its highest ideals were an inspiration to all who were fortunate enough to work with him. He will be sorely missed.”
 

###

FRC Blames 'Sexual Liberalism' and 'Family Breakdown' for Mass Murders

The Family Research Council is joining many of its fellow right-wing groups in celebrating Wednesday’s Senate filibuster of a bill that would have expanded background checks on gun sales. In an email to supporters yesterday, the group claims that gun violence prevention legislation isn’t needed because it wouldn’t have stopped the Boston marathon bombing. What is to blame for recent mass murders, the group claims, is “the government’s own hostility to the institution of the family” compounded by Congress’ supposed encouragement of  “abortion, family breakdown, sexual liberalism, or religious hostility.”

In the aftermath of horrible tragedies like Newtown, the government desperately wants to do something--even if that something is the wrong thing. There seems to be this notion, at least among liberals, that more laws will protect us--but as we all witnessed in Boston, that isn't necessarily the case. The government can't make us safer until it recognizes that the problem isn't the instruments of violence--but the environment of it. Stronger background checks wouldn't have prevented the deaths of three people at the finish line on Monday, any more than it would have stopped Floyd Corkins from walking into our lobby and shooting Leo Johnson.

If Congress wants to stop these tragedies, then it has to address the government's own hostility to the institution of the family and organizations that can address the real problem: the human heart. As I've said before, America doesn't need gun control, it needs self-control. And a Congress that actively discourages it--through abortion, family breakdown, sexual liberalism, or religious hostility--is only compounding the problem.

Corsi: ACLU Promoting Pedophilia, Leading Us Back to Paganism

Master birther Jerome Corsi visited the Janet Mefferd show last week to promote his new book Bad Samaritans, a “scorching expose” of the American Civil Liberties Union. Like with most of his work, Corsi’s analysis of the ACLU is light on the truth and heavy on the grand conspiracy theories. He tells Mefferd that the ACLU is now promoting pedophilia “as the next sexual horizon” and seeking to indict pastors with non-existent hate speech laws. All of this, Corsi argues, means that “we’re headed right back to the paganism, maybe a broader form of paganism, that was the ancient world.”

Corsi: The ACLU has championed same-sex marriage, and along with same-sex marriage advocates, got a very effective public relations campaign arguing, you know, ‘How would you deny these two men who are in love or two women the ability to be happy,’ emotional issues. But now the ACLU is doing two things. One, they’re pushing the envelope, they’re arguing that pedophilia should be accepted next, as the next sexual horizon that is just a sexual orientation, and we should accept it as natural.

Mefferd: That’s sick.

Corsi: And they’re also arguing that any of the, the clergy, silencing the Church and ministers so that anybody who speaks out on a moral issue, objecting to, say, same-sex marriage on a moral or scriptural basis from Judeo-Christian principles, that’s hate speech and the person’s committing a crime. I mean, the left is not going to be tolerant when the window is fully pushed open and anyone who objects to their agenda is going to be suspect and silenced. And the problem is that if we continue to expand, you know, if every form of human behavior, sexual behavior, that can be imagined is all accepted and legitimated, well then we’re headed  right back to the paganism, maybe a broader form of paganism, that was the ancient world, rejected by Christianity at the fall of the Roman Empire.

Mefferd: Oh, it’s exactly the case.
 

Starnes Accuses Obama Administration of 'Religious Cleansing of the Military'

Fox News commentator Todd Starnes has taken it in upon himself to chronicle what he sees as an “attack on Christianity” within the military under the Obama administration. So far, the main evidence he’s turned up is an email sent by an Army officer about anti-gay groups and an unauthorized slide in a training presentation listing Christianity as a possible source of religious extremism. These, however, are enough for Starnes to conclude that, as he put it to the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins yesterday, “politically correct Obama administration officials” are conducting a “sort of religious cleansing of the military”

Starnes told Perkins that his concerns are shared by Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who believes “there is an anti-Christian movement afoot at the Pentagon.”


Starnes: It should be shocking and surprising, but unfortunately, for me it’s not, because I’ve been covering this attack on Christianity that’s within the ranks of the military, not just the Army, since President Obama was inaugurated. And we have seen an onslaught of attacks, the sort of religious cleansing of the military at the hands of these politically correct Obama administration officials operating out of the Pentagon.

...

Perkins: This is a fundamental, this is our first freedom. We cannot lose it, we must defend it with our abilities through the political process. That’s how we do that. Todd, what’s the next step on this? What do you think is going to happen next?

Starnes: I think we are going to see some movement on Capitol Hill. We’ve got some lawmakers that are very upset. Congressman Steve King out of Iowa, I had a chance to talk to him, and he believes there is an anti-Christian movement afoot at the Pentagon. And I think we are going to see more people standing in the gap for our fighting men and women. These are folks putting their lives on the line so that we might have religious liberty, and their religious liberty is being denied? It’s just unconscionable.
 

North Carolina Drops Official Religion Bill

After vocal opposition from People For the American Way and others, Speaker Thom Tillis of the North Carolina House announced yesterday that a resolution stating that North Carolina has the power to declare an official religion would not be brought to a vote.  In effect, this means that the resolution has been dropped. 

The bill claimed that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment does not apply to states.  But as People For the American Way President Michael Keegan noted in a statement on Wednesday,

“There’s no question that any attempt to establish an official state religion is blatantly unconstitutional. That’s true whether it’s North Carolina or the federal government.”

The proposal highlighted the extremes that Tea Party Republican lawmakers are willing to go to in order to push their dangerous ideology – even when it means ignoring core principles on which our nation was founded, such as religious liberty and the separation of church and state.  

UPDATE (4/8/13): North Carolina Representative Harry Warren, one of the sponsors of the resolution, has now publicly stated that he “regret[s] any embarrassment or concern that it has caused the citizens of Rowan County and North Carolina,” calling the resolution “poorly written.”  Warren’s explanation is, however, still problematic.  He says he wanted a resolution that county officials have the right, despite the Establishment Clause, to open their proceedings with specifically Christian prayers.  That, of course, flies against the Constitution. 
 

 

PFAW

Shredding the Constitution in North Carolina

North Carolina legislators introduce a resolution declaring that the state can establish a religion and that federal courts can't declare laws unconstitutional.
PFAW

PFAW: North Carolina Bill to Establish State Religion Threatens Bedrock American Values

Bill makes clear how radical tea party Republican lawmakers are when it comes to pushing their ideology on the rest of us.

Phyllis Schlafly Implores Tea Partiers to 'Save America' From Karl Rove, Federal Takeover of Toddlers

The Religious Right and the Tea Party have not exactly been responding well to GOP strategist Karl Rove’s plan to spend big money bringing down unelectable Tea Party candidates in primaries or to RNC chairman Reince Priebus’ suggestion that the party make over its messaging.

Add to the list of right-wing discontents Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly, who this week sent out a six-page fundraising appeal urging supporters to “join together to save America” from Rove and his fellow “Establishment bullies.”

Schlafly blames Rove and the “Establishment” for every Republican president or presidential candidate since Reagan, all of whom she labels “RINOs.” But she sees hope for the “emergence of a new Reagan Republican Party” in the persons of senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Mike Lee, and former senator Jim DeMint.

As for the rest of the party, “Establishment Members of  Congress are doing nothing to stop Obama’s grab to put all 2 to 5 year-olds under federal control,” she warns.

Excerpts from the letter are below. All emphases are in the original.

Dear Fellow American,

The battle for control of the Republican Party has begun and I am asking you to answer the call to action!

The Establishment Republicans want to lead the Party down the road of big-government spending and globalist entanglements by selecting our nominees, deciding what issues they talk about, and controlling all the political money.

They want grassroots conservatives and the Tea Parties to shut up and just do what they are told. The future of America depends on how you and I respond to this challenge.



Let me tell you where we are in this battle, and how fierce it has already become. I need your help!

After Ronald Reagan’s two terms were over, the Establishment operatives (sometimes called RINOs – “Republicans In Name Only,” or country-club Republicans, or “moderates”), grabbed control of the Republican Party and gave us a series of losers as presidential candidates such as Bob Dole and John McCain.

And don’t forget their choices of George H.W. Bush (who betrayed his “no new taxes, read my lips” promise), and George W. Bush who gave us phony “compassionate” conservatism (which really meant big deficit spending) and even tried to put the U.S. in an open-borders North American Union.

The Establishment and Karl Rove even supported Gerald Ford against Ronald Reagan in 1976.

We can’t afford to let that crowd pick our candidates again. But Rove now thinks he should be the “decider” of which primary candidates are “electable” and which are “unelectable.”

Please vote NO on his dreadful scheme.


We must sound the alarm and rally activists from Alaska to Florida about the embarrassment that Karl Rove and his big-government allies – posing as “moderates” – are to the Republican Party.

The Establishment is trying to purge the Tea Party conservatives from the Republican Party. Let’s be clear – we welcome the Tea Partiers.

We must show the nation that Republicans – true conservatives – don’t want Karl Rove, or any Establishment guru to run the Republican Party off a cliff.



Fortunately, we are seeing an emergence of a new Reagan Republican Party. In 2010 and 2012, Republicans elected some real conservatives to the Senate after defeating Establishment candidates in the primaries: Rand Paul in Kentucky (who defeated Mitch McConnell’s choice), Ted Cruz in Texas (who defeated a fabulously wealthy Establishment candidate), and Marco Rubio in Florida (who defeated Establishment candidate Florida Governor Crist, who then showed his true colors and became a Democrat).

Jim DeMint (now with Heritage) and Mike Lee of Utah were two other successful non-Establishment Republican Senators. It’s time for the grassroots to take control of the Republican Party away from the elitists who want to choose our candidates, tell them what to say, and how to vote.

Our litmus test for Republican primary candidates should be: “Are you a Karl Rove candidate?”



The Establishment is doing nothing to stop Obama from his announced plan to promote a Zero Nuclear World by cutting our nuclear missile force and refusing to modernize our anti-missile system.

The Establishment is doing nothing to stop Obama from taking over the curriculum of our public school system – a plan that is unwanted by Americans, illegal and unconstitutional. Establishment Members of  Congress are doing nothing to stop Obama’s grab to put all 2 to 5 year-olds under federal control through federal daycare, early childhood education, Pre-K, and mandatory all-day Kindergarten.



We absolutely must join together and save America. Time is running out. Eagle Forum is ready to lead the way, but we need your active support.

Please return your Conservative Activist Pledge right away. The conservative grassroots must rally and fight back.

And please, make the very most generous donation to Eagle Forum you possibly can. We’ve beaten Establishment bullies in the past, and with your help we will do it again!

Faithfully,

Phyllis Schlafly
 

Challenging the Right's Religious Liberty Claims

The ongoing campaign by the Religious Right and its conservative Catholic allies to redefine religious liberty in America – which has been covered extensively by PFAW and Right Wing Watch – is the focus of a new report released on Monday by Political Research Associates, a think tank that also monitors right-wing organizations. “Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights,” was written by Jay Michaelson, who published a condensed version in the Daily Beast.

Michaelson’s report reviews the organizational players and the strategies they employ, among them: mixing fact and fiction; claiming that there is a war on religious liberty; and reversing the roles of victim and oppressor to portray as religious liberty “victims” people who claim a right to discriminate against others. He notes that Religious Right disinformation has had some success in shaping public opinion: in Minnesota last year a large plurality of marriage equality opponents believed that if marriage equality became the law, churches would be forced to solemnize same-sex marriages, even though there is universal agreement that the First Amendment guarantees that churches are free to choose which relationships to bless or not to bless.

The PRA report includes the following recommendations for social justice advocates:

1. Define and publicize the campaign to redefine religious liberty

2. Organize a unified response

3. Counter misinformation

4. Reclaim the religious liberty frame

5. Develop academic responses

6. Leverage religious communities

7. Ongoing research and monitoring

Religious liberty was also the topic of a forum at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., cosponsored by the Newseum’s Religious Freedom Education Project, Moment Magazine, and the Committee on Religious Liberty of the National Council of Churches. Moment, an independent Jewish Magazine, has also published a special Religious Freedom issue for March/April 2013.  At the conference, two large panels brought together a range of religious and secular voices to discuss and debate the meaning of religious liberty and the claims that liberty is under attack in the U.S. today.

Charles Haynes, the First Amendment expert who heads Newseum’s religious liberty committee, noted that the broad coalition that came together to back the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the 1990s is no longer.  Michael Lieberman, director of the Civil Rights Policy Planning Center for the Anti-Defamation League, suggested a reason: that the coalition had intended RFRA to be a shield against government restrictions on the free exercise of religion, but that conservative groups had turned RFRA into a spear used to attack anti-discrimination laws.

One central principle of PFAW’s Twelve Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics became clear: while people can agree on the broad principle that religious liberty protects the freedom to live in accord with one’s religious beliefs, that consensus breaks down quickly when deciding how law and policy should react when religious liberty comes into tension with other constitutional principles like equality under the law. Indeed, panelists strongly (but civilly) disagreed on to what extent organizations – whether religiously affiliated institutions or business corporations – should be able to claim exemption from anti-discrimination laws or the HHS requirement for insurance coverage of contraception. 

Richard Foltin of the American Jewish Committee argued for a shades-of-gray, rather than a black-and-white approach, saying organizations should be viewed on a spectrum, with churches and sectarian institutions on one end and corporations at the other. Foltin said the AJC has submitted amicus briefs in favor of marriage equality at the Supreme Court, but also believes that there are significant religious liberty questions that courts will have to deal with as marriage equality is implemented.  (As noted at another point during the day, the states that now recognize marriage equality all have somewhat different religious exemptions.)

Michaelson proposes five tiers of organizations with differing levels of claims to religious liberty: churches/denominations; religious organizations; religiously affiliated organizations; religiously owned business, and religious individuals. The right-wing, he says, keeps trying to “move the sticks” from the first three groups to the latter two.  He notes that the Mormon Church owns extensive business interests, including shopping malls, and says that if business owners are allowed to claim exemption from anti-discrimination laws and other regulations based on religious belief, many employees will have their rights and interests restricted. 

Author Wendy Kaminer argued that the religious liberty of institutions is over-protected rather than threatened, saying that she believes some claims for religious liberty are actually demands for religious power to impose their beliefs on others.  If business owners are allowed to claim a religious exemption from generally applicable civil rights laws, she asked, what would be the limiting principle to such claims? Could business owners cite religious beliefs to ignore child labor laws, or to refuse to hire married women?  Kaminer challenged what she called an emerging legal double standard: when it comes to taking government funds, advocates say religious organizations need a level playing field and should be treated like every other organization. But when it comes to free exercise claims, and groups like Catholic Charities say they shouldn’t be subject to generally applicable laws, they don’t want a level playing field but special privileges.

Holly Hollman, general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said that overblown rhetoric about threats to religious freedom is damaging to public understanding of religious liberty. She suggests that the first response to someone who talks about threats to religious liberty should be to ask them what specifically they are talking about.  For example, while people may be concerned when they hear about “an assault on religious liberty,” most Americans do not see a problem with requiring religiously affiliated institutions to abide by anti-discrimination laws or meet contraception requirements.

Legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen suggested that on church-state issues, the Supreme Court justices could be divided into three camps: religious supremacists, advocates of “religious neutrality,” and strict church-state separationists.  The separationists, he said, had their heyday in the 1970s and early 1980s, but that the courts have been moving more toward a “religious neutrality” approach, which he said in some cases is really a cover for the religious supremacists yearning for an openly religious state.  He said a landmark of the triumph of “neutrality” over separation was the 1995 Rosenberger case, in which the court said a public university could not deny funding from a religious publication because of its religious nature.  In the future, he said, Justices Breyer and Kagan may be willing to embrace a “religious neutrality” approach in hopes of winning votes to try to keep Robert and Kennedy from joining the Scalia-Thomas religious supremacists.

Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has filed lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate and which has urged the Supreme Court to uphold Prop 8 and DOMA, portrayed religious liberty issues not as part of a culture war but as the necessity in a pluralistic society of recognizing that differences exist and allowing everyone the maximum ability to live according to their beliefs. He suggested that most church-state conflicts are blown out of proportion and can be resolved relatively easy with a willingness to work around individual religious liberty claims. Kim Colby of the Christian Legal Society endorsed that view, and noted that the Supreme Court will likely be deciding cases in the near future about what constitutes a “substantial burden” on a person’s religious beliefs and what might qualify as a “compelling state interest” that would justify that burden.

Michaelson challenged Rienzi’s portrayal, saying that “religious liberty” itself has become a code word for a new tactic in the culture war against LGBT equality and reproductive rights, and that it was wrong to pretend there would be no victim if a business owner were granted the right, for example, to ignore laws against anti-gay discrimination.  Pharmacies, he said, used to have lunch counters that were segregated. Would it have been OK to justify that discrimination by saying there was another lunch counter down the street, the argument used by advocates for allowing pharmacists to refuse to provide some drugs based on their religious beliefs?

The ADL’s Lieberman said that from his perspective as an advocate for minority religions these do not seem like small or easily resolved issues, and said there was a clear prospect that individual rights would not be safeguarded if, for example, majoritarian school prayer were permitted.  Hoda Elshishtawy, legislative and policy analyst at the Muslim Public Affairs Council also noted the reality of a major power differential between members of majority and minority religions.  Dan Mach, director of the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, noted that there are widespread abuses in public schools, citing an example of a South Carolina public school that set aside a day explicitly intended to try to convert as many students as possible to Christianity.

Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance, who moderated the first panel, noted that even on the day the First Amendment was passed, not everyone agreed with it or agreed with what it meant. We’ve been working it out ever since then and can’t quit, he said.  Charles Haynes made a similar point in his closing remarks, noting that in spite of all the differences evident in how we apply First Amendment principles, the ability to continue having the conversation is a reminder of how well those principles have worked to protect religious liberty in an increasingly diverse nation.

Challenging the Right on Religious Liberty

The ongoing campaign by the Religious Right and its conservative Catholic allies to redefine religious liberty in America – which has been covered extensively by PFAW and Right Wing Watch – is the focus of a new report released on Monday by Political Research Associates, a think tank that also monitors right-wing organizations. “Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights,” was written by Jay Michaelson, who published a condensed version in the Daily Beast.

Michaelson’s report reviews the organizational players and the strategies they employ, among them: mixing fact and fiction; claiming that there is a war on religious liberty; and reversing the roles of victim and oppressor to portray as religious liberty “victims” people who claim a right to discriminate against others. He notes that Religious Right disinformation has had some success in shaping public opinion: in Minnesota last year a large plurality of marriage equality opponents believed that if marriage equality became the law, churches would be forced to solemnize same-sex marriages, even though there is universal agreement that the First Amendment guarantees that churches are and will always be free to choose which relationships to bless or not to bless.

The PRA report includes the following recommendations for social justice advocates:

1. Define and publicize the campaign to redefine religious liberty

2. Organize a unified response

3. Counter misinformation

4. Reclaim the religious liberty frame

5. Develop academic responses

6. Leverage religious communities

7. Ongoing research and monitoring

Religious liberty was also the topic of a forum at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., cosponsored by the Newseum’s Religious Freedom Education Project, Moment Magazine, and the Committee on Religious Liberty of the National Council of Churches. Moment, an independent Jewish Magazine, has also published a special Religious Freedom issue for March/April 2013.  At the conference, two large panels brought together a range of religious and secular voices to discuss and debate the meaning of religious liberty and the claims that liberty is under attack in the U.S. today. It's impossible to give complete coverage in a blog post but here are some highlights.

Charles Haynes, the First Amendment expert who heads Newseum’s religious liberty committee, noted that the broad coalition that came together to back the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the 1990s is no longer.  Michael Lieberman, director of the Civil Rights Policy Planning Center for the Anti-Defamation League, suggested a reason: that the coalition had intended RFRA to be a shield against government restrictions on the free exercise of religion, but that conservative groups had turned RFRA into a spear used to attack anti-discrimination laws.

One central principle of PFAW’s Twelve Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics became clear: while people can agree on the broad principle that religious liberty protects the freedom to live in accord with one’s religious beliefs, that consensus breaks down quickly when deciding how law and policy should react when religious liberty comes into tension with other constitutional principles like equality under the law. Indeed, panelists strongly (but civilly) disagreed on to what extent organizations – whether religiously affiliated institutions or business corporations – should be able to claim exemption from anti-discrimination laws or the HHS requirement for insurance coverage of contraception. 

Richard Foltin of the American Jewish Committee argued for a shades-of-gray, rather than a black-and-white approach, saying organizations should be viewed on a spectrum, with churches and sectarian institutions on one end and corporations at the other. Foltin said the AJC has submitted amicus briefs in favor of marriage equality at the Supreme Court, but also believes that there are significant religious liberty questions that courts will have to deal with as marriage equality is implemented.  (As noted at another point during the day, the states that now recognize marriage equality all have somewhat different religious exemptions.)

Michaelson proposes five tiers of organizations with differing levels of claims to religious liberty: churches/denominations; religious organizations; religiously affiliated organizations; religiously owned business, and religious individuals. The right-wing, he says, keeps trying to “move the sticks” from the first three groups to the latter two.  He notes that the Mormon Church owns extensive business interests, including shopping malls, and says that if business owners are allowed to claim exemption from anti-discrimination laws and other regulations based on religious belief, many employees will have their rights and interests restricted. 

Author Wendy Kaminer argued that the religious liberty of institutions is over-protected rather than threatened, saying that she believes some claims for religious liberty are actually demands for religious power to impose their beliefs on others.  If business owners are allowed to claim a religious exemption from generally applicable civil rights laws, she asked, what would be the limiting principle to such claims? Could business owners cite religious beliefs to ignore child labor laws, or to refuse to hire married women?  Kaminer challenged what she called an emerging legal double standard: when it comes to taking government funds, advocates say religious organizations need a level playing field and should be treated like every other organization. But when it comes to free exercise claims, and groups like Catholic Charities say they shouldn’t be subject to generally applicable laws, they don’t want a level playing field but special privileges.

Holly Hollman, general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said that overblown rhetoric about threats to religious freedom is damaging to public understanding of religious liberty. She suggests that the first response to someone who talks about threats to religious liberty should be to ask them what specifically they are talking about.  For example, while people may be concerned when they hear about “an assault on religious liberty,” most Americans do not see a problem with requiring religiously affiliated institutions to abide by anti-discrimination laws or meet contraception requirements.

Legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen suggested that on church-state issues, the Supreme Court justices could be divided into three camps: religious supremacists, advocates of “religious neutrality,” and strict church-state separationists.  The separationists, he said, had their heyday in the 1970s and early 1980s, but that the courts have been moving more toward a “religious neutrality” approach, which he said in some cases is really a cover for the religious supremacists yearning for an openly religious state.  He said a landmark of the triumph of “neutrality” over separation was the 1995 Rosenberger case, in which the court said a public university could not deny funding from a religious publication because of its religious nature.  In the future, he said, Justices Breyer and Kagan may be willing to embrace a “religious neutrality” approach in hopes of winning votes to try to keep Robert and Kennedy from joining the Scalia-Thomas religious supremacists.

Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has filed lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate and which has urged the Supreme Court to uphold Prop 8 and DOMA, portrayed religious liberty issues not as part of a culture war but as the necessity in a pluralistic society of recognizing that differences exist and allowing everyone the maximum ability to live according to their beliefs. He suggested that most church-state conflicts are blown out of proportion and can be resolved relatively easy with a willingness to work around individual religious liberty claims. Kim Colby of the Christian Legal Society endorsed that view, and noted that the Supreme Court will likely be deciding cases in the near future about what constitutes a “substantial burden” on a person’s religious beliefs and what might qualify as a “compelling state interest” that would justify that burden.

Michaelson challenged Rienzi’s portrayal, saying that “religious liberty” itself has become a code word for a new tactic in the culture war against LGBT equality and reproductive rights, and that it was wrong to pretend there would be no victim if a business owner were granted the right, for example, to ignore laws against anti-gay discrimination.  Pharmacies, he said, used to have lunch counters that were segregated. Would it have been OK to justify that discrimination by saying there was another lunch counter down the street, the argument used by advocates for allowing pharmacists to refuse to provide some drugs based on their religious beliefs?

The ADL’s Lieberman said that from his perspective as an advocate for minority religions these do not seem like small or easily resolved issues, and said there was a clear prospect that individual rights would not be safeguarded if, for example, majoritarian school prayer were permitted.  Hoda Elshishtawy, legislative and policy analyst at the Muslim Public Affairs Council also noted the reality of a major power differential between members of majority and minority religions.  Dan Mach, director of the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, noted that there are widespread abuses in public schools, citing an example of a South Carolina public school that set aside a day explicitly intended to try to convert as many students as possible to Christianity.

Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance, who moderated the first panel, noted that even on the day the First Amendment was passed, not everyone agreed with it or agreed with what it meant. We’ve been working it out ever since then and can’t quit, he said.  Charles Haynes made a similar point in his closing remarks, noting that in spite of all the differences evident in how we apply First Amendment principles, the ability to continue having the conversation is a reminder of how well those principles have worked to protect religious liberty in an increasingly diverse nation.

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