The American Pastors Network organized a Pennsylvania pastor summit last week featuring right-wing activists David Barton and Sandy Rios, along with video greetings from Mike Huckabee overlooking the valley of Armageddon. Sam Rohrer, president of both the Pennsylvania and American Pastors Networks, is a graduate of Bob Jones University and a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where he authored legislation to direct millions of tax dollars into Christian schools. At last year’s March for Marriage, Rohrer warned that marriage equality will doom America to tyranny and “invite God’s judgment.”
Following “God’s promptings,” Rohrer ran for governor in 2010 and for the U.S. Senate in 2012. He did not win either of those races, but says “God used the statewide travels to deepen his relationship with many pastors across the state.”
Rohrer wants to build networks of conservative pastors in all 50 states. His “Stand in the Gap” radio shows have a growing Pennsylvania-based radio presence. Rohrer’s philosophy about church-state relations and his vision for the state networks he has set out to build are summarized in a pamphlet distributed at the conference:
The Biblical Relationship: Pastors and Government Leaders
The phrase “Ministers of God” is often used to describe pastors in the pulpits. Yet God also uses the title of “Ministers of God” to describe those in positions of civil government as referred to in Romans 13. This is a title God gives to those He raises up and both of these positions of authority are equally established by God to accomplish His purposes.
Pastors are charged with wielding the Word of God as an instrument of Truth, preaching the whole counsel of God into all of His institutions – the Home, Civil Government, and the Church to equip people to advance God’s design for society (II Tim. 4:2)
Government leaders are charged with wielding the Word of God as an instrument of Justice, promoting God’s moral law as the foundation of right and wrong, encouraging those who do well biblically, and executing judgment on those who break the law (Romans 13:3,4)
Rohrer writes that the relationship between pastors and government leaders is “biblical, not political.” The APN’s Ministers Together Initiative “seeks to restore the biblical relationship and commitment between the Pastor and the Government Leader to help each other, pray for each other, encourage each other and together commit to acting in obedience to the commands of scripture.”
The American Pastors Network, a Religious Right group hoping to organize networks of politically active evangelical pastors in all 50 states, met with Pennsylvania pastors at Lancaster Bible College on Thursday. The day-long event featured several national speakers like “historian” David Barton, activist Paul Blair of Reclaiming America for Christ, and right-wing broadcaster Sandy Rios, who as Kyle reported yesterday, urged participants to prepare for martyrdom.
The threat of anti-Christian persecution was a frequent theme at the U-Turn conference, which took its name and themes from a recent book co-authored by Barton and evangelical pollster George Barna. For example, Steve Scheibner, an American Airlines pilot who narrowly avoided being on a flight that was hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center, declared, “Persecution is coming.” But, he added, “It may be the best thing that’s ever happened to the church.” Another speaker, Dale Anderson, thanked “that rascal” Barack Obama for having woken up the church.
Paul Blair gave David Barton-esque remarks about the nation’s history and cited English jurist William Blackstone in arguing that there can be no valid law that is contrary to scripture. He declared that “Judge Roy Moore,” Alabama’s Supreme Court Chief Justice, is “a hero” for defying a federal judge’s decision on marriage equality. Blair said America is in its current state because too many pastors and people have been “sheep.” He insisted that marriage equality is a line that Christians must not allow to be crossed.
Barna was the Debbie Downer of the conference, reeling off pages of statistics designed to show the moral decline of America and the diminishing influence of the church in American culture. Among the statistics that seemed to land like a punch to the gut: only nine percent of born-again Americans have what Barna calls a “biblical worldview” – just over 51 percent of Protestant senior pastors make the grade. Barna decried the fact that so many pastors do not preach about current political topics.
Barton’s speech contained no surprises for anyone familiar with his shtick about the influence of colonial-era pastors on the country’s founding, the number of Bible verses supposedly contained in the U.S. Constitution, and his insistence that the Bible is filled with specific policy prescriptions, such as opposition to minimum wages and capital gains taxes. In fact, he said, the Bible includes 613 civil laws for running the country.
Barton cited principles of warfare taught at the Army War College to argue that the church is supposed to be on offense, not defense, in current culture war battles. Making that happen is the goal of those who are working to build the American Pastors Network, including Sam Rohrer, a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and a 2010 gubernatorial candidate, who serves as president of both the national and Pennsylvania networks.
Among the video presentations at the conference was a message recorded by Mike Huckabee in Israel, standing on a ridge overlooking the valley that he said would be the site of the battle of Armageddon. He stood on Mt. Carmel, the site of an Old Testament showdown in which Elijah showed up the prophets of Baal by having God rain down fire on an altar he had drenched with water. America, said Huckabee, needs pulpits willing to call down God’s fire.
Among the vendors doing a brisk business at the conference was the Institute of the Constitution, which promotes a Christian Reconstructionist ideology, and which has used its materials to train Tea Party activists in their vision of a radically, and biblically, limited role for the government.
On Saturday, roughly 2,000 activists gathered at Faith Assembly, a megachurch in Orlando, for the Awakening, an annual “Prayer and Patriotism event” organized by the Christian Right legal group Liberty Counsel. The Awakening, which Liberty Counsel organizes under the auspices of an amalgam of Religious Right groups called the Freedom Federation, brings together activists from the evangelical Right with the GOP politicians who want their votes.
At this year's event, GOP politicians including Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal (via video) and RNC faith director Chad Connelly shared a stage with far-right activists including "ex-gays," a phony ex-terrorist and at least two Religious Right leaders who insist that AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality.
Here are five takeaways from a day with the core of the Religious Right.
1. Gay Marriage Will Send Christians To Jail
While some on the Right may be trying to shy away from the issue of marriage equality now that it could be on its way to a Supreme Court victory, the activists at the Awakening were not among them. Throughout the conference, marriage between gay and lesbian couples was portrayed as a demonic and existential threat to liberty, one that if allowed to proceed would end in Christianity being outlawed and Christians thrown in jail.
The Republican National Committee’s faith outreach director, Chad Connelly, who was moderating a panel on abortion rights, echoed the Religious Right’s rhetoric when he warned that LGBT rights activists are “coming for the church.”
Far-right pastor Rick Scarborough, who was sitting beside him, agreed that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality, pastors will be forced to “participate in same-sex marriage ” or be thrown in jail. Liberty Counsel’s Harry Mihet, moderating a separate panel, issued a similar warning.
Scarborough repeated his warning when he told activists that a pro-equality Supreme Court ruling would outlaw anti-gay speech, thus undermining “the whole nature of America.”
Multiple speakers compared a potential Supreme Court decision on marriage equality to Dred Scott, the infamous pre-Civil War decision that barred African Americans from citizenship, declaring that it should be met with similar resistance.
2. Losing The Church on Gay Rights Issues
Although the Awakening took place in what appeared to be a generationally diverse, multiethnic church, the crowd at the conference was overwhelmingly older and white. Throughout the conference, speakers bemoaned the fact that the Religious Right was losing support among younger Christians for its political agenda, especially its opposition to LGBT rights.
Liberty University’s Rena Lindevaldsen told the audience at a breakout panel on “sexual rebellion” that when fellow conservative Christians ask her what the “big deal” is about LGBT rights, she responds “it’s a big deal because it’s a big deal to God.” Marriage equality, she told the enthusiastic audience, matters to God because it is “the heart of where Satan’s attacking”:
Evangelist Franklin Graham also lamented that “a lot of pastors have quit preaching against homosexuality” out of fear of offending people in their churches who might have gay relatives. He told the audience that “God will bless you and he’ll honor you” if you “don’t shut up” about gay rights and abortion:
This was a crowd that had not given up on discredited “ex-gay” therapy. An “ex-lesbian” activist, Janet Boynes, was given a main stage speaking slot and “ex-gay” activist Greg Quinlan earned a roaring round of applause from the audience at the “sexual rebellion” panel when he announced that he had been “out of homosexuality for 27 years.”
3. A Spiritual Battle Against Islam And Progressivism
Just as the crowd at the Awakening was upset that the conservative movement and the church have supposedly become less invested in fighting LGBT rights, they were also wary of any overtures between Christians and Muslims.
Graham declared that “Islam is a wicked system” and blasted Christians who say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.
Kamal Saleem, the self-proclaimed “ex-terrorist” whose personal story has never quite held up to scrutiny , also warned that churches are being “invaded by ‘Chrislam,’” lamenting that Americans are oblivious to the dangers of radical Islam: “We’re watching American Idol and they are doing jihad.” He also warned of what he called “jihad of the womb,” or Muslim immigrants giving birth in order to outnumber Christians.
What activists at the Awakening saw as a war against Islam was merely part of a larger “spiritual battle” between good and evil, God and Satan. In the panel discussion he led on LGBT rights, Matt Barber declared that there is an “Islamo-progressive axis of evil” with a “common enemy”: Christians.
Maine pastor Ken Graves repeated that theme when he declared that American Christians are fighting “militant Islam” and “militant homofascism” and secularists who want to establish a “secular humanist caliphate”:
4. Time Is Running Out On America, And It’s Up To The Church To Save It
Throughout the day, speakers warned that America is running out of time before it is lost forever, and that it is up to conservative Christians to get involved in politics to save the country.
Graham told the crowd that he is more politically outspoken than his father, Billy Graham, because America is in a more dire state of secularism. “When my father was born, the Ten Commandments were on the wall of every school in America. When my father was born, the teachers still led the class in the Lord’s Prayer. Our country is not that anymore,” he said, declaring that the 2016 election is the last chance for the Religious Right to save the country.
Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and likely 2016 GOP presidential candidate, delivered a similar message, warning that “we are heading down in a direction that, let’s be honest, no civilization has ever been able to recover from.” Conservative Christians, he declared, must reinvest themselves in politics in order, to among other things, put the Bible in public schools:
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, another likely GOP presidential hopeful, told the crowd that prayer was needed to bring about “spiritual revival” and change the political direction of the country: “If God’s people truly pray down a spiritual awakening, then the political landscape will change.”
“This country did not start because some people had some brilliant ideas, although they did. This country happened because God’s providence was the foundation of their brilliant ideas,” Huckabee said. “Because of his inspiration, this country has been sustained throughout all of its history because of God’s specific intervention in helping us to win battles we should never have one and in keeping us from losing battles we should have lost.”
The RNC’s Connelly also made a plug for conservative churches to engage in partisan politics , urging pastors to buck IRS rules preventing politicking from the pulpit and declaring that “voting is not political, it’s spiritual.”
5. The Religious Right And The GOP Still Need Each Other
One of the strangest moments of the day came when a George W. Bush impersonator walked onto the stage with Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver as he introduced Huckabee. Staver jokingly reassured the audience that it was not the former president’s brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has clashed with the Religious Right over gay rights issues. It seemed to be a spontaneous addition to the program, it was hard not to see it also as a reminder to the audience of the potential power of the evangelical vote.
Unlike the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, which has become the flagship gathering of the GOP and the Religious Right, the Awakening tends to attract only true believers in the cause. This year, Santorum and Huckabee spoke, while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal submitted a video message. Connelly, who heads the GOP’s outreach to evangelical voters, moderated a panel on abortion rights, but largely deflected difficult questions from the far-right crowd.
Connelly did not, however, shy away from right-wing conspiracy theories, responding to a question about the “culture of death” in end-of-life care by claiming that the Affordable Care Act’s mythical “death panels” are “a reality":
It was clear throughout the day that however wary the Religious Right and the GOP establishment may be of each other, they still need each other. Speakers like Graham urged conservative Christians to revive the powerful Religious Right pressure machine to win GOP politicians to their side, whether or not they agreed with their issues. Meanwhile, the presence of the GOP candidates and Connelly indicated that this is a voting bloc that is still important to the party, however extreme its priorities may be.
As we noted yesterday, easily the biggest round of applause at Liberty Counsel’s Awakening conference on Saturday came when Franklin Graham, the fiery son of evangelist Billy Graham, walked onto the main stage of Faith Assembly. Graham, who leads his father’s ministry as well as an international relief organization, benefits from the reverence paid to his father but has also built a reputation of his own as a commentator on the apocalyptic nature of Barack Obama’s presidency.
Graham told his audience that he has a more political and divisive reputation than his father because America has gone downhill since his father’s time and might not recover if the Religious Right doesn’t turn out to vote in the 2016 and stop taking candidates like Obama at face value when they say they’re Christians:
Now, some people say, ‘Franklin, you’re a lot more harsh than your father. Your father wouldn’t have done this’…When my father was born, the Ten Commandments were on the wall of every school in America. When my father was born, the teachers still led the class in the Lord’s Prayer. Our country is not that anymore. And I can tell you right now it ain’t coming back. But we’re going to lose everything if we don’t in this next election — and we only have this next election, I think, for our voice to be heard.
This attitude, if we stay home, or if someone says ‘I’m a Christian,’ ‘Oh, I’ll just vote for him without doing a little investigation,’ we’re going to lose everything. But let me tell you if the church speaks with the voice of Almighty God, let these candidates know you don’t take us Christians for granted. Don’t just think we’re going to show up and vote for you. You’ve got to convince us that what you say is correct and what you say is true.
Earlier in the speech, Graham urged pastors not to “shut up” on opposing gay rights and abortion.
At Saturday’s Awakening conference, an annual Religious Right confab organized by Liberty Counsel, the mood surrounding LGBT rights had reached full-blown panic.
Nearly two years after the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision let loose a cascade of federal court decisions legalizing marriage between same-sex couples in dozens of states, the Religious Right activists gathered in a megachurch in Orlando were bracing for a Supreme Court decision that could establish marriage equality nationwide.
At a panel titled “Activism in the Age of Lawlessness,” four Religious Right leaders — John Eidsmoe, Rick Scarborough, William Murray and Harry Mihet — gathered to suss out what the movement’s response should be to pro-LGBT court rulings that they find to be “lawless.”
John Eidsmoe, the influential Christian nationalist thinker who served as a mentor to Michele Bachmann, outlined the issue, explaining to the audience that “‘rule of law’ ultimately means ‘rule of the highest law,’” or God’s law.
Eidsmoe, who now works for the Religious Right group founded by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who is urging judges in his state to defy a federal court ruling on marriage equality, argued that you are only disobeying the law if you disobey “the law of God.”
“You disobey a law only when those who have that law are breaking a higher law, the law of God,” he said. “And in fact, if you follow the decree of a tyrant when he is defying the law, you are complicit in his defiance. Disobedience then becomes not only a right, it becomes a duty.”
Eidsmoe explained that the idea of civil disobedience had been perverted since biblical times, since the idea of not violating your conscience should only apply if “your conscience is in accord with the word of God.”
Rick Scarborough, the head of Vision America, warned that a Supreme Court decision for marriage equality would be worse for the Religious Right than Roe v. Wade because “with abortion, you can opt out, you don’t have to participate in that.”
He claimed that, in contrast, a marriage equality decision would outlaw anti-gay speech, the exact same erroneous prediction he made following the passage of the 2009 Hate Crimes Law.
“We’ll get up the day after that ruling, and in fact a few hours after that ruling when it’s widely disseminated, and you’ll find yourself, those of us who believe that homosexuality is a sexual sin — perversion if you will — those of us who believe that homosexual marriage is unnatural and forbidden by God and who have taught that our entire lives…when that law is passed you are then going to breaking the law when you preach or teach what you’ve always taught or what you’ve always preached,” he claimed.
“Fundamentally, it undermines the whole nature of America,” Scarborough concluded.
Liberty Counsel attorney Harry Mihet, who was moderating the panel, echoed Scarborough’s dire warnings when he declared that there would be “no way to escape this issue” and that it might “in the near future” land anti-LGBT pastors in jail… just like Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We have to draw the line in the sand and stand firm on the truth of the Word, and not to shy away from a fight, not to quit, not to be silent, but to actually speak truth and love to a society that has a desperate need to hear it,” he said. “And there may come a time when you will have to lose your job because that’s what you’ve done. There may come a time in the near future when you have to lose your liberty and go to jail like Martin Luther King did.”
Chad Connelly, the Republican National Committee’s official in charge of reaching out to evangelical voters, told a breakout session at the far-right Awakening conference on Saturday that conservative pastors must get involved in politics because LGBT activists are “coming for the church.”
When an audience member in a session about abortion rights asked what to do about a pastor who refuses to participate in politics, Connelly responded that “voting is not political, it’s spiritual” and urged pastors to violate rarely-enforced regulations that prevent churches from being involved in partisan politics in order to keep their tax-exempt status.
Referring to cases where businesses have run afoul of nondiscrimination laws by refusing service to gay and lesbian couples, Connelly said, “Who would have thought that a florist or a baker or a photographer or, for goodness sakes, a wedding chapel would be sued when there were competitors that they could have gone to? They’re coming for the church.”
Listen, voter registration is not political, it’s spiritual. Voting is not political, it’s spiritual. So witness and testimony to the community what you believe in. No wonder we get legislation we don’t agree with, no wonder we get candidates and elected officials we don’t agree with, because our people aren’t engaged.
So if your pastor’s saying, ‘It’s a legal issue, I can’t do this,’ ask them how many churches have lost their tax-exempt status. It’s a finite number: zero. By definition, you’re tax exempt. If there’s no freedom of speech in the pulpit, there’s no freedom of speech, brothers and sisters. And if we can’t say the truth from the pulpit, guess what, we can’t say the truth anywhere.
Who would have thought that a florist or a baker or a photographer or, for goodness sakes, a wedding chapel would be sued when there were competitors that they could have gone to. They’re coming for the church.
He ended by asking the audience to “please help us pressure your pastors” to get involved in elections, but adding that “it’s not a party or political issue.”
Later in the same discussion, far-right pastor Rick Scarborough warned that “every pastor is going to be directly assaulted” by the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on marriage equality, claiming that a pro-equality ruling would force churches to “participate in same-sex marriage” or face fines or imprisonment.
Rafael Cruz, the father and frequent campaign surrogate of Sen. Ted Cruz, made a stop at this weekend’s The Awakening conference in Florida to deliver a David Barton-infused American history lesson to a room full of Religious Right activists.
Echoing a theme brought up by many of the conference’s speakers, Cruz told the audience that America was inviting God’s judgment and it was up to them as conservative Christians to become politically active and bring the country back.
“Let me tell you, judgment begins in the house of God,” he said. “But also, the restoration of America begins in the house of God.”
“Let me tell you what I am hearing from the Lord,” Cruz declared. “We are going to see in America a dual revival, a parallel revival. We are going to see a spiritual revival in tandem with a political revival, both together to restore America to the greatness that our forefathers gave it.”
He added his version of America’s founding — which he has laid out a number of times before — that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution “were written by revelation from God” and are therefore divine mandates to “elect righteous leaders.”
“If the righteous are not running for office, if the righteous are not even voting, what is left?” he asked. “The wicked electing the wicked. And we get what we deserve.”
This weekend’s Awakening conference, an annual event hosted by the Religious Right legal group Liberty Counsel and attended by any number of far-right activists and a few GOP presidential candidates, was dominated by the theme that the Christian Right is in a spiritual war against a satanic coalition of LGBT rights, Islam and progressivism.
Nobody summed it up quite as well as Ken Graves, a pastor from Bangor, Maine, who declared to the audience sitting in a megachurch in Orlando that they were in a fight against “militant homofascism” that “seeks to take over our land and make it Sodom” and secular humanists who, in conjunction with militant Islam, want to “destroy everything we have” and establish a “secular humanist caliphate.”
Evoking Seven Mountains dominionism, the doctrine that seeks to deliver control of the “seven mountains” of society to conservative Christians, Graves declared that it is the secular humanists who now “have every major institution.”
He then pulled a Bible out of his pocket and bellowed to the crowd: “Why should we be intimidated if what has been placed in our hands is the very word of God?”
In a speech Saturday to the far-right Awakening conference organized by Liberty Counsel, Rick Santorum told the audience of pastors and activists that it was up to them to save America by, in part, getting Bibles back in public schools.
“We are on a crossroads in American history, a crossroads that looks like we are heading down in a direction that, let’s be honest, no civilization has ever been able to recover from,” Santorum warned, adding that the nation needs to return to God.
“The left cannot be successful in a country of God-given rights,” he said. “It can’t. Because they want to be the purveyor of rights, and if God is the purveyor of rights, then they lose. We have an obligation to educate, to form, within our churches to preach, within our families to educate, and to fight within our schools. Why are Bibles no longer in public schools? Don’t give me the Supreme Court. The reason Bibles are no longer in the public schools is because we let them take them out of the public schools.”
He added a variation on President Obama’s campaign chant: “You say, ‘Well we can’t get them back in.’ Yes we can. Yes we can!”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, after teaming up with Christian nationalist extremists to host his “The Response” prayer rally in Baton Rouge earlier this year, is now continuing his project of endearing himself to the far fringes of the Religious Right by addressing an annual conference hosted by Liberty Counsel this weekend.
Liberty Counsel’s “The Awakening” event will bring Jindal, along with fellow likely GOP presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, together with some of the most unapologetically extreme Religious Right leaders, including Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad Rafael.
With speakers from John Eidsmoe, a founding father of the Religious Right’s current Christian nationalist thought, to Kamal Saleem, the phony ex-terrorist and prolific anti-Obama conspiracy theorist, the candidates are sure to be treated to an exciting array of far-right ideas.
The Awakening is organized by Liberty Counsel, a legal arm of Liberty University founded and chaired by Mat Staver. Staver is particularly invested in anti-LGBT activism both in the U.S. and abroad, where he has spoken out in favor of laws criminalizing homosexuality. Here at home, he has warned that marriage equality will help bring about God’s destruction of America and will be “the beginning of the end of Western Civilization.”
Staver’s extremism is not limited to LGBT rights. For instance, at the 2010 Awakening conference, Staver agreed with an audience member who asked if the Affordable Care Act created a private army of Brownshirts for President Obama.
Kamal Saleem claims to be an ex-terrorist who worked for a number of Islamist groups before coming to America to build sleeper cells and ultimately converting to Christianity. The fact that Saleem’s story doesn’t add up — and that he’s suspiciously reluctant to talk about the details — hasn’t stopped him from being a popular speaker on the Religious Right conference circuit, where he impresses audiences with his insider knowledge that President Obama is a secret Muslim out to destroy America.
Saleem uses his literally unbelievable personal story to sell a wide range of conspiracy theories, including claims that President Obama attends a mosque in Washington, DC, on Christmas (while he is simultaneously in Hawaii) and that Islamists are working through Sasha and Malia Obama’s babysitters to establish a shadow government.
In 2012, he told The Awakening that when President Obama appeared to be pledging allegiance to the flag, he was actually taking part in an Islamic prayer. The same year, he warned the Values Voter Summit that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be shutting down churches in America within the year:
John Eidsmoe is one of the leading voices behind the Religious Right’s effort to rewrite American history and law to reflect a specific “biblical worldview.” Former Rep. Michele Bachmann, who was a research assistant on Eidsmoe’s influential 1987 book “Christianity and the Constitution,” cites him as an in influence and his work has permeated the segment of the Religious Right that seeks to take “dominion” over America to avoid God’s judgment.
Eidsmoe has specifically warned that gay rights will bring about divine judgment on the U.S. and wrote a whole book, “Gays & Guns,” arguing against allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, warning that they might molest children.
Eidsmoe, who has gotten in trouble in the past for speaking to white supremacist groups, is currently the “senior counsel and resident scholar” at the Foundation for Moral Law, the Christian nationalist group founded by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, a longtime ally.
Rick Scarborough, a Baptist pastor and the head of the Religious Right group Vision America, is one of the most extreme voices in the anti-LGBT movement. Although he insists that he is neither a Democrat or Republican, but a “Christ-ocrat,” he frequently allies with likeminded Republican politicians including Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee to get his followers to the polls.
Scarborough maintains that AIDS is God’s “judgment” for “an immoral act,” warns that the appointment of gay ambassadors would be perfect justification for God to nuke America, and once suggested filing a class action lawsuit against homosexuality.
Scarborough has also dabbled in anti-immigrant nativism, warning that “more non-white families” in the U.S. would lead to fewer Christians and that “if this country becomes 30 percent Hispanic we will no longer be America.”
Franklin Graham, a son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, couples his international humanitarian work with an apocalyptic approach to American politics. He predicted that President Obama’sreelectionwould bring about God’s destruction of America and railed that Americans “turned our back on God” by reelecting the president.
Graham’s opinion of the Obama administration was only reinforced when he was disinvited from speaking at an event at the Pentagon because of hishistory of anti-Muslim rhetoric. He has since claimed that the White House has been “infiltrated by Muslims” and is being run by Muslims who “hate Israel and hate Christians.” Just this week, he speculated that Obama’s mother “must have been a Muslim,” which he said explains why the president supposedly won’t fight ISIS.
While he may worry that God is getting ready to judge America for President Obama, Graham has implied that the Almighty is smiling on Russian President Vladimir Putin because of his crackdown on LGBT rights in his country. Graham, who has long claimed that Christianity is on the road to being criminalized in the U.S., said last year that pastors must be prepared to get their “heads chopped off” in the fight against gay rights.
Matt Barber, a former Liberty Counsel official who still hosts a daily radio program with Staver, is best known for his over-the-top bigoted anti-gay rhetoric.
Barber often frames his battle against LGBT equality and reproductive rights as a “spiritual war” in which he is on the side of God. He has called marriage equality the “bidding of the Devil” and warned that by legalizing same-sex marriage, America is “ tempting the wrath of God.” He claims that HIV/AIDS is divine punishment for homosexuality.
Barber is fond of comparing his opponents to Nazis, calling supporters of reproductive rights “modern day Nazis” and LGBT rights advocates “Rainbowshirts” who have “broken out the long knives” to go after Christians. At the same time, he has supported repressive anti-LGBT regimes around the world, praising Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay crackdown and saying he’d like to see a ban on “gay propaganda” in the U.S., and defending Uganda’s harsh criminal penalties for LGBT people.
In testimony to a Senate subcommittee today, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins linked the Hobby Lobby contraception coverage case to violent religious persecution in the Middle East and around the world, repeating his claim that there is a “correlation” between perceived discrimination against conservative Christians in the U.S. and oppression and violence against religious minority groups by groups like ISIS.
As we noted yesterday, Perkins was a troubling choice to testify in an international religious freedom hearing because he routinely exploits the very real persecution of Christians and other religious minorities throughout the world to attack President Obama and the LGBT rights movement, who he claims are persecuting Christians in the United States by preventing them from discriminating against gay people.
Perkins picked up on the theme in his testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s foreign operations subcommittee, responding to a question from Sen. Steve Daines of Montana by claiming that U.S. policies like the HHS mandate on insurance coverage for contraceptives that was struck down by the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case send a “message to bad actors abroad that America no longer puts a high priority on religious freedom.”
“The lack of priority on religious freedom that we have placed here domestically in our policies does send a message internationally,” he said. “I think there is a correlation between…the growing intolerance toward religious freedom here at home, i.e. in the marketplace, is giving rise to persecution abroad. And the reason I say that is when we no longer make it a priority domestically, that sends a message to bad actors abroad that America no longer puts a high priority on religious freedom, so we don’t have to worry about them acting against us or moving against us based on that.”
“I mean, you look at the case of the HHS mandate, the Hobby Lobby case, which had to go all the way to the Supreme Court in order to exercise their religious freedom under the Religious Freedom Act,” he added.
That was too much even for Jay Sekulow, the chief counsel to the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, who responded that while he agreed with Perkins that the contraception coverage mandate represented “religious discrimination,” it was “not on the same level as religious persecution where people are having their throats slit, being crucified or being beheaded.”
This isn’t the first time Perkins has made such an absurd claim: He once suggested that President Obama’s support for overturning the Citizens United decision is somehow connected to the violent persecution of Christians in countries like Sudan.
Earlier in his testimony, Perkins also claimed that the Obama administration had left open the position of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom for “36 months,” sending “a message that we did not put a priority as an administration, as a country on religious freedom.” The position was indeed left open for a little over two years at the start of President Obama’s first term…because then-Sen. Jim DeMint, a Republican who now runs the Heritage Foundation, placed a hold on Obama’s first nominee for the job.
A few months ago, Bryan Fischer justified the forcible removal of Native Americans from their land by citing the biblical story of the Amorites, who he said “lapsed into superstition and paganism and idolatry and sexual immorality and savagery” and were therefore justly removed by God.
On his American Family Radio program yesterday, Fischer cited the same story to warn that the United States is similarly in danger of “forfeiting our moral authority to maintain governance of this piece of land” because of legal abortion, a “turning away from Christianity” and, of course, “sexual immorality.”
“Again, the same principle of people can become morally disqualified to exercise sovereign authority over land by their savagery (think about the blood we’ve shed in abortion); by their superstition (think about our turning away from Christianity and from the God of the scriptures); and sexual immorality, I mean that’s an obvious problem in our culture,” he said.
“If that principle is true that God will displace a nation that lapses into unrepentant savagery, sexual immorality and superstition, then we are in danger, I believe, of forfeiting our moral authority to maintain governance of this piece of land, maintain sovereignty,” he warned. “Something that ought to be a concern to all of us, something that ought to take us to our knees in prayer and repentance for our land.”
Fischer didn’t specify who he believed God would empower to drive Americans from their land, although last year he cited some of the same scriptural passages to claim that God is using radical Islamic groups like ISIS to inflict his judgment on America for gay rights.
Earlier this week a South Dakota state senate committee tabled a bill promoted by the “intelligent design” group Discovery Institute that identified "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, [and] human cloning" as scientifically controversial areas and, in the words of the National Center for Science Education, "would, in effect, have allowed public school teachers to miseducate their students about science — and would have prevented state and local educational authorities from intervening."
Although the bill didn’t make it out of committee, it had some high-profile backers, including a state representative of Concerned Women for America and a representative from the South Dakota Family Policy Council. In addition, the Discovery Institute flew in a spokesman, Casey Luskin, to testify on behalf of the bill, which seems to have been loosely based on the Institute’s model legislation.
Luskin told the committee that while in the days of the Scopes trial teachers were persecuted for teaching evolution, today teachers are being “persecuted” and “censored” for dissenting to “Darwin’s theory and other controversial scientific topics.”
“The old Scopes trial stereotype of teachers fearing persecution for teaching the evidence for evolution has been overturned,” he said. “Today, it’s the teachers and students who are raising questions about modern neo-Darwinian theory who are being stifled.”
In an interview with Newsmax today, conservative activist Star Parker — who has spent this week repeatedly accusing President Obama of “verbal rape” — attacked the president for his comments about the attack on a Jewish deli in Paris, saying that what “the radical extreme of Muslims and this president and all secularists have in common is they hate that biblical worldview, so therefore they hate America and they hate Israel.”
Parker said that the president’s actions have awakened those who “did not notice that we have been as a country taken over by extremists, by secular humanists who have a worldview in statism,” comparing the current political climate to the years before the Civil War.
“Some think the Tea Party is over and it’s not,” she said. “This is a momentum in our society that is not going to blow away any time soon, because most Americans who are the hard-working, who are the diligent, the god-fearing, understand that we’re in a very prayerful crossroads similar to an 1850s, where we can’t go on like we’ve been going for the last 50 or 60 years.”
“I believe that [Obama’s comment] builds the resolve in the American people that Israel’s values are our values, the core fundamental beliefs of America, our exceptionalism, our national allegiance, our limited role of government, our free markets, and our tradition,” she said. “This is what we have in common, and this is what secularists don’t like, and Barack Obama’s a secularist. And, in fact, it’s what he and the Muslims have in common, the radical extreme of Muslims and this president and all secularists have in common is they hate that biblical worldview, so therefore they hate America and they hate Israel.”
Across Alabama, local judges are openly defying a federal judicial order to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The New York Times reported yesterday that 44 of the state's 67 counties were not granting licenses. The state is a checkerboard, where gay and lesbian Alabamans are locked out of full citizenship across vast swaths of the state based on the whims of local officials.
As many observers have pointed out, this week's events make Americans recall the state's historic resistance to federal court orders striking down segregation. But they show us an image of the future, as well ... or at least the future as the Far Right would have it.
Emboldened by the Supreme Court's distortion of religious liberty in the Hobby Lobby case, some state legislatures are considering bills that would allow government officials to decline to perform marriages that offend them religiously. A number of states are also considering legislation to let people exempt themselves from anti-discrimination and other laws if compliance would offend them religiously. While misleadingly framed as protecting religious liberty, these bills are really intended to allow discrimination and to let conservatives impose their religious beliefs on others.
So what would America look like if we allowed such massive holes to be poked in laws that are supposed to protect everyone? What if lesbian and gay couples were legally treated as outsiders in their home communities, had fewer legal rights than anyone else in those communities, and had to travel anywhere from another neighborhood to another county to find a bakery willing to make a cake for them, a hotel willing to rent them a room for the night, or an employer willing to grant them spousal employment benefits? What if a woman's ability to find adequate healthcare depended on finding an employer and a pharmacist with compatible religious beliefs? What if people's basic rights varied depending on where they were, and upon the prevailing religious beliefs of people in the area? What would such a religiously balkanized nation look like?
It would look a lot like Alabama does today. And it would be ugly.
For decades, the Far Right has fought tooth and nail to impose their religious beliefs through government fiat. They have fought to prevent gays from marrying, to prevent women from exercising reproductive choice, to have public schools indoctrinate other people's children with their own religious beliefs, ... the list goes on. And when they fail at changing the laws to match their religion, they seek exemptions from those laws in the name of "religious liberty."
As People For the American Way Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery has written in his most recent report, that isn't what religious liberty is about. And it isn't a vision of America that is true to our founding principles.
Last June, the Supreme Court gave certain for-profit corporations the right to deny women vitally important (and statutorily required) healthcare coverage that offends their employers' religious beliefs, claiming it was simply protecting the employers' religious liberty. Across the country, right wing extremists are seeking to empower individuals and business owners whose religious beliefs are offended by LGBT equality to exempt themselves from anti-discrimination laws — again, supposedly in the name of religious liberty. Conservative Christians aggressively seeking to deprive others of their legal rights regularly portray themselves as the victims of religious persecution.
People For the American Way has released a new report examining the many ways that religious liberty issues are increasingly coming up in public policy debates in communities across the nation. But this isn't religious liberty as it has been understood throughout our nation's history.
Authored by Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery, Religious Liberty: Shield or Sword? examines how the Far Right is working to transform this core American value from a shield protecting individuals' religious freedom into a sword that harms other people and undermines measures to promote the common good.
The report provides vital factual background and analysis to help readers better understand how religious freedom principles have traditionally been regarded, as well as how they are being twisted by a far right movement in an effort to reverse its fortunes as their substantive arguments are increasingly rejected by the American public. These distorting efforts come from conservative advocacy organizations, state and federal legislators, and even a narrow majority of the United States Supreme Court.
This report is an important tool to help understand and confront the Right in public policy debates across the country, as they increasingly seek to use religious liberty as a sword to deny rights to others, and as they continue to portray themselves as victims of religious persecution.