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.
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.”
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.”
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 criminalizinghomosexuality. 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’sstory 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.
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:
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 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.”
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.
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.
Now that gay people and the Muslim Brotherhood have taken over the government, conservative pundits have a lot of thoughts that they want to share — scary thoughts about anti-Christian persecution and a (non-existent) Egyptian court case that may throw two American leaders behind bars.
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 repeatedlyaccusing 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."
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.
Last month, David Duke stopped by the white nationalistradio show “The Political Cesspool” to discuss his relationship with House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, who reportedly spoke at a 2002 gathering held by Duke’s European-American Unity and Rights Organization when he was a state lawmaker in Louisiana. Duke blamed the controversy on the supposed Jewish establishment, which he claimed controls the media and wants to throw “European-Americans” into gulags, and which he said sees Scalise as a potential threat down the road.
Duke said that he consistently won “over 60 percent of the popular vote in [Scalise’s] congressional district” in his various campaigns for elected office, and therefore people who condemn Scalise “for meeting with me or voting for me, they are condemning the people of Louisiana.”
Referencing Scalise’s reported 1999 statement that he was “like David Duke without the baggage,” Duke said the congressman “agreed with all of my ideas, but my God, you got to be able to get elected.”
“They think anybody out there who agrees with my ideas, they will destroy them, it’s not going to help you to run like a rabbit with the tail between your legs,” Duke said. “Now he’s really going to be careful, he’s not going to do anything.”
Duke added: “They’re just afraid Scalise is really like me underneath and he may someday be their enemy because just about everybody in my district understands the real power behind the throne in this country, they understand the real ethnic racism that runs this nation and controls our foreign policy.”
Duke, of course, was referring to the “Zionists” whom he claims control both political parties.
“The real problem in America is racism,” Duke said. “Now, that sounds funny coming from David Duke; the problem is racism, there is a racism that rules America, but it’s not white racism, it is what you can just plainly say is Jewish racism, Jewish supremacism. They have literally taken over our Hollywood media, our news media, our entertainment media, our music media.”
Claiming that the supposed Jewish “control of the media” has made African Americans more violent, Duke went on to describe Nicki Minaj as “the most obscene individual, degraded individual, filthy individual I’ve ever heard in my life. I think she’s pretty much rivaled, though, by Miley Cyrus, who is unfortunately one of our own.”
Duke warned that “Jewish power” is sowing political conflict and using mass immigration to throw America into civil war by “getting rid of the people who were the vast majority of America, even though we’re fading fast, that is European-Americans.”
“There is no other question” than “the Jewish question,” Duke continued, alleging that Jews who control all segments of influence will turn America into a “Bolshevik state.”
“We’re moving towards Bolshevism, we’re moving towards tyranny. Every day we’re losing our rights and it’s the same as what happened in the Soviet Union and the day will come when they’ll haul millions of us out to the gulags and die,” he said. “Unless we stand up and defeat them.”
Religious liberty is a treasured American value. Unfortunately, laws originally designed to shield individuals’ religious freedom have been turned into swords that, in the name of religion, harm other people and undermine measures to promote the common good.
People For the American Way released a new video today calling out the Republican National Committee for accepting an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel for several dozen of its members from the American Family Association, an organization with a long record of promoting bigotry against LGBT people and non-Christians.