The Religious Right has for the past two years joined with human rights groups in lifting up the case of Kenneth Bae, an American Christian missionary who was imprisoned in a North Korean work camp on charges of trying to overthrow the government.
Bae was released this weekend after the Obama administration sent national intelligence director James Clapper on a secret mission to retrieve him and a fellow American prisoner, Matthew Todd Miller. Upon his return to the United States, Bae thanked President Obama and the State Department for “working tirelessly” to secure his release.
You might expect that a group like the Family Research Council that has been championing Bae’s case would take a break from partisan bickering to celebrate the good news of Bae's freedom. But you would be wrong!
In his daily email yesterday, FRC’s president, Tony Perkins, reacted to Bae’s release by accusing the Obama administration of not caring enough about Christian political prisoners — like, for instance, Bae. Perkins wrote that the administration’s work to free Bae was “surprising” and went on to attack the president for his “absolute silence” on the imprisonment of American pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran:
Although the suffering left deep scars, Bae insists that he is “recovering.” He and Miller, who the communist government sentenced to hard labor for participating in what they called a “Christian conspiracy,” thanked the Obama administration for sending a “brief message” through his intelligence officials asking for Bae and Miller’s release. For the President, it was a surprising move given his absolute silence on Pastor Saeed Abedini, another American who languishes in a torturous existence at the hands of a ruthless Iranian government.
Meanwhile, here at home, his family’s pleas to the White House continue to fall on deaf ears. As we cheer Kenneth and Matthew’s release, our earnest prayers continue to lift up the millions of people -- like Pastor Abedini -- who are shackled for the true freedom of Jesus Christ.
In fact, Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly urged Iran to release Abedini and President Obama personally pressed for Abedini’s release in a phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last year.
FrontPageMag editor and increasingly unhinged anti-Obama yeller David Horowitz is hosting his annual “Restoration Weekend” for anti-Muslim activists at a beach resort in Florida this month. This year, Horowitz has recruited an impressive slate of Republican politicians, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine to partake in the event’s offerings of golf, spa treatments, and Muslim-bashing.
Joining the GOP politicians at the Palm Beach weekend will be anti-Muslim activists including the Family Research Council’s Jerry Boykin, JihadWatch’s Robert Spencer, National Review columnist Andrew McCarthy and, as Horowitz announced this weekend on Newsmax, far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders.
Conservative pundits Ann Coulter, Michael Reagan and Ben Shapiro will also be at the event, according to its website, along with FreedomWorks CEO Matt Kibbe, Heritage Foundation economics chief Stephen Moore and Wall Street Journal editorial board member Kimberly Strassel.
Horowitz organizes and funds the annual Restoration Weekend through his David Horowitz Freedom Center — attendees pay between $1,750 and $20,000, but the group’s most recent available tax return shows the 2012 event didn’t even break even. At past events, Horowitz has attracted GOP luminaries including Sen. Ted Cruz, former Sen. Jim DeMint, Rep. Steve King and Rep. Michele Bachmann. All apparently undeterred by their host’s record of anti-Muslim extremism, including accusing former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin and Republican anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist (whose wife is Muslim) of being secret Muslim Brotherhood agents.
In just the past year, Horowitz’s commentary has moved even further to the fringe. As the Justice Department launched an investigation of the shooting of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, this summer, Horowitz accused Attorney General Eric Holder of leading a black “lynch mob.” A day earlier, Horowitz said he was “sure” President Obama was secretly a Muslim because “he’s a pretend Christian in the same way he’s a pretend American.”
Such anti-Obama conspiracy theories have a welcome place at Horowitz’s Restoration Weekends. At last year’s event, for instance, Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona agreed with Robert Spencer’s statement that President Obama is either a secret Muslim or just acting like one:
Wilders, who has spoken at past Horowitz-affiliated events, including at least one Restoration Weekend, is currently on a U.S. tour that included lunch at the Capitol with Bachmann. Wilders, one of the most fiercely anti-Islam voices in Europe has compared the Quran to Mein Kampf and this year lost some prominent members of his own party when he targeted Moroccans living in the Netherlands to stir up support before the European elections.
In a radio interview this week, Lea Carawan, director of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, warned that the separation of church and state is part of a liberal plan to “ruin America” and will be “the death knell for our nation.”
Carawan, whose group’s advisory board includes several members of Congress, told Arizona-based host Josh Bernstein this week that the American people and many churches have “bought into a very insidious lie, which is the misapplication, misinformation regarding that phrase, ‘the separation of church and state.’”
“That is the death knell for our nation,” she said. “If the church of God, if the Christians do not engage in the public square and do not see that as their responsibility, their right and responsibility, then those that do not believe like us will absolutely fill the void. And what people don’t understand is that every nation will reflect somebody’s values. And up until now, it’s reflected Judeo-Christian values because the Christians have held to it and they’ve protected it every single generation. But if we do not protect it in our generation, if we buy this lie and we back out of the public square like we have for a decade or several decades now, we will find that we no longer have a free Republic. The threat is very real.”
Later in the interview, Carawan alleged that church-state separation is part of a liberal plot to “take over” America.
“The folks that are funding this, that are behind this progressive movement for decades, they understand that they must remove God from the culture, from the conversation or break the connection, the nexus between God and our rights,” she said.
“That’s how you take over the country, that’s how you ruin America and take over, that’s power.”
Yesterday, we reported that Matt Barber’s conservative website BarbWire published an anti-gay column by Philip Stallings, a self-described “theonomist” who recently advocated for the “lawful execution” of gay people – or “sodomites.”
Stallings’ column has disappeared, and today Barber tweeted at us, “Wow! Thanks for the tip. We obviously weren’t aware of that & find the position appalling. The answer is life in Christ.”
Well. It’s good to have Matt Barber say he finds the idea of executing gay people appalling. We agree.
But if that’s the case he ought to consider vetting the material he promotes a little more carefully. Just over a week ago we noted that BarbWire had run a column praising Pastor Steven Anderson, who has called for the execution of gays, and has said, “You want to know who the biggest hypocrite in the world is? The biggest hypocrite in the world is the person who believes in the death penalty for murderers and not for homosexuals.”
And given how much anti-gay extremism is promoted by Barber and his Religious Right allies, that got us wondering if anything else short of calling for the killing of gay people would cross the line for Barber.
We collected some other statements that Barber apparently doesn’t find appalling, because they’ve all been in columns promoted on his site:
Here are some other things we find appalling that Matt Barber seemingly does not:
Jeff Allen, a BarbWire editor, compares the gay rights movement to “a malignant cancer” and says, “Each victory for the homosexual activists represents another nail in America’s coffin.” Allen has supported brutal anti-gay laws in Uganda, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, which include imprisonment not only for sexual conduct but also for joining social clubs or advocating for equality. Allen was upset when criticized for his “innocent mistake” of calling a fake photo of “NAMBLA for Obama” an example of “the undeniable link between homosexuality and pedophilia.” More Allen: “Satanism, sodomy, and slaughter are each part of the Devil’s sinister agenda to destroy America.”
BarbWire content editor Gina Miller has written that the “demonic” gay rights advocates are advancing “Satan’s tyrannical desire to crush Christianity” and warned last year that if gays get their way “Christians here in America will be in danger of state-sanctioned murder for their beliefs.” In June, Miller responded to the announcement that some Boy Scout troops would march in New York’s LGBT pride parade by calling it “a perverse attack on young boys who are being used as little tools by an evil movement of sexual degenerates who cannot reproduce, so they must recruit.”
This spring, BarbWire published a column by former Indiana lawmaker Don Boys recounting his attempt to recriminalize homosexuality. In a similar column a few years earlier, Boys had explained that he wanted to make homosexuality a crime punishable by up to twelve years in prison.
Robert Oscar Lopez wrote for BarbWire that almost every situation “involving a same-sex couple with exclusive custody of small children is adult misconduct at best or a crime against humanity at worst.”
BarbWire publishes notorious anti-gay activist Scott Lively, who wrote this summer that the US and its State Department had become “The Great Satan” of the world for opposing anti-gay legislation overseas. Lively has promoted anti-gay policies in Uganda and around the world.
And that’s just a sampling of the anti-gay extremists who have found a home on BarbWire. Not to mention Barber himself, who says he has been “called by God” to “sound the alarm” about the fact that gay sex is always sinful, and “The wages of sin is death.”
We’re just scratching the service. BarbWire’s extremism is not limited to anti-gay activities. It publishes just about anything you could imagine about President Barack Obama. BarbWire has published calls for God to “cut short” Obama’s presidency and claims Obama worships “Lucifer/Moloch” and intends “to turn the USA into the Marxist-Islamic North American Caliphate.” Among the conspiracy theories it promotes:
We don’t know about Barber, but we find that appalling.
As we’ve noted before, Matt Barber’s website BarbWire has become quite the outlet for extremists. Today, BarbWire promotes as one of its “Top Stories” a column called “Repent! For the Kingdom of Sodom is At Hand.” Columnist Philip Stallings bemoans growing support for LGBT equality among millennials, blaming it on “the public school system’s indoctrination of wickedness.” Stallings praises civil magistrates in North Carolina who have refused to issue marriage certificates to “sodomites.” And, of course, he cites the over-hyped controversy over subpoenas in Houston, and the Alliance Defense Fund’s concocted controversy about the “Hitching Post” wedding chapel business in Idaho to portray equality advocates as enemies of religious liberty:
When are we going to realize that this is war? There can be no doubt that the trend now is not only to bully and wreak havoc among Christians, but to lock up Pastors and anyone else that stands for the truth until God’s Law is eradicated from their mist.
This is nothing less than a war and Christians need to be standing up everywhere in this nation contending earnestly for the faith! We should be getting just as passionate in our message of “change” and call upon this nation to repent and to follow God’s Law on this matter.
Stallings is identified on BarbWire as a “Political Theonomist.” That’s a term used by Christian Reconstructionists who believe government should be enforcing their interpretation of Old Testament law, like Gary North and Michelle Bachman mentor John Eidsmoe.
Turns out that’s exactly what Stallings believes. His Twitter feed links to a Christian radio show on which he spent nearly half an hour on August 25 arguing that the government should execute homosexuals – or “sodomites.”
It’s my position that the role of the state is morally obligated to obey God’s law…I am for lawful execution of the homosexual.
When the show’s surprised hosts pushed back and asked whether he would support other things called for in the Old Testament, like the stoning of rebellious children, Stallings said God commanded whole nations to be destroyed “all the way down to their children” and that the rebellious son in the Bible was “refusing their parents’ commandments and was openly rebellious in the community.”
And, yeah, I’m for what the Bible teaches in that regard, along with the murderer, and the rapist, and the kidnapper, and in this case the sodomite.
Stallings described his understanding of Theonomy as meaning that “God’s law is implemented. The civil magistrate must be moral, and the only way we could say someone is moral is if they’re obeying God’s law. In other words, the state is not an autonomous being. It is not executing the law morally if it’s being disobedient to God’s law.”
Excerpts below from Stallings on “Reformation Nation”
In an interview last month with Religious Right radio host Glenn Pav, Sen. Ted Cruz’s father and frequent campaign surrogate Rafael Cruz warned that God is going to punish evangelical pastors who don’t turn out their congregations to vote for “righteous” candidates.
After discussing how God told him that He would hold pastors accountable for low election turnout among evangelical Christians, Cruz warned that God would fault pastors for their supposed silence on Supreme Court decisions blocking school-sponsored prayer, which he said led to spikes in teen pregnancy and violent crime, and securing abortion rights.
“If the righteous are not voting, if the righteous are not even running for office, what is left is the wicked electing the wicked,” he said. “I mean, it’s our fault. It’s our fault because the people of God are not engaged in the process.”
He lamented that unlike anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christians in the U.S. today are “not even speaking out against the evil that is all around us” but are instead “acquiescing because of fear” and “excusing everything because of political correctness.”
Citing a fallacious David Barton story about Congress printing a Bible to use as a school textbook in the early days of the republic, Cruz said America’s downward slide began with the Supreme Court decisions barring government-organized prayer in public schools. “But the travesty, the tragic thing is the Church remained silent after those two decisions,” he said.
“The consequence of that silence was that those two decisions caused, number one, teen pregnancy to skyrocket after 1963, as did violent crime,” he added.
“How long are we going to remain silent?” he asked. “But the more important question, Glenn, is, is God going to hold us accountable for that silence?”
Later in the program, Cruz shared his views on America’s “divinely inspired” founding.
“I am absolutely convinced, Glenn, that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were divinely inspired documents,” he said. “They were written on the knees of the Framers. These were men of God seeking revelation from God, and that’s what they got.”
He argued that previous governments were set up so that “authority flows from God to the government to the people,” leading to monarchy and tyranny. But at the beginning of America, he said, “God gave them a different model and the model God gave the Framers is authority flows from God to the people to the government.”
“And so with that authority comes the responsibility for We the People to elect righteous leaders. And people in the Church need to understand, if we fail that responsibility to elect righteous leaders, we are disobeying God.”
As if we needed more proof that Rep. Paul Broun’s likely GOP replacement in the House, Georgia pastor and activist Jody Hice, will be just as enthusiastic a Christian-nation advocate as his predecessor, we stumbled across this clip from a 2011 broadcast of Hice’s radio show in which he laments that the separation of church and state is turning government into God and thereby destroying America:
“The more we remove God individually from our lives or culturally, the more secular we will become, which means that in place of God we’re going to set ourselves up or we will set up the state, the government, to fulfill the role of God,” Hice opined.
“That’s the only option is that’s what happens, and that precisely is why secularism is not, cannot, be neutral,” he continued. “Secularism, the belief system in itself, by doing away with God in turn sets itself up as God, either as an individual or as a government. That’s where we’re moving. And we are experiencing what we are experiencing in this country simply because of our continual drifting away from our Judeo-Christian principles, drifting away from our awareness and understanding and belief in God for so long that now we are reaping the consequences.”
Last week, we reported on the quiet effort of national right-wing groups to, in the words of the Family Research Council, “flip” the Supreme Court of Montana by electing former state solicitor general Lawrence VanDyke, who has indicated that he will be friendly to business interests and social conservative causes.
We first heard of VanDyke’s campaign for the officially nonpartisan office at last month’s Values Voter Summit, where the Family Research Council’s political action committee had decided to highlight the race at a $100-a-head fundraiser featuring Rick Santorum, Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and a number of Republican members of Congress.
Yesterday, VanDyke’s campaign issued its fundraising report for the period that included the FRC fundraiser. In the period, the campaign brought in $48,000, nearly doubling its supply of cash. It’s impossible to tell how much of that came from the FRC’s fundraiser — much of it came from Montana residents and out-of-state attorneys but FRC’s impact is shown in a few notable contributions.
The FRC Action PAC itself contributed $320 to VanDyke’s campaign, the maximum contribution allowed so far. William Saunders, the top lawyer at the anti-choice group Americans United for Life, also contributed $320, while Gary McCaleb, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom contributed $200. An organizer for the Koch group Americans for Prosperity also kicked in $200.
Although we can’t know the impact of the FRC’s fundraiser — and we can't know for sure that these contributions stemmed from the event — these numbers illustrate the fact that in VanDyke, Corporate Right and Religious Right activists throughout the country have found common cause in a little-noticed but pivotal state court race.
For the time being, Glenn Beck appears to have moved on from his increasingly panic-stricken rants about the threat posed by Ebola and has now turned his attention instead to the situation in which five Houston-area pastors were subpoenaed as part of a lawsuit against the city for rejecting petitions challenging a local anti-discrimination ordinance.
Beck interviewed one of those pastors on his radio program today, during which he declared that this case is the most dangerous thing he has ever seen.
"This is more dangerous to the Republic of Texas than Ebola is," Beck said. "This is more dangerous than anything I have ever seen."
Calling on religious leaders and laypersons from all over America to rise up in opposition to this, Beck said that "this is the most dangerous thing I have seen and we are becoming openly hostile to God. It doesn't end well when a nation like ours does that."
Conservative religious leaders have a long track record of hyping supposed threats to religious liberty in America — specifically, to the religious liberty of conservative Christians. In fact, portraying Christians as a persecuted minority under siege by anti-freedom LGBT activists and secular humanists has become the right's primary strategy for reversing the advance of equality in America. But even in the long context of crying wolf over threats to religious freedom, Sen. Ted Cruz and his religious right allies have set new records for dishonest hype in their response to this week's controversy over subpoenas sent to a few religious leaders in Houston.
Cruz told the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody that there is a "real risk" that preachers will be hauled off to jail for preaching against homosexuality, recycling an old and equally ludicrous charge that hate crimes laws would result in pastors being dragged from the pulpit.
Some in the media ridicule that threat saying there is no danger of the government coming after pastors. That is the usual response." But he adds: "The specter of government trying to determine if what pastors preach from the pulpit meets with the policy views or political correctness of the governing authorities, that prospect is real and happening now.
As exciting as it is to hear the alarm bells and read the hyperventilating emails, the truth is far less dramatic. Sorry, Sen. Cruz, but the government is not policing sermons for political correctness. It's not going to start tossing anti-gay preachers in jail.
So what is the real story?
The immediate cause of the ruckus was a subpoena sent by attorneys for the city of Houston to several pastors who had been active in opposition to the city's new anti-discrimination law. Conservatives ran a signature-gathering campaign to put the law before the voters, but city attorneys ruled that so many of the signatures were not valid that the effort did not qualify for the ballot.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Religious Right law firm, stepped in and sued the city over that decision. As part of the discovery process in the lawsuit, attorneys for the city sent subpoenas to five prominent pastors asking for sermons and other communications they had about the ordinance, the signature gathering effort, and the controversy over homosexuality and gender identity.
Here's the problem. The subpoena was sent to pastors who are not party to the lawsuit, and it asked for some materials that do not seem directly relevant to the determination of whether signatures were collected in accordance with the law. By giving pundits something to scream about, the subpoena was a gift to Religious Right leaders and their political allies, who thrive on promoting the myth of anti-Christian religious persecution in the U.S. And they have run with it.
On Friday the city narrowed the scope of their discovery request somewhat. And it's entirely possible that a judge will further limit the amount of materials the city can collect in the Religious Right's lawsuit. That's how our legal system works.
It's terribly inconvenient to the Religious Right's narrative that progressive religious leaders are among those who have criticized the Houston attorneys' subpoena. Among those who criticized the city's subpoena as troubling and overly intrusive were supporters of LGBT equality and church-state separation. Baptists of all stripes weighed in. Both progressive religious leaders and atheists publicly agreed. Even the ACLU! So much for the supposed enemies of religious freedom.
Even some religious conservatives have denounced the Houston hype. In reality, the entire episode undermines right-wing claims that religious liberty is hanging by a thread in America. Indeed, it demonstrates that Religious liberty is widely respected as a core constitutional principle and a fundamental American value — by people across the religious landscape and our fractured political spectrum. If only Ted Cruz and his allies were as committed to the constitutional and legal equality of Houston's, and America's, LGBT citizens.
Last month, an Arkansas gun range owner named Jan Morgan got some national attention when she declared her business a “Muslim free zone,” writing on her website, “This is more than enough loss of life on my home soil at the hands of muslims to substantiate my position that muslims can and will follow the directives in their Koran and kill here at home.”
What many news reports missed is that Morgan is not just the owner of a single shooting range, but a national gun activist who has spoken at multiple events for the “religious liberty” group Liberty Counsel as well as Tea Party gatherings and last month’s misnamed “Two Million Bikers” rally against President Obama.
And Morgan has some friends in high places in the gun lobby. In an interview with Arizona-based radio host Josh Bernstein this week, Gun Owners of America director Larry Pratt praised Morgan, saying that she was “on very sound ground” with her Muslim ban.
“I know there will be a lot of people that will be outraged at that, but we don’t facilitate murderers and if you read the Quran, it’s an instruction to go kill people, lots of them,” Pratt said. “And there are Muslims that don’t buy into that, well, how do I know which one you are?”
All of which reminded Pratt that he had been meaning to start giving out a Gun Owners of America award and Morgan “ought to get it.”
Sen. Ted Cruz has, unsurprisingly, positioned himself right in the center of the Religious Right’s latest cause celebre, a lawsuit in Houston in which attorneys working for the city subpoenaed materials from local pastors, including copies of their sermons.
City officials have distanced themselves from the subpoenas, issued by pro-bono lawyers defending the city in a dispute over petitions for a referendum to repeal the city’s antidiscrimination ordinance, with Mayor Annise Parker calling their scope “overly broad.” But that hasn’t stopped activists and politicians like Cruz from jumping on the case to claim that all their dire warnings about gay rights leading pastors being thrown in jail are coming true. (An extra element of the case is the fact that Parker is openly gay, which groups like the American Family Association have been quick to note.)
Cruz joined pastors and Religious Right activists at a press conference in Houston yesterday, and in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody today said that all his warnings about the persecution of Christians in America have come to fruition.
When Brody asked Cruz if “we very well soon go through a period where pastors are hauled off to jail for a hate crime because they are speaking for traditional marriage,” Cruz agreed, saying, “I think that is a real risk and you and I have both pointed to that risk in the past.”
Georgia Republican congressional candidate Jody Hice devoted his most recent radio commentary to the controversy over subpoena’s served to a number of Houston pastors as part of litigation over the city’s recently enacted nondiscrimination ordinance.
Although city officials have been backing away from the subpoenas, attributing them to overly zealous pro-bono lawyers, the Religious Right has turned the incident into a cause celebre, and Hice is on board, declaring on his radio program that the Houston incident is “the new Alamo” for anti-gay activists.
“This is the battleground now over traditional family,” he said. “And what is going to occur over this development is that we are either going to see this in Houston, Texas, be the beginning of the end of the LGBT assault, if you will, on freedom to practice religion and of traditional family values being rightfully defended, or this is going to be a huge step toward the ultimate collapse of religious liberty in America.”
He warned listeners that if they don’t get involved in Houston, “one day the government is going to be knocking on the door of your pastor.”
“This is the first attempt in this country where we have a widespread attack on pastors in an entire region. And if it is not stopped here, we are in for a serious problem regarding the attacks of religious liberty in this country,” he said.
Earlier in the program, Hice alleged that the subpoenas — which were related to a lawsuit over the validity of petition signatures — were in fact part of a scheme by Houston’s openly lesbian mayor to find sermons that she “might deem to be offensive or whatever” and bring charges against pastors for preaching from the Bible.
“They may be actually trying to bring legal charges against these pastors for sharing with their congregants scriptural passages,” he guessed.
Conservative legal advocates from throughout the country have been quietly pouring money into a Montana state supreme court race, hoping to topple a court majority that has bucked the U.S. Supreme Court on campaign finance issues and could soon have a voice in cases with national implications involving abortion rights and LGBT equality.
The Right’s chosen candidate is Lawrence VanDyke, a former state solicitor general with a perfect pedigree for pro-corporate and Religious Right donors. Not only has VanDyke indicated his support for the U.S. Supreme Court’s dismantling of campaign finance laws and lamented that the current Montana high court is insufficiently “pro-business,” but, in his position as solicitor general, steered the state government toward taking positions against abortion rights, marriage equality and gun restrictions in other states.
What's more, in his writings as a law student, VanDyke was unguarded in his social conservative views, fretting about same-sex marriage, endorsing discredited “ex-gay” therapy and defending the teaching of anti-scientific “Intelligent Design” in public schools.
The Right Sees An Opportunity In Montana
At last month’s Values Voter Summit in Washington, the Family Research Council’s political action committee hosted a private $100-a-head reception featuring conservative luminaries including Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, GOP congressmen Steve King, Vicky Hartzler and Mark Meadows, and congressional candidate Dave Brat of Virginia, who unseated former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in an upset primary election this year.
A flyer for the event announced that along with those national Republican politicians, FRC would be “showcasing a very important State Supreme Court candidate, Lawrence VanDyke of Montana, who we hope can flip the court in that state.”
VanDyke’s presence on the fundraiser’s roster was telling. As FRC’s flyer made clear, a VanDyke victory would change the ideological balance on a court that has been a thorn in the side of opponents of campaign finance reform and could soon be facing nationally watched cases on abortion rights and marriage equality.
VanDyke has not yet submitted a campaign finance report showing how much money, if any, FRC was able to bundle for him at the fundraiser, and his campaign did not respond to our inquiry about whether he was personally present at the Values Voter event. But a review of VanDyke’s campaign finance reports shows that his candidacy has attracted keen interest from out-of-state donors, including some of the country’s leading conservative legal activists.
[UPDATE: VanDyke's Oct. 20 fundraising report revealed some of the contributions from FRC and its allies.]
Since filing for the race to unseat sitting Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat in March, VanDyke has raised about $78,000, more than one-third of which — roughly $29,000 — has come from 114 individual out-of-state donors. By contrast, Wheat has raised just under $85,000 for his reelection bid, only $1,100 of which came from just five out-of-state donors.
Among those who have contributed to VanDyke’s campaign are recognizable names in conservative legal circles. Kelly Shackelford, president of the right-wing legal group Liberty Institute (a major sponsor of the Values Voter Summit) contributed $100, while another top Liberty Institute official, Hiram Sasser, gave $320, the maximum gift allowable as of VanDyke's last fundraising report. Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network and a Harvard Law School classmate of VanDyke’s, and her husband Roger also each maxed out with $320 contributions. Thomas Spence, an official at the conservative Regnery publishing house also sent the maximum contribution to VanDyke’s campaign. Two employees of the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom have together contributed $370. Christopher Murray, a lawyer who served on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, also contributed $320.
Nearly $7,000 of VanDyke’s contributions have come from employees of the law firm Gibson Dunn, where Vandyke worked before entering public service. That includes $320 each from Theodore Olson, the conservative attorney argued the Citizens United case (but who has become better known as a marriage equality advocate), and controversial Bush appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada. VanDyke’s campaign also received $320 each from Eugene Scalia — the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and a Wall Street reform-buster in his own right — and his wife.
Montana’s Cowgirl Blog notes that prominent Montana social conservatives Greg and Susan Gianforte — who fund creationist efforts and support anti-gay policies — have also each contributed the maximum amount to VanDyke’s campaign. He has also received the maximum contribution from the Montana Gas & Oil PAC and — in the form of an in-kind gift of catering — from the PAC’s treasurer, Dave Galt.
Cowgirl Blog also notes that VanDyke got a major assist last month from a newly created group called Montanans for a Fair Judiciary, which sent a statewide mailer in favor of his candidacy. The group, which was registered last month, is staffed by a former Montana GOP official and a corporate lobbyist for oil and gas clients, among others.
And just last week, a Washington, D.C.-based group called the Republican State Leadership Committee Judicial Fairness Montana PAC — an offshoot a national group funded by big business interests including the Reynolds tobacco company and Koch Industries — bought $110,000 worth of television ads supporting VanDyke and slamming Wheat as soft on crime. The group has also been mailing out leaflets accusing Wheat of siding with “environmental extremists.”
All of this attention from national activists and corporate backers has caught the attention of a group of six retired Montana Supreme Court justices, who signed a letter last week calling VanDyke an “unqualified corporate lawyer,” adding, "Given [his] background, Mr. VanDyke is an excellent corporate pick although that is obviously not good news for Montanans.”
The letter from the judges notes that VanDyke has received the maximum allowable campaign contributions from numerous out-of-state lawyers who represent major corporations, including more than 20 at the Gibson firm - including at least one who represented Citizens United.
"Corporations are buying judicial races because they want judges who will not hold them accountable," the draft letter from the retired justices says. "If the disinformation they are spreading successfully manipulates Montanans into electing an unqualified corporate lawyer, we will lose our fair and impartial court."
‘Changing The Face of the Montana Supreme Court’
While VanDyke’s personal connections seem to behind quite a bit of his financial support from out-of-state conservative leaders, his featured spot at the Values Voter Summit hints that the conservative legal movement and the Religious Right see an opportunity in his candidacy.
Montana conservatives have made no secret of their desire to pack the state Supreme Court with justices in their ideological mold. Last year, the Great Falls Tribune published leaked emails between conservative Republicans in the state senate discussing a “long term strategy” for displacing more moderate Republicans in the state legislature and “changing the face of the Montana Supreme Court.”
One lawmaker wrote of the need to “purge” the party of moderates, after which “a new phoenix will rise from the ashes.”
In 2012, Montana conservatives were able to elect the likeminded Laurie McKinnon to the state Supreme Court thanks in part to a dark money group called the “Montana Growth Network” run by a Republican state senator that spent at least $42,000 on her campaign — more than the candidate spent herself. The “Montanans for a Fair Judiciary” group that has been campaigning for VanDyke is linked to the firm that was employed by the “Montana Growth Network” to boost McKinnon.
National conservative groups have good reason to take an interest in the race as well.
Montana’s Supreme Court gained national attention in 2011 when it bucked the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of campaign finance regulation, ruling that the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United did not invalidate Montana’s century-old ban on corporate spending in elections. The 5-2 decision, in which Justice Wheat joined the majority, openly defied the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling. One of the two dissenting justices wrote that the state court must follow the high court’s precedent but used the opportunity to excoriate the Supreme Court for its Citizens United logic. On appeal, the Supreme Court summarily reversed Montana’s opinion, ending the state’s corporate spending ban.
Montana’s Supreme Court may soon also be in the center of the legal debates on same-sex marriage and abortion rights. State anti-choice groups have indicated that they might challenge Montana’s abortion clinic buffer-zone bill in the wake of the Supreme Court’s striking down of a similar bill in Massachusetts. In addition, marriage equality cases are working their way through both state and federal courts in Montana.
A Movement Candidate
Although Montana’s judicial elections are ostensibly nonpartisan, VanDyke’s resume makes him seemingly a perfect candidate for conservative activists hoping to drag the state's high court to the right. At Harvard Law School, VanDyke was active in the conservative Federalist Society and wrote an article for the school’s law review favorably reviewing a book arguing for allowing public schools to teach anti-scientific Intelligent Design.
In an article for another school publication, VanDyke lamented that courts in Canada had been “forcing same-sex marriage on the populace” and warned of a “trend of intolerance towards religion as homosexual ‘rights’ become legally entrenched.” In the same article, he cited a study supporting debunked “ex-gay” therapy to support the “view that homosexuals can leave the homosexual lifestyle.” (The author of that study has since recanted.)
After graduating from law school, VanDyke clerked for D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown, perhaps the most stridently conservative of that court’s activist pro-corporate wing, known for her extreme opposition to government regulation and her writing of a prequel to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. After a stint at Gibson Dunn, VanDyke became an assistant solicitor general in Texas and was named solicitor general of Montana early last year.
In public statements, VanDyke has indicated that he would have sided with the U.S. Supreme Court on Citizens United, defending the decision in a debate last month. And although his race is officially nonpartisan, VanDyke has made it very clear which side of the aisle he falls on, accusing his opponent of judging “like a liberal Democrat” and being “results-oriented” in his rulings — a loaded accusation favored by conservative activists.
VanDyke has also hinted that he would be more favorable to business interests on the court, touting an endorsement from the Montana Chamber of Commerce and saying, “I don’t think anybody who follows our court thinks it’s a pro-business court.” On his website, he backs efforts to “produce and preserve” natural resources, which he contrasts with his opponent's siding with preservationists in a dispute over drilling gas wells. In September, he spoke at a “Coal Appreciation Day” sponsored by a coal industry group.
VanDyke’s website also touts his support for the death penalty and an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment, noting his work as state solicitor general defending a bill that would have invalidated federal firearms regulations on weapons manufactured and kept in Montana. (The law was ultimately struck down in federal court). In that position, VanDyke also pushed for Montana signing on to Alabama briefs in favor of overturning semiautomatic weapon bans in New York and Connecticut. At the time, he bantered over email with Alabama’s solicitor general, Andrew Brasher, about shooting elk with semi-automatic firearms, attaching a picture of himself hunting with “the same gun used by the Navy Seals.”
VanDyke recently announced that he had been endorsed by the National Rifle Association.
In his role as solicitor general, VanDyke also worked on efforts to oppose same-sex marriage and abortion rights, including signing on to amicus briefs filed in other states.
VanDyke, meanwhile, is running on the message that he will follow “the law, not politics” and accusing Justice Wheat of being overly partisan. In the same interview in which he lamented that the current state supreme court was unfavorable to business interests, he said, “I have not promised anybody that I’m going to be a pro-business judge or that I’m going to be a conservative judge...I’m going to be a fair and balanced judge.”
Judicial Elections Draw More And More Big Money
Last year, Justice at Stake reported on the fast increase of spending in judicial elections, leading to judicial races seeming “alarmingly indistinguishable from ordinary political campaigns” and blurring “the boundaries that keep money and political pressure from interfering with the rule of law.”
Part of this increase was attributable to the 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed outside groups to spend unlimited amounts supporting and opposing candidates. In the case of judicial elections, those candidates could be the ones deciding on the future of that very campaign spending.
It’s no wonder that the corporate right and the Religious Right have joined forces to back VanDyke’s candidacy. A little-noticed nonpartisan race in Montana could prove to be an effective long-term investment for a movement that’s trying to solidify a pro-corporate grip on the courts and win back lost legal ground abortion rights and LGBT equality.
This post has been updated to clarify the status of marriage equality cases in Montana.
On Sunday, a variety of Religious Right groups hosted a webcast called "iPledgeSunday 2014: The Rise of the Church," designed to mobilize right-wing Christians before the midterm elections. Hosted by the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins and Live Action's Lila Rose, the event featured in-person interviews with people like Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver, as well as a variety of pre-taped interviews with Religious Right activists including David Barton, Jim Garlow, and the Benham Brothers.
Rep. Frank Wolf also appeared in a prerecorded interview, telling Perkins that religious liberty is under attack in America because the church has been intimidated and fallen into silence.
In order to combat this, the Virginia Republican said, Americans need to imitate people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and prepare to go to prison in the face of government oppression.
"Frankly," Wolf said, "some people in the church may have to go to jail and that would wake up America. That would literally wake up America if they arrested a cardinal, if they arrested a bishop, if they arrested a prominent pastor":
In an interview with Iowa-based conservative talk show host Steve Deace on Monday, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee repeated his recommendation that governors simply ignore the Supreme Court’s decision to let stand lower court rulings legalizing marriage equality in several new states, adding that state governments should have also ignored Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court rulings banning school-sponsored prayer.
When Deace pressed him on the “maelstrom” that would be set off if state governments simply ignored court rulings on marriage, Huckabee responded that it was in fact the courts that have set off a “constitutional crisis” by ruling in favor of marriage equality.
“I look back to 1973,” he said, referring to the year in which Roe v. Wade was decided, “and I’m wondering what would have happened if the two branches of government, the executive and the legislative, simply said, ‘We appreciate your opinion, court, but now if states wish to empower that, I guess they can do so, but until that happens we’re not automatically going to go killing 55 million babies over the next 40 years.’”
In cases such as Roe and rulings in favor of marriage equality and church-state separation, Huckabee said, elected officials should have said, “Well, the courts have spoken and it’s an important voice, but it’s not the voice of God and the Supreme Court isn’t God” and simply ignored the courts’ rulings.
Earlier in the interview, Deace insisted that a drop in support for LGBT rights reported in a recent Pew poll happened because “people are seeing this really isn’t about consensual love…this is really about in the end using the coercive force of government to get you to abandon your own moral conscience.”
Huckabee agreed, adding, “It’s never been an honest situation where those who were advocating the most extreme levels of changing our culture were sincere and straightforward and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of it.”
He added his hope that in reaction to yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, “somewhere there will be a governor who will simply say, ‘No, I’m not going to enforce that’” and order county clerks not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Politico is up with a profile of the Becket Fund, one of the Religious Right legal groups that has pushed, via Hobby Lobby and related cases, to expand the definition of “religious liberty” to allow corporations and individuals as well as religious institutions to opt out of laws they say violate their religious beliefs.
The article by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux quotes Stanford Law School professor Michael McConnell saying nice things about Becket, but it doesn’t mention that Becket steered $1.6 million to Stanford and McConnell for a religious liberty law clinic that opened at the school last year.
In Politico, McConnell attributes to Becket the idea that religious freedom “is not – in most contexts – a culture war issue.” At a forum on religious liberty at the Newseum last year, Becket’s Mark Rienzi also suggested that religious liberty is not a culture war issue.
In reality, redefining “religious liberty” has become the central culture war issue and the primary legal and public relations strategy chosen by conservative evangelicals and their allies in the Catholic hierarchy to resist the advance of LGBT equality and restrict women’s access to reproductive care. Becket is at the center of this strategy. A corollary strategy is portraying Christians in America as the victims of religious persecution; Becket lawyers appear in Rick Santorum’s latest movie, “One Generation Away: The Erosion of Religious Liberty.”
While it is true that support for religious freedom crosses political and religious lines, and it is admirable that Becket, unlike some other Religious Right legal groups, defends the freedom of religious minorities as well as conservative Christians, it is hard to accept with a straight face the idea that Becket’s lawyers are not culture warriors.
Let’s review some of Becket’s culture-war credentials:
Winners of Becket’s Canterbury Medal over the past decade include Robert George; ultraconservative Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who has waged what a local columnist called a “war on Obama” over the HHS mandate; Eric Mataxas, the author whose 2012 prayer breakfast speech delighted right-wing activists with its thinly veiled attacks on President Obama’s faith; and Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks, a strong defender of the LDS Church’s anti-equality efforts.
One more quibble with the Politico story: its headline – “God’s Rottweilers” – does give a sense of the group’s intensity, but it also implies that Becket is working for God. Media coverage all too often portrays culture war issues as a struggle between religious people and “radical secularists” when in fact there are also many religious individuals and organizations actively opposed to the Religious Right’s agendas on LGBT equality, women’s access to reproductive care, and the relationship between church and state.
On his radio show earlier this week, Georgia Republican congressional candidate Jody Hice discussed the Tennessee cheerleading team that, in an effort to avoid legal action, replaced its traditional reading of a prayer over a loudspeaker with a moment of silence for individual prayer before games.
“We have a majority of people who want to have a prayer before a ballgame and yet we are rapidly becoming a society where the minority rule,” Hice lamented, adding, “If you’re in the majority in a situation like this, the minority rules. I don’t believe that is the intent of our Constitution.”
“Who could possibly be offended” by a school-sponsored sectarian prayer, Hice asked, recalling that in his school athletic years a prayer was read before every game and “I don’t recall anyone on either side of our competition every being taken off in an ambulance to the hospital.”
RNC committeewoman Tamara Scott, who also runs the Iowa state chapter of Concerned Women for America and works with the influential group The Family Leader, spent a good part of her weekly radio program on Wednesday interviewing Leo Hohmann, a WorldNetDaily reporter who wrote an unhinged article last month about how a plan to offer asylum to Syrian refugees is in fact part of a “stealth jihad” to take over America.
Scott was quite impressed by Hohmann’s article, asking him, “So if I put on my Facebook… ‘Leo Hohman reveals stealth jihad with thousands of Muslims being brought into the U.S. under refugee resettlement program, receiving welfare, Medicaid and other taxpayer moneys while refusing to assimilate to American culture,’ that’s not an understandment?”
“No,” Hohmann assured her.
Later in the interview, Hohmann explained the difficulty he has in his “reporting” because “if you’re not listening carefully or if you come to this story from a different worldview, it can sound like we’re being racist or somehow bigoted.” But, he explained, he isn’t being bigoted because Islam is not a religion and Muslim-Americans are lying about their plan to become the majority in America and institute Sharia law.
“The problem is, Leo, is that we call it a religion, but you and I both know that it’s a political system and a military system, not just a religion, so that’s part of the danger,” Scott said of Islam later in the interview.
She then went on to praise Michele Bachmann’s furious search for Muslim Brotherhood agents in the U.S. government, which she implied was somehow precient of the 2012 attack on U.S. officials in Benghazi.