One of the most remarkable things about the Religious Right today is the amazingly widespread belief that any criticism or disagreement with their agenda is somehow a violation of their First Amendment rights.
The Religious Right seems to truly believe that the First Amendment protects their rights to say anything they wish while simultaneously rendering them immune from criticism or opposition, as if the very same First Amendment that protects their free speech rights does not protect the free speech rights of those who disagree with them.
Case in point: the day after the election, the American Humanist Association sent a letter to all the newly elected members of Congress, encouraging them not to join the Congressional Prayer Caucus. But to Rep. Randy Forbes, founder of the Prayer Caucus, this is nothing more than an attempt to "censor people" and prevent them from talking about their faith, as he explained on "Wallbuilders Live" today:
None of us, and no member of our caucus believes, that we want government to dictate what the church should do and we don't want the church dictating what the government should do.
But these extremist groups try to switch that around and they try to carry it to another dimension where they don't want anybody in government to have the right to even speak about their faith, or prayer, or God, or religion. And they don't want anyone in the church to be able to speak about government.
What they want to do is censor people from their faith and from their First Amendment rights.
Members of Congress have the right to join the Prayer Caucus if they want, just as others have a right to ask them not to do so. That is how the First Amendment works.
Disagreement is not censorship and the Constitution does not protect you from criticism.
Generations Radio’s Kevin Swanson spoke yesterday with Creation Museum president Ken Ham, who has written a book about how many Christian colleges “are going the way of Yale, Harvard and Princeton” and rejecting young earth creationism.
Ham recently lashed out at televangelist Pat Robertson after Right Wing Watch reported Robertson’s rejection of the idea that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. In his interview with Swanson, Ham accused churches and Christian colleges of “open[ing] the door to allow the philosophy of naturalism, and evolution, millions of years, to permeate into God’s word,” warning, “If we don’t shut that door, we’re going to lose this culture, America will be the England and Europe of tomorrow.”
“As you write this book,” Swanson asked, “Do you get the sense that you are effectively very, very close to Omaha Beach in the war of the worldviews?”
Ham: Evolution, millions of years, he naturalistic philosophy that permeates our education system, that’s really the religion of this age to explain life without God. And much of our church, our church leaders, have adopted that religion, sadly, and compromised it with God’s word.
Swanson: Ken, as you write this book, ‘Already Compromised,’ do you get the sense that you are effectively very, very close to Omaha Beach in the war of the worldviews? I mean, you are right there, where the ideas are being formulated, where the minds and the lives of the next generation are being formed by the millions across this country, I mean this is an important battle.
Ham: It is, it’s an extremely important battle. Because, you know what, it only takes one generation to lose a culture. That’s all it takes. And if you can capture one generation, you’ll have the culture. And just as, you know, when the Israelites crossed the Jordan river and there were 12 stones to remind the next generation of what God did and what did we find? They weren’t reminded, the next generation, they lost it in one generation, we’re losing this culture before our very eyes today because the church opened the door to allow the philosophy of naturalism, and evolution, millions of years, to permeate into God’s word. We need to shut that door. If we don’t shut that door, that’s where the battle’s at right now, if we don’t shut that door, we’re going to lose this culture, America will be the England and Europe of tomorrow.
Recently, Kelly Shackelford of Liberty Institute appeared on the Christian television program "Joni" along with David Barton to discuss the report that Liberty Institute and the Family Research Council released entitled "The Survey on Religious Hostility in America."
During the discussion, Shackelford mentioned a legal fight that took place in Texas last year over a high-school valedictorian who wanted to say a prayer during her graduation speech. The student ultimately won the right to do so, which prompted host Joni Lamb to declare it a victory for free speech, saying "that if you live in America and you understand that we are a Christian society then you can't be offended by things like that or you shouldn't live here":
On Liberty Counsel's "Faith and Freedom" radio program, Mat Staver and Matt Barber discussed a lawsuit filed by a lesbian couple against the owners of Liberty Ridge Farms in upstate New York after they refused to allow the couple to hold their wedding on the grounds, citing religious objections.
For Barber, this was proof that the push for marriage equality is not actually about marriage or equality, but simply nothing more than "a political and legal calculus that is being used as a weapon to destroy religious liberty":
Washington, DC – More than three-quarters of the young progressive candidates for state and local offices endorsed by People For the American Way’s Young Elected Progressives program won their election bids on Tuesday, People For the American Way reported today. The Young Elected Progressives program, in its first year, endorsed 79 candidates in general elections in 28 states and the District of Columbia, with 60 winning their bids.
“We started this program to boost promising young progressives, many of them making their first bid for elected office,” said Randy Borntrager, Political Director of People For the American Way. “We’re helping to build a lasting movement by providing young progressives with the resources they need to start their careers in public service. We are thrilled that our endorsed candidates did so well on Tuesday, and are looking forward to growing and strengthening the program in future elections.”
Eighteen of the endorsed candidates, many in particularly close races, were given extra attention through the new "On the Way" program. Fourteen of those candidates were successful on Tuesday, including:
In August, the Liberty Institute and the Family Research Council released a joint report entitled "The Survey on Religious Hostility in America" which purported to be a "collection of more than 600 cases, detailing religious bigotry throughout America" ... but, for some reason, the incident they love to cite more than any other is a nearly twenty year old myth about an elementary school student who was supposedly yanked out of his seat and yelled at simply for praying before eating his lunch in the school cafeteria.
In reality, the student was disciplined for fighting in the lunch room in 1994 but the Religious Right continues to perpetuate this lie to this day. In fact, David Barton cites it repeatedly despite the fact that it is demonstrably false, and did so again today on "WallBuilders Live," as did the Liberty Institute's Kelly Shackelford, who was on the program to promote the report:
Barton: What does it say to that elementary kid who got jerked out of his seat and hauled to the principle's office in front of everybody else and told don't you ever pray over your lunch again, period? What kind of impression is that giving? Jesus said "suffer the little children to come unto me" and we're doing our best to say "absolutely no way, absolutely not will we ever allow any kid to get to you" ... this is crazy stuff.
Shackelford: It's all the way from a ten-year old boy who was quote "caught" praying over his meal in the lunch cafeteria who was lifted out of his chair and carried to the principle's office where he was told to never do that again while he was at school.
Even though this incident never actually happened, Barton sees it as proof that we at PFAW and other groups have created a "toxic" and "hostile" environment in which public officials are pressured into persecuting Christians:
Barton: And I really blame this climate on the secular groups, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Americans United, the People For the American Way, the Military Freedom Foundation, all these guys who have so made the climate so toxic that if you share your faith, public officials feel like they have to come down on you with both feet otherwise they'll get sued and end up in court and have to spend millions of dollars defending something religions. And so these guys have created such a hostility in the public that now public officials and school officials and city council officials and those who run senior's centers and everything else are so scared to death of seeing faith that if they see it, they feel like they have to jump on it with both feet and both hands and bring out the hammers and run over you with a car and pull out a chainsaw and cut you to pieces. They over-react and I really blame a lot of those organizations.
It looks like this weekend will kick off the Religious Right's latest protest against the Obama administration's contraception mandate with something called ActsFive29 in which activists plan to descend on the White House and risk arrest in announcing that they will never comply with the mandate.
The event takes its name from the Bible passage which declares "we must obey God rather than men" and is being sponsored by a handful of radical anti-choice groups including Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, the Christian Defense Coalition, Pro-life Action League, Operation Rescue, Priests for Life, and the American Family Association.
For 72 hours, they plan to carry out a "vigil of prayer, public witness and arrests at the White House" because "we must obey God rather than man or soon jail may be the only option":
We are a nation ruled by those we choose by our votes. So we are sending those in elected office a warning: you hold office because we chose you — and we will not comply! We will not pay the $1 monthly abortion surcharge, we will not pay for abortion-inducing drugs and other unconscionable practices demanded of us through the HHS mandate, and we will not surrender our freedoms as delineated in the Declaration and our Constitution.
And we will go to jail before we do.
Today our arrests will be voluntary, a living witness to the church and to the government — tomorrow arrest may be the only option if we are unwilling to pay to have someone’s child murdered.
Please join with us as we send a powerful message to those within the church and to our elected officials through peaceful civil disobedience! Just as MLK was arrested for the rights of his fellow men, so we will stand. This will be 72 hours of continuous prayer and arrests in front of the White House! This moment is fraught with an unprecedented “urgency of the hour”; thus, we are issuing a national call for Christians, and all our fellow Americans of whatever creed, to come to the White House and be part of this prayerful, peaceful, and prophetic witness for life and justice: ActsFive29.
Join us September 29 through October 2, 2012 as we humbly and boldly lay down our lives and our freedom so that future generations will have that freedom, and the liberty to practice their faith.
On her radio commentary today, Linda Harvey slammed President Obama for coddling Islam while insulting Christianity at every turn. Harvey played a clip of Obama saying America rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others when it comes to Islam and then compared that to a clip of Obama speaking at a White House LGBT Pride Month reception, where he said that some people continue to oppose efforts to achieve equality because they "still hold fast to worn arguments and old attitudes."
To Harvey, this was proof of Obama's "stunning hypocrisy" and proof that the administration "bends over backwards for Islam while sticking it to Christians time and again":
You would think that our leaders would understand by now that we are not dealing with a reasonable ideology and it's time to stop making excuses. At the very least you would think Barack Obama could be consistent. If he and his cabinet members are willing to plead for understanding for Islam despite the violent track record shown by so many people who adhere to this faith, you would think that our president would have a soft heart for Christians in this country who are anxious to be able to live out our faith principles. If he respects, understands, and apologizes for one religion, why not others? But that is unfortunately not the case ... He bends over backwards for Islam while sticking it to Christians time and again.
Yesterday on "WallBuilders Live," David Barton and Rick Green discussed the case of Arizona pastor Michael Salman who has recently become a Religious Right cause célèbre because he is supposedly being persecuted simply because he wanted to hold Bible study meetings at his home.
In reality, Salman had been attempting to illegally build a church in his back yard and had been holding multiple-weekly church services on his property until he was found guilty of dozens of code violations and sentenced to sixty days in jail.
Barton took up the case today and voiced his outrage, calling on voters in Phoenix to work to remove political leaders in that city for allowing something like this to happen. Barton went on to falsely claim that Salman's home was raided by a SWAT team sent to arrest him and said that law enforcement officers must refuse to participate in things like this because they have an obligation to uphold the Constitution:
And the one we have today, the one we're going to talk about today is a great example is a bunch of political leaders in a city who need to be seriously removed. The fact that they would even think about enforcing this particular ordinance against anybody means that we've got a bad set of leaders there that need to be gone.
There needs to be some changes in Phoenix and people really do need to let city hall hear it over this. And I'm really concerned about cops who are willing to go in as a SWAT team to arrest a pastor who's had Bible study. The cops should have said "no, we're not doing that. I mean, we take an oath to uphold the Constitution too; there's the right of assembly, the right of speech, the right of religion. We're not going to go arrest this guy with AR-15s and a SWAT team." At some point, citizens are going to have to say we're not going to be part of this and that should have happened at this point.
Yesterday Kelly Shackelford of Liberty Institute and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council released a new website and joint report entitled "The Survey on Religious Hostility in America" which is billed as "collection of more than 600 cases, detailing religious bigotry throughout America."
And you can tell from the introduction just how trustworthy this report truly is:
The Obama administration no longer even speaks of freedom of religion; now it is only “freedom of worship.” This radical departure is one that threatens to make true religious liberty vulnerable, conditional, and limited. As some have said, it is a freedom “only within four walls.” That is, you are free to worship within the four walls of your home, church, or synagogue, but when you enter the public square the message is, “leave your religion at home.” President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have repeatedly echoed this same message in international forums, acknowledging only a right to the “freedom of worship.” This is no accident, and it has huge ramifications.
This claim that Obama is systematically undermining "freedom of religion" seems to be one of the Religious Right's favorite claims ... which, of course, means that it is not true at all.
The report itself consists of 100+ pages of short descriptions of seemingly every court case along with the various urban legends that the Religious Right trots out whenever they are trying to play the victim. In fact, this one from the Executive Summary caught my eye:
A public school official physically lifted an elementary school student from his seat and reprimanded him in front of his classmates for praying over his lunch.
That sounded a lot like the story of Raymond Raines and, sure enough, on page 74 we find this:
Elementary School Student Punished for Praying Before Meals
Joan Little, “City Schools Issue Rules About Students, Religion,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 11, 1996, at 2B
Elementary school student Raymond Raines was “caught” praying over his meal at his elementary school. He was lifted from his seat and reprimanded in front of all the other students, then taken to the principal who ordered him to cease praying in school.
As we noted just a few months ago, this myth has been around since 1994 when Newt Gingrich and various Religious Right leaders first started making Raymond's sorry tale the centerpiece of their campaign to pass a constitutional amendment protecting the right to expressions of faith ... despite the fact that it wasn't true:
The St. Louis case concerned 10-year-old Raymond Raines who, his mother said, was given detention because he sought to pray over his lunch. When lawyers for the Rutherford Institute heard about the case, they filed a lawsuit against the principal and issued a press release denouncing the school system.
"I know it sounds bizarre, but we have substantial evidence to believe it happened," said Timothy Belz, the St. Louis lawyer working with the Rutherford Institute.
On NBC-TV's "Meet the Press," Gingrich described the situation as "a real case about a real child. Should it be possible for the government to punish you if you say grace over your lunch? That's what we used to think of Russian behavior when they were the Soviet Union."
But school officials said the incident never happened. Rather, they said, Raymond was disciplined for fighting in the cafeteria.
"I can tell you he was not reprimanded for praying," said Kenneth Brostron, the school's lawyer. "Do you think it makes sense that the teachers would look around the cafeteria and target the one student who was praying quietly at his seat?"
This incident took place nearly twenty years ago and the Religious Right is still citing it today as proof that Christianity is under attack in America despite the fact that it never happened.
Late last year, Gary Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission announced that his organization would be releasing a series of monthly videos leading up to the election detailing "ten new irrefutable proofs that Barack Obama is not a Christian."
Today, Cass released part seven of the series which lays out that Obama has been friendly to Islam while being hostile to Christianity, even though the Bible says that "Islam is the doctrine of demons and originates in Hell." And the reason Obama doesn't believe that America is a Christian nation, the CADC explains, is because he had a "Moo-slum father and step-father":
Last week, People For the American Way Foundation launched a new report, “12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics,” which offers guidelines for policymakers and advocates seeking to bring faith into political debates.
Joining us at a launch party for the report and a discussion of the issues it raises were Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim in Congress; Sister Simone Campbell, director of the Catholic social justice group NETWORK; and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
Here are some photos of the event from People For Foundation’s Dylan Hewitt:
Sister Simone Campbell talks with People For’s COO, Nick Ucci
People For President Michael Keegan, Rep. Keith Ellison, and Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery
Michael Keegan and Rep. Keith Ellison
Sister Simone Campbell and Rabbi David Saperstein
Rabbi David Saperstein
Rep. Keith Ellison and Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Conference.
Over the last few weeks, Arizona pastor Michael Salman has become a Religious Right cause célèbre and the current poster boy for religious persecution. In the Religious Right's version of events, Salman has supposedly been harassed and persecuted by local officials for years simply because he wanted to hold bible study meetings at his home.
In reality, Salman had been attempting to illegally build a church in his back yard and was found guilty of dozens of code violations, resulting in a sixty day jail sentence, which Salman is now serving ... and about which his supporters are now complaining:
Pastor Michael Salman is serving his 60-day sentence for holding a home Bible study in Tent City Jail, a prison compound in Maricopa County, Ariz. The Phoenix pastor’s attorney describes conditions there as similar to the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.
“This is where you would put Osama bin Laden, not Michael Salman,” says Rutherford Institute founder and attorney John Whitehead in an interview yesterday with International Christian Concern (ICC).
“The temperature there has been around 140 degrees, and there is no air conditioning. They’re [living] in tents. They have stun fences … barbed wire … large German shepherds walking the perimeter, armed guards and facial recognition software so that the prisoners are studied all the time.”
According to Whitehead, Salman has reported being imprisoned with “really hardened criminals.” He is unsure why the pastor has been specifically sent to Tent City. In late June, the jail was the focus of thousands of protesters who gathered outside the Maricopa County Sherriff’s office to express their disapproval of the allegedly prison camp-like conditions.
It should be noted that this Guantanamo-like prison camp in which Salman is currently serving his time just so happens to be the system set up by the Right's hero, "America's Toughest Sheriff," and Birther extraordinaire Joe Arpaio.
Oddly, nobody on the Right seemed particularly concerned about the conditions in the compound until now.
Washington, DC – The proper role of religion in American politics has been the subject of vigorous – and sometimes toxic – debate for over two centuries. Today, in the midst of campaign-season claims about America’s founding as a “Christian nation” and hyperbolic rhetoric about religious persecution, People For the American Way Foundation calls for a more constructive conversation with a new report, 12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics, authored by PFAW Foundation senior fellow Peter Montgomery with a foreword by journalist Bill Moyers.
"12 Rules" takes on a number of current debates, including those over required contraception insurance coverage, marriage equality, and the role of religion in the 2012 presidential campaign. This edition builds on earlier releases of "12 Rules" in 1984 and 1994.
The full report can be found online here.
“Religious liberty is at the heart of what it means to be an American, but it is also at the center of some of our fiercest debates,” said Peter Montgomery. “How do we balance the constitutional principles of free exercise of religion and the separation of church and state when they come into tension with each other? And how can people of faith bring their religious values into the public arena without turning religion into a political club? As our religious landscape becomes increasingly diverse, it is important that we grapple with these issues in ways that are more constructive than divisive. We hope these Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics will launch many constructive conversations around these topics.”
“Our political climate is being poisoned by inflammatory charges of anti-religious and anti-Christian persecution,” said Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way Foundation. “We can look around the world to see what religious persecution looks like, and we think it’s wrong to cry wolf over political and policy disputes. We are strong advocates for First Amendment freedoms. But something can be legal without being wise. The principles in this report should be embraced by people of all religious and political beliefswho long for a more respectful and responsible debate in the public arena.”
This new edition of "12 Rules" will be launched at an event in Washington, DC featuring a discussion with Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim American elected to Congress.