Becket Fund

Challenging the Right's Religious Liberty Claims

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

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

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

1. Define and publicize the campaign to redefine religious liberty

2. Organize a unified response

3. Counter misinformation

4. Reclaim the religious liberty frame

5. Develop academic responses

6. Leverage religious communities

7. Ongoing research and monitoring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Religious Liberty' Panelist: Compromise is of the Devil

The Family Research Council hosted a panel discussion Wednesday on religious liberty in America.  If you have paid any attention at all to the frantic warnings from FRC’s Tony Perkins that tyranny is on the march, you could have guessed what was coming.  The overall theme of the conversation was that the HHS mandate for insurance coverage of contraception is a dire threat to religious freedom in America.  So are the advance of marriage equality and laws against anti-gay discrimination – or the “sexual liberty agenda.”

The panel featured three lawyers: Adele Keim of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Kellie Fiedorek of the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund) and Ken Klukowski of the Family Research Council.

Keim talked about Becket’s client Hobby Lobby, which is suing the Obama administration over the contraception mandate.  Or as Keim insisted on calling it, the contraception/abortifacient mandate. Keim argued that business owners are no less deserving of religious accommodation than churches or religiously affiliated nonprofits, saying “Americans do not lose their First Amendment rights when they go to work.” Of course by the standard she was invoking, many Americans could find their own rights and access to health care dictated by the religious beliefs of their employer.

The ADF’s Fiedorek focused on the “great peril” to religious liberty posed by the “agenda to expand sexual liberty and redefine marriage.”   She said in the conflict between sexual liberty and religious liberty, "people of faith" are "the ones being marginalized." She recounted a litany of such “persecution,” including now-familiar stories of a New Mexico photographer and a Colorado baker who were penalized under state anti-discrimination laws when they declined to serve same-sex couples celebrating commitment ceremonies.  Fiedorek compared cases in which businesses are required not to discriminate against gay couples to requiring an African American photographer to take pictures at a KKK event or a Jewish baker to create a cake decorated with a swastika.  She called it “particularly atrocious” that Catholic social service agencies were being required to abide by anti-discrimination ordinances – and were being “forced” to close.  She began and closed her presentation with quotes from the movie Chariots of Fire, ending with one that includes, “Don’t compromise. Compromise is a language of the devil.”

Klukowski talked about the role of religious freedom in the settling of America and the founding of the U.S.  And he recycled ridiculous religious right charges that the Obama administration believes not in freedom of religion but in the narrower “freedom of worship,” a notion that he said would be “profoundly disturbing” to the founding fathers.

The most interesting question from the audience focused on implications of the Bob Jones University case, and on whether the racialist Christian Identity movement could make the same religious liberty claims the lawyers were defending.  Why, the questioner asked, couldn’t the “conscience” rights the lawyers wanted for business owners not be claimed by a Christian Identity-affiliated business owner to deny doing business with African American people or interracial couples?

After a moment of awkward silence, Klukowski said that in the Bob Jones case, the Supreme Court had said the university could continue its racially discriminatory policies, but that its tax exemption was a benefit conferred by the government and could therefore be removed, especially in light of the post-civil war constitutional amendments addressing racial discrimination.  Klukowski did not directly address whether and how that principle could, would, or should apply to the current conversation about anti-gay discrimination.  He gave a confusing statement about what he said was the right of a business owner to throw someone out of their store for wearing a certain T-shirt or carrying a Bible.  The First Amendment, he says, allows people to be jerks in their private lives, but it was not clear whether he meant that the relationship between a business and its customers was “purely private” or falls into the category of public accommodation.

Dominionism and The Religious Right: The Merger Is Complete

For weeks now I have been writing regular posts on the increasing intersection between the "mainstream" Religious Right and Dominionist prophetic intercessors like Lou Engle, Cindy Jacobs, Rick Joyner and others.

But I have always been careful to note that just because the more "mainstream" leaders have been joining forces with these self-proclaims prophets and apostles, it didn't mean that they necessarily shared their Dominionist agenda. 

But I think it is fair to say that I no longer need to be so careful, as the leaders of the Religious Right have now openly embraced Seven Mountains Dominionist theology, which is described thusly:

First, human beings are blessed by God. Secondly, these blessed human beings are given a mandate to take dominion of the earth for the purpose of blessing it. ... The first advent of Christ was for the purpose of creating a blessed seed upon the earth - the church. The second coming of Jesus will take place after this blessed seed has completed the Dominion Process upon the earth by making disciples of all nations.

In short, Dominionist theology believes that Christians are called to take "dominion" over every aspect of our culture and use them to create God's kingdom on Earth in order to bring about the return of Jesus Christ. And their method for gaining "dominion" is through something called the "Seven Mountains Mandate," which seeks to place Christians at the top of seven distinct spheres that shape our culture: (1) Business; (2) Government; (3) Media; (4) Arts and Entertainment; (5) Education; (6) Family; and (7) Religion.

One of the leading authorities on the Seven Mountains Mandate among the new apostles and prophets is a man named Lance Wallnau, and here is a video of him explicitly explaining how it is to work:

Most believers on the Earth are more frightened at the prospect of taking on the insurmountable giants represented by the mountains near them in their nations. They're more intimidated by trying to take possession of what is an opposition that has strength and fortification in the natural, from the IRS, to Hollywood, to whatever. Most believers are afraid, so they create a theology that eliminates the responsibility for having to take territory and rather focuses on just getting people saved so that when Jesus comes back he can repopulate the Earth with people that are followers and let him take over the planet.

There is just a little problem with that: the little problem is Heaven is his throne and the Earth is the footstool of his feet and he was told that he was to sit at the Father's right hand until God made his enemies a footstool for his feet, which means He doesn't come back until He's accomplished the dominion of nations.

The point is this: God wants to have the tabernacle at the top of every one of these spheres. You want to know what the spheres are that shape a nation? This is how you take a nation: you have to get into the family - that is why same-sex marriage such a demonic agenda ... because who ever shapes the family mountain shapes the idea of what culture is for a man and wife. You got to get into the education mountain, you know why? Because whoever's ideology is shaping that little kid when he's a child, by the time he's 19, hey for all you know he could become part of the Hitler Youth movement and die for the Fuhrer. Hitler basically knew that if he educated them as kids, he'd have them as sons to go fight for him. Government mountain where your laws get legislated. Media mountain where the truth is debated. And the arts mountain which is where sports and creativity come along, and we've got business and finance. Is it possible that there are seven sovereign spheres of authority?

By the way, that's how you take nations. It's the only way you take nations. There has never been a nation taken as the result of an evangelism harvest. Shocking but true. Believers don't know these things, which is why we get in trouble.

You realize that when you have 8% of a population, that's the key. 8%, that's all it takes. 8%, according to the Center for Religious and Diplomacy, practice Jihad. 8%, according to the research of James Davidson Hunter, are doing the same sex marriage initiative, You've got 80% Jews, Catholics, Protestants, 35% of Evangelicals, even Mormons - you have a very broad constituency of 85-90% of the American population is not for same-sex marriage. How is it that 7% can impose their agenda on the other 90%? It's not because we don't have enough converts to an idea - it's because when Satan is shrewder in his own generation than the Sons of Light, he makes sure that he has his prophets of Baal at the high places. So what you have is a well-positioned 8% whose agenda is working with the will of Principalities and Powers while Christians are in pursuit of the supernatural or glory or prosperity, but they're missing the apostolic assignment. They're to take over spheres and administer them for the glory of God.

It is exceedingly clear that the Seven Mountains is a Dominionist theology that carries with it the ultimate goal of creating God's kingdom on Earth so as to create the conditions needed to bring about Christ's return.

And amazing, it is something that just about every Religious Right leader has now officially embraced.

Last week, Lou Engle was featured on Focus on the Family's "Friday Five" where he announced his latest political endeavor: a groups called Pray and A.C.T.  The acronym A.C.T stands for "Affirming the Basics, Conforming our Lives, and Transforming the Culture," and the "basics" which they are affirming are those values set out in The Manhattan Declaration, the document produced by the Religious Right earlier this year vowing to give their lives to withstand President Obama's attempts to set himself up as a Nazi-like dictator. 

"Transforming the Culture" is a idea rooted in the "spiritual warfare" practiced by the self-styled apostles and prophets, but that pales in comparison to Pray and A.C.T's explicit reliance upon Seven Mountains theology:

For these reasons, we call on all faithful Christians to join us in the fight to defend life, protect and revitalize marriage, and preserve religious liberty and the rights of conscience. We must work tirelessly in all the “seven spheres of cultural influence:” (1) the home, (2) the church, (3) civil government / law / military, (4) business / technology, (5) education, (6) media, and finally (7) arts / entertainment / professional sports.

We noted a while ago that Jim Garlow, who serves as Chairman of Newt Gingrich's Renewing American Leadership is a Seven Mountains advocate and close friend of Lou Engle, so it is no surprise to see him featured on the front page of Pray and A.C.T's website ... but it is surprising to see Gingrich's organization openly aligning itself with Engle's new organization - and it is even more surprising to see all of the other Religious Right leaders who have also climbed on board:

Jim Garlow, Skyline Church & Renewing American Leadership
Chuck Colson, Founder Prison Fellowship & BreakPoint
Che Ahn, Harvest International Ministry
Vonette Bright, Co-Founder, Campus Crusade for Christ, International
Bishop Keith Butler, Founding Pastor, Word of Faith International Christian Center
Kristina Arriaga, Executive Director, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
Jim Daly, President & CEO, Focus on the Family
Lou Engle, TheCall to Conscience, TheCall
Father Joseph Fessio, Editor in Chief, Ignatius Press, San Francisco
Maggie Gallagher, National Organization for Marriage
Professor Robert George, Princeton University
Professor Timothy George, Dean, Beeson Divinity School
Jack Hayford, Founder and Chancellor, The King's College and Seminary
Mike Huckabee, Former Governor of Arkansas & Host, The Mike Huckabee Show
Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., High Impact Church Coalition
Alveda King, Silent No More Awareness Campaign
Richard Land, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Ron Luce, Founder, Teen Mania & Battle Cry
Bishop Richard Malone, Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland (Maine)
Eva Muntean & Dolores Meehan, Co-Founders, West Coast Walk for Life, San Francisco
Penny Nance, Concerned Women for America
Tony Perkins, Family Research Council
James Robison, Life Outreach, International
Samuel Rodriguez, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
Alan Sears, Alliance Defense Fund
Chuck Stetson, Let’s Strengthen Marriage Campaign

Pray and A.C.T is planning a series of Call-like events leading up to the 2010 election; events that are explicitly rooted in a theology which seeks to place Christians in complete "dominion" over every aspect of this nation ... and this effort is now being supported by the heads of highly influential "mainstream" Religious Right groups like Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, National Organization for Marriage Concerned Women for America, the Southern Baptist Convention, and even a potential Republican presidential candidate in Mike Huckabee. 

A few months ago, Janet Porter of Faith 2 Action lost her radio program because of her growing support for this sort of Seven Mountains Dominionism, and today this very same theology is being embraced by the Religious Right as a whole ... and I don't think it is possible to overstate just what a radical transformation the movement appears to be undergoing.  

Fill in the Blank: Gays Are Like ____

It seems that one of the emerging ideas among anti-gay activists is to try and explain the gay menace in terms that their supporters can easily understand by equating those seeking equal treatment under the law to terrorist who kill innocent civilians.  

Last month, Pat Boone declared that “homosexual activists” were just like the jihidists who carried out the attacks of September 11th, only more dangerous:

The jihadists in these organized, hugely funded attacks on our morality and virtue are not Middle Eastern – they're homegrown Americans who actually believe they're promoting a better America by destroying the foundations on which this nation was built!

And just in case that analogy wasn’t clear enough, he returned this week to equate the protests over the passage of Proposition 8 to the recent terrorist attack in Mumbai that killed nearly 200 people:

Have you not seen the awful similarity between what happened in Mumbai and what's happening right now in our cities?

Oh, I know the homosexual "rights" demonstrations haven't reached the same level of violence, but I'm referring to the anger, the vehemence, the total disregard for law and order and the supposed rights of their fellow citizens. I'm referring to the intolerance, the hate seething in the words, faces and actions of those who didn't get their way in a democratic election, and who proclaim loudly that they will get their way, no matter what the electorate wants!

Hate is hate, no matter where it erupts. And hate, unbridled, will eventually and inevitably boil into violence.

Then, just for good measure, founder and chairman of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty Seamus Hasson got in on the act while discussing his organization’s recent full-page newspaper ad, telling KPFA’s “The Morning Show” host Aimee Allison that protestors are no different than Al Qaeda:  

Well, whether it’s an organized movement like Al Qaeda or whether it’s the Al Qaeda-like, um, inspired acts of terrorism elsewhere, people are right to be concerned about, um, radical Islamist violence.

Even Right-Wing Becket Fund Disagrees with Prager

On talk show host’s desire to prevent Muslim congressman from Koran photo op.
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Becket Fund Posts Archive

Peter Montgomery, Tuesday 03/19/2013, 12:04pm
The ongoing campaign by the Religious Right and its conservative Catholic allies to redefine religious liberty in America – which has been covered extensively by PFAW and Right Wing Watch – is the focus of a new report released on Monday by Political Research Associates, a think tank that also monitors right-wing organizations. “Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights,” was written by Jay Michaelson, who published a condensed version in the Daily Beast. Michaelson’s report reviews the organizational players and the strategies they... MORE >
Peter Montgomery, Wednesday 02/20/2013, 6:27pm
The Family Research Council hosted a panel discussion Wednesday on religious liberty in America.  If you have paid any attention at all to the frantic warnings from FRC’s Tony Perkins that tyranny is on the march, you could have guessed what was coming.  The overall theme of the conversation was that the HHS mandate for insurance coverage of contraception is a dire threat to religious freedom in America.  So are the advance of marriage equality and laws against anti-gay discrimination – or the “sexual liberty agenda.” The panel featured three lawyers:... MORE >
Kyle Mantyla, Tuesday 07/06/2010, 11:34am
For weeks now I have been writing regular posts on the increasing intersection between the "mainstream" Religious Right and Dominionist prophetic intercessors like Lou Engle, Cindy Jacobs, Rick Joyner and others. But I have always been careful to note that just because the more "mainstream" leaders have been joining forces with these self-proclaims prophets and apostles, it didn't mean that they necessarily shared their Dominionist agenda.  But I think it is fair to say that I no longer need to be so careful, as the leaders of the Religious Right... MORE >
Kyle Mantyla, Wednesday 12/10/2008, 12:07pm
It seems that one of the emerging ideas among anti-gay activists is to try and explain the gay menace in terms that their supporters can easily understand by equating those seeking equal treatment under the law to terrorist who kill innocent civilians.   Last month, Pat Boone declared that “homosexual activists” were just like the jihidists who carried out the attacks of September 11th, only more dangerous: The jihadists in these organized, hugely funded attacks on our morality and virtue are not Middle Eastern – they're homegrown Americans who actually... MORE >
, Saturday 12/09/2006, 12:59am
On talk show host’s desire to prevent Muslim congressman from Koran photo op. MORE >