people for the american way

What Year Is This?

On April 15, 1995, Timothy McVeigh destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

A little over a week later, President Bill Clinton delivered a speech in which he defended the First Amendment while raising concerns about the impact of violent and hateful rhetoric:

[W]e hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable. You ought to see—I'm sure you are now seeing the reports of some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America today.

Well, people like that who want to share our freedoms must know that their bitter words can have consequences and that freedom has endured in this country for more than two centuries because it was coupled with an enormous sense of responsibility on the part of the American people.

If we are to have freedom to speak, freedom to assemble, and, yes, the freedom to bear arms, we must have responsibility as well. And to those of us who do not agree with the purveyors of hatred and division, with the promoters of paranoia, I remind you that we have freedom of speech, too. And we have responsibilities, too. And some of us have not discharged our responsibilities. It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of reckless speech and behavior.

If they insist on being irresponsible with our common liberties, then we must be all the more responsible with our liberties. When they talk of hatred, we must stand against them. When they talk of violence, we must stand against them. When they say things that are irresponsible, that may have egregious consequences, we must call them on it. The exercise of their freedom of speech makes our silence all the more unforgivable. So exercise yours, my fellow Americans. Our country, our future, our way of life is at stake.

For this, Clinton was pilloried by the Right, which prompted People For the American Way to release a memo [PDF] on "free speech, irresponsible speech, and the climate of intolerance" which, remarkably, we could probably release today after making only a few small changes:

Language that attributes heinous motives and goals to individuals and organizations -- such as accusations that liberals are out to destroy Christianity or that advocates for civil rights for gays and lesbians want to molest young children -- destroys any recognition of common interest and any hope of finding common ground among political opponents. That is a terribly dangerous situation in a democratic society.

It is tempting to reassure ourselves by saying that hate speech is the denizen of only the furthest fringes of American political life. Unfortunately, that assertion is clearly not true. Elected officials and highly visible political leaders are among those who spread messages of fear and suspicion, over and over, day in and day out. The repetition of such messages cannot contribute to the well-being of our communities or the health of our society at large. Regardless of whether such messages "cause" violent behavior, they clearly serve to legitimize those who do violate the law.

Pat Robertson is a former Presidential candidate, the patriarch of a political movement, a television broadcaster, and an author. His television show and his books reach millions of Americans. Unfortunately, the message he preaches is often this: Christians are under attack in America by liberals and by a government that wants desperately to destroy their faith and their families. "I do believe this year that there's going to be persecutions against Christians. I think the government is going to step up its attacks against Christians," he told television viewers last year. "The government frankly is our enemy and we're going to see more and more of the people who have been places in office last year ... getting control of the levers of power and they will begin to know how to use them to hurt those who are perceived as their enemies."

...

Last year, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission proposed regulations -- originating with the Bush administration -- to protect American workers against religious bigotry and harassment on the job, Religious Right political groups portrayed the effort in apocalyptic terms, telling members that the Clinton Administration was so hostile to the Christian faith that the government was planning to make it illegal to wear cross-shaped jewelry, carry a Bible to work, or talk about religion with a co-worker. "Why is the Clinton Administration doing this?" asked Jerry Falwell. "Because they do not want God in American society." It was all patently untrue, and the EEOC offered to clarify that the regulations were designed to protect, not inhibit, workers' religious liberty. Nevertheless, the regulations were killed.

The war against the EEOC regulations was an ideal operation for political organizations willing to trade short-term gain for long-term damage to American society. By claiming (falsely) that the end of religious liberty was near, groups could motivate supporters to call and write elected officials. By refusing to acknowledge government officials' willingness to cooperate toward reaching a solution, and demanding instead withdrawal of the regulations, the organizations' leaders could flex their political muscle for members of Congress and brag to their own members that they had prevented the arrival of tyranny. Meanwhile, millions of Americans were convinced that the government was out to destroy their faith and freedom.

Some of the most incendiary invective is directed against gay and lesbian Americans and their allies in the effort to win legal protection from discrimination. Gays and lesbians are routinely portrayed - by individuals at or near the center of conservative politics in America - as evil individuals who prey on children and want to destroy the institutions of church and family. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has parroted the assertion of the Traditional Values Coalition's Lou Sheldon that teaching about homosexuality in public schools amounts to an effort to "recruit" teenagers into homosexuality. Gingrich has promised Sheldon that the House will hold hearings on the gay "influences" in the schools. Last year Sheldon told his supporters that "President Bill Clinton has quietly put into place homosexual special rights regulations that will devastate our freedom of religion, speech and association, not to mention destroy our society's cultural and moral fiber. AND ALL THIS IS BEING DONE BEHIND OUR BACK."

...

Randall Terry, one of the founders of Operation Rescue, has told followers, "I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good. ... We have a Biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this county. We don't want equal time. We don't want pluralism."

...

When President Clinton, unequivocally declaring his support for unbridled freedom of speech, called for Americans to respond to hateful rhetoric, his political opponents were quick to twist his words. Pat Robertson told viewers that the President and "those on the left" wanted to use the tragic Oklahoma City bombing "to still the voices of legitimate protest." Oliver North, Rush Limbaugh and others leapt at the chance to glean short-term political gain. When the President in fact called for more speech and more American voices, he was accused of trying to silence voices of dissent. That is precisely the kind of untruth that feeds the current dangerous levels of cynicism and distrust toward the government. And it is ironic to see politically powerful individuals, with powerful voices, claiming the role of victim in order to breed fear and resentment among their supporters.

SCOTUS Round-Up

Americans United for Life has sent a letter to the Senate demanding exhaustive hearings on President Obama's nominee to replace Justice David Souter:

When the Senate Judiciary Committee gathers to hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee, one pro-life group tells the panel's chairman it wants a full discussion of where the nominee stands on abortion. The letter comes from Charmaine Yoest, the president of Americans United for Life.

"The most important question a nominee for the Supreme Court must answer is to articulate their judicial philosophy: will they advance an agenda that limits the right of the people to determine the content of abortion-related laws through the democratic process?" she writes.

"In the days ahead, we look to our Senators to uphold their duty to raise serious questions on the nominee’s judicial philosophy and reject any nominee who places personal preference over upholding the Constitution," the AUL leader adds.

Should her organization not like the answers, Yoest promises an immediate response.

"We will oppose any nominee to the Court who believes social activism trumps interpreting the Constitution," she says.

David Weigel of the Washington Independent profiles several of the right-wing judicial activist groups:

Curt Levey sometimes wears a lapel pin with the faces of Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito and the legend “Thanks, W.” Once in a while he swaps that out for another button, with the same portraits of George W. Bush’s two high court appointments, but a more forward-looking slogan: “The kind of change we can believe in.”

“I used to work to confirm good judicial nominees,” Levey told TWI this week. “Now I’m trying to limit the damage Barack Obama can do.”

Levey is the executive director of the Committee for Justice, one of the hubs of a far-flung but close-knit group of conservatives who plan on holding President Barack Obama’s first Supreme Court pick up to a magnifying glass. During the Bush years, Levey worked at the Center for Individual Rights, a libertarian law firm that made its biggest impact with the landmark Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger affirmative action cases. Levey went on to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, then left to work on Supreme Court confirmations with conservatives who had prepped for these fights ever since the failed 1987 nomination of Judge Robert Bork.

Movement conservatives are in a position to oppose the nomination of almost any nominee that the president puts forward. In conversation with TWI, activists portrayed the coming confirmation hearings as a chance to peel the bark off of the president’s bipartisan image, to unite the conservative movement, and to learn lessons for future hearings with higher stakes. Few imagined that the president could get a much more liberal pick than retiring Justice David Souter through the Senate. Their focus was not so much on defeating this pick — an incredibly difficult task with only 40 Republican senators — but on carving out an election issue for the 2010 midterms and on building capital for a theoretical future battle to replace one of the court’s conservatives.

“This can be an educational moment for the American people,” said Gary Marx, the executive director of the Judicial Confirmation Network. “This is a chance to reaffirm the meaning of judicial restraint and explode the myth that Barack Obama is trans-partisan leader.”

They have some strength in numbers. While Levey cautioned that “the groups on the right are smaller than the groups on the left,” such as People for the American Way, he put together one of the first intra-movement conference calls on the coming Supreme Court fight days after the 2008 election, bringing on around 50 people. In the months since, he has collected around 30 short dossiers (averaging three pages each) on possible Obama nominees. The quiet coalition that’s ready to scrutinize Obama’s nominees includes several people who faced Democratic wrath during the Bush years, such as Tim Goeglein, a former White House aide who is now a vice president at the political arm of Focus on the Family, and Manny Miranda, a one-time aide to former Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) who spent the Roberts and Alito confirmation battles at the head of his own effort, the Third Branch Conference.

“A lot of the old Bush people went on to law firms,” Levey explained. “No one group has the resources to do 30 research memos, but by pooling out work to people and recruiting pro bono help, we’ve got more than we need at this point.”

Finally, there is lots of speculation about how Republicans and the Right would respond to a gay SCOTUS nominee, with Sen. Jeff Session saying that it wouldn't be "an automatic disqualification" while Sen. John Thune is not so sure:

“I know the administration is being pushed, but I think it would be a bridge too far right now,” said GOP Chief Deputy Whip John Thune. “It seems to me this first pick is going to be a kind of important one, and my hope is that he'll play it a little more down the middle. A lot of people would react very negatively.”

The interesting this about Thune's statement is that it sounds an awful lot like the statement Tony Perkins made earlier this week:

"I think that would be a bridge too far for him to be honest because that would enter a whole new element into the debate that I don't think he's ready for," said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. "A parallel to that would be Bill Clinton's gays in the military battle, which really hurt his agenda from that point forward."

Perkins said his group would not investigate anyone's sexual preferences and planned to focus on a nominee's judicial views. "The issue is the ideology," he said.

The Facts, Well They're Sort of Irrelevant Here

The news from today’s right-wing press conference on the Hate Crimes legislation: no news at all, in case you were expecting any. GOP Representatives Louie Gohmert of Texas and Trent Franks of Arizona joined by Bishop Harry Jackson and spokespeople from other groups including the Traditional Values Coalition and Concerned Women for America for another opportunity to spread lies about the intent of hate crimes legislation. Even with explicit First Amendment protections for clergy and religious communities written into the Hate Crimes legislation, the right wing’s dishonest talking points remain the same: The Hate Crimes bill will threaten religious teachings on morality and First Amendment rights as pastor’s sermons could be considered “hate speech.” And, of course, pastors could be prosecuted for “conspiracy to commit a hate crime.”

We got a copy of the talking points handed out by Rep. Louie Gohmert’s people:

“The Hate Crimes bill creates a new Federal “Thought Crime.” The Hate Crimes bill will require criminal investigations of a suspect’s philosophical beliefs, politics, biases, religion, membership in organizations, activities of those organizations, and any past statements.”

And perhaps one of the most ridiculous talking points comes from the Traditional Values Coalition, who says “the ‘moral’ of this law, if it has one, is that child molesters and those who only ‘date’ dead people need to be protected but is open season on pastors and churchgoers:”

“Ensures that crimes against a transgender, drag queen or a gay man are treated more harshly than a sexual assault on a child. It will make pedophiles a protected class who can claim federal protection if they are injured by a parent as a result of molesting a child.” Read more

Who needs facts when you can just make stuff up (and when you’re getting paid to do it). For the real facts on hate crimes, People For the American Way and the African American Ministers in Action put together a helpful 2-pager on the legislation.

Report From Harry Jackson's Anti-Marriage Rally in DC

Bishop Harry Jackson, the point man for the Religious Right’s anti-gay outreach to African Americans, hosted a rally in downtown Washington D.C. across the street from the District building where the D.C. Council meets.  Jackson and his outraged entourage repeatedly threatened political retribution against Mayor Adrian Fenty and openly gay Councilmember David Catania for the Council’s preliminary vote to recognize marriages of same-sex couples performed legally in other states. 

Jackson had a much smaller crowd than the thousands he had hoped for.  As the rally began, there were well under 100 people; by the end there may have been close to 200. They were an enthusiastic bunch, shouting “the Devil is a liar” and other encouragement to the speakers.  Jackson made excuses about how little time they had to mobilize, but promised to pack the Council chambers on May 5 for the next vote.  Jackson said his group would be distributing inserts for churches to include in their bulletins this Sunday.

Jackson was joined at the podium by representatives of the Missionary Baptist pastors’ network as well as several Hispanic pastor group representatives, as well as the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, who made a few unremarkable remarks.  Focus on the Family’s James Dobson sent a letter supporting Jackson and attacking the members of the D.C. Council.  To this D.C. resident, the most disappointing moment was former Mayor and current Councilmember Marion Barry leading the crowd in chants against marriage equality (though he noted that he supports civil unions).

For those who have watched Jackson or read People For the American Way Foundation’s new report on him, there was expected rhetoric, such as Jackson criticizing gay rights supporters for “usurping” and “hijacking” the civil rights movement.  He of course had no problem using iconic civil rights songs (Lift Every Voice and Sing, We Shall Overcome) as part of his effort to deny equality to a group of their fellow Americans.

There was also some edgier anti-gay rhetoric.  Jackson compared marriage between gay couples to marriage between close relatives, or between “a man and a three-year old.”  One of the final speakers was a Rev. Daniels, who Jackson recruited for the rally from Florida.  He was fixated on gay sex acts, repeatedly urging people to “explain the act” because it would turn people’s stomachs and turn them against marriage equality.

Jackson ended by sending part of the crowd across the street to stand on the sidewalks in front of the District Building and lift their hands toward it while he prayed, “Washington, D.C., we call you into alignment with the word of God.”

We’ll get some video highlights up later today.

UPDATE: Here is the video of Marion Barry declaring the anti-gay pastors "the moral leaders of this community" and himself "a politician who's moral":

Our Compliments to The Chef

In his most recent video update, Faith and Action's Rob Schenck reports that among the things he has on his schedule today is a "prayer service in the office of one of the better known US Senators," but that is all the information he is able to give because ... well, we're watching (fast forward to the 2:00 mark):

"This very video blog is followed by People For the American Way, which finds reason to criticize just about everything that anybody does who has any belief in God or morality.  And you can see that they actually track me and these reports for their constituency and they do it always in a critical manner.  I can't recall ever being complimented ... well, maybe once."

Now, in our defense, we are not criticizing Schenck because he has a "belief in God or morality" (which is itself a rather offensive insinuation that we are a bunch of immoral God-haters) but rather because of his actions, his ties to other hard-line right-wing groups, and especially his rather radical past

But in fairness to Schenck, he is correct to note that we have probably never complimented him, so let me take this opportunity to do so by saying that the omelet he is making looks delicious.

The Religious Right's New Demand: Stop Calling Us the Religious Right

It seems that leaders of the Religious Right are tired of being associated with the Religious Right because nobody likes the Religious Right.  Unfortunately for them, they are the Religious Right and that is what we are going to keep calling them, especially now that they are saying we should stop calling them that:

[S]everal politically conservative evangelicals said in interviews that they do not want to be identified with the "Religious Right," "Christian Right," "Moral Majority," or other phrases still thrown around in journalism and academia.

"There is an ongoing battle for the vocabulary of our debate," said Gary Bauer, president of American Values. "It amazes me how often in public discourse really pejorative phrases are used, like the 'American Taliban,' 'fundamentalists,' 'Christian fascists,' and 'extreme Religious Right.' "

...

Gary Schneeberger, vice president of media and public relations for Focus on the Family, said that when writers include terms like "Religious Right" and "fundamentalist," they can create negative impressions.

"Terms like 'Religious Right' have been traditionally used in a pejorative way to suggest extremism," Schneeberger said. "The phrase 'socially conservative evangelicals' is not very exciting, but that's certainly the way to do it."

...

[M]any groups would rather distance themselves from the Religious Right, even though they may agree on several political issues. Richard Land said he corrects numerous reporters who call him a leader of the Religious Right, explaining that he represents a group of Southern Baptists who would probably consider themselves conservative evangelicals.

"When the so-called 'Religious Right' agrees with us, we applaud their good taste and good judgment," said Land, who is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention. Some phrases need to be eliminated from journalists' vocabulary entirely, he said. "Until Tony Perkins or Jim Dobson puts a pistol on the table and threatens to kill someone, they shouldn't be called ayatollah of the Right or the Jihadists of the Right."

...

Organizational leaders like Tony Perkins of Family Research Council want a term that includes other religious groups like Catholics, Jews, and Mormons so that they can see themselves as fighting for the same cause.

"It's not accurate to say that the Christian Right or the Religious Right is simply a narrow slice of evangelicals," Perkins said. "Will everyone identify themselves as part of the Religious Right? No, but they do share a portion of values."

If the phrase "Religious Right" has negative connotations, it probably stems primarily from the fact that the people who have traditionally represented the Religious Right have caused it to, you know, have negative connotations.  

When people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson go on television and blame the 9/11 attacks on "pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, [and] all of them who have tried to secularize America," that is the sort of thing that tends to create negative impressions about the Religious Right. 

And even if they were called "socially conservative evangelicals," this type of rhetoric would still create negative impressions about the term "socially conservative evangelicals" ... and then "socially conservative evangelicals" would be telling everyone to stop calling them "socially conservative evangelicals."

You see, it is not the term that it is problem - it is the Religious Right's agenda and rhetoric.

Does Anyone Understand the Meaning of "Used"?

Anyone who have been reading this blog over the last week knows, I have spent a great deal of time trying to knock down the misinformation swirling around regarding a provision in the stimulus bill that would prohibit funds for being used to upgrade or repair university facilities when said facilities function is primarily religious.

But, despite my efforts, this fraud keeps cropping up on right-wing website, with the Christian Coalition now spreading it and the Family Research Council continuing to peddle it:

First, we know that the current stimulus legislation in Congress is a disaster for the free market economy. But, did you know that there are limitations in the legislation against religious liberty? David French of Phi Beta Cons on National Review Online finds some disturbing facts restricting religious liberty within the stimulus legislation.

The Higher Education, Modernization and Renovation component of the bill requires that the money allocated in the stimulus would not be spent on religious instruction, worship, or any department of divinity, or any building that would be devoted for religious purposes on college campuses.

So, this leaves the question: where will religious groups meet on campus? I guess this means it will be back to dorm rooms or nearby churches. However, this ban would not apply to groups, like Amnesty International, College Feminists, Greenpeace, etc., who can meet in any room on campus. Seems odd, doesn't it? I guess it is 24/7 liberal indoctrination...thanks to the Obama's stimulus plan.

FRC doesn't provide a link to French's post ... but if they did send their readers there, they'd find out that French, who happens to be Senior Legal Counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, links to our first post about this whole issue and says that we are right:

One clause indeed prohibits funding for buildings only when a "substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission." (emphasis added). The meaning here is obvious, and it clearly applies to buildings like chapels, or perhaps divinity schools, or many facilities at religious universities. It has no real application to secular, public universities that open up classroom buildings to student groups.

Another clause, however, prohibits funding for buildings that are "used" for "sectarian instruction" or "religious worship." It does not say "primarily used." It simply says "used." For People for the American Way's reading to be correct, one has to assume that the drafters intended "used" to be read as "primarily used."

I have to give French credit, as his post on this issue is the only one that I have seen that actually seeks to understand the provision instead of simply proclaiming it anti-Christian.  And he raises an interesting point regarding the meaning of the word "used" in the section that proclaims that "no funds awarded under this section may be used for ... modernization, renovation, or repair of facilities used for sectarian instruction, religious worship, or a school or department of divinity."

French is correct to note that the provision does not say "primarily used" ... but neither does it say "occasionally used" and yet, for some reason, that is how the Right is interpreting it.  Despite the fact that, as Sen. Dick Durbin pointed out last week, this sort of language "has been in the law for 40 years [and] is the result of three Supreme Court decisions," the Right's interpretation of this standard, boilerplate language is that it means that any building on campus that is ever occasionally "used" for religious worship (i.e., a student group meets in their dorm for a Bible study) would be prohibited from using stimulus funds, as opposed to the more straightforward and logical interpretation that "used" refers to a building's primary function (i. e., a church is occasionally "used" for potluck dinners and Bingo nights, but its primary function is religious worship).

The language of this provision is clearly concerned with facilities in which a "substantial portion of the functions ... are subsumed in a religious mission" and it is within that context that the word "used" must be understood.  

Only an intentionally obtuse reading of this provision could lead one to conclude that the word "used" in this context was intended to mean "occasionally used" rather than "primarily used." Yet that is exactly what the Right is claiming ... and I, in turn, have had to spend hours of my life rebutting false claims that hinge entirely on their nonsensical understanding of the meaning of the word "used."

I feel so used.

NOM Seek to Save DOMA

In that last month, I've written a couple of posts about the Alliance For Marriage's "Protect DOMA" efforts and now, via Americablog, we see that the National Organization for Marriage has launched their own DOMA Defense Fund:

We invite you to stand with millions of Americans in support of the Defense of Marriage Act, which is under attack from gay marriage activists. In the wake of repeated setbacks at the ballot box, and with an increasingly receptive audience in Washington, gay marriage advocates are now seeking to impose same-sex marriage on the entire nation with a single stroke of the pen.

Last September, President Barack Obama told the Washington Blade: "I have long been on record opposing DOMA, and an Obama-Biden administration will work hard to ensure that we can pass a repeal of that law as soon as possible." And within minutes of his inauguration, the White House website had been updated to reflect President Obama's radical agenda regarding DOMA.

It's DOMA that prevents four judges in Massachusetts from imposing same-sex marriage on the entire nation. It's DOMA that protects the right of 45 states to enforce their own marriage laws instead of the law handed down by a narrow majority of the Connecticut court. And it's DOMA on which gay marriage activists have now set their sights -- seeking to turn back our legislative victories over the past decade in one fell swoop.

If we don't act now, DOMA will soon be repealed -- quickly, quietly and with little fanfare. It's up to us -- you and me -- to make sure the American people know that DOMA is under attack, and that our elected officials know how deeply we believe in marriage. Together we can make a difference even in Washington!

John Aravosis asserts that "this is indicative of the difference between conservatives and liberals: The right organizes years on an issue years in advance, the left organizes after we've lost." But that is not the case here and now seems like a good time to remind you about People For the American Way’s Dump DOMA petition - please add your name to the effort today.

Exposing My Own Ignorance

I have to admit that when I saw this post on the Box Turtle Bulletin about David Hill being fired from his job simply for being gay, my first thought was "this can't possibly be legal":

A man said he was fired from his hotel job for his sexual orientation and claims the owner who let him go dared him to sue.

David Hill is looking for a new job after he said he was fired Tuesday from a former Brentwood Holiday Inn, which now goes by the name Artee Hotel.

"They literally said to me because of my orientation and my alternative lifestyle, that I was not a fit for the hotel," said Hill.

Hill said he used to be the human resources director and is shocked at the owner's decision to dismiss him because of his sexual preference.

"The owner (Tarun Surti) said, 'I don't give a damn. They can sue me. I will not have any of the gays in leadership roles in my hotel.' And that's a quote," said Hill. 

Embarrassingly, it took a co-worker to point out that, in fact, this is entirely legal thanks to the consistent failure to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act:

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) offers Congress the opportunity to ensure workplace equality by protecting LGBT workers from employment discrimination. ENDA is pending federal legislation that would ban employment discrimination based on an individual's sexual orientation. The bill protects workers from discriminatory hiring, firing, promotion or compensation practices, as well as retaliation for reporting such practices.

Considering that I work at People For the American Way and have actually mentioned ENDA numerous times in my writings, it's extra shameful that I never realized this ... but I didn't.  

And since I am probably not the only one who has never made this connection, I offer up this post exposing my own ignorance in an effort to point out that this sort of thing can and does happen and hopefully debunk the Right's claims that ENDA is little more than a nefarious effort to grant "special rights" to gays in the workplace:

A U.S. House vote is just around the corner on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) — a bill that gives homosexuals special rights in the workplace. ENDA would add "sexual orientation" to a list of federally protected classes that includes race and religion.

“My race is being compromised, in that gays are saying that they need protected status just like someone who’s of a race that they can’t change," said Bishop Harry Jackson, president of the High Impact Leadership Coalition.

“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue, this is a moral values issue, and it’s an issue of the integrity of the civil rights movement.”

Dueling DOMA Petitions

Yesterday, the Alliance for Marriage announced that it was launching its own "Protect DOMA" petition designed to counter our own "Dump DOMA" efforts:

The Alliance for Marriage Foundation today launched a national petition drive to Protect DOMA in response to the People for the American Way's (PFAW) efforts to encourage Congressional Leadership to "Dump DOMA."

In November, the Alliance for Marriage Foundation began to lay the foundation for our Protect DOMA campaign on Capitol Hill, with the public launch of www.ProtectDOMA.org. AFM's campaign is deliberately designed to build on AFM's diverse and centrist coalition and to reach both Democratic and Republican members of the Congress.

Since we now find ourselves in the middle of a signature-gathering arms race with AFM, perhaps it would be a good time for those who have not already done so to sign on to our efforts and help us spread the word.

Prop 8’s Call to Extremism

As we’ve noted, the organizers of a massive stadium rally pushing the anti-gay initiative in California have snagged for the stage the biggest name in the Religious Right universe. No, not Sarah Palin, but James Dobson of Focus on the Family. One benefit might be to draw media attention from the event’s organizer, Lou Engle. He’s far less well-known than Dobson, and organizers might prefer to keep it that way.

Engle is an unabashed “dominionist” – someone who thinks the church, under the leadership of modern-day apostles like him, should rule over government and other institutions of society. He thinks of himself as a John the Baptist who badgers Christian teens to adopt a radical lifestyle of fasting and prayer that will bring God’s intercession against gays, liberal judges, and the like. And his style – screaming at the top of his lungs and rapidly rocking back and forth – is a sharp contrast with Dobson’s polished media-star demeanor.

A new report by People For the American Way Foundation documents some of his other charms, which include:

  • praying for God to “terrorize” judges until they fall like stars from the sky>
  • believing that the appearance of the goddess Minerva on California’s state seal is a sign of demonic domination over the state by the “Jezebel spirit”
  • suggesting that marriage equality is Satanic and legal abortion spells America’s doom>

Though, given Prop. 8 leaders’ tendency to describe their campaign in apocalyptic terms, and the increasingly shrill and panicky proclamations of doom from the Right over the prospect of an Obama presidency, Dobson and Engle are likely to feel right at home in each other’s company.

McCain-Palin Pit Bulls Turn Feral

There's a long history in American politics of exploiting divisions and fanning bigotry to win elections. In recent decades those strategies were honed by Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. Now the torch has passed to Steve Schmidt, and he’s done just about everything possible to fan the flames.

Schmidt’s tactics and the right-wing echo chamber have convinced millions of Americans that the nation is about to elect someone who hates America and “pals around with terrorists.” Just take a look at this video of supporters outside a Palin rally:

In recent weeks, the right wing has grown even more frenzied as McCain and his allies pushed the ACORN voter fraud hoax. Not only is Obama a Manchurian candidate, the thinking goes, but his evildoer comrades at ACORN are trying to steal the election. It’s little wonder that some people are going berserk.

McCain, Palin, Schmidt, Limbaugh, Hannity and the rest of them have created something very powerful, but very ugly, and it’s grown too big for them to control. Here is just some of what happens when you train your pit bulls to fear and hate and attack, and then they get loose:

Obama lawn sign replaced by rebel flag

Obama sign burned on black family's front lawn

Anti-Obama Fury Spills Over Into Down-Ticket Contests: "Bomb Obama"

Death threat, vandalism hit ACORN after McCain comments

ACORN Deluged with Threatening and Racist Voicemails and Emails

Obama Called a Socialist and 'Un-American'

McCain supporters heckle early voters

Dead bear covered with Obama signs found at school

People For the American Way is tracking such incidents around the nation. If something happens in your community that people should know about, please get in touch.

Harry Jackson: Hurricanes, Hard Times Setup for Christians to Take Control

Bishop Harry Jackson, the Religious Right’s most visible African American spokesman, who has recently been shilling for an Astroturf campaign accusing environmentalists of waging a “war against the poor” got back basics when he kicked off this year’s Values Voter summit with a breakfast touting his High Impact Leadership Coalition, pushing his books, and asking for financial support for his anti-gay road tour in Florida to push a constitutional ban on same-sex couples getting married.

But Jackson also had his eye on a bigger prize – “We’re in a time of crisis when the Christians have to determine the course of the nation.” This isn’t a new theme for Jackson. At previous events he has called for activists to bring about “the rule and reign of the Cross” to America. Jackson was introduced by one of his associate pastors, who had sounded the same theme, saying, “now is the moment in history when Black and White churches in America must come together to direct the affairs of our nation.” It’s clear that electing the McCain-Palin ticket is an important step – the warm-up speaker was the chair of African Americans for McCain in Illinois who was promoting a new magazine for Black conservatives that pitches a David Barton-esque view of the Republican Party as the champion of Black America.

Jackson has adopted McCain’s audacious claim to be an outsider seeking change even thought Republicans have controlled the White House for the past eight years. Jackson was so eager to distance himself from the people he helped put into power that he engaged in some overt Bush-bashing, chastising the president and Karl Rove for selling out Christians by not forcing passage of the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment.

Jackson claimed that the series of hurricanes and tropical storms, the bad economy, and the war in Iraq are all part of God’s plan to create such hard times in America that people will turn to the church. “God is setting the state for our voice to be heard once again,” he said. “If they’re not going to listen to us in good times, it may take bad times to set that platform.” While joking that he didn’t want to sound like Rev. Jeremiah Wright, he said Wright raised an interesting question – is America, or should America, be under God’s judgment? Jackson said that if Christians, who he said have been playing defense for too long, would go on the offense and count on God’s help to overcome the nation’s sins, there’s still time to avoid that wrath. (Unless, I guess, you’re in the path of one of those stage-setting hurricanes.)

Jackson also told of being confronted in a Boston Market by a gay activist who confronted him about his role on an anti-gay conference call in California, which People For the American Way Foundation documented. “We have spies that are working against us; even in this meeting there may be some spies.” Jackson urged attendees to join in the 40 days of prayer and fasting that evangelical Christians in California have planned seeking God’s help in passing Proposition 8, and suggested it could also balance the fasting and prayers that Muslims all over the world are doing during Ramadan – “there is spiritual warfare going on.”

Right Gears Up to Fight “Armageddon of the Culture War”

For two hours earlier this week, pastors gathered at more than 200 sites throughout California, Arizona, and Florida to be exhorted by national Religious Right leaders like Tony Perkins, Harry Jackson, Maggie Gallagher, and Chuck Colson and others to hold nothing back in their efforts to fight against marriage equality.  The People For the American Way Foundation today released a memo [PDF] chronicling the call and outlining the Right’s plans for the weeks ahead:

The primary focus of the call was Proposition 8 in California, described by Colson as “the Armageddon of the culture war.” Many speakers invoked the language of warfare, raising up an army of believers, putting soldiers in the streets, being on the front lines of a battle. Lou Engle actually described a massive rally planned in Qualcomm stadium on November 1 as a “blitzkrieg moment.”

While speaker after speaker spoke of the dire threats same-sex married couples pose to “traditional” marriage, religious freedom, and civilization itself, the overall tone of the call was confidence that victory would be won with God’s help, 40 days of prayer and fasting before the election, teams of intercessors and prayer warriors around the country, and a massive highly organized deployment of volunteers in a systematic voter identification and turnout campaign.

Ron Luce from Teen Mania ministries and other organizers talked about plans to organize 300,000 youth and their families for an October 1 simulcast, and using them to reach 2.4 million. A representative of the Church Communication Network, a satellite network that has downlink equipment in 500 churches in California, 95 in Arizona, and 321 in Florida, said it would simulcast the youth event free of charge, and would make a satellite dish available “at cost” to churches who don’t yet have one. Said one speaker of the youth organizing, “if we don’t use them, Satan will.”

Another speaker, Rev. Dudley Rutherford, predicted that if Prop. 8 fails, the God-ordained institution of marriage would be destroyed; the engine of hate crimes legislation would be fueled, ultimately leading to it being illegal to read some sections of the Bible; the floodgates would be open to gay couples suing to force churches to marry them; and the polygamists would be next.

DeMint: Freedom of Speech Threatened by Disagreement

After Pat Robertson ranted about People For the American Way and other groups that listen to him and tell other people what he said—a process Robertson referred to, ironically, as the “squelching” of his speech—his guest applied the same argument to the culture war in general. “Americans who believe in traditional values are being forced to whisper,” intoned the CBN reporter introducing South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint. According to DeMint, the Religious Right is losing its “freedom of speech.”

I’ve really seen a lot of intimidation around South Carolina and around the country. People are afraid to say certain things are wrong and to make value judgments because they have been told that that’s hateful and it’s intolerant. …

Before the sixties, we knew abortion was wrong, and sex outside of marriage, and unwed births, pornography, homosexuality. Yet if you look now, the official or at least implicit position of the government [is] that all these things are right. And if you say they’re wrong, you’re going to be called down in the media, in the schools, and even in the churches. …

What we’re losing is our freedom of speech.

And just because our position might have a faith component, or a connection to some religious belief, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a right to speak it. And it shouldn’t mean that public policy shouldn’t reflect good ideas just because they have a religious connection.

DeMint’s charges of censorship and intimidation will come as a real surprise to readers of this blog, as we have quoted extreme statements by Religious Right activists, writers, and politicians at length on a daily basis for years. The senator seems to be arguing that his far-right opinions and legislation ought to be immune from criticism, and that disagreement with him or his allies (“calling him down,” as he put it) is the same thing as censorship. Does it really need to be said other people have the same freedom of speech he has—even those who disagree with him?

It’s also hard to credit DeMint’s claim that political arguments from religious faith are being suppressed, given how often both major presidential candidates talk about their personal faith or how Christian values should be reflected in public policy.

How We Help Pat Robertson Express Himself

As Media Matters and Americans United reported, Pat Robertson accused them and People For the American Way of trying to “squelch” his speech. Our method of “stifling” his freedom of expression? We broadcast his own words. From Tuesday’s “700 Club”:

Well our next guest and our next story I know about personally. There’s an organization called People For the American Way. They have camped on this program for decades. They record every single word that I say. If there’s any possibility that they can catch something or change it and then feed it to the AP, they do, and so the next thing you know it’s a big story.

Then, added to them is one of [the] ACLU operatives who started an organization called Americans United for Separation of Church and State. They have people assigned to monitor every word, and then to take those words, change them often, take connectives out of them, change the sense of it, and then feed it to a willing agent in the Associated Press. Then, on top of that, there’s another group, which has backing from somebody like George Soros, called, what is it, Media Matters.

So there are three of them trying to stifle the speech on this program and to embarrass those who make it.

Now, monitoring and responding to the Religious Right has been part of People For the American Way’s mission since 1981, so it’s true that we have been watching Robertson and other televangelists as they have sought to expand their political influence. And while it’s been years since Robertson’s 1988 presidential run, when he finished second in the Iowa caucus and birthed the Christian Coalition, he remains the head of an enormous media and religious empire, including the Christian Broadcasting Network, the “700 Club” (which contractually remains on the mainstream ABC Family channel), Regent University (whose low-ranked law school placed a number of graduates in the Bush Justice Department), and the affiliated American Center for Law and Justice (whose head, Jay Sekulow, played a key role in picking Bush’s judicial nominees).

Given Robertson’s continuing political clout, it shouldn’t be surprising that folks pay attention to him and even criticize him. As for “embarrassing” him, well, he does enough of that himself. Like when he and guest Jerry Falwell blamed us for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Get the Flash Player to see this video clip.

In the past, Robertson has complained about being “misquoted”—like when he said Ariel Sharon’s debilitating stroke was divine punishment for “dividing God’s land.” But given that we provided the full transcript and video of his comments, the claim did not hold up to scrutiny.

Even more absurd, however, is Robertson’s complaint that we are trying to censor him. In fact, it is completely the opposite. We bring Robertson’s message—in his own words—to a whole new audience.

The Nazi Thing

Zirkle and the Nazi PartyTony Zirkle’s 15 minutes of swastika-draped fame were widely reported last month, when the Indiana congressional candidate spoke at an American Nazi Party celebration of Adolf Hitler’s birthday. Zirkle, whose campaign warns of a link between Jews and pornography, offered the comical explanation that, despite the oversize Hitler portrait and Nazi flags directly behind him, the swastika armbands of the men on either side of him, and the words “Seig Heil” on the cake, “he didn't believe the event he attended included people necessarily of the Nazi mindset, pointing out the name isn't Nazi, but Nationalist Socialist Workers Party.” The candidate was duly reviled by his opponent in the Republican primary race, as well as by everybody else, as an isolated racist crackpot.

However, the report on the matter by the right-wing WorldNetDaily—a product of the anti-Bill Clinton Arkansas Project that now hosts columnists such as Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan, and Chuck Norris—offered an unusual twist. After reviewing the story and printing a number of random comments from other websites (a common journalistic technique at WND), the article tried to put it in a kind of context: "Other congressional candidates have raised eyebrows with their speeches, too," it stated. But its only example was a quote from Rep. Keith Ellison comparing the time after September 11, 2001, when the Bush Administration asserted new executive privileges, to the time after the burning of the Reichstag, when Hitler consolidated his powers.

While Ellison took heat for using the metaphor, there is, to put it mildly, a pretty obvious distinction between making a rhetorical comparison of your opponents' tactics to historical events in Nazi Germany, and actually forging an alliance with present-day Nazis based on apparently shared values. So why did WND choose this as its only attempt at context?

Ellison, of course, was the first Muslim member of Congress, and after his election in 2006, the Right launched an effort to portray his presence in Washington as a dire threat to the nation. WorldNetDaily offered obsessive coverage through dozens of flimsy, paranoid articles with titles such as “Doubts grow over Muslim lawmaker's loyalty” and “Muslim congressman called 'security' issue.”

Since WND is so desperate for an example of an anti-Semitic political figure, it’s fortunate that Ted Pike provided a timely reminder. Pike, head of the National Prayer Network, has been a frequent source of quotes for WND whenever the site covered proposed federal hate-crimes protections, most recently in December.

Pike is best-known, however, for pushing out anti-Semitic propaganda along with his father, a radio talker in the 1980s. As People For the American Way reported in a press release from 1989, Pike was warning that there was “a tendency toward Jewish domination of society,” that “Jewish international bankers” were behind the Bolshevik Revolution, and that the state of Israel was “the first stage in Satan’s plan to take this world from Christ and give it to the Antichrist.” Twenty years ago, Pike was warning that the Jewish motivation behind hate-crimes legislation was to silence churches; today, he warns of the “homosexual agenda.”

We were reminded of Pike—and his place as a privileged WorldNetDaily commentator—after he sent out an e-mail alert two weeks ago complaining that the Southern Poverty Law Center had cited the National Prayer Network as a hate group:

Jewish activist groups want to increasingly broaden the terms "hate" and "anti-Semitism" to include evangelicals. …

Jewish activists thus display a truly hateful intent—to harm Christians and deprive them of freedom. Such activists work to warp public and government perceptions of Christian conservatives—demonizing us as potential sources of “homophobic,” anti-Semitic bigotry and possible violence. SPLC alleges a 48 percent increase of threat from the "radical right" since 2000. Jewish attack groups such as the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, American Civil Liberties Union, and People for the American Way, smear “homophobic” evangelicals as being part of this “threat.”

After defaming Christians as "haters," Jewish supremacists want to actually outlaw Christian political activity and evangelism. The ADL created hate crime laws that will particularly outlaw reproof of sodomy and evangelism of non-Christians, especially Jews.

(Photo: The Times of Northwest Indiana.)

The Perils of Wooing Pat Robertson

In endorsing Rudy Giuliani today, Pat Robertson made clear that his support was based on his belief that Giuliani was the candidate best suited to defend “our population from the blood lust of Islamic terrorists,” but also sought to entice other right-wing leaders and voters to back him based on his promise to place ideologues on the Supreme Court:

Uppermost in the minds of social conservatives is the selection of future Supreme Court justices and lower court judges who will sit in both the federal circuit courts and the district courts … He understands the need for a conservative judiciary and with the help of the distinguished Ted Olson, who is here today, and other members of his team, has assured the American people that his choices for judicial appointments will be men and women who share the judicial philosophy of John Roberts and Antonin Scalia.

Watch video of Robertson endorsing Giuliani here.

With Robertson now backing Giuliani’s agenda, perhaps someone should ask Giuliani if he likewise backs Robertson’s:  

Tony Beam Making Our Jobs Easier

Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center, so that apparently makes him a part of the Religious Right, even if we have never heard of him.  But apparently he has heard of us and is concerned that all of the right-wing disarray and infighting is making our jobs easier:

The election of 2004 taught the Left in America an important lesson. A unified Christian conservative base means big wins for the political Right. To make sure they don’t suffer the agony of defeat again the Left launched a campaign to confuse and divide Evangelicals by minimizing the core social issues that have long kept us unified. By elevating environmental issues and overplaying the plight of those who suffer from injustice, Leftist leaders hoped to cause division in the Christian conservative base and thus neutralize one of the largest conservative voting blocks in the country.

We can expect no less from the likes of MoveOn.org or People for the American Way. But we certainly should not be guilty of making it easier for them to reach their goal by doing their work for them. In football, one of the most frustrating events is when your team coughs up the ball at a critical moment giving possession to the other team. The frustration is multiplied if the fumble comes at a critical point in the game where a shift in momentum could lead to the defeat of your team.

Beam goes out of his way not to criticize James Dobson for trying to place the kiss of death on Fred Thompson, but does criticize a “good friend” of his who did dare to criticize Dobson.  But mostly, Beam is troubled that all this airing of their dirty laundry in public is threatening them with the “complete loss of our influence in the political arena”:

There has been quite a bit of ink spilled in response to Dobson’s comments. A good friend of mine who I respect very much wrote an op-ed piece which called his remarks a “cheap shot” and he went on to suggest that his the comments were “less than smart.” With all due respect to my friend what is “less than smart” is for the Evangelical community to begin to turn on each other at the precise moment in history when unity is the only thing that will save us from the complete loss of our influence in the political arena. The culture war must be fought in the market place of ideas and the political arena is where we decide whose ideas will ultimately be backed by the force of law. There should be no energy spent venting our in- house disagreements in the public square.

The Right’s fear of completely losing its influence in the political area is exactly what we have been suggesting is behind the current tumult, so it was nice of Beam to explicitly admit it. 

Thanks for doing our work for us.

The Passing of D. James Kennedy

D. James Kennedy, the longtime leader of the Coral Ridge megachurch in Florida has died at the age of 76.

Since suffering a heart attack late last year, Kennedy’s health had steadily declined, leading to the shuttering of his Center for Reclaiming America for Christ in April and his official retirement from Coral Ridge Ministries last week, after which we put together a profile of his lengthy and influential career.

PFAW has long monitored Kennedy and his affiliate organizations, leading him, at one point, to claim that “the diabolical mission” of People For the American Way was “to crush the influence of the Christian religion in American society.”  

Below are some other memorable quotes from his years as a leading right-wing figure: 

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people for the american way Posts Archive

Brian Tashman, Friday 06/17/2011, 10:58am
Last night, People For the American Way senior fellow Peter Montgomery went on MSNBC's The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell to discuss the American Family Association's chief spokesman Bryan Fischer and his organization's work with Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Make sure to read our new Right Wing Watch: In Focus on Fischer here. And watch the interview with O'Donnell: Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy MORE >
Brian Tashman, Thursday 05/05/2011, 3:00pm
The Daily Show - Exclusive - David Barton Extended Interview Pt. 2 Tags: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook The Daily Show - Exclusive - David Barton Extended Interview Pt. 3 Tags: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook David Barton tells Jon Stewart that he never took President John Adams’ ideas on the relationship of church and state out of context. First Barton lies about Adams’ faith, positing that he was a 'Trinitarian Unitarian.' Unitarianism, however, is based on... MORE >
Brian Tashman, Thursday 05/05/2011, 12:50pm
The Daily Show - David Barton Pt. 2 Tags: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook In the second part of the televised interview on The Daily Show, David Barton claims that the Constitution contains “four references to God” in Article VII. Article VII reads: “The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.” That’s it. Barton is presumably referring to the following line: “Done in Convention by the... MORE >
Peter Montgomery, Thursday 05/05/2011, 11:10am
People For the American Way’s recent report on David Barton was subtitled, “Religious Right ‘Historian’ Hits the Big Time in Tea Party America.”   Barton has really hit the big time this week, with a profile in the New York Times and an appearance on “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart’s popular Comedy Central program. Anyone who questions Barton’s facility at manipulating and distorting history should watch him in action, denying reality with a straight face. In the extended interview available online, Stewart did a good job... MORE >
Brian Tashman, Wednesday 04/20/2011, 8:31am
Linda Harvey of Mission America talked to Peter LaBarbera about Friday’s Day of Silence, a day for students to protest anti-gay bullying and harassment in schools. As detailed in People For the American Way’s report “Big Bullies: How the Religious Right is Trying to Make Schools Safe for Bullies and Dangerous for Gay Kids,” the Religious Right has been leading a campaign against anti-bullying programs, and Harvey is one of the most outspoken critics of bullying-prevention programs. Harvey, who co-hosted the rabidly anti-gay Americans for Truth Academy with LaBarbera,... MORE >
Brian Tashman, Tuesday 04/19/2011, 1:08pm
David Barton believes that everything should operate under Biblical principles, and according to Barton, the Bible even has a view on rules for Internet service providers like Net Neutrality. Here’s a hint: the Bible opposes it. As noted in People For the American Way’s new report, “Barton’s Bunk: Religious Right ‘Historian’ Hits the Big Time in Tea Party America,” Barton finds that the Bible always has a pro-corporate, pro-GOP message. Barton and his partner Rick Green hosted Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) [no relation], a vocal foe of Net Neutrality who... MORE >
Kyle Mantyla, Tuesday 04/19/2011, 8:46am
Today, People For the American Way released a new report entitled "Barton’s Bunk: Religious Right ‘Historian’ Hits the Big Time in Tea Party America" written by PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery that exposes David Barton's shoddy pseudo-history and why it matters:  Barton’s growing visibility and influence with members of Congress and other Republican Party officials is troubling for many reasons: he distorts history and the Constitution for political purposes; he encourages religious divisiveness and unequal treatment for religious minorities;... MORE >
Brian Tashman, Thursday 03/31/2011, 12:59pm
Jerry Newcombe of Coral Ridge Ministries appeared on WallBuilders Live, the radio program of right-wing pseudo historian David Barton, to promote his new book about how the Constitution was supposedly shaped by the Bible. Speaking to Barton’s co-host Rick Green, Newcombe claimed that the goal of organizations such as People For the American Way, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation is to arrest and imprison people who pray in public. He points to D. James Kennedy, the founder of Coral Ridge Ministries, to argue that without prayer in schools,... MORE >