Ergun Caner

Ergun Caner Loses 'Fair Use' Lawsuit In Failed Attempt To Silence Critics

Ergun Caner has lost his lawsuit against a blogger who criticized the Religious Right figure as a fraud, with a federal judge ruling last week that Caner’s case had no merit.

After the September 11 attacks, Caner built a career around his purported conversion from Islamic extremism to Christianity, but his testimony was later exposed as fictitious. Not only did he completely fabricate details about his background — including facts about his birthplace, upbringing, and his family — but he also spoke gibberish during his speeches, which he claimed was Arabic.

Caner led Liberty University’s theological seminary at the time but the university cut ties with him following the revelations and he now heads Brewton-Parker College, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

A federal judge dismissed Caner’s lawsuit, a thinly veiled attempt to shut down criticism, against blogger Jason Smathers, as the Associated Baptist Press reports today:

Ergun Caner, president of Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, Ga., filed a lawsuit last summer claiming ownership of two videos that Smathers posted of Caner speaking as an expert on Islamic culture in training for U.S. Marines preparing to deploy in 2005.

U.S. District Judge Terry Means, however, said Caner failed to make a case and that Smathers used the material fairly, as copyright law permits, for “purposes such as criticism, comment, [or] news reporting.”

“His sole purpose was to expose the inconsistencies in Dr. Caner’s biography and criticize a public figure,” the judge determined. If the unauthorized reproduction of his lectures caused Caner any financial loss, he continued, it was the result of “legitimate criticism” of his words.

The misuse of video “takedown notices” — the same method employed by another Religious Right activist who tried to shut down Right Wing Watch’s YouTube page — was one of the focuses of the trial. As the judge notes in his ruling [PDF], the blogger’s actions are protected as fair use.

In 2013, Dr. Caner filed a “takedown notice” with Viddler.com, claiming that the videos were posted without authorization and in violation of his copyright. Smathers challenged the removal of the videos, which ultimately resulted in the present lawsuit by Dr. Caner, alleging copyright infringement in violation of 17 U.S.C. §§ 106,506.



Smathers claims that he posted he videos featuring Dr. Caner as a religiously based criticism of a public figure and, thus, his posting constituted fair use.

The Court notes that Dr. Caner has apparently conceded this issue since he has offered no argument in his response with respect to Smathers’s assertion of fair use.



Dr. Caner’s concession notwithstanding, the facts of this case support the application of fair use.

The affirmative defense of fair use is codified at 17 U.S.C. § 107 and provides that “the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies . . . , for purposes such as criticism, comment, [or] news reporting . . . , is not an infringement of copyright.”



All of Dr. Caner’s claims of copyright infringement against Smathers are hereby DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

Disgraced Former Liberty Dean Ergun Caner Gets New Job, Seeks To Silence Critics

If you were the trustee of a troubled college fighting to keep its accreditation, would you hire as your new president someone who was forced out of a previous academic post for lying about his past? That’s what the trustees of Brewton-Parker College in Georgia have just done; the college announced this week that it has hired Ergun Caner to be its new president. 

Caner is the former dean of the seminary at Liberty University who was removed from that job in 2010 when the school could no longer ignore the evidence that the Jihadi-to-Jesus life story Caner had been peddling since the 9/11 attacks turned out to be a pack of lies. (Caner said, for example, that he was raised in Turkey and trained as an America-hating jihadist; in reality he was born in Sweden and moved to the U.S. as a very young child.)

It’s not as if the Brewton-Parker trustees were unaware of Caner’s controversial past. A press release from the college quoted an unnamed trustee saying, “We didn't consider Dr. Caner in spite of the attacks; we elected him because of them. He has endured relentless and pagan attacks like a warrior. We need a warrior as our next president.”

The mind reels. Caner’s most relentless critics are not “pagan” but born-again evangelicals who take great offense at Caner’s lying to fellow Christians from church pulpits. It’s hard to see how Caner’s hiring is evidence, as outgoing president Mike Simoneux claims, of the school’s “decision to honor Jesus Christ in every area.”

In fact, the timing of the announcement is a bit awkward for Caner and the college, because it comes just days after the filing of a detailed motion in a legal suit being brought by Caner against some of his critics.

Let’s backtrack just a bit. The most devastating weapon in the arsenal of Caner’s critics has been Caner’s own demonstrably dishonest words, captured in this digital age for everyone to see. Caner, who has taken a bullying, blustering approach to his critics, set out this summer to purge the online evidence of his lying.  In May this year, he had 34 videos that critics had posted online taken down from YouTube by filing copyright claims under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. (Sound familiar?) In June, he filed a lawsuit  against Jonathan Autry and Jason Smathers, claiming they had “willfully and purposefully infringed” on his copyright.

Among Caner’s claims is that Smathers and Autry (operating separately) violated his copyright by posting video of speeches Caner gave to U.S. Marines in 2005 training sessions. They had obtained video of the speeches by filing Freedom of Information Act requests with the Marine Corps. Then they posted the videos online so that others could see and hear Caner’s claims firsthand and judge whether they were taking his remarks out of context. The videos showed Caner misrepresenting his past in order to bolster his credentials as an expert on Islamic terrorism.

It’s easy to understand why Caner would like to cleanse the public record of his lying to Marines. But a description of the case on Smathers’ website makes it sound like Caner wants to go beyond silencing his critics to punishing or destroying them. Smathers writes that even though Autry took down Caner’s videos, and offered to sign a non-disparagement agreement, he faced escalating demands that he could not afford to meet. Says Autry, “Dr. Caner has continued with the lawsuit for apparently no reason other than to seek attorney fees that I cannot afford to pay.” In a sworn statement, Autry says Caner demanded that Autry’s wife and three young children also sign non-disparagement agreements, and that Caner threatened to bankrupt him by following up his copyright suit with a defamation claim.

Just before Thanksgiving, attorneys for Smathers and Autry filed a motion to dismiss the charges; their filing is worth reading. It provides documentation of Caner’s duplicity as well as a sense of the flimsiness of his legal claims. The attorneys conclude that “Dr. Caner’s motive is simply to lock the videos away so that no one can expose his dishonesty.” Among the assertions in the motion:

  • Caner made his speeches to the Marines as a government contractor; therefore the government, and not Caner, owns the lectures.
  • It is a longstanding principal of Freedom of Information Act law that “a release to one is a release to all.”  Since the USMC released the video of Caner’s speech, it is available to every member of the public.
  • Caner’s copyright claims are bogus because he has not shown that he has copyright to the videos in question. The videos were posted online in 2010; he now claims that his applications are pending.

The attorneys also note, “It is a crime to falsely represent the truth on a copyright application.”

Caner has also gone after another persistent critic, James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries. When Caner was at Arlington Baptist College, White says, the school tried to get a local church to cancel a presentation White gave about Caner’s “many fraudulent claims,” and charged White with criminal trespass when a former student distributed flyers on campus about his upcoming speech. (White wasn’t even in the state at the time; the charges were dropped.) White is basically begging Caner to sue him, saying he would love to depose Caner, his colleagues, and his family about the claims he made repeatedly over the years.

Brewton-Parker’s trustees are not the only people willing to overlook Caner’s dishonesty. Arlington Baptist College made Caner provost after his demotion at Liberty. And in May this year Caner was invited to address the Family Research Council’s “Watchmen on the Wall” conference for pastors.

White seems personally offended by Caner’s behavior, saying it is a sin for Caner to sue Christian pastors to “suppress the truth about his own lies.” Autry is also personally troubled by Caner’s behavior; he says he attended college and seminary at Liberty while Caner was the seminary’s dean.

But the trustees at Brewton-Parker College see something else in Caner. Trustee Bucky Kennedy said in the school's press release that Caner’s “character and love for God are admirable and inspirational.”

It makes one wonder what Brewton-Parker teaches its students about the definition of “character.”

Ergun Caner Trying to Cleanse His Online Record

Ergun Caner was once the high-profile head of Liberty University’s seminary but was demoted in 2010 after bloggers and journalists poked holes in the dramatic Jihadi-to-Jesus life story Caner had peddled after 9-11. Arabic-speaking bloggers charged that he was actually speaking gibberish when lapsing into “Arabic.” In 2011 he left Liberty to become provost at Arlington Baptist College. And, as RWW reported earlier this year, he was invited to address the Family Research Council’s 2013 “Watchmen on the Walls” conference for pastors, a sign perhaps that he’d like to rebuild his public presence in the Religious Right.

Part of Caner’s rebuilding strategy seems to be cleansing the Internet of evidence that was used to reveal discrepancies between his actual life and the public persona he had created.  According to Associated Baptist Press (ABP), Caner filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month suing Jonathan Autry and Jason Smathers, who had posted videos produced by Caner and claiming they violated his copyright.

Writes ABP’s Bob Allen:

The disputed videos were among a number of blog and media reports alleging inconsistencies, exaggeration and fabrication in Caner’s talks and writings claiming he was trained as a terrorist while growing up overseas, and that he intended to carry out a terrorist attack on the United States before his conversion to Christianity at age 18.

Contradictory legal documents indicated that in reality Caner grew up in an Ohio suburb where his family moved when he was 2, and was raised by a Lutheran mother after she and his Muslim father divorced.

Allen reports that Caner is asking the judge to forbid Autry and Smathers from posting any of his copyrighted videos, and is also seeking legal fees.

Ted Cruz, Archbishop Lori Will Address FRC's 'Watchmen' Pastors

The Family Research Council’s Watchmen on the Wall conference is an annual gathering for pastors and other church leaders to hear from a panoply of right-wing speakers and get motivated to “transform America.” Our coverage of last year’s event highlights speakers’ attacks on evolution, secularism, Islam, LGBT people, and other tools of Satan.

This year’s conference, which takes place in Washington DC May 22-24, has been promoted by FRC for months.  In April, FRC sent an excited alert that Sen. Ted Cruz, a Tea Party and Religious Right favorite who is reportedly mulling a 2016 presidential bid, had confirmed.

Based on other confirmed speakers, it seems likely that there will be two major themes to this year’s gathering: 1) religious liberty in America is under attack by Obama and his gay allies; and 2) only the church – led by uncompromising fired up pastors – can save freedom and America.

A notable addition to the cast of conservative evangelicals is William Lori, Archbishop of the Diocese of Baltimore and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Lori has led the bishops’ attack on the Obama administration’s proposed regulations requiring insurance coverage of contraception.  Lori, who believes that “aggressive secularity” is “becoming the established ‘religion’ in our country today,” will be right at home with his friends at the Family Research Council. A typical FRC Action mailing from Tony Perkins earlier this year said President Obama is out to “crush freedom.” The same letter warns about “death panels” under Obamacare, which Perkins calls “the tip of the tyranny-iceberg.”

Also entertaining the Watchmen will be Rep. James Lankford, who earlier this year blamed gun violence on “welfare moms” overmedicating their kids with psychiatric drugs because they “want to get additional benefits.”  At FRC’s Values Voter Summit in September, Lankford said of the dispute over contraception coverage, “this is not a war on women, this is a war on people of faith.” 

Also confirmed is Ergun Caner, who lost his position at Liberty University after Muslim and Christian bloggers, and then journalists, began to expose the falsehoods in the Jihadi-to-Jesus life story that Caner had used to make a name for himself in the post-9/11 evangelical universe. Caner will probably echo his remarks at the 2009 Values Voter Summit, where his message to Christians who were not being outspoken enough on the issues of the day: “You need to preach, teach, and reach, or just shut up and get out of our way.”

Anti-gay activist Harry Jackson is quick to invoke Satan and other demonic powers as the forces behind the gay rights movement, which he portrays as an enemy of religious freedom. He has charged that a “radical” gay element is trying to “close down every church in America.” In fact, one of his columns was titled,” Why do Gays Hate Religious Freedom?”  Jackson’s apocalyptic anti-Obama rhetoric did not convince many Black Christians to vote against Obama, but Jackson thinks they’ll be sorry. God, he says, will “take out” those who chose “race over grace.” Jackson is a long-time FRC ally; he and Perkins co-authored Personal Faith, Public Policy, which calls Supreme Court rulings on church-state issues “assaults” on Christianity.

Jim Garlow, a California pastor who led church backing for Prop 8 in California and was then tapped by Newt Gingrich to run one of his political groups, had warned before the election that an Obama reelection would destroy the country.  During an FRC post-election special Garlow said that Christians should expect massive persecution from the government.  At last year’s Watchmen on the Wall conference, Garlow spoke at a press conference attacking President Obama’s use of religious language to describe his support for marriage equality. Evoking the words of a colonial preacher, Garlow said, “if necessary, here we die.” In an FRC DVD promoting Watchmen on the Wall, Garlow says an FRC-produced video was crucial to the Prop 8 win.

Richard Land is retiring in October after 25 years as head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty commission; he was dogged by controversy during the past year over plagiarism charges and racially inflammatory remarks he made regarding the Trayvon Martin killing.  Land has charged that the only reason the Obama administration proposed regulations on contraception coverage was to "set the precedent of ramming this down our throats and forcing us to surrender our First amendment freedom of religion." Land says God will unleash judgment on America for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Watchmen will also hear from Jacob Aranza, whose 1983 book Backward Masking Unmasked warned that rock music was encoded with satanic messages that would entice teens into drug use and abnormal sexual behavior. Aranza says he burned “hundreds of thousands” of albums in those days. More recently, Aranza was an endorser of Rick Perry’s “Awakening” and participated in Religious Right strategy sessions convened by James Robison to try to prevent Obama’s re-election. In 2011, Aranza and Perkins appeared together on Robison’s television show, and Aranza gushed about Perkin’s work to mobilize pastors:

Tony Perkins is one of the great heroes in America today. He is a hero because it is unseen. He is uniting and equipping the most important people in America, and that's the pastors in America. If the local church is the hope of the world then pastors are the hope of the local church. Tony Perkins exists to encourage them and to equip them and to empower them. He's taking regular pastors -- the average church in America, James, as you know is less than 200 people; 80% of the churches in America are 200 or less -- and he is taking men like that and he is turning them into absolute heroes, just like pastors in Maine who are literally changing the moral fiber of an entire state because he has equipped them and empowered them and told them they're the people that are supposed to be the hedge of builders, and he is encouraging them to do just that.…I believe that as you speak you are literally trumpeting a sound that is encouraging pastors across America and families across America that are Christians to unite together to see God once again bring spiritual awakening to our nation.

JC Church is one of FRC’s pastor leaders “networking churches in Ohio to answer the call on moral issues.”  His 3 Cord Alliance, which is affiliated with FRC, teaches pastors “how to bring sound scripturally based influence and change to your community.” Church has been praised by Phil Burress of Citizens for Community Values: “I believe that if all the pastors in Ohio were like Pastor Church, we would have an army that Satan could not stop. He understands that America is led by the pulpit and we count on him to unite fellow pastors and their congregations to be the salt and light we so desperately need in the world today.”

Jack Hibbs is a California-based preacher who also pushed Prop 8; in 2011 he helped lead an unsuccessful effort to overturn the state’s SB 48, which he charged would lead to public schools indoctrinating students.  In a video urging pastors to get involved, he said it is not enough to teach and preach the word of God, pastors needed to be “culture changers for Christ.” Leading into the 2012 election Hibbs was outspoken about the fact that Christians should vote for Romney over Obama. In a radio show the day after the 2012 elections, He says he was on the phone with Tony Perkins on election night and they had both believed that the outcome was up to the church: “The answer wouldn’t be determined in the White House or the statehouse….the answer for righteousness or unrighteousness, for light or for darkness, for liberty or tyranny, would be decided by the pastors.” Given the way things turned out, Hibbs says “I believe the responsibility, the outcome, and the fallout falls into the hands of the pulpits of America’s pastors who did not speak up….” Hibbs also echoes Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” remarks: “those who are looking for handouts, they don’t want to work, they want the government to give things to them, overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama.” Hibbs said he was disappointed but not discouraged, because “God’s on the throne” and therefore “God has appointed him to be our president for God’s purposes – OK that means God has got some pretty gnarly purposes coming for America.”

There’s a special role at the conference for FRC’s executive vice president, retired Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin.  Boykin retired from the military after being reprimanded by then-President Bush for making speeches depicting the war on terrorism as a Christian holy war against Islam. FRC hired Boykin last year after he was disinvited from speaking at West Point after faculty and cadets objected.  Boykin and his Religious Right allies portrayed his mythical martyrdom as an attack on freedom of speech and religion. At last year’s Values Voter Summit, Boykin invoked Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler in denouncing what he said is an effort to move Americans away from belief in a sovereign God.  He says everything President Obama is doing is right out of the” Communist Manifesto.”

Perkins seems to be counting on Boykin to strong-arm pastors at the conference into making a concrete commitment to political activism. In an insert in a packet mailed to pastors, Perkins says Boykin will offer the “concluding challenge” – and he insists that pastors book their flights home no earlier than 4pm so that they can stay.  “During the Briefing, we will share details of the strategic plan the Lord is using to bring revival and renewal in communities around the nation through the engagement of pastors. At the end, we have a ‘call to decision’ or ‘invitation’ sort of like many of you do in a worship service. Just as you want those attending your worship service to stay and respond, we would respectfully ask the same of you.” Perkins has some leverage – FRC picks up most of the tab for one pastor from each church.

FRC launched Watchmen on the Wall in 2004. A 2010 promotional DVD said the group was up to 14,000 pastors; it said Perkins’ goal was to have 40,000 Watchmen pastors by 2015. Pastors who sign up get access to regular briefings, model sermons, and other toolkits for mobilizing their congregations and communities.  The same promotional video contains a clip of “historian” David Barton quoting 19th Century preacher Charles Finney saying, in effect, that if the country is going to hell, it’s pastors’ fault.  The notion that America can only be saved by more aggressive preachers is a recurring theme at Religious Right gatherings, including Liberty Counsel’s recent Awakening conference.

Demoted Liberty U. Professor Heads to Fundamentalist Texas College

Ergun Caner, the former head of Liberty University’s seminary, was demoted last year after media attention, including an article I wrote for AlterNet, forced Liberty officials to investigate glaring discrepancies in the “Jihad to Jesus” life story Caner had peddled after 9-11 to raise his profile in the evangelical world. Caner told some audiences that he had been raised in Turkey to be a jihadist and learned about America from watching television. In fact, he was born in Sweden (to a Turkish father) and raised in Ohio.

Caner, an engaging speaker and one-time rising star of the Religious Right, is headed to Texas, where Arlington Baptist College has hired him as its provost and vice president.   Arlington Baptist College was founded by J. Frank Norris, an anti-evolution crusader who Caner describes as “one of Christianity’s most courageous voices.” Here’s how the Associated Baptist Press describes Norris:
Norris, founder of both Arlington Baptist College and the World Baptist Fellowship, was a fundamentalist Baptist leader in Texas in the first half of the 20th century. The one-time editor of the Baptist Standard and longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Forth Worth was nicknamed the “Texas Tornado” during a long-running feud with the Southern Baptists.
 
Once loyal to the Southern Baptist Convention, Norris became alienated by the Seventy-Five Million Campaign, forerunner to today’s Cooperative Program of unified budget support of both state and national Baptist conventions. He spent the rest of his days seeking to undermine the SBC, accusing Baptist schools of teaching evolution and tolerating “modernist” theories of Bible study.
 
After his exclusion from his local association, state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention, Norris founded his own independent fundamentalist group, originally called the Premillennial Baptist Missionary Fellowship but renamed the World Baptist Fellowship after a split over his authoritarian leadership.
 

 

Embracing Ergun

 

It was somewhat surprising to see Ergun Caner listed as a main-stage speaker at the Values Voter Summit.   After all, Caner was recently ousted from his post as the head of Liberty University’s theological seminary.  Caner was demoted, but not fired, after the media picked up on bloggers’ investigative work exposing lies and contradictions in the “Jihadi to Jesus” life story Caner had told since 9-11. That story made him an evangelical superstar and brought him to Liberty U.
 
At the Values Voter Summit, it was clear why the Religious Right is standing by Caner.   He’s an entertaining speaker who had overseen big growth at Liberty. He might have made a career as one of those stand-up comedians who tells lots of jokes about how husbands will never understand their wives.
 
After all the jokes, he gave the audience the same kind of charge so many speakers have: it’s your time to take a stand and get involved in the coming elections. He told participants that they will be appointed, anointed, and armed by God, so they won’t have to fear the media or people who will abuse and attack them. He sounded a bit self-pitying when he warned that people will mock you, stalk you on twitter, call you names, and question your motives.
 
But in spite of all he’s been through, he still can’t seem to tell his story without embellishing the tale. He told the audience that when he converted to Christianity as a teenager, he “lost my family, my father, my home, my culture.” That could easily be misleading: while Caner’s Muslim father apparently did disown him after his conversion, Caner had been living with his mother since his parents had divorced years before.
 
Maybe Caner should review his own remarks. “We would rather lose doing the right thing than win while compromising the truth.”

Ergun Caner Demoted To Teaching Only On-Line Courses?

Back in June we noted that Liberty University had decided not to retain Ergun Caner as the head LU Baptist Theological Seminary after an investigation into discrepancies and exaggerations about his Muslim past.

But though Caner would no longer head the Seminary, LU stated that he would remain on staff as a professor for the following academic year ... but now it is looking like Caner may be kept out of LU classrooms entirely and find himself reduced to only teaching on-line courses:

The former dean of Liberty University’s seminary still is a member of the faculty, LU officials said Wednesday as reports circulated that he had cleaned out his office this week.

Ergun Caner “is now a faculty member at LU,” Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said Tuesday night in an e-mail to The News & Advance.

Falwell’s comment reaffirmed the university’s statement in June that Caner, whose contract as dean was not being renewed, would continue as a faculty member.

Johnnie Moore, spokesman for the university, said Wednesday that Caner would teach online courses. Moore indicated no decision had been made about whether Caner would teach in LU classrooms.

“Dr. Caner will likely be teaching online courses this fall, but his course load hasn’t yet been determined,” Moore said.

Egrun Caner Out As Head of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary

Last month, PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery wrote a piece for AlterNet examining the allegations that Ergun Caner, head of Liberty University's Baptist Theological Seminary, had exaggerated about about his Muslim past.

After 9/11, Caner became a popular Religious Right speaker, telling audiences how he had been raised in Turkey to wage jihad against America before converting to Christianity and presenting himself as an expert on both Islam and Islamic terrorism. 

Much of that, as it turned out, was false .. and now Liberty University has announced that when Caner's contract is up at the end of this month, it will not be renewed and Caner will no longer be head of the Seminary, though he will remain at LU as a professor:

Liberty University said Friday that Ergun Caner would no longer be dean of its seminary, following an investigation into some of his claims about being raised as a Muslim.

Caner has signed a contract to be a member of the seminary’s faculty next year, the university said in a statement Friday afternoon.

Four members of Liberty’s Board of Trustees who conducted the investigation found that “Dr. Caner has made factual statements that are self-contradictory,” the university said.

The panel, however, basically supported Caner’s testimony of being a former Muslim who converted to Christianity.

The contradictions came in “matters such as dates, names and places of residence,” the LU statement said.

Although LU didn’t provide any more details about the discrepancies, Caner said in several speaking engagements in 2001 and later that he was raised in Turkey before coming to the United States as a teenager.

He also said he was trained in Islamic jihad, a term associated with terrorist activity, according to recordings made in 2001 of his comments at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., and Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.

However, his parents’ divorce papers, on file in a Columbus, Ohio, courthouse, indicated the family moved from Stockholm, Sweden, to the U.S. when Caner was about 4 years old, and continued to live in the Columbus area.

Caner’s father was a Muslim who sought to raise his children in the Islamic faith, although he had only part-time custody after the divorce, the documents indicate.

“Dr. Caner has cooperated with the board committee and has apologized for the discrepancies and misstatements that led to this review,” the LU statement said.

The investigating committee “found no evidence to suggest that Dr. Caner was not a Muslim who converted to Christianity as a teenager,” the statement said.

LU spokesman Johnnie Moore responded to requests for further comment by saying, “Liberty will not be making any additional comments or giving any interviews at this time.”

Here is the full statement issued by Liberty:

“After a thorough and exhaustive review of Dr. Ergun Caner’s public statements, a committee consisting of four members of Liberty University’s Board of Trustees has concluded that Dr. Caner has made factual statements that are self-contradictory.

“However, the committee found no evidence to suggest that Dr. Caner was not a Muslim who converted to Christianity as a teenager, but, instead, found discrepancies related to matters such as dates, names and places of residence.

“Dr. Caner has cooperated with the board committee and has apologized for the discrepancies and misstatements that led to this review.

“Dr. Caner’s current contractual term as Dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary expires on June, 30, 2010.

“Dr. Caner will no longer serve as Dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.

“The university has offered, and Dr. Caner has accepted, an employment contract for the 2010-2011 academic year. Dr. Caner will remain on the faculty of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary as a professor.”

Liberty U. Announces Investigation of Caner Claims

We recently noted the energetic conversation on Muslim and Christian blogs about documented discrepancies in the dramatic “Jihad to Jesus” life story told by Dr. Ergun Caner, head of Liberty University’s seminary. 

Just last week, Liberty broke its months-long silence with a dismissive waving away of the controversy. Christianity Today magazine reported that Elmer Towns, dean of the school of religion, “says the Liberty board has held an inquiry and directors are satisfied that Caner has done nothing theologically inappropriate.” Furthermore, Towns said, the questions raised about Caner were neither moral nor ethical issues, a claim that had the opposite of its intended effect among Baptist bloggers who had been calling for Caner and Liberty to come clean. How can publicly and repeatedly lying not be a moral or ethical issue, they asked? Towns’ response also generated a damaging story by the Associated Baptist Press. Early this week, I wrote a piece for Alternet noting that Liberty University had dug in its heels and asking why Caner wouldn’t take advantage of the path from public repentance to redemption that has been well-worn by misbehaving evangelical leaders
 
Yesterday, Liberty changed its tune and announced that Ron Godwin, the university’s provost, “is forming a committee to investigate a series of accusations against Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.” The brief official statement included a quote from Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. dissing the very bloggers who have documented the holes in Caner’s story. “Liberty does not initiate personnel evaluations based upon accusations from Internet blogs,” Falwell said. “However, In light of the fact that several newspapers have raised questions, we felt it necessary to initiate a formal inquiry.”
 
But didn’t Towns say that the university’s board had already looked into it? Well, it turns out that the board “inquiry” that Towns described to Christianity Today was just a “passing discussion” at a March meeting of the board’s seminary subcommittee. It “wasn’t an inquiry or anything like that,” says Liberty spokesman Johnnie Moore.
 
 Liberty says it will complete its investigation by June 30. Stay tuned.

Is Religious Right’s Star Ex-Muslim a Serial Liar?

Dr. Ergun Caner, the president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, has been a rising star on the Religious Right, entertaining audiences at major Religious Right gatherings with his hip, irreverent stories about his upbringing as a radical Muslim and his conversion to Christianity. Just this week, his story was featured on Focus on the Family’s broadcast, “From Jihad to Jesus.”

Turns out, according to a growing chorus of critics – many of them Southern Baptists and other Christians – Caner has apparently been lying for years about his childhood and his life story. It’s hard to even summarize the extent of the deceptions being described by his critics, but they include his claims to have grown up in Turkey and to have personally involved in Islamic Jihad, when court records from his parents’ divorce place him in Columbus, Ohio when he was just a few years old. Check some of the critical websites for voluminous debunking of Caner’s colorful (and apparently fanciful) stories about  learning about America through TV broadcasts in Turkey and more. Some charges are even more directly related to his ministry, such as his claims to have debated top Muslim scholars around the world. Caner’s critics say there’s no evidence of those debates. 
 
These are no vague or reckless charges, but carefully documented exposes that draw from Caner’s sermons, speeches, and online videos, and other public records.  Liberty doesn’t seem to have responded publicly, but recently posted a revised version of Caner’s bio with disputed claims removed. 
 
Some of Caner’s critics are willing to forgive him, but only if he owns up to his massive deceptions.  Meanwhile, Caner and his supporters have been trying to get his critics to shut up. Caner himself has pulled the Religious Right’s favored religious persecution card, reportedly saying in a memo to his Liberty colleagues, “I never thought I would see the day when alleged ‘Christians’ join with Muslims to attack converts.”
 
Meanwhile, others are starting to raise questions about the extent to which Ergun’s brother Emir, who heads a Baptist college in Georgia, may have assisted in Ergun’s deceptions, whether actively or by passively allowing false claims to go unchallenged.
 
It doesn’t look like Liberty University is going to be able to shove this under the rug. Stay tuned.

Sputtering Start to Religious Right's Rebranding

The Freedom Federation’s “Awakening” conference convened at Liberty University on April 15 and 16  with the ambitious goal of transforming America by touching off the greatest religious revival that America or the world has ever known.   Short of that, the gathering was all about rebranding the Religious Right political movement as a “multiracial, multi-ethnic, transgenerational” movement that cares about social justice (sorry, Glenn Beck). In short, the conference was meant to send a message to young and non-white evangelicals: this ain’t your father’s Religious Right.

Given the gathering’s audacious goals, and the number and firepower of participating Religious Right leaders (who it was claimed represented 40 million Americans), attendance was dismal. In fact there’s probably never been a conference with a higher ratio of featured speakers (52) to attendees (a couple of hundred at best, not counting the session that used a regularly scheduled student convocation to give speaker Sam Rodriguez a larger audience). 
 
Of course, there were plenty of signs that the old Religious Right and its focus on divisive fear-driven politics haven’t gone anywhere.  Speaker after speaker portrayed faith and freedom under relentless attack in America. In spite of repeated assertions that the movement was nonpartisan and would not be co-opted by any political party, it was clear that the top political priorities for these leaders are to help Republicans take back at least one house of Congress in 2010 and to defeat the tyrannical Barack Obama in 2012. Ending abortion and turning back progress toward equality for LGBT people are top policy priorities.
 
Despite the low turnout, the conference served as an opportunity for organizers to meet and strategize for the 2010 elections, and to try out some new messaging and public relations strategies. Here were the conference’s main themes:
  • Tyranny! Red Alert! America is in big trouble. Freedom is under attack by President Obama and his allies in Congress. And since Obama is no friend of Israel, we’re in trouble with God.
  • Fight! Big threats mean we have to be ready to fight, fight fight. The tea party movement was invoked favorably and, given the turnout, a bit wistfully.
  • Unify. A major theme of the event was the need to ignore major theological differences among speakers and focus on common values such as ending abortion and the Obama administration.
  • Diversify. The conference made a major effort to showcase the Freedom Federation’s claims to be a multiracial, multiethnic, multigenerational movement. 
  • Seek Social Justice. Watch out, Glenn Beck, these right-wingers are eager to portray themselves as a social justice movement.
  • Millennial Generation, saving America is your job.

FRC's Faith & Family Summit Free to All Comers

Back in December, the Family Research Council announced that it would be holding a Faith & Family Summit in Washington, DC on April 29 - May 1, 2010. 

And then that was all we heard about it, until today when FRC announced a list of participants ... and that fact that the organization is putting everyone up for free

I hope you are considering joining FRC for our Faith & Family Summit this April 29-May 1, 2010 at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill.

Now more than ever, we need to join together and uplift each other to stay engaged and continue to stand for faith, family and freedom. Fellowshipping with fellow Christians at our Faith & Family Summit, you will be encouraged, even in this challenging season for our nation.

Event Update: Dr. Ergun Caner has been confirmed as a speaker. The son of a Muslim leader in Turkey, Dr. Caner is President of Liberty Theological Seminary and his energized remarks will give you a unique perspective on the threat of radical Islam.

FRC Board Member and Princeton University Professor Robbie George will also join us to discuss the Manhattan Declaration, a call to Christians to adhere firmly to the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.

Other confirmed speakers include:

* Congresswoman Michele Bachmann
* Gary Bauer, President, American Values
* Pastor Bob Emrich, Leader in Maine marriage victory
* Bishop Harry Jackson, President, High Impact Leadership Coalition
* Congressman Mike Pence, Chairman, House Republican Conference
* John H. Sununu, Former NH Governor and White House Chief of Staff
* Rick Santorum, Former US Senator and FRC Action Board Member

Time is running short. We need to know by Friday, April 1 if you plan to attend, due to a hotel deadline for room reservations.

I encourage you to contact Sara Kontz at 800-225-4008 or sek@frc.org now to reserve your place. Reservations will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis and space is limited.

FRC will provide complimentary accommodations at the Hyatt on April 29 and 30 and meals during the Summit; you need only to cover transportation costs to and from Washington, D.C. This invitation is non-transferable.

While AU Asks IRS to Investigate LU, LU Presses For Its Own Polling Place

Back in 2008, we noted several times how Jerry Falwell Jr. sought to do what he could to deliver the state of Virginia to John McCain, from refusing to accommodate local Obama rallies while hosting McCain rallies to registering thousands of Liberty students so that Liberty University "could go down in history as the college that elected a president."

Despite Falwell's efforts, he couldn't deliver the state for McCain but a year later Liberty was able to take credit for delivering a Republican to the House of Representatives.

And now Americans United for Separation of Church and State is asking the IRS to look into Liberty's partisan activities:  

“We have documented a clear pattern of partisan intervention orchestrated by top Liberty officials,” said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. “I believe the evidence is clear that Liberty officials have violated the law.”

AU’s letter – the result of more than three months of investigating – makes the following allegations:

• Falwell and other university officials used Liberty Champion, ostensibly a student publication but one that is actually subject to university control, to run a series of articles attacking Valentine and endorsing Garrett.

• University officials twice arranged for a “voter guide” published by the Virginia Family Foundation to appear in the Champion. The guide distorted Valentine’s views and was stacked to endorse Garrett. Copies of the Oct. 27 issue of the newspaper were mailed to all Lynchburg residents.

• On Election Day, Ergun Caner, a top university official, drove around campus with the College Republicans, rounding up voters.

• Falwell and other Liberty officials later boasted that their actions had swayed the election to Garrett. They have vowed to intervene in future elections.

“This is one of the most blatant and dishonest attempts to influence an election by a non-profit religious organization I have ever seen,” Lynn said. “We hope the IRS acts swiftly to stop Liberty’s overt partisan politicking.”

In semi-related news, due to the massive increase in voters in the district due to Liberty's annual registration drives, LU has been pressing the Lynchburg City Council to move the polling place to somewhere that can better accommodate the crowds - i.e., somewhere that Liberty owns, like Thomas Road Church or a local LU-owned shopping center.

But the city council does not appear particularly keen to place the polling place in Liberty U's hands and so, of course, Falwell and LU students are outraged:

Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. is denouncing City Council’s recent rejection of two LU-backed polling place sites as a “travesty” designed to suppress the LU student vote.

“It’s obvious to me the goal was to discourage as many Ward III citizens from voting as possible,” Falwell said, renewing LU’s concerns that Lynchburg First Church of the Nazarene, the current leading contender for the new voting location, is inaccessible and unsafe.

“You have to ask yourself what is the motive of the five Democrats on council in choosing a difficult-to-find church on a residential road that is not equipped to handle this kind of traffic,” Falwell said. “Something smells bad.”

...

Falwell, who said his students were angry and offended over the way this has been handled, said Nelson’s motion was nothing more than a “little game.”

“It was all designed to kill it (LU’s recommendations) without coming out and saying it,” he said. “It was transparent, and our students see through it.”

“I think you’re going to see much more turnout among the students in May than you would have if they had just chosen a safe, convenient polling place … The site they did choose does just the opposite. It makes it more difficult and more unsafe for people to vote.”

LU’s Student Government Association sent out a notice and set up a Facebook group urging students to attend the hearing Tuesday.

In those messages, the association described the upcoming City Council elections as the most important in LU history and said the “anti-Liberty folks” on council appear to be trying to dilute their influence by choosing a bad polling place to discourage them from voting.

“It is important you attend this meeting. This outrage must be stopped,” read the e-mail, which noted that buses will be provided to take students to the hearing.

Anyone want to place any bets on whether Liberty decides to use its local voting power in future city council elections to try and take out council-members who won't do its bidding? 

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Ergun Caner Posts Archive

Brian Tashman, Monday 04/21/2014, 4:00pm
Ergun Caner has lost his lawsuit against a blogger who criticized the Religious Right figure as a fraud, with a federal judge ruling last week that Caner’s case had no merit. After the September 11 attacks, Caner built a career around his purported conversion from Islamic extremism to Christianity, but his testimony was later exposed as fictitious. Not only did he completely fabricate details about his background — including facts about his birthplace, upbringing, and his family — but he also spoke gibberish during his speeches, which he claimed was Arabic. Caner led Liberty... MORE >
Peter Montgomery, Wednesday 12/04/2013, 10:20am
If you were the trustee of a troubled college fighting to keep its accreditation, would you hire as your new president someone who was forced out of a previous academic post for lying about his past? That’s what the trustees of Brewton-Parker College in Georgia have just done; the college announced this week that it has hired Ergun Caner to be its new president.  Caner is the former dean of the seminary at Liberty University who was removed from that job in 2010 when the school could no longer ignore the evidence that the Jihadi-to-Jesus life story Caner had been peddling since the... MORE >
Peter Montgomery, Thursday 06/27/2013, 2:02pm
Ergun Caner was once the high-profile head of Liberty University’s seminary but was demoted in 2010 after bloggers and journalists poked holes in the dramatic Jihadi-to-Jesus life story Caner had peddled after 9-11. Arabic-speaking bloggers charged that he was actually speaking gibberish when lapsing into “Arabic.” In 2011 he left Liberty to become provost at Arlington Baptist College. And, as RWW reported earlier this year, he was invited to address the Family Research Council’s 2013 “Watchmen on the Walls” conference for pastors, a sign perhaps that... MORE >
Peter Montgomery, Monday 05/13/2013, 1:34pm
The Family Research Council’s Watchmen on the Wall conference is an annual gathering for pastors and other church leaders to hear from a panoply of right-wing speakers and get motivated to “transform America.” Our coverage of last year’s event highlights speakers’ attacks on evolution, secularism, Islam, LGBT people, and other tools of Satan. This year’s conference, which takes place in Washington DC May 22-24, has been promoted by FRC for months.  In April, FRC sent an excited alert that Sen. Ted Cruz, a Tea Party and Religious Right favorite who is... MORE >
Peter Montgomery, Friday 05/20/2011, 9:30am
Ergun Caner, the former head of Liberty University’s seminary, was demoted last year after media attention, including an article I wrote for AlterNet, forced Liberty officials to investigate glaring discrepancies in the “Jihad to Jesus” life story Caner had peddled after 9-11 to raise his profile in the evangelical world. Caner told some audiences that he had been raised in Turkey to be a jihadist and learned about America from watching television. In fact, he was born in Sweden (to a Turkish father) and raised in Ohio. Caner, an engaging speaker and one-time rising... MORE >
Peter Montgomery, Saturday 09/18/2010, 1:51pm
  It was somewhat surprising to see Ergun Caner listed as a main-stage speaker at the Values Voter Summit.   After all, Caner was recently ousted from his post as the head of Liberty University’s theological seminary.  Caner was demoted, but not fired, after the media picked up on bloggers’ investigative work exposing lies and contradictions in the “Jihadi to Jesus” life story Caner had told since 9-11. That story made him an evangelical superstar and brought him to Liberty U.   At the Values Voter Summit, it was clear why the... MORE >
Kyle Mantyla, Thursday 08/12/2010, 12:26pm
Back in June we noted that Liberty University had decided not to retain Ergun Caner as the head LU Baptist Theological Seminary after an investigation into discrepancies and exaggerations about his Muslim past. But though Caner would no longer head the Seminary, LU stated that he would remain on staff as a professor for the following academic year ... but now it is looking like Caner may be kept out of LU classrooms entirely and find himself reduced to only teaching on-line courses: The former dean of Liberty University’s seminary still is a member of the faculty, LU officials... MORE >
Kyle Mantyla, Saturday 06/26/2010, 10:15am
Last month, PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery wrote a piece for AlterNet examining the allegations that Ergun Caner, head of Liberty University's Baptist Theological Seminary, had exaggerated about about his Muslim past. After 9/11, Caner became a popular Religious Right speaker, telling audiences how he had been raised in Turkey to wage jihad against America before converting to Christianity and presenting himself as an expert on both Islam and Islamic terrorism.  Much of that, as it turned out, was false .. and now Liberty University has announced that when Caner's contract is... MORE >