First Amendment

Gordon Klingenschmitt: The Right's Tom Joad

Gordon Klingenschmitt is a D-list right-wing activist who made a name for himself by getting bounced from his position as a Chaplain in the Navy and parlaying that into a career as a right-wing martyr. Since then, he's hooked with various right-wing groups to warn that pastors will face prison is any sort of hate-crimes legislation is enacted and joined Rick Scarborough for several of this one-day crusades to save America.

But through it all, Klingenschmitt's primary mission has been to serve as the Tom Joad to the oppressed chaplains on this nation, constantly on the look-out for any situation he can exploit to serve his own ends ... and here he rides to their rescue once again: 

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is defending why his administration forced the sudden resignation of five Virginia State Police Chaplains because they prayed publicly "in Jesus' name."


Former Navy Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt, who was also fired in 2007 for praying "in Jesus name" in uniform (but won the victory in the U.S. Congress for other military chaplains), weighed in:

"Governor Kaine campaigned like a Christian to get our votes. But now, instead of governing like a Christian, or respecting his own chaplains' First Amendment rights, his administration forced the resignation of five police chaplains, simply because they prayed publicly 'in Jesus' name.' These five chaplains lost their jobs for honoring Christ. They're heroes of the faith, because they refused to deny Jesus when ordered to by the Kaine administration. If they contact me, they will be honored through my web-site: And now Governor Kaine pretends he's the martyr, because we question why his administration forced them to resign for praying to Jesus? He's still got a job, they don't. Governor Kaine isn't the martyr, he's the persecutor."

Of course, if you bother to actually read any of the coverage of this, you quickly find out that Kaine in no way forced anyone to resign and that the policy was actually implemented by the Superintendent of State Police:

In a statement, Col. W. Steven Flaherty, the State Police superintendent, said he asked chaplains to offer nondenominational prayers at department-sanctioned public events but that the request does not apply to private ceremonies or individual counseling.

Flaherty said his decision was in response to a recent federal appeals court ruling that a Fredericksburg City Council member may not pray "in Jesus's name" during council meetings because the opening invocation is government speech.

"While the executive staff and Col. Flaherty are highly respected and provide great leadership, this is just a policy several of us could not agree with when it comes to the issue of individual prayer," said Trooper Rex Carter, who resigned as a chaplain in August ... Since August, six of 17 chaplains have resigned.

The ADF’s Dangerous “Pulpit Initiative”

It looks like the Alliance Defense Fund is moving ahead with its efforts to potentially get dozens of churches stripped of their tax-exempt status

Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.

The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.

"For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church," ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. "It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It's not for the government to mandate the role of church in society."

Rather than wait for the IRS to investigate an alleged violation, the organization intends to create dozens of violations and take the U.S. government to court on First Amendment grounds.

"We're looking for churches that are serious-minded about this, churches that understand both the risks and the benefits," Stanley said, referring to the chance that they could lose their coveted tax-exempt status or could set a precedent.

Stanley said three dozen church leaders from more than 20 states have agreed to deliver a political sermon, naming political names.

"The sermon will be an evaluation of conditions for office in light of scripture and doctrine. They will make a specific recommendation from the pulpit about how the congregation would vote," he said.

"They could oppose a candidate. They could oppose both candidates. They could endorse a candidate. They could focus on a federal, state or local election."

Fortunately, the good folks at Americans United are all over this and have already released a brochure debunking ADF’s bogus line of argument:  

The free speech rights of religious leaders are already broadly protected by the U.S. Constitution. Clergy can and do address public policy concerns, ranging from abortion, gay rights and gun control to poverty, civil rights and the death penalty. They may support legislation pending in Congress or the state legislatures, or call for its defeat. They may endorse or oppose ballot referenda. Indeed, discussion of public issues is a common practice in religious institutions all over America.

The only thing houses of worship may not do is endorse or oppose candidates for public office or use their resources in partisan campaigns. This restriction, which is found in federal tax law, is not limited to churches and other religious ministries. In fact, it is applied to every non-profit organization in the country that holds a tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Contrary to the claims of many in the Religious Right, the IRS is not singling out houses of worship for special regulation. Thousands of educational, scientific, charitable and literary organizations hold the 501(c)(3) status, and all must abide by the legal requirement barring involvement in elections.

Why does this rule exist? The answer is obvious upon a moment's reflection: Non-profit organizations receive tax exemption because their work is charitable, educational or religious. That tax benefit comes with conditions. One requirement is that tax-exempt organizations refrain from involvement in partisan politics. This is a reasonable rule, since tax-exempt groups are supposed to work for the public good, not spend their time and money trying to elect or defeat candidates.

Gordon Klingenschmitt: Constitutional Scholar

Want to know what Klingenschmitt thinks of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit's ruling on the Fredericksburg City Council case? Well,, he's helpfully released a version of the decision interspersed with his own erudite legal reasoning: "KLINGENSCHMITT COMMENT: THE WORD ‘JESUS’ IS NOW ILLEGAL RELIGIOUS SPEECH, BANNED BY O’CONNOR’S TWISTED READING OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT. ‘GOD’ IS PERMITTED, BUT ‘JESUS’ IS BANNED. THAT’S NOT FREEDOM. YOU MUST ‘LEAVE JESUS OUTSIDE’ IF YOU WANT TO SPEAK IN A GOVERNMENT FORUM. O’CONNOR IS WRONG, AND SO IS THE CITY OF FREDERICKSBURG."

ADF: Pastors’ Tax Exemption “A Right, Not Just a Privilege”

Although all tax-exempt organizations are legally required to be non-partisan, the Alliance Defense Fund “has recruited 50 pastors to deliver sermons in September that will include direct endorsements of political candidates.” ADF has a legal defense in the works as well: “Erik Stanley, ADF’s senior legal counsel, said it would argue that the tax-exempt status of religious groups “is a right, not just a privilege” and that religious leaders enjoy a number of special protections under the First Amendment.”

Giant Ads Recruit for 'Religious War' Against Gay Marriage

Not surprisingly, the Religious Right is upset at the failure of an effort to block California’s recent same-sex marriage decision from going into effect. “[N]ationwide legal chaos,” predicted the Alliance Defense Fund. The decision “abolishes the meaning of motherhood and fatherhood,” opined Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. A “further extension of their judicial activism,” said Pacific Justice Institute’s Brad Dacus.

At the same time, readers of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Times were confronted with an enormous advertisement urging them to “join the Crusade” of “conscientious resistance” to “the homosexual ‘moral revolution.’”

An obscure but well-heeled group called the American Society for Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) ran ads today covering two full pages in those newspapers, warning of the threat of same-sex marriage. The ad echoes the now-common Religious Right theme that equality for gays and lesbians would lead to the “persecution” of Christianity, but with 4,600 words in some of the most expensive print around, TFP apparently tried to make the argument in the least succinct way possible, discoursing on Nazism, the definition of truth, various Vatican publications, and Joan of Arc.

By legalizing same-sex “marriage,” the State becomes its official and active promoter. It calls on public officials to officiate at the new civil ceremony, orders public schools to teach its acceptability to children, and punishes any state employee who expresses disapproval. …

Left unchecked, this anti-Christian trend will become an unprecedented assault on the First Amendment and our American way of life that we do not hesitate to call persecution. …

As the homosexual revolution’s anti-Christian intolerance makes itself felt through increasingly persecutory measures, a terrible problem of conscience arises in any who resist: Should we follow our consciences? Should we give in?

For Catholics like ourselves, the condoning of same-sex “marriage” would be tantamount to a renunciation of Faith. …

This is a battle for the soul of America. The so-called Cultural War is gradually becoming a Religious War.

Tradition, Family and Property is an unusual group. Founded in 1973 after the anti-Communist writings of a Brazilian dissident Catholic activist, TFP brought a unique style of protest—serious young men with red capes, heraldic banners, and brass bands—to issues ranging from abortion, homosexuality, and contraception to anti-Communism, water subsidies, flag burning, and the Gulf War. While the group doesn’t have the name recognition of the more media-savvy Catholic League, it still brought in $6.8 million in donations and sales in 2006.

Tradition Family and Property rally

Robertson: Separation of Church and State 'Insane'

'Obey These Laws'

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that making a portrait of Jesus the central decoration of the Slidell, Louisiana courthouse was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. “To know peace, obey these laws,” read an inscription on the painting in the courthouse foyer, which depicted Jesus holding the New Testament. Slidell had already changed its display to present the Jesus portrait among other historic figures, an arrangement the judge okayed for its apparent secular purpose.

On yesterday’s “700 Club,” Pat Robertson deplored this decision and other court rulings on the separation of church and state:

You know, we’re following this insanity that’s been brought about by several Supreme Court decisions … The Supreme Court has really violated the Constitution, and they’ve brought out something that was never intended in the First Amendment. The First Amendment doesn’t say what they say it says. They have done violence to the religious traditions of this nation. America was founded as a Christian nation—in 1892, the Supreme Court said, “This is a Christian nation.”

(AP photo by Judi Bottani.)

Hate in the Name of Jesus: From Anti-Gay to Anti-Semitic

Anti-semitic flier

Believe it or not, somebody is taking credit for the above flier, which urges “Memphis Christians” to “unite and support ONE Black Christian” against Rep. Steve Cohen because “Steve Cohen and the Jews HATE Jesus.” Rev. George Brooks of Murfreesboro, Tennessee put his name and phone number at the bottom, and told the Commercial Appeal newspaper that he did it because the 9th congressional district “about 90-something percent black” (actually more like 60 percent, but that’s really beside the point) and therefore ought to have a black representative. Cohen was elected in 2006 when Rep. Harold Ford Jr. left his seat to run for the U.S. Senate.

Brooks’s message painting Cohen as an “opponent of Christ and Christianity” because of his religion is stunningly and appallingly over-the-top bigotry.  But it’s not the first time that Cohen has been the target of religion-tinged attacks.

Last August, at a meeting of the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association, members of the clergy attacked Rep. Cohen for his support of federal legislation to extend protections against violent hate crimes—already in place for crimes motivated by racial hatred—to sexual orientation. These ministers borrowed a page from the Religious Right, falsely claiming that the hate crimes bill would affect religious speech. “If this becomes law, then the gay advocates will start suing preachers for preaching what they (gays) see as hate,” said Apostle Alton R. Williams—in spite of the fact that the law includes explicit protections for the First Amendment. For some of the ministers, the bogus religious liberty charge may just have been a cover for the same complaint motivating Rev. Brooks. "He's not black and he can't represent me, that's just the bottom line," said Rev. Robert Poindexter of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church at the August meeting.

The Religious Right has long used anti-gay sentiment as the centerpiece of its outreach to the black church – Bishop Harry Jackson led an anti-hate crimes press conference at the most recent “Values Voter Summit” – and right-wing leaders viewed the Memphis ministers’ embrace of anti-gay politics last summer as a victory. The ministers received praise from the Traditional Values Coalition, and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council—who is writing a book with Jackson on right-wing outreach to black churches—claimed the bill was “uniting Christian pastors across racial and denominational lines all across America.” Gary Bauer cited the ministers’ meeting as an inspiring moment, building on the federal anti-gay marriage amendment, “when conservative pro-family leaders stood shoulder-to-shoulder with black pastors in defense of faith and family.”

While Harry Jackson and the Memphis ministers have apparently signed on to such an alliance, national leaders have rejected the claim that civil rights protections for gays and lesbians must come at the expense of African Americans. The NAACP, African American Ministers in Action, and the Congressional Black Caucus all support expanding hate crimes protections.

Anti-Gay Scholars Hit Political Road

The Religious Right looks to Maggie Gallagher and Robert George for intellectual cover when arguing that same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry, but whatever credibility they have as independent scholars will be put to the test by their new venture, the National Organization for Marriage.

Gallagher, president of the low-key Institute for Marriage and Public Policy (and perhaps most famous for taking money from the Bush Administration while promoting its marriage policy), and George, a Princeton professor, started NOM in order to lobby against marriage equality for same-sex couples and to campaign against legislators connected to the issue. The group ran this billboard in Massachusetts before the state’s 2007 election (image via Good As You):

Massachusetts billboard

The group is airing a radio ad in New Jersey against a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry, featuring a child saying, “God creating Adam and Eve? That was so old-fashioned.” Although the bill, entitled “Civil Marriage and Religious Protection Act,” explicitly states that no religious group would be required to sanction any marriage (a requirement the First Amendment prohibits anyway) , the NOM ad hits on public fears that marriage equality for same-sex couples would imperil churches, stating, “They also want to penalize traditional New Jersey churches with threats to state tax exemptions and adoption licenses.”

Land Blasts Phelps

Richard Land is no fan of Fred Phelps, his Westboro Baptist Church, or their tactics: "In my opinion, Fred Phelps and his disciples’ grotesque assault on these bereft family members is nothing less than verbal pornography and obscenity. It is not, and should not, be protected under the First Amendment. For this group of misguided zealots to do their despicable deeds in the name of God is blasphemous."

If You Don’t Like Pat Robertson, You Must Be Crazy

There is an interesting story developing down at Pat Robertson’s Regent University.  It seems as if one of the students, Adam M. Key, doesn’t seem to like Robertson much and doesn’t really fit the stereotype of the typical Regent student:

Key, a bearded 23-year-old with a tableau of tattoos, would seem an odd fit at the evangelical Christian institution Robertson founded in 1978.

Key, a Lutheran, describes himself as a “liberal Christian” who heads the campus’ small “Christian Left” organization.

The tattoos reflect his passion for justice and the legal system. The colorful jumble of images features the U.S. Constitution written on a scroll, the Magna Carta, the Torah, phrases such as “due process,” and men of principle such as Martin Luther, Sir Thomas More and former Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

One startling image shows Osama bin Laden juxtaposed with Robertson.

“I believe they’re both reprehensible people,” Key said, “but I defend their right to believe whatever they want.”

Key, who is from Texas, said he had wanted to attend a Christian institution with a law school accredited by the American Bar Association, such as Regent. One motivating factor, he said, was “the opportunity to show people that liberalism isn’t a sin.”

Key said he has a grade-point average close to 3.0 and that he’s on track to graduate from the three-year program in 2½ years. He said he was only vaguely familiar with Robertson and his political views when he applied to Regent.

Key reportedly posted a photo of Robertson appearing to make an obscene hand gesture on his Facebook page, which he took from a freeze-frame of a YouTube video of Robertson scratching his face on “The 700 Club” - and apparently the folks at Regent didn’t find it funny:

Regent officials gave Key two choices: publicly apologize for posting the picture and refrain from commenting about the matter in a “public medium,” or write a brief defending the posting. He faces punishment that could include expulsion.

Key, a second-year law student, said he refused to apologize and “be muzzled” by the university, so he composed the document, which includes citations from noted First Amendment cases.

Key said that Jeffrey Brauch, dean of the law school, rejected his brief and that he now awaits disciplinary action under the university’s Standard of Personal Conduct. At one point during the controversy, Key said, he was escorted by three armed security guards from the university’s public relations office.

And now Robertson U. has gone a step further and ordered Key to submit to a Regent-approved mental health counselor:

Adam M. Key, 23, was ordered to undergo a mental-health evaluation before he can return to classes. He also was ordered to undergo counseling if a mental-health provider that is acceptable to the university deems it appropriate, and to provide a report showing that he has completed any treatment plan required.

Key also must agree to allow the mental-health provider to provide regular updates on his treatment to the school.

Presumably, Key’s case won’t be discussed when Regent Law School students gather for this:

LAW 774 First Amendment Law (3) Survey of the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Topics covered include freedom of religion, the establishment clause, freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Worried about 'Hispanification,' Vigilante Ties in Flag Debate

A Reno, Nevada man who heard on talk radio that a bar was flying a Mexican flag above a U.S. flag decided to take matters into his own hands, marching up to the business with a 7-inch knife and cutting down both flags. “I'm a veteran; I'm not going to see this done to my country. If they want to fight us, then they need to be men, and they need to come and fight us. But I want somebody to fight me for this flag," Jim Broussard declared before stalking off with the U.S. flag. KRNV TV happened to be there to record the episode:

While the local TV anchor asserted that positioning the U.S. flag below the Mexican flag “is, in fact, illegal,” that is not the case. The federal code includes protocol for display and treatment of the national flag by civilians, but as the courts have made clear, these rules are not mandatory and cannot be enforced, as they would violate the First Amendment. The city of Reno issued a statement reiterating this. PFAW has more resources on “flag desecration” and the effort to amend the Constitution to ban it.

Cutting down and taking someone else’s flag, on the other hand, does not seem to be a constitutionally protected activity, but rather destruction of property.

Broussard later appeared on a talk radio show to clarify that the fundamental issue for him was what host Mike Gallagher called “the Hispanification of the United States.” Said Broussard:

I feel there’s a lot of this turning our heads on things in concern to the Hispanic community and the things they do. They seem impervious to our laws in a lot of situations. …

[Illegal immigrants] are renegades. All they seem to be interested in is to disrupt the tempo, make as many babies as possible, anchor babies, disrupt our financial situation in this country by abusing our medical systems and abusing their rights, or lack thereof, for our monies in many different situations.

"God's Warriors": The Right's "Supreme Vision"

In her series "God's Warrirors," CNN's Christiane Amanpour visited Liberty University where she learned that, though greatly pleased with the confirmations of Justices Roberts and Alito, they are training the "next generation of pit bulls" to "keep fighting at the Supreme Court until we have a new day. We never ever, ever give up." Transcript below the jump:

That Was Then, This is Now

As we noted the other day, the Religious Right was none-too-pleased that Rajan Zed, a Hindu clergyman, was scheduled to deliver the opening prayer in the United States Senate yesterday. Some were so opposed to it, in fact, that they got arrested for disrupting Zed’s prayer by shouting and calling it an “abomination” [see the video here.] The Carpetbagger Report has a good post on this issue which notes that, several years ago, the Family Research Council likewise objected when similar situation arose:
Back in September 2000, I took on a highly entertaining project while working at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala, a Hindu chaplain, was invited to be the very first Hindu in American history to lead a congressional chamber in prayer. AU opposes official congressional prayers, but nevertheless believes that if lawmakers are going to have one, they better be even-handed about it. The Family Research Council didn’t see it that way. The group flipped out, said Samuldrala’s prayer could lead to “moral relativism and ethical chaos,” and explained its belief that religious liberty “was never intended to exalt other religions to the level that Christianity holds in our country’s heritage.” In other words, as the FRC saw it, minority faiths are separate and unequal, First Amendment be damned. I had a blast mocking the FRC for this, calling reporters and making the far-right group look pretty silly for demanding more religion in the public square and then balking at a religious invocation on the House floor. Eventually, the FRC not only backpedaled, it said the announcement condemning Samuldrala’s prayer was distributed by accident.
It appears that FRC either didn’t learn its lesson from this previous incident or has completely forgotten about it, as FRC is now fretting that Zed’s prayer is a sign that the U.S. Senate has taken "just one more step away" from America's Christian heritage and FRC president Tony Perkins just released this “special publication”:
There is no question that under the first amendment Zed enjoys freedom in this country that Christians do not enjoy in his home country. But does that mean it is appropriate for him to open the nation’s highest elected body in prayer? I think not … No one can legitimately challenge the fact that the God America refers to in the pledge, our national motto, and other places is the monotheistic God of the Jewish and Christian faith. There is no historic connection between America and the polytheistic creed of the Hindu faith. I seriously doubt that Americans want to change the motto, “In God we Trust, which Congress adopted in 1955, to, “In gods we Trust.” That is essentially what the United States Senate did today.
While we are on the subject, it should be noted that, according to various news sources, the three protestors were members of Operation Save America, which makes this quote all the more ludicrous:
The Rev. Flip Benham, director of Operation Save America/Operation Rescue, lambasted the decision to turn the prayer ceremony over to a non-Christian. He said that the protesters recited the First Commandment and offered prayers. They were not part of an organized group but were Christians who happened to be in Washington to fight the hate crimes bill. They did not know there was to be a Hindu prayer, Benham said.
Three members of Operation Save America just happened to be in the nearly empty Senate chamber yesterday morning at the very time that a Hindu clergyman was scheduled to deliver a prayer, yet they had no idea it was taking place despite the fact that various right-wing news outlets had been writing about it for weeks? Wow, what an amazing coincidence. Good thing they were there or else this “abomination” would have simply taken place quietly and Operation Save America would have completely missed out on an opportunity to generate some press coverage for itself.

Anti-Gay Activists' Slippery Grip on Reality

Yesterday, a collection of extremist right-wing groups, including BOND and Repent America, along with former Navy chaplain and fringe-right folk hero Gordon Klingenschmitt, held a press conference at the U.S. Capitol to protest Senate hate crimes legislation. The event continued the right-wing’s on-going effort to falsely portray an upcoming Senate bill that would add sexual orientation, gender, and disability to the existing federal hate crime law, as an attack on Christianity.

BOND’s Jesse Lee Peterson puts the legislation into perspective:

“If Christians don’t wake up to what is happening, they will look around one day and realize that they cannot even mention the name of God or disagree with homosexuality.”

Klingenschmitt then more specifically describes the threat:

“If this bill passes, they will come into our churches, they will grab your sermon notes, they will go after your congregation if any pastor preaches against the sin of homosexuality and then a nut in the crowd later goes out and commits a crime. They will accuse him as a codefendant and charge him with a hate speech crime.”

Of course there’s no such thing as a “hate speech crime” in this bill or the existing federal hate crimes law, which targets only violent crimes that cause people bodily harm.  In fact, the “Hate Crimes Prevention Act” already passed by the House includes explicit language protecting the First Amendment rights that Klingenschmitt and his colleagues claim are being threatened.

Repent America’s Michael Marcavage says that the bill’s focus on violent acts is somehow part of a secret strategy:

“[Hate-crime legislation proponents are] doing this in a strategic manner because they say it only applies to violence or violent acts.”

Sure, the law may SAY it only applies to violent crimes, and sure, it may include clear protections for religious leaders and anyone else to speak out against homosexuality, but it’s all part of a slippery slope that will lead to preachers being dragged from their pulpits.

Ah, the old slippery slope argument. Remember then-Senator Rick Santorum insisting that overturning laws against sodomy would lead to acceptance of man-dog sex? Coincidently, this contention also happened to be presented during the press conference by Rev. Jonathan Hunter of LEARN:

“Pastors not only have a right, but an obligation to state emphatically that, according to scripture, a man or woman should not perform a sex act with a person of the same sex, nor with a dog, nor with a snake, nor with a hamster or any other creature.”

As we previously noted, even the urban legend website has debunked the Religious Right’s claims about the hate crimes law. And a group of religious leaders held their own press event in support of the law a day earlier.  But when it comes to portraying supporters of legal protection for gay Americans as enemies of religious liberty, right-wing leaders don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.

The Right’s Concept of “Inclusive”

The American Civil Liberties Union has reportedly filed a lawsuit in Louisiana over a painting of Jesus that hangs in the lobby of the Slidell City Courthouse, saying it violates the First Amendment. 

Not surprisingly, the anti-ACLU (aka the Alliance Defense Fund) has stepped in to defend the painting:

The painting clearly delivers an inclusive message of equal justice under the law,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Mike Johnson … “The ideas expressed in this painting aren’t specific to any one faith, and they certainly don’t establish a single state religion,” Johnson explained.  “The reason Americans enjoy equal justice is because we are all ‘created equal, endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable rights.’  This painting is a clear reflection of the ideas in the Declaration of Independence.”  

All well and good, but since we as a nation are governed by the Constitution rather than the Declaration of Independence, that is not really the issue.

As for the claim that the “painting clearly delivers an inclusive message” that isn’t “specific to any one faith”:

Jesus-Court.bmp Jesus-Court%20II.bmp

CBN Buys 'Patriot Pastors' Spin on Electioneering

In the past year, the IRS has investigated some churches over whether their political advocacy exceeded their non-profit parameters in the tax code -- in which contributions are private and tax deductible – and pushed into the realm of regulated political action committees that give up some of the subsidies for charity and are required to disclose their work on behalf of candidates for office. Yesterday, reporter Michael Haverluck of Pat Robertson’s CBN looked at this complex issue, and whittled it down to its corresponding far-right talking point:

Will pastors' ability to speak to their congregations about social and moral issues erode, or will their appeals to the First Amendment protect this right?

Haverluck cited as an example the activities of World Harvest Church of Ohio, led by televangelist Rod Parsley. Parsley, along with fellow Columbus-area megachurch pastor Russell Johnson, partnered with Ken Blackwell for a series of church “policy briefings” and political rallies, encouraging pastors across the state to mobilize their members to “vote their values” – all while Blackwell was running for governor. At issue was not “speak[ing] … about social and moral issues” so much as the pastors’ apparently brazen use of their churches to campaign for a candidate. Their efforts to build a new church-based political machine are described in People For the American Way’s report on these so-called “Patriot Pastors.”

In Haverluck’s telling, Parsley just happened to bump into Blackwell a couple of times:

Though Pastor Rod Parsley invited Republican and Democratic candidates to World Harvest Church's events, only Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell showed up.

Blackwell is a conservative Christian who opposes abortion and gay marriage. His stance on these issues with Parsley motivated 56 liberal clergy to call for in an IRS investigation.

One complaint accuses Parsley of supporting Blackwell's run for governor by letting him speak at events. Another claims that Parsley planned on having Blackwell on his radio spots, a baseless allegation denied by the pastor and the politician.

It is also contested without evidence that Parsley's "Reformation Ohio" project, aiming to register 400,000 new voters, seeks only conservatives.

In fact, Parsley and Johnson hosted Blackwell as the featured guest speaker at numerous events, in which the candidate was honored with some award or endorsed explicitly from the stage. Parsley even flew Blackwell to one “Patriot Pastor” function on a church-owned plane. This campaign was only part of a broader agenda to promote Blackwell at bigger and bigger rallies featuring famous religious-right leaders, leading up to the primary election and beyond, and indeed including radio spots featuring Blackwell. The radio spots and the rallies with James Dobson never materialized, but far from being a “baseless allegation,” this plan was posted publicly on Johnson’s “Ohio Restoration Project” web site in 2005: you can read it here.

Blackwell’s lopsided loss in 2006 was certainly a major setback to Parsley’s efforts to build a “Patriot Pastor” political machine, but don’t count the charismatic pastor out: His new book, “Culturally Incorrect,” is currently 15 on Publisher’s Weekly’s bestseller list.

First Amendment Protection Only For Those Who Believe

After a lengthy legal battle, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools’ “policy for distributing fliers by community groups [via a "backpack mail" program] is unconstitutional because it gives school officials unlimited power to approve or reject materials.” 

The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Child Evangelism Fellowship of Maryland, with the backing of the Alliance Defense Fund and the Christian Legal Society, after its request to distribute fliers regarding its Good News Club - which is designed to “evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living” – was rejected. 

The Circuit Court sided with Child Evangelism Fellowship, ruling [PDF] that the school district’s policy granted it “unbridled discretion to deny access to the oft-used forum — for any reason at all, including antipathy to a particular viewpoint — [and] does not ensure the requisite viewpoint neutrality.”

Around the same time, the Liberty Counsel, which is directly tied to the late Jerry Falwell and his Liberty University, sent a letter to Albemarle County School Board in Virginia, warning it that its refusal to distribute fliers about a church-sponsored vacation bible school via its own "backpack mail" program was unconstitutional.

The school district quickly changed its policy and the Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver was quite pleased:

"We're pleased the school changed its policy so quickly and correctly," says Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel founder and chairman. "The law is clear-- when schools allow the distribution of secular material, they must accommodate religious material."

Staver refers to a recent 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding a Good News Club's right to distribute fliers in Montgomery County schools in Maryland.

"They're not required to accept everything," he says, citing exemptions for libelous, obscene or pornographic material. Nor does he object if Muslim or Jewish groups want to distribute information about their events in schools. "The First Amendment is not just for the Liberty Counsel," he says. "You can't just pick and choose."

But one year later, it seems as if some on the Right are not so happy about Albemarle’s new policy now that students are bringing home fliers for a summer camp for atheists and freethinkers.

Rev. Jerry Falwell Dies

Rev. Jerry Falwell died today in Lynchburg, Virginia. People For the American Way President Ralph Neas issued this statement:

We extend our condolences to Rev. Jerry Falwell’s family and friends. He was an effective advocate for his vision of America, a vision with which we strongly disagreed.

PFAW has been monitoring and responding to Falwell for over 25 years. The pastor often returned the favor – as, for example, when he cited us as a factor in causing the September 11, 2001 attacks:

I really believe that the 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 - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."

The Carpetbagger Report revisits some significant moments from Falwell’s career, from Larry Flynt to the Clinton tapes to Tinky Winky. Falwell remained an outspoken and controversial figure until the end, but below are some more memorable quotes from the early years.

None Dare Call It Treason – Except Scarborough

Rick Scarborough of Vision America weighs in on the recent ad challenging President Bush and members of Congress to change course regarding the War in Iraq, saying that while he respects the First Amendment as much as anyone, this is not an example of free speech but rather of treasonous speech:

I believe that many in Congress, the press, academia, Hollywood and even retired military, are committing acts that border on treason as they assail our President’s policies regarding the execution of the War on Terror. I hurt for our armed forces that are in harms (sic) way this very hour, as news arrives to their doorstep in Iraq and Afghanistan via the internet and other sources, of the growing dissent of the left and their efforts to handcuff the nation’s Commander in Chief as he seeks to execute the war.

On Wednesday, three retired generals challenged a dozen members of Congress in an ad campaign sponsored by, urging them to cut off funding for the war and thereby force the President to withdraw troops. Had such high-tech and low-down movements existed in previous generations, America would have never won a war. Generals John Batiste, John Eaton and Wesley Clark should be ashamed of what they are doing. No amount of suicide bombers could wreck (sic) so much havoc upon our military establishment as the words of these men - the effect of which is to communicate to our enemies to be patient and you will win.

America was united when this war was initiated. Hindsight is always 20/20, though it is clear to any informed observer that hindsight regarding the War on Terror is selective. Looking back over the past five years we can see numerous mistakes in the way the war has been executed, but we must never forget that we have not had a single successful strike on American soil since 9-11. To God be all praise and thanks for that! But President Bush deserves credit for his steadfast resolve in facing the evil of militant Islamic terrorists in the Middle East.

Only fools and blind men believe that withdrawal from Iraq at this stage of the game will not result in the massive slaughter of innocent human life. Generals certainly ought to know better. It seems that "Treason is in Season" in America and none dare call it that!

None dare call it treason … except for Scarborough of course, as he openly accuses three retired US Generals of being more dangerous to this country than an infinite number of suicide bombers

Racketeering Case against Militant Anti-Abortion Activists Comes to a Close

According to the National Organization for Women, Joseph Scheidler once likened his militant Pro-Life Action Network to a “pro-life mafia.” Now, Scheidler is celebrating the final dismissal of a lawsuit that sought to hold his group’s (sometimes violent) intimidation activism accountable to an anti-mob racketeering law. “I’ve waited 21 years for this news!” said Scheidler. The ruling following a Supreme Court decision last year that federal racketeering laws don’t apply to organized crime without extortion or robbery.

Troy Newman, president of the current incarnation of Operation Rescue, praised Scheidler as a “true American hero.” The original Operation Rescue, run by Randall Terry, was also part of the NOW v. Scheidler lawsuit, but Terry agreed to a permanent injunction against his brand of clinic blockades and a monetary settlement back in 1998. (Terry, who declared bankruptcy to evade the settlement, found himself in the news again two years ago as the spokesman for Terri Schiavo’s parents.)

Throughout the period of militant anti-abortion protesting, when clinic bombings and murders of doctors spotted the headlines, Scheidler was unapologetic about his group’s tactics. “I’m doing what I have to do. So what? I’ve got some misdemeanors … I don’t consider myself a criminal,” he said (AP, 12/5/93). He bragged about his unusual actions, such as absconding with fetal remains (Wash. Post, 12/6/93) or picketing the homes of doctors (“Home Pickets Work,” USA Today, 10/19/95).

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First Amendment Posts Archive

Kyle Mantyla, Tuesday 02/15/2011, 7:04pm
PFAW: PFAW Condemns Abortion Provider Murder Bill.   Alvin McEwen: Family Research Council has yet to come out with 'detailed response' against SPLC charges.   Kate Conway & Julia Krieger @ Equality Matters: Rep. Steve King Proudly Recalls Confronting "Screaming, Profane Gays."   Todd A. Heywood @ Michigan Messenger: Anti-gay activists appeal ruling on hate crimes law.   Alan Colmes: Kansas State Rep. Knows An Illegal Immigrant Because “She Had The Olive Complexion.”   Jason Hancock @ Iowa... MORE
Peter Montgomery, Thursday 02/10/2011, 6:08pm
Rep. Steve King has staked out turf on the far right of the House Republican caucus. But he’s got more competition there, which may explain the relatively paltry audience that came to hear him in a cavernous CPAC ballroom. King chastised his GOP colleagues, saying that if they had pulled out all the stops they could have killed “Obamacare” in the last Congress in spite of Nancy Pelosi’s “iron fist.” King called the 87 Republican freshman “God’s gift to America.”   But his speech was mostly a loving message about King himself,... MORE
Peter Montgomery, Thursday 02/10/2011, 6:08pm
Rep. Steve King has staked out turf on the far right of the House Republican caucus. But he’s got more competition there, which may explain the relatively paltry audience that came to hear him in a cavernous CPAC ballroom. King chastised his GOP colleagues, saying that if they had pulled out all the stops they could have killed “Obamacare” in the last Congress in spite of Nancy Pelosi’s “iron fist.” King called the 87 Republican freshman “God’s gift to America.”   But his speech was mostly a loving message about King himself,... MORE
Brian Tashman, Friday 01/28/2011, 12:13pm
In another sign that Rick Santorum is gearing up for a presidential bid, the former Pennsylvania Senator hired two top Republican strategists from Iowa. CNN reports that Nick Ryan and Jill Latham “will serve as advisers to his political action committee, America's Foundation.” Ryan and Latham both originally worked at the Concordia Group, a lobbyist firm that primarily worked to help the ethanol industry. Ryan is also a founder of the American Future Fund (AFF), a shadowy political group that was accused of violating campaign finance law. The New York Times found the AFF... MORE
Brian Tashman, Friday 01/28/2011, 12:13pm
In another sign that Rick Santorum is gearing up for a presidential bid, the former Pennsylvania Senator hired two top Republican strategists from Iowa. CNN reports that Nick Ryan and Jill Latham “will serve as advisers to his political action committee, America's Foundation.” Ryan and Latham both originally worked at the Concordia Group, a lobbyist firm that primarily worked to help the ethanol industry. Ryan is also a founder of the American Future Fund (AFF), a shadowy political group that was accused of violating campaign finance law. The New York Times found the AFF... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Tuesday 01/25/2011, 12:43pm
As we have noted several times in recent weeks, John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, is facing the possibility of being disciplined by the Florida Supreme Court for misconduct during the Rifqa Bary saga as well as a $10 million lawsuit from the lawyer who represented Bary's Muslim parents. Stemberger insists that the wild allegations he threw around when he was representing Bary in Florida are protected by the First Amendment and that the lawsuit and misconduct complaint are merely an "attempt to squelch any criticism, legitimate or not, of Islam and its... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Tuesday 01/25/2011, 12:43pm
As we have noted several times in recent weeks, John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, is facing the possibility of being disciplined by the Florida Supreme Court for misconduct during the Rifqa Bary saga as well as a $10 million lawsuit from the lawyer who represented Bary's Muslim parents. Stemberger insists that the wild allegations he threw around when he was representing Bary in Florida are protected by the First Amendment and that the lawsuit and misconduct complaint are merely an "attempt to squelch any criticism, legitimate or not, of Islam and its... MORE