Religious Liberty

Land Slowly Backs Away From Palin

Politico notes that even though Sarah Palin tops polls of Republican voters’ preferred pick for the party’s nominee in 2012, her support comes mainly from hard-core right-wing conservatives while her approval rating among moderates and centrists has plummeted.

What makes the article interesting is this statement from Richard Land, who was one of Palin’s earliest backers touting her candidacy way back in early August and constantly gushing about her during the campaign, suddenly suggesting that the Right doesn’t “have all their hopes and dreams vested” in her future:

The GOP intra-party debate over Palin has become a proxy for the larger question of her party's future, and conservative chieftains like Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land fear that attacks on Palin are at times veiled swipes at the party base.

"It would be a mistake to say that social conservatives have all their hopes and dreams vested in Sarah Palin," Land said, but he added Palin "does have the one thing you can't coach, charisma," and continues to have "star power" with conservatives.

Now Land has a long history of trying to portray himself as more of a pundit than a Religious Right hack and setting himself up as perhaps a more sensible alternative to the likes of James Dobson.  In that capacity, he often serves as a moderately reliable bellwether of the Right’s views on political issues, such as his early adoration of Fred Thompson which then quickly evaporated when it was clear that his campaign was going nowhere or his lukewarm support of John McCain’s candidacy that was kicked into overdrive by his choice of Palin as his running mate.

So it is interesting to see Land start backing away ever-so-slowly from the idea that Palin represents the future of the Religious Right movement in American politics, presumably out of concern that Palin’s future itself might be rather limited, as Ed Rollins points out:

Ed Rollins, who ran presidential bids for Republicans including Ronald Reagan and Huckabee, argued that "independents are something she can focus on later."

In the end, though, Rollins expects that Palin "will be very similar to [Dan] Quayle."

"When he started to run, [Quayle] got nowhere," Rollins said. "The potential is there [for Palin] but out of 10 weeks she had two good weeks." For the 2012 race, "she's now not starting at the top but starting at the bottom," he said, adding that Palin would have to campaign for years in Iowa and New Hampshire to mount a viable campaign.

The Wirthlins Take Their Sob Story on the Road

Robb and Robin Wirthlin are fast becoming right-wing celebrities as they turn their horror stories about what happened to their family as a result of gay marriage in Massachusetts into a warning to the rest of the nation.

You see, their son was read the book "King and King" in school and ... well, that's about it.  But that was enough to get them featured in this video about the dangers of gay marriage from the Family Research Council: 

And now they have taken their tale of woe on the road, heading down to Florida to urge its citizens to pass Amendment 2 and prevent such tragedies from befalling their own families:

Massachusetts parents Robb and Robin Wirthlin don't want parents in Florida to have the same experience as they did when their seven-year-old son was taught from a book advocating "gay marriage" in his second grade public school classroom in the wake of that state's legalization of same-sex marriages.

"It's troubling and it's disturbing. We don't want this to happen to any other family," Robb Wirthlin, joined by his wife, said at a Tallahassee news conference Oct. 22.

The Wirthlins, also joined by a Hillsborough County teacher, a First Amendment attorney, and religious leaders urged Floridians to support the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment (also known as Amendment 2 on the November ballot) to protect traditional marriage in order to avoid the negative educational and religious liberty ramifications that have arisen in other states with "gay marriage."

"If we had a million dollars to give the campaign we would because we don't want anyone to go through this-what we've been through," Robb Wirthlin said.

...

The Wirthlins unsuccessfully appealed to their son's teacher and principal to receive prior notice before such subject matter is taught or to opt-out of such lessons. Later, a federal lawsuit also failed to protect the parents' rights, and the Wirthlins have been subjected to ridicule and hostility by other citizens in Lexington.

But just in case that wasn't enough to scare Florida voters straight, Anita Staver, wife of right-wing uber-lawyer Mat Staver, issued some terrifying predictions of her own: 

Anita Staver, president of Liberty Counsel and co-author of the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment, told reporters: "We don't need a crystal ball to tell what's going to happen in Florida if Amendment 2 does not pass. Normalizing same-sex marriage will suppress speech and religion. The ultimate goal for those opposing Amendment 2 is to silence all opposition to same-sex behavior and the homosexual lifestyle."

Noting the "gay marriage" debate is "really a battle over the freedom of speech," Staver listed 10 examples in schools, churches and private businesses in which persons opposing homosexuality have been discriminated against, usually in states and countries where "gay marriage" has been legalized.

"Florida, we've had ample warning. To prevent similar travesties from coming to this state, we need to get ready. We need to vote yes on Amendment 2," Staver said.

Right Plots to Wage Culture War During Obama Presidency

For those hoping that a victory by Barack Obama might somehow restrain or moderate the Religious Right … well, you are going to be disappointed since the Right is already looking ahead and planning on reconstituting itself by rallying around Sarah Palin and launching an all-out culture war: 

"An Obama victory will galvanize social conservatives for 2010 and 2012 and they will look for a standard bearer they can rally around," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of America's largest evangelical group.

Land told Reuters the candidate most likely to "rally the troops" under an Obama administration looked to be McCain's running mate Sarah Palin.

The Alaska governor has excited the evangelical base but her strident opposition to abortion rights and other hard-core conservative positions have alienated more moderate voters.

William Donohue, president of the conservative Catholic League which opposes abortion rights, said religious conservatives were bracing for a new phase in the "culture wars."

"I've been on the phone the last couple of days with some of my friends ... and we're getting ready for the biggest culture war battles ever," Donohue said.

"There is nobody in the history of the United States who has run for president who is a more enthusiastic supporter of abortion rights than Obama," he said.

"How McCain Shed Pariah Status Among Evangelicals"

That is the title of this good piece by NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty on how John McCain managed to go from reviled enemy of the Religious Right to panderer extraordinaire in just eight years.

Hagerty recounts who McCain openly attacked the Right with his "agents of intolerance" remark back in 2000 and how despite Gary Bauer's efforts to help him adjust the tone and direction of the attack, there was no confusion on the part of Religious Right leaders regarding what he meant: 

"It was very hurtful," recalls Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. "When you attack two of their leaders — and those two people were much more important leaders in 2000 than they are today – well, it damaged McCain with a lot of the grassroots."

And then McCain only compounded the problem this year when he sought the support of John Hagee and Rod Parsley only to reject them when he was forced to answer for their views, something that Richard Land points out only went to show how clueless McCain is about the GOP's right-wing base:

Land says the controversy showed how little McCain knew the constituency he was trying to woo. "Both of these guys hold positions which anyone who knows evangelical life well would know would be problematic for someone running for national office," Land says. "I think McCain and his advisers just didn't know the lay of the land."

The interesting thing about this, which Land doesn't mention, is the fact the Right was not mad at McCain for seeking the support of Hagee and Parsley because they held crazy views unrepresentative of the movement, but because he refused to defend them and their views when they came under attack and ultimately dropped them alltogether. 

But then McCain finally got his act together, started courting them, saying the things they wanted to hear, and finally gave them the VP nominee they had been dreaming of:

In May, McCain began to court the evangelical leaders he had once disdained, with the help of Bauer, his friend and religious insider. All summer, McCain met privately with leaders and stressed his credentials that he is strongly pro-life, anti-same-sex marriage, a religious conservative by record if not by countenance.

Then he threw the first of two punches.

On Aug. 16, McCain and his Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama agreed to be questioned, separately, by Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California. During the televised forum, McCain served up short, definitive answers, just as this evangelical audience wanted it.

...

Bauer was sitting in the front row.

"Even before the event was over during little breaks for TV," he recalls, "people were patting me on the shoulder, saying, 'Oh my gosh, Gary, he's so much better than I thought he would be. This is wonderful!'"

Two weeks later, McCain delivered his knock-out punch to Obama's hopes for winning traditional evangelicals when he announced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

At that moment, some 250 evangelical leaders were meeting in Minneapolis. Land, who was there, says they jumped to their feet and cheered.

"The first appointment in a supposed McCain admin is who he picked for vice president," Land says. "And he picked someone who is a rock star among pro-lifers, Catholic and Protestant. There's not a pro-life activist in the country who didn't know exactly who Sarah Palin was before John McCain ever picked her as his vice president."

And that is how John McCain shed his pariah status among Evangelicals - by completely caving to their demands. 

GodTV Election Special

Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice has been something of a guardian angle for the Rob and Paul Schenck.  After getting arrested and fined repeatedly for their anti-abortion activism in New York, the brothers decided to give up their protesting and move to Washington DC to reinvent themselves, with Sekulow's help:

SCHENCK BROTHERS BID FAREWELL TO PRO-LIFE ACTIVISM IN BUFFALO
11 August 1994
Buffalo News

The Revs. Paul H. and Robert L. Schenck are packing up their pro-life activism and moving it to the national arena.

They're also taking the Rev. Johnny Hunter, a third leader of the local pro-life movement, with them. The three men are moving to the Washington, D.C., and Virginia Beach, Va., areas.

Starting Sept. 1, Paul Schenck hopes to become a director of the American Center for Law and Justice, a public-interest law firm that fights for religious liberty and the pro-life and pro-family causes.

Robert Schenck will become organizing pastor of the National Community Church on Capitol Hill, which is affiliated with the Assemblies of God denomination. That new church will attempt to attract middle-level Capitol Hill workers and develop a national network of pastors to engage in "Christian lobbying" on Capitol Hill.

Sekulow continued to assist them, even going to the Supreme Court and arguing Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York on Paul's behalf in 1996.  And to this day, Sekulow and the Schenck brothers maintain close ties, which is why it is no surprise to see that he had invited Rob to join him and former Attorney General John Ashcroft for the taping of their GodTV Election Special:

Rob Schenck (R) appears on a GodTV Election Special hosted by Jay Sekulow (L). Other guests included former US Attorney General John Ashcroft (Center Left) and Mega-Church Pastor Mike MacIntosh of San Diego's Horizon Christian Fellowship (Center Right). The four talked atop the US Chamber of Commerce building with the White House and Washington Monument in the background. The Election Day Special can be seen at www.god.tv

According to the GodTV schedule, the special is set to air on Friday, October 19 at 8pm.

Palin’s Unbiblical Candidacy

Today, the LA Times takes a look at the issue, which we’ve mentioned here a few times, of the seeming conflict between the belief among some conservative evangelicals that women cannot be leaders of the church and that their proper role is to be submissive to their husbands all while enthusiastically supporting Sarah Palin’s candidacy for vice president.  

The consensus seems to be that biblical restrictions on women's roles only apply at church and at home, not out in the secular world and, provided that Palin's husband approves, she is free to have a career.  

But inevitably, there are those for whom even this seemingly restrictive view is too liberal: 

"The Palin selection is the single most dangerous event in the conscience of the Christian community in the last 10 years at least," said Doug Phillips, president of Vision Forum, a Texas-based ministry. "The unabashed, unquestioning support of Sarah Palin and all she represents marks a fundamental departure from our historic position of family priorities -- of moms being at home with young children, of moms being helpers to their husbands, the priority of being keepers of the home."

Voddie Baucham, a Texas pastor who has criticized the Palin selection as anti-family in a series of blogs, said that the overwhelming evangelical support demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice biblical principles for politics. "Evangelicalism has lost its biblical perspective and its prophetic voice," Baucham wrote. "Men who should be standing guard as the conscience of the country are instead falling in line with the feminist agenda and calling a family tragedy . . . a shining example of family values."

In an interview, Baucham said the hundreds of responses he's received are running 20 to 1 in his favor. But he said he has also been castigated for "breaking ranks" by some, who argue the election is too important to raise divisive issues.

He and other like-minded pastors disagree. "It's more important for us to truthfully represent the priorities of Scripture than it is for us to win an election," Phillips said.

That view is obviously held by a very small minority of evangelicals, but overall this issue is leading to rather odd statements from Religious Right leaders as they try to reconcile this apparent contradiction:  

Although many conservative Christians agree that women should place homemaking over working outside, many are hesitant to apply those views to Palin. Christian author Martha Peace, whose book "The Excellent Wife" tells women to submit to husbands and be good homemakers, said she would not make the same choice as Palin.

Ditto for Richard Land, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and recommended Palin to the McCain campaign. He also would not do as the Palins have done. "I'm not hard-wired to be the 'First Dude,' " he said.

But Peace and Land are two of many who say the public should stay out of what is a matter between the Palins and their pastor. "I wouldn't presume to make that judgment for another family," Land said.

That’s rich coming from Land, whose entire career has been based on passing judgment on others.

SBC Electoral Prayer Vigil Seeks to Protect Candidates from the "Attacks of Satan"

The Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission have announced a 40 Day Prayer Vigil for Spiritual Revival and National Renewal. Set to begin in late September, it is timed to conclude - wouldn't you know it - right on Election Day:
The 40/40 Prayer Vigil is set to begin Wednesday, Sept. 24, and conclude on the Sunday morning, Nov. 2, before Election Day. According to the website for the vigil, iLiveValues.com/prayer, the vigil begins with 37 days of daily prayer and concludes with a recommended 40 hours of around-the-clock intercession during the final three days of the initiative. ... It is not happenstance that the vigil ends just days before Election Day, the two Southern Baptist leaders confirmed. "As Election Day approaches, we as Christians know we need to be committed to praying for the outcome and for those who will be elected to lead us," Hammond said. "But milestone moments like this in our history should remind us of the importance of asking God for spiritual awakening in our land." "As Christians, we need God to give us wisdom as we select the next president of the United States," Land said. "People must realize that government at every level is a lagging social indicator," he added. "True and lasting change in our nation will come from spiritual renewal in the hearts of America's citizens, not from government programs."
As the AP reports:

Southern Baptists are organizing a nationwide prayer campaign to accompany their values-voter registration drive, seeking spiritual renewal for families and churches, and God's favor for public officials who are guided by the Bible.

The 40/40 Prayer Vigil for Spiritual Revival and National Renewal will run from Sept. 24 through Nov. 2, two days before the general election. The daily prayers include requests for God's guidance in voting, for the election of more "godly Christians," for God to "help churches find ways to help Christians get to the polls" and for public officials to be protected "from the attacks of Satan." The effort is a companion program to the iVoteValues registration campaign, which began in 2004 and is jointly led this year by Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant group in the country, and the Family Research Council, a conservative Washington-based advocacy group.

The Right (Over)Reacts to Biden

Following the announcement that Barack Obama had chosen Sen. Joe Biden to be his running mate, the Right swung into action, with FRC Action quickly releasing a “fact sheet on [the] family record of Senator Joe Biden” while others carefully crafted statements of their own and began plotting strategy. 

Within hours, a new on-line movement touting itself “Catholics Against Joe Biden” appeared on the scene, brought to you by the same people behind the “Catholics Against Rudy” effort during the GOP primary.  Of course, that effort gained attention because the organizers were traditionally Republican supporters proclaiming a GOP candidate unacceptable whereas this new effort is standard partisan criticism cloaked in religious terms.

Apparently Catholics are not only universally opposed, but outright offended, by Obama’s decision to choose Biden - at least judging by the press release from Fidelis, another self-appointed political organization that claims to speak for Catholics:

Fidelis President Brian Burch commented, “Barack Obama has re-opened a wound among American Catholics by picking a pro-abortion Catholic politician. The American bishops have made clear that Catholic political leaders must defend the dignity of every human person, including the unborn.  Sadly, Joe Biden’s tenure in the United States Senate has been marked by steadfast support for legal abortion.”

“Now everywhere Biden campaigns, we’ll have this question of whether a pro-abortion Catholic can receive Communion. Senator Biden is an unrepentant supporter of abortion in direct opposition to the Church he claims as his own. Selecting a pro-abortion Catholic is a slap in the face to Catholic voters,” said Burch.

But both Fidelis and Catholics Against Joe Biden were outdone by Gary Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission who made his displeasure known by blasting Obama as a “fake Christian” and Biden as a “fake Catholic”:  

"Barack Obama's choice of Joe Biden sends a clear message, true Christians need not apply in the Democratic Party," said Dr. Gary Cass, Chairman and CEO of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission. "Instead of picking a true Christian, Obama, a fake evangelical, has selected Biden, a fake Catholic.”

 The CADC proclaims its mission is to “advance religious liberty for Christians by protecting Christians from defamation, discrimination, and bigotry from any and all sources,” but that apparently doesn’t apply to those it considers “fake” Christians such as Obama and Biden.  It might seem odd that an organization founded to protect Christians from defamation would among the most frequently and vocally defaming Obama’s faith, but only if you don’t understand that Cass’s mission is reserved solely for those he deems “true Christians” who have proven their faith via “actions and [holding] the beliefs personified by all of us who proclaim the name of Jesus Christ as Savior: the need to be re-born in Christ and the affirmation of historic Christianity, having a demonstrable and proven record of support for traditional Christian morality.”

How To Be a Right-Winger in 25 Easy Steps

All of those potential right-wing candidates out there who are searching for a ready-made agenda to run on are in luck, because today the Family Research Council unveiled a report entitled "25 Pro-Family Policy Goals for the Nation." As FRC explains, the report is designed to serve as a blueprint for candidates, though it'll work for pastors, voters, and plain-old citizens as well:

The document you hold in your hands can serve as a model for the platforms the Republican and Democratic parties will write this summer. It can also serve as a blueprint for how those we elect can promote and protect the family and its values in 2009 and in the years to come. The 25 goals we put forth here are grouped into eight main subject areas, ranging from Human Life to Marriage and Family to Religious Liberty to Culture and Media. Each page features a brief analysis of the issue, followed by one or more specific policy proposals which can help America meet that individual goal. Some involve action by Congress, some by the president, and some by state legislators or executive officials. If you are a candidate for office or an elected official, please consider adopting these proposals as your own. If you are a values voter, challenge those running for office as to their position on these issues, and weigh their response as you consider your vote. If you are a pastor or leader of an organization, consider making copies of this booklet available to your members. If you are simply a citizen who cares about the family in America, write to your elected officials and urge them to pursue these goals with vigor.

As one would expect, the FRC then proceeds to lay out its policy priorities on everything from marriage to abortion to judges. If you are looking for a concise collection of the issues that make up the Right's current political agenda, this new FRC report is one-stop shopping:

Marriage/Anti-Gay The definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman should be enshrined in state constitutions. Ideally, such amendments should reserve the benefits granted to marriage for married couples only. Congress should oppose, and the president should veto, any effort to dilute, weaken, or repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Congress should pass, and the states should ratify, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman nationwide. Until the Marriage Protection Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is adopted, Congress should consider measures which would withhold certain related federal funding from any state that fails to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. For example, federal “family planning” funds could be withheld from any state that fails to recognize authentic marriage as the foundation of the healthy “family.” Improve understanding and enforcement of the 1993 statute affirming that homosexuals are ineligible to serve in the military, and oppose congressional efforts to repeal the law. Congress should reject (or the president should veto) the “Employment Non-Discrimination Act.” Congress should reject (or the president should veto) any federal “hate crimes” legislation including sexual orientation. State legislatures and governors should reject similar bills. Congress should pass legislation that affirms and strengthens the religious freedom of Americans as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and rooted in the nation’s history. A “Freedom of Conscience Protection” law should protect the right of individuals, businesses, and religious institutions to express and carry out their moral views regarding homosexuality in the schools, in the workplace, or in the public square without fear of legal retribution. Judges Congress should exercise its power under Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution to limit the jurisdiction of the federal courts. When judges violate their oat by engaging in egregious judicial activism, Congress, state legislators, and the people should exercise their power to impeach and remove them from office. Anti-Abortion Congress should prohibit distribution of federal funds to institutions or organizations that provide abortions, in light of American taxpayers’ conscientious objections to abortion. State and local governments should likewise cut off all funding for abortion providers. The ‘pro-life riders” that have been added to annual appropriations bills should be made permanent. These include restrictions on federal funds for any and all services and items pertaining to abortion, whether the funds are for domestic or international organizations; restrictions on federal funds for human embryo research and destruction, including cloning; restrictions on patenting of human organisms; and restrictions on destruction of human life through euthanasia or assisted suicide. Abstinence Within federally funded abstinence programs, abstinence-until-marriage messages must be tied together with healthy marriage education. States should pass laws requiring that existing family life education with state law contain a predominantly abstinence-centered message The definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman should be enshrined in state constitutions. Ideally, such amendments should reserve the benefits granted to marriage for married couples only. Teaching Intelligent Design Protect faculty member from being fired, denied tenure, or otherwise professionally punished or disadvantaged for sharing with students evidence critical of existing scientific theories.

McCain's Saddleback Bump

As we noted before, the Right was positively thrilled with both John McCain's performance and Rick Warren's faith forum as a whole. But even we didn't fully realize the extent to which this event seems to have fundamentally transformed the Religious Right's heretofore tepid support into a full-blown fever:

Several conservative activists identified McCain’s response to the question, “What point is a baby entitled to human rights?” as his finest moment of the evening.

McCain replied quickly: “At the moment of conception,” and continued: “I have a 25-year pro-life record in the Congress, in the Senate. And as president of the United States, I will be a pro-life president.”

“He was just right out of the box,” said Lynda Bell, the president of Florida Right to Life. “McCain was so incredibly decisive and he was so clear in his answers. There was no gray area.”

“They feel like this is the start of John McCain’s coming out, in terms of embracing the conservative evangelicals,” Andrews said, comparing the event to the 2000 primary debate in which George W. Bush named Jesus Christ as the philosopher who had influenced him most.

According to Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Christian conservatives were especially eager to hear this message from McCain.

“I think they needed to hear it and they needed to hear it when the question was asked in that way, that protections need to come at the moment of conception,” Land said. “That removes all doubt.”

...

The importance of McCain’s performance at the Saddleback Church, then, was to show religious conservatives that the candidate genuinely cared about their issues.

“People were, before, just kind of wringing their hands thinking, what kind of mess do we have here, what kind of choice do we have,” Perkins said. “I think he stopped the … ambivalence that was out there toward John McCain.”

Andrews agreed, explaining: “When they see McCain’s actual position and him talking about it, it makes a difference, instead of looking at roll call tallies.”

“McCain’s performance was so genuine and so real,” Bell added. “This became clearly, no longer that, ‘This is the best of the two choices,’ and moved from that over to, ‘This is a great, great candidate that we need to get behind.’”

Of course, McCain's new-found support could still all be wiped out if he chooses a running mate who does not meet the Right's requirements:

“The party will just implode” if McCain makes such a choice, Perkins warned. “[Social conservatives] are going to have to know that he’s totally committed to these issues, and that’s going to require a running mate that has an even better ability to communicate with the base than John McCain has.”

The Ever-Principled James Dobson

It was just five months ago that James Dobson declared unequivocally that he would not, under any circumstances, ever support John McCain for president, saying “I cannot, and I will not, vote for Sen. John McCain, as a matter of conscience.”   In fact, so opposed to McCain was Dobson that he went so far as to organize an effort to secure one million signatures in opposition to McCain’s nomination and then publicly reiterated his vehement opposition to his nomination just a few months later.  

But wouldn’t you know it, like every other craven political calculation and empty threat he has ever made, Dobson has changed his mind and concluded that Barack Obama is such a monumental threat to this nation that he almost has no other choice but to blatantly violate his own conscience for the greater good of the Republican Party:

Conservative Christian leader James Dobson has softened his stance against Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, saying he could reverse his position and endorse the Arizona senator despite serious misgivings.

"I never thought I would hear myself saying this," Dobson said in a radio broadcast to air Monday. "... While I am not endorsing Senator John McCain, the possibility is there that I might."

So why is Dobson suddenly changing his tune?  In short, he is absolutely terrified of Obama:

He is also supportive of the entire gay activist agenda.  We're not just talking about showing respect for people and equal rights for all citizens of the United States.  It’s not referring to it in those terms. He’s talking about homosexual marriage. I mean, he makes no bones about that. He's talking about hate crimes legislation which would limit religious liberty, I have no doubt about that, that ministers and others - people like us - are going to very quickly be prohibited from expressing your faith and your theology on certain views.  … Just so many aspects of his views on that issue that keep me awake at night frankly … that he is so extreme, that he does threaten traditional family life and pro-moral values … This has been the most difficult moral dilemma for me.  It’s why you haven’t heard me say much about it because I have struggled on this issue.  And there are some concerns here that matter to me more than my own life and neither of the candidates is consistent with my views in that regard. But Senator McCain is certainly closer to them then Senator Obama, by a wide margin. And there's no doubt, at least no doubt in my mind, about whose policies will result in more babies being killed. Or who will do the greatest damage to the institution of marriage and the family. I'm convinced that Senator McCain comes closer to what I believe. So I am not endorsing Senator McCain today … But as of this moment, I have to take into account the fact that Senator John McCain has voted pro-life consistently and that's a fact. He says he favors marriage between a man and a woman, I believe that. He opposes homosexual adoption. He favors smaller government and lower taxes and he seems to understand the Muslim threat, which matters a lot to me – I am very concerned about that.

Below is the full transcript of today’s program in which Dobson and the Southern Baptist Convention's Al Mohler explain just how “alarming” Barack Obama’s political and theological views are and the dire threat he poses to “traditional family life and pro-moral values":

Too Little, Too Late?

The last time we wrote about the House Values Action Team it was to note that its right-wing agenda had been gutted in the House Republicans’ 2008 campaign agenda for American families. At the time, House VAT chairman Joe Pitts dismissed the obvious implication that House Republicans were trying to distance themselves from the GOP's right-wing base, saying that "when we come out with the whole big picture," the social issues the Right cares about will be front and center.

But it looks like Pitts has realized that vague assurances are not going to cut it this time around and so the VAT is back with its own agenda to let the Right know they have not been forgotten:

Hoping to get their issues back on the front page of the GOP agenda, socially conservative Republicans will introduce their wish list on Thursday to the House Republican Conference.

The House Values Agenda, crafted by Values Action Team (VAT) Chairman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), has five major components: life, religious liberty, marriage, parental rights and protecting children.

Bills on each issue will be introduced later this year.

...

Much of the legislation on the values agenda has been introduced in previous Congresses, but it highlights issues — such as abortion and gay marriage — that some social conservatives have felt have been ignored by Republicans this election year. Social issues were a huge component of President Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004.

The package also includes several bills aimed at regulating indecent programming and protecting children from online predators.

Of course, even this time around the social issues the Religious Right cares about still isn't going to get much play from House Republicans:

Pitts spokesman Andrew Cole said that, for now, the agenda will be encouraged on an internal conference level rather than in a large rollout, citing the importance of keeping the conference firmly focused on energy.

So the VAT is unveiling an agenda aimed at pleasing the Right, which has been feeling jilted and neglected, on its favorite issues of abortion and gay marriage, but it doesn't plan to actually push the issues in any high-profile manner. That kind of halfhearted outreach ought to really energize the Right heading into the November election.

The Return of the 'One-Day Crusade'

Nearly a year after Rick Scarborough began his ambitious “70 Weeks to Save America” to sign up thousands of “Patriot Pastors” and voters at church rallies across America, only to have it peter out due to money, mechanical problems, slim turnout, and Alan Keyes, and nearly three months since announcing the project’s triumphant comeback, Scarborough is finally holding a “Patriot Pastor” rally in Nashville, Tennessee, featuring disgruntled ex-chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt, “National Statesman/Evangelist Dr. Rick Scarborough,” and a singer billed as the “Pavarotti of gospel.”

This “One-Day Crusade” will be held at Two Rivers Baptist Church, home of Rev. Jerry Sutton, who is no stranger to church-based politicking. In 2005, he hosted a rally in support of President Bush’s controversial judicial nominees (including future Chief Justice John Roberts). Billed as a protest against “activist judges” supposedly trying to “silence” people of faith, “Justice Sunday II” brought together some of the biggest names on the Religious Right, such as Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, and then-National Evangelical Association President Ted Haggard, along with Robert Bork, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, Bishop Harry Jackson, and then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Sutton himself boiled down the message he hoped the audience would take home:

Number one, it's a new day.

Number two, liberalism is dead.

Number three, the majority of Americans are conservative.

Number four, you can count on us showing up and speaking out.

And number five, let the church rise.

Sutton, who is a research fellow with Richard Land’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and ran for president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2006, has been involved in an imbroglio at his own church recently, when 71 members sued the church over financial mismanagement (along with Sutton’s “lavish lifestyle” and “authoritarian” leadership).

Right Attacks California Marriage Ruling

Not surprisingly, the Right’s reaction to last week’s ruling by the California Supreme Court in favor of equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians was swift and negative.

Former Rep. Ernest Istook, now of the Heritage Foundation, evoked Nazi metaphors to blame those who supported civil unions as a compromise: “By trying to appease homosexual rights activists, those who have refused to stand up for traditional marriage helped to create this court ruling.  They are the Neville Chamberlains of the cultural wars.”

Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said he was "saddened for the people of California" but "especially for the children of that state."

"The California Supreme Court ruling not only overruled the very clear will of the people, it also proposes to overrule God's design," Duke said. "These judges may think they know more about marriage than the rest of us, but I am confident they don't know more about marriage than God. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Children need that environment to give them their best chance to fulfill their great potential. That's not only my opinion and the opinion of most of the people in this country, it's God's opinion, and His opinion overrules the opinion of any judges.

Indeed, the Right emphasized this “activist judges” angle; Gary Bauer, attacking the “four unelected robed radicals,” wrote:

It was an egregious exercise in judicial activism – of judges wielding raw political power to redefine our most basic values. But that is how the Left has succeeded. It cannot achieve its goals through the democratic process via the elected legislatures, so it ignores the people and goes to the courts, where it relies on political activists cloaked in black who answer to no one. The Left succeeds by using the most undemocratic methods possible.

Of course, Bauer may not realize that, while appointed at first, justices on California’s Supreme Court face voters at the next general election; each of the justices in the majority for this case has been retained by voters at least once. Bauer is probably aware, though, that the “elected legislature” in California passed marriage equality in 2005 and 2007, only to have it vetoed both times by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Nevertheless, right-wing activists hoped the decision would energize opponents of gay rights into action. “The good news is that I believe this will re-ignite the debate over a federal constitutional amendment,” according to Concerned Women for America’s Matt Barber. Jan LaRue called on Californians to recall members of the state’s Supreme Court in the way they recalled the governor several years ago. “Are you going to sit by and do nothing while four black-robed despots take away your right to govern yourselves?”

Meanwhile, the effort to put on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage on the California ballot continues—now, apparently, with more funding.

And, in spite of a beleaguered GOP’s effort to keep a low profile on social wedge issues during this election cycle, the Right is hoping the decision will push John McCain to “speak out more strongly in support of defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” as Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council put it.

The Right’s Weakening Stranglehold on Religion

When Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama agreed to participate in a “Compassion Forum” over the weekend to “discuss how their faith and moral convictions bear on their positions on … important issues,” you’d think that the Religious Right would be elated and that they’d be criticizing John McCain for blowing off the event entirely, especially since they are constantly claiming that it is imperative for politicians “to bring their religiously-informed moral values to bear in election campaigns and public policy decisions.”

You’d be wrong:

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.

A Reverse Religious Test?

What does Mike Huckabee need to get Religious Right leaders and voters to rally around his candidacy?  Apparently, all he needs is to have his right-wing views and record criticized by “elite secularists”:

Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington, DC, says Huckabee is being subjected to the same reverse religious litmus test that was applied during judicial confirmation hearings between 2003 and 2005.

"Senator Charles Schumer of New York said that he was opposed to some of these nominees of the president because of their 'deeply held personal beliefs' and those beliefs coming from their faith -- in particular, regarding abortion and seeing it as wrong," Perkins points out. "So we see a reverse religious test being applied [saying essentially] that anyone who has a vibrant Christian faith that impacts their life will have to choose between that faith and serving in public office -- and that, simply, is wrong."

Perkins says "elite secularists" are trying single out Huckabee because of his evangelical Christian faith, and are attempting to "make him look scary" to the public because he, among other things, rejects evolution, believes in the Bible, and trusts in Jesus Christ. But such efforts, the evangelical leader suggests, may only serve to generate more support for Huckabee in the conservative Christian community.

"I think there's a clear understanding and an attitude [about this] among Christians," says the FRC president. "They're simply tired of the elites who belittle their beliefs and attempt to rob them of every public reflection of their faith -- and I think this could backfire."

As always, whenever a Republican is questioned about his or her views and record, the Right’s immediate response is to impugn the motives of those who dare to point them out and accuse them of harboring everything from anti-Latino prejudice and flagrant anti-woman bias, to anti-Catholic bigotry and basic racism.

If Perkins was professionally invested in seeing anti-Christian persecution at every turn, he’d know that it is not “elite secularists” who are making Huckabee look scary – it is Huckabee’s own views that those with HIV should be quarantined and that “homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural and sinful lifestyle” that is doing that.   

But if Perkins thinks that this sort of thing will help Huckabee with voters, Huckabee himself doesn’t seem to hold out much hope that the Religious Right elite will ever get over their reluctance to endorse him, even though he is a “true soldier for the cause”:

[Huckabee’s ads] also caught the attention of big-time figures in evangelical Christianity, many of whom have refrained from supporting Huckabee’s candidacy. This failure has puzzled and angered the governor. At the Olive Garden he spoke with bitterness about Richard Land, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. ‘‘Richard Land swoons for Fred Thompson,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t know what that’s about. For reasons I don’t fully understand, some of these Washington-based people forget why they are there. They make ‘electability’ their criterion. But I am a true soldier for the cause. If my own abandon me on the battlefield, it will have a chilling effect.’’

The following week, at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, Huckabee won the roomful of grass-roots evangelicals but failed to gain any significant endorsements from evangelical leaders. ‘‘The evangelical leadership didn’t, and perhaps still doesn’t, perceive Governor Huckabee as a winner,’’ Charles Dunn, dean of the school of government at Regent University, told me. ‘‘But more and more, it appears that the leadership is not in touch with its followers.’’

This indictment extends to the founder of Dunn’s own university, Pat Robertson, who has endorsed Rudy Giuliani. It applies equally to the National Right to Life Committee, which is with Fred Thompson; and to the Rev. Bob Jones III, Jay Sekulow, head of the American Center for Law and Justice (the evangelical counterpart of the A.C.L.U.), and Paul Weyrich, the conservative activist who helped build the evangelical movement, all of whom are supporting Mitt Romney. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, is still on the fence. ‘‘I just don’t understand his neutrality,’’ Huckabee told me one day at the end of October in Des Moines. ‘‘I’d be an obvious choice for his endorsement. We’re old friends. I love him and I love his wife, Shirley. I just don’t know how to explain it.’’

Huck’s God Talk

As we noted last week, Mike Huckabee has been complaining that he has been subject to an “unusual level of scrutiny” because of his religious beliefs.  But since his current campaign strategy seem to be largely based around playing up his standing as a “Christian Leader” it only seems fair – even his ideological allies admit as much:

Huckabee sometimes has bristled at questions about whether he would use the presidency to impose his religious views. But even some of Huckabee's longtime friends say he invited such questions by running an ad that promotes him as a Christian leader.

"If a candidate makes his faith a part of his campaign, it is fair game," said Richard Land, who has known Huckabee for 28 years and is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  

So it should come as no surprise to him that people are taking a look at his record and finding this like this:  

"I didn't get into politics because I thought government had a better answer. I got into politics because I knew government didn't have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives."

With that sort of approach to government, it only makes sense that Huckabee would use his use his government position to promote his religion, as he did when he was lieutenant governor – though he had to wait until then Governor Jim Guy Tucker was out of the state to do it:

Clerics, ACLU hit 'Christian' week in Ark.

The Commercial Appeal

3 February 1994

Lt. Gov. Mike Huckabee's proclamation of a Christian Heritage Week cheapens and trivializes the true meaning of being a follower of Christ, several theologians said Wednesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the proclamation part of a national attempt by the religious right to prove America was founded as a Christian nation, but the group said it will take no action.

Huckabee, acting governor during Gov. Jim Guy Tucker's absence, signed documents in the Capitol rotunda Wednesday declaring the week of Feb. 27 to March 2 Christian Heritage Week in Arkansas. He said he was "somewhat surprised if not startled" that anyone would oppose the action.

"When I took the oath of office in this state, my hand was placed on a Bible, my oath was made, 'so help me God,' the very document we sign here says 'in the year of our Lord,' " Huckabee said. "I don't think any of us need to fear there is some inappropriate action taken when we simply acknowledge that which our forefathers did when they created this country and declared our independence that . . . all men and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights."

Tucker distances self from Christian week

The Commercial Appeal

4 February 1994

Gov. Jim Guy Tucker said he rejected a request to proclaim a Christian Heritage Week but had no authority to stop Lt. Gov. Mike Huckabee from doing it.

"We were asked to make such a proclamation several months ago, and I declined to do it because I didn't think government should be in the business of promoting any one religion over the other," Tucker said Thursday.

"This is obviously something Lt. Gov. Huckabee feels very strongly about. But under our state constitution, as we know from painful experience a year ago, the lieutenant governor is free to do what he wants to do."

When the governor of Arkansas is out of the state, the lieutenant governor is acting governor and has all the governor's power.

Christian Heritage Week wasn’t the only time Huckabee invoked God to push his political agenda – in fact he had a tendency to do so on a variety of public policy issues – as he did when he dismissed those who care about the environment:

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.”

The Speech: Romney still no JFK

Mitt Romney’s speech on religious liberty and the role his faith would play in his presidency – the long-discussed “JFK speech” -- included some Kennedy-esque rhetoric about the fundamental importance of religious liberty, but it was a far cry from JFK’s ringing endorsement of church-state separation. The timing of Romney’s speech, as former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee overtook Romney in Iowa polling, seemed to make it clear that Romney’s target audience was the conservative evangelicals who play a major role in Republican primaries. Many of those voters have told pollsters that they’re reluctant to vote for a Mormon, and they have little patience for arguments that church-state separation is good for religious liberty.
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Religious Liberty Posts Archive

Peter Montgomery, Monday 06/06/2011, 7:59pm
Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition gathering in Washington, D.C. this past weekend was essentially a relentless repetition of the GOP’s 2012 attack themes on the Obama administration, mixed with Religious Right leaders’ demands that the Tea Party not abandon social conservatives’ priorities and conservative politicos’ appeals for unity behind whichever candidate emerges from the presidential crowd.  Just about everyone running, or thinking about running, for the presidency on the Republican side was in attendance with the exception of Newt Gingrich.... MORE
Brian Tashman, Monday 06/06/2011, 11:35am
The American Family Association’s Ed Vitagliano and Buster Wilson dedicated their radio show AFA Report to discuss their outrage that President Obama issued a proclamation declaring June LGBT Pride Month. Vitagliano, the editor of AFA Journal, lamented the deleterious consequences of the President’s proclamation. “The point we take issue with is not the percentage. It is the ideology behind the normalization of homosexuality. It wouldn’t matter if it was 20%. If it was 20% we’d be in big trouble,” Vitagliano explained, “We’re talking about a... MORE
Brian Tashman, Friday 06/03/2011, 10:14am
In May Rep. Pete Stark (R-CA) introduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which prohibits “discrimination in adoption or foster care placements based on the sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status of any prospective adoptive or foster parent, or the sexual orientation or gender identity of the child involved.” While it is unlikely that the GOP-controlled House would approve the legislation, it is an important step in the fight to ensure that children awaiting adoption or foster care can find homes. But the “pro-family” Religious Right wants to... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Wednesday 05/25/2011, 12:51pm
As we noted yesterday, Focus on the Family's Jim Daly seems to be in damage-control mode after a recent interview in which he that his side had "probably lost" the fight over marriage equality.  Yesterday he wrote an op-ed for Fox News saying that gay marriage would spell the end of religious liberty for Christians and today he has another piece in the Washington Post saying that "engaging in a little wishful thinking" if they think that he and his organization are going to give up the fight: In a recent report in World Magazine, my friend Marvin Olasky reprinted,... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Tuesday 05/24/2011, 10:21am
Over the weekend, Focus on the Family President Jim Daly made news for admitting in an interview in World Magazine that "we've probably lost" the fight over marriage equality and the Religious Right would "need to start calculating where we are in the culture." Focus on the Family then admitted to Jeremy Hooper at Good As You that this was admission was not "big news, but it’s really just another expression of what he’s been saying for years." But, as Jeremy noted, this admission was in fact a big deal and probably would not go over very well with the... MORE
Brian Tashman, Thursday 05/12/2011, 12:32pm
Chuck Colson is warning Americans that gay-rights supporters are on their way to destroying democracy. With their “un-democratic schemes” and “a scorched-earth policy,” Colson claims that the gay-rights movement is not only the most serious menace to religious liberty but is also the gravest threat to “the democratic process and the rule of law.” Colson points to the decisions by the Department of Justice and the law firm King & Spalding not to defend the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, the decision by the Department of Homeland Security to put... MORE
Brian Tashman, Tuesday 05/10/2011, 12:07pm
Newt Gingrich will announce his decision to run for President tomorrow on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. After an address to the Georgia GOP, he will embark on a tour of Iowa. Tracking Gingrich’s comeback in Republican and Religious Right circles, Right Wing Watch has compiled a “Top Ten” list of Gingrich’s truculent and divisive rhetoric and consistent disrespect for the rule of law, freedom of religion, and equality: Gingrich With Hagee, Warning US Becoming "Secular Atheist Country Dominated by Radical Islamists" Gingrich Says He Stands... MORE