Religious Liberty

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.

Pat Robertson to the Rescue?

Amid all the turmoil plaguing Oral Roberts University, it appears as if things might be turning a corner because, in addition to a Christian businessman’s pledge to bail out the debt-ridden institution with a $70 million donation, it seems as if Pat Robertson is set to take advantage offer his assistance:

A team from Regent University will travel to financially troubled Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., on Monday to explore “options” for ties between the institutions.

“We are pleased to report that Dr. Pat Robertson, president and chancellor of Regent University and long-time friend of Oral Roberts University, has contacted members of the board of regents and has expressed interest in exploring options for the future of ORU with Regent University,” George Pearsons, chairman of the ORU Board of Regents, said in a statement posted on the university’s Web site.

“Dr. Robertson is sending a team on Monday to Tulsa to meet with ORU Regents and administrative representatives,” he said

It should be noted that Robertson’s Regent University Law School got its start back in the mid-80s when ORU, like today, was facing financial difficulties:  

The Regent law school was founded in 1986, when Oral Roberts University shut down its ailing law school and sent its library to Robertson's Bible-based college in Virginia.

Regent didn’t just get ORU’s “entire law library, [but] some students and faculty” as well.  

Who knows what part of ORU Robertson has his eye on this time.

Speaking of Robertson and Regent, Adam Key, the Regent Law School student suspended and ordered to undergo a mental evaluation for posting an unflattering photo of Robertson on his web page, has apparently decided to sue:

A Regent University law student who was suspended for posting an unflattering photo of school founder Pat Robertson on the Internet sued the university and Robertson on Thursday.

Adam M. Key, 23, claims in the federal suit that Regent officials violated his free speech and due process rights for expressing his "Christian religious and political opinions" when it suspended him in October.

"I went there because I wanted an environment conducive to learning that had a respect for religious liberty, but the only liberty they are interested in defending is theirs and people like them," Key said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Thursday.

Because the private university receives federal funds, it is required under the U.S. Higher Education Act to respect students' freedom of religion and expression.

The lawsuit also alleges Key was "fraudulently induced" to attend Regent. "Adam relied on Regent's many claims of religious liberty and speech" and the law school's American Bar Association accreditation, the lawsuit states.

Land Falling Out of Love With Thompson?

Not likely, but Richard Land's statements on Fred Thompson have suddenly become noticeably toned down: "Fred Thompson has yet to show the executive skills to be president based on his campaign so far, Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy wing, said today.'We are in the process of finding out. We'll see. We'll see,' said Land, president of the convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, during a question-and-answer session with reporters from USA Today and Gannett News Service ... 'He's a master retail campaigner,' Land said.'The one hole in his resume is that he's never run anything.'"

Perkins Lays Down the Line(s)

At a mid-day press conference called to discuss the Employment Non Discrimination Act about to come before the House, FRC’s Tony Perkins joined Bishop Harry Jackson, Rick Scarborough, and others to denounce the bill as a threat to religious liberty and as bad law generally. The strangest moment of the press conference was when an “ex-gay” spokesman gave his testimonial about having experienced workplace discrimination back when he was out and proud – and how he had gone to his boss’s boss and it was resolved (Confusion in the room – is that a good thing? should we applaud or not?) His point seemed to be that we shouldn’t make a law when people can take care of any workplace problems on their own – and oh, by the way, I am SO not homosexual any more. The reporters didn’t really care – after all, it’s not exactly a news flash that people like Perkins and Jackson are opposed to legal protections for gay people. The press corps wanted to talk presidential politics. Regarding the much-discussed threat by Religious Right leaders to form a third party if Giuliani is nominated, Perkins said that was a statement of principle, not a declaration of intent – BUT he insisted that the social conservative movement had drawn a line. Asked later what “lines” were uncrossable in the movement’s minds, Perkins said “life and marriage.”

Religious Right Rally against Marriage Equality in Florida

Just days after the Religious Right’s B-team gathered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to question Republican candidates for president (including the ones who didn’t show up), a number of more prominent right-wing figures are convening in Tampa for the Family Impact Summit, sponsored by the Focus on the Family-affiliated Florida Family Policy Council, the Tampa-based Community Issues Council, the Family Research Council, and the Salem radio network.

Advertised topics range from “Christian Citizenship” to “Homosexual Agenda,” but the focus will no doubt be on the 2008 election, and in particular, the effort by Florida’s Right to put a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage on the ballot—even though gays are already prohibited from marrying by statute.

Below is some background on the featured speakers, from Tony Perkins and Richard Land to Katherine Harris and Ken Blackwell.

Tony Perkins

Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council, considered the leading religious-right think tank in Washington, DC. Before coming to FRC, Perkins was a state legislator in Louisiana, and as a campaign manager for a Republican candidate, he reportedly bought David Duke’s e-mail list.

Under Perkins’s leadership, FRC, along with Focus on the Family, put together several “simulcasts” of political rallies held in churches, including three “Justice Sunday” events in 2005-2006—“Stopping the Filibuster Against People of Faith,” ”God Save the United States and this Honorable Court,” and “Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land”—featuring religious-right luminaries such as James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Phyllis Schlafly, along with politicians like Rick Santorum and then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, arguing that opposition to Bush’s extreme judicial nominees constituted an assault on their faith or Christianity itself. A fourth event just before the 2006 elections, “Liberty Sunday,” promoted the idea that gays and their “agenda” were out to destroy religious freedom.

That fall, FRC also organized a “Values Voter Summit,” in which Dobson and other activists exhorted their constituency to turn out for the GOP; the conference showcased a number of future presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Sam Brownback. A second Values Voter Summit is planned for next month.

Also appearing from FRC at the Family Impact Summit are David Prentice and Peter Sprigg.

Richard Land

Since 1998, Richard Land has served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which is “dedicated to addressing social and moral concerns and their implications on public policy issues from City Hall to Congress.”   

Land has been an active and influential right-wing leader for many years and in 2005, was named one of “The Twenty-five Most Influential Evangelicals in America” by Time Magazine, joining the likes of James Dobson, Chuck Colson, David Barton, Rick Santorum, and Ted Haggard.

Land also hosts three separate nationally syndicated radio programs and has written several books including, most recently “The Divided States of America? What Liberals and Conservatives are Missing in the God-and-Country Shouting Match!,” which Land claims seeks a middle ground between the right and the left on the role of religion in the public square.  In reality, the middle ground Land stakes out consists mainly of standard right-wing positions on political and social issues that are made to appear moderate in comparison to ultra-radical positions put forth by far-right fringe elements.  

In recent months, Land has been positioning himself to play a much more high-profile role in the presidential campaign than he has in the past, repeatedly asserting that he and other Evangelicals will not support Rudy Giuliani or Newt Gingrich, should he run,  while regularly bolstering the campaign of Fred Thompson, who Land calls a “Southern-fried Reagan.”

Harry Jackson

Jackson, pastor of a Maryland megachurch, has become a frequent spokesman for right-wing causes in recent years. In 2004, he played a prominent role in urging blacks to vote for George Bush, and in 2005, he started the High Impact Leadership Coalition and unveiled his “Black Contract with America on Moral Values”—an agenda topped with fighting gay marriage—at an event co-sponsored by the far-right Traditional Values Coalition. Jackson spoke at “Justice Sunday,” a religious-right rally in favor of Bush’s judicial nominees, as well as “Justice Sunday II, where he promised to “bring the rule and reign of the Cross to America.” He is a member of the Arlington Group.

Since then, Jackson has continued to urge blacks to vote for right-wing causes and candidates. “[Martin Luther] King would most likely be a social conservative,” he wrote in one typical column. His most recent efforts have focused on opposing hate crimes protections for gays, falsely claiming that a proposed bill would “muzzle our pulpits.”

In an article in Charisma magazine, Jackson wrote that the “wisdom behind” the “gay agenda” is “clearly satanic,” and he called for an aggressive “counterattack.” He asserted to The New York Times that “Historically when societies have gone off kilter, there has been rampant same-sex marriage.”

Don Wildmon

Wildmon is the Founder and Chairman of the American Family Association, which exists primarily to decry whatever it deems “immoral” in American culture and lead boycotts against companies that in any way support causes, organizations, or programs it deems offensive, particularly anything that does not portray gays and lesbians in a negative light. 

Over the years, AFA has targeted everything from the National Endowment for the Arts, Howard Stern, and the television show “Ellen” to major corporations such as Ford , Burger King, and Clorox.  AFA has also been particularly focused on Disney, declaring that the company’s “attack on America’s families has become so blatant, so intentional, so obvious” as to warrant a multi-year boycott.

Recently, AFA has been busy warning that proposed hate-crimes legislation is designed to lay the “groundwork for persecution of Christians,” attacked presidential candidate Mitt Romney over his time on the board of Marriott Corporation because the company offers adult movies in its hotels, and warned that the US Senate was “angering a just God” and bringing “judgment upon our country” by allowing a Hindu chaplain to deliver an opening prayer. 

Gary Bauer

Gary Bauer is a long-time right-wing activist and leader.  After serving President Ronald Reagan's administration for eight years in various capacities, Bauer went on to become President of the Family Research Council, which was founded, in part, by James Dobson of Focus on the Family, where Bauer also served as Senior Vice President. 

Bauer stepped down from FRC in 1999 when he launched an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.  After dropping out of the race, Bauer made a surprising endorsement of Sen. John McCain at a time when many of the other right-wing leaders had lined up behind George W. Bush.  

Bauer’s standing took a beating when he defended McCain’s attack on Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as “agents of intolerance” and he was ostracized by many for quite a while after McCain lost.  But Bauer pressed ahead, creating his own non-profit, American Values, and gradually reestablished himself in right-wing circles.  

Since then, Bauer has been active in various right-wing campaigns, most notably joining with likes of Tony Perkins and James Dobson in defending and pressing for the confirmation of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.  

William Owens

Owens, a graduate of Oral Roberts University and a Memphis pastor, founded the Coalition of African American Pastors to combat equal marriage rights for gay couples. Owens reportedly told the “Rally for Traditional Marriage” held in Mississippi in 2004 that “homosexual activists of today have hijacked the civil rights cause,” adding: “We're going to fight until we win,” he said. “We're going to have crusades and rallies like this until we win. We're going to let our political leaders know ‘if you don't stand for God, we won't stand for you.’” Owens lent the CAAP name to the Religious Right’s judges campaign, signing on to the “National Coalition to End Judicial Filibusters” and holding a press conference in support of Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court nomination.

In 2004, Owens formed an alliance with the Arlington Group, a coalition of powerful religious-right leaders that was widely credited with being the driving force behind the effort to put anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballot in 11 states in that year’s election. Owens is now on the group’s executive committee, alongside James Dobson, Gary Bauer, Bill Bennett, Tony Perkins, Paul Weyrich, Rod Parsley and others.

Alan Chambers

"Ex-gay" Alan Chambers is president of Exodus International and executive director of Exodus North America, which claim gay men and lesbians can be “cured" and "change" their sexual orientation to heterosexual. Exodus' board includes long-time anti-gay activist Phil Burress of Ohio's Citizens for Community Values, his wife Vickie Burress – founder of the American Family Association of Indiana – and Mike Haley, who replaced discredited "ex-gay" John Paulk at Focus on the Family as chief spokesperson on homosexuality and gender issues. Exodus also co-sponsors a series of "ex-gay" conferences across the country with Focus on the Family. One recent Love Won Out event was particularly mired in controversy when it was revealed that one of its presenting organizations had published a racist column that appeared to justify slavery. During a 2006 CPAC conference panel, Chambers insisted "lifelong homosexual relationships are not possible" and the battle for marriage equality was solely being promoted by the liberal media.

Other representatives of the “ex-gay” activist community scheduled for the conference include Scott Davis and Mike Ensley of Exodus and Nancy Heche, whose book “The Truth Comes Out” describes “how to respond lovingly, yet appropriately, to homosexual family members and friends,” such as her husband, who held secret “homosexual affairs,” and her daughter, whose open relationship with Ellen DeGeneres Heche called “Like a betrayal of an unspoken vow: We will never have anything to do with homosexuals.”

Robert Knight

Robert Knight is something of a journeyman within the right-wing movement.  After starting out as a journalist and editor for various newspapers, Knight has held a series of jobs with various right-wing organizations including Senior Director of Cultural Studies at the Family Research Council, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and director of the Culture & Family Institute at Concerned Women for America.

Currently, he is the head of the Media Research Center’s Culture and Media Institute at the Media Research Center and a columnist for Townhall.com.

His hostility toward gays is well-known, as evidenced by his response to the news that Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of the Vice President, was expecting a child with her partner: 

"I think it's tragic that a child has been conceived with the express purpose of denying it a father," Knight said.

"Fatherhood is important and always will be, so if Mary and her partner indicate that that is a trivial matter, they're shortchanging this child from the start."

"Mary and Heather can believe what they want," Knight said, "but what they're seeking is to force others to bless their nonmarital relationship as marriage" and to "create a culture that is based on sexual anarchy instead of marriage and family values."

John Stemberger

Stemberger, a personal injury attorney and former political director for the Florida GOP, is the president and general counsel of the Florida Family Policy Counsel/Florida Family Action, a state affiliate of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.

Stemberger is leading the petition drive to put on next year’s ballot a constitutional amendment to ban equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, which is already banned by statute. While a 2006 effort fell short, as of September 5, Florida4Marriage.org claimed to have gathered 594,000 of the 611,000 signatures they need to submit by February 1, making it likely that the amendment will be on the ballot in 2008.

Ken Blackwell

Blackwell is most famous as the controversial Ohio secretary of state during the 2004 election, overseeing voting laws while moonlighting as state co-chair for Bush/Cheney. But he has a long history of far-right activism on economic and civil rights issues, and in 2004 Blackwell forged an alliance with the Religious Right as he campaigned for an anti-gay ballot measure. By 2006, when Blackwell ran for governor, this alliance had grown into a church-based political machine, with megachurch pastors Rod Parsley and Russell Johnson taking Blackwell to rallies of “Patriot Pastors,” who signed on to a vision of a Christianity under attack by dark forces, in need of “restoration” through electoral politics. “This is a battle between the forces of righteousness and the hordes of hell,” declared Johnson.

Blackwell’s gubernatorial bid failed, but he continues his career as a right-wing activist with affiliations with the Family Research Council and the Club for Growth, as well as a column on Townhall.com.

Katherine Harris

Harris is well known for her controversial role in Florida’s 2000 presidential election debacle, when she served as both secretary of state, overseeing a “purge” of voter rolls as well as the recount itself, and as a state co-chair for Bush/Cheney. She was elected to the U.S. House in 2002 and 2004, and spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in both 2002 and 2003.

In 2006 Harris made a quixotic Senate run, during which she heavily courted the Religious Right. In an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, she implied that her opponent, Sen. Bill Nelson, was not a Christian, saying, “[I]f you’re not electing Christians then in essence you are going to legislate sin. They can legislate sin. They can say that abortion is alright. They can vote to sustain gay marriage. And that will take western civilization, indeed other nations because people look to our country as one nation as under God and whenever we legislate sin and we say abortion is permissible and we say gay unions are permissible, then average citizens who are not Christians, because they don’t know better, we are leading them astray and it’s wrong.” She also advised people to disbelieve “that lie we have been told, the separation of church and state.”

Tom Minnery

Minnery is vice president for public policy at Focus on the Family and a frequent spokesman for the group. He is the author of “Why You Can’t Stay Silent: A Biblical Mandate to Shape Our Culture,” arguing that society should be “changed from the top down morally.” Focus on the Family, with a combined budget of over $160 million, promotes far-right positions on social issues to millions of Americans through radio, print, and the web, and Focus founder James Dobson is probably the single most influential figure on the Religious Right.

“There are more than enough Christians to defeat the Left," Minnery said at a rally in South Dakota. "There are a lot of pastors who didn't want to be seen as an 'activist,' but this issue of marriage has left them with little choice but to get involved."

Who's Who At the Values Voter Debate

Below are short biographies of those who have been mentioned as participating in tonight's "Values Voter Presidential Debate" in Fort Lauderdale, Florida:

"Their Blood Will Be on Our Hands"

The Christian Defense Coalition is holding a rally Thursday that will feature "a public display of red stained gloves, laid out on the lower Capitol terrace, symbolizing the blood of thousands of religious minorities that will be on our hands if we do not protect religious liberty in Iraq."

News Flash from Conservative Evangelicals: We’re Out of Mainstream

Last week, The Barna Group, an evangelical Christian research and publishing outfit, released a poll saying that the priorities of evangelicals are far different than those of other Americans.

Other polls suggest that many evangelical Christians in fact have priorities that are closer to the public at large than to those of the Religious Right’s self-proclaimed leaders.  So why would an organization whose purpose is “to be a catalyst in moral and spiritual transformation in the United States” proclaim that evangelicals are out of the political mainstream?

It could be about the struggle within the Religious Right over who speaks for evangelical Christians.  Movement leaders like James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council insist that criminalizing abortion and opposing legal equality for gay people must remain the overriding priorities for Christian involvement in the public square.  The emergence of an active pro-environment movement among evangelicals has provoked foot-stomping outrage from the likes of Dobson and Perkins.

Barna weighs in with the supposed finding that evangelicals consider the environment a low priority:

… evangelicals stood out regarding their views on the environment. Only 35% said that protecting the environment should be a top priority - the lowest score recorded among any of the 80 subgroups studied. The national average was 60%.

But the environment is not the only issue in which Barna finds evangelicals out of the mainstream:

Cause or Effect?

Wayne Slater, writing in The Dallas Morning News, says that while Rudy Giuliani might not be much liked by the Republican Party’s social conservative, right-wing base, he might not be totally unacceptable either, especially if they are faced with the prospect of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee:

As the most powerful movement in American politics for several decades, conservative Christians insisted that above all else, their candidates adhere to their positions on social issues, particularly abortion and gay marriage. But as their movement changes, many are placing the fight against Islamic extremism at the top of the list as well.

For the last several years, the “fight against Islamic extremism” has never been a key issue for the Right.  While it has been an issue they’ve mentioned occasionally, its importance has always paled in comparison to their primary goals of fighting for restrictions on abortion, passing a federal marriage amendment, and controlling the federal judiciary.  As a matter of fact, the issue of terrorism was nowhere to be seen on last year’s Congressional scorecard [PDF] put together by the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, which claimed to be a “compilation of significant votes representing a cross section of issues affecting the family.”

So what could explain this relatively sudden rise in the importance of national security issues and terrorism for the Right?

'Religious Liberty' Legal Group Files against Praying Imams

Becket Fund "never before in our history opposed anyone else's claim of religious freedom," now intervenes on behalf of would-be terrorism tipsters.

Surprise! New Right-Wing Video Campaign Long on Propaganda, Short on Truth

Since closing its Center for Reclaiming America for Christ in April, Coral Ridge Ministries has adopted an audacious five-year media outreach strategy to increase its current audience from three to thirty million by 2012. CRM set out to achieve this goal with the release of two “documentaries”: Hate Crimes Laws: Censoring the Church and Silencing Christians, in which CRM joins Tony Perkin’s Family Research Council to portray hate crimes prevention legislation as anti-Christian, and Global Warming: The Science and the Solutions, in which CRM seeks to downplay the serious warnings of scientists and trivialize global climate change.

The propaganda in “Censoring the Church and Silencing Christians” is both factually inaccurate and offensive, as demonstrated by the insistence of Dr. Frank Wright of the National Religious Broadcasters that the hate crimes law would silent churches by outlawing anti-gay sermons. The truth is that speech is explicitly protected in the proposed law. Not only does the video try to scare people through its false claims about “thought police,” it also resorts to personal attacks by, for example, suggesting that Matthew Shepard, the young college student whose brutal murder in 1998 brought hate crimes to the political forefront, was beaten and left to die for making unwanted sexual advances toward his murderers during an illegal drug deal.

"Censoring the Church and Silencing Christians" - Matthew Shepard

Get the Flash Player to see this video clip.

Dr. Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, who appears in both Coral Ridge documentaries, refers to the hate crimes prevention legislation as a “bad idea on steroids” and attacks the proposed legislation for supposedly allowing the government to limit free speech and promote “acceptable” speech. But when it comes to the Federal Communications Commission regulating speech he considers “filth and indecency,” Land is all for it, judging by this press release issued by his office on July 10th.

"Censoring the Church and Silencing Christians" - Richard Land

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For its part, Coral Ridge’s anti-global warming documentary claims that human activity is not the cause of an overstated global warming problem. Once again, Richard Land weighs in to lash out at Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, calling it a “crocumentary” and insisting that God has given humans ‘dominion’ over the Earth to use as they wish. Dr. Calvin Beisner, Associate Professor of Historical Theology at the conservative Knox Theological Seminary, disputes claims by many experts in the scientific community by asserting that taking steps to reduce green house gases will fail to significantly reverse climate trends.

Interestingly, many of the conservative leaders that helped produce the anti-global warming documentary are closely associated with the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA), which played a leading role in trying to derail efforts within the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) to take a public stand against global warming. This documentary is a direct challenge to the growing popularity of “Creation Care,” the environmental movement within the evangelical church, and the release of this documentary reveals the growing chasm between evangelical leaders.

The release of these documentaries suggests that CRM, following the closure of its Center for Reclaiming America, is moving full-speed ahead with its efforts to build influence through a strategy of straight-to-video activism. Based on these two productions, though, CRM may need to change its motto from “Proclaiming Truths that Transform” to “Transforming the ‘Truth.’”

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.

Richard Land Comes to Fred Thompson's Rescue

While presumptive presidential candidate Fred Thompson is in hot water with some on the Right over his record in the 1990s on abortion and campaign finance reform, a contender for religious-right kingmaker is apparently lending his support to the actor and former senator. Southern Baptist leader Richard Land, increasingly preferred by reporters as a handicapper on GOP candidates’ efforts to woo the Religious Right, reportedly introduced Thompson at a critical speech before the elite Council for National Policy in May.

Land was a key figure in the right-wing takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s, and made abortion and homosexuality its political priorities as head of SBC’s Christian Life Commission, later the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the denomination’s lobbying arm. More recently, while still an outspoken advocate of far-right policy positions, Land spent more time establishing himself as a commentator on politics and religion.

Now, at another critical moment for Thompson’s efforts to win over the Right, Land has reemerged to talk up the candidate in religious media. Land told David Brody of Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network that “it is Fred Thompson's race to lose.” Of the man he calls a “Southern-Fried Reagan,” Land said, “I have never seen anything like this grassroots swell for Thompson. I'm not speaking for Southern Baptists but I do believe I have my hand on the pulse of Southern Baptists and I think I know where the consensus is.”

And in World Magazine, Land emphasized the “red meat” appeal Thompson will have with primary voters. While anti-abortion activists complained to Land when he promised never to vote for Giuliani, he said, Thompson will end the frustration.

Land predicts the fussing will stop once the pro-life Thompson enters the race. He thinks evangelicals will flock to the Tennessee politician: "I think the Giuliani express will slow, stall, and go in reverse."

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Religious Liberty Posts Archive

Kyle Mantyla, Wednesday 03/30/2011, 5:38pm
PFAW: House Votes to Impose Costly, Ineffective and Constitutionally Troubling Voucher Program on DC. Ryan @ TFN Insider: Haters Gotta Hate. Chris Rodda @ Talk 2 Action: Huckabee: All Americans Should Be Forced at Gunpoint to Listen to David Barton. Justin Elliot @ Salon: Why the Christian right is backing a brutal despot. Andy Kopsa @ Iowa Independent: Indiana group leads gov-funded marriage program and push for anti-gay amendment. Robert Steinback @ Hatewatch: Muslim-Basher Pam Geller, Fresh From Call for Censorship, to Testify to... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Tuesday 03/29/2011, 11:24am
Bryan Fischer's anti-Muslim bigotry has become such a standard part of his rhetoric that it is getting to the point where it is difficult to determine whether his latest outburst warrant mention any more ... even when he is calling for a ban on immigration by Muslims and for local communities to ban the construction of mosques since he has made both of these demands before. But so long as Fischer is going to continue to voice his bigotry and assert that First Amendment protections do not apply to Muslims, we are going to keep making note of it: Immigration is obviously a matter for Congress... MORE
Brian Tashman, Friday 03/25/2011, 12:47pm
Yesterday, RWW reported on the Religious Right’s virulent opposition to a California bill that would make sure lesbian and gay historical figures are represented in the curriculum. Now, Focus on the Family’s political arm CitizenLink is linking the curriculum bill to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in its post “Indoctrination 101: From the Battlefield to the Ball Field.” Focus on the Family has consistently railed against “homosexual indoctrination” in schools and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, demanding its reinstatement.... MORE
Brian Tashman, Wednesday 03/23/2011, 2:27pm
While the American Family Association claims that one of its founding objectives is to defend “the rights of conscience and religious liberty from infringement by government,” its chief spokesman Bryan Fischer continues to show his contempt for religious freedom. Fischer, the AFA’s Director of Issues Analysis, repeatedly demanded that the US deport all Muslims and prohibit and purge Muslims from the military, and also called for the banning and destruction of mosques. Fischer today attempted to reconcile his ardent opposition to Muslim religious liberty with the Constitution... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Tuesday 03/08/2011, 11:32am
On Thursday, Rep. Peter King, in his capacity as chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, will kick off hearings which seek to investigate the "radicalization" of Muslims in the United States. While lots of religious leaders are uniting in opposition to these hearings, others, like Richard Land, think they are a fantastic idea and a great opportunity for Muslims to prove that they are not terrorists ... and if they dare to object, they are only making things worse: Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist... MORE
Brian Tashman, Monday 03/07/2011, 11:14am
Rick Santorum is set to address Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition in Iowa tonight along with Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, and Buddy Roemer. On Saturday he wrote a guest column for the Des Moines Register where he repeated the same groundless right-wing arguments that marriage equality will lead to the end of religious freedom and that the Obama administration has stopped enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act. In Iowa, a state which has had equal marriage rights since 2009, religious liberty has yet to collapse, as many conservatives predicted. And while the Obama... MORE
Brian Tashman, Friday 03/04/2011, 10:40am
Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Richard Land took a preemptive strike against Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who raised eyebrows after calling for a “truce” on social issues and is considering a run for president. Land writes just one day after a WSJ poll found that the majority of GOP primary voters would be sympathetic to the “truce” offered by Daniels, who believes that the nation should be focusing on economic issues instead of fighting the “culture war.” Land, like many other Religious Right leaders, has come out swinging against Daniels’s... MORE