Religious Liberty

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

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, 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

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."

Anti-Gay Activists' Slippery Grip on Reality

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

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

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

Klingenschmitt then more specifically describes the threat:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regent-rifying the World

The ACLJ and Regent University team up to teach 50 students from around the world to "defend religious liberty and human dignity."

Scarborough: 'Different Standards' for Christians, Others

Recently we noted the blatant double standard exhibited by religious-right groups in the case of Albemarle County, Virginia schools’ “backpack mail” program: Last year, Liberty Counsel told the school that if it distributed secular materials by giving them to students to take home, it had to allow religious materials as well. The school complied. But when a summer camp for “atheists, freethinkers, [and] humanists” used the “backpack mail” program, Rick Scarborough’s Vision America pounced, directing its supporters to flood the school superintendent’s e-mail account and eventually causing the school to drop “backpack mail” altogether.

Scarborough declared a “major victory” for Vision America, but lamented that the victory was only partial: He would prefer that the school reject material from atheists while continuing to distribute material from Christian programs. Scarborough explained:

People for the American Way says we’re hypocrites who want to establish a different standard for Christians and atheists.

Hypocrites, no. Different standards? Yes. Again, the court said the district didn’t have unbridled discretion, not that it shouldn’t exercise any discretion.

Why should a fringe minority have the same status as Christians? This country was not established by secular humanists. The Declaration of Independence appeals to the "Creator" and the "Supreme Judge of the World" -- not to Buddha or Mohammad or Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

Christians constitute 90% of the American people. The people whose taxes pay for the Albemarle County School System are overwhelmingly Christian.

While we didn’t actually call Vision America hypocritical, it’s easy to jump to that conclusion. After all, religious-right groups argue for increased access to public schools for evangelism on the principle of “viewpoint neutrality,” but when it comes to a viewpoint Vision America doesn’t like, the principle disappears.

Perhaps what Scarborough means when he alleges a “War on Christians” is any policy that gives other faiths equal protection under the law.   It’s clear that Scarborough’s goal is to have the government discriminate in favor of Christianity, and against people with any other religious viewpoint.  His indignant and chilling question – “Why should a fringe minority have the same status as Christians?” – is about as clear an argument for the First Amendment’s religious liberty protections as you’ll ever hear.

(For the record, Mr. Scarborough – the quotation you attribute to this blog is actually from The Hook, a weekly newspaper in Charlottesville.)

Taking Lead from Religious Right, Justice Dept. Civil Rights Focused on Religion, Not Race

In February, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales unveiled what he called the First Freedom Project, to expand on the Justice Department’s “extensive record of achievement” in the area of “religious freedom laws.” Gonzales described the department’s work on religion as “a legacy of protection unequaled since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Even more remarkable than that startling comparison, however, was Gonzales’s choice of venue: a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. According to the Baptist Press, Gonzales requested to speak at the meeting “because he knew he would be speaking to a receptive audience.” Indeed, the famously right-wing SBC has been a strong supporter of the Bush administration, including its judicial nominees.

The Religious Right saw the Justice Department’s new focus as a validation of its world-view of Christians being persecuted in the U.S.: “The fact that the Justice Department finds it necessary to launch such a project further confirms what we’ve been aware of for years: our nation’s First Liberty--religious freedom--is in serious danger because of decades of sustained attacks by the ACLU and its allies,” said Alan Sears, president of the Alliance Defense Fund.

Now the New York Times is reporting that the department’s emphasis on religious liberty is part of its controversial reorganization under the Bush Administration that has led to a diminished role for traditional civil rights enforcement based on racial discrimination and voter suppression, and a more ideological and politicized staff, such as Monica Goodling, a graduate of Pat Robertson’s law school.

The shift at the Justice Department has significantly altered the government’s civil rights mission, said Brian K. Landsberg, a law professor at the University of the Pacific and a former Justice Department lawyer under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

“Not until recently has anyone in the department considered religious discrimination such a high priority,” Professor Landsberg said. “No one had ever considered it to be of the same magnitude as race or national origin.” …

Some critics say that many of the Justice Department’s religious-oriented initiatives are outside its mandate from Congress. While statutes prohibit religious discrimination in areas like employment and housing, no laws address some of the issues in which the department has become involved. … The department has … challenged so-called Blaine amendments, which are state constitutional provisions enforcing separation of church and state more rigidly than does the United States Constitution. The federal government sued because the amendments could impede Mr. Bush’s religion-based initiative, which provides money to religious groups for social programs.

Liberty University: Home of a Future SCOTUS Nominee?

With Monica Goodling, the former Justice Department White House Liaison and graduate of Pat Robertson’s Regent University Law School, preparing to testify before the House Judiciary Committee this week over her role in the firing of several US Attorneys, the Chicago Tribune decided to take a look at the late Jerry Fallwell’s Liberty University, which is likewise “training a new generation of lawyers, judges, educators, policymakers and world leaders in law from the perspective of an explicitly Christian worldview": 

Bright and enthusiastic ranks of conservative Christians of all denominations are enrolling in these new law schools. Their unabashed goal: to "confront the culture," as Falwell put it, and "change the world," as Regent's motto proclaims.

Matthew Krause, among Liberty's first law graduates, is one of them.

"I think we've complained too long about the destruction of our culture without taking any affirmative steps to remedy it," said the lanky, 26-year-old Texan. "We don't want abortion, but what are we doing about it? Let's get into the courts and find a way to combat that. Same-sex marriage we don't feel is right or a good thing for the culture. How are we going to stop that? You have to do that through the legal processes. Then, at the same time, vote in politicians who share those ideas and beliefs."

In a dark brown suit, blue-striped shirt and blue and brown striped tie, Krause already dresses like an attorney. But he also has the big smile, firm handshake and outgoing personality of the kind of politician he ultimately hopes to be.

"I've got this crazy goal to be the governor by 2022," he said, with the confidence of one who doesn't consider the idea the least bit crazy.

But first, Krause will return to Texas with his wife, Jennie, and newborn son, Jeremiah, to open a Dallas office for Liberty Counsel, a plum job for a Liberty law graduate.

Partnering with Liberty University, Liberty Counsel is a non-profit organization offering free legal assistance in the areas of "religious liberty, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family." The organization was founded in Florida in 1989 by Mathew Staver, who became dean of the university's law school last year. Top Liberty law students have the opportunity to work on pro bono cases, many of them dealing with constitutional issues.

The number of cases involving religious rights or the traditional family are on the rise, a trend consonant with the increased participation of Christian lawyers in the last decade, Staver said. And, he said, he discovered that "when we showed up, we could win."

While Liberty has not yet matched Regent’s record of getting some 150 of its graduates hired by the Bush administration, that is not stopping it from setting even loftier goals:

Fisher said four Liberty graduates will clerk for judges, one at the appellate level. Such jobs pave the way to a clerkship with the U.S. Supreme Court and beyond, said Staver, a fact of which Falwell was well aware.

"We'd be pleased if we trained up a John Roberts and a Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas and an Antonin Scalia," Falwell told the Tribune, with a wide smile. "We'd feel like we hit a home run."

Texas School District Official: 'Take That You Dang Heathens'

L.V. “Butch” Foreman, a member of the Ector County school board in Odessa, Texas, has three words for parents who say the district’s Bible course crosses the line from teaching about the Bible to promoting sectarian beliefs: “kiss my butt.” Said Foreman:

“If they don’t have children in the class, they can kiss my butt,” Foreman said. “They’re just looking to impose their beliefs and their views on everybody, and we don’t put up with that crap out here.”

If the plaintiffs did have children enrolled in the classes, then Foreman said he would tell the students to drop the class and take another course since it’s an elective.

On Wednesday , the parents –  represented by attorneys with People For the American Way Foundation , the ACLU, the ACLU of Texas, and the law firm of Jenner & Block  – filed a lawsuit against the school  district, charging that this particular Bible course violates their religious liberty. Odessa schools are using a controversial course based on the program promoted by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBSPS) – a private group backed by religious-right activists including Jesse Helms, Tony Perkins of Family Research Council, the Eagle Forum, and even Chuck Norris. The NCBCPS curriculum fails to present the Bible in an objective manner, a requirement for any public school course about the Bible. Instead, it presents the Bible as history, and also from a particular sectarian perspective. 

After the board  voted to adopt the NCBCPS curriculum – and create a course that the Texas ACLU’s Lisa Graybill called “basically a Sunday School class within the walls of a public school” – the district’s curriculum director exclaimed in an e-mail,

YES, WE ARE USING NCBCPS :) :) :)! HA! Take that you dang heathens!

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Religious Liberty Posts Archive

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
Brian Tashman, Wednesday 02/09/2011, 12:22pm
With CPAC beginning tomorrow with the inclusion of GOProud, a group which represents gay conservatives, the American Principles Project is launching a last-ditch effort to discredit the conference and express their outrage over the participation of a group with gay and lesbian members. Even some conservatives planning to address CPAC, such as Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum, Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness, and Colin Hanna of Let Freedom Ring, signed on to a “Conservatives for Unity” letter condemning GOProud’s involvement in CPAC. The letter “was... MORE
Brian Tashman, Wednesday 02/09/2011, 12:22pm
With CPAC beginning tomorrow with the inclusion of GOProud, a group which represents gay conservatives, the American Principles Project is launching a last-ditch effort to discredit the conference and express their outrage over the participation of a group with gay and lesbian members. Even some conservatives planning to address CPAC, such as Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum, Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness, and Colin Hanna of Let Freedom Ring, signed on to a “Conservatives for Unity” letter condemning GOProud’s involvement in CPAC. The letter “was... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Monday 01/24/2011, 11:24am
Richard Land has been among the most vocal Religious Right opponents of the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque." Apparently concerned that his opposition was blatantly hypocritical, Land eventually signed on to the Anti-Defamation League's "Interfaith Coalition on Mosques" stating that while he opposed the location of the "Ground Zero Mosque" he believed it was important to "help preserve the First Amendment for all Americans" by ensuring that all people "have the right to the free exercise of our faith without the interference of the government.... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Monday 01/24/2011, 11:24am
Richard Land has been among the most vocal Religious Right opponents of the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque." Apparently concerned that his opposition was blatantly hypocritical, Land eventually signed on to the Anti-Defamation League's "Interfaith Coalition on Mosques" stating that while he opposed the location of the "Ground Zero Mosque" he believed it was important to "help preserve the First Amendment for all Americans" by ensuring that all people "have the right to the free exercise of our faith without the interference of the government.... MORE
Brian Tashman, Wednesday 01/19/2011, 1:20pm
Michael Youssef, the head of Leading the Way Ministries and a vocal critic of Islam, today argued that the Episcopal Church is no longer Christian and “not Jesus’ church” as a result of the church's policies regarding gay-rights. Youssef is a signatory of the Manhattan Declaration, a largely anti-gay and anti-choice screed, which also laments the “decline in respect for religious values” in American society. However, Youssef’s diatribe against the Episcopal Church shows the Manhattan Declaration’s call for “religious liberty” and greater... MORE
Brian Tashman, Wednesday 01/19/2011, 1:20pm
Michael Youssef, the head of Leading the Way Ministries and a vocal critic of Islam, today argued that the Episcopal Church is no longer Christian and “not Jesus’ church” as a result of the church's policies regarding gay-rights. Youssef is a signatory of the Manhattan Declaration, a largely anti-gay and anti-choice screed, which also laments the “decline in respect for religious values” in American society. However, Youssef’s diatribe against the Episcopal Church shows the Manhattan Declaration’s call for “religious liberty” and greater... MORE