Utah

Buttars' Comments Continue to Roil Utah Senate

Last week, after Utah state Senator Chris Buttars compared gays to Islamic radicals and America to Sodom and Gomorrah, and said that gays have no morals and that acceptance of their lifestyle will bring about the destruction of the nation, he was stripped of his position as chairman of the Senate's judiciary committee ... but it doesn't look like that has put the controversy to rest.

Yesterday, the Utah Seante shut down for two hours as Republicans continue to try and figure out what, if anything, to do about Buttars:

The Utah Senate stopped working for about two hours Monday as Republicans privately met to discuss a lawmaker's recent comments that gay people don't have morals and that gay activists are among America's greatest threats.

Not a single bill was debated on the Senate floor Monday morning, increasing the backlog of bills that may never become law simply because lawmakers will run out of time to approve them before the 45-day session ends.

...

Buttars' comments and his removal from the judiciary committee have created a rift in the Senate Republican caucus, prompting the private meeting. Senate leaders said Buttars wouldn't face any more sanctions and that no position was taken on the issue during their meeting.

While Republicans struggle to deal with this, it also looks like Democrats in the state aren't making it any easier for them:

Utah Senate Democrats on Tuesday called for the ouster of a GOP lawmaker from two additional key committee posts because of his anti-gay comments.

...

Democrats — outnumbered by Republicans 21 to 8 in the Senate — called Tuesday for additional sanctions, including removal of Buttars from the rules committee, of which he is vice chairman. The rules committee is one of the most powerful in the Legislature because it decides which bills lawmakers will debate.

Democrats also requested that Buttars lose his chairmanship on the health and human services committee, although they didn't propose he be removed from that panel entirely.

For his part, Buttars remains unrepentant and vows never to resign:

I was disappointed to learn of the Utah State Senate’s censure on Feb. 20, 2009. However, this action will not discourage me from defending marriage from an increasingly vocal and radical segment of the homosexual community.

In recent years, registering opposition to the homosexual agenda has become almost impossible. Political correctness has replaced open and energetic debate. Those who dare to disagree with the homosexual agenda are labeled "haters," and "bigots," and are censured by their peers. The media contributes to the problem. Increasingly, individuals with conservative beliefs are targeted by a left-leaning media that uses their position of public trust as a bully pulpit. This pattern of intimidation suppresses free speech.

For the record, I do not agree with the censure I see it as an attempt to shy away from controversy. In particular, I disagree with my removal as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, since my work there is entirely unrelated to my opposition to the homosexual agenda.

Still, I’m a grown man and I can take my knocks. When it comes right down to it, I would rather be censured for doing what I think is right, than be honored by my colleagues for bowing to the pressure of a special interest group that has been allowed to act with impunity.

Thanks to the many citizens who have written and called to express their support. Please know that I’ll live through this to fight another day. In years to come, we’ll all look back at this point in history and see it as a crossroads. I have no intention of resigning.

 

Right Wing Leftovers

  • Always wanted to spend several minutes listening to Focus on the Family's Tom Minnery ramble on and spread misinformation about hate crimes legislation?  Well, you are in luck.
  • Ed Whelan is not happy that the Obama administration is consulting with the American Bar Association about the role that the ABA will play in evaluating judicial nominations.
  • Utah Sen. Chris Buttars may be refusing to apologize, but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is doing its best to distance itself from him and his views.
  • Finally, via this post on TPM Cafe, I learned an interesting and telling fact that I had not known; namely, that Rebecca Hagelin, a Senior Communications Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, was formerly vice president of communications for WorldNetDaily.

Right Wing Round-Up

Today's best reporting on the Right from around the web:

  • If you thought Utah Sen. Chris Buttars' statements were outrageous, check out this post from Good as You on the statements made by Paul Mero of the Sutherland Institute during a debate on gay rights at the University of Utah.
  • Pam's House Blend reports that an anti-gay member of the Allegheny [PA] County Council has been arrested on more than 20 counts of bilking a 90 year old widow whose $14.5 million trust fund he was paid to administer.
  • Steve Benen makes several good points regarding The American Issues Project's new ad saying that if you spent $1 million a day since the day Jesus was born, you would still have spent less money than Congress just did with the stimulus bill.
  • RH Reality Check explains that the anti-choice factions who are working against Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius's potential nomination to be HHS Secretary are driven, in part, by her recruitment of a Democratic challenger to knock off rabidly anti-choice Attorney General Phill Kline.

Buttars To Lose Chairmanship (or Resign) Over Anti-Gay Rant?

Earlier this week we posted on the extended interview Utah state Senator Chris Buttars gave as part of a documentary on Proposition 8 in which he spent fifteen minutes comparing gays to Islamic radicals and America to Sodom and Gomorrah,while proclaiming that gays have no morals and that acceptance of their lifestyle will bring about the destruction of the nation.

Buttars' remarks are not going over well with some of his fellow Republicans, who are apparently getting tired of being embarrassed by him, and so it looks like they are preparing to strip him of his position as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

An anti-gay diatribe by Sen. Chris Buttars will cost him his spot on the Senate Judiciary Committee, The Tribune has learned.

Senate Republicans, prompted by complaints from minority Democrats, held a frank discussion of Buttars' actions in a closed-door caucus Thursday. Afterward, senators would not discuss what action, if any, might be taken against the West Jordan Republican.

Part of it, Senate leaders said, depends on what Buttars, who left the Capitol after Thursday's caucus to be with his family, decides to do. He did not return a phone message. But Senate President Michael Waddoups said the action he plans to take is clear.

"I've made up my mind what I'm going to do," Waddoups, R-Taylorsville said, but he would not elaborate.

Sources familiar with the Senate discussions, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Senate Republican caucus decided to remove Buttars from the Senate Judiciary Committee, a panel which he currently chairs ... A news conference has been scheduled for Friday morning to discuss the Buttars situation.

Of course, Buttars' right-wing allies are defending him:

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, a conservative organization that has been among Buttars' most strident supporters, said she did not expect any action against the senator.

"It's a free speech issue," she said. "I'm sure they'd defend anybody's right on that floor to say what they want to say."

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that "a news conference has been scheduled for Friday morning to discuss the Buttars situation" where it will be announced, according to ABC 4, "that Buttars will likely be stripped of his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And some we talked to even suggest resignation is not entirely out of the question."

Update: Buttars has been stripped of his chairmanship:

Senator Chris Buttars has been censured for his comments about homosexuals.

The Utah Senate announced in a press conference Buttars has been removed from his chair of the judicial committee.

Right Wing Round-Up

Today's best reporting on the Right from around the web:

  • Box Turtle Bulletin has a complete transcript of Utah Sen. Chris Buttar's interview, which we mentioned here. Relatedly, Andrew Sullivan points out that in addition to being a homophobe, Buttars is also the former Executive Director of the controversial Utah Boys Ranch.
  • Steve Benen reports that Republicans in Congress have suddenly discovered the importance of the White House preserving its emails.
  • Pharyngula has a post on the University of Vermont's Nicholas Gotelli and his great response to an invitation he received to debate David Klinghoffer from the Discovery Institute.
  • The Washington Blade reports that anti-gay forces are hard at work trying to regain their national influence, stemming from their fear that Congress will advance gay rights legislation.
  • Finally, Kathryn Joyce, author of "Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement," has a piece on Babble explaining just what the movement is all about:
  • [T]he most important thing to understand about the Quiverfull movement [is that] in order for a woman to be Quiverfull, she must embrace a life of absolute submission and obedience to God, her husband, and the cause of Christian revival — winning the culture wars — by having more children than the "other side." At the heart of this call is Quiverfull's insistence that women's individual rights and desires are of secondary importance to the larger cause.

"Quit Shoving Your Morals Down My Throat, Buttars"

Utah state Senator Chris Buttars seems to generate news whenever he opens him mouth because you can be sure that whatever comes out it going to be idiotic or offensive or both.  

Buttars has been making news since back in 2006, when he proclaimed that the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education was "wrong to begin with” and again last year when he voiced his opposition to an education bill by saying “this baby is black…this is a dark, ugly thing." In December he was named the “Worst Person in the World” by Keith Olbermann for his effort to make sure everyone said “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.”

And I have a feeling that once this audio clip from Good As You starts to get around, Buttars will once again find himself in the running for Olbermann’s honor.  

ABC 4 in Salt Lake City, which first reported the story, reports that the audio comes from an interview Buttars did with filmmaker Reed Cowan for his upcoming documentary called "8: The Mormon Proposition.” In it, Buttars compares gays to Islamic radicals, compares America to Sodom and Gomorrah, that gays have no morals and that acceptance of their lifestyle will bring about the destruction of the nation. 

The entire rambling clip is over 15 minutes long, but we’ve taken the highlights and edited it down and provided this rough transcript (if the player isn't working, you can listen to the audio here):

I believe in the Constitution being something that was inspired of God and the way these people are destroying the Constitution is they’re saying the Constitution is a living document, that means it’s subject to change.  But truth don’t change, it does not change, and I won’t accept any of that.  So they say, well, marriage is between a man and a women and that’s changed, look around, look at all these combinations. Combinations of abominations, as far as I’m concerned. To me, homosexuality will always be a sexual perversion and you say that around here now and everybody goes nuts, but I don’t care.  

They want to talk about being nice, but they’re the meanest buggers I’ve ever seen. It’s just like the Muslims.  Muslims are good people and their religion is anti-war, but it’s been taken over by the radical side and the gays are totally taken over by the radical side. You don’t see the gay out there saying “let’s not do this gang.” You see them marching around with signs and everything else.

I believe the whole thing is immoral and I believe you're moving towards … you see, if you say to me “quit shoving your morals down my throat, Buttars” my answer back is “you know my morals. What’s yours?” What is the morals of a gay person? You can’t answer that, because anything goes. So now you’re moving towards a society that has no morals and there’s never been a nation that survived that’s done that.

There’s a lot of dollar costs. You take their trying to have insurance rights the same as a man and a woman. Now, when you’re married, insurance companies can quantify, we got this many married people so they run their underwriting.  You have no way to do that with gay people and you’re going to take on paying for all the extra, most often, diseases, and that’s huge. And now you, as a straight, get to share that cost. That’s what I’m talking about. Those kinds of diseases are not exclusive with gays, but they represent the huge majority.

I believe that you will destroy the foundation of American society because I believe the cornerstone of it is a man and a woman and a family.  It is, in my mind, the beginning of the end. Oh, it's worse than that. Sure, Sodom and Gomorrah was localized, this is world-wide.  You can’t tell me that something was going on in Sodom and Gomorrah is not going on wholesale right now and to a large degree among the gay community … The underbelly is they do not want equality, they want superiority.

Right Wing Leftovers

  • The scheduled airing of the American Family Association's "Speechless: Silencing Christians" on a television station in Grand Rapids, Michigan has been cancelled.
  • Speaking of the AFA, they have rolled-out something called "Project Push Back" but I have no idea what its purpose is supposed to be.
  • The President of the Virginia State Bar recently visited Liberty Law School and proclaimed that "the Virginia State Bar is thrilled with Liberty University" and told the students that faith and law are not contradictions.
  • The Right is not happy that the Republican Governor of Utah has come out in support of civil unions.
  • Sarah Palin is not amused by people making donations to Planned Parenthood in her name. Palin is also poised to name a new justice to the state supreme court and appears to be a bit boxed in, as neither of the candidates chosen by the Alaska Judicial Council meet her conservative standards, so this will definitely be worth keeping an eye on.
  • Finally, Frank Schaeffer, whose father Francis was influential in the rise of the Religious Right, has penned an open letter to Barack Obama to tell him that they cannot be worked with:
  • As someone who appeared numerous times on the 700 Club with Pat Robertson, as someone for whom Jerry Falwell used to send his private jet to bring me to speak at his college, as an author who had James Dobson giveaway 150,000 copies of my one of my fundamentalist "books" allow me to explain something: the Republican Party is controlled by two ideological groups. First, is the Religious Right. Second, are the neoconservatives. Both groups share one thing in common: they are driven by fear and paranoia. Between them there is no Republican "center" for you to appeal to, just two versions of hate-filled extremes.

    The Religious Right supply the kind of people who at McCain and Palin rallies were yelling things such as "kill him" about you. That's the constituency to which your hand was extended when looking for compromise on your financial bailout bill.

    There's only one thing that makes sense for you now. Mr. President, you need to forget a bipartisan approach and get on with the business of governing by winning each battle. You will never be able to work with the Republicans because they hate you. Believe me, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are the norm not the exception. James Dobson and the rest are praying for you to fail.

Right Wing Round-Up

Today's best reporting on the Right from around the web:

  • In yesterday's round-up, we pointed to Media Matters catching Fox News passing off a GOP press release as its own research - typos and all. Fox News has now apologized - but only for the typo.
  • Sarah Posner reports that those attending the National Religious Broadcasters Convention are terrified because "the proclamation of the Gospel is now opposed at every quarter."
  • Orcinus has a good post on the man who killed two people at a Unitarian church last years, and who admits that who he really "wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate & House, [and] the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book."
  • Slog has some opinions on the AFA's "Speechless: Silencing the Christians" program, while Edge Boston reports that the Grand Rapids, Michigan TV station that had planned on running it is apparently having second thoughts.
  • Box Turtle Bulletin reports that the Mormon Republican Governor of Utah has come out in support of civil unions.
  • The Colorado Independent reports that "Focus on the Family gave $727,250 in cash and services to the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 campaign in California, according to records released by the California secretary of state, including a $100,000 check in late October, just days before the evangelical media empire announced it planned to lay off nearly 20 percent of its employees."
  • Finally, Politico reports on the Right's continuing hyperventilation over the Fairness Doctrine, explaining that "no member of Congress has scheduled hearings, there is no Fairness Doctrine legislation being introduced, and the long-dormant broadcast law is likely to stay that way ... [b]ut for even the casual listener of conservative talk radio this past week, it would be assumed that federal agents were already en route, pulling radios out of cars or snapping antennas."

Right Wing Leftovers

  • In yesterday's installment of Right Wing Leftovers we mentioned that Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka was opposing Equality Utah's Common Ground Initiative which would extend some legal protections to same-sex couples, saying it was a slippery slope to undoing Utah's anti-marriage amendment. But even authors of the amendment say the right-wingers are over-reacting because the amendment was "drafted very carefully to allow the extension of certain benefits."
  • Tony Perkins's latest video update is, not surprisingly, dedicated to bad-mouthing the stimulus bill.
  • The Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver blasts the Ninth Circuit's DOMA ruling, calling it "an opinion of an activist judge based on nothing else than his personal bias is no law at all and [that it] commands no respect."
  • The Eagle Forum is angry at Sen. Kay Hagen for voting against Sen. DeMint's stimulus amendment, saying she has already turned "into a yes-woman for the intolerant secular-progressive forces in Washington."
  • Gary Bauer warns Barack Obama that if his "actions lead to the obliteration of a U.S. city, the words 'I screwed up' won’t be enough."
  • Did "angelic beings" save Ronald Reagan on not one, but two occasions? A new book says "yes, they did."
  • Finally, Rick Warren was asked if he was surprised when he was asked to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration. He says it was entirely unexpected and that he "could name several dozen wonderful pastors who would have done a better job." Yeah, so could we.

Right Wing Leftovers

  • Yesterday we posted a video from Rob Schenck reporting that Focus on the Family's new chief lobbyist, Tim Goeglein, would be working out of Faith and Action's offices.  Maybe Schenck said too much, because the video has now been yanked.
  • Rick Scarborough is not happy with efforts to do away with the moment of silence in Texas schools, saying "my prayer is that kids will have sense enough to know they need help from above."
  • Elaine Donnelly continues her one-woman crusade to save Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
  • Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka opposes efforts to grant rights to domestic partners, saying "We're not going to fall into that trap. I don't want to take my chances."
  • Mike Huckabee has got nothing on Bobby Jindal.
  • Apparently, Barack Obama mentioned non-believers in his remarks today at the National Prayer Breakfast.  Will the Right freak-out again?
  • Just a reminder that while the Religious Right doesn't like gays and abortion, they have a much wider agenda which includes things like fighting alcohol sales on Sundays.
  • Finally, Richard Cizik has been laying low ever since losing his job with the National Association of Evangelicals, but he re-surfaced yesterday when he delivered thousands of petitions to the President and Congressional leaders calling on them to "act quickly to ensure the future of our planet and generations to come."

Mormon Legislators Introduce Raft of Right-Wing Bills in Wyoming

Ever since the passage of Prop 8 in California during the November election, there has been an effort underway to figure out just how much money the Mormon Church dumped into the effort.  For weeks, the Church denied giving more than a few thousand dollars but last week, facing an investigation by California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, the church reported nearly $190,000 in contributions.

On a related note, just last week AU reported on the influence that the Mormon Church has over the Utah legislature and now it looks like it might be expanding its reach into neighboring Wyoming, as the Casper Star-Tribune reports:

Mormons comprise more than 10 percent of the membership of the Wyoming Legislature, yet Mormon lawmakers are not known for voting as a bloc or working together to promote legislation.

That may be changing.

Mormons are taking a higher profile this session in promoting bills linked to controversial social issues including assisted suicide, gay marriage and abortion.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the primary sponsors of bills dealing with all three topics, and a cadre of about eight LDS lawmakers have teamed up as the original co-sponsors of six related bills.

The Mormon legislators insist that their support of this raft of bills is just a coincidence, but the Star-Tribune reports that it may also be the result of targeted lobbying efforts from the WyWatch Family Institute:

Some of the LDS lawmakers said they were approached about getting more involved in social-issue legislation at meetings WyWatch held in months leading up to the session.

WyWatch chairwoman Becky Vandeberghe said her group recruits lawmakers to sponsor and support legislation based on voting records and responses to campaign questionnaires, not on religious affiliation.

"We honestly don’t look at religion," she said.

The evangelical group Focus on the Family Action is also trying to influence some of the bills.

LDS lawmakers say they agreed to sponsor the bills for a variety of reasons, including their religious beliefs.

Mormon lawmaker Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, a co-sponsor of several social-issue bills, said he signed on to the measures because of his "Christian values" on issues including gay marriage and abortion, not because he collaborated with other LDS lawmakers.

The WyWatch Institute is the group that is currently pressing for passage of a marriage amendment in the state and is working closely with Focus on the Family and the Alliance Defense Fund to get it passed.

Because Everyone Knows Oil Companies Love The Poor

Last year we wrote a series of posts about the pro-drilling Americans for American Energy's bogus grassroots "Stop the War on the Poor" campaign being fronted by Niger Innis and Harry Jackson.

Over the last six months, we haven't seen anything about them and assumed that they had disbanded ... but we were wrong.  Apparently, they are still hard at work and are now targeting Robert Redford for hating the poor:

Hollywood's Sundance Kid is hurting poor people.

So say some East Coast ministers and conservative activists, who took to the streets in front of a downtown Salt Lake City theater on the eve of Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival to accuse the actor of holding down low-income Americans with his opposition to oil and gas drilling near national parks in Utah.

The protesters, led by the Congress of Racial Equality's national spokesman Niger Innis, suggested Redford should "relinquish his wealth" and live like a poor person. They complained that the filmmaker's anti-drilling stance could lead to higher energy prices for inner-city residents, forcing them to accept a lower standard of living.

The clergymen prayed for Redford "to see the light" and linked his environmental activism with racism.

"The high energy prices we're going to see this winter are essentially discriminatory," said Bishop Harry Jackson Jr. of the Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., chairman of the High-Impact Leadership Coalition, a petroleum industry advocate.

This whole thing is laughable, but some good has come of it - like the fact that, from this point forward, whenever I mention Harry Jackson, I will be able to follow it with the phrase "petroleum industry advocate."

Huckabee Clarifies: I Hate Romney, Not Mormons

During the Republican primary, many Mitt Romney supporters came to resent Mike Huckabee for promoting “a religious test for office” by highlighting his Christian faith in order to raise questions about Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith and thereby secure the support of anti-Mormon voters.

The effort did not go unnoticed by Mormons in Utah who came to loathe him and now he is trying to make amends, telling Utah radio host David Wright that he has nothing but love for Mormons:

When "11 words were completely misconstrued" when spoken about the LDS religion in a long New York Times profile of him, Huckabee said he "immediately" apologized publicly to Romney and church members in general.

Huckabee said there is no religious test in running for office. "I defend Mormons running for office."

He said when he saw the backlash against the LDS Church following the bitter Proposition 8 race in California last November, he was one of the first to say "I was gratified and proud" to see the church stand up for what it believes in.

Saying he may visit Utah soon, he added: "It pains me" that some people think he has said "bad things" about the LDS Church. "It simply is not true."

Utahns' "misinformation (about him) were part of the presidential campaign -- and I wrote my book (to set the record straight) because that is totally not who I am. Utah is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and I want to go there and not have eggs and rotten vegetables thrown at me."

But, of course, he still hates Romney:

Huckabee admitted that he saw a "different Romney" than the man he knew as a fellow GOP governor. (Romney served one term as governor of Massachusetts.)

During the presidential primary campaign Romney "was not the Mitt I knew," Huckabee said. "You could ask all the guys" who ran in the GOP primaries, said Huckabee, and they would agree that backstage, in public debates and campaigning, Romney acted differently than when he was governor or otherwise out of an intra-party race.

Huckabee said that Romney's "attitude and atmosphere" around him was perhaps caused because "he was surrounded by people who gave him very bad advice" during Romney's presidential run.

"Boy, do I ever know" that he is not well-liked in Utah, said Huckabee. But, he added, "I have never said anything unkind about Mormons."

Of course, back when he was running, he and his allies where quick to assert that any attack on him was really an attack on his Christian faith, but apparently Huckabee’s own attacks on Romney and insinuations about Romney’s faith were in no way to be conceived as attacks on Mormonism.

Huckabee’s mantra seems to be “hate the Mormon, love the Mormons.”

The Latest Fronts In the War on Christmas

It's the Holiday season, so inevitably that means that right-wing legislators and activists are launching their annual effort to save Christmas from the forces of secularism. 

Via AU's Wall of Separation, we learn that Sen. Chris Buttars of Utah is sponsoring a resolution calling on everyone to say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" and doing so, he insists, because he's "sick of the Christmas wars":

Sen. Chris Buttars wants Utah's Legislature to declare its opposition to the "war on Christmas."

The West Jordan Republican is sponsoring a resolution encouraging retailers to embrace Christmas in their promotions rather than the generic "holidays."

"It would encourage the use of 'Merry Christmas,'" Buttars said of the non-binding statement that is still being drafted. "I'm sick of the Christmas wars -- we're a Christian nation and ought to use the word."

Several fellow lawmakers he wouldn't yet name support his effort, added Buttars, who has a long history of championing the socially conservative agenda of the Utah Eagle Forum.

I too am sick of the Christmas wars, but it seems that the proper way of handling it is to let people decide for themselves what phrase they want to use instead of demanding that they say "Merry Christmas"  ... in fact, this is exactly the sort of effort that seems destined to simply prolong the "Christmas wars" Buttars is complaining about.

And speaking of the "war on Christmas," it looks Freedom From Religion Foundation is putting up their own holiday signs this year:

In the latest round of what's become almost a winter tradition — conflicts over religious symbols in public places — a group of atheists and agnostics have put up a sign in the state Capitol that says, in part: "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

Freedom From Religion Foundation members put up the sign Monday, partly in response to a nearby Nativity scene. They also debuted a billboard in downtown Olympia that reads: "Reason's Greetings."

Of course, now people are unhappy about this:

[I]n 2006, Olympia real-estate agent Ron Wesselius saw a menorah displayed inside the Capitol and wanted to put up a Nativity scene. He was denied because he applied too late for the state to research the issues, according to the state Department of General Administration.

Wesselius, working with the Alliance Defense Fund, filed a lawsuit, the state settled, and he put up a Nativity scene in 2007. He put up another one Monday morning — a few steps from the Freedom From Religion Foundation's sign.

"I think people are losing track of what Christmas is," Wesselius said. "It's not about one religion against another religion."

Of the foundation's sign, Wesselius said: "I think they're being a little divisive there in their saying. But they have freedom of speech and equal access."

That's right - in 2006, Wesselius and the ADF sued the state of Washington because he saw a menorah in the Capitol and demanded to be allowed to put up a nativity scene and now he's complaining that other people are being "divisive" and pitting one religion against another and ultimately "losing track of what Christmas" is all about.

Understanding the Family Research Council

The latest "Washington Update" email from the Family Research Council serves as a near-perfect example of how the group operates.  The first section complains about reports that former Senator Tom Daschle has been tapped to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama Administration:

As Majority Leader, Daschle was a notorious opponent of every pro-life measure. He blocked the partial-birth abortion ban, voted for taxpayer-funded military abortions, and supported a measure that would have forced Americans to pay for the distribution of the morning-after pill to young school girls. Apart from his extreme political ideology, the selection of Daschle is even more troubling because the South Dakotan lacks any experience in the public health arena. To most Americans, who thought this election was about "change," these appointments must seem incredibly ironic.

The very next section then praises President Bush and current HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt for implementing last-minute changes that would "deal a crippling blow ... to the pro-abortion movement":

He may technically be a "lame duck," but President Bush is going out with guns blazing. With just two months left in office, the administration dealt a crippling blow to online gambling and is prepared to do the same to the pro-abortion movement on conscience exemptions. Despite an uproar from the usual liberal suspects, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is putting the finishing touches on a rule that would create a hedge of protection around health care providers who object to abortion or other procedures on moral grounds. The regulations, which HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt has promoted for months, would bar anyone who receives federal funds from discriminating against pro-life doctors, nurses, or other medical workers because of their beliefs. Pharmacists would also be exempt from dispensing drugs that could end an innocent life -- like the abortifacient RU-486. If approved before the President leaves office, the rules would be a giant leap forward for the entire medical community, some of whom have been pressured to compromise their convictions on the job. Of course, there is some danger that President-elect Obama would undo HHS's hard work, but it would be a long and arduous task. Like much of the radical abortion camp, he says these rules would create a hurdle in "women's health care." However, his argument is severely flawed, considering that abortion is not -- nor will it ever be -- true health care. While Obama says he wants to "reduce abortions," his promise to sign the Freedom of Choice Act means he's not opposed to forcing people to perform them. Thanks to Secretary Leavitt, more Americans understand that the people who oppose these rules, including President-elect Obama, are the ones imposing their beliefs-not the men and women of faith. As Leavitt said on his blog, "Our nation was built on a foundation of free speech. The first principle of free speech is protected conscience. This proposed rule is a fundamental protection for medical providers to follow theirs." Please let the administration know how much you appreciate their perseverance on conscience protections. Log on to secretarysblog.hhs.gov/my_weblog and leave Secretary Leavitt a comment expressing your gratitude.

To FRC, Daschle is completely unfit for the office not only because he doesn't share their anti-choice views, but also because he "lacks any experience in the public health arena."  But they don't seem to have similar concerns about Leavitt:

Prior to his current service, Leavitt headed the Environmental Protection Agency and was elected three times as the Governor of Utah. During his eleven years as Governor, Utah was recognized six times as one of America’s best managed states. He was chosen by his peers as Chairman of the National Governors Association, Western Governors Association, and Republican Governors Association.

Prior to his public service, Secretary Leavitt was president and chief executive officer of a regional insurance firm.

Hmmm ... I don't see any "experience in the public health arena" among Leavitt's previous jobs as head of the EPA, Governor, or insurance company CEO.  So maybe it is not really the "experience" thing that is bothering FRC, but primarily the abortion thing. 

Rob Schenck on NPR? 

Rob Schenck is not exactly a household name – in fact, he’s barely known even to those who monitor the Religious Right, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a history of influence with member of Congress and the right-wing movement.

We’ve been writing about Schenck for awhile now, primarily in the context of his crusade to expose the fact that Barack Obama might really be a Muslim infidel … and even if he’s not, his Christian faith is “woefully deficient,” as well as his reportedly successful efforts to sneak into the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room and anoint the chairs with oil before Samuel Alito's confirmation hearings.

While Schenck might not be a right-wing powerbroker, he is something of a name dropper as this video check-in from earlier in the week demonstrates in which he reports that he’s on his way to Utah to join Sen. Orrin Hatch for a golf tournament before meeting up with Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice.  

None of this is particularly relevant or groundbreaking and we probably wouldn’t even bother mentioning it were it not for the announcement at the end that he will be attending and providing commentary for both the Democratic and Republican conventions on behalf of National Public Radio:

Schenck released a statement today confirming that he “will travel to Denver on Saturday, August 23, to observe and comment on the Democratic National Convention and surrounding events” but makes no mention of NPR.  

Is Schenck really going to be providing commentary for NPR on the Democratic Convention?  If so, did NPR bother to do any research on just who they were bringing on-board?

During the early 1990s … [Schenck] was arrested a dozen times during protests outside women's health clinics and abortion doctors' homes, and is renowned for outrageous publicity stunts, including dangling an aborted fetus in Bill Clinton's face outside the 1992 Democratic National Convention. With former Elim classmate Randall Terry, Schenck helped start Operation Rescue, a hardline anti-abortion group that embraced "direct action" in an effort to shut down reproductive health clinics and prevent doctors from practicing abortion.

Schenck, along with his twin brother Paul, have a long history of militant anti-abortion activism and first came to fame by targeting local doctor Barnett Slepian who was, in 1998, assassinated by an anti-abortion activist:

BOOK EXAMINES SCHENCKS' ROLE IN SLEPIAN CASE

25 October 2000

Buffalo News

Two years after Dr. Barnett A. Slepian's assassination, a new book written by a former local pro-life activist raises the question of whether the Schenck twins played an indirect role in singling out Slepian as a potential target for violence.

Author Jerry Reiter, a former member of the Town of Tonawanda church led by the Revs. Paul and Robert Schenck, never accuses the twin brothers of being involved in any murder plot or the harboring of the killer.

But in his book, "Live From the Gates of Hell," Reiter writes that his former pastors brought national Operation Rescue leaders here for protests outside the same home where Slepian later was killed.

The author questions how "an obscure physician from a midsize city like Buffalo" wound up on a national short list of targeted abortion providers.

"It was impossible to say with certainty who had put Slepian on the secret list, but it was possible that the national leadership would not have known about Slepian at all if it had not been for Rob and Paul Schenck," Reiter writes. "They were the first to choose him as a target for anti-abortion protesters."

...

Reiter writes that he was shocked when Robert Schenck told him that neither brother had heard of James C. Kopp before the FBI announced him as a suspect in Slepian's murder. The Schencks and Kopp had been arrested at demonstrations in the same cities.

Hatch Joins Phony "Stop the War on the Poor" Effort

For the past few weeks, we’ve been reporting on the “Stop the War on the Poor” campaign, an effort to label “extreme environmentalists” who oppose increased domestic oil drilling as enemies of the poor.  The campaign counts among its leaders a group called Americans for American Energy, which describes itself as “a non-profit, grassroots-based organization dedicated to educating the public about the importance of greater energy independence for America and promoting public policies that support that goal.” 

As we wrote last week, Americans for American Energy was created by Pac/West Communications, a firm with considerable Republican ties, and shares a location with the consulting firm of Jim Sims, communications director for Vice President Cheney’s energy task force.  In 2007, fresh off helping to defeat attempts “to ban bear baiting in Alaska and impose new taxes on cruise ships,” Pac/West received a $3 million grant from the state of Alaska to “educate” the American public about ANWR drilling, that was later stopped by Gov. Sarah Palin because the PAC/West-Americans for American Energy efforts were “not part of an open and transparent process.”  But that was not the end for Americans for American Energy. 

Although its profile has risen along with the “Stop the War on the Poor” campaign, Americans for American Energy has been engaging in suspicious activities in western states for the last several years.  In Colorado, it released a report claiming $1.2 billion in first-year profits for natural gas drilling on the Roan Plateau, an estimate that critics, such as the Wilderness Society, claimed were based on “junk science”

Credible economic studies need to stand up to independent review, list data sources and methods, and at the very least include the names of economists who authored the report. Unbelievably, this industry-backed study does none of this.

In Wyoming, its leaders falsely claimed that Gov. Dave Freudenthal was a supporter of their “powerful new oil and gas campaign,” leading the governor to write a letter disavowing the group.  In Utah, they launched an email attack on Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) that compared him to Hugo Chavez and Osama Bin Laden:

Last week, over 160,000 Utah residents received an e-mail letter indirectly comparing a New York congressman to some of the most infamous men in the world.

Along with mug shots of Osama bin Laden, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared a photo of Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.).

Hinchey's crime? Sponsoring the Red Rock Wilderness Act, a bill that would set aside 9.4 million acres of public land in Utah as wilderness.

The letter was attributed to Utah state GOP Reps. Aaron Tilton and Mike Noel, but it was the brainchild of Americans for American Energy, a Colorado-based industry group that has accepted money from, among others, the state of Alaska.

The Red Rock Wilderness Act will "WEAKEN America," the letter states. "How? Because it will hamstring our ability to produce American energy right here in Utah. That leads America to become more dependent on energy from hostile foreign nations -- some of whom fund terrorist organizations that are right now targeting our American men and women in uniform."

An online version of the letter and corresponding Web site go further, for instance with a picture of bin Laden, Chavez and Ahmadinejad. "These terror leaders also want America to continue its foreign oil dependence," reads the caption underneath the graphic.

Now, Americans for American Energy has turned from accusing its opponents of being in league with terrorists to accusing them of fighting a “war on the poor,” and this message seems to have resonated with Republicans on Capitol Hill.  A number of rank and file Congressional Republicans showed up on-message at the kick-off press conference, including Rep. Bill Sali of Idaho, co-sponsor of a bill suspiciously entitled the “Americans for American Energy Act,” which “would open ANWR and the OCS to increase production of American crude oil and give the right incentives to boost conservation, improved efficiency and bring alternative energy online sooner.”

But they’ve gained a much higher-profile ally in Senator Orrin Hatch, who mentioned the campaign, quoted one of its leaders, Bishop Harry Jackson, and plugged its website, all on the Senate floor:

Unfortunately for the Democrat party, the poor are beginning to wake up that the liberals they have always looked to are behind the War on the Poor. By War on the Poor, I refer to the movement by the anti-oil extremists to close off every good domestic oil resource, which is a direct cause of the high energy prices Americans face.

Democrats in Congress have been forced to choose between the very well funded extreme anti-oil interests and the poor, because on energy prices there is no compromise between the two. The Democrats have begun to recognize the position they are in, and are trying to have it both ways with today’s vote.

Earlier this month, a group of protesters came to Capitol Hill calling on Congress to Stop the War on the Poor by groups and congressmen who are closing off America's energy resources.

Included in the group were pastors and civil rights leaders calling on this body to unlock America's oil resources for the benefit of Americans, and especially for the benefit of lower income Americans.

One of the Participants was Bishop Harry Jackson. I would like to quote some of his remarks for the record. These are his words:

"I am a registered Democrat, but this has nothing to do with partisan politics. Unless the public understands that there are specific people and organizations that are fueling this war against the poor, nothing will change and the poor will continue to suffer. We will unmask those behind this war regardless of their political party or ideology. Party labels and partisan ideologies are meaningless when it comes to protecting the lives of America's most vulnerable citizens,"

By the way, Mr. President, you can see more about the stop the war on the poor movement on the web at www.stopwaronpoor.org.

Ironically, Niger Innis, co-chair of the Stop the War on the Poor effort, says that U. S. politicians are "being cowered by a very powerful, well-funded environmental extremist lobby that has a great deal of influence over them, and a great deal of influence over policy” and that their primary mission is "’outing’ the extremist groups and the politicians it says are doing their bidding.”

Bold words for a man heading an effort that is itself a phony Astroturf campaign on behalf of energy interests. 

Astroturf Groups Claim Environmentalist “War on the Poor”

A gathering led by Niger Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality, Bishop Harry Jackson of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, and the new group Americans for American Energy held a press conference yesterday demanding increased “American Energy” production.  Their contentions were twofold: that high energy costs disproportionately harm low-income families, and that increased domestic oil drilling would solve the problem.  Standing in the way: the “elitist Volvo-driving” environmentalists. Watch:

Although CORE was once a prominent civil rights group, after Niger Innis’s father, Roy, took control in 1968, he led it to the far right, honoring Karl Rove at its Martin Luther King dinner, backing extreme Bush judges, and defending oil companies. According to a Mother Jones article, “Innis has been accused by founder James Farmer and other black leaders of renting out CORE’s historic reputation to corporations like Monsanto and ExxonMobil. (CORE even mounted a counterprotest to environmentalists picketing an ExxonMobil shareholders’ meeting.)”

For CORE, this event was no different. Niger Innis proclaimed his coalition to open up domestic drilling to be “very much like the civil rights revolution in its diversity and in its moral passion.”

Early in the press conference, Harry Jackson defined the enemy: “The fact is that we have environmental groups who are basically elitist, they are trying to dramatically change our lives, they are basically saying that they want to have a wholesale transformation of our culture and society.” Limiting drilling in ANWR, he said, is “a huge problem.”

While he once again claimed to be a Democratic voter, Jackson is a frequent spokesman for groups and causes on the Religious Right, and he’s apparently expanding his portfolio to issues of the economic Right. Jackson took the time yesterday to hawk the new book he co-wrote with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, which included a chapter on anti-environmentalism as a “faith” issue.

A long series of Congressional Republicans followed, extolling the virtues of American energy, gleefully leading the crowd in chants of “Stop the War on the Poor,” and continuing the assault on environmentalists. A representative of Americans for American Energy, Colorado State Sen. Bill Cadman, called out the “environmental racists, environmental terrorists.” Democrats were also a favorite target.

While President Bush conceded yesterday that any short-term effects of new drilling would be “psycholog[ical],” a poster prominently displayed throughout the event promised that Republican policies would lower the price of gas to $2.13 a gallon. The Democratic plan, according to the poster, would only reduce the price of gas by five cents. Cost estimates were attributed to “various sources.” 

Oil companies were mentioned only once, by Leland Hogan of the Utah Farm Bureau, who asserted that they make their decisions “by what the political climate is,” not “business decisions.” Hogan and his compatriots evidently hoped that the political landscape would change enough to allow the white knight of the poor, Big Oil, to roll over the “extreme environmentalists” and roll out $2.13 gas.

Back to Square One

Remember a few months ago when various Religious Right leaders gathered in Utah and announced that they were prepared to considering abandoning the Republican Party if Rudy Giuliani became the nominee?  

Well, just because Giuliani dropped out doesn’t mean those threats have evaporated – in fact, a new effort appears to be underway now that John McCain has all but locked up the GOP nomination:

The same conservative Christian activist who called a meeting last fall to discuss backing a third-party candidate to counter a possible Rudy Giuliani candidacy is revisiting the idea as Sen. John McCain closes in on the Republican presidential nomination.

Bob Fischer, a South Dakota businessman and anti-abortion activist, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that while he could back the Arizona senator over either Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama, he made clear that he and others in the evangelical movement are not content with those choices.

"I'll be working in other ways to see that we have additional choices as conservatives," Fischer said.

He declined to elaborate, but held out hope that Mike Huckabee might mount an improbable comeback, or that another "good conservative, Godly, Christian pro-life" GOP candidate somehow emerge to supplant McCain. The Arizona lawmaker has opposed abortion during his four terms in the Senate.

Fischer said that for large numbers of social conservatives to entertain backing McCain, he would need to reverse himself on several positions, including his support for relaxing restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. Fischer said if McCain prevails short of doing that, he and many other conservatives "will not work as hard as we could" to elect him.

He then raised the possibility of Christian conservatives lining up behind the Constitution Party, citing its conservative moral stances and ability to get on state ballots, a steeper challenge for an entirely new party.

The article notes that this new effort might not get as much support as the anti-Rudy threat since, as Huckabee-backer Mat Staver notes, McCain is seen as much better on the social issues the Right cares about than was Giuliani.   And considering that the McCain campaign is currently hard at work reaching out to the very sorts who would likely participate in such a meeting, the impact of any such an effort is likely to be limited.

Mormons Don't Like Huckabee Either

Politico reports that "Mormon Utah has taken a profound dislike to the Southern Baptist preacher best known for his nice-guy persona ... To Mormons, Huckabee’s eyebrow-raising question represented not only a gross distortion of their beliefs but also a carefully calculated move by a Christian politician who surely knew better."
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Utah Posts Archive

Kyle Mantyla, Wednesday 11/10/2010, 6:29pm
Rick Santorum says none of the possible 2012 candidates can call themselves Tea Party candidates ... except himself, of course. I'm curious: is Jaime Herrera going to be the first homeschooled member of Congress? Looks like Rep. Michele Bachmann's leadership bid is failing. Since when is Rick Scarborough considered a "California pastor"? Last time I checked, he was located in Texas. The Utah chapter of the Eagle Forum sure is powerful. Finally, the quote of the day from Cape Coral , FL mayor John Sullivan on his effort to place the Ten Commandments... MORE
Brian Tashman, Tuesday 10/05/2010, 3:11pm
Alaska’s Joe Miller joins Ken Buck of Colorado and Mike Lee of Utah in opposing the right of voters to elect their US Senators. Instead, Miller claims that the 17th Amendment should be repealed: He called the idea of a living, changing Constitution “bullcrap,” and said he would support an amendment for term limits as well as an amendment repealing the 17th Amendment, which allows for the direct election of senators by the public rather than by state legislatures. By claiming that the “idea of a living, changing Constitution” is “bullcrap,” does Joe... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Thursday 09/30/2010, 11:39am
Today, People For the American Way released out latest Right Wing Watch In Focus report examining the slate of extremist GOP Senate candidates running for office this year. Entitled "The Rogues' Gallery: Right-Wing Candidates Have A Dangerous Agenda for America and Could Turn the Senate," the report examines the radical agendas and views held by Joe Miller, Carly Fiorina, Ken Buck, Christine O'Donnell, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Roy Blunt, Sharron Angle, Kelly Ayotte, Richard Burr, Rob Portman, Pat Toomey, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson, and Dino Rossi, plus the role that Sen. Jim DeMint... MORE
Brian Tashman, Wednesday 09/22/2010, 10:20am
Your update on the right-wing candidates running for US Senate for 9/15-9/22. Sharron Angle Radical Right: Speaks at John Birch Society and Oath Keepers-sponsored event in Utah, describes crowd as “mainstream America” (Salt Lake Tribune, 9/20). Tea Party: Planned Las Vegas convention featuring Angle quietly cancelled (TPM, 9/20). Health Care: Claims that pre-existing conditions coverage can be “addressed very well by the free market” (Huffington Post, 9/21). Poll: Fox News poll shows Angle and Reid running neck-and-neck (Washington Times, 9/21). Ken Buck... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Tuesday 09/21/2010, 5:30pm
FRC rejoices over the defeat of the effort to repeal Don't ask Don't Tell. Over the weekend, Sharron Angle spoke at Utah’s Freedom Conference, an event co-sponsored by the John Birch Society. Tim Scott tells CBN's David Brody that there is no racism in the Tea Party movement. Gov. Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli will all speak at Virginia's first annual Tea Party Convention next month. You can now add Rep. Paul Ryan to the list of conservatives saying there might be a need to call a "truce" in the culture... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Wednesday 08/18/2010, 1:56pm
At this point, nothing Glenn Beck does or says surprises me, so it is entirely expected that he would be opposing the so-called "9-11 Mosque" along with every other right-winger in America. But you'd think that Beck would at least see the irony in this given that he is Mormon and has seen his own religion come under attack in the very recent past. Which leads me to a simple question:  has Beck ever heard of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, which also took place on 9/11? The Mountain Meadows massacre was a mass slaughter of the Fancher-Baker emigrant wagon train at... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Monday 06/14/2010, 5:31pm
Ken Blackwell accuses Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama of trying to "hijack Christianity." Erik Rush boldly takes on the problem of "Negrophilia," which is "undue and inordinate affinity for blacks." The Salt Lake Tribune looks at how the "Patrick Henry Caucus" within the Utah legislature is seeking to oust moderate Republicans. Alabama gubernatorial candidate Robert Bentley has fired several top campaign staffers as he heads into a run-off and replaced them former Mike Huckabee staffers. PayPal has reportedly threatened to cut off... MORE