When Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), told the Values Voter Summit on Friday that the U.S. is witnessing the rise of “self-imposed Sharia law” due to the gay rights movement, it turns out that he was just getting started.
The next day, Johnson — whose group represents evangelical radio and television programs — hosted a panel discussion on how the First Amendment is “under siege” by liberals. Johnson and his fellow panelists Craig Parshall, an NRB official and husband of right-wing talk show host Janet Parshall, and Canadian Religious Right activist Charles McVety, stoked fears about the persecution of Christians in the United States, including warning that Janet Jackson’s decade-old “wardrobe malfunction” could lead to laws criminalizing anti-gay speech.
Johnson suggested that the anti-gay Benham brothers somehow had their constitutional rights violated when HGTV dropped their planned reality show, and repeatedly made misleading claims about a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. He warned that without Citizens United, “private citizens” would be barred from “weighing in on elections,” which of course implies that citizens did not have those rights prior to 2010, when the case was decided.
McVety, the Canadian, claimed that the U.S. is on the verge of doing away with the First Amendment because he has heard “whispers of hate speech” laws on the horizon, alleging that even quoting from the Bible may soon become a criminal offense in America. Outside of the “whispers” he claims to have heard, McVety cited no evidence at all substantiating his claim about the imminent passage of unconstitutional hate speech laws.
McVety explained his theory that U.S. activists will use ISIS propaganda videos of hostage beheadings as an excuse to enact laws banning hate speech. “I can see it coming in America,” he said.
Johnson also tried to find evidence to back up the panel’s dire warnings of constitutional collapse, warning that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) may cite the fines levied against Janet Jackson for her 2004 Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” as a precedent for fining conservative TV personalities under the guise of preserving public order and decency.
The halftime show controversy, of course, occurred a decade ago without any of the horrible results that Johnson predicted, and the NRB actually supported the FCC in the case. Seeing that the NRB filed an amicus curiae brief under Parshall’s name defending the FCC’s fine [PDF], Johnson appears to suggest that his own organization is threatening the First Amendment.
Parshall also grasped at straws in an effort to find evidence of imminent dangers to the First Amendment.
After discussing “Spanish inquisition-type investigations” taking place in America and a “tsunami” of threats to the freedom of speech, Parshall could only cite the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case that struck down anti-sodomy laws. He said the ruling paved the way for hate speech laws because of the majority opinion’s use of international law in its decision.
Parshall then railed against hate speech policies on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, which of course have their own policies that users agree to uphold and do not represent the government.
Parshall also pointed to the Amish beard shaving case — in which a group of people from an Amish sect were charged with breaking federal hate crime laws, among other counts, for forcibly and violently shaving the beards and cutting the hair of former sect members — to claim that the Justice Department used the hate crime charges against the Amish beard-cutters in order to give them more leeway for future prosecutions over hate speech.
An appeals court recently overturned the religious-based hate crime conviction, finding that prosecutors couldn’t prove that the attacks were motivated for religious reasons, rather than familial, political or personal disputes (two of the victims were the parents of their assailants).
Essentially, the NRB panel’s extreme claims about the imminent annihilation of the bedrock of the U.S. Constitution came down to a string of possibly-maybe-this-could-happen incidents that wed together Janet Jackson, ISIS and Amish beard-cutters.
Johnson concluded his remarks by saying that the “NRB will be for the First Amendment what the NRA is for the Second Amendment.”
If that means making completely outlandish statements and developing doomsday conspiracy theories to spur political outrage and raise money, then his comparison is right on.