We were delighted to see that Tony Perkins — or one of the Family Research Council writers who helps him put together his daily “Washington Update” email — has read People For the American Way Foundation’s recent report, “Who is Weaponizing Religious Liberty?” While Perkins declared that the report is “not perfect” — aww — he is proud that we recognized FRC as one of the leading groups pushing legislation that would give legal protection to anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of religious liberty.
We do have a few quibbles about Perkins’ response, in addition to its Trumpian and not-very-original headline, “People For the UnAmerican Way.”
Perkins says we are wrong to describe FRC as “anti-gay,” explaining, “What we are is a Christian organization that refuses to accept as moral any behavior God declares is immoral and damaging to individuals and society.” Now some might take Perkins’ declaration that gay people are per se immoral and dangerous, like FRC’s support for laws that punish homosexuality with prison terms, to be at least a little bit anti-gay.
Perkins does call us “anti-Christian,” without offering any evidence. It’s rather ironic that FRC would label us “anti-Christian” for daring to highlight the bigotry of individual conservative Christian activists and Religious Right organizations, but insist that they are not in any way “anti-gay” even though they openly advocate for discrimination against an entire class of people based solely on their sexual orientation.
It’s good to remember that when Religious Right leaders use the word “Christian,” what they usually mean is “Christians who share my right-wing political beliefs.” Perkins should be careful throwing around the term anti-Christian. After all, he doesn’t believe that gay-affirming Christians deserve legal protection because their views are not sufficiently orthodox.
On the question of religious liberty: We support it. We encourage progressive people of faith to make their voices heard in the public arena so that Perkins and FRC and their allies cannot credibly claim — though they try — to speak for all Christians or people of faith. As FRC’s own actions make abundantly clear, the First Amendment protects their right to preach, publish, broadcast, and advocate for their beliefs about the immorality of homosexuality. We support the Family Research Council’s right to celebrate, as it recently did, the launch of an international “pro-family” group that includes some of the world’s most religiously repressive regimes. And we support Perkins’ right to define and defend religious liberty in very selective ways.
But here’s where we differ. We don’t think that supporting religious freedom is the same thing as allowing individuals or corporations to use religious beliefs as a blanket justification for ignoring laws that promote the common good or taking actions that restrict the rights of other people. Religious liberty is a cherished constitutional principle; so is equality under the law.
Oddly, the last paragraph of Perkins’ response to our report is devoted to quoting research that going to church is good for a person’s health, as if our report had somehow suggested that people should not be part of a religious community. As part of his litany, Perkins suggested that being a churchgoer “is one of the greatest ways to treat the modern culture’s disease — of incivility, hostility and general pessimism.” Perkins and his group don’t exactly provide a lot of support for that theory. In fact, incivility, hostility and general pessimism are a pretty good description of the rhetoric FRC uses about LGBT people and their other perceived enemies in fundraising mail, model sermons and public pronouncements.