Vice President Mike Pence will address this year’s Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, an event put on annually by Religious Right group Family Research Council.
Last year, President Donald Trump was the first sitting president to address the group. Trump was invited to speak at the conference again this year, but at the time of publication, his attendance was unconfirmed.
The Values Voters Summit is hosted annually by the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed in its index of hate groups. FRC president Tony Perkins and his employees have actively lobbied against marriage equality and transgender rights for decades—an agenda that Perkins told radio listeners he once discussed with former White House adviser Steve Bannon. Last year, Bannon and other White House officials recruited FRC in their war against the Republican establishment that they believe to be too moderate.
As made abundantly clear last year, Perkins and his ilk have retooled their “family values” message from years past to include unwavering support of the Trump administration and its allies. Since last year’s conference, FRC has provided cover for failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore after he was accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls while he was in his 30s, announced that evangelicals were giving Trump a “mulligan” for his alleged affair with Stephanie “Stormy Daniels” Clifford as long as he continues to fulfill their agenda, and called for prayers to protect Trump from “left-wing news media.” Coincidentally, Perkins has also received an appointment to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
All the while, he’s likened baking cakes for same-sex couples to “indentured servitude,” blamed trans-inclusionary policies at a gym for a random guy who tried to do naked yoga in its facilities, proposed that Christians reconsider any plans to attend same-sex weddings, and compared accepting transgender people to allowing someone to commit suicide by jumping off a building. FRC senior fellow Cathy Ruse compared single-stall gender neutral bathrooms to child abuse. Despite this rhetoric, the group reportedly advised the Pentagon on policies surrounding transgender military service members.
FRC has also ramped up its anti-abortion activism and has been one of the many Religious Right organizations cheering on the appointment of Trump judges to the Supreme Court, believing that those appointments will help them overturn Roe v. Wade in upcoming years, and encouraging Trump to target Planned Parenthood. We expect that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman at a party in high school will be a major topic of discussion at this year’s conference.
This year’s schedule, as with prior years, reflects both FRC’s extreme agenda and its ready access to the levers of power in Washington. In addition to Pence, other confirmed speakers include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who raised eyebrows over his decision to speak at the event. Reps. Lee Chatfield of Michigan and Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Ohio state Rep. Christina Hagan, West Virginia state Rep. Kayla Kessinger and former Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia will also speak at this year’s conference.
Other speakers include:
- Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, who referred to slaves as “immigrants” and who made a concentration camp joke after a Holocaust survivor received an honor.
- Sebastian Gorka, former White House deputy assistant to Trump, who thinks that Trump’s election was proof that God exists;
- NRA president Oliver North, who was convicted for his role in the Iran–Contra affair but had charges dismissed in 1991, and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch, who recently ran a segment on NRA TV depicting characters from the Thomas the Tank Engine cartoon wearing KKK hoods;
- Fox News radio host Todd Starnes, who complained that immigrants “get all biblical on us” and “start churning out the babies,” said that Trump should fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller because Mueller was committing “political jihad,” and declared that liberals want to “criminalize masculinity”;
- Brigitte Gabriel, president of the anti-Muslim group ACT for America, has been raising money off her group’s ties to Pompeo and the White House. Gabriel has demanded that judges who ruled against Trump’s travel bans last year be impeached and has called for the Council on American Islamic Relations to be banned from addressing state legislatures;
- Gary Bauer, a longtime Religious Right activist, who has called for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to be fired and for “the deep state resistance” to be dismantled. He’s compared the liberal movement to the Taliban, said that conservatives should have backed Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his nomination even if they believed Anita Hill, and has a well-documented history of anti-LGBTQ bigotry;
- David and Jason Benham, anti-LGBTQ activists who lost their TV show on HGTV and have subsequently turned themselves into martyrs against political correctness. They said last year that hurricanes were a warning for America to repent for “breaching the boundaries” of God on gender, sexuality and marriage and have claimed that “discrimination against gay people simply does not exist.”;
- “Activist Mommy” Elizabeth Johnston has warned of a “war on our children” waged by LGBTQ activists and threatened to sue schools that teach sex education courses;
- Jack Phillips, the baker who took his case over his refusal to bake a cake for a same-sex couple to the Supreme Court and who hopes to do so again after denying service to a transgender person;
- Sandy Rios, the American Family Association’s director of governmental affairs, who has lifted anti-immigrant talking points from white nationalists, claimed that a mass shooter had “atheism” ties to anti-fascist groups, and said that the term “alt-right” was coined to denigrate Christians;
- Dr. Everrett Piper, who is the president of a Christian college who has found success on the Religious Right speaking circuit by attacking the “ideological fascism” of gay-rights supporters and other liberals, who he says are waging a “war against Christians” in academia and the broader culture. Piper claimed last year that it was impossible to be a feminist who is accepting of transgender women;
- George Barna, an evangelical pollster, has declared that Trump’s election was a “major miracle” sent by God and said that the conservative religious leaders who embrace Trump have brought about a “major change” in “the heart and hopefully the soul of this man who’s now our president.” He cited gay marriage as an example of “the rise of paganism.”
The scheduled breakout sessions include one panel that will discuss how legislative compromise purportedly “creates laws antithetical to Christianity and conservatism” and conservatives’ “constitutional right to counter unbiblical views of social justice, immigration, gun control, and capitalism.” Other panels will focus on reaching out Millennial and Generation Z voters and addressing the supposed “free speech crisis” on college campuses in America.
The conference, as usual, carries sponsorships from the political action arm of the American Family Association and American Values, an organization that states it is “deeply committed to defending life, traditional marriage and equipping our children with the values necessary to stand against liberal education and cultural forces.” VVS is co-sponsored The Heritage Foundation, which has become the most influential political group influencing the Trump administration agenda.