The Vatican’s Hypocrisy Endangers LGBTQ People Worldwide

“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” Pope Francis told reporters in July 2013. In January 2015, Pope Francis reportedly met with a transgender person, winning praises across the world for his openness. In February, however, the Pope erased any hope of a more progressive Catholic position when he compared gender theory (often used to defend and advocate for transgender rights) to nuclear weapons.

“Let’s think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings,” he was quoted as saying. “Let’s think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation. … God has placed man and woman and the summit of creation and has entrusted them with the earth. The design of the Creator is written in nature.”

The Pope’s words and actions carry tremendous weight, and with them he has the power to either sanction or condemn the ongoing persecution or LGBTQI people around the world. Unfortunately, Pope Francis continues to play hide and seek on this issue—something his predecessor did, too.

Pope Francis celebrated as a progressive leader, but he has not yet acted upon his benevolent words.

Pope Francis is celebrated as a progressive leader, but he has not yet acted upon his benevolent words.

Pope Francis ought to realize that U.S. Roman Catholic leaders and organizations are equally responsible for the fire of homophobia and sexism that is raging in Africa and elsewhere. In 2009, the Vatican came out strongly against the criminalization of sexual minorities. This followed the introduction of Uganda’s infamous “Kill the Gays” bill in Parliament. Then little-known U.S. evangelical Scott Lively traveled to Uganda for an anti-homosexuality conference in March 2009. The very next month, the Ugandan Parliament drafted and introduced one of the most extreme anti-LGBTI laws in the world—the Anti-Homosexuality Act, as it was officially known, called for the death penalty for LGBTI people. Africans such as Pastor Martin Ssempa (for whom megachurch Pastor Rick Warren was a mentor), Stephen Langa of the Family Life Network, and Uganda’s Joint Christian Council (which includes several Roman Catholic Bishops among its members) ensured the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February 2014. The law was struck down by the Constitutional Court of Uganda on purely technical reasons later that same year, but it still has the potential to pass again—another reason why the Pope’s voice is so desperately needed in the struggle for sexual rights.

On December 10, 2009, the Holy See released a little-known historic statement that opposed “all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person.” With this statement, the Vatican seemed to establish a position in firm opposition to the (not yet extant) “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda and similar laws elsewhere.

The human rights world applauded the Vatican’s position—but the above words were never uttered by the Pontiff himself or inserted into the Encyclical (the official document of Roman Catholic positions on various issues). Rather than making a bold statement affirming and defending LGBTQI peoples, the Vatican’s posturing outsmarted human rights advocates around the world. By denouncing criminalization of sexual minorities, the Vatican was able to evade responsibility for human rights abuses (laying the blame solely on U.S. conservative evangelicals), while still endorsing the work of U.S.-based Catholic groups such The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, Human Life International, and Priests for Life, as well as bishops and other church leaders guilty of campaigning for the criminalization of sexual minorities. In Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and many other African countries, Roman Catholic bishops and priests—with the support of their colleagues in the U.S. and at the Vatican—have been at the forefront of anti-LGBTI campaigns.

Much blame has been placed on the shoulders of conservative American evangelicals, but U.S. Roman Catholic right-wing groups are equally guilty of exporting homophobia and sexism to Africa. This was illustrated in February 2015, when Roman Catholic Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of the Diocese of Oyo in Nigeria claimed that Nigeria’s failure to rescue the kidnapped girls (the Chibok girls taken by the Islamist group Boko Haram) was due to lack of support from the Obama administration, resulting from its opposition to an anti-LGBTI law passed in Nigeria in 2014. While the media cited Bishop Badejo for this statement, the claim was originally made by a U.S. conservative: Rep. Steve Stockman, who in August 2014 argued, “We have information that would help the Nigerian military take back their country and get back those girls. The mistake on our side—the United States’ side—is that we have laws preventing us from sharing that information with the Nigerian military. And one of the reasons is that we don’t like some of the social policy of the Nigerian government.”

The passage of Nigeria’s 2014 anti-LGBTQI law, which applies a 14-year jail sentence for same-sex marriages and prohibits advocacy of sexual minorities’ rights, was celebrated by Nigerian Roman Catholic Bishops. The bishops commended the government for its “courageous and wise decision” to fight “the conspiracy of the developed world to make our country and continent the dumping ground for the promotion of all immoral practices that have continued to debase the purpose of God for man in the area of creation and morality, in their own countries.” Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama went as far as saying “thank God that this bill was passed.” The failure of the Vatican to oppose or counter such statements implies approval; its hide-and-seek game essentially sanctions the persecution of sexual minorities in Africa and other parts of the world.

Pope Francis is continually credited as being a much more “progressive” leader than many of his predecessors, but he has done nothing to oppose anti-LGBTQI laws in Africa, Russia, and Asia. Though celebrated as a champion of people’s rights, Pope Francis is following in the footsteps of his conservative predecessor Benedict XVI, who condemned criminalization and dehumanization of sexual minorities while simultaneously blessing the Ugandan Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga in 2012—knowing that she had promised to pass the “Kill the Gays” bill into law.

As the World Meeting of Families draws near in Philadelphia, human rights advocates anxiously await a public statement from Pope Francis on human sexuality. If the event centers on the definition of “family values” promoted by U.S. Roman Catholic and evangelical conservatives, then the Pope’s visit will further sanction the demonization, scapegoating, and persecution of LGBTQI individuals around the world. U.S. conservatives—from lesser-known characters like Matt McLaughlin and Scott Lively to big name leaders like Franklin Graham and Rick Warren—are awaiting the Pope’s visit to advance their global anti-human rights agenda.

The Pope’s upcoming visit to the U.S. provides another opportunity for the advancement of human rights for all people. The persecution, violence, and trauma caused by religiously sanctioned homophobia demands a statement from Pope Francis on LGBTQI rights. His words have the potential to either sanction continuous violence, rape, criminalization, persecution, and killings—or bring long-awaited and desperately needed acceptance of sexual minorities across the globe.

We will be watching!

California’s “Shoot the Gays” Ballot Initiative Serves as Permission Slip for African Conservatives

The news that a Christian lawyer named Matt McLaughlin submitted a proposed ballot initiative in California that would require the execution of all LGBTQ people may sound laughable in the United States, but McLaughlin’s goal might not actually be to see the initiative signed into law. It may, in fact, be meant as a signal to countries all over the world where U.S. conservative Christians are encouraging the passage of similar anti-LGBTQ laws, essentially saying that if people in the U.S. are “considering” such a law, they should be free to do the same.

The “Sodomite Suppression Act” ballot initiative in California says, “in the fear of God, that any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.”

Matt McLaughlin and the text of his “Sodomite Suppression Act”

 

It’s practically a foregone conclusion that McLaughlin will not succeed in collecting the required number of signatures to get his initiative on the ballot, but that doesn’t mean he’s without company here in the U.S. Just as Scott Lively received roughly 19,000 votes in his failed gubernatorial campaign in Massachusetts last year, McLaughlin will have some people who share similar views, both here and—importantly—in Africa. The concern should be that while his initiative is scoffed at in the U.S., the American culture warriors who are actively pursuing legislative persecution of both sexual minorities and women’s reproductive freedom in countries like Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Malawi, and Russia will leverage the fact that it has been proposed (and therefore given the serious consideration that America’s democracy requires) in order to sway foreign leaders and communities—people who may not realize how simple it is to pay a few dollars to get a ballot initiative in California proposed.

It was not long ago that (then) little-known U.S. right-wing evangelical Scott Lively traveled to Uganda and called on their Parliament to pass extreme anti-LGBTQ laws as a strategy for protecting young people from “homosexual recruitment” and the nation from “the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.” Aside from being heralded in Uganda as a “Man of God,” Lively’s talking points were adopted by Africans such as Pastor Martin Ssempa, Stephen Langa of the Family Life Network, and, of course, by Parliamentarian David Bahati—recently elevated to a full cabinet position in the Museveni administration—who became the author and sponsor of the infamous 2009 “Kill the Gays” bill.

Despite the increase in violence against sexual minorities in Uganda, Bahati sees nothing wrong with the bill—something he recently told VICE Magazine. On a subsequent visit to the U.S., Bahati also told Rachel Maddow that he saw nothing wrong with executing gays for “aggravated homosexuality.” Citing the Bible, Bahati argued that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

The Anti Homosexuality Act—as it’s officially titled—was signed into law in February 2014 before getting struck down by the Constitutional Court of Uganda for technical reasons. While LGBTQ activists in Uganda deserve to celebrate this important victory, members of Uganda’s Parliament have pledged to revive it in the near future.

Because McLaughlin’s proposed initiative is rooted in (his version of) Evangelical Christianity, U.S. Christian conservative leaders have a moral obligation to oppose it. But U.S. conservative leaders are so timid to stand up against bigotry. It took months of intense public pressure and scrutiny before The Fellowship (aka “The Family”) and U.S. megachurch pastor Rick Warren were forced to denounce the “Kill the Gays” bill—the legislation Warren himself exported on his 2008 visit to Uganda, during which he rejected sexual minorities’ rights as human rights. U.S. conservatives claim that extremists like McLaughlin and Lively are not representative of their positions—that they are merely fringe characters. Yet when extremists use the name of Christianity to export ideologies that hurt our fellow human beings, these same so-called “moderate” conservatives keep quiet (while simultaneously demanding that every U.S. Muslim should denounce Islamic Fundamentalists!).

McLaughlin’s initiative may be extreme, but it clearly illustrates how American culture wars ride on religion. The dangerous fire of religiously-sanctioned homophobia and sexism is currently burning across African nations in the name of God. The legislation pushed for and created by U.S. conservatives in Uganda and Russia now serves as models for other nations—similar laws have subsequently passed in The Gambia and Nigeria, and unless all U.S. people of conscience immediately begin working here at home to contain these homegrown culture warriors, their spread of anti-human rights poison abroad will only increase.

Christian leaders of all traditions and faiths must stand up against homophobia—they must condemn any promotion of hatred in the name of religion. Like McLaughlin, Edward Onwong’a Nyakeriga of Kenya’s Republican Liberty Party wants execution by stoning or life imprisonment for sexual minorities. Under the premise of “protecting” traditional family values, Nyakeriga argues the law is necessary to stop “sexual rights activists” from imposing “their values of sexual promiscuity on the people of Kenya.” As McLaughlin reveals (again), these words are taken directly from U.S. conservative talking points.

But conservative talking points have bodies—U.S. anti-human rights Christian conservatives are actively exporting their ideologies to Africa, where they are unquestioningly received as scientific truths. Depending on how the Supreme Court rules on same-sex marriages next month, U.S. Conservative ideologies may soon be history. Due to the number of losses Christian conservatives have suffered—and continue to suffer—in U.S. courts, accompanied by their failure to sell their anti-human rights agenda to young evangelicals, American culture warriors know they are fighting a losing battle. But this does not mean they will be out of business soon—their campaign is already globalized, and their talking points have found an eager market in Africa.

As eyes are set on the U.S., well-known and little-known U.S. conservatives such as Warren, Lively, and Sharon Slater have been waging anti-human rights battles on foreign grounds for many years. We all know that Pastor Warren (reluctantly) opposed the “Kill the Gays” bill when speaking on U.S. soil, but when is he going to condemn homophobia while he is visiting Rwanda? Hence, as long as the U.S. Right continues to dump its expired arsenal of homophobia and sexism on African soil, sexual minorities and women will be the direct victims of the same.

On a continent where over 90% of the population identifies as religious, African homophobia is covered in religiously coded messages. The efforts of human rights defenders alone won’t put out the fire of homophobia and sexism—religious leaders must also play a part. American evangelical religious leaders and para-church organizations operating in Africa—from World Vision to Pastor Warren’s PEACE Plan to Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse—have a moral obligation to speak out against religiously sanctioned violence directed toward sexual minorities and women. Their voices will determine who lives and who dies. These groups may claim to be oblivious to the persecution of sexual minorities and women in Africa, but religiously sanctioned homophobia and sexism continues to destroy and claim lives there.

While evangelical Christians of good conscience need to oppose anti-human rights positions advocated for by U.S. Christian extremists both at home and abroad, they also have the duty to demand that all evangelical organizations operating in Africa denounce homophobia and sexism. Keeping silent when lesbians are raped and gays are arrested and killed across the continent is not Christ-like—it is shameful and a betrayal of our biblical faith and family values. Mr. McLaughlin provides Pastor Warren and all evangelical pastors and scholars with an opportunity to honor the sacred humanity of all persons by denouncing his initiative as un-Christian.

 

Profile on the Right: The International Franchise Association

international franchise association logo

The International Franchise Association (IFA) is a 501(c)6 membership association. Its members include both franchisors–the big brands that control national and regional retail, fast food, and other chains, including home care–and franchisees, the operators of the individual chain stores. Dark-money organizations such as the IFA are politically active nonprofits that can receive unlimited donations from corporations and individuals without being required to disclose their donors. Through them, corporations and individuals can influence policy decisions and elections while remaining out of the public eye1.

The IFA is made up of the Franchise Action Network — the IFA’s public policy arm — and the IFA Educational Foundation (which supports conservative public policies through research). While the Franchise Action Network claims to advocate for locally-owned franchise small business and franchisors alike2, its legal and lobbying activities are only acting on behalf of the biggest franchisors such as McDonald’s and home health care chains such as BrightStar.

IFA’s Funding

According to its 2013 Form 990 filed with the IRS3, the IFA’s total gross income for 2012 was about $18.2 million. Where does its money come from? Again, we cannot confirm exact sources of its revenue, but according to the business news blog Bisnow, “Approximately 40% comes from IFA’s annual convention; 40% from membership dues; 15% from events and program-related sponsorships; 5% from investment income.”4

IFA’s Lobbying Arm: Franchise Action Network

From the IFA’s website: “The franchise industry is under unprecedented attack on the public policy front and the IFA has been leading the fight to protect the franchise industry. From discriminatory minimum wage increases to changes in federal regulations that would recast franchisors as employers of their franchisees’ employees, the franchise business model has never come under assault like this in its history. In order to defend the franchise model against these existential threats, franchise businesses need to come together and speak with one, consistent, strong and collective voice on behalf of the our industry.”5

In fact, the IFA has become the lead organization that is fighting to block legislation that would promote fair labor standards and hold franchisors (or brands) accountable for labor violations.

  • In Seattle, the IFA is suing the city over the mandated minimum wage increase, contending that the law discriminates against the franchise industry by treating franchises as large business, requiring them to begin paying higher wages more quickly than small, independent businesses. 6
  • The IFA is fighting the July 2014 National Labor Relations Board ruling that McDonald’s parent corporation could be designated a joint employer of its franchisees’ employees, meaning the multi-billion dollar franchise can be held accountable for labor violations of employees at some stores7. Now, the IFA is helping to get legislation passed at the state level, as in Tennessee, to dodge the ruling8.

Ultimately, the IFA aims to recast multi-billion dollar franchises as the victims under attack by advocates for fair wages and labor standards, and to undermine any legislation that protects workers’ rights.

The IFA and Homecare Workers

The US Department of Labor issued a new rule in 2014 that would extend labor protections—especially overtime protection–to home care workers. The rule was supposed to go into effect Jan. 1, but is being challenged in court by the IFA and other groups.

Sept 18, 2013:

Steve Caldeira President and CEO of the IFA: “With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 years of age every day, the home health care sector is one of the fastest growing segments in the franchise industry, with more than two dozen franchise systems and more than 4,000 franchise business owners providing a much- needed service to this growing sector of our population. One out of 10 clients require 24-hour, live-in service, and one out of four clients require more than 40 hours per week of companion care services. Eliminating the long-standing overtime companion care exemption for hundreds of thousands of workers will significantly raise the cost of care for seniors while simultaneously stifling a growing sector of the economy responsible for creating thousands of new jobs.

“As adopted, this single decision will force caregivers into an unregulated ‘underground’ market, as clients will no longer be able to pay for live-in care through a regulated agency. Caregivers will lose take home pay, as clients will not be able to pay overtime -resulting in an overall loss in jobs. As a result of this action, much-needed tax revenue will also be lost, as more caregivers will be paid under the table and not report their income9.

Dec. 22, 2014:

Calling the new overtime rules for homecare workers ” yet another example of regulatory overreach of power by the U.S. Department of Labor ,” an IFA spokesman said: “By promulgating regulations to eliminate the overtime exemption for companion care workers, the administration threatened affordable care for seniors and the disabled and put many franchise small businesses and their employees in jeopardy by subjecting them to potentially unsustainable costs.”10

Jan. 31, 2015:

“Specifically, the new rules would have ended a federal regulation from 1974 that labeled home care aides “companions,” a designation that lets their employers — generally, for-profit agencies — ignore basic labor protections.

Justice, however, has been delayed. The Jan. 1 effective date was postponed late last year when a federal judge, Richard Leon, said he first had to issue a decision on a challenge filed by the International Franchise Association and other home care employer groups. On Jan. 14, Judge Leon overturned the new rules, on the highly debatable ground that only Congress can remove the companionship label. The Labor Department has filed an appeal, but the issue won’t be resolved until June, at the earliest11.

May 1, 2015:

Washington Business Journal article Are franchisees unhappy business owners? Union survey says many are

IFA contends SEIU doesn’t care about franchisees; they’re just using them in its campaign to make it easier for them to organize franchise workers.

“The SEIU wants to destroy the time-tested franchise model of doing business for its own self-interest; it doesn’t really care what franchise owners or workers think or want,” Caldeira said.

Jeffrey Tews, who owns BrightStar Care, BrightStar Senior Living and Mr. Handyman franchises in Wisconsin, agrees.

“The SEIU is out to help itself, not my employees,” Tews said. “Its report is transparently self-interested and paints a very different picture than the one that my fellow franchisees and our employees see.”12

Part of a Nexus of Dark-Money Business Lobby Groups

Evidence shows that the IFA leverages the group’s resources and connections to other dark-money business groups and pro-business candidates to increase its political clout at the national level. Under the leadership of President Steve Caldeira, the IFA has grown its political action committee by raising approximately $1.2 million in 2012 and $894,000 in 2014, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Caldeira previously held executive roles in the National Restaurant Association which also lobbies against paid sick days, paid family leave, one fair wage, and just hours. Caldeira has worked on multiple Republican political campaigns and presently serves in several committees within the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The IFA has also used the legal services of anti-union labor law firm Littler Mendelson and is a participant in Littler’s Workplace Policy Institute along with SHRM and the US Chamber. To coordinate lobbying around these issues, the IFA has also recently convened the Coalition to Save Local Business, in partnership with such dark-money groups as the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Federation of Independent Business, the National Retail Federation, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, The National Restaurant Association, the US Chamber of Commerce, and others.13

Next Profile arrowEnd Notes

1 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/09/opinion/sunday/dark-money-helped-win-the-senate.html

2 http://www.franchiseactionnetwork.com/federal-activity

3 http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2013/366/108/2013-366108621-0a5adc2b-9O.pdf

4 https://www.bisnow.com/washington-dc/news/association/what-you-didnt-know-about-steve-caldeira-43491

5 http://www.franchise.org/franchise-action-network

6 http://www.qsrweb.com/news/ifa-claims-seattle-minimum-wage-hike-is-discrimination/

7 http://www.wsj.com/articles/nlrb-names-mcdonalds-as-joint-employer-of-workers-at-its-franchisees-1419018664

8 http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/245283

9 http://www.franchise.org/new-regulation-on-home-care-workers-creates-lose-lose-situation

10 http://www.franchise.org/ifa-statement-on-court-ruling-vacating-dol-overtime-regulations

11 http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/01/opinion/sunday/labor-rights-for-home-care-aides-are-delayed-yet-again.html?_r=1

12 http://www.bizjournals.com/chicago/news/news-wire/2015/05/01/are-franchisees-unhappy-business-owners-union.html?page=all

13 http://savelocalbusinesses.com/our-members/

How the Right is Co-Opting #BlackLivesMatter to Roll Back Repro Rights

The Right Wing’s success in reframing and co-opting social justice movements for the advancement of its own agenda has derailed more than one progressive campaign. With skillfully manipulative messaging, improved healthcare access and reproductive freedom have been redefined as murderous, genocidal crusades; LGBTQ people have been twisted into dangerous, perverse threats to women and children; economic justice efforts are distorted as handouts for lazy, work-averse people.

The Right’s new target? Black Lives Matter.

With the Black Lives Matter movement sparking actions, demonstrations, and conversations around the country, the Right is carefully plotting strategies to divert energy and attention away from racial justice, seeking to preserve the status quo at all costs, and—if they’re crafty enough—gain ground on their own conservative agenda.

As protesters marched and demonstrated from coast to coast following the non-indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson—the man responsible for the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager—the Right hastily put forward alternative narratives. Among them is an emerging effort to convert the “Black Lives Matter” rallying cry into an anti-abortion campaign.

In December, the Illinois Family Institute—one of many state-based conservative “family policy councils” working to implement a right-wing social and political agenda at the state level—published a blog post entitled, “’Black Lives Matter’ … or do they?” The author, Fran Eaton (a White woman), argued that “the real threat to America’s Black community are abortionists much more than law enforcement officers.” Eaton claims that since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, “16 million tiny Black lives have perished in abortion clinics.”

too many aborted billboardTo back up her reframing of the Black Lives Matter movement, she turns to two of the anti-abortion camp’s favorite Black surrogates: Ryan Bomberger, co-founder of the Radiance Foundation, and Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and director of African American Outreach at the anti-choice Catholic organization Priests for Life.

Bomberger’s organization is infamous for its controversial “Too Many Aborted” billboard campaigns, which began cropping up around the country in 2010. Signs proclaiming “Black Children are an Endangered Species” and “Abortion Makes Three-Fifths Human Seem Overly Generous” were placed in predominantly Black neighborhoods, making no secret of their strategy to target Black women.

bomberger graph

Infographic from the Radiance Foundation

 

As Dorothy Roberts outlined in her seminal 1998 book, Killing the Black Body, there is indeed a long and devastating history of women’s fertility and reproduction being controlled by the state, particularly among communities of color. In some cases, these attacks on reproductive freedom have been furthered not just by conservative White legislators, but also by Black spokespeople.

Sadly, this multi-pronged, insider/outsider assault continues still today, as exemplified by Bomberger and King’s efforts to further restrict access to safe and healthy abortions that are free from shame and condemnation. Increasingly, these ongoing attacks are taking shape in the form of “race and sex-selective abortion bans”—laws that would prevent healthcare providers from performing abortions if they suspect the person seeking care is doing so based on the anticipated race or sex of the fetus.

Race & Sex-Selective Abortion Bans—Stealing the Civil Rights Act

Prior to 2010, only two states banned sex-selective abortions: Illinois passed a ban in 1979, and Pennsylvania passed a similar law in 1982. Beginning in 2008, however, leaders in the anti-choice movement began mobilizing constituents behind this new tactic.

In 2008, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), proposed H.R. 7016, the Susan B. Anthony Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA). In a press conference, Franks claimed his strategy was to simply extend standard civil rights protections, encapsulated in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, to unborn Americans. “Sex and race discrimination are already forbidden,” he said. “We took everything applicable from the 1964 Civil Rights Act and applied it to the unborn.”

Franks was joined by Alveda King and several other anti-choice spokespeople, including Steven Mosher, head of the right-wing Population Research Institute. In an article published shortly after H.R. 7016’s introduction, Mosher wrote:

I propose that we—the pro-life movement—adopt as our next goal the banning of sex- and race-selective abortion. By formally protecting all female fetuses from abortion on the ground of their sex, we would plant in the law the proposition that the developing child is a being whose claims on us should not depend on their sex.

This sense of contradiction will be further heightened among radical feminists, the shock troops of the abortion movement. They may believe that the right to abortion is fundamental to women’s emancipation, but many will recoil at the thought of aborting their unborn sisters. How can they, who so oppose patriarchy and discrimination on the basis of sex, consent to [the] ultimate form of patriarchy and discrimination, namely, the elimination of baby girls solely on account of their sex? Many, it is safe to predict, will be silent, while others will raise their voices, but with less conviction.

While the pro-aborts are stammering and stuttering, we pro-lifers will be advancing new moral and logical arguments against the exercise of the “right” to an abortion solely on the grounds of sex or race. For those who are immune to moral arguments, we can also use the examples of China and India, where sex-selective abortion is creating enormous societal problems. The debate over sex- and race-selective abortion will also help to focus the public’s attention on how unregulated the abortion industry is. In these and other ways, the debate over this legislation will not subtract from, but add to, the larger goal of reversing Roe v. Wade and, ultimately, passing a Human Life Amendment. – “A New Front in the Abortion Wars

Franks, considered one of the most conservative members of Congress, has persisted in his efforts, reintroducing the bill in 2008, ’09, ’11, ’12, and ’13. In 2013, Franks also proposed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks based on the medically-disputed theory that fetuses can feel pain at that point. That bill, which still lacked sufficient support when it was re-introduced in January of this year, will likely be back up for consideration soon.

Franks’ home state of Arizona is the only state to have passed a race-selective abortion ban. This legislation is currently being contested by the ACLU on behalf of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

As NAPAWF explains:

These bills are part of a deceptive attempt to slip anti-choice measures under the radar. They claim to promote racial and gender equity, when in reality they aim to chip away at reproductive rights by exploiting negative stereotypes about women of color. Using the language of equality, anti-choice conservatives hope to foster nontraditional alliances with true advocates for women and people of color, in order to gain broad support for their agenda.

As in Illinois, Arizona has its own family policy organization, the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP). CAP was originally known as the Arizona Family Research Institute, and from 1988-1993, Franks served as the organization’s executive director. Now one of the most influential political groups in the state, CAP is a member of CitizenLink, a nationwide network of right-wing state level lobbying groups and the policy arm of Focus on the Family. CitizenLink currently lists “fully associated” groups in 38 states.

With the exception of Oklahoma, every other state to have successfully passed sex-selective abortion bans thus far (Arizona, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania) has one of these CitizenLink-affiliated groups working hard to derail movements toward social justice and advance the Right’s fundamentalist Christian agenda.

The Right’s media-messaging machine is well resourced and ready to co-opt and distort all struggles for social justice, including the Black Lives Matter movement. With high-profile Black surrogates like Bomberger and King out in front, and national support from organizations like Focus on the Family, CitizenLink, Radiance Foundation, and Americans United for Life, the anti-abortion movement is gaining ground—already this year, state lawmakers have introduced more than 300 bills designed to chip away at civil liberties and reproductive freedom.

It can be difficult to translate truth from the Right’s manipulative reframing, but Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, offers an easy litmus test: “If those who oppose abortion truly believed that black lives matter, they would be standing beside reproductive justice activists, and join our unequivocal assertion that the right to choose an abortion is just as important as the right to have children and parent them in healthy, thriving communities. Equality and justice can never be rooted in stigma, shaming, or violence, and it’s time the anti-choice movement recognized that.”

Christian Right Leaders Escalate Anti-LGBTQ Threats

As marriage equality has advanced around the country, and the U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule on the issue in June, threatening language is escalating on the Christian Right.   If these culture warriors actually follow through with their threats, the story of our time may turn on terms like civil disobedience, martyrdom and even civil war.  The operative word here is, “if.”

supreme court cross

In recent years, we have repeatedly heard threats of civil disobedience from Christian Right Leaders – everyone from the signers of the historic, 2009 Manhattan Declaration (which included top Roman Catholic prelates and evangelical and organized Christian right leaders), to Rick Warren.  We have heard predictions of civil war, revolution, and martyrdom from the likes of Catholic thinker John McCloskey, theocratic evangelical intellectual Peter Leithart, and even Christian Right electoral activist David Lane. We have also heard calls for political assassinations and secessionist civil war from White Southern Christian Nationalists, Michael Hill, David Whitney, and Michael Peroutka.

Most recently, some 200 Christian Right figures signed a renewed pledge of resistance to the anticipated Supreme Court decision favoring marriage equality.  At a press conference, they called this “A Bonhoeffer Moment in America.” The reference is to the famous Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who resisted the Nazi regime and was hanged for his role in an unsuccessful plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler.  Bonhoeffer is increasingly invoked by Christian Right leaders as they compare the situation in the United States to Nazi Germany and cast him—as they choose to define him—as a role model for Christian Right resistance.

The new manifesto says that extending marriage to same-sex couples violates their religious freedom, and that they want to “respectfully warn the Supreme Court” that they would adhere to “higher law.” Their language was (relatively) soft, but clear:  “Make no mistake about our resolve,” they concluded, “ …this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross.”

Co-authored by Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel and Catholic activist Keith Fournier, signers of the declaration include such well known Christian Right leaders as James Dobson, Jim Garlow, Franklin Graham, John Hagee, William Boykin, and Frank Pavone; Southern Baptist Convention leaders Paige Patterson, Ed Young, Robert Jeffress and Richard Land; leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation, including Alveda King, Samuel Rodriguez, Cindy Jacobs, James Robison, Rick Joyner, and Joseph Mattera; and Republican politicians Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Tom DeLay.

Not to be outdone, anti-LGBTQ activist Scott Lively announced that the only way to thwart marriage equality is with the “threat of the mob.” Lively is walking a line as like those who have come before – wanting people to take his call seriously, even as he characterizes it as but a metaphor.

“The elites need to see the angry mob – liberals and conservatives together – surging through the streets, pitchforks and torches held aloft, ready to tear down Frankenstein’s castle with their bare hands if need be. For Christians it’s Jesus and the moneychangers time!  Making a whip of cords like He did with His own hands, and letting these arrogant puppet-masters know we mean to use it (metaphorically speaking).”

“The only way to deter the elites is with the threat of the mob,” Lively concluded. “They need to see the pitchforks and torches to know they’ve gone too far and need to back down.”

There is an art to brushing with incitement to violence.  It is an art with which the Far Right in the U.S. is very familiar.  Anti-choice militants often engage, or threaten to engage, in activities that walk up to or actually transgress personal and property boundaries of many kinds, including violence. But we have also seen the federal courts recognize that threatening language can morph into a “true threat” – as happened in the case of American Coalition of Life Activists v. Planned Parenthood.

As attorney Maria Vullo told me in an interview in 2002, that the case did not harm freedom of speech. “When you cross over the line into threatening violence,” she says, “it’s not free speech.”

Such concerns may take on new meaning since Christian Right leaders frequently compare the current Supreme Court same-sex marriage case, Obergefell v. Hodges, to Roe v. Wade, and may be serious about waging a long term war of attrition against an unfavorable outcome.

Let’s consider for example, the implications of the lawsuit brought by Ugandan LGBTQ activists against Scott Lively – who, as PRA’s senior researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma broke in 2009, was one of the leading U.S. culture warriors who promoted the virulent homophobia that led to the “kill the gays” bill in Uganda.

Sexual Minorities of Uganda v. Lively will be tried in September of 2015 in federal court in Springfield, Massachusetts – just two months after the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges; followed in October by the World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City. The latter will bring together some of the leading anti-LGBTQ militants in the world – some of whom have worked for legislation modeled on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law in their home countries.  

The case against Lively, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), relies on the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign victims of crimes under international law access to American courts. SMUG v. Lively is the first such case brought to protect LGBTQ people.

Lively is accused of the crime of “persecution,” as defined under international law as systematically seeking to deprive people of their fundamental rights not only of life, but of equality under the law – including equal rights of speech, assembly, and association. Persecution is defined here as the “severe deprivation of fundamental rights” on the basis of identity, a “crime against humanity.”

Lively’s claim that LBGTQ people are, among other things, predatory pedophiles has fueled rage not because of what people have done, but because of who they are. Even though the Anti-Homosexuality Bill had not yet passed when the lawsuit was filed (it later passed, was then struck down by the courts on procedural grounds, and now may make its return in the Ugandan parliament), SMUG said that vigilantes were acting as though it had.  People feared for their lives and possible arrest, received death threats, and were excluded from HIV-related education and health services. Meetings were raided, and LGBTQ leaders and attendees rounded-up and arrested.

CCR attorney Pamela Spees argued that since Lively first went to Uganda in 2002, no one had done more to strip away human rights protections for LGBTQ people. And although he was not present (as Lively’s attorney from Liberty Counsel noted) when specific criminal acts were perpetrated, nor did he supervise the crimes, Lively nevertheless participated in a wide-ranging conspiracy from which these crimes resulted. Lively was described as a “strategist” and an “architect.”

The nature of the civil disobedience being promised by various elements of the Christian Right in response to a potential pro-marriage equality ruling by the Supreme Court remains to be seen. It may turn out that some are just blowing smoke and will ultimately be able to live with the social changes taking place in the country. But it is likely that others can’t – or won’t. Some certainly believe that the survival of Christendom (as they understand it) is at stake.  And if their actions catch up with their words, there may be violence.

The Right’s Dangerous Duo: Robert P. George & Rick Warren

On April 30th, Biola University—ranked among the most conservative schools in the country—will play host to a conversation between famed academics Robert  “Robbie” P. George and Cornel West entitled “The Cost of Freedom: How Disagreement Makes Us Civil.” George has been described as “this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.” West, on the other hand, is a world-renowned progressive political philosopher and race theorist. The two affirm a deep and mutual friendship, and have shared classrooms and stages across the country for nearly a decade, seeking to exemplify fruitful dialogue across political and ideological and differences.

It’s a curious rapport, but in a society and culture that often promotes either antagonism or avoidance rather than deep and thought-provoking engagement within conflict, it is a rare and exciting thing to witness. The real story to pay attention to, though, is the relationship between George and the event’s moderator—the anything-but-moderate evangelical megachurch pastor, Rick Warren.

 

Robert P George (left) and Rick Warren (right) discuss religious freedom at the Berkley Center in 2013

Robert P George (left) and Rick Warren (right) discuss religious freedom at the Berkley Center in 2013

For many years, George operated outside of public view, establishing tremendous networks of influence amongst powerful leaders in academia, religion, and politics. As popular conservative leaders and pundits captured the public’s attention, George was quietly and methodically writing their script. As the conservative Catholic journal Crisis explained in a 2003 article: “He runs a kind of free-lemonade stand of advice for senators, congressmen, Catholic bishops, and evangelical leaders” who are looking for effective arguments against women’s bodily autonomy or equal rights for LGBTQ people.

He is the vice chairman of the conservative Ethics & Public Policy Center, chairman emeritus of the National Organization for Marriage (which recently disclosed its plan to go global with their anti-LGBTQ work), sits on the board of directors for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (the Green Family’s legal counsel in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby), co-founded the right-wing Witherspoon Institute (responsible for the thoroughly debunked but still destructively anti-LGBTQ Regnerus study), and serves on the editorial boards for multiple conservative publications, including the LDS (Mormon )Church-owned Deseret News. In 2012, George was appointed to the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, where he serves as vice chair.

In 2009, George finally stepped into the spotlight as the primary author of The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, a manifesto signed by approximately 150 of America’s leading right-wing religious and political activists calling for a rededication to the fight for “the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.” As PRA research fellow Fred Clarkson observed, The Manhattan Declaration’s distinct achievement—beyond serving as an anti-LGBTQ, anti-woman rallying cry—was “to broaden and deepen the emerging alliance between conservative Roman Catholics and right-wing evangelical Protestants.”

Indeed, the Declaration’s signatories make up a who’s who list of the U.S. Religious Right, including prominent anti-gay culture warrior Rick Warren. Warren was also invited to speak at “Humanum: An Interreligious Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman” in November 2014—a Vatican-sponsored event that George served as a key organizer for. 

Now, the two men are experimenting with their own version of complementarity, each playing distinct roles in the manipulation of religious liberty arguments (e.g. Hobby Lobby’s claim that the Affordable Care Act violates their “deeply held religious convictions”)—the Right’s newest attack strategy against civil rights for women and LGBTQ people. In his usual behind-the-scenes way, George has been acting as one of the primary strategists, writing the script for the state-by-state Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) saga playing out across the country, while Warren—always a sucker for the spotlight—has taken on the task of mobilizing his cast of “purpose-driven” characters to act out George’s drama.

With talk of civil disobedience and martyrdom, Warren is mobilizing his followers to fight for the “fundamental human right” of religious liberty—a right that he insists is being threatened by the steady expansion of rights and protections for women and LGBTQ people. (Not surprisingly, Warren’s concern for human rights is ideologically selective—in addition to being a strident opponent of marriage equality, he has said of homosexuality that it is “not a natural way of life and thus not a human right.”)

Though Rick Warren presents himself as a moderate, it’s no secret that he is a fundamentalist conservative known for his opposition to LGBTQ equality and women’s reproductive freedom. He is the founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, a Southern Baptist megachurch based in Lake Forest, California that boasts an average weekly attendance of 20,000 people.

In addition to having multiple branches throughout Southern California, Saddleback has also branched out globally. In 2005, Warren announced his “P.E.A.C.E. Plan” to address what he calls the “five global giants” of spiritual emptiness, corrupt leadership, poverty, disease, and illiteracy. Concentrating on twelve strategic “Gateway Cities” around the world, including Accra, Amman, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and Moscow, the P.E.A.C.E. Plan is rapidly expanding Warren’s reach and influence around the world.

The millionaire pastor travels extensively as part of his dominionist agenda, spreading his dangerous right-wing ideologies wherever he goes by developing close relationships with government leaders, business leaders, and religious leaders, including many prominent anti-LGBTQ pastors. When launching his “Purpose Driven Living” campaign in Uganda in 2008, Warren proclaimed to a crowd of cheering church leaders, “The future of Christianity is not Europe or North America, but Africa, Asia, and Latin America.” Warren was also one of the key U.S. culture warriors responsible for Uganda’s infamous “Kill the Gays” legislation. He eventually denounced the bill after he came under fire in U.S. media, which prompted vitriolic anti-LGBTQ Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa to pen an open letter to Warren demanding to know why he was saying things contrary to what he’d said in Uganda.

Despite these PR missteps, Warren hasn’t shied away from the international scene in the least. Sometimes referred to as “America’s pastor,” he is also arguably aspiring to be “Africa’s pastor,” too.In an email to supporters sent out in May 2014, Warren announced that he will host an “All-Africa Purpose Driven Church Leadership Training Conference” in Kigali, Rwanda later this year. He is calling for leading African evangelicals from each of the continent’s 54 countries to join him, as well as 54 other American pastors whom Warren has enlisting to join him, in order to “adopt” these new “purpose driven” recruits. This will be the first of five continent-wide conferences over the next five years—Warren’s final campaign before retiring from Saddleback in 2020.

Rwanda ranks among the world’s poorest countries, and has been the focus of much of Warren’s international work since he first visited at the invitation of President Paul Kagame in 2005. Kagame enlisted Warren’s help in making the small African nation the first “purpose-driven country” after reading the famous pastor’s bestseller, A Purpose Driven Life. Warren now sits on Kagame’s Presidential Advisory Council, and claims Rwanda as his “home,” pointing to his Rwandan diplomatic passport as proof.

That Kagame has been accused of numerous human rights violations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others seems not to have deterred Warren, who has hosted him multiple times as a guest of honor at Saddleback’s main campus. After all, the notion of “human rights” is an ambiguous one for Warren, reserved primarily for straight Christians facing “persecution” here in the U.S.

To be clear, the real threat—both in the U.S. and around the world—is the Christian Right’s attempt to co-opt the language of human rights and religious liberty, and (under the guise of “civil discourse”) advance their myth of persecution, which ultimately serves as a strategy to trump the rights of others and justify discrimination. Robert P. George and Cornel West might be the duo attracting the most attention tonight, but as backlash against gains made by women and LGBTQ people grows, the ones to really watch will be Robbie and Rick.

Growing Mormon-Catholic Alliance: Quiet Partners Behind Christian Right’s Religious Discrimination Agenda

While Tony Perkins, Brian Brown, Bryan Fischer, and other Christian Right pundits of the more shrill variety may be easy to ignore as they demand a right to discriminate on Fox News, there is a more dangerous coalition emerging. One of the primary drivers of the movement to corrupt and redefine religious freedom isn’t someone in a shouting match on cable news, but a decades-long alliance of top Mormons and Catholics.

While Mormons and Catholics may seem like unlikely allies, from a political perspective they bring complementary strengths to their partnership. The Mormon Church has an amazing amount of wealth on hand (it’s estimated to be worth over $40 billion – gathered from real estate and commercial holdings, mandatory tithing collections from members, and even a theme park in Hawaii) and a world-class grassroots mobilization and recruitment force. The Catholic Church and related groups, on the other hand, enjoy a much higher approval rating with the American public (62 percent) and thus can put a more popular face on public political campaigns.

Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks (center) speaks with Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, (right) and Princeton University Professor Robert P. George (left) at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty Canterbury Medal Dinner in New York City, 16 May 2013.

Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks (center) speaks with Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, (right) and Princeton University Professor Robert P. George (left) at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty Canterbury Medal Dinner in New York City, 16 May 2013.

The political allegiance between Mormons and Catholics dates back at least to the 1990s in Hawaii, during the first U.S. battle over same-sex marriage. As I previously reported, while the Mormons could—and did—provide funding and volunteers to that campaign, the more popular Catholic Church acted as the coalition’s public face. The Catholic Church and other visible allies would thereby absorb any public backlash directed towards the coalition, while the Mormons could push their agenda without any serious consequences to their public image. The strategy was effective, and one they repeated during California’s Proposition 8 fight.

The alliance grows stronger with each passing year. Epitomizing the relationship is Princeton professor Robert P. George, one of the most influential Catholic conservative activists in the country, who partnered with the Mormon Church to create the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). He also joined the editorial advisory board of the Mormon Church-owned newspaper, the Deseret News. George is also the founder of the Witherspoon Institute (responsible for the debunked Mark Regnerus study – which was reported first by the Deseret News), was the primary author of the anti-LGBTQ Manhattan Declaration, and is one of the top national strategists leading the charge to redefine religious freedom into a sword religious institutions can use to force their doctrinal positions on individuals. This week, Mormon Church-owned Brigham Young University awarded George an “honorary Doctor of Law and Moral Values” degree, calling him “one of the most able and articulate advocates of the proposition that faith and reason are not incompatible.”

Dallin H. Oaks, one of the Mormon Church’s 12 Apostles, has been deeply involved in the effort to redefine religious freedom. He sits on the board of the World Congress of Families, an international culture-warring collection of Religious Right organizations that works all over the world to use (redefined) religious freedom arguments to enact anti-LGBTQ and anti-reproductive health laws (such as the Russian law that criminalizes any positive speech about homosexuality). In recognition of his work with WCF and frequent speeches before conservative groups extoling the benefits of using one’s faith as an excuse to dodge pesky civil rights laws, Oaks received the 2013 “Canterbury Medal” for his “defense of religious liberty” from The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative Catholic legal organization responsible for the Hobby Lobby ruling at the Supreme Court and one of the top groups in the Right’s religious freedom campaign.

Speaking earlier this month at the Mormon Church’s semi-annual General Conference to all 15 million members worldwide, Oaks quoted a speech given by Philadelphia Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput at Brigham Young University. “Speaking of ‘concerns that the LDS and Catholic communities share,’ such as ‘about marriage and family, the nature of our sexuality, the sanctity of human life, and the urgency of religious liberty,’ he [Chaput] said this: ‘I want to stress again the importance of really living what we claim to believe. That needs to be a priority—not just in our personal and family lives but in our churches, our political choices, our business dealings, our treatment of the poor; in other words, in everything we do.’” Chaput continued, in his speech to BYU, “Religion is to democracy as a bridle is to a horse.”

“Religion is to democracy as a bridle is to a horse.”

Another of the Mormon Church’s top leaders, Henry B. Eyring, met with Chaput and Pope Francis in November 2014 at the Vatican. Eyring described their strengthening alliance and mutual dedication to opposing civil liberties for LGBTQ people and women, saying “I think the thing was, even with other faiths, they have exactly the same feeling that the root of good society is good families.” Another of the Mormon 12 Apostles, D. Todd Christofferson, will be one of the featured speakers later this year at the Catholic’s anti-LGBTQ World Meeting of Families, where the Pope will also be speaking.

The crowning, and perhaps most insidious, achievement thus far of the Mormon-Catholic alliance is the much-hailed Utah nondiscrimination/religious freedom law. While the Christian Right’s state-level Hobby-Lobbyized RFRAs (with their overt anti-LGBTQ intentions) have generated a significant national backlash (particularly in the cases of Indiana and Arizona) and are susceptible to court challenges, the Utah RFRA “lite” law actually won endorsements from LGBTQ groups. The Mormon Church enlisted the help of Christian Right operative Robin Fretwell Wilson, who works closely with right-wing Catholic groups like The Becket Fund and Alliance Defending Freedom, to co-write the law. The end product was a bill written in such a way that LGBTQ groups hungry for a “win” in a Red state could claim victory in the form of a watered-down nondiscrimination law. The price—knowingly or otherwise—was the endorsement by high-profile LGBTQ groups of the Right’s false contention that religious freedom is somehow at odds with LGBTQ rights, requiring a compromise – or, as some LGBTQ groups described the creation of Utah’s law, “a collaboration.” Such endorsements have set a dangerous precedent for the advancement of RFRAs and other efforts to corrupt actual religious freedom in various state legislatures. Right-wing groups can (and do) point to LGBTQ support in Utah as a means of mainstreaming their agenda and deflating their opposition.

Catholic news agencies have hailed the “Mormon law” as a model to be repeated across the country. If that happens, we may well see more such pyrrhic victories, in which gains in non-discrimination legislation are overwhelmed by the emerging “right to discriminate” on the basis of religious convictions.. This is where compromising on the true meaning of religious freedom could lead. We may also see the Mormon Church emerge as a more prominent—albeit less public—partner of the evangelical and Catholic elements of the Christian Right as they continue their quest to corrupt the meaning of religious freedom.

Profile on the Right: Oath Keepers

Oath Keepers Logo

Oath Keepers is one of the largest anti-government “patriot” groups in the nation.  The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) includes the organization in its list of Hate and Extremist Groups and its Patriot Movement Timeline.1 Oath Keepers differs from the 1990s wave of patriot movements in that “full members” of the organization are former and current military and police.

Oath Keepers was registered as a nonprofit in Nevada in 2009.2  Stewart Rhodes, founder and president of the organization, is a Yale graduate and former Congressional staffer for Ron Paul. Founding directors included Richard Mack, who continues as a director and the organization’s most prominent
spokesperson.3 4

The stated purpose of the Oath Keepers is to organize and train current and former military, police, and first responders to refuse to “obey unconstitutional orders.” 5  New members make an oath affirming “ten orders we will not obey” and liken their mission to resisting the tyranny of Nazi Germany. In 2014, the organization claimed 40,000 members in chapters in all fifty states,6 up from 30,000 reported in a 2011 interview with Rhodes in the libertarian Reason Magazine. 7 8  Full membership is available for current and former members of the military, National Guard, Reserves, police, firefighters, and first responders.  Other are eligible for associate membership.

The “Friends of Oath Keepers,” listed on the organization’s website, include the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), Gun Owners of America (GOA), the Tenth Amendment Center, and S.W.A.T. Magazine.

CSPOA9, an organization for “oathkeeper sheriffs,” was founded in 2011 by Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff who is known for challenging the Brady Bill in Mack and Printz v. United States. Mack has also been a lobbyist for GOA and co-authored a book with Randy Weaver about Ruby Ridge, the 1992 incident which has served as a rallying cry for Patriot and militia groups.  CSPOA is specifically for sheriffs who would “be willing to interpose on behalf of the people to protect their freedom.”10   The mission is to “train and vet them all [county sheriffs], state by state, to understand and enforce the constitutionally protected Rights of the people they serve, with an emphasis on State Sovereignty and local autonomy.”11  The mission statement continues, “In short, the CSPOA will be the army that sets our country free.”

For both the Oath Keepers and the CSPOA, the enemy keeping the country from being free is the federal government. Both groups promote and train for resistance to “unconstitutional” actions of federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, Environmental Protection Agency, and Food and Drug Administration.  They prioritize fighting any type of gun control.

Rhodes has written that he got the idea for organizing Oath Keepers while volunteering for Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign, and first started a blog in which he warned about threats to gun rights in a new administration.  He reposted an article he had written for S.W.A.T. Magazine warning that after being sworn in as president, Hillary Clinton (“Herr Hitlery”) would sign a “total ban on private possession of firearms.”12  Rhodes continued, claiming that the “dominatrix-in-chief” would declare “the entire militia movement” to be enemy combatants, and order resisters of gun confiscation to be shot. The article was accompanied by photographs of Nazi atrocities.13  Oath Keeper media products feature former Congressman Paul, GOA’s Larry Pratt, and “New World Order” or one-world government conspiracists including G. Edward Griffin and Alex Jones.

The Oath Keepers capitalized on the emerging Tea Party movement and the “Ron Paul Revolution” to build its membership.14  As noted in a Mother Jones article on the Oath Keepers, Rhodes sent speakers to administer the organization’s oath at 30 Tea Party rallies in the early days of the movement.15  Association with the Tea Party, and the willingness of local authorities to participate, has enabled Oath Keepers and CSPOA to gain more access to the mainstream than many in the patriot movement of the 1990s.

Photo: Stewart Rhodes,  Sheriff Brad Rogers<a href=

Stewart Rhodes,  Sheriff Brad Rogers18 (CSPOA member) and Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore speak at the Bundy ranch in April 2014.19

On April 10, 2014, Oath Keepers posted an announcement about their participation with CSPOA in the Cliven Bundy standoff with the federal Bureau of Land Management. “[We must] stand vigil at the Bundy ranch to prevent the Federal Government provocation of violence resulting in another Ruby Ridge or Waco type incident.” 16  Oath Keepers paid for the Elkhart Indiana sheriff to make the trip to participate.17

 

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End Notes

1 http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2010/summer/meet-the-patriots/the-patriot-movemen

2 http://nvsos.gov/sosentitysearch/CorpDetails.aspx?lx8nvq=s8EtUq7rLzqNBvRDF%252b%252fglQ%253d%253d&nt7=0

3 Other directors listed on the Nevada registration are Jeff Ford, James Hanna, Michele Imburgia, Sharon M. Manery, John Shirley, L. Franklin Shook III, and Jay Stang.  Jay Stang is head of Texas Oath Keepers and the son of the late Alan Stang.

4 Stewart Rhodes continues as president and Richard Mack is on the current board of directors.  Other current directors are Michele Imburgia, L. Franklin Shook III, John D. Shirley, Jay Stang, David Helms, Jeff W. Ford, and Jim Ayala.  http://oathkeepers.org/oktester/board-of-directors/

5 http://oathkeepers.org/oktester/about/

6 https://web.archive.org/web/20140414202439/http://oathkeepers.org/oath/2014/04/10/coalition-of-western-state-legislators-sheriffs-and-veterans-stand-vigil-in-support-of-embattled-nevada-rancher-cliven-bundy-%E2%80%98to-prevent-another-ruby-ridge-or-waco%E2%80%9D/

7 http://reason.com/archives/2011/02/07/an-interview-with-stewart-rhod

8 http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2010/03/oath-keepers

9 http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/11/22/profiles-on-the-right-constitutional-sheriffs-and-peace-officers-association/

10 http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2012/winter/resurrection

11 http://cspoa.org/about/message-from-mack/

12 http://oath-keepers.blogspot.com/2009/05/keeping-your-oath-not-just-following.html

13 http://oath-keepers.blogspot.com/2009/05/keeping-your-oath-not-just-following.html

14 For more on the ideology of the Ron Paul Revolution and the promotion of nullification of federal law, see “Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right” beginning on page 2 of the Fall 2014 Public Eye. http://www.politicalresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2013/12/PEfall2013_finalpdf_onserver.pdf

15 http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2010/03/oath-keepers?page=2

16 Archive of http://oathkeepers.org/oath/2014/04/10/coalition-of-western-state-legislators-sheriffs-and-veterans-stand-vigil-in-support-of-embattled-nevada-rancher-cliven-bundy-%E2%80%98to-prevent-another-ruby-ridge-or-waco%E2%80%9D/

17 http://www.elkharttruth.com/news/politics/Indiana-Buzz/2014/04/29/Elkhart-County-Sheriff-Brad-Rogers-defends-trip-to-Cliven-Bundy-ranch.html

18 http://www.elkhartcountysheriff.com/sheriff.html

19 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVLJnqwIezs

Biblical Economics: The Divine Laissez-Faire Mandate

Public Eye Spring 2015 CoverThis article will appear in the upcoming Spring 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine.

In February, the culture warriors at Iowa’s “pro-family” group The Family Leader distributed personalized copies of The Founders’ Bible to every member of the state legislature as part of their lobby day—or as they put it in an invitation letter, the “war with Satan, who has taken many captive in Des Moines.”1 Greg Baker, Director of Ambassador Church Network, told pastors that the goal of “The Iowa Capitol Project” is to help legislators “do what God has asked them to do,” and The Founders’ Bible should help given its “compelling content pertaining to their job at the Capitol.” 2

Most of that “compelling content” —the non-biblical part anyway—comes courtesy of David Barton, the Republican Party activist and self-styled historian whose “Christian nation” revisionism informs the rhetoric of conservative pundits and politicians.3 But Barton’s essays go beyond his claims about the biblical origins of the U.S. Constitution; The Founders’ Bible, a New American Standard Bible translation, is also filled with Barton’s arguments that right-wing economic policies are divinely mandated.

Though Barton’s work has been repeatedly challenged by reputable scholars, including his fellow evangelical Christians, he is no fringe character, but rather a major player within the Republican Party and conservative movement. He was an active member of the GOP platform committee in 20124 and his rhetoric about America’s founding as a Christian nation is promoted by other religious conservatives, from Glenn Beck to Newt Gingrich.

A star-spangled David Barton appears in America: A Call to Greatness (1995). Photo credit: Paige-Brace Cinema, Ltd.

A star-spangled David Barton appears in America: A Call to Greatness (1995). Photo credit: Paige-Brace Cinema, Ltd.

Barton uses his essays and frequent media and public appearances to argue that the Bible, indeed God Himself, opposes minimum wage laws, capital gains taxes and progressive income taxes. He defines the free enterprise system—which he believes is “the economic system set forth in numerous passages in the Bible”—as “one in which ‘prices and wages are determined by unrestricted competition between businesses, without government regulation,’” and sees any policies that penalize productivity and profits as “a completely unBiblical system.”

To most readers, Jesus’ parable of the vineyard is generally understood to be about the gift of God’s grace, a metaphor for the Kingdom of God. In Barton’s exegesis, the story about the landowner who pays workers an equal amount no matter how many hours they worked is a literal handbook for God’s approach to employer-employee relations. Government, he writes, “certainly has no right to tell an employer what to pay an employee, including with a so-called minimum wage.”5

Yes, this is a Bible the Koch brothers can love.

Reconstructionism, the Christian Right and the Tea Party

Barton is one of the figures examined by religious studies professor Julie Ingersoll in Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction,6 forthcoming from Oxford University Press in August. Christian Reconstructionism is hardly a household word. However, its ideology has infused not only the Christian Right but also the Tea Party and the conservative movement in general. Those familiar with Reconstructionism may associate it most often with the idea that government should enforce Old Testament law and its harsh punishments. But, Ingersoll argues, what’s gone largely unnoticed is “The degree to which Christian Reconstructionists understand a biblical worldview to be rooted in economics.” For Reconstructionists, she writes, the very idea of God’s sovereignty is expressed in terms of property rights.

Christian Reconstructionism is grounded in the writing of R.J. Rushdoony, whose magnum opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law, was published in 1973. Rushdoony, who died in 2001, was also active in the homeschooling movement and founded the Chalcedon Foundation, a Reconstructionist think tank. His ideas continue to be promoted by acolytes, including his son-in-law, author Gary North, and Gary DeMar, president of American Vision.

In their book Christian Reconstruction: What It Is, What it Isn’t, North and DeMar write, “Reconstructionists believe in a ‘minimal state.’ The purpose of getting involved in politics, as Reconstructionists see it, is to reduce the power of the State.”7 Sound familiar?

“Without a doubt, Reconstructionists have been advocates for, and activists within, the Tea Party,” Ingersoll notes. North is a former staffer for Ron Paul,8 and is currently helping Paul promote a curriculum for homeschoolers that North helped develop.9 That North-Paul connection, like the larger homeschooling movement—Rushdoony was an early advocate of homeschooling—is one of the streams by which Reconstructionist thinking has come to pervade the Christian Right and the Republican Party. And while Home School Legal Defense Association Chairman Michael Farris disavowed the application of Old Testament law in the U.S., he served with a number of Reconstructionists on the steering committee of The Coalition on Revival, a group founded in 1984 to bridge theological divides on the Christian Right. COR’s 1986 “A Manifesto for the Christian Church” proclaimed a dominionist message: that the Bible is the only measure of truth and applies to every sphere of life, including law, government and economics. “All theories and practices of these spheres of life are only true, right, and realistic to the degree that they agree with the Bible,”10 the Manifesto argued. Among the “social evils” that the Manifesto’s signers pledged to oppose was “Statist-collectivist theft from citizens through devaluation of their money and redistribution of their wealth.”

But the Reconstructionist influence has spread well beyond the COR. As Frederick Clarkson noted in The Public Eye back in 1994,11 dominionist thinking has proliferated even among evangelical leaders who might disavow the Reconstructionist label. Gary North, wrote Clarkson, claimed that “the ideas of the Reconstructionists have penetrated into Protestant circles that for the most part are unaware of the original source of the theological ideas that are beginning to transform them.” Reconstructionists have integrated their theology with Pentecostal and charismatic religious networks such as the New Apostolic Reformation and groups like International Transformation Network, as well as among religious leaders who embrace dominionist doctrines such as “Seven Mountains” theology, which holds that the right kind of Christians are meant to control societal spheres of influence such as education, entertainment, business and government.

Billy Graham himself told revival attendees that the Garden of Eden was a paradise with “no union dues, no labor leaders, no snakes, no disease.”

Even in 1994, Clarkson argued, dominionism was no longer “the exclusive revolutionary vision of Christian Reconstructionist extremists,” but had “achieved virtual hegemony over many forms of Christian fundamentalism.” That certainly holds true 20 years later.

David Barton is a good example. Ingersoll says she considers Barton “Reconstructionist-lite”12: someone heavily influenced by Reconstructionist thinking even though he doesn’t publicly identify with the term and may depart from some of its more extreme positions. Barton’s rhetoric about biblical law applying to every aspect of life, including civil government, reflects that influence, as does his Christian-nation revisionism when it comes to American history. Barton has plenty of company, as evidenced by the prevalence of Reconstructionist rhetoric about the role of government at conservative political gatherings, such as the March 19 Pennsylvania Pastors Network gathering at which Barton spoke.

Barton’s insistence that the Bible provides authoritative instruction for every aspect of life, including tax policy, echoes COR’s Manifesto and Rushdoony’s insistence that “authority is not only a religious concept but also a total one. It involves the recognition at every point of our lives of God’s absolute law-order.” That includes economics. In The Institutes of Biblical Law, Rushdoony says, “The child has no right to govern his parents, the student their school, nor the employees their employer.”13

According to this “biblical worldview,” unions and the laws supporting workers’ rights and ability to organize interfere with God’s economic plan. Barton says the Bible disapproves of “socialist union kind of stuff.”14

There have been many examples of this playing out in current domestic politics. In 2012, dominionists associated with the New Apostolic Reformation’s Reformation Prayer Network urged “prayer warriors” to pray that God would “break the power and control” of California’s largest unions and that “financial contributions of unions intended to manipulate the voice of the vote would be shut up and shut down.”15

Christian Right leaders such as the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins have cheered on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s relentless attacks on the state’s unions.16 And in February, Gary North gloated over Walker’s anti-labor “right to work” legislation as representing what he called “a death spiral for unions in America.”17

The Deep Roots of Anti-Unionism

This hostility toward unions has been part of the Christian Right from the movement’s earliest days. Author Jeff Sharlet has written that Pat Robertson’s father was among the members of Congress who were told by Abraham Vereide, founder of the National Prayer Breakfast and The Fellowship Foundation (aka The Family), that God wanted them to break the spine of organized labor.18 And in a March 14, 2015 commentary in The New York Times,19 Princeton University professor Kevin Kruse places Vereide within a larger context of corporate titans recruiting religious leaders to evangelize on behalf of unrestricted capitalism in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. One of them, writes Kruse, was Billy Graham himself, who told revival attendees that the Garden of Eden was a paradise with “no union dues, no labor leaders, no snakes, no disease.”

The Christian Coalition’s 1990 leadership manual quotes four biblical passages of the “slaves-obey-your-masters” variety, which president Ralph Reed, stunningly, used as a model for modern employer-employee relations.

Corporate efforts to push back against government regulation and to engage religious leaders as public spokespeople were reenergized in the wake of a 1971 memo by Lewis Powell written just months before his nomination to the Supreme Court. In the memo, Powell warned against the “attack” on the American free enterprise system coming from the nation’s campuses, pulpits, media and arts. Powell called for an aggressive long-term political, intellectual and cultural campaign by American business interests to attack their critics, resist regulation and promote the idea that economic freedom is “indivisible” from other rights.20

It is hard to imagine a memo having greater impact. Powell’s manifesto sparked a massive investment in right-wing infrastructure building by conservative funders and strategists, many of whom came to be called “The New Right.” Among them were Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie and Howard Phillips. These strategists started building the institutional infrastructure that still undergirds the right-wing movement, through powerful organizations like The Heritage Foundation. And, as political scientist Richard J. Meagher wrote for The Public Eye in 2009, they worked to bring conservative evangelicals into their political organizing, hoping that social issues and a “pro-family” platform could help secure their commitment to the Republican agenda.21

By the end of the decade, these New Right leaders had recruited Jerry Falwell and helped him launch the Moral Majority. From that national pulpit, Falwell argued that “the free enterprise system of profit [should] be encouraged to grow, being unhampered by any socialistic laws or red tape.”22 Rus Walton, the late former director of the Plymouth Rock Foundation, included a Christian political agenda in his book One Nation Under God that included abolishing minimum wage laws and compulsory education; instituting right-to-work legislation; ending social services; and applying anti-trust laws to trade unions.23

As Paul Weyrich wrote in the Conservative Digest in 1979, “The alliance on family issues is bound to begin to look at the morality of other issues such as…the unjust power that has been legislated for union bosses.”24

Weyrich’s prediction certainly seemed to be true. In 1990, the nascent Christian Coalition published a leadership manual for its local leaders, co-authored by its then-president Ralph Reed. In a section titled “God’s Delegated Authority in the World,” the manual says, “God established His pattern for work as well as in the family and in the church.”25 The manual quotes four biblical passages of the “slaves-obey-your-masters” variety, which Reed, stunningly, used as a model for modern employer-employee relations:

“Of course, slavery was abolished in this country many years ago, so we must apply these principles to the way Americans work today, to employees and employers: Christians have a responsibility to submit to the authority of their employers, since they are designated as part of God’s plan for the exercise of authority on the earth by man.”

The New New Right

Today’s equivalent of the “New Right,” one could argue, is the huge, opaque network of political organizations funded by the Koch brothers and their pro-corporate, anti-regulation allies.26 The Koch brothers, who describe themselves27 as libertarians uninterested in social conservatives’ culture wars, are more than willing to use Christian Right voters as well as mountains of cash to achieve their anti-government, anti-union ends.28

One of the Koch brothers’ many projects is the LIBRE Initiative,29 which was created to promote laissez-faire economics among American Latinos—this year LIBRE has been cheerleading30 for state passage of “Right to Work” legislation31—and to serve as a vehicle for deceptive advertising trashing Democratic candidates.32 Former National Association of Evangelicals official John Mendez, who directs LIBRE’s faith outreach, told ThinkProgress last year that his job is to put LIBRE’s free-market message “in a theological context.”33 As Mendez told ThinkProgress, “In Scripture it tells us of dependency on God, not dependency on Man…To whom you’re dependent on is who you belong to. So you should not be dependent on government.”

Mendez elaborated in an interview with the Pacific Justice Institute last year that, “we come in and inform them and teach them on those principles of economic freedom and free enterprise from not only a constitutional perspective, but also a biblical perspective.”34

Mendez works with both Tea Party35 and Christian Right groups who are organizing politically, offering advice on how conservatives can reach out to Latinos. Last year, for example, he participated in Ralph Reed’s “Road to Majority” conference and took part in a “Watchmen on the Wall”36 conference organized by Family Research Council and Vision America Action.37 In 2013, he led a “prayer gathering” in advance of a prayer breakfast to help “unite” Virginia’s clergy around their state legislature and inform the religious leaders “of their biblical role and constitutional rights in shaping Virginia.”38

One of the other right-wing organizations formed in the wake of President Barack Obama’s election is the Freedom Federation, a coalition of Christian Right political groups and dominionist “apostolic” ministries and organizations. Tucked among them is the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which preaches a small-government gospel.39 The presence of AFP may explain why the coalition’s founding “Declaration of American Values” included, in addition to predictably conservative positions on social issues, opposition to progressive taxation.

AFP’s Tim Phillips, a former business partner of Ralph Reed, spoke at the Freedom Federation’s Awakening conference a few years ago, along with anti-tax and anti-government activist Grover Norquist, in order to encourage religious conservatives to prioritize shrinking the size of government.40

The Man Who Doesn’t Work Doesn’t Eat

Perhaps even more central to the Reconstructionist philosophy than opposing unions is hostility to government social service spending. North and DeMar are not out to minimize the state simply to save money or prevent government overreach—rhetoric you might hear at a Tea Party function—but because they believe the Bible has delineated clear areas of jurisdiction for the family, church and government. And, they argue, the Bible leaves charity, like education, to the individual and the church, with no biblically legitimate role for government.41

A particularly clear example of what Reconstructionists call “sphere sovereignty”—the idea that God granted the family, the church and government authority over specific areas of life—can be found42 in the writings of Michael Peroutka,43 a former Constitution Party presidential candidate who runs the Institute on the Constitution. Peroutka was elected last year to the Anne Arundel County Council in Maryland as a Republican,44 despite the fact that he’s argued that the Maryland General Assembly is an invalid government body since it has passed laws that Peroutka believes violate “God’s law.”45 Peroutka also believes that, given the government’s only legitimate, biblically-sanctioned role is to protect “God-given rights,” then “It is not the role of civil government to house, feed, clothe, educate or give health care to…ANYBODY!”

John Lofton, the late right-wing pundit and spokesperson for Peroutka’s Institute on the Constitution, had a similar message in 2012, writing that “it is crystal clear that in God’s Word He gives NO AUTHORITY to civil government (Caesar) to give health, education or welfare to ANYBODY. If people need help, it is the role of the Church—God’s people—to provide this help and NOT government.”46

David Barton sounds similar themes. Last July he appeared on Trinity Broadcasting Network’s “Praise the Lord.”47 In addition to promoting his theories about Jesus’s views on various taxes, Barton declared, “It’s not the government’s responsibility to take care of the poor and needy, it’s the church’s responsibility.” He added, “What we’re doing right now is for the first time in America we have ignored what the Bible says. The Bible says you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

If that has a familiar ring, it’s because some Republican lawmakers quoted that verse to support cuts in spending on food stamps in 2013. One of them was Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, who also said, “The role of citizens, of Christianity, of humanity, is to take care of each other, not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country.”48 (His rhetoric equating taxation for social services with theft apparently did not apply to his family’s farming operations, which have received millions of dollars in federal farm subsidies.49)

Star Parker, a frequent speaker at Christian Right political gatherings, similarly equates taxation with theft. Like many conservative activists, Parker has a conversion story. Her shtick is to denigrate recipients of government assistance by describing herself as having once been lazy and dependent on government handouts until someone confronted her that her lifestyle was not pleasing to God. She suggests that anyone willing to work hard can make it like she did. Today, she calls redistribution of wealth “a violation of scripture.”50

Star Parker speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Credit: Gage Skidmore.

Star Parker speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Credit: Gage Skidmore.

Parker’s rhetoric goes beyond bootstraps hectoring. Like other Christian Right activists, she portrays concerns about income inequality as sinful covetousness. Noting that African Americans are traditionally a religious group, she asks, “Why does a people so inclined to turn to God so readily violate the Tenth Commandment’s prohibition on covetousness and measure themselves in terms of what others have? And then use this sin to justify violating the Eighth Commandment and give government license to steal what others have in order to redistribute?”51

“Perhaps more fundamentally,” she asks, “how can a church-going people buy into the materialism of socialism?”

It may not be surprising to hear this kind of language from people at the far right of the evangelical political movement. But similar rhetoric can be heard from people widely considered to be among the reasonable centrists of the evangelical community. Rick Warren is often held as the model of moderate, politically engaged evangelicalism (although PRA readers know to treat that notion skeptically52). Warren told NPR in 2012, “The primary purpose of government is to keep the peace, protect the citizens, provide opportunity. And when we start getting into all kinds of other things, I think we invite greater control. And I’m fundamentally about freedom.”53 More pointedly, as journalist Sarah Posner noted that same year, Warren has called the social gospel “Marxism in Christian clothing.”54

The Meaning of “Socialism”

“Socialism,” one of the chief rallying cries against health care reform, gets thrown around a lot by conservatives grousing about the Obama administration and progressive policies in general. Ingersoll offers a useful insight into the Christian Right’s use of the term:

“When scholars, or liberal activists and commentators, hear the label “socialist,” they understand it to mean a political and economic system where the government centralizes ownership and control in the hands of the state, eliminating private property. When the Reconstructionists use the term, they mean a system in which salvation (in its earthly historical manifestation) is thought to be found in government and in politics; a system that by its very nature seeks to replace God. In this view the legitimate role of government in the economy is limited to ensuring that people deal honestly with one another. Tea Partiers and Reconstructionists see socialism in the “government takeover” of major functions of other institutions. But it is also much broader than this, as socialism is understood as a systematic world and life view.”55

North, notes Ingersoll, sees the world as a binary: “either faith in God or faith in man. It is either Christianity or Marxism.”56 In this conceptualization, writes Ingersoll, “‘socialism’ is when the civil government usurps authority ‘legitimately granted’ to the individual, the family, and the church.”

The social gospel—a strain of progressive-minded Christianity concerned with the promotion of social and economic justice—particularly annoys religious conservatives. And that can play out even within the Republican Party. In January, Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich cited Matthew 25, in which people facing the final judgment are asked whether they fed the hungry and clothed the naked, to defend his decision to accept Medicaid expansion in the state. Some conservatives and right-wing activists were beside themselves.57

Gary DeMar responded to Kasich by saying, “Jesus is not describing the development of government programs…Governments can’t legitimately be charitable and magnanimous with other people’s money.”58 He continued, “They are organizing politically to impose the covetousness prohibited by the tenth commandment.”

The notion that looking to government for economic assistance is a form of idolatry is an idea we have heard elsewhere in the public arena, notably in the ultimately unsuccessful Senate campaign of Sharron Angle, who said entitlement programs “make government our God.”59 Also a few years ago from then-Sen. Jim DeMint, who told The Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody that many Tea Party members may have been motivated by “a spiritual component”:

“I think some have been drawn in over the years to a dependency relationship with government and as the Bible says you can’t have two masters and I think as people pull back from that they look more to God. …The bigger God gets the smaller people want their government because they’re yearning for freedom.”60

It’s not only Christian Reconstructionists and conservative evangelicals working to give right-wing economic policies a religious grounding. Catholic writer Michael Novak, formerly ensconced at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism back in 1982. Thirty years later, Rep. Paul Ryan defended the massive social spending cuts in his proposed budget in 20121 as a reflection of Catholic principles—a claim vigorously challenged by Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of the national Catholic social justice lobby group NETWORK,2 who continues to oppose Ryan’s approach to poverty and his interpretation of Catholic social justice teachings. READ MORE...

It’s not only Christian Reconstructionists and conservative evangelicals working to give right-wing economic policies a religious grounding. Catholic writer Michael Novak, formerly ensconced at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism” back in 1982. Thirty years later, Rep. Paul Ryan defended the massive social spending cuts in his proposed budget in 2012 as a reflection of Catholic principles—a claim vigorously challenged by Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of the national Catholic social justice lobby group NETWORK, who continues to oppose Ryan’s approach to poverty and his interpretation of Catholic social justice teachings. Click here to read more…

DeMint now heads The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing marketing behemoth that is among the institutions that seek to merge the philosophies and organizing energies of the Christian Right and the economic right-wing. One manifestation of that work is “Indivisible: Social and Economic Foundations of American Liberty,” a publication and project devoted to convincing conservative activists that free-market conservatism and traditional values conservatism go hand in hand, as Justice Lewis Powell urged more than 40 years ago. Among the highlights are anti-gay activist Bishop Harry Jackson, writing that the minimum wage is a form of coercion that “reminds me of slavery,” and WORLD magazine editor-in-chief Marvin Olasky, arguing, “Those who esteem the Bible should also applaud St. Milton Friedman and other Church of Chicago prelates, because their insights amplify what the Bible suggests about economics.”61

A Powerful Combination

Advocates for social and economic justice who watch with dismay as right-to-work laws take effect in formerly strong labor states,62 as Republicans propose savage cuts to social spending,63 and as inequality skyrockets in the wake of tax giveaways to the wealthy—what David Barton might call biblically-mandated rewards for profit-makers—are up against a brutally powerful coalition.

For more than half a century, groups of pro-business, anti-regulation, anti-social spending conservatives have built an infrastructure designed to gain and hold political power and have enlisted religious leaders as spokespeople for laissez-faire economic policies. Their efforts have been buttressed by the parallel rise and spread of dominionist theology, grounded in Christian Reconstructionist ideology that unrestricted free-market capitalism is mandated by the Bible and that God grants no role for the government in education or care for the poor. This ideology provided fertile ground for the anti-government zealotry of the Tea Party and the belief that a radically limited role for the federal government is not only a constitutional mandate but also a biblical one. Any long-term strategy for rebuilding progressive political power and reclaiming the legacy of the New Deal must grapple with the realities and motivating power of these intertwined economic, ideological and religious ideologies.

peter montgomery squaredPeter Montgomery is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and editor. He is a senior fellow at People For the American Way and contributes to its Right Wing Watch blog, and is an associate editor for online magazine Religion Dispatches.
 

End Notes

1 (2015). “The Iowa Capital Project.” The Family Leader. Online at http://www.thefamilyleader.com/the-iowa-capitol-project/.

2 Ibid.

3 “Barton’s Bunk: Religious Right ‘Historian’ Hits the Big Time in Tea Party America.” People for the American Way. Online at http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/barton-s-bunk-religious-right-historian-hits-the-big-time-tea-party-america.

4 Peter Montgomery (2012). “Election 2014: 6 Right-Wing Zealots and the Crazy Ideas Behind the Most Outrageous Republican Platform Ever.” Alternet. Online at http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/6-right-wing-zealots-and-crazy-ideas-behind-most-outrageous-republican-platform-ever.

5 David Barton (2012). The Founders’ Bible. Edited by Brad Cummings and Lance Wubbels. Newbury Park: Shiloh Road Publishing.

6 Julie Ingersoll (2015). Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstructionism (forthcoming). Oxford University Press. Online at https://global.oup.com/academic/product/building-gods-kingdom-9780199913787.

7 Gary North and Gary DeMar (1991). Christian Reconstruction: What It Is, What It Isn’t. Institute for Christian Economics. Online at http://www.garynorth.com/freebooks/docs/pdf/christian_reconstruction.pdf.

8 Adele M. Stan (2011). “5 Reasons Progressives Should Treat Ron Paul with Extreme Caution— ‘Cuddly’ Libertarian Has Some Very Dark Politics.” AlterNet. Online at http://www.alternet.org/story/152192/5_reasons_progressives_should_treat_ron_paul_with_extreme_caution_–_%27cuddly%27_libertarian_has_some_very_dark_politics?page=entire.

9 Sarah Posner (2013). “The Christian Fundamentalism Behind Ron Paul’s Home-school Curriculum.” The Guardian. Online at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/12/christian-fundamentalism-ron-paul-homeschooling.

10 Jay Grimstead (1986). “A Manifesto for the Christian Church.” The Coalition on Revival Online at http://www.reformation.net/COR_Docs/Christian_Manifesto Worldview.pdf.

11 Frederick Clarkson (1994). “Christian Reconstructionism: Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence.” The Public Eye. Online at http://www.politicalresearch.org/1994/03/19/christian-reconstructionism-part-1-theocratic-dominionism-gains-influence/.

12 Julie Ingersoll in discussion with Peter Montgomery, February 25, 2015.

13 Steven Brint and Jean Reith Schroedel (2009). Evangelicals and Democracy in America; Volume II Religions and Politics. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. Online at https://books.google.com/books?id=3flSfjLfYNEC&pg=PA195&dq=the+child+has+no+right+to+govern+his+parents,+the+student+their
+school&hl=en&sa=X&ei=CzYxVamwJ5OSyQTXjoGQDw&ved=0CB4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false
.

14 Peter Montgomery (2011). “Jesus Hates Taxes: Biblical Capitalism Created Fertile Anti-Union Soil.” Religion Dispatches. Online at http://religiondispatches.org/jesus-hates-taxes-biblical-capitalism-created-fertile-anti-union-soil/.

15 Vicki Nohrden (2012). “California Fastforward Prayer Guide.” The Reformation Prayer Network. Online at https://web.archive.org/web/20120417223106/http:/www.usrpn.org/prayer_guides/single
/california_fast_forward_prayer_guide
.

16 Russell Berman (2015). “Scott Walker, Anti-Union Man.” The Atlantic. Online at http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/03/scott-walker-anti-union-man/387283/.

17 Gary North (2015). “Public Sector Unions in Wisconsin Are Dying.” The Tea Party Economist. Online at http://teapartyeconomist.com/2015/02/23/public-sector-unions-in-wisconsin-are-dying/.

18 Jeff Sharlet (2009). “This Is Not A Religion Column: Biblical Capitalism.” Religion Dispatches. Online at http://religiondispatches.org/ithis-is-not-a-religion-columni-biblical-capitalism/.

19 Kevin Kruse (2015). “A Christian Nation? Since When?” The New York Times. Online at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/15/opinion/sunday/a-christian-nation-since-when.html?_r=0.

20 Lewis F. Powell Jr. (1971). “Confidential Memorandum: Attack of America Free Enterprise System.” Reclaim Democracy! Online at http://reclaimdemocracy.org/powell_memo_lewis/.

21 Richard J Meagher (2009). “Political Strategy and the Building of the GOP Coalition.” The Public Eye. Online at http://www.politicalresearch.org/2009/06/10/remembering-the-new-right-political-strategy-and-the-building-of-the-gop-coalition/.

22 Robert Scheer (1981). “The Armageddon Profit: Falwell with Reagan, and preaching at a Moral Majority meeting.” The Age. Online at http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1300&dat=19810318&id=0PFUAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ZZIDAAAAIBAJ&pg=2299,750980.

23 Russ Walton (1993). One Nation Under God. The Plymouth Rock Foundation. Online at http://books.google.com/books/about/One_nation_under_God.html?id=lnYFDLpYzt8C.

24 Paul Weyrich (1979). “Building the Moral Majority.” Conservative Digest. pp 18-19.

25 Peter Montgomery (2011). “Jesus Hates Taxes: Biblical Capitalism Created Fertile Anti-Union Soil.” Religion Dispatches. Online at http://religiondispatches.org/jesus-hates-taxes-biblical-capitalism-created-fertile-anti-union-soil/.

26 Matea Gold (2014). “Koch-backed political network, built to shield donors, raised $400 million in 2012 elections.” The Washington Post. Online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/koch-backed-political-network-built-to-shield-donors-raised-400-million-in-2012-elections/2014/01/05/9e7cfd9a-719b-11e3-9389-09ef9944065e_story.html.

27 Paul Blumenthal (2014). “Koch Brothers Fund Group That Contradicts Their Ideology in 2014 Election Push. The Huffington Post. Online at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/23/koch-brothers-gay-marriage_n_6035958.html.

28 Kenneth P. Vogel (2015). “The Kochs put a price on 2016: $889 million.” Politico. Online at http://www.politico.com/story/2015/01/koch-2016-spending-goal-114604.html.

29 “The Libre Initiative: The Koch Brothers’ focus on Latino Voters.” People For the American Way. Online at http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/libre-initiative-koch-brothers-new-focus-winning-latino-voters.

30 The LIBRE Initiative. Twitter Post. February 28, 2015. 12:41p.m. Online at https://twitter.com/libreinitiative/status/571772077134364672.

31 (2015). “Press Release: “Right to Work” Laws Associated with Stronger Growth.” The LIBRE Initiative. Online at http://thelibreinitiative.com/press/right-work-laws-associated-stronger-growth.

32 Ed Morales (2014). “The Koch Brothers’ Latino Front.” The Progressive. Online at http://www.progressive.org/news/2014/10/187891/koch-brothers%E2%80%99-latino-front.

33 Alice Ollstein (2014). “Inside the Koch Brothers’ Multi-Million Dollar Campaign To Win Over Latinos.” ThinkProgress. Online at http://thinkprogress.org/election/2014/09/30/3573291/koch-libre-latinos/.

34 John Mendez, interviewed by Brad Dacus. Pacific Justice Institute. May 22, 2014. Online at http://www.pacificjustice.org/religious-freedom-minute.

35 (2013). “John Mendez of Libre Initiative speaks to MyLiberty.” MyLiberty. Online at http://mylibertysanmateo.blogspot.com/2013/01/john-mendez-of-libre-initiative-speaks_18.html.

36 John Mendez interviewed by Christian Post. (2014). “John Mendez on the Christian Post.” Youtube. Online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4MqjZCuj5c.

37 (2014). “Join us tomorrow in Denver…” Family Research Council. Online at http://www.frc.org/watchmenonthewall/join-us-tomorrow-in-denver.

38 (2013). “The LIBRE Initiative Invites you to the Pre event Prayer meeting.” Facebook Event. Online at https://www.facebook.com/events/164354173747558/.

39 Kyle Mantyla (2009). “When The Going Gets Tough, The Rights Starts A New Group.” People For the American Way. Online at http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/when-going-gets-tough-right-starts-new-group.

40 Peter Montgomery (2011). “Tea Party Jesus: Koch’s Americans for Prosperity Sidles Up to Religious Right for 2012 Campaign.” AlterNet. Online at http://www.alternet.org/story/150622/tea_party_jesus%3A_koch%27s_americans_for_prosperity_
sidles_up_to_religious_right_for_2012_campaign
.

41 Gary North and Gary DeMar (1991). Christian Reconstruction: What It Is, What It Isn’t. Institute for Christian Economics. Online at http://www.garynorth.com/freebooks/docs/pdf/christian_reconstruction.pdf.

42 Michael Peroutka (2013). “Is Our Government Really “Broken”?” The American View. Online at http://www.theamericanview.com/is-our-government-really-broken/.

43 Frederick Clarkson (2015). “Roy Moore & Ron Paul: The Politics of Secession, Nullification, and Marriage Equality.” Political Research Associates. Online at http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/02/22/roy-moore-ron-paul-the-politics-of-secession-nullification-and-marriage-equality/.

44 Nathalie Baptiste (2014). “GOP’s Neo-Confederate Theocrat Wins Council Seat in One of Richest U.S. Counties.” The American Prospect. Online at http://prospect.org/article/gops-neo-confederate-theocrat-wins-council-seat-one-richest-us-counties.

45 Frederick Clarkson (2014). “Party-Switching Theocrat Wins Primary, Claims Maryland Legislature is Invalid and Talks Revolution. “ Political Research Associates. Online at http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/06/27/party-switching-theocrat-wins-primary-claims-maryland-legislature-is-invalid-talks-about-revolution/.

46 John Lofton (2012). “God Gives Government NO Authority To Help The Needy…NONE.” The Christian Post. Online at http://blogs.christianpost.com/recovering-republican/god-sanctions-no-health-education-welfare-for-anybody-9538/.

47 David Barton interviewed by Matt and Laurie Crouch, Praise the Lord. July 10, 2014. Online at http://itbn.org/index/detail/lib/Networks/sublib/TBN/ec/RrcG51bjoRcfQnwzbKDLsESPOp09mvGC.

48 Sheryl Gay Stolberg (2013). “On the Edge of Poverty, at the Center of a Debate on Food Stamps.” The New York Times. Online at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/05/us/as-debate-reopens-food-stamp-recipients-continue-to-squeeze.html?_r=0.

49 Andrew Kaczynski (2013). “These Republicans Who Votes To Cut Food Stamps Personally Received Large Farm Subsidies.” BuzzFeed News. Online at http://buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/these-republicans-who-voted-to-cut-food-stamps-personally-re.

50 Kyle Mantyla (2008). “Star Parker Brings the Crazy.” Right Wing Watch. Online at http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/star-parker-brings-crazy.

51 Star Parker (2011). “Why Do Blacks Still Let Obama Off the Hook?” Townhall.com. Online at http://townhall.com/columnists/starparker/2011/07/18/why_do_blacks_still_let_obama_off_the_hook/page/full.

52 Frederick Clarkson (2015). “Will Our Prisons Overflow with Christians?” Political Research Associates. Online at http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/03/01/will-our-prisons-overflow-with-christians/.

53 Barbara Bradley Hagerty (2012). “Christian Debate: Was Jesus for Small Government.” National Public Radio. Online at http://www.npr.org/2012/04/16/150568478/christian-conservatives-poverty-not-government-business.

54 Sarah Posner (2012). “That Not-So-Mystifying Rick Warren.” Religion Dispatches. http://religiondispatches.org/that-not-so-mystifying-rick-warren/.

55 Julie J Ingersoll (2015). Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstructionism (forthcoming). Oxford University Press. Online at https://global.oup.com/academic/product/building-gods-kingdom-9780199913787.

56 Gary North (1987). Liberating Planet Earth. Dominion Press. Online at http://www.garynorth.com/freebooks/docs/pdf/liberating_planet_earth.pdf.

57 Joseph Farah (2015). “John Kasich Defends Obamacare- With Bible!” WND. Online at http://www.wnd.com/2015/02/john-kasich-defends-obamacare-with-bible/.

58 Gary DeMar (2015). “Republican Governor John Kasich Says Bible Supports Obamacare.” Godfather Politics. Online at http://godfatherpolitics.com/20141/republican-governor-john-kasich-says-bible-supports-obamacare/.

59 Anjeanette Damon (2010). “Sharron Angle’s views rooted in biblical law.” Las Vegas Sun. Online at http://lasvegassun.com/news/2010/aug/06/angles-view-rooted-biblical-law/.

60 Jim DeMint interviewed by David Brody, The Christian Broadcasting Network. April 21, 2010. Online at http://blogs.cbn.com/thebrodyfile/archive/2010/04/21/senator-demint-to-brody-file-tea-party-movement-will-bring.aspx.

61 “Indivisible: Social and Economic Foundations of American Liberty.” The Heritage Foundation. Online at http://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/2013/pdf/Indivisible_Revised.pdf.

62 Mariya Strauss (2015). “The Religious Right Has Been Pushing Anti-Union Right to Work Laws For A Century.” Political Research Associates. Online at http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/03/17/the-religious-right-has-been-pushing-anti-union-right-to-work-laws-for-a-century/.

63 Paul Krugman (2015). “Trillion Dollar Fraudsters.” The New York Times. Online at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/20/opinion/paul-krugman-trillion-dollar-fraudsters.html.

 

Not All the Same: Christian Right’s Hobby Lobbyization of State RFRAs

Things hit the fan in the wake of the signing of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) by Governor Mike Pence (R). He and other defenders of the bill argued that it was the same as the other state RFRAs, as well as the federal RFRA signed by President Clinton. Discrimination was not intended, so what was everyone so upset about?

The claim that the bill did not intend to protect discrimination collapsed, as many publications and LGBTQ civil rights activists (such as the Indiana ACLU) quickly proved that discrimination was exactly the intent. The resulting national controversy compelled Indiana to offer “clarifying” legislation.   But it is revealing how important it was to conservatives that the bill not be seen as discriminatory – using false claims about the federal and other state level RFRAs as a cover. But also revealing is their attempt to reinterpret the intentions of the authors of the federal and other state RFRAs.  This is of a piece with the long-term Christian Right campaign to redefine religious liberty in the country in terms favorable to their theocratic vision.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) is joined by Christian Right leaders as he signs the Hobby Lobbyized RFRA into law.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) is joined by Christian Right leaders as he signs the Hobby Lobbyized RFRA into law.

The way they went about it is instructive. Conservative Republican politicians, their apologists (such as New York Times columnist David Brooks), and allied groups suggested that the bills are essentially the same.  Even some Christian Right leaders like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council bent the truth, claiming that Indiana merely joined “19 other states in aligning themselves with federal religious freedom law.”  (Even though the state-level Christian Right leaders who backed the bill, and stood behind Gov. Pence when he signed it, have been clear about their intentions.)

The Times’ own reporting cited legal scholars, including Columbia Law School professor Katherine Franke, who said that the Indiana is not the same as the federal law or the Illinois state law supported by President Obama when he served in the Illinois State Senate.

“[Franke] and other legal experts said the Indiana law expands the parties who could ask for relief on religious grounds to include a wider range of corporations, if individuals with ‘substantial control’ of the business share the same religious beliefs.

The Indiana measure also grants parties the right to bring legal action to prevent a ‘likely’ burden on religious belief, even before any burden is imposed. And it expands the situations in which the protection could be invoked to include disputes between private parties engaged in lawsuits, even if they do not involve any direct actions by a government agency.”

The fact is that the federal RFRA, and most of the past state RFRAs, apply only to government actions. The original purpose of the legislation was to restore individual religious liberty taken away by the Supreme Court in the case of Employment Division v Smith, which involved Native Americans being denied state unemployment benefits in Oregon because they had been fired for using the illegal drug peyote in traditional religious ceremonies. The Court ruled that they had no legal recourse, so Congress sought to narrowly set a standard essentially reversing the Smith decision.  A later Court ruling limited the reach of the federal RFRA to the actions of the federal government only, hence the beginning of the state level RFRAs.

However, since the Hobby Lobby v. Burwell Supreme Court ruling in 2014, Christian Right agencies like Alliance Defending Freedom, the Becket Fund, the Mormon Church, and their allies at the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, have pushed state level RFRAs that extend certain provisions to corporations and individuals allowing measures of discrimination in the face of religious claims that to provide services to LGBTQ people violates their consciences.

The Hobby Lobby case, for the first time, granted a private business religious standing under the First Amendment. In that case, the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores was allowed to claim a religious exemption from providing employees with healthcare insurance covering four kinds of contraceptives, because the company owners believe (medical science not withstanding) that they are abortifacients.

Borrowing language from the federal RFRA, on which the original case filed by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty was based, Justice Alito, writing for the majority, said the government’s requirement that Hobby Lobby provide this contraceptive coverage imposed a “substantial burden” on their religious liberty, and that there are ways of accomplishing the “compelling government interest” in ensuring that women have access to these drugs, by the “least restrictive means.”  Justice Ginsburg, writing in dissent, was concerned by the potential sweeping implications of the decision. “The court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood,” Ginsburg wrote, “invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths.”

The first of these Hobby Lobbyized RFRAs was passed in Arizona, but was ultimately vetoed by the governor. A similar bill was passed and signed into law in Mississippi, while other such bills have been stalled in other states.

Justice Ginsberg’s concerns are being realized in the efforts to insert Hobby Lobbyized provisions into state RFRAs.  What is curious is that are engaging in an odd and easily refutable historical revisionism in claiming that the Hobby Lobbyized RFRAs was the intention all along—even though the federal RFRA was passed in 1993.

The turning point in the national controversy was probably the debacle on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, when Governor Pence repeatedly claimed that the Indiana bill was the same as the others, and refused to say whether or not he supported anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

Pence claimed that the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into federal law by President Bill Clinton more than 20 years ago. And it lays out a framework for ensuring that a very high level of scrutiny is given any time government action impinges on the religious liberty of any American. After that, some 19 states followed that, adopted that statute. And after last year’s Hobby Lobby case, Indiana properly brought the same version that then state senator Barack Obama voted for in Illinois before our legislature. And I was proud to sign it into law last week.”

The Indianapolis Star reported on April 2nd that Pence’s talking points did not square with the facts. Pence is correct except that the Indiana bill is not the same as the federal RFRA and most of the state RFRA’s – including Illinois – but the post-Hobby Lobby timing is telling. The shorthand for the bill around the legislature was “the Hobby Lobby bill.”

In the wake of the controversy over the Indiana bill, Arkansas changed their proposed RFRA before it was passed to ensure that it could only be invoked in cases where the government is a party, just as in the federal version. While the struggle over the definition of religious freedom is far from over, the battle lines are becoming clearer.