Big Questions About Templeton: How the Philanthropic Giant Legitimizes Faith Healing

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This article appears in the Summer 2015 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

On May 18, 2012, Christianity Today, the most influential magazine within evangelicalism, reported that there were “credible reports” that Christian evangelist Heidi Baker had healed the deaf and raised people from the dead where she was working in Mozambique.1 Baker claimed that “100% of the deaf in the Chiure area” of the country had “been healed through prayer.” In addition, Baker argued that “scores” of people had been resurrected and the blinded and disabled “restored.”2

Such a report must have struck some Christianity Today readers as oddly out of place; the magazine has long been known for approaching the miraculous much more cautiously than competitors like Charisma, the leading magazine for Charismatic and Pentecostal believers.i Yet Christianity Today’s coverage of Baker’s activities could not have been more credulous; the magazine valorized Baker’s missions and healing activities in Africa, stopping just short of declaring her an evangelical saint.3

John Templeton introduces the 2011 John M. Templeton Jr. Lecture on Economic Liberties and the Constitution. Photo via Flickr and by Jeff Fusco, use courtesy of the National Constitution Center.

John Templeton introduces the 2011 John M. Templeton Jr. Lecture on Economic Liberties and the Constitution. Photo via Flickr and by Jeff Fusco, use courtesy of the National Constitution Center.

In the course of the article, two academics were quoted regarding Baker: Indiana University’s religious studies professor Candy Gunther Brown and Michael McClymond, a theology professor at St. Louis University. Both academics were quite flattering in their description of Baker. For example, Brown commented that “‘Heidi is a hero to young women,’ so much so that scholars joke about ‘Heidiolatry.’”4 Indeed, Brown had been so intrigued by Baker’s claims that she “sought to verify them scientifically.” Thus Brown and a small team traveled to Mozambique and tested 24 Mozambicans “before and after healing prayer.” Brown found “statistically significant improvements in hearing and vision”5—an astounding claim, given that previous studies concerning the efficacy of prayer have reported mixed results at best.6

The lion’s share of Brown’s funding came from the John Templeton Foundation’s Flame of
 Love Project, which contributed $150,000 dollars to her research.7 
The Templeton Foundation was founded by billionaire Sir John Templeton, who made his fortune 
in mutual funds. Templeton had a 
keen interest in religion, his own
beliefs an eclectic union of Presbyterianism, New Thought, and Eastern influences; he borrowed
 from sources ranging from Nor
man Vincent Peale to Ramakrishna. Many of the traditions Templeton drew from emphasize spiritual exploration, “mind over matter” ideology, and positive thinking.8 Today, the $3.34 billion-endowed John Templeton Foundation awards some $100 million in grants yearly to organizations and projects that study the intersection of religion and science.9 There’s the eight-year, $9.8 million grant given to Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, as well as a nearly $2.2 million grant awarded to the University of Pennsylvania for the establishment of a Positive Psychology Center, which afforded the Foundation the opportunity to exercise important influence over this emerging school of psychology.10

In general, the Foundation has sought to create a rapprochement between science and religion—from healthcare to biology, positive psychology to theology.

While this goal has been heavily criticized by many scientists (for instance, prominent physicist Sean Carroll11), the Foundation has made a major name for itself in academia, thanks in part to increasing competition for research funds among academics. This article seeks to trace the impact of the Templeton Foundation by exploring a slice of its influence on research into the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements.

The Templeton Foundation

The origins of the Foundation can be traced to the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, founded in 1972 and given “each year…to a living person who has shown extraordinary originality in advancing humankind’s understanding of God.”12 The Prize originally operated like a Nobel Prize for religion,13 though today it is as likely to be awarded to scientists as to theologians or other spiritual leaders.14 At the time that Templeton formed his Foundation in the mid-‘80s, writes journalist Nathan Schneider, “conventional wisdom . . . held that religion would retreat as science secularized the world.”15 Templeton sought to forestall this decline. What allowed the Foundation’s religion and science agenda to take off, however, was Harvard planetary scientist Charles Harper’s 1996 decision to join the Foundation as its executive director. Harper took Templeton’s ideas and visionary speculations and shaped them “into a package of programs that could begin to look credible to the scientific community.”16

Much ink has been spilled about the Templeton Foundation’s influence on research in the hard sciences. Zoologist and outspoken secular activist Richard Dawkins has quipped that the Templeton Prize is usually given “to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion.”17 Jerry Coyne, a prominent American biologist, condemned Templeton’s mission as a “serious corruption of science” and warned of the “cronyism that has always infected Templeton,”18 particularly in relationship to its study of “Big Questions,” a somewhat vague field of inquiry centered on quandaries like the nature of free will, consciousness, and evil.19 Sean Carroll’s criticisms of Templeton are somewhat more measured; he does not think there is any hard evidence that “Templeton works in nefarious ways to influence the people it funds.” For Carroll, the problem isn’t that Templeton is anti-science, but rather that “their views on science are very wrong.”20 Quantum physicist Michael Brooks echoes these views in the New Scientist, contending that Templeton does a disservice not so much to science as to religion, by advancing a conception of religion so “stripped-down, vague and wooly” that it “puts the new Templeton religion comfortably beyond assault from questioners.”21

Google’s research director called Brown’s methodology “a perfect example of how not to do experiment design.”

Within the hard sciences, a firm ideological line has developed between critics of the Foundation—many of whom are New Atheists—and supporters of the Foundation, which can sometimes lead to charges of partiality and anti-religious prejudice. Yet even Jeffrey Schloss, a Templeton trustee, has admitted that without the Foundation, there would “be a bit less accommodationist fluff that proposes integration [between religion and science] at the expense of rigor.”22

While the Foundation’s influence on the hard sciences has often been the focus of criticism, the social science- and healthcare-related research in which it engages can be far more problematic. The more subjective nature of the social sciences—and, to a lesser extent, healthcare—may make these fields more vulnerable to pseudoscientific concepts and dubious methodologies.

The ready acceptance of pseudoscience undergirds Templeton’s “history of seeding fields of study almost from scratch,” as Nathan Schneider describes it.23 In the early 1990s, the Foundation began heavily funding the National Institute for Healthcare Research (NIHR), an organization established “to ‘objectively’ examine the role that religion and spirituality might play in physical and mental health.”24 At the time, hardly any medical schools offered courses on religion. But today, after two decades of Templeton-promoted research, three-quarters of U.S. medical schools utilize spirituality within their curricula.25 This development was facilitated by a combination of awards given to NIHR researchers; an NIHR-derived, multi-volume literature review of religion and health research; and numerous Templeton Foundation-funded programs concerning the intersection between science, religion, and medicine.26

And it is the NIHR’s research that helped pave the way for Christianity Today to claim there were scientifically “credible reports” of faith healing in Mozambique.

Intercessory Prayer and The Stepp Study

At a Templeton-sponsored conference in the mid-1990s, Margaret Poloma, a sociologist who studied Charismatic and Pentecostal religious movements, met bioethicist Stephen Post, who would go on to create the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (IRUL).27 Poloma and Post soon became Templeton grantees themselves, and by 2007 both had become co-directors (along with two other academics) of the Flame of Love (FOL) Project,28 the goal of which was to establish “a new interdisciplinary field of study [called] Godly Love.”29 The exact parameters of the science of Godly love are rather unclear; even Anthea Butler, who has been involved with the Templeton Foundation’s Project on Global Pentecostalism,30 told Schneider that initially “nobody in the field could figure out what the hell [Poloma] was talking about.”31

As defined by Poloma and her Templeton-sponsored colleagues, Godly love is “the dynamic interaction between divine and human love that enlivens and expands benevolence.” To put it simply, the key takeaway is that while neither God Himself nor His interactions with human beings are measurable phenomena, individuals’ perceptions of interactions between human beings and God can be measured.32

The Flame of Love Project, which received an initial Templeton grant of more than $2.3 million,33 was a massive undertaking, funding ten academic books (by significant figures in their respective fields), scores of academic articles, conference presentations, and book chapters.34 Among these projects was Brown’s prayer research: the “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Proximal Intercessory Prayer… on Auditory and Visual Impairments in Rural Mozambique,” known as the STEPP study for short. The study focused on Iris Ministries (now Iris Global), which Baker and her husband founded, along with the closely aligned Global Awakening ministry.35

Brown’s STEPP project is a part of a long line of academic “prayer studies” conducted in recent years, not all of which have found prayer to have positive effects. Many of these studies sought to evaluate “distant healing” or “distant intentionality”—the act of praying for others often referred to as “intercessory prayer.”36 As of 2005, three studies had been conducted on remote intercessory prayer’s effect on heart patients. Two of these studies concluded that the prayed-for group fared better than a control group. However, the third found no difference. Another study—a relatively well regarded, Templeton-funded $2.4 million project directed by Herbert Benson—studied 1,802 patients recovering from coronary artery bypass graft surgery and concluded that “distant prayer” had no effect. And, as Dr. Richard Sloan, a leading critic of prayer research, points out, researchers claiming benefits from prayer may have succeeded simply because they tested for so many different health benefits that simple random chance produced the positive results.37

If one were to accept the prayer studies’ premises and conclusions, one would still encounter other basic problems with conforming prayer-based research to the scientific method. How can researchers, for example, be sure that it is intercessory prayer performed by study participants that is helping, and not the prayers of concerned outsiders?

Candy Gunther Brown and her team sought to address some of these issues by looking at a more immediate form of prayer known as proximal intercessory prayer (PIP), which focuses on physical healing (primarily through laying-on of hands, per Charismatic tradition). Moreover, Brown argued that one must distinguish between PIP and other proximal healing techniques, such as “Therapeutic Touch,” since they had a “different healing mechanism.”38 Her study looked at the effect of “direct-contact prayer,” involving touch and the laying-on of hands, on subjects’ vision and hearing.39 Brown and her colleagues claim to have found “statistically significant” findings in visual and auditory improvements across the tested populations.40

Brown argued that the findings of the study were significant enough to warrant further study, which would “assess whether PIP may be a useful adjunct to standard medical care for certain patients with auditory and/or visual impairments, especially in contexts where access to conventional treatments is limited.” She continued:

The implications are potentially vast given World Health Organization estimates that 278 million people, 80% of whom live in developing countries, have moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears, and 314 million people are visually impaired, 87% of whom live in developing countries, and only a tiny fraction of these populations currently receive any treatment.41

In other words, Brown was suggesting that work like Baker’s might serve as an effective treatment strategy in medically underserved developing nations.

Unfortunately for the study’s subjects, however, Brown’s claims were not all they appeared to be. Peter Norvig, former division chief of computational sciences at NASA’s Ames Research Center and current director of research at Google, declared that Brown’s study suffered from several fatal design problems: it lacked a randomized control group; there was no double-blinding in the study; and the sample size for the treatment group was only 24 people.42 According to Norvig, “Rather than choose a cross-section of subjects, the experimenters specifically chose subjects from rural Mozambique who were attending an evangelical revival meeting—subjects who would be favorably inclined to (consciously or unconsciously) demonstrate a benefit from prayer.”43 Brown’s research methodology was so flawed that Norvig called it “a perfect example of how not to do experiment design.”44 Psychologist Jean Mercer, a leading authority on pseudoscience in the social sciences, further criticized Brown and her colleagues for introducing too many confounding variables into the study through their “amateurish methods of assessing hearing and vision.”45

Heidi Baker pays a Christmas visit to Iris Ministries' Zimpeto Children's Center in Maputo, Mozambique. Photo from Wikimedia Commons and courtesy of user Wunder

Heidi Baker pays a Christmas visit to Iris Ministries’ Zimpeto Children’s Center in Maputo, Mozambique. Photo from Wikimedia Commons and courtesy of user Wunder

Despite the ethical and methodological problems associated with Brown’s study, it received plentiful funding from the Templeton-sponsored FOL project ($150,000), as well as from the Lilly Endowment ($50,000) and Indiana University Bloomington ($50,000), Brown’s home university and a premier institution of higher learning.46 Brown also used the STEPP study as the basis of her 2012 book Testing Prayer, which was published by Harvard University Press. Such scholarly trajectories are becoming increasingly common for Templeton academics in a wide variety of fields. It is startling to see how many Templeton-connected academics end up publishing their work through Oxford or Harvard University Press. A 2014 report enumerating IRUL-produced books (i.e., works published or edited by IRUL associates) includes seven titles published by Oxford University Press, and another three in press or under review by that prestigious publisher.47 While not as many Templeton-associated academics seem to have linked themselves with Harvard University Press, some of those who have published through it have close links with the Foundation or are major figures in the Foundation’s history. For instance, Charles Taylor, whose A Secular Age was a major Harvard University Press publication in 2007, won the Templeton Prize for the same year.48

Templeton and The New Apostolic Reformation

Brown represents a particularly extreme example of distorted research engendered by Templeton money and legitimized by a major academic publisher. However, the methodological flaws in the STEPP study point to problems pervading the Flame of Love project as a whole— problems the Templeton Foundation should have recognized. The “Godly love” study that anchored the larger FOL project was based on the “Great Commandment to love God and love neighbor as self.”49 The researchers proposed that Godly love—the interaction between humanity and what is perceived as the divine—can be studied through figures known as exemplars: individuals who are supposed to be unusually benevolent within their own communities, and who have often received awards and honors (both secular and religious) for meritorious acts of service.50 These individuals were held up as the best embodiment of the Great Commandment. This research relied on what is known in the social sciences as an inductive/phenomenological method, which sought to “better understand” the subjective experiences of exemplars.51 While there is nothing inherently wrong about such a research process—anthropology, for instance, often relies on the phenomenological approach—it made the Flame of Love project unusually open to political propagandizing, since the subjective experiences studied depended almost entirely on which “Godly exemplars” were chosen to represent the idea of Godly love.

Many of the Godly exemplars
 profiled by Flame of Love are as
sociated with the New Apostolic
 Reformation (NAR), a right-wing
 Charismatic and Pentecostal 
movement organized around parachurch groups known as apostolic networks. The NAR is committed to the principle of spiritual warfare against evil spirits that it believes threaten the well-being of Christians. One such exemplar is Che Ahn, who founded the evangelical organization The Call along with Lou Engle, the Charismatic evangelist associated with the 2009-2010 Ugandan“Kill the Gays” bill.52 Poloma herself describes the two men’s close friendship in glowing terms.53

Ahn (like Heidi Baker, another exemplar) is a member of the Revival Alliance, a powerful apostolic network that oversees six other major apostolic networks.54 The leaders of five of these six subordinate ministries, along with several of their spouses, are among Flame of Love’s highlighted Godly exemplars. The STEPP study, too, is marked by such connections: Alliance member Randy Clark, founder of the evangelical Global Awakening ministry, has worked closely with Stephen Mory, one of the study’s co-authors.55 Moreover, Candy Gunther Brown herself has served on the board of directors of the Global Medical Research Institute, a prayer research organization that originated as a Global Awakening initiative, though independent of that ministry.56 Subjects for the STEPP study were primarily recruited at meetings cosponsored by Global Awakening and Baker’s Iris Ministries.57

The Revival Alliance leaders’ work incorporates some shocking ideas about a variety of issues, particularly mental healthcare. Baker is known for “‘expelling’ demons from children.”58 Another couple has helped promote the supernatural healing of autistic children59 through a particular form of Charismatic exorcism, or deliverance, called Sozo.60 As I wrote in my 2015 book The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care, Sozo’s healing practices seem little different from the long-discredited practice of recovered memory therapy. (Sozo leaders and proponents also maintain, in terms akin to the increasingly discredited diagnosis of multiple personality disorder, that individuals with bipolar disorder have “parts,” or people living inside of them who need to be integrated into a core personality.ii)

While the Flame of Love Project was ostensibly a scientific enterprise, in practice the project served primarily as a public relations project celebrating NAR leaders, as well as providing an academic justification for many of their beliefs and policy priorities, including their economic agenda. The Templeton Foundation has enjoyed a friendly association with a variety of right-wing groups and think tanks that share its support for open markets and entrepreneurship; the Heritage

Foundation, for instance, received more than $1 million in Templeton funding between 2005 and 2008, while the Cato Institute received more than $200,000.61 Relatively speaking, grants to conservative think tanks represent only a minor portion of the Foundation’s philanthropy, but even prominent conservative political voices like The National Review have pointed to the Foundation as a funder of right-wing policy drivers.62 Transformationalism, the NAR’s unique form of conservative economics, fits in well with the Templeton agenda; it promises a solution to global poverty rooted in the belief that the marketplace is the best foundation for economic reform.63

Flame of Love co-director Margaret Poloma was herself so well regarded in the NAR movement that Charismatic leader John Arnott (yet another exemplar) entrusted her with the task of mediating a conflict between his ministry and John Wimber, a major evangelical leader who was critical of Arnott.64 At the time when Poloma engaged in this mediation process, she was conducting academic research on the Toronto Blessing, a revival that Arnott was leading.65 Most academics would seek to avoid conflicts of interest like this, but in the Flame of Love universe it is common for academics studying the intersection of religion and science to blur the lines between the academic study of revivalistic culture and participation in that culture.

In addition to all the methodological dilemmas in the STEPP study and Flame of Love’s elaborate ties to the group they purport to study, there’s a further conflict of interest in how the results of this research are ultimately presented. The Southern Medical Association, which publishes the Southern Medical Journal, in which Brown’s paper first appeared, has twice received contributions—$98,889 in 2006 and $73,673 in 2007—from the John Templeton Foundation.66

The Future

After Sir John Templeton’s death in 2008, the heir to his legacy was Jack Templeton, an evangelical doctor with abundant conservative political connections who had been active in fighting same-sex marriage and defending the Iraq War. He and his wife Josephine contributed $1 million to the fight to pass California’s anti-same-sex marriage Proposition 8.67 Jack Templeton was also the second- largest donor to the Red White and Blue Fund (RWB), a super-PAC that supported Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential primary campaign.68 The younger Templeton passed away in May 2015,69 but before his death, both critics and Templeton grantees worried that Jack would steer the Foundation further to the right, and perhaps further away from mainstream science.70

The Foundation did shift its focus during Jack Templeton’s reign, but not as anticipated. Previous areas of specialization, such as “spiritual information” and “humility theology,” were replaced with the paradigm of “Big Questions,” in which philosophy and cosmology tended to receive more emphasis.71 There remained a guiding interest in faith and medicine, but the projects approved under the younger Templeton often concentrated more on the intersection of faith and psychology than on prayer studies. While not always perfect, this work was certainly more scientifically rigorous than the Flame of Love Project. Now, with the death of Jack Templeton, it’s unclear what direction the Foundation will take. Moreover, serious repercussions from the Foundation’s earlier work remain. Though the scientific community has rallied in recent years to protest the dangers of creation science and intelligent design theory, this focus on conservative responses to hard science has led many to overlook the more pressing dangers posed by right-wing influences on healthcare and social science research. Pseudo-science supporting faith healing can lead directly to the injury or death of those treated, if placebos or harmful treatments are used in place of tested and effective medical care.72 
While the influence of fundamentalism is diminishing, the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements continue to gain power among the Christian Right, with growth rates unrivaled in the Christian world.73 When it comes to scientific debates, these movements are not focused primarily on evolution or cosmology, but on faith healing. It is likely that this issue area—and not the waning conflict over evolutionary biology or cosmology—will represent one of the most important scientific battlegrounds on which 21st Century conservative Protestants will make their stand.

Candy Gunther Brown herself has contended that “divine healing is the single most important category [of pentecostal religious practice]…for understanding the global expansion of pentecostal Christianity.”74 And Brown is correct to point out that it is precisely in “regions of the world where poverty and sickness seem most overwhelming”—mostly regions with a colonial legacy—that Pentecostalism has seen its most rapid growth.75 As a result, this conflict may have far more immediate human costs than the creation science conflicts of the 20th Century.

Consider the large mental healthcare providers who, as I argue elsewhere, base their treatment on practices such as exorcism rather than research-tested mental healthcare interventions. In 2008, Australia was scandalized when Mercy Ministries Australia—a group of large treatment centers for young women, including many suffering from eating disorders—turned out to have based their treatment regimen on the exorcism manual Restoring the Foundations. A constant element of controversy in the ensuing Mercy Ministries scandal was the correct means of delineating the differences between faith healing and healthcare; ministries like Mercy operated in a gray area where either definition could be deemed appropriate, depending on the context.76

But even in situations where the line between faith healing and medicine is clearer, the real and potential influence of the Brown study cannot be ignored. By 2007, writer and Iris Ministries supporter Donald Kantel (who studied under Heidi Baker) claimed that pastors associated with the ministry had raised over 50 people from the dead throughout Southern Africa in a five-year period. The ministry also purported to engage in miraculous healings and supernatural multiplications of food.77 The popularization of “dead raising” teams—groups of people engaged in attempted resurrections—throughout the NAR could certainly not have been hurt by either the Brown study or the Christianity Today treatment that publicized its results. Nor can we ignore the influence of Global Awakening, whose revival events in Brazil, Mozambique, and India attract crowds of 100,000 people at a time; according to Brown, claims of divine healing often reach the thousands during such events.78 Here Brown’s influence is perhaps most marked, as her books are sold by Global Awakening’s own bookstore—a very unusual honor for any academic, particularly a secular academic such as Brown.79

The danger here is not so much that the Templeton study will be utilized to form new healthcare systems based on Brown’s model. Rather, the problem is that Brown’s research, like much of the Flame of Love project, will be utilized as a justification for preexisting Pentecostal and Charismatic healing initiatives in the developing world: a new wrinkle in an old colonial tale. This may not be the future the Templeton Foundation has envisioned for their work; yet it’s the future the Templeton Foundation has helped make possible.


John Weaver is an English lecturer at Binghamton University. His scholarship, including his 2015 book The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care, focuses on how evangelical theology informs the mental health beliefs of the evangelical subculture.


Footnotes:

i. The Charismatic and Pentecostal movements are Christian theological traditions devoted to the belief in, and practice of, “gifts of the Spirit” in the modern Christian church, such as healing and speaking in tongues. Candy Gunther Brown, much referenced in this article, uses the lowercase term ‘pentecostal’ to refer to “both Pentecostals and second and third-wave Charismatics.” ‘Charismatic’ often refers to a kind of Pentecostal- lite, or alternately to the combined Charismatic and Pentecostal traditions (which is the sense in which I use the term here). As I have argued in The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care and in a forthcoming work on the New Apostolic Reformation, the idea that “classical” or traditional Pentecostals are more theologically and politically extreme than Second or Third Wave Charismatics collapses under any sustained historical scrutiny. (See John Weaver, The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care, [Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015], 15-16 and Candy Gunther Brown, “Introduction: Pentecostalism and the Globalization of Illness and Healing,” in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011], 14.)

ii. It is quite clear from the Sozo material that the term “parts” is being used in a semantically identical fashion—albeit with a Christian twist— to the term “alters,” utilized among secular supporters of the increasingly controversial dissociative identity disorder (DID) diagnosis. Monica Pignotti and Bruce Thyer, writing in Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology, have expressed concerns that DID therapy and parts work have not been adequately tested and can in fact cause further illness. (See Monica Pignotti and Bruce A. Thyer, “New Age and Related Novel Unsupported Therapies in Mental Health Practice,” in Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology, eds. Scott O. Lilienfield, Stephen Jay Lynn, and Jeffrey M. Lohr [New York: Guilford Press, 2014], 191-209.)

Endnotes:

1. Tim Stafford, “Miracles in Mozambique: How Mama Heidi Reaches the Abandoned,” Christianity Today, May 18, 2012, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/may/miracles-in-mozambique.html.

2. Stafford, “Miracles in Mozambique.”

3. Stafford, “Miracles in Mozambique.”

4. Stafford, “Miracles in Mozambique.”

5. Stafford, “Miracles in Mozambique.”

6. Benedict Carey, “Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer,” The New York Times, March 31, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

7. Candy Gunther Brown, PhD, Stephen C. Mory, MD, Rebecca Williams MB BChir, DTM&H, Michael J. McClymond, PhD, “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Proximal Intercessory Prayer (STEPP) on Auditory and Visual Impairments in Rural Mozambique,” Southern Medical Journal, 2010, 864.

8. Nathan Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy: Politics of the Templeton Foundation’s ‘Big Questions,’” The Nation, June 21, 2010, http://www.thenation.com/article/god-science-and-philanthropy.

9. Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “John Templeton Jr., president of multi- billion dollar foundation invested in science and religion, has died,” The Washington Post, May 19, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/05/19/john-templeton-jr-president-of-foundation-invested-in-science-and-religion-has-died/.

10. Templeton Foundation, “Positive Psychology Research,” https://www.templeton.org/what-we-fund/grants/positive-psychology-research.

11. Sean Carroll, “Science and Religion Can’t Be Reconciled, Why I Won’t Take Money from the Templeton Foundation,” Slate, May 9, 2013, http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/05/i_won_t_take_money_from_templeton_science_and_religion_can_t_be_reconciled.html.

12. Joseph Charles Kiger, Philanthropic Foundations in the Twentieth Century, (Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000), 133.

13. Sunny Bains, “Questioning the Integrity of the John Templeton Foundation,” (Evolutionary Psychology 9, no. 1, 2011), 92-115, 94.

14. Bains, “Questioning the Integrity,” 93-94; the reader should note that the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion subsequently morphed into the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities, before turning into the Templeton Prize. Please see John M. Cummingham, “Templeton Prize,” Brittanica, N.D. Web. 8 Jun 2015. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/673733/Templeton-Prize

15. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

16. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

17. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006), 19.

18. Jerry Coyne, “Martin Rees and the Templeton Travesty,” The Guardian, April 6, 2011, http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2011/apr/06/prize-mug-martin-rees-templeton.

19. Nathan Schneider, “The Templeton Effect,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 3, 2012, http://chronicle.com/article/The-Templeton-Effect/134018/.

20. Carroll, “Science and Religion Can’t Be Reconciled.”

21. Michael Brooks, “Templeton Prize is Bad News for Religion, Not Science,” New Scientist, March 25, 2010, http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2010/03/templeton-prize-is-bad-news-fo.html.

22. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

23. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

24. Richard P. Sloan, Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006), 61.

25. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

26. Sloan, “Blind Faith,” 62.

27. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

28. Flame of Love Project, “Project Co-Directors,” https://web.archive.org/web/20091214130623/http://www3.uakron.edu/sociology/flameweb/codirect.html.

29. The University of Akron, “Sociology Researchers Receive $2.3 Million Grant,” uakron.edu, February 4, 2008, http://www.uakron.edu/about_ua/news_media/news_details.dot?newsId=11880&pageTitle=UA%20News&crumbTitle=Sociology+Researchers+Receive+%242.3+Million+Grant.

30. Patheos, “Anthea Butler Biography,” Patheos, http://www.patheos.com/About-Patheos/Anthea-Butler.html.

31. Patheos, “Anthea Butler.”

32. Matthew T. Lee, Margaret M. Poloma, and Stephen G. Post, Introduction to The Science and Theology of Godly Love, ed. Matthew T. Lee and Amos Yong (Dekalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2012), 5-8.

33. Templeton Foundation, “The Flame of Love: Scientific Research on the Experience and Expression of Godly Love in the Pentecostal Tradition,” https://www.templeton.org/what-we-fund/grants/the-flame-of-love-scientific-research-on-the-experience-and-expression-of-godly-.

34. Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, “Abridged List of Deliverables for the Flame of Love Project,” June 15, 2011, http://unlimitedloveinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Deliverables-for-the-Flame-of-Love-Project.pdf.

35. Brown et al., “STEPP,” 865.

36. Sloan, “Blind Faith,” 157, 168
.

37. Sarah Glazer, “Prayer and Healing,” CQ Researcher 15, no. 2 (2005): 27.

38. Brown et al., “STEPP,” 865.

39. Brown et al., “STEPP,” 864-867.

40. Brown et al., “STEPP,” 867.

41. Brown et al., “STEPP,” 868.

42. Peter Norvig, “Evaluating Extraordinary Claims: Mind Over Matter? Or Mind Over Mind?,” Norvig. com, http://norvig.com/prayer.html.

43. Norvig, “Evaluating Extraordinary Claims.”

44. Norvig, “Evaluating Extraordinary Claims.”

45. Jean Mercer, email message to author, April 17, 2015.

46. Brown et al., “STEPP,” 864.

47. Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, “Institute for Research on Unlimited Love – Books Produced,” September 2014, http://unlimitedloveinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/88-Institute-Books-Published1.pdf.

48. Templeton Prize, “Previous Prize Winners: Charles Taylor (2007),” Templetonprize.org, http://www.templetonprize.org/previouswinners/taylor.html.

49. Lee, Poloma, and Post, “Introduction,” 6; currently this is centered in Christianity, but the study is supposed to later extend to other religions.

50. Matthew T. Lee, Margaret M. Poloma, and Stephen G. Post, The Heart of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 52.

51. Matthew T. Lee and Margaret M. Poloma, A Sociological Study of the Great Commandment in Pentecostalism: The Practice of Godly Love as Benevolent Service (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009), 59.

52. Flame of Love Project, “Exemplar Biosketches,” https://web.archive.org/web/20100820171014/http://www3.uakron.edu/sociology/flameweb/research/exempbios.htm; Josh Kron, “In Uganda, Push to Curb Gays Draws U.S. Guest,” New York Times, May 2, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/03/world/africa/03uganda.html?ref=africa&_r=0; the Ugandan “Death To Gays” bill has received considerable attention in the United States thanks to the release of God Loves Uganda, a documentary chronicling the actions of American evangelicals in promoting anti-gay efforts in Uganda. PRA Senior Religion and Sexuality Researcher Kapya Kaoma featured prominently in the film, and the organization has released several detailed major reports detailing evangelical political activities within Africa. Kaoma’s work explores Engle’s actions in Uganda in detail.

53. Margaret Poloma, Main Street Mystics: The Toronto Blessing & Reviving Pentecostalism (Walnut Creek: Altamire Press, 2003), 174-181.

54. Revival Alliance, “Homepage,” revivalalliance.com; “Exemplar Biosketches.”

55. Global Awakening, “WLI Course Catalog,” http://globalawakening.com/component/docman/doc_download/271-wli-course-catalog, 18.

56. Randy Clark, “A Study of the Effects of Christian Prayer on Pain or Mobility Restrictions from Surgeries Involving Implanted Materials” (D.Min. diss., United Theological Seminary, 2013), 167-168.

57. Brown et al., “STEPP,” 865.

58. For a brief introductory look at the links between some of these leaders, notably Baker, and the NAR, see Rachel Tabachnick, “Spiritual Warriors with an Antigay Mission: The New Apostolic Reformation,” Political Research Associates, March 22, 2013, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/03/22/spiritual-warriors-with-an-antigay-mission/.

59. Bethel Sozo, “About Bethel Sozo: Autism,” http://bethelsozo.com/about#/4.

60. John Weaver, The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care, 75-84.

61. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

62. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

63. Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, “Colonizing African Values, How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa,” Political Research Associates, 2012, http://www.politicalresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/10/Colonizing-African-Values.pdf.

64. Poloma, “Main Street Mystics,” 243.; “Exemplar Biosketches.”

65. Poloma, “Main Street Mystics,” 243.

66. Conservative Transparency, “Recipient: Southern Medical Association,” http://conservativetransparency.org/recipient/southern-medical-association/.

67. David O’Reilly, “$1 million for their own two cents Bryn Mawr couple are largest individual donors in efforts to ban gay marriage in California,” Philly.com, October 28, 2008, http://articles.philly.com/2008-10-28/news/25263219_1_ban-gay-marriage-heterosexual-marriages-proposition.

68. Phil Hirschkorn and Laura Strickler, “Santorum’s big benefactor,” CBS News, February 9, 2012, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/santorums-big-benefactor/.

69. Pulliam Bailey, “John Templeton, Jr. Has Died.”

70. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

71. Schneider, “The Templeton Effect.”

72. What’s The Harm?, “What’s the harm in believing in faith healing?,” http://whatstheharm.net/faithhealing.html; This website records faith healing deaths that have been reported in the news. The incidents it documents represent a mere fraction of the deaths that have resulted from faith healing practices.

73. Barna Group, “Is American Christianity Turning Charismatic?,” January 7, 2008, https://www.barna.org/barna-update/congregations/52-is-american-christianity-turning-charismatic.

74. Candy Gunther Brown, “Introduction: Pentecostalism and the Globalization of Illness and Healing,” in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 14.

75. Brown, “Introduction,” 7.

76. John Weaver, The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care, 86-88.

77. Donald Kantel, “The ‘Toronto Blessing’: Revival and its Continuing Impact on Mission in Mozambique” (Ph.D. diss., Regent University, 2007), 32.

78. Candy Gunther Brown, “Global Awakenings: Divine Healing Networks and Global Community in North America, Brazil, Mozambique, and Beyond,” in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 353.

79. Global Awakening, “Global Awakening Online Bookstore,” http://globalawakeningstore.com/search.php?mode=search&sort=&sort_direction=0&xsearch_e1=Candy%20Gunther%20Brown.

Catholic Democrats & the Group Behind the Anti-Planned Parenthood Videos

Anti-abortion Catholic Democrats have long sought to cast their cause as progressive, but their actions have taken them into common cause with the Religious Right.  This tendency has been on display during the brouhaha over the publication of the first of what promises to be a series of misleading propaganda videos published by an obscure antiabortion group.

The Center for Medical Progress (a Catholic Right group with no relation to the liberal Washington DC think tank, Center for American Progress) has made news for its tabloid claim that Planned Parenthood Federation of America engages in the potentially criminal harvesting of fetal tissue and organs for profit. But the documentation does not substantiate the charges.  In fact, the unedited version of the covertly recorded video and the transcript supports PPFA’s statements that they only engage in the lawful practice of—and with the woman’s consent—donating fetal tissue for medical and research purposes.

Christopher J. Hale, executive director of

Christopher J. Hale, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG).

Epitomizing the tendency of anti-choice Democrats to become entangled with religious and political elements who are neither progressive or Democratic, is Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) – whose devotion to the cause has been clear since its founding in 2004.

Two days after the release of the first video, Christopher J. Hale (executive director of CACG) published a provocative op-ed in the religion section of The Washington Post online.  He called for progressive and Democratic leaders to join him in denouncing Planned Parenthood, citing the Center for Medical Progress’s crude work of propaganda as the justification for his call to moral action.

“Who will say no,” Hale asked, framing his accusation in the form of a question, “to this growing indifference towards others’ invisible sufferings, toward unseen violence, and toward hidden injustices that has metastasized in our national conscience? Who will speak truth to the rich and powerful and denounce Planned Parenthood’s participation and leadership in this throwaway culture and an economy that debases, excludes, and kills?”

Juxtapose Hale’s accusations with journalists like Robin Abcarian at the Los Angeles Times and Robin Marty at Cosmopolitan, who quickly saw that the video does not support the charges. So did the editorial board of The New York Times, which concluded that “the video campaign is a dishonest attempt to make legal, voluntary and potentially lifesaving tissue donations appear nefarious and illegal.”

It did not take long for Hale’s piece to be seen as an outrageous rush to judgement. Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice, writing at The Huffington Post, observed that Hale did not let the facts get in the way of the story he wanted to tell. CACG, said O’Brien, “is so hell-bent on making abortion illegal that they went so far as to equate a woman’s abortion decision with torture and war.”

Nevertheless, Hale is often cited in major media as a representative of liberal Christianity, and is a regular contributor to Time magazine.

Who Is Center for Medical Progress?

If Hale and other anti-abortion Democrats had bothered to look, they would have learned that the Center for Medical Progress has only existed since 2013, and has no record of doing much of anything prior to their release of the propaganda video which prompted Hale’s op-ed.  Hale would also have found out that one of the three founders is Troy Newman, longtime president of the militant anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (see PRA’s profile here).  What’s more, Robin Marty reported that the tactic of making sensationalized, highly edited undercover videos targeting Planned Parenthood was popularized by Live Action, founded and led by Lila Rose (see PRA’s profile here), and that Daleiden had worked for her.  “David Daleiden” Marty wrote of Center for Medical Progress’s founder, “is the former director of research for Live Action, and according to Breitbart News, he held that position for five years and ‘is no stranger to undercover investigations of Planned Parenthood.’”

Rose, who says her work is driven by her faith, was catechized by the secretive, conservative order Opus Dei while she was in college. She is a popular speaker at Christian Right events, such as the annual Values Voters political conference hosted by the Family Research Council. Rose claimed that the Daleiden video reveals “the unimaginable horror that is Planned Parenthood” including the “exploitation of human life, the cover-up, and the black market profiteering by America’s largest abortion chain” as well as “their contempt for rule of law and human life.”

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good itself has a curious recent history.  The organization lost its federal tax-exempt status several years ago, and all of its prominent supporters inexplicably disappeared from its web site last year.  It is unclear where its money currently comes from, but CACG now appears to be an unincorporated project of a Washington, DC political PR firm, Matz, Blancato & Associates  – with which it shares a mailing address, and where longtime CACG board member and current chairman Alfred Rotondaro has worked in recent years.  (Blancato also chairs the Italian American Democratic Council, a political action committee of which Rotondaro is treasurer.)  Rotondaro, who has also been a Senior Fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, is no longer listed on the organization’s web site.  (The Center for American Progress’s publication Think Progress has, however, posted a detailed exposé of what’s wrong with the Daleiden videos and links it to similar video smear products intended to damage Planned Parenthood.) 

The fact is that there is no evidence that PPFA or any of its personnel or affiliates are doing anything that violates the legal and ethical standards regarding donation of tissue and organs for purposes of medical and scientific research. The full transcript of the video, which was released by CMP, shows PPFA’s Senior Director of Medical Services Dr. Deborah Nucatola explaining how patients are not coerced but are informed about the option of donating tissue, and also making it very clear that there is no profit motive.

The fact is that there is no evidence that PPFA or any of its personnel or affiliates are doing anything that violates legal and ethical standards.

Subsequent statements issued by PPFA are consistent with what Nucatola told her undercover interviewers. PPFA states, “[W]e do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does – with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards.  There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood.  In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.”

Indeed, the charges being exploited by anti-abortion groups and opportunistic politicians are based exclusively on a method of employing terms like “selling,” “trafficking,” “haggling,”  “profiteering,” and “black market” to make inflammatory charges that are not supported by the facts.  

Recent reporting suggests that the videos may have been released in collusion with Republican Members of Congress—at least two of whom had seen the first video weeks before its release—and who say they will  initiate an investigation into the allegations.

It was one thing for the ostensibly liberal and Democratic Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to advocate for their views. But there has always been more to it. “To the untrained eye,” Catholics for Choice explained in a 2009 report on the group, “CACG may just seem like another Catholic social justice organization, focusing solely on traditional Catholic social teaching such as care of the poor, environmental sustainability and economic justice. However, a closer look reveals that a key aim of CACG is to oppose the availability of legal abortion.”

But beyond even this, it is quite another thing for CACG executive director Christopher J. Hale to treat as fact a work of crude political propaganda from a sketchy organization, alleging potentially criminal activity on the part of a respected health care provider – and then to call on Democratic and progressive leaders to  join him in this recklessness.  Hale and others of his ilk may actually believe this video smear job, or, worse, may be willing to employ the lies of a militant, right-wing agency to accomplish their ends – no matter who among their supposed allies may be harmed.

Beyond the Hate Frame: An Interview with Kay Whitlock & Michael Bronski

Click here to print the magazine version

Click here to print the magazine version

This interview appears in the Summer 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine.

Whether it’s a spree killing, a vandalized mosque, or a bias attack on a queer teen, Americans are quick to chalk it up to hate. The label “hate crime” invites us to blame overwrought individuals acting on extreme personal prejudice, making it seem as if a small cadre of social deviants is our main obstacle to a peaceful society. In fact, such individuals are products of a society that endorses all kinds of violence against the very same groups who are targeted in hate crimes. The perpetrators of these crimes are taking their cues from a society that embraces mass incarceration, militarized policing, the school-to-prison pipeline, and other forms of structural violence wielded disproportionately against people of color, queer and trans or gender non-conforming people, and the poor.

Kay Whitlock is an independent scholar of structural violence who seeks to dismantle the prison industrial complex. She is the cofounder of Criminal Injustice, a blog series that explores myths about crime, criminals, and the justice system. Michael Bronski is a professor at Dartmouth College and author of the award-winning book A Queer History of the United States. Their new coauthored book is Considering Hate: Violence, Goodness, and Justice in American Culture and Politics, published this year by Beacon Press.1 This spring, they spoke with PRA about their work.

Photo: Cindy Trinh, activistnyc.tumblr.com / facebook.com/activistnyc / Instagram @activistnyc

Photo: Cindy Trinh, activistnyc.tumblr.com / facebook.com/activistnyc / Instagram @activistnyc

What led you to write a book about hate and the role that it plays in our politics? 

KAY WHITLOCK: I wrote a piece for Political Research Associates in 2012 about reconsidering the “hate frame” as a useful progressive political frame. Michael and I had worked together before on my book, Queer (In)Justice, which he helped acquire for Beacon Press. Michael shared my PRA article with Beacon. Beacon was interested in the two of us joining together, opening up the discussion far beyond just specific kinds of progressive politics.

What is the “hate frame”?

KW: We think of a frame as a conceptual, and often rhetorical, path that shapes how people think about an issue. It always suggests a particular direction we ought to go in to address the situation.

In U.S. progressive politics the hate frame has four main assumptions: First, that hate is rooted purely in irrational, personal prejudice and fear and loathing of difference. In fact, it’s also rooted in ideologies and supremacy, in a historical and cultural context. Second, that hate is hate, and the specificities don’t matter. Third, that the politics of hate is about that crazy irrational feeling, which is caused by personal prejudice gone amok. In this view, hate is not about structures, not about power hierarchies, not about institutional practice. Finally, that hate is perpetrated by extremists, misfits, and loners who are violating agreed-upon standards of fairness, and that hate violence is unacceptable and abhorrent to respectable society.

The hate frame disappears considerations of structural violence and substitutes in their place the idea that there are these crazed extremists

In fact, what is called “hate violence”—violence directed at vulnerable and marginalized groups—is not abhorrent to respectable society. On the contrary, respectable society has provided the models, policies, and practices that marginalize people of color, queers, disabled people, and in many respects, women. The hate frame disappears considerations of structural violence and substitutes in their place the idea that there are these crazed extremists, and that’s who we have to go after.

The overarching question of the book is how hate is mobilized for political purposes and in what ways that destroys the possibility for good discourse on structural issues.

Do you think it’s counterproductive for watchdog organizations to monitor hate groups?

But the “hate group” descriptor is imprecise and subsumes many different histories into a single, too-simplistic template.

KW: It’s certainly important to understand how readily blatantly racist, xenophobic, and anti-queer ideas that gain steam on what we think of as the margins seem to migrate into mainstream politics. But the “hate group” descriptor is imprecise and subsumes many different histories into a single, too-simplistic template. It also gives the false impression that the hate is “out there” and “extreme,” when the problems are embedded in mainstream U.S. civic life and culture. It’s never easy to distinguish between the messages of many “hate groups” and the actions of respectable civic and religious leaders as they set back or dismantle progress in civil rights and economic justice.

While nativist, white supremacist, and virulently anti-LGBT groups may be horribly blunt in their supremacist beliefs, the ideologies themselves are as old as the entirely “respectable” projects of settler colonialism, Native genocide, chattel slavery, the eugenics movement, and economic exploitation. Hate is important in our politics. But people don’t want to own it. Even the people we think of as hatemongers, like neonazis, are often loath to say they hate people in so many words.

MICHAEL BRONSKI: They do and they don’t. I was teaching Intro. to LGBT studies at Dartmouth. I wanted to do something about the Matthew Shepard case. All the students knew about it. They’d all seen “The Laramie Project,” and they identified very strongly with Shepard. I think most of my students came pretty close to saying they hated Shepard’s killers. People are sort of eager to own a certain form of hatred and express it in more careful terms. It feels good.

Considering Hate

I tried to get my students to think outside of the hate frame. It wasn’t just a case of simple homophobia where a relatable, young, cute, blonde gay man was murdered senselessly. I wanted them to see the larger issues, like gender behaviors, poverty, and even geography. Everybody sees themselves not as haters, but as being hated. But once they’re hated, they quickly access the desire to hate back.

KW: Most neonazis will frame their essential message as love. In fact, almost everybody will frame their political message as love. But then you watch all the little side conversations and the message boards…

People—whether we’re from the right or the left, or anywhere in the middle—will often identify our own virtue by who it is that we loathe and despise and who it is that we’re against. That happens as much in progressive circles as in right-wing circles.

So, on the left, we’re defining ourselves by hating the prison industrial complex or brutal police officers?

KW: The language of hate is an easy placeholder. Probably all of us use it. I use it too. But what I keep trying to do is to get very specific about the issues.

 It’s quite possible to treat someone with great brutality, or contempt, as if they don’t matter, because you’re simply indifferent to their fate. 

You can’t just say that the reason the Ferguson police have such extraordinarily oppressive ways of policing is just because they hate Blacks. It’s much more complicated. There is a root in supremacist ideology, but it’s quite possible to treat someone with great brutality, or contempt, as if they don’t matter, because you’re simply indifferent to their fate.

Is brutal policing in Ferguson rooted in societal ideologies about the non-personhood of Black people, the notion that Black lives don’t matter? As opposed to visceral hatred?

It’s so tempting in policy to go after the people who commit hate crimes, because we know who they are. The bigger problem is a Ferguson, a Cleveland, a Chicago, an Oakland. 

KW: I think all of that is there. The callous disregard of Black lives in U.S. policies and practices since the inception of the country is so total that [non-Black] people don’t even recognize where their indifference or contempt comes from. It’s not necessarily boiling over as obvious racism, but it’s still woven in. That’s why it’s so tempting in policy to go after the people who commit hate crimes, because we know who they are. The bigger problem is a Ferguson, a Cleveland, a Chicago, an Oakland.

MB: One of the hallmarks of people who do hateful things is how often they see themselves as being victims. Police in Ferguson probably see themselves as being put-upon. An extreme example would be the Klan, who see themselves as victims of black people getting too much. It’s a mistake to leave that out of the equation. They see themselves as being victimized by the system, more so than their victims, often.

KW: The white, male, heterosexual power structure will almost always, in the face of protest, present itself as the victim of the group that’s challenging it.

Disability is a major theme of the book. You describe how, for centuries, disability has been cast as something that’s hateable and therefore something that justifies coercion—like exiling disabled people from towns, or putting them in institutions. If disabled people are seen as monstrous or inherently criminal, it becomes easier to see their mistreatment as something society does for its own protection.  

KW: Disabled people are often imagined as monstrous, degenerate, or defective. Then these labels get used to characterize any group that’s not in the central power hierarchy. So debates about disability start to include questions about American Indians, and Black people, and voting rights and citizenship; they start to include debates about women.

There’s often a contradictory dynamic. It all works to manage a great deal of anxiety. People with disabilities are construed as criminals, as objects of fear and loathing, but also as objects to be felt sorry for and cared for in a patronizing kind of way.

MB: I got an email from a friend who’s teaching a class on disability at Tufts. He said he’s teaching a clip from Fredric March’s 1931 Hollywood version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. When the very handsome March drinks the potion, turning him into Mr. Hyde, the transformation is really remarkable. He actually becomes black and gets misshapen teeth. The insane, murderous Mr. Hyde becomes stooped over and disfigured, and he becomes African-American-looking. It’s very much part of this mythos that some people who are not in the mainstream—including African Americans—are disabled and therefore evil. There’s that easy leap. A Hollywood classic shows it to us quite viscerally in about 90 seconds.

In the book you talk about how disfavored groups get inter-defined, for example: disabled people are defined as inferior, and then femaleness and Blackness get construed as physical defects relative to the white male ideal.

KW: We decided to use the lens of disability, but we could have picked race or gender, or queerness, and gone in as deeply. Gender, gender conformity, class, race: they all collide in these stories. One of the reasons we try to tell the story emphasizing the overlap of different oppressions is to demonstrate the pitfall that happens for progressive people when we fight in disconnected, parallel, single-issue ways.

Is your argument that the “hate” component of hate crime is rooted in the same impulse that makes communities hire oppressive police forces?

MB: That may be true in some simplistic ways, but we would all do better by really looking at every interest and trying to understand each instance in itself to see how it fits in a larger structural pattern. It’s important not to lump people together just because the behaviors look somewhat similar.

KW: It’s very easy to arouse justified outrage for specific, dramatic, sensational acts of violence that are intended to dehumanize someone from a marginalized group. [Like when attackers set out] to get a transgender woman, or “teach a Latino immigrant a lesson.” Those things are horrific, and we need to respond. We fixate on spree killings and assassinations because they’re so visibly terrifying. As we say in the book, fear has a kind of payoff: it makes us feel alive.

But regardless of who’s in power, we also have these structural forms of violence that continue year after year in the most respectable civic and private arenas.

But regardless of who’s in power, we also have these structural forms of violence that continue year after year in the most respectable civic and private arenas. The violence is steadfast, consistent, and it’s absolutely massive. I’m talking about the violence of prisons, detention centers, psychiatric hospitals, and public schools with school officers who are armed to the teeth and who have absolute discretionary power to send kids into the criminal/legal system for minor infractions. We have lots of violence against people with disabilities who are penned up in institutions where someone has absolute power over them.

I did my first work challenging the hate frame in 2001 for the American Friends Service Committee. Everywhere I went to speak [about the limits of hate crime legislation], good people who cared passionately about social justice would get furious if you talked about the structural violence of prison. It seemed impossible for people to accept that the legal system wasn’t the appropriate place to lodge our concerns. Just the thought of them having to engage with the massive violence of a system that dealt with hardened criminals….

So, they wanted to address the violence against “innocent” people but didn’t feel comfortable condemning violence against “bad” people?

KW: Right. This is not to put people down. This is part of my life’s work, working at this intersection of places where people don’t even recognize it as violence.

What violent things do people fail to recognize as violent?

KW: There’s the school-to-prison pipeline. A lot of white people have no idea how pervasive that is, or what the heavy presence of school resource officers can be like. Basically, what goes on in prisons and jails is not recognized as violence. Solitary confinement is not seen as violence or torture, though it is.

MB: When it comes to violence people don’t recognize as violence, at Dartmouth there’s a very strong Greek system. The embedded violence of hazing is completely and totally accepted. It’s everything from physical assaults to sexual humiliation. Eating certain foods to make them throw up. Forcing diuretics on them to make them sit in the bathroom for hours on end. Hazing is constructing masculinity by humiliating people to the point of being physically ill. On many college campuses this is regarded as completely acceptable or even good behavior, until somebody dies.

Like when Abu Ghraib became public and all those pundits were saying it was no big deal because they do this stuff in fraternity hazing?

MB: Precisely.

KW: We talk in the book about how cultural strategies are really needed in order for us to take a look at some of these realities in disruptively intelligent ways. [Ed: Whitlock is talking about innovative protest tactics, like ACT-UP air-dropping condoms into a prison because the prison wouldn’t distribute condoms to prevent the spread of HIV, and the eye-catching actions of the Chicago Light Brigade,2 which mobilizes flash mobs bearing glowing LED panels that spell out progressive slogans.]

Until we work towards deeper shifts in consciousness, we’re always going to be tinkering with the machinery, and finding new ways to let old systemic problems persist. If we think culturally about telling the story in fresh and unexpected ways, then we may have some fresh and welcome insights.

You write about the importance of refocusing on goodness. What are some of the ways that we can refocus on goodness instead of defining ourselves in terms of who we hate?

MB: Everybody wants to see themselves as a good person. It’s a really invigorating question. Rather than redefining it, what I’ve learned in talking about the book and to students, is actually getting people to think of what it would mean to be good. What it would mean to step out of descriptions of ourselves as business of usual? What it would mean to do something that is counter to the usual?

Considering Hate: Violence, Goodness, and Justice in American Culture and Politics was published by Beacon Press in 2015. This discussion has been edited for clarity, length, and flow.


[1] http://www.beacon.org/considering-hate-p1046.aspx

[2] http://www.chicagolightbrigade.org

Charleston & Chattanooga: How “Hatred” Hides History

On July 16th, a 24 year old man attacked 2 military sites in Tennessee with a gun, killing 4 people before dying himself.  A month earlier, on June 17th, a 21 year old man shot 9 worshippers at an historic Black church in South Carolina, and fled the scene before being arrested the next day.  According to media reports, both perpetrators are young men who have had trouble finding a productive direction for their lives and may have had substance use problems. And in both cases their visible social circles did not expect or support their turn to violence.  In addition, these young men reportedly come from families that do not share their political or religious beliefs; Mohammod Abdulazeez’s family has assimilated to American society while maintaining Muslim practices, and Dylann Roof’s parents and grandparents live comfortably in racially diverse contexts.

The Charleston and Chattanooga shooters had very similar lives and stories. Yet one's actions are labeled as terrorism, and the other's as "hate."

The Charleston and Chattanooga shooters had very similar lives and stories. Yet one’s actions are labeled as terrorism, and the others’ as “hate.”

Despite the personal similarities, these two instances of lethal violence have been characterized in the media and national discourse in very different ways. The language of terrorism and search for ties to Muslim movements in the Middle East has come into play immediately in the Abdulazeez case, although (as of this writing) it is still unclear how this will unfold.  In contrast, the language of “hate” quickly dominated in regard to Roof, in the context of growing evidence of connections to White supremacist organizations.

In legal terms, both ‘terrorism’ and ‘hate crime’ are additions to existing charges, and bring enhanced penalties in the event of conviction.  In cultural terms, these are two very different frameworks for motivation, particularly in regard to political context for action.

Setting aside legal technicalities, hatred is an emotion while terrorism is intrinsically a political act.  Hatred may be a motivation for action, including actions classifiable as terrorism, but the language of emotion focuses our attention on the individual and his/her inner life.  In regard to Dylann Roof’s assault on the Emmanuel AME church, the language of ‘hatred’ certainly reflects the emotions many Americans associate with the racist symbols Roof used, but it deflects attention away from the profoundly political structure of White violence against African Americans throughout U.S. history.

The FBI defines terrorism as violent or dangerous acts that appear intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, or to influence policy and/or conduct of government.  It is still unclear what motivated the assault on two military sites, but a solo young man armed with a gun has little ability to influence government to act according to his beliefs.  The assassination of nine worshippers at an historically significant Black church on a day with particular resonance for that church has a much greater potential to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population,” regardless of whether or not Roof was acting at the direction of established White supremacist organizations.  His actions exist in an historical continuum of White violence against Black communities – with both the motivation and consequence of intimidation, marginalization, and coercion of various kinds.  The rash of arsons at Black churches in the weeks that followed provides a concrete reminder of the ways that individual actions embody collective processes, regardless of whether the individuals involved coordinate their actions.

The category of ‘terrorism’ has expanded and been used in profoundly problematic ways over the past 20 years, with camping trips redefined as jihadi training and pervasive surveillance of ordinary life in Muslim communities. However, we need to carefully scrutinize how use of the word ‘hatred’ can obscure political violence.  The systematic assaults on African American communities now and in the past may or may not reflect personal hatred, but they have unambiguously political motivations as well as consequences.  The language of hatred obscures political and historical context by directing attention to the personal situation and emotions of specific perpetrators, a process that individualizes actions that follow clear systemic patterns. Dylann Roof’s online manifesto and website provide more evidence of political beliefs, however repulsive, than of personal animosity.

In my recent research report “Terror Network or Lone Wolf”in The Public Eye magazine,  I argue that the “lone wolf” label obscures substantial evidence of movement affiliations among the vast majority of right-wing terrorists who act alone or with one other person:

Research has shown that, at the time they engage in political violence, the majority of so-called lone wolves are over 30 years old, and have had significant histories of participation in Hard Right movements.”

While Roof is younger and less experienced than this profile would predict, his writing, photographs, and even his words in the church before the shooting place him solidly inside an extended lineage of White racist violence which includes lynchings, the KKK, and countless assaults on Black churches and ministers.  Roof told the worshippers at Emmanuel AME church that one of the reasons he was going to shoot them was because Black men rape White women, an accusation with a horrifying history in relation to lynching.  The recent film Selma depicts the horrific 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church that killed 4 young girls, providing a visceral reminder of the use of assaults on Black churches as a tactic to instill fear in Black activists and communities.

“Terrorism” may or may not prove to be a useful framework or label for the actions of Dylann Roof and other violent White supremacists, but “hatred” is clearly inadequate as an explanation for recurrent patterns of action that span decades, if not centuries.   We should also question whether “terrorism” is the most useful or accurate label for the actions of a young Muslim with a complicated family history and well-documented  substance abuse and mental health issues.

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

Anti-Choicers in Colorado Push to Protect the Not-Yet-Conceived

Last November, Colorado voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have defined personhood as inclusive of fetuses. This victory for reproductive rights, however, was won amid a slew of attacks on Coloradans’ reproductive freedom. Now, many of Colorado’s Republican lawmakers, armed with shoddy science, are pushing an agenda that prioritizes not only the not-yet-born, but the not-yet-conceived.

These lawmakers are working to ensure the demise of the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, a program focused on reducing rates of unintended pregnancy, particularly among teens and younger adults. The program makes long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), available at low or no cost to Colorado residents otherwise unable to afford such methods. IUDs and implants are highly effective, and because they last several years, they can be more practical for people unable to easily access a clinic to obtain short-term contraceptives such as birth control pills. However, the upfront cost of an IUD—ranging from $500 to well over $1000—is often prohibitive, and many on the Right want to keep it that way.

Colorado Rep. K.C. Becker wears earrings shaped like I.U.D.s in support of the

Colorado Rep. K.C. Becker wears earrings shaped like IUDs in support of the Family Planning Initiative.

With help from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, which furnished the state with a grant to the tune of approximately $25 million, Colorado has been able to defray the costs of more than 30,000 LARCs for low-income, uninsured, and underinsured people who can become pregnant. But the pilot period funded by the grant is coming to a close, and the grant is not being renewed, leaving the program’s fate uncertain. State Representative K.C. Becker (D-Boulder) has introduced a bill that would provide $5 million in state funding for the program, but the legislation—which enjoys Republican co-sponsorship—faces strong opposition from certain Republican lawmakers. Senator Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud), for instance, erroneously claims that IUDs are abortifacients, which, under current state laws, would make them ineligible for state funding except in cases involving life endangerment, rape, or incest.

Lundberg and his allies are propelled by post-Hobby Lobby v. Burwell momentum. In January, Hobby Lobby served as precedent for a federal judge to approve requests from three Colorado companies wanting to circumvent the Affordable Care Act by offering employee health plans without coverage for sterilization or contraceptives. They also have substantial backing from right-wing organizations, including Focus on the Family (headquartered in Colorado Springs), Colorado Right to Life, and Personhood USA.

sdf

Reproductive Justice—“the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments”—is a conceptual framework developed by women of color collective SisterSong. The founders of the movement describe it as “an intersectional theory emerging from the experiences of women of color whose multiple communities experience a complex set of reproductive oppressions.”

Given that the termination of this program would most affect the reproductive autonomy of low-income women, many of whom are of color, this is certainly a Reproductive Justice issue.

Crucially, when applied to the conflict in Colorado, this framework does not allow for easy demarcation between right and wrong. While access to LARCs is a critical component of full bodily autonomy for people who can become pregnant, it certainly does not guarantee bodily autonomy—indeed, programs meant to enhance access can further endanger bodily autonomy, especially for women of color. I wrote extensively about how programs which on the surface seem to be providing greater choice to women, often turn out to be little more than right-wing initiatives pushing a eugenics agenda among women of color.

Reproductive Justice advocate and activist Natasha Vianna challenges directed attempts at lowering teen pregnancy rates, writing, “Across the country, young girls of color are often being coerced and forced onto long-acting contraception like the IUD. This is not teen pregnancy prevention, this is abuse.” As Vianna aptly underscores, to treat teen pregnancy as inherently negative or harmful to young people who become pregnant is far more damaging than teen pregnancy itself is. Indeed, teen pregnancy need not be damaging at all, and resources spent “ending” it would be better devoted to ensuring that young parents have the resources and support necessary to parent without making sacrifices in other areas of their life.

Similarly, in “Women or LARC First? Reproductive Autonomy and the Promotion of Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptive Methods,” Anu Manchikanti Gomez, Liza Fuentes, and Amy Allina identify the relationship between reproductive oppression, particularly racism in family planning settings, and insufficiently careful promotion of LARCs. The authors cite studies, history, and current events to substantiate the claim that care providers respond differently to patients who are profiled as members of “high risk populations,” often directing these patients toward particular contraceptive methods. The report adeptly situates this phenomenon in “the long-standing devaluation of the fertility and childbearing of young women, low-income women and women of color in the United States, and the perception that these women have too many children.”

A study undertaken by Philliber Research Associates shows that in Colorado in 2008 (just prior to the onset of the initiative), unintended pregnancies occurred at disproportionately high rates among Latina women, African American women, and other women of color: groups whose reproduction is consistently demonized and pathologized. Consequently, unintended pregnancy can be used as a coded way to discuss population control among communities of color. The connections the authors draw between LARCs and coercive sterilization of populations of color must not be overlooked: while LARCs are, of course, reversible, they are costly to remove, and whether the initiative funds their removal—or whether their removal would be affordable after the program’s termination—is not clear.

Furthermore, a key aspect of the argument presented in “Women or LARC First?” is that LARCs ought not to be presented to patients as the ideal contraceptive, yet this is exactly the approach taken by Greta Klinger, the family planning supervisor for Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment. Klinger told the Washington Post, “If you have a drug that is 20 times more effective than other drugs, you will always start with that as your first option…What we did (in the Colorado Family Planning Initiative) is kind of flip the mindset, so rather than introducing all contraception as being on the same playing field, we said, ‘Let’s start with what is most effective.’”

Given that the appropriateness of LARCs must be evaluated on a patient-by-patient basis, it would seem that Klinger is most concerned with cost-effectiveness. It is telling that coverage of Colorado’s initiative tends to highlight both Colorado’s steep decline in teen pregnancy rates and the estimated amount of public funds saved in accordance with this decline. Mother Jones reports a state estimate of between $49 million and $111 million saved by Medicaid based on the number of births prevented. Moreover, a report issued by the Guttmacher Institute and co-authored by Klinger herself uses as a metric of success the numbers of infants receiving services through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. Cost-benefit analyses such as this, when applied to reproduction, have eugenic implications.

Without question, there is value in programs that make contraceptive methods accessible and affordable to anyone who wishes to use them; these initiatives are no less than necessary. However, their conception and implementation must be careful, critical, and fully contextualized in the United States’ eugenic past and present. The impetus for such programs cannot be eliminating Medicaid costs or controlling populations (however coded the articulation of the latter goal may be). On the contrary, these projects must be impelled by the liberatory vision that SisterSong’s framework maps for us: a vision that strains against reproductive oppression and strives for a world in which all  people have full control over their reproductive lives.

The Continuing Appeal of Racism and Fascism

My recent PRA article “Drawing Lines Against Racism and Fascism” documented how cryptofascists and pro-White separatists are attempting to make inroads into progressive political and counter-cultural circles. It was based on a number of recent incidents where conflicts had arisen between antifascists and these untraditional Far Right activists. However, the dynamic I wrote about is so common that soon after the article was published, new events were reported in the media, and readers—who were previously unknown to me—shared their stories of similar encounters.

Some of these incidents came to light as comments on Walter Reeves’s Daily Kos post, “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing; Racism, Anti-Semitism and Fascism: Infiltrating the Left,” which was based on “Drawing Lines.” In the lively discussion thread that followed, one commenter talked about encountering anti-Federal Reserve conspiracy theories (laced with anti-Semitism) at Occupy Wall Street, while a second had run into fascists in discussion circles about “ancient history and religion.”

The comments also revealed a more serious situation, involving a neo-Nazi man who regularly attends an atheist group’s meetings. One commenter wrote (in their own Daily Kos blog) that: “He seems to have a single focus: to bring up one of his many offensive topics (wildly racist ideology, holocaust denial, women should not be allowed to vote, gay bashing, praising Hitler…).” The blogger said the neo-Nazi continuously offended existing members with his comments and scared off new ones. His past forcible incarceration in a state mental health facility, along with his claims of gun ownership, intimidated the organizers enough that they were unable to stop his repeated disruption of the group.

Situations like the one involving this atheist group are complicated to deal with. But they underscore why progressive groups should both be prepared for such encounters, and have a plan ready to deal with them—comparable to having an evacuation route set and go bag ready for emergencies: you will probably never need it, but if you do, you’ll be glad it’s there.

“Drawing Lines” also recounted the story of a formerly imprisoned eco-activist who seems to have converted to a form of mystical fascism, and is now promoting his ideas in Pacific Northwest counter-cultural music scenes. Less than a week after my piece published, another former eco-prisoner—who also has converted to racist political views—popped back up. In 2008, while still in prison, this other activist was outed as having embraced racist ideology, and supporters cut ties with him. Now out of prison, an anti-fascist group put out a warning that he was attempting to worm his way back into the Seattle activist scene, particularly in animal liberation and Cascadian independence circles—both of which I had pointed to as targets of Far Right participation and/or cross-recruitment.

Interest by racists in the Cascadian independence movement (in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Canada’s British Columbia) has produced a reaction from antifascists.

Interest by racists in the Cascadian independence movement (in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Canada’s British Columbia) has produced a reaction from antifascists.

Less than two weeks after “Drawing Lines” was published, Ryan Giroux was arrested after a rampage in Mesa, Arizona, which left one dead and five injured. He is a skinhead who has been associated with the Hammerskins and Aryan Brotherhood, two of the most violent U.S. racist organizations. An old mugshot was circulated, showing him with a Thor’s Hammer tattooed on his face—a symbol associated with neopagan Heathenism (also discussed in “Drawing Lines”). While Giroux’s religious beliefs are unknown, the potential for the media to associate violent racism with the Heathen religious community as a whole prompted a quick response from Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR). They issued a statement saying their members “denounce Giroux, his associates, and any others who assisted him in perpetrating his terrible actions. … We call on all Heathens and Pagans to join us in standing for a Heathenry that is all-inclusive, genuinely tolerant, unquestionably opposed to bigotry, and rejects all who would co-opt our spiritual practice to advance their narrow-minded, dead-end, hateful agendas along with those who enable their continued presence.” HUAR also called for the ejection of supporters of the “racialist corruption of Heathen practice” and promised support for the Giroux’s victims.

No group (especially a minority religion) should be collectively held responsible for, or be obligated to denounce, the actions of individual adherents. However, if they do choose to respond to media coverage, HUAR’s statement—emerging from a community that is specifically targeted for recruitment from organized racists—is a solid example to follow.

Other instances of this phenomena were in Europe, but related to U.S. politics. The day after “Drawing Lines” was published, the U.S. government showed it was also following developments in post-Third Position fascism. In relation to the ongoing violence in Ukraine, which has spilled over into the United States, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control added Aleksandr Dugin to its sanctions list. Dugin promotes an aggressively expansionist form of Russian ultranationalism, derived from fascist strains like Third Positionism and the European New Right. In the United States, he is supported by New Resistance (which is named in my article), and is a former member of Russia’s National Bolshevik Party. In 2008, I wrote in The Public Eye magazine about this party’s popularity in post-Communist Russia, saying “the National Bolsheviks remain a powerful political movement today with a huge grassroots and youth base. As they grow older, they will remain influential in Russian politics for decades.”

Today, the U.S. government seems to agree with my assessment.

Finally, a number of people pointed out a situation in Britain that matched what I wrote in “Drawing Lines,” about the presence of people of color in groups that are explicitly inclusive of fascists, or promote or endorse White separatism. In this British situation, an animal rights declaration (called Non-Humans First) was written by a well-known animal rights activist, who is also a person of color. The declaration asks signatories to welcome racists into its fold, saying explicitly that “No one should be excluded from participation in animal rights activities based on their views on human issues.” (Signatories include groups which say they are based in Israel and Latin America.) The NHF declaration comes in the context of Far Right activists wanting to become involved in British animal rights activism. 

British animal rights activists opposed to a badger cull rejected calls to join forces with activists who were linked to Far Right groups.

British animal rights activists opposed to a badger cull rejected calls to join forces with activists who were linked to Far Right groups.

One comment (made in response to an article that denounces NHF), highlights a conceptual point in “Drawing Lines.” The commenter, defending NHF, wrote that people who “are racist and believe in racial separation…should be for allowing animals their separation from the human race.” This illustrates how newer forms of White separatism differ from White supremacists in approaching and appealing to normally non-racist political, social, and cultural movements; therefore, separatists and supremacists should not be treated synonymously.

These recent examples show how similar situations are more common than one might think. What I showed in “Drawing Lines” is that, while Left-Right crossover movements are not uncommon, these new forms—such as individual people of color arguing for working with fascists under an inclusive umbrella that respects “diversity”—present new problems for progressive activists to wrangle with. While not always easy, I hope that “Drawing Lines” can help activists understand why this phenomena came about, and encourage them to make policies and plans with how to deal with these forms of cross-recruitment and participation by Far Right activists and their enablers.

Ed note. If you witness Far Right participation or cross-recruiting in progressive political circles, send me a tip: s.sunshine@politicalresearch.org.

 

How Indiana Is Making It Possible to Jail Women for Having Abortions

Public Eye Spring 2015 CoverThis article is part of the upcoming Spring 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine

On February 3, 2015, an Indiana jury found Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old Indian-American woman, guilty of two crimes, one of which is feticide for attempting a self-abortion. This Monday, March 30, Patel will be sentenced. The prosecution and verdict in this case demonstrate that, despite their claims to the contrary, the real result of the anti-abortion movement —if not the intended goal—is to punish women for terminating pregnancies.

The anti-choice movement’s long-term strategy goes beyond just limiting access to abortion. It also includes passing feticide laws that recognize fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses as having a separate legal status and creates special penalties for causing them harm.1

As historian and legal scholar Reva B. Siegel has documented, many “pro-life” activists promote anti-abortion measures as “women-protective,” ensuring “women’s informed consent, women’s health, women’s welfare, and women’s freedom.”2 Feticide laws fall into this category: They are presented as a means of protecting both pregnant women and their “unborn” children, and they have overwhelmingly been introduced in the wake of violence against pregnant women. No Indiana law, including its feticide law, has ever been proposed and enacted that claimed it could or should be used as a basis for prosecuting and incarcerating women who have abortions. 3

Yet, as a result of the Patel case, such a law now apparently exists in Indiana.

Purvi Patel is led out of the courtroom in handcuffs after being found guilty of felony neglect and feticide on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. Photo by Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune

Purvi Patel is led out of the courtroom in handcuffs after being found guilty of felony neglect and feticide on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. Photo by Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune

The Patel case began when a 33-year-old woman went to a Mishawaka, Indiana emergency room in July 2013, bleeding and seeking help. Patel, who helps run her family’s restaurant and cares for her ailing parents and grandparents,4 eventually told health-care workers that she had miscarried. She explained that she had disposed of the fetal remains in a trash bin. After police found the remains they arrested Patel on the charge of “neglect of a dependent.”

About a month later, county prosecutors added the charge of “feticide.” According to a sworn statement in support of the arrest, Patel sent text messages to a friend indicating that she had obtained two drugs from Hong Kong in an attempt to end her pregnancy and that she had taken some amount of those drugs.5 The feticide charge was based on the claim that Patel “did knowingly terminate a human pregnancy, to wit: her own pregnancy, by ingesting medication,” and that this conduct was not a legal abortion performed in accordance with Indiana abortion law.6

To many observers, it was a shocking new application of Indiana’s feticide law, which was intended to criminalize “knowing or intentional termination of another’s pregnancy.”7 Turning this law into one that can be used to punish a woman who herself has an abortion is an extraordinary expansion of the scope and intention of the state’s law. Nevertheless, a jury convicted Patel on both the feticide and neglect charges; she now faces as many as 70 years in prison.

Even assuming Indiana’s feticide law could somehow become an abortion criminalization law, many people were initially baffled by how Patel could be charged with two seemingly contradictory charges: feticide for ending a pregnancy and also child neglect for giving birth to a baby and then failing to care for it. The state’s explanation took the interpretation of the feticide law to an even further extreme as prosecutor Ken Cotter argued, “a person can be guilty of feticide even if the fetus in question survives, as long as a deliberate attempt was made to ‘terminate’ the pregnancy ‘with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus.’”8

Put another way, Indiana’s feticide law is now an abortion criminalization law that not only can be used to punish a woman who ends her pregnancy, but also can be used to punish a woman who even attempts to end her own pregnancy.

This should raise alarm for numerous reasons. To begin with, attempts to end one’s own pregnancy are not extraordinary. One study of abortion patients found that 2.3 percent reported having used misoprostol or other substances, such as vitamin C or herbs, to attempt to end a pregnancy at some point in their lives.9 Another study found that the overall percentage to be higher at 4.6 percent, with even greater percentages in Texas,10 where more than half of all abortion clinics have been forced to close as a result of restrictive abortion legislation.11 (Seven percent of abortion patients in Texas, and 12 percent of such patients near the U.S.-Mexico border, reported having first taken steps in an attempt to terminate their own pregnancies.12)

Another reason for concern is the vagueness of the interpretation of this law.

What constitutes “a deliberate attempt” to terminate a pregnancy? In another Indiana case, 34-year-old Bei Bei Shuai was arrested for attempted feticide because prosecutors construed her attempt to kill herself while pregnant as an attempt to terminate a pregnancy.13 Suicide is not a crime in Indiana or any other state. Nevertheless, Shuai, a Chinese immigrant who survived and gave birth to a baby who lived for several days, was arrested on both feticide and murder charges. Massive public pressure eventually helped get both charges dropped, but not before Shuai spent a full year locked up in state custody and another year under a form of house arrest that required her to wear an electronic monitor for which she had to pay $12 per day.14

There is also the matter of what else might constitute “a deliberate attempt” to end a pregnancy. If a woman suffers an unexplained miscarriage or stillbirth, would the fact that she had previously searched for information about using medications like misoprostol to end a pregnancy15 be used against her? In the Patel case, the state had no physical proof that Patel had actually taken—or even purchased—any medication, apart from text messages allegedly discussing these matters.16 (For the record, the state similarly had no actual proof that the fetus had been born alive, relying instead on a scientifically invalid and widely discredited “float test” to persuade the jury otherwise.17)

What the Patel case demonstrates is that both women who have abortions and those who experience pregnancy loss may now be subject to investigation, arrest, public trial and incarceration. Indeed, Patel has consistently said that she experienced a miscarriage18 that she, like most women in this situation, was unprepared to handle.19 Pregnancy loss is not uncommon: some 15-20 percent of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage;20 one percent of pregnancies—approximately 26,000 each year—result in stillbirth.21 Following the Patel case, however, any miscarriage or stillbirth could be investigated as feticide (an “illegal” self-abortion).

While the scope of Indiana’s feticide law may be vague, the message the Patel case sends is anything but. As an NBC South Bend affiliate summarized it, the verdict broadcast the warning that “there is no room in society today for do-it-yourself abortions.”22

The outcome of this case is noteworthy and alarming for another reason as well. It directly contradicts the repeated claims of anti-abortion leaders that their efforts will not lead to punishing women. Several years ago, 17 anti-choice leaders participated in an online symposium hosted by the conservative magazine National Review, addressing the question of whether there should be “jail time for women who seek abortions.”23 Overwhelmingly the writers assured readers that this was not their goal and moreover, that it would never happen.24 One of the contributors, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the national anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List, argued that fears of women being prosecuted and jailed were just a pro-choice tactic to malign abortion opponents. 25

“The fact of the matter is that compassion for women before abortion was legal and compassion for them after unborn protections are enforced will drive the law,” said Dannenfelser. “The focus of such laws is on protection, not punishment.”26

Another essay contributor, Anne Hendershott, promised, “No one wants to send a woman who has had an abortion to prison—she will suffer enough from her decision.”27 And Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs for the Family Research Council, flatly called the threat of criminalizing abortion under feticide laws “ludicrous.”28

These writers are not alone. Anti-abortion organizations have routinely downplayed or denied the threat. An Ohio Right to Life webpage, “Overturning Roe v. Wade,” assures readers that “no one is interested in sending women to jail.”29 Generations for Life, the youth arm of the Pro-Life Action League, likewise insists that “the idea of punishing women who have abortions could not be further from anti-choicers’ minds.”30 And legal advocacy organization Americans United for Life has maintained that, “if Roe is overruled, no woman would be prosecuted for self-abortion.”31

But in Indiana, the prosecution of Purvi Patel for an alleged self-abortion is exactly what happened.

It should come as no surprise that not a single national anti-choice group sounded an objection to the Patel prosecution and its use of Indiana’s criminal laws to punish a woman who allegedly sought to end her own pregnancy.32 A similar, deafening silence was heard when Jennie McCormack, a mother of three in southern Idaho—where there are no longer any abortion providers—was arrested after she used medication obtained online to end a pregnancy.33

The anti-choice movement has not taken any steps to oppose prosecution of pregnant women, in spite of peer-reviewed research that I published with Jeanne Flavin34 establishing that anti-abortion measures, including the feticide laws now in existence in 38 states, are providing the justification for the arrest of pregnant women, including those who have had or who attempted to have abortions.

It is likely that most people in the U.S., whether they identify as “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” don’t want to see any woman locked up for having an abortion35 (including the more than 60 percent of women who have abortions who are already mothers).36 Perhaps this is why anti-abortion organizations work so hard to deny the predictable and inevitable consequences of their efforts: women being locked up.37

The anti-abortion organization Priests for Life insists the “pro-life position has always been that women are victimized by abortion. In fact, we have repeatedly rejected the suggestion that women should be put in jail.”38 On Monday, Purvi Patel will find out at sentencing just how much time she will have to serve in jail or prison. But what the Patel case already demonstrates is that we cannot take Priests for Life and the other “pro-life” organizations at their word when they promise protection and not punishment for women.

UPDATE: On March 30, 2015, the Indiana court sentenced Purvi Patel to 41 years for the crimes of feticide and neglect of a dependent (Patel will serve 20 of the 41 years in prison).

 End Notes

[1] See Lynn Paltrow, Pregnant Drug Users, Fetal Persons, and the Threat to Roe v. Wade, 62 Albany Law Review 999, 1009-1015 (1999).

[2] Reva B. Siegel, Dignity and the Politics of Protection: Abortion Restrictions Under Casey/Carhart Faculty Scholarship Series, Paper 1134 (2008), available at http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2131&context=fss_papers

[3] See Indiana v. Bei Bei Shuai, Defendant’s Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Dismiss, In the Marion Superior Court Criminal Division, Cause No.: 49G03-1103-MR-014478 at 10-14 (March 30, 2011).

[4] Amy Gastelum, An Indiana jury says Purvi Patel should go to prison for what she says was a miscarriage, PRI’s The World (March 13, 2015) available at http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-03-13/indiana-jury-says-purvi-patel-should-go-prison-what-she-says-was-miscarriage

[5] Indiana v. Patel, Supplemental Affidavit in Support of Probable Cause, In the Stat Joseph Superior Court, Cause No 71 DO8-1307-FA-0000-17 (July 17 2013) available at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1280086-patelpcaffidavit.html

[6] Indiana v. Patel, Second Amended Information (In the St. Joseph Superior Court, Cause No., 71D08-13 (Dec 8, 2014).

[7] Sandra L. Smith, Fetal Homicide: Woman or Fetus as Victim? A Survey of Current State Approaches and Recommendations for Future State Application. 41 William & Mary Law Review 1845 at 1852-3 (2000) (emphasis added) available at: http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1539&context=wmlr

[8] Leon Neyfakh, False Certainty: Why did the pathologist in the Purvi Patel feticide case use the discredited “float test” to show her fetus was born alive?, Slate (Feb 5, 2015). Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2015/02/purvi_patel_feticide_why_did_the_pathologist_use_the_discredited_lung_float.html

[9] Rachel K. Jones, How commonly do US abortion patients report attempts to self-induce? 204 Am J Obstet Gynecol 23 (2011) available at: http://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378%2810%2901008-2/pdfSummary

[10]  Daniel Grossman, et. al.Self-induction of abortion among women in the United States, 18 Reproductive Health Matters 136 (November 2010), available at http://www.rhm-elsevier.com/article/S0968-8080%2810%2936534-7/abstract

[11] RH Reality Check, Tracking Texas Abortion Access, http://rhrealitycheck.org/tracking-texas-abortion-access-map/ (last updated Oct. 15, 2014).

[12] Daniel Grossman, et. al., The public health threat of anti-abortion legislation, 89 Contraception 73 (2013)

[13]Deepa Lyer and Miriam Yeung. Purvi Patel Isn’t the First Woman of Color to Have Her Pregnancy Put on Trial in Indiana (Updated)!, RH Reality Check (February 2, 2015). Available at: http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2015/02/02/purvi-patel-isnt-first-woman-color-pregnancy-put-trial-indiana/

[14] National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Thank You! Bei Bei Shuai is Free and More http://advocatesforpregnantwomen.org/blog/2013/08/thank_you_bei_bei_shuai_is_fre.php; Jodi Jacobson, Bei Bei Shuai out on bail but far from free, RH Reality Check (May 22, 2012) available at: http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/05/22/bei-bei-shuai-out-jail-out-on-bail-but-far-from-free/; David Cerola, Bei Bei Shuai case ends after plea agreement, Nuvo (August 2 2013)

[15] See e.g., Women on Waves, Using Medications (Pills) to End an Unwanted Pregnancy in the USA https://www.womenonwaves.org/en/page/711/using-medications-pills-to-end-an-unwanted-pregnancy-in-the-usa (last visited March 25, 2015).

[16] Indiana v. Patel, Supplemental Affidavit in Support of Probable Cause, St.Joseph Superior Court, Cause No 71 DO8-1307-FA-0000-17 (July 17 2013) available at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1280086-patelpcaffidavit.html

[17] Supra note 8.

[18] Supra note 4.

[19] Jennifer Gunter, Feticide laws force birth and punish women (September 10, 2014) available at: http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2014/09/feticide-laws-force-birth-punish-women.html

[20] Raj Rai & Lesley Regan, Recurrent Miscarriage, 368 Lancet 601, 601 (2006).

[21] Ruth C. Fretts, Etiology and Prevention of Stillbirth, 193 American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology 1923, 1924 (March 2005).

[22] WNDU NewsCenter 16 Staff, UPDATE: Purvi Patel found guilty on all counts, WNDU.com (March 26, 2015), video: “Purvi Patel’s Fate In The Hands of a Jury” available at: http://www.wndu.com/home/headlines/Jury-out-in-Purvi-Patel-trial-290718931.html

[23] One Untrue Thing, An NRO Symposium, Life After Roe, National Review, Aug. 1, 2007, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/221742/one-untrue-thing-nro-symposium.

[24] Id

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27]Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Ohio Right to Life, Overturning Roe v. Wade, http://www.ohiolife.org/overturning-roe-v-wade/ (last visited March 25, 2015).

[30] Generations for Life, Blog, How Much Jail Time for Women Who Have Abortions?, posted by John, July 31, 2007, at 12:00 p.m., http://generationsforlife.org/2007/0731/how-much-jail-time-for-women-who-have-abortions/.

[31] Clarke D. Forsythe, Why the States Did Not Prosecute Women for Abortion Before Roe v. Wade, Americans United for Life, April 23, 2010, http://www.aul.org/2010/04/why-the-states-did-not-prosecute-women-for-abortion-before-roe-v-wade/.

[32] Indeed, the response from the group St. Joseph County Right to Life suggests clear support for such arrests. Right to Life Program Director Jeanette Burdell released a statement regarding Patel’s conviction, writing, “We agree the prosecutor should have pursued this because it involves an innocent human life. Unfortunately, this case shows that our culture and our society have devalued human life to the point where this mother might not have been fully aware of the gravity of her actions. This is the impact of legalized abortion.” See Fox28, Pro Life Group Reacts to Purvi Patel Conviction, Feb. 4, 2015, http://www.fox28.com/story/28029167/2015/02/04/pro-life-group-reacts-to-purvi-patel-conviction.

[33] Jessica Robinson, Idaho Woman Arrested For Abortion Is Uneasy Case For Both Sides, NPR, April 9, 2012, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=150312812.

[34] Lynn M. Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin, Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973– 2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Healthhttp://jhppl.dukejournals.org/content/38/2/299.full.pdf+html?sid=b0811f36-d4e4-4b51-a830-e175e6eee40c.

[35] See Anna Quindlen, How Much Jail Time for Women Who Have Abortions?, Newsweek, Aug. 5, 2007, http://www.newsweek.com/quindlen-how-much-jail-time-women-who-have-abortions-99537.

[36] Guttmacher Institute, Fact Sheet: Induced Abortion in the United States, July 2014, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html.

[37] See Lynn M. Paltrow, Roe v. Wade and the New Jane Crow: Reproductive Rights in the Age of Mass Incarceration, American Journal of Public Health (2013).

[38] Priests for Life, Letter 263, http://www.priestsforlife.org/lte/lte26.html (last visited March 25, 2015).

My On-Again, Off-Again Romance With Liberalism

In honor of PRA’s late founder Jean Hardisty, please enjoy this article originally published by the Women’s Theological Center (now known as Women Transforming Communities) in March 1996, as part of The Brown Paper series. Republished with permission.
Jean hardisty SLIDE

PRA founder Jean Hardisty

As I sit at my desk working my way through a stack of requests for donations and entreaties to renew my membership in various organizations, I am torn about when to write a check and when to save my money. At the moment, the pressing question for me is whether to support the larger, liberal organizations that do what I think of as “mainstream” liberal work—organizations such as The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, The National Organization for Women, and People for the American Way.

For years I have written these checks, almost as an act of dutiful citizenship. After all, I am glad the organizations are there. I want them to continue to exist. That means I have to do my part to keep them alive. But this seems a rather lazy way to make a decision.

I feel I should decide what I really think about liberalism and its prospects in the 1990s. It is clear that in 1996 liberalism is in eclipse—or at least adrift and demoralized. Meanwhile, the Right is in its glory. It dominates the political arena, with an apparent lock on the new ideas, the money, the organization, and the attention that used to belong to liberalism.

Liberalism is nearly an orphan. It has a bad name in many circles. For the Left, it represents a compromised reformism. For the Right, it is socialism in disguise. For the center, it is a label associated with fuzzy thinking and do-gooder incompetence.

Liberals are divided and seem to have lost confidence in their own ideology. The vicious attacks mounted by the Right have scored points with the public by caricaturing liberal programs, their adherents, and their recipients. After fifteen years of such attacks there is now a proven formula: seize on an example of abuse of a liberal program, market an image of the program’s undeserving recipient (preferably a poor person of color) to the taxpaying public, then sit back and wait for the impact. The “welfare queen,” the Black rapist on furlough, the unqualified affirmative action hire—all have assumed powerful symbolic significance.

In the face of these attacks, liberals themselves seem to know on some level that their programs have not worked as planned. Even in defending them, they are forced to appeal to the spirit in which the programs were based, or the benefits they have delivered to their most deserving beneficiaries. Liberals seem unable to mount a vigorous defense of these programs—on their own terms, across the board, without regard to the worthiness of the recipients. By mounting a weak defense, liberals tacitly concede to their Republican attackers that the programs are at least flawed, perhaps even indefensible.

The Swinging Door

I have seen liberalism’s programs and ideology up close for over thirty years. At fifty, I have reached some clarity about liberalism, especially since I have the advantage of a Left perspective—a set of glasses, if you will, that helps to bring the shortcomings of both liberalism and conservatism into focus. Further, I learned my politics during the Vietnam War, a war waged by liberals as well as conservatives.

I know that domestic social programs are intended as amelioration, not real change. I know that the same men who voted for public housing programs voted for aid to the Guatemalan military. I understand liberalism’s self-serving tendency to preserve the status quo, why big business often has found it a useful ally, why its redistributive measures never really disturb the sleep of the rich. I understand why it tolerates police brutality, a rogue FBI, why NAFTA, why GATT. I know all that.

Yet as the Right picks off liberal programs one by one, I mourn each one as if it were the product of a golden age of liberty, equality, and fraternity. My understanding of liberalism’s shortcomings and its history of opportunism is gone. Liberal programs are bathed with a glow of benevolence, set off by a stark contrast with the anti-social and avaricious agenda of the Right.

Take public housing as an example. As it is defunded by the Right and its real estate sold off, I am torn by two conflicting images. In the back of my mind are the towers of Cabrini Green, a massive, notoriously rundown, and dangerous housing project in Chicago. Here the ultimate effect of a liberal program is to segregate poor Black people in a high-rise ghetto. In fact, the numerous high-rise federal housing projects in Chicago form a “wall” that cordons off poor people from the rest of the city. It is difficult to see the result of this liberal housing effort on behalf of low-income families without assuming a malicious intent behind the program.

But in the front of my mind are other images: a broken-down, substandard house in rural Mississippi transformed into a prefab house with indoor water, electricity, and walls that are tight against the weather. Or a range of housing such as scattered rent-subsidized low-income units, low-rise complexes, and rent-controlled apartments that allow people to live in decent conditions even though they have very little money. It is these images that draw me. Perhaps it is sentimental, but I am compelled by the notion of a society that will not tolerate extreme poverty and that responds with redistributive programs—even though the programs are often flawed and sometimes cynical.

This softness toward liberalism is not easy to admit. It can be especially embarrassing to defend liberalism when I am speaking to progressives. It feels like admitting a weakness in my political commitment to Left, progressive values, the values that demand fundamental systemic change and redistribution of power. But this soft-on-liberalism instinct is grounded in my progressive politics. I see the two in relation to each other. I understand the role that liberalism plays in facilitating the work that progressives do. The Left needs liberals to create the breathing room necessary for us to do our work. Liberals, in turn, are given direction and held to some minimal standard of honesty by the Left.

As a progressive feminist, I want to live in a country that understands that some people cannot manage and that is willing to take responsibility for them. I want a government I can believe in; one that is willing to defy the often malicious intent of local power structures and defend the rights of all its citizens with determination. And I am convinced that only the federal government can deliver that protection. That often means that liberal social programs, administered by the federal government, are the only workable answer to social needs. This doesn’t mean I will get the government I want, but it does mean I cannot afford to throw away the idea of government as an important arbiter of justice.

The Right’s current promotion of states’ rights, which argues that power should be decentralized because only state governments provide for the real needs of local folks, ignores the history of states’ rights as a defense of brutal racial segregation and reactionary social policies. Transferring programs like public housing to the states is a sly method of defunding them. Progressives must be careful, when raising pointed criticisms and mounting protests regarding government programs, that we do not let our anti-government rhetoric feed the anti-government campaign of the Right.

I admit that when looking at liberal programs, I have a tendency to accept liberalism’s most appealing face as reality. I am drawn, for instance, by the 1960s social plan called The War on Poverty. I find a certain poetry, idealism, solidarity, and respect in the words themselves. Even when they turn out to be just words (that stand in ironic contrast to the Vietnam War, which was waged simultaneously) they nevertheless represent a glimpse of ideas and programs propelled by humanity and mutual concern. Perhaps two stories from my own experience will help to explain both my attraction to liberalism as we know it and my ambivalence about it.

In Chicago’s 1982 mayoral race, Harold Washington, a progressive African-American Congressman from the South Side, ran against the machine candidate, Jane Byrne, in the Democratic primary. Washington won. The white machine was stunned, and scrambled to find a candidate to run against Washington in the general election. Since Washington would be the Democratic Party candidate, they would have to find a Republican, but they were hard-pressed to locate one, since Chicago is a one-party town. They did find a rather pathetic man named Bernie Epton, who visibly struggled with emotional instability and barely made it through Election Day. Despite the stark difference in the two candidates’ qualifications, most white voters in Chicago voted for Epton. They preferred the unstable white man with no political experience to the charismatic, experienced, progressive, anti-machine African American. Again, however, Washington won.

Harold Washington (left) and Bernie Epton (right)

Harold Washington (left) and Bernie Epton (right)

There were several reasons for his victory. First, Chicago at that time had a minority population of 45%—a voting block large enough to create a plurality of votes. Second, Washington put together a rare coalition that drew over 90 percent of the African-American vote and most of the Latino vote. And finally, “lakefront liberals”—primarily white, often professional, definitely higher-income residents who lived close to the Lake Michigan waterfront—delivered the balance needed to put him narrowly over the top. Among white voters, only the lakefront liberals defied their race allegiance and voted for the Black man.

For me, the Washington election captured a clear irony about life in Chicago. I was proud that Chicago was no ordinary racist northern industrial city. Chicago is organized. It is perhaps the most organized city in the country—the birthplace of the community organizing style of Saul Alinsky. All of Chicago’s neighborhoods—especially the White neighborhoods—are organized with the goal of empowering working people, and much of this organizing has been done by liberals.

Yet when those organized citizens were called on to vote for a more progressive future, they were not able to make the connections. The community organizing so conscientiously mounted by liberals did not touch the racism of Chicago’s White voters. Unable to address the basic social problems, especially racism, liberalism came up short in an actual test of its effectiveness in creating change.

But liberalism was not a complete failure in Chicago. The lakefront liberals did the right thing. Faint-hearted, arrogant, complicit, and often self-serving, they nevertheless served as the swinging door against which social change could push. Without them, there was no space, no breathing room, no recourse.

Perhaps the lakefront liberals stood to gain under a Washington Administration that would create more space for their business interests than the locked-down machine offered. Perhaps the communities of color that voted so overwhelmingly for Washington were mostly voting against Chicago’s White political machine. But the reality remains. It was the vote of White liberals that put the progressive Mayor Washington over the top.

Another story comes to mind. In the early 1980s the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), a coalition of Leftist political groupings in El Salvador, mounted a credible attempt to overthrow the Salvadoran political establishment. The context for this effort was El Salvador’s history of economic exploitation by an oligarchy of landowners supported by a military trained and armed by the U.S., and a complicit Catholic church hierarchy. El Salvador’s social and economic system was injustice and oppression itself.

The FMLN was explicitly revolutionary. However, it had an arm that operated above ground, in the electoral arena. Always at risk from death squads, some brave people were willing to put themselves at risk by being affiliated publicly with this above-ground group, the Democratic Revolutionary Front, or FDR. The president of the FDR, the late Guillermo Ungo, was well-known in the United States.

In the early 1980s, I was part of a delegation of U.S. foundation staff and donors, led by the director of The Philadelphia Foundation, that went to Central America to meet with humanitarian aid organizations, human rights organizations, and others centrally involved in the conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. J. Roderick MacArthur, the son of the billionaire donor of the MacArthur Foundation, John D. MacArthur, was part of the delegation. Roderick MacArthur had his own foundation, known as “little MacArthur,” that had been involved in funding organizations opposing government abuses and repression against progressives. Rod MacArthur’s politics were liberal, unusually so for a businessman.

MacArthur met Ungo on that trip and they bonded as prominent businessmen with political concerns. MacArthur was both compelled by Ungo’s story and convinced that there were opportunities for U.S. business in a post-revolutionary El Salvador. When he returned to the U.S., MacArthur arranged to have Ungo come north to tour several cities, meeting with U.S. businessmen. When Ungo reached the Chicago stop on the tour, MacArthur held a reception for him in his Chicago suburban home. It was an opportunity for Ungo to speak to prominent Chicago businessmen. As a courtesy, he invited everyone who had been on the Central America trip to attend.

The meeting was predictably awkward. Ungo was not a charismatic man. The businessmen weren’t sure what the point was, and MacArthur didn’t seem able to sway them to his view. Out of courtesy to MacArthur, the businessmen were politely attentive, but they were not at all open to the revolutionary message of the FMLN, and certainly not able to sign onto MacArthur’s vision of a reformed El Salvador exporting its fabulous beer in profitable quantity to the U.S. The meeting fell rather flat.

Well, I thought, this just illustrates that you can’t promote revolution as a business opportunity. Even to want to do so is so exquisitely liberal! The incident provided more support for my sense of liberalism as complicit and ineffective. Nevertheless, as a result of that meeting, those businessmen were undoubtedly less likely to support a U.S. invasion of El Salvador. They were certainly better informed about the reality of life there, and the unbelievable maldistribution of wealth and the extent of repression. They would no longer give knee-jerk support to U.S. policy toward Central America. Rod MacArthur had made a contribution. He had influenced a sector that is completely inaccessible to progressives. He had begun to create a swinging door against which solidarity work could push.

That Compelling, Illusive Coalition

In June 1982, there was an enormous march in New York City to protest the triumph of the Right Wing of the Republican Party with the election of Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s administration had succeeded in making major changes in the tax structure, lowering the tax rate of the wealthy as one of its first acts in office. The march was so vast that miles of central Manhattan’s streets were filled with people. There were huge puppets, many more than 15 feet high, that eloquently mocked the Republicans and made tongue-in-cheek pleas for decency. A gigantic inflatable whale, emblazoned with the slogan “Save the Humans,” swayed down the packed streets.

Hundreds of thousands protest in New York City on June 12, 1982

Hundreds of thousands protest in New York City on June 12, 1982

There is no accurate count of how many people participated. As usual, the estimate by city officials was absurdly low. Perhaps more important, we don’t have an official record of which sectors of the liberal coalition were represented. But emotionally, I know exactly who was there. Everybody.

Or more accurately, all the White middle class reform movements that dominated and controlled the liberal coalition. The feminists, the gay and lesbian rights movement, the environmentalists, the disability rights movement, the reproductive rights defenders, the liberal unions. The civil rights movement was represented, but in small numbers, reflecting its position within the coalition as just another partner. That march seemed to me the last public display of the united front known as the liberal coalition.

That coalition was the lion that roared. It was a voting block that could propel a liberal to the Supreme Court, stop a war, prevent an invasion, impose curbs on corporate rapacity, force integration, forbid the death penalty, ensure voting rights.

Today it is a fractured remnant of its days of power. The larger, mainstream organizations are bloated, bureaucratic, and riddles with compromise. In order to maintain their programs, they have bowed to donors and corporate sponsors and cleansed themselves of radical voices, excusing their own moderation by pointing to the need to keep themselves alive in a hostile political climate. This applies even to some civil rights organizations. The vigor is gone, the vision is muddled, and the membership is down.

The less-compromised, small organizations are fighting over funds, plagued by professional jealousies and rivalries, and jockeying for position in a context of political defeat and defunding. The leadership is tired and aging and is not being replaced with another generation of dedicated activists.

Perhaps the coalition was doomed from the start. After all, it was frankly reformist, which means that it could take change only so far before it ran into its own contradictions. Nowhere was this more true than on the issue of race. The White-dominated liberal coalition was not about to give up its dearly-held issues because they were not well-suited to the needs of African Americans. Reproductive rights are a perfect example. The demand of African American women for the reproductive rights movement to broaden its agenda to include the concerns of women of color (e.g. that women be assured of the right to have children, as well as not have children) were heard by only a handful of reproductive rights organizations.

But this is just one of the man reasons for the decline of the coalition. Larger events conspired to weaken it and diminish its vision. I don’t pretend to know the exact profile of these forces. Certainly the increased concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations and individuals under late capitalism has both elevated the individualism so basic to capitalism and defeated the notion of the common good. The attack by the organized and well-funded Right has been successful in undermining the popularity of the liberal vision. And, in any case, it is harder to hold a coalition together when it is undergoing defeat after defeat. By contrast, the Right’s coalition is enjoying victory after victory, and thus finds that continued cooperation and collaboration is visibly rewarded.

With so few victories and so little satisfaction to be had, each member of the liberal coalition now hangs onto whatever pale reformist policies or benefits can be saved. The sectors of the coalition that cannot survive on these remnants, especially working class wage-earners, have been left to make the best of it. The gutting of The Labor Relations Board, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and The U.S. Civil Rights Commission are just three examples of liberal programs now unable to deliver anything resembling social justice. Is it any wonder that so many working people are seduced by the Right’s vilification of liberalism when liberalism has proved unable to defend them and hasn’t appeared to try very hard?

So, the liberal coalition is fractured, aging, compromised, and lacking in vigor or new ideas. It remains White-dominated and predominantly middle-class. Why, then, do I mourn its passing from the center stage of power? Didn’t it deserve to fade?

Something makes me say: “Yes, but…” A part of me clings to a vision of the liberal coalition as it could have been. Also, frankly, I miss the power. Progressives are used to working at the margins, pushing liberals to redress the heinous injustices created by capitalism, and, when liberals create reformist programs, pushing the envelope to open an opportunity for real change. But without a powerful and effective liberal coalition to pressure, there are very few places for progressive policies to exert influence.

It is true that liberalism plays its own role as an aid to reactionary politics, acting as a buffer for capitalism by protecting it from the wrath of the people it exploits. By providing a veneer of caring and accommodation to human needs as well as profits, liberal programs cloud people’s political consciousness. No doubt about that.

But liberalism also serves as a buffer against fascism. In the 1970s we had the luxury of holding liberalism in disdain because it was a sop that prevented revolutionary social change. In the 1990s, liberalism looks more like a line of defense against the final triumph of the Right.

Come Back, Jimmy

By the end of Jimmy Carter’s administration in the late 1970s, Carter was an easy man to scorn. The populist liberalism of his Presidential campaign had been thoroughly compromised as he “got it” about the Soviet threat. His wobbling political leadership became increasingly neoconservative. It was hard for progressives to find much to like about Carter.

Yet throughout the Reagan administration my mantra was: “Come back, Jimmy. All is forgiven.” What I missed wasn’t a hard-headed political analysis, a shrewd ability to work the system in behalf of social justice goals, an uncompromising commitment to the poor. These we had never had from Carter. What I missed, and had taken for granted, was that the man supported the Bill of Rights.

Carter was a typical liberal in that respect. He understood the role of the Bill of Rights in assuring that in addition to stable democratic institutions, people in the U.S. also have certain concrete rights. Take Article I of the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment. It reads in part: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble…” It is meant to protect the individual’s right to protest government actions. In the United States, freedom of speech is a civil liberty.

This guarantee has always been applied selectively. The free speech of racists has always been better protected than the free speech of campus war protesters. In the recent past, it was often necessary for the courts to intervene to protect Leftists from the violations of their First Amendment rights by law enforcement officers, the FBI, or exceptionally hostile Justice Departments, such as those of the Nixon and Reagan administrations.

Free speech is particularly important to progressives because in my attempt to change the status quo there must be room to unmask and debunk it. Censorship imposed by legal means, or self-censorship in the context of repression, means that the Left’s effectiveness is dramatically limited.

Progressives, therefore, are dependent on liberals’ commitment to the First Amendment. Liberals serve as a buffer protecting us from the Right and its history of attacking First Amendment freedoms. For instance, it is liberal legislators who stand in the way of laws banning the burning of the flag. It is liberals who defend “sacrilegious” art. It is liberal lawyers and judges who defend the rights of “communist sympathizers” and anti-war demonstrators, and keep the airwaves open for the likes of Angela Davis and Allen Ginsberg. Without that liberal commitment to the Bill of Rights, the voice of the Left could and would be silenced.

That is not to say that liberals won’t cut and run. If the accused is too politically unpopular or the cause too radical, liberals will hide behind the justification that these defendants or causes threaten national security, and they’ll allow the Bill of Rights to go. Sometimes they’ll cave in under threats by the Right to tar them with the brush of radicalism. In these cases, only progressives will stand up and fight for our guaranteed rights.

Nevertheless, right now we need liberal lawyers, judges, journalists, curators, abortion providers, legislators, teachers, unionists, affirmative action officers, and day care advocates. We need the breathing room and protection they provide for progressives. So each time one of them is won over by the Right’s prejudice, myth, irrational belief, inaccurate information, pseudo-science, and outright lies, or each time a liberal resigns from office or retires from the bench (to be replaced by a credentialed Rightist, of course), I worry a bit more. It doesn’t matter whether I particularly like, respect, or admire liberals. I care about them because they are endangered, and I care about what that means for me and for our society.

But is it a Relationship?

Liberalism will raise your hopes and ultimately break your heart. Does that mean that it commands no loyalty? Should it be trashed because it is spineless and flawed? My answer is an unequivocal “maybe.”

It won’t do to say that liberalism could be a useful framework for a late capitalist society if only it wouldn’t act so much like liberalism. It is what it is. Nevertheless, it can be more or less effective according to the principles to which it holds.

The principle of “maximum feasible participation” is an example of the boundaries of liberalism’s potential as an open, humane, and egalitarian ideology. Maximum feasible participation calls for the people who are the recipients of liberal programs to also design, control, and implement the programs. It moves “good works” a step further toward actual power sharing.

Maximum feasible participation was an idea that was barely tried, then abandoned by liberals as unworkable. It is at exactly this juncture that liberalism reveals its intrinsic limitations. There is a crucially important distinction between addressing grievances and inequities with humanitarian aid on one hand, and in solving them through redistributing power on the other. All those who are dispossessed, whatever race, class, or gender, will be given only relief by liberal programs. They will not obtain true justice.

But when true justice is not available—in this country, for lack of the ability of progressives to compete effectively in the struggle for power—humanitarian aid makes a difference. It is this difference that the Right is killing off, program by program. The Right knows that without liberalism’s programs, there is less chance for even the myth of social change, not to mention its reality, to thrive. If they can eliminate the swinging door, then it will be even easier to redistribute power upward. This is one of the reasons that right-wing strategists spend so much time demonizing liberals, especially feminists, environmentalists, gay and lesbian rights activists, and supporters of multiculturalism.

Liberalism has not proved able to stand up to the reactionary onslaught by the Right. Is that surprising? Should progressive people put time and energy into defending liberalism and its programs? Yes – we must. As a strategic response to the current assault by the Right on every democratic principle, it is an important place to put time and energy.

At the same time, it is crucial that progressives continue to work for a more radical vision of social justice and redistribution of power and wealth. Liberalism is in retreat in part because it is not receiving the sort of pressure from progressives that forced it to pursue reform aggressively in the 1970s. Progressives often set the agenda for liberals, by taking direct confrontational action against unjust laws and policies. It is progressives whose public education truly unmasks the structural and individual racism, repression, and other forms of injustice within the U.S. system.

At the moment, the progressive vision lacks the clarity and certainty of the 1930s or the 1960s. But there is an important distinction between our current muddled state, when clarity and unity are diminished, and the death of the vision altogether. We must not confuse the two. To say that the Left is struggling to find its way in a dramatically restructured political environment is accurate. But the fundamental principles around which the Left organizes its radical critique—liberty, equality and fraternity in the service of justice for those whose voices are not heard—are as alive and needed as ever.

Progressives must analyze how the Left became such a weak force. This promises to be a difficult process of self-criticism. Further, more and more people will have to come to the table to help to refine the progressive vision and correct its flaws and omissions. Meanwhile, liberal reforms have to be defended and pressure has to be applied to the few liberals still standing to keep them from waffling or quitting. This is not best done by disdaining or ignoring them.

Like it or not, progressives now must work with liberals, as well as with any other left-leaning sectors such as the Greens, to form a united front against the agenda of the Right. Pat Buchanan’s demonstrated ability to draw 30 percent of the vote in state after state in the recent presidential primaries is just one indicator of how important such a front is.

So, progressives, if you are angry and bitter over the loss of another liberal program killed off without even so much as a debate, don’t apologize. Don’t assume you have become soft on liberalism. This is a natural reaction – a product of this moment in history. And try not to dwell on those years past when there was more certainty, more idealism, and more hope; when working for real change was like moving downstream riding a current of historical inevitability. Now we are swimming against a tide that is thick with peril. The voice in the bubble of this cartoon is no longer saying “Follow that dream!” Now it is saying, “Time is running out. Focus. Get it together. Unite!”

Thanks to Rosario Morales, Dick Levins, Clarissa Atkinson, Denise Bergman, Pat Rathbone, Ruth Hubbard, and Francine Almash for their comments.

 

Right-Wing Pastors Defy Law, Endorse Candidates

The Religious Right’s Campaign to Deregulate Campaign Finance Law

Five years ago, the Corporate Right struck a major blow to the integrity of the American electoral system. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashed an unprecedented amount of money from private corporations into national, state, and municipal elections. Now, the Religious Right is seeking to make their own breakthrough—a free-flow of campaign dollars to public candidates through tax-exempt churches.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an event organized by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a right-wing Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Arizona. The event—which takes place annually during the lead up to Election Day—is part of the Right’s ongoing opposition to campaign finance laws that reduce the exorbitant influence of money in politics, and a significant threat to the maintenance of fair elections.

Beginning in 2008, ADF began recruiting pastors to defy the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations (including religious institutions claiming such status) from endorsing or opposing political candidates. ADF encourages pastors to protest these restrictions, assuring them that participating churches will be provided with free legal defense should the IRS threaten to revoke their tax-exempt status. Last year, over 1,500 pastors from across the country joined in.

The explicit goal of Pulpit Freedom Sunday is to have the 1954 Johnson Amendment declared unconstitutional.

Rev. Steven Baines of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, explains why this is problematic and risky for the maintenance of church/state separations: “Basically what you’re doing when you endorse a candidate from the pulpit is you’re flowing thousands of dollars of non-taxed money to political parties. … They are turning houses of worship into political action committees without risking that taxable income.”

It’s an effective strategy, and one that is gaining popularity. In a September 2014 report, Pew Research revealed that “a growing share of the American public wants religion to play a role in US politics … [and that] churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political issues.” According to Pew, between 2012 and 2014, the percentage of Americans subscribing to this view increased from 40 to 49 percent.

Building on the Christian persecution narrative, ADF argues that churches are “being silenced across America.” They warn that “pastors are being censored, the proclamation of God’s Truth is being blocked, and churches are being discriminated against and threatened with punishment. … [O]ur most fundamental freedoms—freedom to exercise religious beliefs, freedom of speech, and freedom of access—are being stripped away at an alarming rate.”

Participating in the annual event in 2012, Bishop Harry Jackson declared to his 3,000-member church in Beltsville, Maryland, “Today we violate our IRS regulations because we believe we need a free pulpit.” He then went on to outline the myriad reasons he would not be voting for Barack Obama on Election Day.

The IRS, however, has yet to take the bait. According to ADF, “[T]he IRS has not punished or censored any pastor or church who has participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”

Christian BewareBut not all churches have evaded prosecution. In 1995, the constitutionality of the Johnson Amendment was put to the test in the case of Branch Ministries Inc. versus Rossotti. During the 1992 presidential campaign season, the Church at Pierce Creek (essentially a subsidiary of Branch Ministries) took out an ad in a few national papers saying, “Christian Beware: Do not put the economy ahead of the Ten Commandments.” It asserted that Governor Clinton supported abortion on demand, homosexuality, and the distribution of condoms to teenagers in public schools. The advertisement stated, “Bill Clinton is promoting policies that are in rebellion to God’s laws,” and concluded with the question: “How then can we vote for Bill Clinton?”

In the fine print at the bottom of the ad it also said, “Tax deductible donations for this advertisement gladly accepted. Make donations to: The Church at Pierce Creek.” 

American United protested this blatant misuse of the church’s non-profit tax-exempt status, and in 1995 the IRS revoked their permit. The American Center for Law & Justice—a right-wing legal advocacy group—filed suit, but Judge Paul Friedman ultimately upheld the IRS’s ruling, rejecting the plaintiff church’s allegations that it was being selectively prosecuted because of its conservative views and that its First Amendment right to free speech was being infringed.

RELATED: See Political Research Associates’ full profile on the American Center for Law & Justice”

The court wrote: “The government has a compelling interest in maintaining the integrity of the tax system and in not subsidizing partisan political activity, and Section 501(c)(3) is the least restrictive means of accomplishing that purpose.”

But Christian conservatives maintain that their rights—rather than the integrity of the tax and electoral systems—are under attack, and in addition to goading the IRS with their Pulpit Freedom Sunday antics, they are attempting new strategies to eliminate the “threat” of the Johnson Amendment. In January 2015, Rep. Walter Jones (R, North Carolina) introduced legislation that aims to “restore the Free Speech and First Amendment rights of churches and exempt organizations by repealing the 1954 Johnson Amendment.”

When Jones introduced the same legislation in 2013, the editorial board of the LA Times responded with an op-ed astutely saying, “Far from needing to be repealed, the ban on politics in the pulpit ought to be enforced more aggressively.” Jones’ legislation, they argue, is misleading. “Churches may have a 1st Amendment right to endorse candidates, but there is no constitutional right to a tax exemption.”

Should ADF, Rep. Jones, and other proponents of the unrestricted use of untaxed money succeed, like with the Citizens United decision—which eliminated campaign spending restrictions for private corporations—repealing the Johnson Amendment would open the campaign funding floodgates. And once again, the tidal wave of new money into our public electoral system would be inscrutable by voters.

Among other things, churches would be free to function as illicit funnels for political giving. As Matthew Bulger of the American Humanist Association explains, “If a donor gives to a church, with an understanding that the donated funds will go to a specific political candidate, that original donor can receive a tax deduction for giving money to a church and keep his political donations anonymous. Meanwhile, if this donor gave money directly to the candidate those funds wouldn’t be tax-deductible, and the donor would be noted in public records as a supporter of that candidate.”

Restricting the political uses of tax-exempt money doesn’t persecute Christians—it helps preserve democracy.

**To learn more about the Religious Right’s efforts to deregulate campaign finance reform, check out the new report published this week by Common Cause—Unlimited and Undisclosed: The Religious Right’s Crusade to Deregulate Political Spending.

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