The Christian Right’s Growing Allegiance to Trump

Donald Trump speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

As Donald Trump exited the stage after addressing the 2016 Values Voter Summit (VVS) in Washington, DC a year ago, the Rolling Stone’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” blasted from the speakers. The audience gathered together for the Family Research Council’s annual conference offered both Trump and then-Governor Mike Pence standing ovations, even though Senator Ted Cruz had won the traditional VVS presidential straw poll each of the previous three years, with Ben Carson consistently coming in second. The thousands cheering in the hotel ballroom were early evidence that evangelicals (who make up the country’s biggest and most powerful religious voting bloc) were gradually coalescing behind Trump. Indeed, come Election Day they turned out in force: exit polls from the 2016 presidential election revealed that the Trump/Pence ticket managed to win over 81 percent of White, self-described evangelicals.

On Friday, the crowd will likely offer an even more enthusiastic reception to now-President Trump. Announcing the president’s confirmed attendance, Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins said, “Values voters have waited eight years for a leader who puts America’s mission first and respects the values that made America into a great nation. … Since the early days of the campaign, President Trump allied himself with values voters, promising to put an end to the 8 years of relentless assault on the First Amendment.”

Perkins emphasized some of the actions taken by the Trump administration that are perceived as major victories for the Christian Right, including Trump’s executive order on religious liberty, which LGBTQ advocates described as a “license to discriminate,” and last week’s directive from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that further codified the Right’s redefinition of religious freedom. For LGBTQ people, these actions effectively legalize discrimination, and further embolden the violence and persecution that has been on the rise ever since Trump’s election.

Perkins also praised the Trump administration’s attack on reproductive freedom last week. The new mandate from the Health & Human Services Department significantly increases the range of employers and insurers that can invoke “religious beliefs and moral convictions” to avoid the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that birth control pills and other contraceptives be covered at no cost to patients. According to the Obama Administration, which instituted this coverage, more than 55 million women relied on the provision.

Values Voter Summit is Family Research Council’s annual conference.

CNN has described the Values Voter Summit (VVS) “one of the conservative movement’s marquee annual events,” and Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity called it “the premier conservative event now in the country.” This year’s gathering will feature notable right wing celebrities such as Roy Moore, Steve Bannon, Michele Bachmann, and Everett Piper, and breakout sessions range in topic from “Radical Islamic Supremacy” to “Transgender Ideology.”

Trump’s return to the stage indicates the strength of the Christian Right’s allegiance to a man who stands in stark contrast to what most might assume “values voters” hold as fundamental characteristics of a “model Christian” — Trump is twice divorced, rarely attends church, and has bragged about sexually assaulting women. But his ascension and continued popularity within Christian Right circles reveals the true underpinnings of their agenda: misogyny and White supremacy.

As researcher and sociologist Alex DiBranco explained in the Winter 2017 edition of The Public Eye, “Abortion, contraception, and sexuality education all threaten the enforcement of traditional gender roles,” therefore threatening the dominance of White, male power and control. To appeal to a broader base, however, the Christian Right has adopted the framework of “protecting women” (the same language used to promote discriminatory anti-trans legislation.

Trump’s unfamiliarity with the Christian Right and its evolving tactics is especially evident in his clumsy navigation of abortion rights — one of the Christian Right’s traditional bread-and-butter issues. DiBranco writes,

Set on proving that his “pro-choice” days were behind him, during the 2016 campaign Trump denounced Planned Parenthood as an “abortion factory” and selected hardline reproductive and LGBTQ rights opponent Indiana governor Mike Pence as his running mate. In his eagerness, Trump unknowingly violated the Christian Right’s strategic deployment of a “kinder, gentler” image when he announced that women who obtained an illegal abortion should face “punishment.” Although Trump backpedaled to mollify anti-abortion groups that claim to protect women, his original statement was characteristic of the anti-woman vitriol of his campaign.”

Though VVS attendees may try to distance themselves from that sort of vitriol, and may even denounce groups that are more blatant in their racist and sexist values such as those aligned with the Alt Right, they have always had more in common with people like Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos than they’d care to admit.

The Christian Right has aligned themselves with Trump not because he shares in their commitment to restricting the rights of women and LGBTQ people; the Christian Right has pledged allegiance to Trump because they value the preservation of White, male, nativist dominance.

 

 

Attacking Trans People in Defense of “Austerity”

Family Research Council sent a strong anti-trans message via Twitter on July 20th, ahead of Trump’s tweet on Wednesday announcing a ban on trans service members.

On July 24, 2017, the Family Research Council (FRC), a right-wing political advocacy group based in Washington, DC, issued an Action Alert to its members, enlisting their support in denying healthcare to military personnel who are transgender. FRC argued that providing medically necessary treatment to trans people is “a distraction from the military’s purpose and undermines readiness, recruitment, and retention.” The appeal went on to suggest that trans-affirming care would be a waste of taxpayer money — money that could be better put to use purchasing more fighter jets and missiles.

Two days later, President Trump announced via Twitter that he was reversing a policy that’s been under review since June 2016 which would have allowed transgender individuals to openly serve in the military. Trump argued that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Though it’s entirely unclear how Trump’s new decree will be put into effect (a point highlighted by Republican Senator John McCain), according to his tweets, trans people will not be allowed to serve “in any capacity.”

Despite McCain’s observation that “major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter,” Trump’s preferred mode of communication has once again stolen headlines, distracting attention away from the Christian Right engineers of the surge in anti-trans attacks.

In June 2015, FRC laid out a five-point plan for “responding to the transgender movement,” which specifically argues against allowing trans people the right to serve in the military, in addition to withholding gender-affirming healthcare, access to gender transition procedures (often understood to be life-saving for transgender people), legal recognition, and protection from discrimination.This position paper was co-authored by Dale O’Leary, a Catholic writer based in Avon Park, Florida, and Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at FRC who has advocated for so-called “reparative therapy” and argues that transgender people suffer from “delusions.”

Ignoring trans-affirming positions from the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Society, O’Leary and Sprigg dredged up obscure and outdated scientific theories in an attempt to pathologize transgender people, and then outlined a strategy for advancing anti-trans public policy. As longtime transgender rights activist Brynn Tannehill explains, it’s a plan “to legislate transgender people out of existence by making the legal, medical, and social climate too hostile for anyone to transition [from one gender to another].”

In their 2015 “Washington Watch” newsletter, FRC had used a different strategy in voicing opposition to trans service members by stating trans people are “confused” about biology and not fit to serve due to “mental illness.”

Working in conjunction with Focus on the Family, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and other leading Christian Right organizations, FRC advances its anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion agenda through reports such as the one authored by O’Leary and Sprigg, as well as lobbying efforts, media work, and high-profile conferences, namely the annual Values Voter Summit. The 2016 Values Voter Summit featured appearances by both Trump and then-Governor Pence. It was the first time a Republican presidential ticket has ever spoken at the summit, and a foreshadowing of the degree of influence FRC would come to command under the new administration.

From the start of this administration, FRC has played a key role in shaping the new political landscape; Trump’s transition team included FRC senior fellow Ken Blackwell as domestic policy chair, and Kay Cole James, a former FRC vice president, was a co-lead on management and budget affairs for the transition team. The organization is now using its close proximity to the president and vice president to further advance its anti-trans agenda.

In a press release following Trump’s Twitter announcement, FRC’s president, Tony Perkins (who blames the high rate of suicide among LGBTQ people on the confusion caused when individuals who “recognize intuitively that their same-sex attractions are abnormal” are offered contradictory messages of affirmation from pro-LGBTQ advocates) applauded the president “for keeping his promise to return to military priorities – and not continue the social experimentation of the Obama era that has crippled our nation’s military.”

Perkins went on to say, “The last thing we should be doing is diverting billions of dollars from mission-critical training to something as controversial as gender reassignment surgery. … As our nation faces serious national security threats, our troops shouldn’t be forced to endure hours of transgender ‘sensitivity’ classes and politically-correct distractions like this one.”

Both Perkins’ and Trump’s language harkens back to one of the oldest tricks in the Right Wing’s playbook: Set up a dichotomy between the “deserving” and the “undeserving,” and drive a wedge between them. As PRA’s late founder Jean Hardisty explained in her 2015 essay, “My On-Again, Off-Again Romance with Liberalism,” the Right has a proven formula for undercutting efforts toward equity: “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.”

The Right’s new portrait of liberalism run amok is the “delusional” trans person, whose only real delusion is that employees deserve non-discrimination protections and healthcare coverage from their employer. Trump’s description of trans people as being a “burden,” and FRC’s suggestion that trans inclusion is a “distraction” is simply the newest chapter in the Right’s fear-inducing mythology of parasitic, undeserving “takers” in American society. This inhumane framing serves as justification for gatekeeping economic opportunities and civil rights for marginalized people and conceals how destructive so-called austerity can be.

Click here to learn more about the Christian Right’s agenda against transgender people.

The Christian Right’s Love Affair with Anti-Trans Feminists

Photo by Mr.TinDC via Flickr.

Photo by Mr.TinDC via Flickr.

 

Intersectionality /ˌintərˈsekSHənˈalitē/ noun the linking of different systems of power and oppression (e.g. racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, etc.), which can occur at different levels—individual, interpersonal, family, community, and institutional.

Since American professor Kimberlé Crenshaw first introduced the term in 1989, “intersectionality” has become 21st Century activism’s favorite buzzword. Nearly 30 years later, though, social justice organizers are still struggling to get it right; meanwhile, the Right is more than happy to exploit our yet-to-be-fully-realized aspirations, effectively taking advantage of internal conflicts and rifts to further advance an agenda that does deep, deep damage to all of us.

In this current political moment of heightened anti-trans targeting, when school boards and legislatures across the country are debating whether or not transgender people should be allowed access to public facilities, one wedge of particular note and intrigue is the Right’s assertion that the bathroom hysteria they’ve whipped up isn’t an anti-trans campaign, but rather a pro-woman one. As Joseph Backholm, executive director of the right-wing Family Policy Institute of Washington State, argues, the “transgender phenomenon” isn’t just an attack on women’s privacy, but a “war on womanhood” itself. And under the guise of feminism, they’re ready to go to battle, their patriarchal battle cry being, “Protect our girls!”

The Right is selectively highlighting and leveraging the scholarship of a fringe group of highly controversial academics collectively labeled “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists” (TERFs).

Although there’s a strong and growing presence of trans-feminist thought and activism, the Right is selectively highlighting and leveraging the scholarship of a fringe group of highly controversial academics collectively labeled “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists” (TERFs), a term coined in 2008 by cisgender women seeking to name a dangerous vein in the feminist movement and assert themselves as trans allies, distinct from their anti-trans counterparts.

Although most categorized as TERFs reject the label (as well as the term cisgender) and consider it to be insulting, they openly espouse their anti-trans notion that trans women “aren’t really women”—that real womanhood is exclusively determined on a natal, biological level. These arguments (key elements of what’s called “gender essentialism”) align themselves with and fuel the flames of right-wing transphobia. TERFs also maintain that trans men are simply women who are “traitors,” but like the Right, most of their venom is saved for trans women.

The current surge of anti-trans attacks cropping up in legislatures and school boards across the country has come as a shock to many LGB activists. Still basking in the glow of last year’s marriage equality victory, many failed to realize that the trickle-down justice strategy of mainstream gay rights organizations was inherently flawed. That 2015 was also a year in which more trans women were killed by acts of extreme violence in the U.S. than any year prior on record makes this painfully evident.

In response to laws like North Carolina’s HB 2 (described by Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, as “the most extreme anti-LGBT bill in the nation”), activists quickly mobilized resistance against some of the most obvious targets—people like Gov. Pat McCrory and other Republican leaders responsible for hastily forcing the law through the state’s legislature. Others attempted to pull back the curtain, calling out the role of national right-wing organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom, a massive and deep-pocketed network of conservative lawyers that has spent the last two decades manipulating and redefining religious freedom in order to advance their Christian Right agenda.

As noted above, however, the forces at play in this current anti-trans offensive are not exclusively right-wing operatives. TERF scholarship laid a cultural and intellectual foundation upon which the Right could build an argument that would appeal to both conservatives and certain sectors of the Left.

Comic strip by Barry Deutsch: leftycartoons.com.

Comic strip by Barry Deutsch: leftycartoons.com.

In June 2015, the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council (FRC) laid out a five-point plan for “responding to the transgender movement.” The right-wing group’s position paper was co-authored by Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at FRC, and Dale O’Leary, a Catholic writer based in Avon Park, Florida. Sprigg has argued that transgender people suffer from “delusions” and he is a proponent of so-called “reparative therapy.” O’Leary depicts transgender people as “liars” and suggests that “sexual liberationists” are “targeting children” in order to expose them to “molesters and exhibitionists masquerading as sex educators.”

Ignoring trans-affirming positions from the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Society, the two dredged up obscure and outdated scientific theories in an attempt to pathologize transgender people (thereby justifying their persecution), and then outlined a strategy for advancing anti-trans public policy. Specifically, FRC argues against providing trans people with access to gender-affirming healthcare, life-saving gender transition procedures, legal recognition, protection from discrimination, and the right to serve in the military.

But Sprigg and O’Leary didn’t come up with their anti-trans strategy all by themselves. Among the various sources upon which they drew in order to make their case against “transgenderism” was Janice Raymond, a lesbian scholar and infamous anti-trans activist.

Journalist Tina Vasquez documents that in 1980,

Raymond wrote a report for the Reagan administration called “Technology on the Social and Ethical Aspects of Transsexual Surgery,” which informed the official federal position on medical care for trans people. The paper’s conclusion reads, “The elimination of transsexualism is not best achieved by legislation prohibiting transsexual treatment and surgery, but rather by legislation that limits it and by other legislation that lessens the support given to sex-role stereotyping.”

Janice Raymond's 1979 book, The Transsexual Empire, has been considered extremely transphobic and even constituting hate-speech.

Janice Raymond’s 1979 book, The Transsexual Empire, has been considered extremely transphobic and even constituting hate-speech.

Another example of right-wing players building off of TERF scholarship features Dr. Paul McHugh, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. As a member of the American College of Pediatricians, a right-wing breakaway group that split from the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2002, McHugh co-authored a new position statement this past March that claims that respecting transgender children’s identities causes them harm and is akin to “child abuse.”

Among McHugh’s primary sources? Sheila Jeffreys, another lesbian scholar and anti-trans activist who, like Janice Raymond, is deemed a TERF by advocates for trans justice. Jeffreys recently retired after 24 years of teaching at the University of Melbourne but remains highly influential. She refers to gender-affirmation surgery (also known as gender-reassignment surgery) as a form of mutilation and describes the “practice of transgenderism” as harmful and a “human rights violation.”

While the Right lays siege to some of the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community (made especially vulnerable by historic and ongoing neglect and exclusion by the mainstream gay and lesbian movement), it’s TERFs who may actually be guilty of drafting their talking points, adding fuel to the fire of this dangerous anti-trans frenzy.

 

 

 

TDOR 2014 and the Right-Wing Roots of Anti-Trans Violence

Since 1999, Nov. 20th has been set aside as Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). TDOR provides space to remember and honor those who have been killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The annual event originated when trans activists and allies came together to mourn the loss of Rita Hester, a Black trans woman who was brutally murdered in Allston, Massachusetts on Nov. 28, 1998. Beyond a few transphobic mentions in the local media (the Boston Globe referred to Hester as “a man who sported long braids and preferred women’s clothes,” while the Boston Herald called her a “transvestite” and “a large man who lived as a woman”), her death garnered little attention, let alone outrage.

transgender day of remembrance PRA

While significant legal advances have been made for the LGBTQ community in the 15 years since Hester’s murder, trans people continue to experience horrific and disproportionate rates of violence. As the official TDOR website states:

“We live in times more sensitive than ever to hatred based violence, especially since the events of September 11th. Yet even now, the deaths of those based on anti-transgender hatred or prejudice are largely ignored. Over the last decade, more than one person per month has died due to transgender-based hate or prejudice, regardless of any other factors in their lives. This trend shows no sign of abating.”

Yet most media outlets, policymakers, and even the mainstream LG(BTQ) movement, have a long history—that continues to this day—of marginalizing the experiences, contributions, and needs of transgender people and people of color. The 1969 Stonewall Riots—often considered a pivotal moment in LGBTQ history—are frequently claimed by White, gay men as a triumph of their own doing, even though it was primarily trans women of color and homeless youth who led the charge. And whereas Rita Hester’s murder in 1998 was largely ignored, the murder of Matthew Shepard—a young, White, gay man—just two weeks later prompted nationwide vigils and helped lead to the eventual passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009. The legislation expanded the 1969 U.S. federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Indeed, disregard for the role of trans people and people of color has plagued the LGBTQ justice movement since its earliest days. Meanwhile, these are the members of our community who bear the brunt of the violence and oppression directed toward LGBTQ people.  In its annual report on hate-violence experienced by LGBTQ and HIV-affected persons in the United States, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) documented more than 2,000 incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence in 2013, and 18 hate-violence homicides. NCAVP’s findings also reflect the disproportionate impact of this violence: almost three-quarters (72%) of the documented homicide victims were trans women, and more than two-thirds (67%) were trans women of color.

TDOR interrupts this pattern of neglect, insisting that the LGBTQ movement—as well as our broader communities—acknowledge and mourn these lives.

Who Are The Architects of Anti-Trans Violence?

To a certain extent, talking about violence against trans people as a “hate crime” abstracts it from any social or political context, and suggests that these attacks are isolated incidents caused by rogue individuals. As Kay Whitlock has argued in a PRA discussion paper:

“While the hate frame may be powerful in terms of increasing awareness and mobilizing opposition to the threatening, violent actions of individuals and small groups directed against targeted communities, it also, paradoxically, obscures the relationship of such violence to its systemic underpinnings […] It’s so much easier to place the blame for violence directed against entire groups on criminal misfits, loners, and crackpots than to challenge the unspoken public consensus that permits broader cultures and structures of violence to exist.”

And so we must acknowledge—and then challenge—the architects responsible for manufacturing and perpetuating a cultural climate that justifies violence against trans and gender nonconforming people. 

Christian Right Church Leaders

Earlier this year, delegates at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in June signed a “Declaration on Transgender Identity.” With 16-plus million members, SBC is the world’s largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States (in terms of Christian organizations, only the Catholic Church manages to outnumber them). Consequently, SBC’s policy decisions carry tremendous influence.

Unfortunately, the declaration was far from affirming. It states that trans and intersex people are manifestations of “human fallenness” and “contrary to God’s design.” The resolution notes that SBC condemns “acts of abuse or bullying” (unlike many of the document’s other proclamations, the authors couldn’t seem to find any scriptural backing for this piece), but they are quick to note that SBC also opposes hormone therapy and gender affirmation surgery, as well as any legislative or cultural efforts to validate trans people as “morally praiseworthy.”

SBC’s policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), hosted a conference last month on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” At the event, ERLC president Russell Moore—who was recently invited by the Vatican to speak at a conference on the “Complementarity of Man and Woman”—took the opportunity to offer advice to pastors ministering to trans people during a live “Questions & Ethics” session, saying “The people who are coming to you—that biologically male person who says ‘I think I’m a woman,’ or vice versa—that person really experiences that and believes that. … You don’t have to agree with that at all, and I would say we can’t. The Bible teaches us that God created us male and female.”

Right-Wing Parachurch Organizations

Focus on the Family explicitly opposes “the celebration of ‘transgenderism’ as one of God’s gifts.”

On its website, FOTF explains its position: “Because ‘transgenderism’ violates God’s intentional design for sex and sexuality, we believe that this is a cultural and theological battle that we must engage and win. The modern ‘transgender’ movement is systematically working to dismantle the concept of gender as the Bible and the world have always known it to be. If the transgender lobby succeeds, there will be striking consequences for marriage, family and society at large.” Those who fail to follow FOTF’s guidance are told, “[T]he problems associated with transgenderism, like confusion and pain, stem from a lack of parental involvement and guidance.”

Right-Wing Think Tanks & Legal Lobbyists

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund), a right-wing legal ministry committed to “religious freedom,” has recently taken up the cause of isolating and shaming transgender students. Arguing against a Massachusetts school’s 2013 decision to allow transgender students to access facilities and recreation activities that aligned with their gender identity, ADF’s Jeremy Tedesco warned the policy created “an atmosphere that could result in sexual assaults committed by minors.”

In letters delivered last month to similarly progressive schools in Wisconsin and Rhode Island, ADF suggested that creating inclusive policies for transgender students would “seriously endanger students’ privacy and safety, undermine parental authority, violate religious students’ right of conscience, and severely impair an environment conducive to learning.”

The Family Research Council, a right-wing lobby group based in Washington, DC, similarly argues that gender identity protections would “purposefully threaten the public safety of women and children by creating the legitimized access that sexual predators tend to seek.”

Concerned Women for America has warned its members that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)—legislation that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity—could force “Christian businessmen” to allow transgender employees to wear male and female clothing alternately, and could “open bathroom doors for predators throughout the nation.”

As Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, put it, “These bills or policies are gifts to predators![emphasis his].

What’s Next?

Denny Burk, professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College and co-author of the SBC’s anti-trans declaration, has warned that the trans justice movement is “the next phase of the LGBT revolution.” In actuality, the mainstream gay rights movement is already demonstrating a preference for other, international priorities in the post-marriage equality era.

Rita Hester

Rita Hester

Nonetheless, with leaders on the Right conceding defeat on the marriage front, we can expect to see them turning their sights toward other battlefronts, particularly ones they perceive to be winnable.

While it may seem that the trans community is that vulnerable, “winnable” target, what the Right doesn’t recognize is that the power of the gay rights movement—a movement that most would say has beaten the Right—was fueled first by trans women of color. These women—who find themselves at the nexus of White supremacy and heteropatriarchy—were fighting long before Stonewall, and they’ll continue fighting long after Gay Inc. closes its doors. They are fierce and formidable, and, as the Right will soon learn, they are undefeatable.

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Christian Right Undermines Marriage Equality With Religious Supremacism

This article is a part of PRA fellow Fred Clarkson's ongoing column on religious liberty for LGBTQ Nation

This article is a part of PRA fellow Fred Clarkson’s ongoing column on religious liberty for LGBTQ Nation

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” That vision of history’s progression has been well illustrated by the past year’s landslide of advances for marriage equality.  And as we move closer to a more just society, the nature of the opposition is revealed in the nature of the backlash.

The Christian Right has been operating on multiple fronts to stop—or at least limit—the scope of the advance of marriage equality, including seeking to enable business owners, civil workers, and elected officials to openly discriminate against LGBTQ couples by co-opting the progressive principle of religious liberty.   The most dramatic example of this is in Mississippi, where recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act authorizes just such discrimination by businesses—and is being challenged in federal court.

As the case proceeds, we may hear more about one of the most remarkable marriage equality victories in the landslide of federal court victories this year. General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper.

The United Church of Christ, whose origins go back to Plymouth Rock, won a stunning victory for both marriage equality and religious liberty when they overturned North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage. The federal judge ruled (PDF) that the state could not criminalize the role of clergy in solemnizing the same-sex unions of members of their congregations. “It is clear,” U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn declared, “ … that North Carolina laws … threatening to penalize those who would solemnize such marriages, are unconstitutional.”

Judge Cogburn’s ruling underscores that religious liberty is only possible in the context of religious pluralism—in which all religious and non-religious points of view have equal standing under the law. It also helps to clarify that when Christian Right leaders talk about religious liberty—they often really mean theocratic religious supremacism.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, took to the airwaves after the filing of UCC’s suit to claim that the church is not really Christian, and that those who support gay rights don’t have the same rights as conservative Christians—because ‘true religious freedom’ only applies to ‘orthodox religious viewpoints.’”

FRC head Tony Perkins

FRC head Tony Perkins

Perkins’ blunt statements are a sobering reminder that theocratic factions of the U.S. Right have long sought to regain the religious and political hegemony they lost when the Constitution was ratified in the 18th century.  The arc of the moral universe is not bending their way, and demagogues like Perkins are abusing the idea of religious liberty to beat down people with whom they religiously and politically disagree.

Let’s take a moment, then, to hear what advocates for religious liberty and pluralism actually sound like.

“We didn’t bring this lawsuit to make others conform to our beliefs, but to vindicate the right of all faiths to freely exercise their religious practices,” said Donald C. Clark Jr., general counsel of the United Church of Christ.

“The historic wins for marriage equality and our willingness to seek justice through the courts,” said president Michael D. Castle of the Alliance of Baptists, “not only places us as a leading witness for justice, but also allows the Alliance of Baptists to offer a powerful and prophetic witness to a Christian faith where love always trumps fear, and where the welcome of Jesus always trumps hate and archaic religious dogma.

The Alliance of Baptists—progressives who fled the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention in the ‘80s— and the Central Conference of American Rabbis signed onto the UCC suit as co-plaintiffs, along with a number of individual clergy from a variety of religious traditions.

“Depriving rabbis of the freedom to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies in North Carolina,” Rabbi Steven Fox, Chief Executive of the Conference stated, “stigmatizes our religious beliefs and relegates many of our congregants and community members to second-class status.”

“There is no more central tenet to our faith,” added Fox and several other Reform rabbis in the wake of the Windsor decision of the Supreme Court last year, “than the notion that all human beings are created in the image of the Divine, and, as such, entitled to equal treatment and equal opportunity… Thanks to the Court’s decision, the federal government will now recognize these marriages as well, while still respecting the rights and views of those faith traditions that choose not to sanctify such marriages.

No one speaks for all of Christianity, let alone all people of faith. But there are certainly authentic spokespeople for religious liberty. Let’s not allow the Christian Right to drown them out or shout them down.

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Christian Right Doubles Down in the Face of Catholic Progress

Despite subsequent backtracking, the Catholic world is abuzz with news that the Synod of Bishops could be taking steps toward a dramatic overhaul in the church’s long-standing doctrine on LGBTQ people, as well as its view on divorced members.

The Roman Catholic Church’s Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops convened last week at the Vatican in Rome. From Oct. 5-19, over 250 participants, including scores of Catholic bishops and clergy, lay people, and some Protestant and Orthodox “fraternal” delegates are meeting to “thoroughly examine and analyze the information, testimonies and recommendations received from the particular Churches in order to respond to the new challenges of the family.”

Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops

Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops

Early this week—midway through the assembly—the Vatican released an interim document that is unusually conciliatory toward LGBTQ people and nonmarital unions, both of which have long been considered contrary to church doctrine. Though the text definitively states that “unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman,” NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli observes that the report as a whole “is a far cry from official church teachings that homosexuality is ‘intrinsically disordered.’”[1]

In the section of the report entitled, “Welcoming homosexual persons,” it’s acknowledged that “there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.” As Box Turtle Bulletin’s Jim Burroway points out, “The idea of gay couples offer[ing] anything ‘precious’ in their relationships has never appeared in an official church document before. And the phrase ‘intrinsically disordered,’ so reflexively deployed in the past, is nowhere to be found.”

Some have gone so far as to suggest this is a “revolutionary change.”

Conservative Catholics were quick to react, however, and the Vatican was forced to clarify that the report was a working document, and that while the Church certainly wants to welcome gays and lesbians in the church, the Vatican has no intention of creating “the impression of a positive evaluation” of LGBTQ people or, for that matter, of unmarried couples who live together. Regardless, at the end of the day Pope Francis will have the final word.

Conservative resistance to any potential shift in the Vatican’s approach to the reality of an ever-expanding understanding of what it means to be family began long before today. Preceding the gathering, a group of leading conservative Catholics and Protestants issued a joint appeal to the Synod, expressing their concern over what they perceive to be grave threats to church teachings on marriage and family. Among the signers is megachurch pastor Rick Warren; Alan Sears, president of Alliance Defending Freedom, a right-wing legal group behind the U.S. Right’s push to redefine the meaning of religious liberty in their favor; Mark Regnerus, sociology professor at University of Texas at Austin and author of deeply controversial and debunked report on same-sex parenting; Patrick Fagan, director the Family Research Council’s Marriage and Religion Research Institute; and countless other Christian Right leaders not only from the U.S. and Europe, but also from Australia and parts of South and Central America. Thomas Farr, former president of the right-wing think tank Institute on Religion & Democracy and current head of Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Project, was one of the letter’s key organizers.

The letter notes that “marriage and the family are indispensable, both as vehicles of salvation and as bulwarks of human society, and extols upon the Synod to seize this moment as an “opportunity to express timeless truths about marriage” that exemplify “true love, not ‘exclusion’ or ‘prejudice,’ or any of the other charges brought against marriage today.”

Among the many “threats” to marriage, family, and children, the appeal cites cohabitation, divorce, and pornography, urging the church to resist these dangerous trends and stand firm in its commitment to protecting and preserving the “natural family.” Though LGBTQ people are not named explicitly, the letter calls on the Synod to promote legal restrictions that limit marriage to “a conjugal union of one man and one woman.” Additionally, the church is encouraged to create a consortium of attorneys and legislators to support religious freedom in divorce courts, ensuring that judges not be allowed to “ignore or demean the views of a spouse who seeks to save a marriage, keep the children in a religious school, or prevent an abandoning spouse from exposing the children to an unmarried sexual partner.”

Cooperation between Catholics and evangelicals is not a new phenomenon. The 2009 Manhattan Declaration marked a significant departure from historic divisiveness, formalizing the alliance between Roman Catholics and right-wing evangelical Protestants and outlining priorities around three primary areas: abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious liberty. This newest document—notably signed by Robert P. George, creator of the Manhattan Declaration and co-founder of the anti-LGBTQ National Organization for Marriage and the  Witherspoon Institute—is yet another example of these strengthening ties.

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[1] The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church calls for “respect, compassion and sensitivity” toward LGBTQ people while also calling the “inclination” toward homosexuality “objectively disordered,” and a 1986 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called homosexuality a “more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.”

New App Furthers Christian Right’s Redefined Notion of Religious Freedom

The annual Christian Right political program— the Values Voters Summit which convenes on September 26 in Washington, DC— is often seen as a singular event. But like most such conventions, it is in many ways but a convergence of several traveling road shows. The Summit functions for the Christian Right as the kick-off of the home stretch of the 2014 election campaign season. And when the Summit is over, they will go back on the road through election day.

This year, the Family Research Council and other conveners of the Summit have been politically engaged in states where there are competitive races for major office such as governor and the U.S. Senate—while waging a large voter registration and mobilization campaign of their own.  They have also been updating their method of targeting churches for voter development, which used to be done largely by hand.

But now, there is an app for that.

Their strategic voter registration app allows pastors to compare their church membership lists with official voter registration files, so they can see who among their congregants they need to recruit into electoral life.

The behind the scenes communications agency United in Purpose has created or updated several online tools, including motivational and instructional videos aimed at pastors.  The California-based UiP is led by Bill Dallas, an ex-con and Tea Party activist, whose organization has made news in the last few election cycles by engaging in deep data mining, database building, and online tools for the ongoing short and long-term development of the Christian Right.  Their strategic voter registration app,

promoted by the UiP project Champion the Vote, allows pastors to compare their church membership lists with official voter registration files, so they can see who among their congregants they need to recruit into electoral life.

Their analysis is as simple as their goals are ambitious. United in Purpose claims that too few Christians of the right sort are registered, participating in public life, and sufficiently  grounded in a theocratic “Biblical worldview.”

Their effort to turn this around is called Project 75.  The stated mission is to “get pastors across the America to get 75% of their congregation educated in the Biblical worldview and voting accordingly on Election Day.  Of the 90 million Christians in the U.S., only 39 million of them vote in any given election or are even registered to vote. We believe that if Christian voters will make their voices heard on Election Day, we can bring about positive change in America.” 

To achieve their ends, UiP has developed a variety of voter education, registration and development tools with the aim of getting these “campaign materials” into “every ministry department, every Sunday School class, every small group within the church.”

UiP’s Champion the Vote claims that the reason all this is necessary is because, the government is “bent on taking power from the people” and that in order to accomplish this is to “eliminate, silence, or marginalize people of faith.”   They have a generic video  aimed at pastors everywhere, as well as ones created just for pastors in Arkansas and North Carolina.

Screenshot of United In Purpose's new online tools to help pastors find out if their church members are registered to vote.

Screenshot of United In Purpose’s new online tools to help pastors find out if their church members are registered to vote.

Not By Apps Alone

The plan to up conservative Christian voter participation in 2014 has been going on all year. For example, in March United in Purpose convened a national conservative “Voter Mobilization Strategy Summit” in Dallas. The event, UiP explained, “will bring together leaders of conservative organizations from around the country to brainstorm and strategize on how to get out the vote for the 2014 midterm elections.”

The event featured evangelical pollster George Barna, Christian historical revisionist David Barton of Texas-based WallBuilders, Rick Scarborough of Texas-based political organization Vision America, California megachurch pastor (and an organizer of the anti-marriage equality initiative, Prop 8), and right-wing demagogue Glenn Beck.

Vision America has been closely collaborating with Watchmen on the Wall, a “ministry” of  the Family Research Council, to host all expenses-paid “special briefings” for pastors, to “address the biblical, historical, legal and practical involvement of Christians in civil government for the purpose of spiritual renewal.”  They have organized a number of such events since Labor Day, including pastor-focused events in in Arkansas and Florida.  Speakers in Florida include, Rick Scarborough; Fox News host and former Arkansas  Gov. Mike Huckabee, John Stemberger, President of Florida Family Policy Council  (which is the state political affiliate of FRC and Focus on the Family) and Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin, Craig James,  Kenyn Cureton, and Randy Wilson – all of the Family Research Council.   (All but Stemberger are also speaking at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, DC.)  These organizational partners are planning similar events in Kansas, Iowa and Alaska in October.

Tom Minnery, longtime head of Citizen Link, the national political arm of Focus on the Family recently sent out a fund raising email in an effort to get the final $200,000 of their goal of $2.8 million to “rally” a million voters to the polls. He also claimed to already have “35 trained field directors are recruiting an army of volunteers to make phone calls and knock on doors” in eight states with “key Senate races.”

Of course it is a political year, and organizations always have big goals, whether or not they are able to meet them.  But whatever their numerical goals, they are very clear that the purpose of their “massive election year effort” is in order to take advantage of what they call “an unusual opportunity to shift the balance of power in the Senate” (meaning towards the Republican Party) in the name of the three part agenda of the Manhattan Declaration, “life, marriage, and religious freedom.”

But to look at the conference agenda of the Values Voter Summit itself, religious freedom is first among the three equal agenda items this election year.  For its part, one of the organizational sponsors, the American Family Association’s action arm, goes so far as to say that the purpose of their voter guides and related activities is “to restore religious freedom.”  And they have the United in Purpose voter registration apps for your smart phone too.

The Air War 

The online and church-based political ground game is also enhanced this fall by two national broadcast air strikes in the Fall campaign.  On September 14th, the same groups sponsoring the Values Voter Summit, (the above mentioned plus Concerned Women for America) sponsored a 90 minute national web cast, called Star Spangled Sunday in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner. (Almost all of the speakers are also featured at VVS) It was broadcast from a large church in North Carolina, whose pastor, Rev. Mark Harris, had recently lost the GOP primary for U.S. Senate.  The event received considerable local press coverage. The Charlotte Observer reported that the event was headlined by two possible GOP candidates for president, Huckabee and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

“On Sunday night, each delivered a speech that sounded more like a sermon, quoting Scripture and asserting God’s role in America’s survival, through war, Depression and a power-hungry federal government.

“There is no explanation for America other than God’s hand of providence,” said Huckabee, who got cheers and a standing ovation. During the American Revolution, “it was a bunch of farmers and merchants and preachers who took the muskets off their mantels” and defeated what was then the most powerful military in the world.

Huckabee also called on the spirit of the War of 1812 to fire up the audience about America’s current conflict with the radical Muslims of ISIS.

For those who fear that these “sons of Ishmael” – Islamist militants – will prevail in the Middle East, Huckabee said, “I have read the end of the (Bible) and I can tell you that … our flag still stands.””

Star Spangled Sunday was used to promoted and broadcast a United in Purpose video called 1,2,3 Vote, which explains why and how pastors should encourage their congregants to vote.

A similar event called I Pledge Sunday will be broadcast on October 12th to rally conservative Christians in an appeal to political majoritarianism in the home stretch.  “With more than 75% of Americans calling themselves Christians it’s time for the Church to rise up and take action to turn the tide in our nation!  We have the numbers and we have a voice.  If we are silent, we have no one to blame but ourselves for a Godless America.”

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Michigan Seeks to Become Third State to Protect Youth From Ex-Gay Therapy

Conversion or “ex-gay” therapy continues to come under fire, this time in Michigan where Representative Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) has introduced House Bill (HB) 5703to ban “sexual orientation change efforts” for minors. While conversion therapy is not a widespread practice across the state, supporters of HB 5703 indicate that state-sanctioned exposure of even a single child to this type of therapy cannot be accepted. Introduced on July 16, 2014, the bill was referred to the Committee on Health Policy where it awaits action.

A billboard outside of Atlanta advertises the discredited practice of conversion therapy

A billboard outside of Atlanta, paid for by the now defunct Exodus International, advertises the discredited practice of conversion therapy.

If HB 5703 advances in Michigan, the state would join California and New Jersey in banning conversion therapy for minors. Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, for minors is a thoroughly discredited practice that has no proven effect on changing sexual orientation, but a long-documented history of negative psychological effects on individuals. A 2009 report by the American Psychological Association (APA) detailed the mental health problems this therapy can cause, including depressive, anxious, and suicidal symptoms. Survivors of ex-gay therapy, such as 29-year-old Michigan native Patrick McAlvey (who began conversion therapy at age 11), have spoken out about the detrimental influence of this childhood trauma on their lives and healthy sexuality.

Both California’s and New Jersey’s laws survived lawsuits from ex-gay therapy proponents such as the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), who argue that the law prohibits them from respecting clients’ wishes. New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie initially expressed qualms about signing his state’s bill, but determined that regardless of parental preferences, children should be protected from a therapy with severe negative psychological consequences and no evidence of benefits or effectiveness. California state senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), lead sponsor of the state’s anti-conversion therapy bill, bluntly called the practice “psychological child abuse.”

Since the 1970s, the mental health community has come a long way in its understanding of sexual orientation.  (Until 1973, the APA classified homosexuality as a psychological disorder.)  As PRA’s research on the ex-gay movement has documented, the pseudoscientific ex-gay movement, which presents itself as having a more “compassionate” anti-gay stance, has suffered severe setbacks in recent years. The most well known national ex-gay advocacy organization, Exodus International, closed its doors—and apologized to those it has harmed—in June of 2013.

Other organizations, however, have hastened to fill the gap left by Exodus International’s disbanding, including the Christian Right think tank, the Family Research Council (FRC), and the Exodus breakaway Restored Hope Network. Some conservative state politicians have also continued to endorse reparative therapy. In June 2014, for example, the Texas Republican Party adopted an anti-LGBTQ party platform that “recognize[s] the legitimacy and value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle.” Last year in Maryland, it was discovered that a middle school was screening the film Acception as part of their health curriculum, which actively promotes ex-gay therapy. Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) continue to appear on school grounds, disseminating harmful misinformation about same-sex attraction to vulnerable teens.

Moreover, prominent evangelical Christians continue to peddle programs based on conversion therapy as effective and compassionate mental health care.  As PRA’s LGBTQ and gender justice researcher, Cole Parke, discussed in a recent post, megachurch pastor Rick Warren has recently sought to increase awareness of mental health issues within the evangelical community and hosted a daylong event in March to “encourage individuals living with mental illness, educate family members, and equip church leaders to provide effective and compassionate care to any faced with the challenges of mental illness.”  Yet part of his mental health initiative includes promotion of Saddleback’s Celebrate Recovery program, which, among other things, offers “support” for people who have “same-sex attraction.” What this means, ultimately, is to “face the root causes of our same-sex attraction,” and “acknowledge God’s design and desire for our sexuality.”

The principles and practices of conversion therapy continue to have a tenacious foothold around the country. Celebrate Recovery’s endorsement of harmful and highly dangerous reparative therapy models, and the ongoing activities of PFOX and other groups, demonstrates that despite recent setbacks for ex-gay groups, constant vigilance by LGBTQ advocates and legislation like that introduced in Michigan remain necessary.

**A version of this article originally appeared on the SIECUS website.

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FRC’s Anti-Choice Conference: How the Right Co-Opts Feminism and Racial Justice

Family Research Council (FRC)

Click here for our full profile on Family Research Council (FRC)

Last week marked the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the 40th anniversary of March for Life.  On January 21, antichoice activists gathered at the Family Research Council headquarters in D.C. for ProLifeCon, which focused on developing tactics for disseminating antichoice messages through social media and the internet. The conference marked another episode in the Right’s ongoing campaign attacking women’s bodily autonomy and access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare. As PRA detailed in its Summer 2013 issue of The Public Eye, these efforts have relied heavily on rhetorical maneuvering seeking to reframe abortion as a women’s health issue and antichoice stances as authentic feminism.

Political Research Associates was watching and listening to the conference. Among the extensive list of speakers, three, in particular, help shed light on the ways in which antichoice activists co-opt the language of feminism, women’s rights, and racial justice to undermine access to abortion and comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Here is what they had to say: 

Bethany Goodman

 

Bethany Goodman

Bethany Goodman

First to take the stage was Bethany Goodman, Assistant Director of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, which coordinated the demonstration held on the National Mall later that day. Goodman’s remarks focused on the importance of using social media campaigns to increase support among millennials and to expand the Right’s base of support. Goodman, previously Assistant Director of March for Life’s digital strategy, discussed the organization’s social media theme, “Why We March,” and encouraged viewers to access March for Life content on Twitter, Facebook, and an iPhone application. All of this content was designed to draw attention to “the women who are harmed by abortion.” Later, Goodman claimed, “We want a culture of life … where we embrace women in a loving way.” Goodman’s remarks are reflective of a shift in antichoice rhetoric, away from moralizing arguments about abortion toward a strategy of framing antichoice arguments as having a woman’s best interest at heart—as even being “feminist.” Speaking eagerly about the “youthful pro-life generation.” Goodman concluded her speech by stating, “The theme of this march is adoption,” arguing that adoption should replace abortion.

Ryan Bomberger

Ryan Bomberger

Ryan Bomberger

The adoption theme was echoed by Ryan Bomberger, a cofounder and chief creative officer at the Radiance Foundation.  This antichoice, multimedia organization gained notoriety for its “Too Many Aborted” web and billboard campaign, which used inflammatory slogans such as “The thirteenth amendment freed us, abortion enslaves us.”  Under the pretense of advancing racial justice, Bomberger claimed that the billboards illuminated “the disproportionate impact of abortion in the Black community,” and that the billboards were simultaneously a “campaign promoting adoption.”  He continued by stating that adoption was “one of the only two life-affirming alternatives to abortion,” and that we currently live in a “culture of death.”  In an attempt to discredit a major provider of comprehensive reproductive healthcare, Bomberger described Planned Parenthood as “abortion-minded, abortion-centered” and claimed that it “continues to demonize adoption” through convincing pregnant women to seek abortions rather than choose adoption.  Yet Bomberger went further, accusing Planned Parenthood of supporting a “eugenics sort of mindset.”  Finally, like many of his fellow speakers, Bomberger also sought to recast antichoice as pro-woman.  Near the end of his speech, Bomberger reminded the audience, “You cannot ever forget the woman in this equation.”

Click here to see our full profile on Bomberger.

Jane Fuller

Jane Fuller

Jane Fuller

Jane Fuller, the executive director of Assist Pregnancy Center of Virginia, began her speech by discussing her choice to first drop the word “crisis” from the name of her organization and later to change the name of the organization to “Metro Women’s Care.” (Crisis pregnancy centers have been widely documented as presenting conservative, antichoice ideologies as “health care,” “supportive counseling.”) Fuller went on to contrast her clients’ descriptions of abortion clinics as “cold,” “dirty,” and as employing “indifferent staff” with her center, which she claims is “geared towards the age group we are trying to reach,” namely young people.

Fuller then praised a new Virginia law,  which requires women to receive an ultrasound and wait 24 hours before having an abortion, and discussed how this law has led to an increase in the number of women at her pregnancy center.  Virginia’s ultrasound law is part of a larger, coordinated strategy to pass incremental restrictions on abortion—primarily at the state level—in order to chip away at women’s reproductive freedom and ultimately to overturn Roe.  Like Bomberger, Fuller also accused Planned Parenthood of exploiting women, stating, “Anyone who can take infanticide and promote it as quality healthcare knows how to manipulate.”  She called on activists to shift their focus from the unborn baby to the pregnant mother and to “focus on her and her needs.” Fuller’s rhetorical maneuvering mirrored that of Goodman and Bomberger.

All three speakers seek to co-opt the language of women’s rights in order to reframe antichoice policies as authentic feminism and, in the case of Ryan Bomberger, racial justice. Even though the antichoice movement’s strategies may be retooling for the 21st century, with social media integration and prayer smartphone applications, many of their messages are thinly veiled forms of arguments that have circulated for 41 years since the Roe v. Wade decision—arguments now veiled beneath the disguise of women’s rights and racial justice.

**Owen Jennings contributed to this article

EXPOSED: How the Right’s State-Based Think Tanks Are Transforming U.S. Politics



Two networks of conservative, state-level think tanks have matured rapidly over the past three decades. By crafting public policy, collaborating with Republican state legislators, and fostering new leadership for the Right, they have significantly shaped recent U.S. politics. And their work has only just begun.

***

 

Via the 2013 SPN Annual Meeting promo video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbyBqRKDLvc

Screencap of 2013 SPN Annual Meeting promo video, via Corey Burres

The Democratic Party’s wins in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, and its modest successes in recent Congressional elections, have obscured a series of setbacks for the party in the states. As National Journal put it, the GOP “wiped the floor with Democrats” in the 2010 midterm elections, setting a record in the modern era by picking up 680 seats in state legislatures. The next-largest harvest of legislative seats was the Democrats’ 628-seat gain in the Watergate-dominated election of 1974.[1]The 2010 landslide gave the GOP the upper hand in the subsequent Congressional redistricting process, allowing Republicans to tilt the playing field in their favor and shape U.S. elections for years to come. In the meantime, conservatives have used friendly, GOP-dominated state legislatures to ram their agenda through legislatures—in “red” states and even some states that lean “blue”—on a range of issues: imposing harsh voter restrictions in North Carolina, for example, and passing dramatic anti-labor legislation in Michigan.

The roots of this debacle go far deeper than one or two election cycles and cannot be explained by the normal ebb and flow in electoral fortunes of the two major parties. The seeds were actually sown in the late 1980s, when strategists in the conservative movement came to an important realization. If they were successful in their efforts to devolve much of federal policy-making authority to the states—a key goal of the “Reagan revolution”—they would need relevant resources to elaborate their vision, and the organizational capacity to implement it. The two networks of state-based think tanks that emerged from that realization amount to one of the great under-reported stories in modern American politics. We are just now seeing the implications of the networks’ work, and of the conservative strategists’ vision.

Though several Washington, D.C.-based think tanks were profoundly important in President Ronald Reagan’s administration, few state-level groups existed at the time. Reagan encouraged the creation of think tanks in state capitals, and two related networks of policy shops and advocacy groups emerged from this idea.[2] Both have become part of the deep infrastructure of the conservative movement, and they play a critical role in taking the movement’s agenda to the states, where a fierce battle over the role, size, and scope of government is playing out.

The State Policy Network (SPN) comprises think tanks that are modeled after the Heritage Foundation, in that they conduct research and make policy recommendations to government agencies and legislative bodies. SPN currently comprises 63 member organizations—at least one in each state. SPN members vigorously promote a “free market,” anti-labor agenda, and they are joined in this mission by dozens of conservative and libertarian groups with which they liaise, including national institutions like the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Alliance for School Choice, Americans United for Life, and the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights.[3]

The second network comprises organizations that are modeled on the Family Research Council (FRC), one of the foundational organizations of the Christian Right that was, for several years, the public policy arm of Focus on the Family (FOF). These think tanks are called Family Policy Councils (FPCs), and they take policy research and political advocacy to state capitals the way the FRC does in Washington, D.C.[4] They focus primarily on reproductive rights, traditional “family values” (especially marriage), and, increasingly, religious liberty. This is in keeping with the agenda of the 2009 Christian Right manifesto, the Manhattan Declaration.[5]

Though the individual institutions tend to command our attention, the influence of the networks is much greater than the sum of their parts. Comprising part of the core infrastructure of the conservative movement, they create synergies by sharing information, resources, and best practices. These synergies allow even the smallest members to rely on the same research as the networks’ largest and best-endowed institutions. Crucially, they also equip the Right with a common set of talking points and understandings, even as the individual institutions maintain the flexibility to tailor their strategies to state-level circumstances.

“The states are our first and final frontiers of liberty,” an SPN video declares. “Just as the pioneers journeyed to the wild west to discover new frontiers and stake their claim for a new life, we must stake a claim for freedom for us and the generations yet to come. Moving the locus of power from DC to the 50 freedom frontiers requires fortitude, bold strategies and a network of equipped trailblazers.”[6]

Division of Labor

In a speech at the Heritage Foundation in 1989, Republican political operative Don Eberly outlined
how the networks would operate, explaining that there would be a business-oriented group (the Commonwealth Foundation) and a Christian Right group (the Pennsylvania Family Institute). “We have organized a leadership team,” he said, “that is implementing . . . the Pennsylvania Plan.” He explained that the Commonwealth Foundation, of which he was founding president, would function as the state-based equivalent of the Heritage Foundation, while the Pennsylvania Family Institute, where his wife Sheryl was on the board, would be the equivalent of the Family Research Council.

“We now have both economic and social issues coalitions on the state level that meet regularly and are developing agendas,” Eberly continued. “This September [1989], we had our first statewide conservative conference for local leaders and activists, patterned after [the Conservative Political Action Conference] in Washington. The conference, which will become an annual event, attracted 320 people from all across the state and sent shock waves throughout the political establishment.”[7] The conference is still staged annually and it has served as a model for similar conferences held elsewhere—for example, in North Carolina.[8]

The Pennsylvania Plan was a model for two incipient national networks of think tanks—one wing focusing on economic issues, the other primarily on social and cultural concerns—that would share a common free-market ideology and sometimes a common agenda. Initially, both Pennsylvania groups were substantially underwritten by right-wing philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife and other “strategic funders” of the Right, as journalists called them at the time.

The State Policy Network was formed in 1992 to coordinate the activities of the business wing, and it was underwritten by South Carolina businessman Thomas Roe. A small predecessor—the Madison Group, which included Roe’s South Carolina Policy Council, Scaife’s Commonwealth Foundation, and the Independence Institute, underwritten by the Adolph Coors Foundation and other Coors interests—became the core of the SPN. Roe, Scaife, and Joseph Coors—the Colorado beer magnate who led his family into political prominence—were all major funders and board members of the Heritage Foundation at the time.[9]

In recent years, members and associates of the State Policy Network have been the recipients of massive infusions of cash that have come largely from secretive, donor-advised funds serving as financial funnels for individuals, corporations, and foundations. According to the Center for Public Integrity, Donors Trust and the related Donors Capital Fund have quietly funneled nearly $400 million from about 200 private donors (including the ubiquitous Koch brothers) to free-market causes since 1999. The Center also reported, in 2013, that Donors Trust had given $10 million to the SPN over the course of the previous five years, and that in 2012 “SPN used the money to incubate think tanks in Arkansas, Rhode Island, and Florida, where it hosted its yearly gathering in November.”[10]

An investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) in November 2013 unearthed an internal list of SPN’s major funders for 2010. It included Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, as well as such major corporations as BMO Harris Bank, Microsoft, Facebook, and the tobacco companies Altria (formerly Phillip Morris) and Reynolds American.[11]

SPN spends about $5 million annually to support existing groups and help start-ups develop the management and leadership skills of their staff and board; recruit and mentor staff; teach strategic marketing and branding; and network with other think tanks to leverage knowledge and resources. Thomas Roe, SPN’s late founding chairman, wanted it that way. “We still do it today,” said Lawrence Reed, president emeritus of the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “It keeps us knowledgeable about what everyone else is doing, it keeps us talking, and it stops us from reinventing the wheel over and over again.”[12]

SPN member organizations have used this strategic capacity in the fight for a range of major initiatives, notably anti-labor legislation.[13] According to a 2011 report in Mother Jones, SPN’s affiliates have led the charge at the state level in the Republican Party’s “war on organized labor. They’re pushing bills to curb, if not eliminate, collective bargaining for public workers; make it harder for unions to collect member dues; and, in some states, allow workers to opt out of joining unions entirely but still enjoy union-won benefits. All told, it’s one of the largest assaults on American unions in recent history.”[14]

In Michigan, for example, the Mackinac Center made four policy recommendations to give unelected ‘emergency managers’ more power to terminate union contracts and fire municipal elected officials “in the name of repairing broken budgets,” Mother Jones reported. “All four ended up in Governor Rick Snyder’s ‘financial martial law,’ as one GOP lawmaker described it.”[15] A writer for Forbes called it “one of the most sweeping, anti-democratic pieces of legislation in the country,” investing Snyder with the power “not only to break up unions, but to dissolve entire local governments and place appointed “Emergency Managers” in their stead [emphasis in original].”[16] The legislation became law in March 2011.

Some SPN institutions are small but exert disproportionate influence by keeping a high media profile. Other institutions, like the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) and the Mackinac Center, have multimillion dollar budgets and large staffs, and they play an outsized role in state politics by partnering with other institutions, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Since 1975, ALEC has developed model, business-oriented legislation in cooperation with a national network of state legislators and began a more formal and coordinated relationship with SPN and member organizations beginning in the mid-2000s. A study by the Center for Media and Democracy found that two dozen SPN groups, including the SPN itself, are organizational members of ALEC and serve on one or more of its legislative task forces. CMD identified several areas of ALEC’s policy foci in which SPN members play a role: privatizing public education and public pension systems; rolling back environmental initiatives; disenfranchising people of color, the elderly, and students; and attacking workers’ rights.[17]

Several SPN members have shepherded bills through the process of becoming official ALEC “model” bills. For example, Arizona’s Goldwater Institute and the Mackinac Center were responsible for ALEC adopting five model bills targeting public-sector unions.[18]

According to an investigation by the Institute for Southern Studies, the Civitas Institute and the John Locke Foundation—SPN member organizations in North Carolina—published more than 50 articles, op-eds and blog posts fomenting unfounded fears of voter fraud. These helped catalyze passage of a strict photo ID law, an end to same-day registration, and a shorter early voting period in 2013.[19] The legislation will likely suppress turnout among African Americans and young people. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit to block enforcement of key provisions of the law.[20]

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in many ways personifies how SPN provides infrastructure, develops personnel, and hatches ideas for the conservative movement. Prior to his election to the Senate in 2012, he served as a senior fellow with TPPF’s new Center for 10th Amendment Studies. In 2010, he co-authored a report that became the basis of ALEC’s model legislation to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).[21]

The SPN’s recent mixing of Tea Party activism (largely funded by the Koch brothers) with more buttoned-down business conservatism is not without its challenges. An SPN “ToolKit” featured on its web site in 2013, for example, urged members to avoid language that smacks of “extreme views,” advising: “Stay away from words like radical, nullify, or autonomy,” and especially “states’ rights.”[22]

Origins of a faux news network

The State Policy Network has now been developing and deepening its capacity—not only to do research and policy work, but also to absorb and integrate new projects—for more than two decades. At the same time, it has faced new challenges and taken advantage of new opportunities in an era of digital activism and new media.

SPN’s adaptability in the new era is illustrated by its development of a news network. Three dozen SPN affiliates now field their own “investigative reporters” on behalf of a recently created member, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which describes its mission as “exposing government waste, fraud and abuse.”[23] It seeks to fill a void created by the loss of a third of the nation’s journalism jobs since 1992. The Center was created by the now-defunct Sam Adams Alliance, which began as a Tea Party organization and was folded into SPN.

SPN’s state news websites collectively produce Watchdog Wire, which publishes work by “citizen journalists.” As the website describes the project, “by covering stories in your local community that are otherwise ignored by the establishment media, you can make a difference!”[24] The Franklin Center claims that it “already provides 10 percent of all daily reporting from state capitals nationwide.”[25] The basis for the claim is unclear, but whatever its truth, it does speak to the Center’s ambitions.

The Sam Adams Alliance also separately created three websites modeled on Wikipedia: Judgepedia, Ballotpedia, and Sunshine Review. They offer right-wing analysis of (respectively) the judiciary, election issues, and governmental performance. These projects have since been folded into the Lucy Burns Institute, an SPN member based in Madison, WI.  Like many SPN organizations, it has extensive ties to the Tea Party and funding from the Koch brothers.[26]

The Franklin Center and the Lucy Burns Institute are part of a surge of recent development in SPN’s infrastructure that has expanded its capacity to influence both media and public policy, as well as the range of ways by which it carries out its mission. Donors Trust has funneled cash to both the Franklin Center and to many SPN affiliates for their “news” operations. Its $6.3 million donation to the Franklin Center constituted 95 percent of the Center’s revenue in 2011.[27]

This network has had some success. While some affiliates do little more than blog off of Associated Press stories, others feature established conservative journalists. In Oklahoma, the former editorial page editor of the Oklahoman newspaper, Patrick B. McGuigan, serves as the local bureau chief, and he has a weekly segment on the CBS affiliate in Oklahoma City, called Capitol Report. [28] And stories in the Pennsylvania Independent, a Franklin Center online publication supported by the Commonwealth Foundation, have been picked up by mainstream outlets, including the Philadelphia Inquirer.

To date, though, the network has shown little capacity to stand on its own and depends almost entirely on funding through Donors Trust. As of August 2013, the Pennsylvania Independent had only one ad—for the Commonwealth Foundation’s own campaign to privatize state-owned liquor stores.[29]

Building for the future

While the State Policy Network has mostly limited itself to the role of influencing public policy through the traditional work of think tanks—research, media work, and lobbying—the Family Policy Councils are more explicitly involved in mobilizing the Right’s grassroots base to become active in electoral politics.

There are 36 state FPCs, which typically have the word “family” in their names, such as the Massachusetts Family Institute, Louisiana Family Forum, and the Family Foundation of Virginia. Others are less obvious, bearing such names as the Center for Arizona Policy and the Christian Civic League of Maine, but they are all outgrowths of the original Reagan era plan to take the Christian Right’s agenda to the states.

A change in the federal tax law in 2004 required 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations to be less political than they had been, necessitating separately incorporated political action arms. As a result, FOF formed Focus on the Family Action, which later changed its name to CitizenLink for the sake of clarity.[30]

While the Family Research Council and its feisty spokesmen, Tony Perkins and Jerry Boykin, disproportionately make headlines, CitizenLink quietly cultivates the grassroots. Spending about $13 million annually (as of 2012), CitizenLink coordinates the work of the FPCs, ensuring accreditation and compliance and providing services to increase the capacity of the institutions to carry out their mission.[31] It also does candidate trainings and works primarily for Republicans in national elections. CitizenLink reportedly spent $2.6 million on independent expenditures in 2012, mostly on behalf of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.”[32]

The network has played an important role in the political development and subsequent raw political power of the Christian Right. Many of the older FPCs have been active for more than two decades, crafting an activist religious-political culture, affecting electoral outcomes, and ultimately developing the clout to influence legislation and policy outcomes on such matters as abortion and LGBTQ rights.

Indeed, FPCs have often been leading actors in the state-level battles over marriage equality. The Christian Civic League of Maine played a central role in the seesaw battle over same-sex marriage, which was endorsed by the legislature and repealed by the voters in 2009, then restored by a second referendum in 2012. The League’s executive director and one of its board members[33] launched a new political action committee, Protect Marriage Maine, to carry out the political organizing and advertising drive against the ballot initiative, collaborating closely with the National Organization for Marriage.[34] Such collaborations have been a hallmark of the FPCs from the earliest days.

An important trend in recent years, indicating the significance of the role of the FPCs in the wider Christian Right, has been the gradual adoption of the integrated, three-part agenda of the Manhattan Declaration. This is evident in many ways, including the way that “guest posts” from FPC leaders are introduced on the national web site. For example: “CitizenLink is proud to work with The Family Foundation of Virginia and other family policy organizations across the country to stand for marriage, life and religious freedom.”[35]

“These councils are independent entities,” according to CitizenLink, “with no corporate or financial relationship to each other or to Focus on the Family.”[36] But if FOF and CitizenLink are legally separate entities with different tax statuses, they are best viewed as two parts of the same organization. They share the same offices, board of directors, top executives, and president, James Daly.[37]

There is a method to the disclaimers, though, because stretching the rules regarding federal tax-exempt status of the member agencies has been an issue over the years. Many of these groups engaged in lobbying and electoral activities—such as the dissemination of biased voter guides—beyond what the privilege of federal tax exemption allows. Quietly coming into compliance with the law, and becoming more sophisticated regarding how best to use the several relevant legal categories available for politics and public policy, has been a trend for both state networks, following the lead of The Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council.

The creation of separate-but-related groups that can legally carry out various political, lobbying, and electoral functions is an important development in the history of these groups at all levels. For example, the Family Institute of Connecticut (FIC), which has focused on anti-marriage equality, antichoice, and pro-school privatization issues in recent years, has divided into three closely related but legally distinct entities: FIC itself; FIC Action (a 501(c)(4) lobbying group); and the Family Institute of Connecticut Action Committee, a political action committee (PAC) that focuses on candidates for state-government offices.[38]

Efforts to draw bright lines for legal purposes notwithstanding, the lines still sometimes blur. “Needless, to say,” wrote Jim Daly in a joint Focus on the Family/CitizenLink annual report, “2012 was extremely busy for our CitizenLink staff as they were actively involved in multiple state legislative and election efforts. More than 2 million emails were sent to CitizenLink constituents regarding important issues. In addition, CitizenLink produced mailers for the November election that went to more than 8 million homes in 16 swing states. And that was just the beginning!”[39]

Two paths converge

Member organizations across both networks share some common issues, such as school privatization and the idea that public education should be controlled locally, though there are often differences of emphasis. The Boston-based Pioneer Institute primarily promotes corporate-style charters and makes little mention of homeschooling, for example, while the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) is primarily interested in homeschooling. “The public schools here have become a primary battleground in the culture war,” MFI declares, “with homosexual activists using them to indoctrinate students with their agenda.” Consequently, “MFI supports the restoration of decision-making authority over school policy and finance to parents, locally elected school committees and taxpayers.[40] In Louisiana, both networks have mobilized to promote and defend Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s controversial voucher program, which extended vouchers even to marginal religious schools, some of which use crackpot textbooks to teach science. One claims that the Loch Ness Monster is both real and a proof against evolution.[41] The Pioneer Institute has promoted New Orleans—where 80 percent of the public schools after Hurricane Katrina became charters—as a model for Boston.[42]

Cross-network collaborations are facilitated by having seasoned leaders who share a common vision and are able to mobilize the resources to carry it out. In creating the State Policy Network and the Family Policy Councils, the conservative movement’s strategists sought to create a deep infrastructure that would be build capacity over time, both in terms of policy development and electoral strength. They were also developing a talent bank of research and policy experts and organizational executives who would create synergies for the movement and shape the priorities of the Republican Party.

And in fact, SPN affiliates sometimes serve as governments-in-waiting for Republican administrations in the states, in much the way that Republican administrations in Washington, D.C., often draw staff from such national think tanks as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. In Massachusetts, Gov. William Weld “hired almost everybody” out of the Pioneer Institute following his election in 1994. Succeeding governors Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift also appointed Pioneer staff or board members to crucial positions that enabled them to implement their ideas, notably in shaping the state’s charter school policies. Cellucci, for example, appointed Pioneer executive director James Peyser as chairman of the state board of education.[43]

SPN think tanks have also provided leadership opportunities for policy professionals and politicians. Veterans of the board of directors of Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Foundation include former Lt. Governor William W. Scranton III and current U.S. Senator Patrick J. Toomey (R-PA). Three members of Congress—Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and former U.S. Reps. Mike Pence (R-IN) and Tom Tancredo (R-CO)—ran SPN member groups before coming to Congress.

Likewise, the FPCs serve as talent-development agencies. Ron Crews, who led the Massachusetts Family Institute from 2000 to 2004, rode the notoriety he gained in the wake of the historic 2003 Goodridge v. Department of Public Health decision (in which the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized same-sex marriage) to an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2004. Tony Perkins was the executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum before coming to the Family Research Council. Brian Brown directed the Connecticut Family Institute before leading the National Organization for Marriage.

All of this is important because the cumulative experience of these two networks—in fostering leaders, working with government officials, creating collaborations, and becoming part of the furniture of public life in state capitals around the country—is transforming American politics from the state level up. The networks’ growing ability to craft and influence public policy, working in tandem with the American Legislative Exchange Council, corporate interests, and Republican state legislators, has justified the persistence and long-range ambitions of conservative strategists three decades ago, when the movement was just beginning its long march to state power.



[1] Jeremy P. Jacobs, “Devastation: GOP Picks Up 680 State Leg. Seats,” National Journal, Nov. 4, 2010, www.nationaljournal.com/blogs/hotlineoncall/2010/11/devastation-gop-picks-up-680-state-leg-seats-04.

[2] John J. Miller, “Fifty flowers bloom: Conservative think tanks—mini-Heritage Foundations—at the state level,” Hey Miller, Sept. 16, 2009, www.heymiller.com/2009/09/fifty-flowers-bloom. Republished from the National Review, Nov. 19, 2007. See also John J. Miller, “Safeguarding a Conservative Donor’s Intent: The Roe Foundation at 39,” Foundation Watch, Capital Research Center, May 2007, http://capitalresearch.org/pubs/pdf/v1185478634.pdf.

[3] “Directory,” State Policy Network, www.spn.org/directory/organizations.asp.

[4] Frederick Clarkson, “Takin’ It to the States: The Rise of Conservative State-Level Think Tanks,” Public Eye, Summer/Fall 1999, www.politicalresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2013/02/PE-Summer-Fall-1999.pdf. In addition to the pieces cited in this essay, see Jason Deparle, “Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government,” New York Times, Nov. 17, 2006, www.nytimes.com/2006/11/17/us/politics/17thinktank.html?_r=0&pagewanted=all; and Lee Fang, “The Right Leans In: Media-savvy conservative think tanks take aim and fire at progressive power bases in the states,” Nation, Mar. 26, 2013, www.thenation.com/article/173528/right-leans#.

[5] Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance,” Public Eye, July 23, 2013, www.politicalresearch.org/christian-right-seeks-renewal-in-deepening-catholic-protestant-alliance.

[6] “SPN Annual Meeting Promo 1,” YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbyBqRKDLvc.

[7] Don E. Eberly, “The States:  The New Policy Battleground, Lecture # 225,” The Heritage Foundation, Oct. 27, 1989, www.heritage.org/research/lecture/the-states-the-new-policy-battleground.

[8] “Conservative Leadership Conference,” Civitas, http://clc2014.com.

[9] Clarkson, “Takin’ It to the States: The Rise of Conservative State-level Think Tanks.”

[10] Paul Abowd, “Donors use charity to push free-market policies in states: Nonprofit group lets donors fly ‘totally under the radar,’” Center for Public Integrity, Feb. 14, 2013, www.publicintegrity.org/2013/02/14/12181/donors-use-charity-push-free-market-policies-states.

[11] “EXPOSED: The State Policy Network, The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government,” Stinktanks.org, Center for Media and Democracy, Nov. 2013. http://stinktanks.org/national.

[12] John J. Miller, “Safeguarding a Conservative Donor’s Intent:  The Roe Foundation at 39,” Foundation Watch, Capital Research Center, May 2007, http://capitalresearch.org/pubs/pdf/v1185478634.pdf.

[13] “EXPOSED: The State Policy Network, The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government,” http://stinktanks.org/national.

[14] Andy Kroll, “The Right-Wing Network Behind the War on Unions,” Mother Jones, April 25, 2011, www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/04/state-policy-network-union-bargaining.

[15] Kroll, “The Right-Wing Network Behind the War on Unions.”

[16] Erik Kain, “Michigan Governor Plays Fast and Loose with Democracy, Invokes Radical New Powers,” Forbes, March 11, 2011, www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/03/11/michigan-governor-plays-fast-and-loose-with-democracy-invokes-radical-new-powers.

[17] EXPOSED: The State Policy Network, The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government, http://stinktanks.org/national.

[18] Paul Abowd, “ALEC anti-union push includes key players from Michigan, Arizona think tanks,” Center for Public Integrity, May 17, 2012, www.publicintegrity.org/2012/05/17/8890.

[19] Sue Sturgis, “Special Investigation: How Art Pope helped turn back the clock on voting rights in North Carolina,” Institute for Southern Studies, Aug. 2013, http://www.southernstudies.org/2013/08/special-investigation-how-art-pope-helped-turn-bac.html.

[20] Charlie Savage, Justice Department Poised to File Lawsuit Over Voter ID Law,” New York Times, Sept. 30, 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/09/30/us/politics/justice-department-poised-to-file-lawsuit-over-voter-id-law-in-north-carolina.html.

[21] Mary Tuma, “Ted Cruz Used Texas to Create ALEC’s Anti-Obamacare Legislation,” Current, Oct. 16, 2013, http://sacurrent.com/news/ted-cruz-used-texas-to-create-alec-s-anti-obamacare-legislation-1.1569056; Ted Cruz,  “Texas Public Policy Foundation report gives states options for pushing back on federal overreach,” Texas Public Policy Foundation, Nov. 18, 2010, www.texaspolicy.com/press/texas-public-policy-foundation-report-gives-states-options-pushing-back-federal-overreach; Ted Cruz and Mario Loyola, “Reclaiming the Constitution Towards and Agenda for State Action,” Texas Public Policy Foundation, Nov. 2010, www.texaspolicy.com/sites/default/files/documents/2010-11-RR11-TenthAmendment-mloyola-posting.pdf.

[22] “A Tool Kit to Keep Government Local People, Local Decisions, Local Solutions,” State Policy Network and State Budget Solutions, 2013, www.federalisminaction.com/wp-content/uploads/Federalism-In-Action_Toolkit_FINAL.pdf.

[23] Jason Stverak, Media Shield Law Doesn’t Protect First Amendment, Free Press, The Franklin Center, Sept. 16, 2013, http://franklincenterhq.org/8258/media-shield-law-doesnt-protect-first-amendment-free-press.

[24] “About Watchdog Wire,” The Franklin Center, Watchdog Wire, May 25, 2012, http://watchdogwire.com/about-the-franklin-center.

[25] “Driving the News:  How right wing funders are manufacturing news and influencing public policy in Pennsylvania,” Keystone Progress, Aug. 2013, www.scribd.com/doc/159802911 (subscription required).

[26] Sara Jerving, “The Lucy Burns Institute (Publishers of Ballotpedia, Judgepedia and WikiFOIA) and Her Right-Wing Bedfellows,” The Center for Media and Democracy, Nov. 26, 2012, www.prwatch.org/news/2012/11/11791/lucy-burns-institute-publishers-ballotpedia-judgepedia-and-wikifoia-and-her-right.

[27] Abowd, “ALEC anti-union push includes key players from Michigan, Arizona think tanks.”

[28] McGuigan reported on SPN’s national convention in Oklahoma City without disclosing his relationship to the Franklin Center or the Franklin Center’s relationship to the SPN and the host affiliate, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. See “Capitol Report: National gathering in Oklahoma City focuses on public policy,” YouTube, Sept. 30, 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8OuSdH75tU.

[29] “Driving the News: How right wing funders are manufacturing news and influencing public policy in Pennsylvania,” Keystone Progress, Aug. 2013, www.scribd.com/doc/159802911/Driving-the-News (subscription required).

[30] Electa Draper, “Focus on the Family rebrands political arm as CitizenLink,” Denver Post, May 20, 2010, www.denverpost.com/news/ci_15121872.

[31] “CitizenLink,” Charity Navigator, www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.profile&ein=200960855#.Um6pAvmkpoE.

[32] “Exclusive: Largest Dark Money Groups Share Funds, Hide Links,” OpenSecretsBlog, Sep. 10, 2013, www.opensecrets.org/news/2013/09/exclusive-largest-dark-money-donor-groups-hide-ties-using-new-trick.html.

[33] In the run-up to the 2012 initiative, Emrich was employed by the Family Research Council as its new “Northeast Field Ambassador”: “Bob Emrich joins Family Research Council,” Christian Civic League of Maine, Oct. 27, 2011, www.cclmaine.org/bob-emrich-joins-family-research-council.

[34] This followed a split with former League executive director Mike Heath, whose extreme statements were seen as counterproductive. The split also led to a rebranding in which the League sought to become known as the Maine Family Policy Council. The change apparently didn’t take, and the organization is now known by both names. Brian Tashman, “Ron Paul’s Iowa State Director Dedicated His Career to Fighting ‘Evil’ Gay Rights,” Right Wing Watch, Dec. 30, 2011, www.rightwingwatch.org/content/ron-pauls-iowa-state-director-dedicated-his-career-fighting-evil-gay-rights.

[35] See Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance.”

[36] “Family Policy Councils,” CitizenLink, www.citizenlink.com/state-groups. Individual FPCs rarely mention their close connections to FOF, or CitizenLink, or FRC, which maintains a similar, but not identical, list of affiliates. FRC Action, the 501(c)(4) political arm of FRC, also lists the FPCs as state-level affiliates.

[37] For example, see “Focus on the Family and CitizenLink 2012 Annual Report,” Focus on the Family, http://media.focusonthefamily.com/fotf/pdf/about-us/financial-reports/2012-annual-report.pdf. A separate annual report for CitizenLink is at www.citizenlink.com/uploads/2013/04/2012-CitizenLink-Annual-Report.pdf. Rev. Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is also a member of both boards.

[38] “Latest FIC Action Committee’s 2010 Endorsements,” Family Institute of Connecticut, 2010, www.ctfamily.org/FIC%20Action%20Committee%20Endorsements%202010.pdf.

[39] “2012 Annual Report,” Focus on the Family.

[40] “Parental Rights and Education,” Massachusetts Family Institute, www.mafamily.org/issues/parental-rights-and-education.

[41] Bruce Wilson, “Nessie a Plesiosaur? Louisiana To Fund Schools Using Odd, Bigoted Fundamentalist Textbooks,” Talk to Action, June 17, 2012, www.talk2action.org/story/2012/6/17/9311/48633.

[42] Jim Stergios, “6 Takeaways on New Orleans’ charter initiative,” Pioneer Institute, Oct. 19, 2013, http://pioneerinstitute.org/charter_schools/6-takeaways-on-new-orleans-charter-initiative.

[43] Paul Dunphy and Nikhil Aziz, “The Pioneer Institute: Privatizing the Common Wealth,” Political Research Associates, July 2002, www.publiceye.org/libertarian/pioneer-institute/index.html; Frederick Clarkson, “Takin’ It to the States: The Rise of Conservative State-level Think Tanks.”