A Forthcoming Fortnight of Demagoguery

Religious liberty is already a central feature of the 2016 election campaign.  But the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) intends to enlarge and escalate the debate when it wages its fifth annual Fortnight for Freedom this summer. The campaign will feature two weeks of events—from June 21st to July 4th—in most, if not all, of the Catholic dioceses around the country. Their aim is to highlight interest in, and mobilize support for, their religious freedom agenda. The beginning date is significant because it falls on the date the Church commemorates the martyrdom of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—English Catholic leaders who defied and were executed by the King in the 16th Century. The campaign will include a nine-city tour of relics of these “martyrs of the English reformation.”

Image via YouTube.

Image via YouTube.

In preparation for the campaign, the bishops recently released a ten minute video produced by the Knights of Columbus, titled “The Right to Religious Freedom.”  If the video is any indication, Church leaders are urging their flock to militancy – warning of the threat to religious freedom in America and in the world; mixing soft-focus Catholic evangelism with edgy political propaganda that by any reasonable standard has more in common with the garish partisanship of election years than thoughtful commentary on contemporary issues.  Indeed, the video’s claims that religious persecution and martyrdom may be at hand play into the hyperbolic Christian Right narrative of a looming tyranny in America – a tyranny that the faithful must prepare to resist, violently if necessary.

It is worth focusing on and answering a few themes of the Christian Right’s current campaigns, which are well crystalized in this election year video. The USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty’s tweet announcing the video states: “New video on #TheLittleSistersofthePoor & what Catholic Church teaches on religious freedom!” Another tweet calls it a “conversation starter.”

The reference to the Little Sisters of the Poor involves the Supreme Court case Zubik v. Burwell, and its implications is the focus of the video. The case is a consolidation of seven similar cases questioning whether religiously-affiliated non-profit organizations such as charities and hospitals must conform to the contraception mandate in the regulations under the Affordable Care Act.  The video highlights one of the cases, that of a Catholic order that operates nursing homes. The Little Sisters of the Poor did not want to have to file the simple paperwork requesting a religious exemption from the regulations – claiming that the very act of signing the form that would exempt them from contraception mandates would violate their religious freedom.

The USCCB’s video, however, says little about the substance of the case. The good works of the order are highlighted, while leading Catholic scholars suggest that there is an imminent and inexplicable governmental threat to the rights of the Litter Sisters of the Poor that will lead to a broad and escalating siege against the rights of all.

First they came for the nuns

“A government that doesn’t acknowledge limits on its power to regulate religious institutions is probably going to come after others as well,” Professor Rick Garnett of Notre Dame Law School gravely warns in the video.  As footage of rioting and fire in the night in some unidentified place and time scrolls by in the background, Garnett continues, “Governments that try to squash religious freedom tend to face political fragmentation; political disunity.”  His words thus come across as more of a threat than an observation.

The stakes, in the view of the bishops, are illuminated by Professor David L. Schindler of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute at the Catholic University of America.  “When you are confronted with a tank,” he declares in the video, “it’s clear your freedom is being deprived, and you… have an identifiable enemy.”

Schindler further suggests that the current situation is not “so benign” as it is presented.  He and the bishops seem to be suggesting that if things do not go their way in Zubik, the faithful may have to face military tanks in much the way that reform-minded Chinese students famous did in Tiananmen Square.  In fact, video footage from that episode appears in this video, as well as footage of East Germans breaking through the Berlin Wall.

Thomas Farr. Image via YouTube.

Thomas Farr. Image via YouTube.

Thomas Farr, a Catholic neoconservative who heads the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University also appears in the video, highlighting a running theme on the Christian Right which seeks to conflate domestic issues (such as marriage equality) with anti-Christian genocide abroad. “We can’t love God, we can’t do our job, if we don’t have religious freedom,” Farr declares, “and there are Christians around the world who are being denied that right.”

Such false equivalences and analogies between the horrors of religiously-motivated genocide in the Middle East and domestic issues are the rule rather than the exception for many Christian Right leaders.  In 2015, Farr gave a talk titled “ISIS and Indiana: The Global Crisis of Religious Liberty and Catholic Responsibility,” in which he implied that the terror group ISIS had some bearing on the debate at the time over LGBTQ discrimination in the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Religious liberty, he suggested, is in danger of being “lost in America.” (Farr’s talk was promoted by the USCCB.)

Helen Alvaré, a former staffer at the bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, and now a professor of law at George Mason University is similarly apocalyptic in the video, claiming “When religious freedom goes away, and there is no transcendent authority, there is only majority will, then the law is the only norm, and the people in power now, are always the only power.”

Alvaré’s claim that religious freedom is subject to “majority will” ignores the actual constitutional system in which we live. Our system of government is intended to be a check against majoritarianism and factionalism. And it is explicitly intended to prevent the undue entanglements between church and state. Governments, political parties and individual politicians come and go, but only those with conspiracist worldviews believe that the people who populate the government at any given time are the only power. What Alvaré suggests is that her church represents the correct and permanent “transcendent authority,” and therefore their parochial approach to religious freedom should hold sway.

What is religious freedom? It’s all about religious and non-religious pluralism. As Thomas Jefferson put it: when one’s religious identity “shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

It can be difficult to take seriously the hyperbole and seemingly twisted perspectives of such soft-spoken and scholarly figures as Schindler, Alvaré, and Farr and their sponsors, the leading Catholic bishops in the United States. But it would be foolish to ignore them.

Thomas Farr goes so far as to equate the idea of religious liberty with his own religious identity. He says, “the dignity of the human person, that’s what religious freedom is. Every human being has dignity as a human person because he or she is created in the image and likeness of God.”

In fact, religious freedom has always been defined as having nothing to do with such parochialisms. Indeed, claims like Farr’s are the fount of all theocratic reasoning. His bibliocentric claim that because people are made in God’s image, that this is therefore the meaning of religious liberty, conflates his explicitly religious view with the Enlightenment idea of religious equality when it comes to citizenship. As Thomas Jefferson put it in his landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, one’s religious identity “shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who leads the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty (which organizes Fortnight for Freedom), has denied that he and his fellow bishops are right-wing culture warriors bent on imposing their agenda on everyone else. But he also essentially acknowledged that they want to do just that by, among other things, blocking access to legal and otherwise constitutionally protected contraception and abortion care wherever they can.

Lori has also served as a director and Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus for a decade. That he and his fellow bishops and the Catholic scholars that appear in this Knights of Columbus-produced video seem to adhere to views that have more in common with the most militant elements of the Christian Right should be fair warning to those who value religious pluralism and constitutional democracy.

When Exemption is the Rule: the Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right

A groundbreaking 2016 report by PRA senior fellow Frederick Clarkson details the strategy and agenda inside the Christian Right’s campaign to exempt not only religions, but individuals and businesses from civil rights and labor laws using a false notion of religious freedom.

By creating zones of legal exemption, the Christian Right seeks to shrink the public sphere and the arenas within which the government has legitimacy to defend people’s rights, including reproductive, labor, and LGBTQ rights.

However, the Christian Right’s religious freedom strategy is part of its long-game and is not merely an anti-LGBTQ tactic. Its long-range goal is to impose a conservative Christian social order inspired by religious law, in part by eroding pillars of undergirding religious pluralism that are integral to our constitutional democracy.

 

Read the Report in HTML

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Download the PDF

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Read the Executive Summary

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Dominionism is the New Religious Freedom

Historians may someday see the 2016 election season as the turning point in how our society understands the Dominionist movement that is seeking to recast society in its own image.  The herald of this new understanding is—ironically, as I will discuss below—a Washington Post commentary by historian John Fea, titled:  “Ted Cruz’s campaign is fueled by a dominionist vision for America.”  The Post’s publication of Fea’s piece follows years of both scholarly and journalistic tip-toeing around this elephant on the table of American public life – a dynamic modern theocratic religious and political movement that prior conventional wisdom notwithstanding is not fringe.

Ted Cruz speaks to supporters gathered at a late-night campaign stop at Penny's Diner in Missouri Valley, Iowa, in Jan. 2016. Image via Matt A.J. on Flickr.

Ted Cruz speaks to supporters gathered at a late-night campaign stop at Penny’s Diner in Missouri Valley, Iowa, in Jan. 2016. Image via Matt A.J. on Flickr.

Fea, who chairs the History Department at the evangelical Messiah College in Pennsylvania, matter of factly discusses the influence of “seven mountains dominionism” on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) – who may be the most openly theocratic candidate ever to be a serious contender for a major party presidential nomination.  Perhaps just as remarkably, the Dominionism advocated by the likes of the Cruz family is wrapped in a claim that religious freedom is under assault in the U.S.

As I reported in the recent report, When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right:

“I believe that 2016 is going to be a religious-liberty election,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) declared before a raucous crowd of some 7,000 Southern Baptists in October 2015.  “As these threats grow darker and darker and darker, they are waking people up here in Texas and all across this country.”

Unsurprisingly, Cruz features this claim at many of his presidential campaign rallies. This is the new normal.

But of course, Cruz’s notion of religious freedom is all about creating religious exemptions to the legal requirements to recognize the civic equality of LGBTQ people, and the rights of people seeking their sexual and reproductive health care, as well as the rights of people – including many Christians – whose religious views are different than those of the Cruzes and their ilk.

The term “Dominionism” was first popularized in the 1990s by researchers, including Chip Berlet, scholar Sara Diamond, and myself, who needed a term to describe the political aspirations of Christian Rightists who believed that they have a biblical mandate to control all earthly institutions –including government – until the second coming of Jesus. But the idea of conservative Christians gaining political power sufficient to take dominion over society predated our use of the term by decades.

The two main schools of Dominionist thought include Christian Reconstructionism, founded by the late R.J. Rushdoony, which advances the idea not only of the need for Christians (of the right sort) to dominate society, but institute and apply Old Testament “Biblical Law.”

The other, closely related form of Dominionism is advocated by the Pentecostal  New Apostolic Reformation, which exuberantly advocates for Christians to “reclaim the seven mountains of culture”: government, religion, media, family, business, education, and arts and entertainment.

The religious vision and political aspirations of Ted Cruz and his father Rafael are widely known in conservative Christian religious and political circles and are being discussed in his home state of Texas.  So much so, that reporter Jonathan Tilove of the Austin American Statesman wrote last summer about how Raphael Cruz was compelled to insist, “We are not talking about theocracy.”  But Fea reports that the Cruzes are close to Christian Nationalist author, historical revisionist and longtime Texas Republican leader David Barton, who declares that the United States was founded as a Christian Nation but has fallen away from this foundation and must be restored to avoid punishment from God.

Fea writes:

“Anyone who has watched Cruz on the stump knows that he often references the important role that his father, traveling evangelist Rafael Cruz, has played in his life. During a 2012 sermon at New Beginnings Church in Bedford, Texas, Rafael Cruz described his son’s political campaign as a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

The elder Cruz told the congregation that God would anoint Christian “kings” to preside over an “end-time transfer of wealth” from the wicked to the righteous. After this sermon, Larry Huch, the pastor of New Beginnings, claimed Cruz’s recent election to the U.S. Senate was a sign that he was one of these kings.

According to his father and Huch, Ted Cruz is anointed by God to help Christians in their effort to “go to the marketplace and occupy the land … and take dominion” over it. This “end-time transfer of wealth” will relieve Christians of all financial woes, allowing true believers to ascend to a position of political and cultural power in which they can build a Christian civilization. When this Christian nation is in place (or back in place), Jesus will return.

Rafael Cruz and Larry Huch preach a brand of evangelical theology called Seven Mountains Dominionism. They believe Christians must take dominion over seven aspects of culture: family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business and government. The name of the movement comes from Isaiah 2:2: “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains.”

Fea also notes that Barton, who runs the Keep the Promise Super PAC that supports Cruz’s campaign, shares this vision:

“Barton’s Christian nationalism is a product of this theological approach to culture. Back in 2011, Barton said that if Christians were going to successfully “take the culture” they would need to control these seven areas. “If you can have those seven areas,” Barton told his listeners to his radio show, “you can shape and control whatever takes place in nations, continents and even the world.”

This is remarkable, in part, because a few years ago, journalists and scholars who wrote about Dominionism found themselves facing a smear campaign by, among others, writers at the same paper in which Fea’s commentary appears. Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson and then-religion writer Lisa Miller were part of this national effort to discredit the idea that Dominionism was a real thing or that even if it was, that it was of much significance. This despite the fact that then-Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) had made his de facto presidential campaign announcement at a massive prayer rally organized by leaders of the movement for Seven Mountains Dominionism, and that then presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachman’s (R-MN) mentor at law school was John Eidsmoe, a prominent Christian Reconstructionist theorist, (who now works at the Foundation for Moral Law, founded by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.)   Perry’s campaign later imploded, (for reasons other than the Dominionism controversy) and Bachman’s campaign never gained traction, but the episode certainly prefigured current events.

Now, some four years later, former Gov. Perry has endorsed Ted Cruz for president. Cruz has won the Iowa caucuses, and The Washington Post has published a major article about the Seven Mountains Dominionism of Sen. Cruz and his father.  A great transformation in American politics and religion, once pooh poohed by established interests (which also denounced those of us who recognized and wrote about its importance) is now accepted as uncontroverted fact.  And the attack dogs of the various political establishments are not yet snarling.

When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right

To download the report as a PDF, please click the image.

To download the report as a PDF, please click the image.

Table of Contents:

-Acknowledgements
-Preface
-Executive Summary
-Introduction
-Building Infrastructure for the Long Game
…..Mobilizing to Discriminate in Bob Jones
-Building a political infrastructure for a counteroffensive
-Manhattan Declaration: A Strategic Turning Point
-Legal and Legislative Players and Trends Today
-Federal Religious Freedom Cases
-State-level Religious Freedom Restoration Acts
-Obergefell v. Hodges
-Fighting for Religious Freedom in North Carolina
-‘Religification’ and Zones of Exemption
…..Individual Exemptions
…..Institutional Exemptions
-Territorial Exemptions Involving Zoning and Land Use
-RFRA and the Bipartisan Memo
-The Power of Dualistic Thinking
-Conclusion and Recommendations
-Endnotes
-About the Author

Acknowledgements

Few works of any consequence or magnitude happen in isolation. All are built on the work of those who have come before, some known, most unknown. If I could, I would want them all to know I am humbled and honored to follow in their footsteps.  Most publications are also collective enterprises and this is no exception. I want to thank the many people who made this report possible. I am honored to have had the assistance and wise counsel of my PRA colleagues—at various stages, Eric Ethington, Gabriel Joffe, Tarso Ramos, and report editor Abby Scher, who has patiently seen me through yet another remarkable editorial adventure.  I am also grateful for the kind reading, constructive feedback, and encouragement from Rob Boston, Don Clark, Jay Michaelson, and Patti Miller.  Special thanks to Jonathan Hutson for his expert research, editorial advice, and strategic media guidance.  And finally, profound thanks to Tim Sweeney and the Pride Foundation for their generous support, without which this project might never have happened.  – Frederick Clarkson

Preface

By Rev. John C. Dorhauer

You might say religious liberty is in my blood.

I’m a Mayflower descendant. My maternal grandmother was Delores Howland, some 16 or so generations removed from John Howland. His home still stands in Plymouth, and I have been there to sign the descendants’ book.

As proud as I am of my Pilgrim Congregationalist history, I am also aware that within that history is the Puritan experience of the Salem witch trials and the treatment of indigenous peoples:  reminders of how religion writ large as a culture’s moral compass can bring out the worst in us. By the time our Constitution was written, both the desire to be free from religious tyranny found in the spirit of the Pilgrims – and the need to protect ourselves from religious zealots like the Puritans – would serve to inform its authors. They treated both as instructive, writing into the Bill of Rights language that would preserve our religious liberty and restrict the government’s power to establish any religious point of view as normative.

The irony of the Religious Right fighting for a “freedom” that utilizes all three branches of government to enforce their narrow theology isn’t lost on me. Anyone who doubts either the intent or the ability of the Religious Right to reshape the landscape of religious liberty in America isn’t paying attention. And, to quote Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman: “Attention must be paid.”

I believe in religious freedom, but not the kind that argues that government should grant me the right to refuse to serve or hire someone because they are homosexual. Removing someone’s civil rights by empowering the government to protect and preserve my religious homophobia is not my idea of religious liberty.

I believe in religious freedom, but not the kind that argues that government should tolerate employers or medical care professionals who want to deprive women of their full range of health care options. Depriving women of choices that our courts deem legal and appropriate to preserve my religious misogyny is not my idea of religious liberty.

Religious expression in the United States is a beautiful mixture of the world’s best thinking, the collective of which is hard to find anywhere else in the world. We were among the first people on the planet to live in a place where such expression could unfold free of tyranny; not restricted by the ability or willingness of the elected to understand or tolerate a particular religious expression; and within a bubble of protection that asked only that our free exercise neither depend on the establishment of the government for its validity nor violate any other laws or civil rights.

It is within such a context that the United Church of Christ, within which my faith is now lived, gave free expression to its beliefs and called for an end to slavery, an end to the disenfranchisement of women and people of color, an end to state-sanctioned homophobia, an end to the stranglehold that management held over working class peoples. Long before the laws would catch up to us, we ordained the first Black pastor in America, the first female pastor, the first gay pastor, the first lesbian pastor, and the first transgender pastor. We wrote liturgies that called for our clergy to perform same-gender-loving marriages.

When North Carolina rewrote their Constitution to not only deprive same-gender-loving couples from the full rights that our government provides to heterosexual couples when they marry, but also criminalized the religious act of performing such marriages when allowed by other states, it was the United Church of Christ that brought a suit against the state. The federal Court ruled in our favor and called the amendment unconstitutional. It is one thing to ask the state to bend to your narrow religious beliefs. It is something else entirely to ask the state to imprison and fine the clergy of another religion; one that disagrees with you.

This is the religious liberty being propagated by the Religious Right.   They argue that they have no religious freedom unless their restrictive moral code is written into the Constitution. They argue that they have no religious liberty unless those whose religious ceremonies violate the sanctity of their precious theology are thrown in jail. What they want to call religious freedom is in fact the kind of oppressive religious tyranny that my ancestors left their homeland to escape.

I believe in legislation that protects religious liberty. Good laws have been written to protect the free expression of my, and others’, religion; and to limit the reach of government to establish anyone’s religious beliefs as normative.

We can’t allow the Religious Right to twist the meaning of religious liberty to the point that it becomes the means by which their theocratic vision is finally and fully realized. For decades now they have fought to erode or redefine the very freedoms the Constitution was written to protect. It would be unwise of us to either turn a blind eye to their machinations or to dismiss the ongoing effectiveness of their efforts.

Outcomes are hard to predict, but I think it is fair to say that the Religious Right is slowly but surely taking significant ground in the battle to turn America into a theocratic state, or a collection of theocratic mini-states, governed by the very narrowest of religious points of view. That they are doing it under the guise of protecting their religious liberty is the greatest of ironies. Their ambitions are to unseat the U.S. as the world’s safest place to explore and express one’s spiritual longings. If left unchecked by those of us who want to preserve an authentic rendering of religious freedom as envisioned by this country’s founders, they will succeed.

Frederick Clarkson knows this. His ongoing and now longstanding commitment as an investigative journalist to bring out into the open the more covert operations of the theocratic Right makes him eminently qualified to write about this. He sounds an alarm bell that not enough of us are paying much attention to. He not only asks that we learn everything we can about what the Religious Right is up to, he realizes that, unless those of us who want to preserve our longstanding freedoms act with as much sophistication and savvy as they do, we will always lose ground to them. As the late Rev. Dr. Andrew Weaver used to say, “They are playing tackle football, and we are playing touch. We are going to lose this game every time.”

I strongly urge you to not only read this remarkable report; I ask you to take seriously the actions Frederick Clarkson calls for within it. I intend to bring the United Church of Christ into this conversation. We have never been bystanders in the face of injustice when power colludes to deprive others of their liberty. We will not be in this time, either.

The Rev. John C. Dorhauer
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ

Executive Summary

The evangelical Protestant Christian Right and U.S. Roman Catholic bishops are intensifying their campaign to carve out arenas of public life where religious institutions, individuals, and even businesses may evade civil rights and labor laws in the name of religious liberty. By creating zones of legal exemption, the Christian Right seeks to shrink the public sphere and the arenas within which the government has legitimacy to defend people’s rights, including reproductive, labor, and LGBTQ rights. In this, it is often aligned with the antigovernment strategy of free market libertarians and some business interests, who for a variety of reasons also seek to restrict arenas where government can legally act.

This conservative Christian alliance is challenging a century or more of social advances and many of the premises of the Enlightenment underlying the very definition of religious liberty in the United States. Its long-range goal is to impose a conservative Christian social order inspired by religious law, in part by eroding pillars of undergirding religious pluralism that are integral to our constitutional democracy.

Since Political Research Associates’ March 2013 report, Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights,* a remarkable string of cultural, legislative, and legal victories by the LGBTQ community have further animated the Right’s defensive strategy aimed at exempting conservative Christians from having to accept certain advances in human and civil rights. However, the Christian Right’s religious freedom strategy is part of its long-game and is not merely an anti-LGBTQ tactic.

Among this report’s findings:

  • The network of Christian Right legal institutions advancing the redefinition of religious freedom is growing in its capacity to affect legal, political and cultural change.
    • The Becket Fund, which has litigated landmark Supreme Court cases like Hobby Lobby and Hosanna-Tabor, grew 86 percent in just four years, from FY2009 to FY2012.
    • The national legal network Alliance Defending Freedom increased its annual revenues by $5 million during the same period (a 21% increase) while also expanding its effort to seek influential legal precedents in international courts.
    • In an important mainstreaming move, the conservative John Templeton Foundation funneled $1.6 million through the Becket Fund to establish a religious liberty clinic at Stanford University Law School. It opened in January 2013.
  • The Christian Right’s appropriation of religious freedom to justify discrimination is plainly visible in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby ruling, which for the first time recognized limited religious rights for closely held, private corporations to deny the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. This ruling has transformed not only federal jurisprudence, but the national conversation about the meaning and scope of religious freedom. One result was that the religious beliefs of the owners trumped the consciences and health interests of their employees.
  • The Christian Right is seeking to undermine and evade civil rights law beyond the courts by “religifying” organizations. This means rewriting mission statements, contracts, and job descriptions to claim that the entire organization or jobs within it are essentially religious in nature and subject to the longstanding exemption of clergy from the Civil Rights Act. Under this logic, a religified business or nonprofit would have the right to discriminate against an LGBTQ client, or others with whom they may religiously disagree, by excluding people who do not conform to their doctrines. The groups promoting this tactic, such as Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Institute, have issued handbooks to help organizations protect against “dangerous antireligious attacks.”
  • Religification efforts are attempting to build on the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that the religious duties of a teacher fired in a discriminatory way insulated the mainline church school from antidiscrimination laws under the longstanding clergy exemption. The ruling opened the door to expanding the definition of ministry, so that many more institutions – and their employees – can be exempted from the protections of the law.
  • The Christian Right is seeking to pass state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) that would allow for-profit businesses to seek religious exemptions in the way the Hobby Lobby case made possible under the federal RFRA. The Right has succeeded in Mississippi, and, controversially, in Indiana, where the state RFRA was revised under pressure to make clear that it did not justify discrimination against LGBTQ people.
  • Today’s arguments echo those made by opponents of civil rights advances for African Americans in the 20th century – notably the fundamentalist Bob Jones University when it defended its policy against interracial dating because of its religious beliefs. In a major defeat for the nascent Christian Right, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that the Greenville, SC, college was not entitled to a federal tax exemption if it maintained this racist policy because the government’s interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education trumped the school’s claim to the First Amendment right to religious freedom.
  • President Obama has failed to rescind a George W. Bush-era legal memo that allows federal contractors and grantees to discriminate in their hiring on religious freedom grounds.
  • The Christian Right has carved out these victories following decades of building its political and institutional power. To avoid fighting within its frame and definition of religious liberty, progressives and their allies must build their own long game. One of the ways to do this is to avoid dualisms that distort the issue and play to the Christian Right framing, such as suggesting that LGBTQ civil rights (or reproductive rights) and religious freedom are somehow mutually exclusive.

While winning many victories, the Christian Right has lost some important battles in its campaign to redefine religious freedom. This is particularly so when other religious groups have taken the lead in opposing the Right. The United Church of Christ successfully sued to overturn a 2012 amendment to the North Carolina state constitution asserting not only that same-sex marriages were invalid, but effectively criminalizing same-sex marriage ceremonies. Coalitions involving religious groups have also thwarted the passage of state RFRAs that justify discrimination in Georgia and North Carolina. Elsewhere, workers and pension advocates took the lead. In December 2015, a federal appeals court ruled that the St. Peter’s Catholic health system in New Jersey was not exempt on religious grounds from following federal law protecting pensioners and that it needed to fully fund its pension.

Contrary to the vision of much of the Christian Right, religious freedom is for everyone. We need fresh perspectives and coalitions to meet these challenges. Other sectors of society, from moderate Republicans to civil rights and labor activists, to religious and nonreligious organizations, need to discover how to do this, even though they may not be accustomed to working together.  This will certainly mean envisioning and acting on short-term and long-term strategies, both inside and outside of the courts. We need 21st century coalitions and strategies to meet the challenges and opportunities of our time.

Among our other recommendations, we must,

  • Reclaim religious freedom as a fundamental democratic value. This means embracing religious freedom as emphasizing the equality of all people, including everyone’s right to believe and to practice faith (or not) as we will, and to change our minds – free from the undue influence of powerful religious institutions and government. The right to believe differently from the rich and the powerful is a prerequisite for free speech and a free press, the other two elements of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Increase our capacity to respond to religious freedom-related issues. This would include but not be limited to resourcing a network of researchers, writers, political thinkers, and scholars to develop and inform strategy with respect to religious liberty and civil rights.
  • Expand and refresh historic alliances that have extended civil and labor rights in the 20th century more widely and deeply than at any other time in our history.
  • Expand celebrations of Religious Freedom Day on January 16th and other events to offer a clear, consistent, positive, and historically rooted alternative to the Christian Right’s redefinition of religious liberty.
  • Counter misinformation. Many conservative religious liberty claims rely on falsehoods, bogus history, and scare tactics. For example, clergy have never been forced under the law to perform any marriage of which they do not approve.
  • Urge candidates and elected officials to end legal justifications for all forms of discrimination under the rubric of religious freedom. This includes demanding that President Obama end discrimination by faith-based contractors justified by the Bush-era legal memo.
  • Consider international human rights standards regarding religious freedom and the rights of conscience. They are very strong and are consistent with a domestic agenda, and are part of the growing international dimension to this struggle.
  • Develop electoral answers to the Right’s long-term efforts to control various levels of government.

For the full list of recommendations, please see the Conclusion and Recommendations section below.

INTRODUCTION

Religious freedom is a central issue of our time. The Framers of the U.S. Constitution knew that just because they, the leading politicians of their day, hammered out some remarkable foundational language, that did not mean that it would be a settled matter.1 History and current events have proved them out.

Over the past decade, the evangelical Protestant Christian Right and American Roman Catholic bishops forged a lasting alliance to carve out vast arenas of American life where religious institutions, individuals, and even businesses would be free to discriminate, evade labor laws, and otherwise evade federal civil rights laws in the name of religious liberty.  Together these conservative forces seek to challenge not only a century or more of social advances, but many of the premises of the Enlightenment underlying the very definition of religious liberty in the United States.

Their goal is to impose a conservative Christian social order inspired by religious law.  To achieve this goal, they seek to remove religious freedom as an integral part of religious pluralism and constitutional democracy, and redefine it in Orwellian fashion to justify discrimination by an ever wider array of “religified” institutions and businesses.

By carving out legal zones of exemption from antidiscrimination laws and regulations, the Christian Right seeks to shrink the public sphere and the arenas within which the government has legitimacy to defend people’s rights, including reproductive and LGBTQ rights.  In this, it is aligned with the antigovernment strategy of free market libertarians and some powerful business interests, who also seek to restrict arenas where government can legally act.

Since Political Research Associates’ March 2013 report, Redefining Religious Liberty:  The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rightse,2 historic changes in the political and legal landscape have accompanied dramatic growth among the key actors of the Christian Right that we detail in this report.  The remarkable string of cultural, legislative, and legal victories by the LGBTQ community have further animated the Right’s defensive strategy aimed at exempting conservative Christians from having to accept certain advances in human and civil rights.

Since PRA published Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights, historic changes in the political and legal landscape have accompanied dramatic growth among the key actors of the Christian Right.

Since PRA published “Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights,” historic changes in the political and legal landscape have accompanied dramatic growth among the key actors of the Christian Right.

The Christian Right has sought to undermine and evade labor law by carefully building on the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOCThe court ruled that the religious duties of a teacher fired in a discriminatory way insulated the mainline church school from antidiscrimination laws under the longstanding exemption of clergy under the Civil Rights Act.  It opened the door to expanding the definition of “ministry,” so that many more employees can be exempted from the protections of the law.

The Christian Right is already actively engaged in doing this – via a tactic termed “religification” by which an organization rewrites mission statements, contracts, and job descriptions in an attempt to exempt institutions from the law in as many ways as possible.  All this will undoubtedly face further court tests. But religification is already happening, as we will see.

For those of us who value religious pluralism and equality, it can be challenging to imagine that the Christian Right can appropriate and redefine religious freedom as justifying discrimination.3

Yet it is plainly visible in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby ruling, which for the first time recognized limited religious rights for closely held, private corporations to deny the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.  This ruling has transformed not only federal jurisprudence, but the national conversation about the meaning and scope of religious freedom.  One result was that the religious beliefs of the owners trumped the beliefs and health interests of their employees.

A statue of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, in Colonial Williamsburg, VA.

A statue of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, in Colonial Williamsburg, VA. Courtesy of ComputerGuy via Flickr

This and other legislative and judicial wins discussed in this report have altered our public discussion and policy on a wide range of issues, from access to abortion, to health services for children of immigrants who are victims of sex abuse, to matters of LGBTQ discrimination, including access to government services for routine processing of marriage licenses for legal same-sex marriage.

The ripple effects of all this appear almost daily in the news as major politicians seek to prove their conservative Christian bona fides.  “I believe that 2016 is going to be a religious-liberty election,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) declared before a raucous crowd of some 7,000 Southern Baptists in October 2015.  “As these threats grow darker and darker and darker, they are waking people up here in Texas and all across this country.”4  Religious liberty was the key theme of many Christian Right events in 2015, including the national Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., the World Congress of Families held in Salt Lake City, and campaign rallies of Sen. Ted Cruz.  This is the new normal.

But most everyone to the left of the Religious Right is behind the curve in the face of these historic developments – from progressive issue organizations, the broad liberal/left, and the major political parties, including moderate Republicans.  The social justice community broadly speaking is also impeded by the perennial problem of issue and political silos (e.g. dividing reproductive justice vs. LGBTQ rights v. economic justice) even though it confronts a far more integrated program and strategy on the part of the Right.

The Christian Right’s ability to move its agenda has greatly increased in recent years, thanks in large part to the construction of a vast organizational infrastructure.

This report will outline the history of that strategy and recent trends, particularly in the legal arena, detail the growth of key Christian Right organizations carrying out that strategy, highlight promising countertrends, and suggest some ways forward.  As we will see, the Christian Right’s ability to move its agenda has greatly increased in recent years, thanks in large part to the construction of a vast organizational infrastructure of educational institutions, political and cultural organizations, and nonprofit legal networks, as well as key alliances within the Republican Party and the wider conservative movement.  We highlight the legal infrastructure because the opportunities created by recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions are among the main fruits of the Christian Right’s work of recent decades.

Let’s first state what religious freedom is so we can better understand how the Christian Right is appropriating it to advance their agenda. Religious freedom is the right of individual conscience; to believe as we will and to change our minds freely, without undue influence from government or from powerful religious institutions.  It also means the right to practice our beliefs free from the same constraints.  The right to believe differently from the rich and the powerful is a prerequisite for free speech and a free press, the other two elements of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  That is one reason why religious freedom is often called the First Freedom.  Religious freedom is integral to the idea of separation of church and state.  Separation exists not to limit religious expression, but to safeguard against creeping religious supremacism and the theocratic temptations that have persisted throughout American history into the present.

This report is a call to people of goodwill to consider that as a society, we are on a slippery slope towards the kinds of factionalism that concerned the Framers of the Constitution.  It is time for us to take a deep breath and consider the implications. 

BUILDING INFRASTRUCTURE FOR THE LONG GAME

The Christian Right’s power to reframe religious liberty as a justification of discrimination builds on decades of mobilization.  It had to recover from its great defeat, the case of Bob Jones University v. United States. 

Mobilizing to discriminate in Bob Jones

As recently as the 1980s, Christian Right activists defended racial segregation by claiming that restrictions on their ability to discriminate violated their First Amendment right to religious freedom.  They lost in a landmark Supreme Court case in 1983, Bob Jones University v. United States, that has shaped politics every since.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Greenville, SC-based, Christian fundamentalist school was not entitled to its federal tax exemption if it maintained its policy against interracial dating.

Bob Jones University entrance, Greenville, SC.

Bob Jones University entrance, Greenville, SC. Courtesy of John Foxe of English Wikipedia.

The case, which began during the Nixon administration, became a cause célèbre of the then-budding Christian Right as it advanced over the course of a decade.  The late conservative strategist Paul Weyrich and historian Randall Balmer, among others, credited Bob Jones as the catalyst that politicized a wide range of conservative evangelicals.  The “New Right” used Bob Jones as a political cudgel against Democratic President Jimmy Carter, turning many evangelicals against one of their own and contributing to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.5

Instead of African Americans being discriminated against by Bob Jones, the university argued it was the party being discriminated against in being prevented from executing its First Amendment rights.  The Supreme Court disagreed, declaring, “Government has a fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education…[which] substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on [the University’s] exercise of their religious beliefs.”  The Court made clear, however, that its verdict dealt “only with religious schools – not with churches or other purely religious institutions.” 6

As Balmer and others have shown, even before the issues of abortion and homosexuality became the policy priorities of a newly politicized Christian Right, its leaders fought the perceived threat of racial equality at conservative Christian academies by claiming their religious freedom to discriminate.  This legacy should remind us that the Right’s religious liberty campaigns mobilize old arguments around new targets, and that their agenda extends beyond questions of contraception coverage, or marriage and nondiscrimination in the LGBTQ context. 

Building a political infrastructure for a counteroffensive

In the decades since Bob Jones, the Christian Right has catalyzed a conservative political realignment reflected in many ways in the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court.  One might reasonably wonder whether there might have been a different ruling in Bob Jones had Hobby Lobby been decided first.  However, it should also be noted that the court underscored that Hobby Lobby was not constructed to allow for religious justification for racial discrimination and their decision “provides no such shield.”  7

The mobilization around Bob Jones was part of the Christian Right’s long-term political development, when it pulled poorly mobilized evangelicals into civic engagement with visions of Godly governance.  Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and its successors emphasized electoral development, making the Christian Right an integral part of the GOP.  Beyond turning out current registered voters, they accomplished this by expanding the voter pool of conservative Christians and developing a class of people with the relevant skill sets and experiences to contend for power, particularly in their drive to become the dominant faction in the Republican Party.8  The Christian Right’s hands on the levers of power in government, either directly or by proxy through Republican alliances, made the job of civil rights and labor advocates that much harder.

Journalist Matthew Yglesias published an influential article in 2015 that paints a stark picture of how growing Republican control is creating opportunities for its Christian Right base.  He observes that “70 percent of state legislatures, more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and secretaries of state…are in Republican hands. And, of course, Republicans control both chambers of Congress.”9

It is a trend that appears likely to increase.  The Christian Right’s electoral plans for 2016 have long been in evidence. Here’s one brief example.  David Lane of the American Renewal Project has been developing Christian Right organizing and electoral capacity within the Republican Party for many years.  He is seeking to run 1,000 conservative Christian clergy for office at all levels in the next few years.  He claims to have held training conferences for more than 2,000 clergy in 2015 in the hows and whys of mobilizing their congregations for electoral impact. 10  Lane told Reuters in December 2015 that he was halfway to his goal of getting 1,000 pastors to run in down-ticket races.11

Then and Now: Flyer for Rally for Religious Liberty at Bob Jones University, No. 2015.

Then and Now: Flyer for Rally for Religious Liberty at Bob Jones University, No. 2015. Courtesy of https://www.tedcruz.org/ rsvp/rally/

Such campaigns seek not just to win elections, but to engage conservative Christians as a self-identified electoral force of lasting consequence.  Lane’s efforts are underwritten in part with $10 million from the families of Texas billionaires Farris and Dan Wilks.  The Wilks family has contributed another $15 million to a super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).12  This super PAC is led by Christian Nationalist author and political operative, David Barton. 13

In contrast, Yglesias warns, “Democrats have nothing at all in the works to redress their crippling weakness down the ballot.”  The failure of everyone to the left of the Religious Right to develop an effective electoral response to all this is especially remarkable because journalists and other political observers have seen the situation developing for years.14

Manhattan Declaration: A Strategic Turning Point 

A transformational moment in the contemporary Christian Right’s approach to religious freedom was the November 2009 publication of the Manhattan Declaration:  A Call to Christian Conscience – a manifesto linking three interrelated themes of “freedom of religion,” “sanctity of life,” and “dignity of marriage.”15  The culmination of decades of theological and political development, conservative Roman Catholic and evangelical strategists (joined by junior partners in the Mormon Church and Orthodox Christianity) found sufficient common theological and political ground to wage not only the short term battles of the culture wars, but to envision a 21st century notion of Christian cultural conservatism – and a way to get there.  These actors in various combinations, and sometimes in alliance with elements of Orthodox Judaism, have been tactical partners over time.  This coalition was nonetheless a real achievement that crystallized a strategic direction deploying “religious freedom” to roll back advances in LGBTQ rights and reproductive justice.

Robert P. George is the primary author of "The Manhattan Declaration."

Robert P. George is the primary author of “The Manhattan Declaration.” Courtesy of Roanoke College via Flickr. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Originally signed by 150 Christian Right leaders (followed by a half million others), it has broadened, deepened, and sustained the Roman Catholic/evangelical alliance that led the culture wars for more than a generation.  Indicative of how far they had come in transcending centuries of distrust, 50 sitting bishops, archbishops, and cardinals – not merely a token prelate or two – joined top evangelical leaders in signing the Declaration.

The Declaration seeks to unify, rally, and mobilize the Christian Right:

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right – and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation – to speak and act in defense of these truths.  We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. [Emphasis in the original.]

The document essentially defines religious freedom as being only for people who believe as they do, and as under attack by those who believe differently.  They declare,

Christians confess that God alone is Lord of the conscience.  Immunity from religious coercion is the cornerstone of an unconstrained conscience.  No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will, nor should persons of faith be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience or to express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions.  What is true for individuals applies to religious communities as well.

This foundational idea expresses the rationale for religious exemptions from the law.  Although published in 2009, the Declaration reasonably anticipated one day having to respect the equality of LGBTQ people in, among other things, marriage and employment, and the broad development of antidiscrimination laws generally.

The Declarationists also foresaw further wrangling over the question of complicity in abortion via efforts to

weaken or eliminate conscience clauses, and therefore to compel pro-life institutions (including religiously affiliated hospitals and clinics), and pro-life physicians, surgeons, nurses, and other health care professionals, to refer for abortions and, in certain cases, even to perform or participate in abortions.  We see it in the use of antidiscrimination statutes to force religious institutions, businesses, and service providers…to comply with activities they judge to be deeply immoral or go out of business.”16

The "Manhattan Declaration" essentially defines religious freedom as being only for people who believe as the authors do, and as under attack by those who believe differently.

The “Manhattan Declaration” essentially defines religious freedom as being only for people who believe as the authors do, and as under attack by those who believe differently.

Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary, explained that although he abhors Roman Catholic doctrine, “we are facing an inevitable and culture-determining decision on the three issues centrally identified in this statement.  I also believe that we will experience a significant loss of Christian churches, denominations, and institutions in this process.  There is every good reason to believe that the freedom to conduct Christian ministry according to Christian conviction is being subverted and denied before our eyes.”17

One key message of the Declaration is that when conservative Christians are required to honor federal civil rights laws, profound opposition may be required. Invoking Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the Declarationists called for “resistance to the point of civil disobedience against any legislation that might implicate their churches or charities in abortion, embryo-destructive research or same-sex marriage.”18  Their promise of resistance has since been reiterated many times by top Christian Right leaders, such as Rick Warren, Tony Perkins, and Robert P. George.19  Others have raised the possibility of violence.20

George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and prominent Roman Catholic neoconservative, originated the Declaration.  A key movement strategist, George is also the founder and guiding light of a number of related institutions that have adopted the Declaration’s issue trinity, including the National Organization for Marriage, the Witherspoon Institute, the American Principles Project, and American Principles Action.  Signers of the Declaration include most of the leaders of the organizations mentioned in this report.

The three themes of the Declaration now frame the agendas of the major organizations of the Christian Right from the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and CitizenLink (the political arm of Focus on the Family) with its three dozen state affiliates,21 to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  The formula promises to define their common platform for the foreseeable future.

On the eve of the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision of the Supreme Court that legalized marriage equality, Mat Staver, founder and leader of another Christian Right legal agency, Liberty Counsel, noted that the Declaration “anticipated what lay ahead” and that now “the future is here, and we are facing a fundamental conflict between the laws of Caesar and the laws of God.”22

LEGAL AND LEGISLATIVE PLAYERS AND TRENDS TODAY 

PRA’s 2013 report Redefining Religious Liberty exposed key organizations’ message framing, capacities, and goals. Since then, two major Christian Right law firms featured in that report, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and ADF, have played historic roles in advancing their agenda in transformational decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.  The other major trend since 2013:  These and other Christian Right groups promoting “religious freedom” have grown in revenues and influence on the national stage, adding millions to their annual budgets in two or three years (see boxes). For smaller outfits like the Becket Fund and Liberty Counsel, this infusion substantially expanded their reach.

It is worth considering in this context that over the past three decades, Christian Right-oriented law schools have arisen that developed much legal talent for the long haul. Pat Robertson founded Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach (1986) and the late Jerry Falwell established a law school at his Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA (2004).  In 1999, conservative Roman Catholic (and Domino’s Pizza magnate) Thomas Monaghan founded Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, FL.

This growing Christian Right legal infrastructure was fully engaged in these key legal developments since our 2013 report.

PROFILE: Alliance Defending Freedom (click to expand)

AllianceLogoAlliance Defending Freedom is a national legal network headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, led since its founding by Alan Sears.  It has long had a close relationship with the conservative evangelical group Focus on the Family and its national political arm, CitizenLink, along with its three dozen state affiliates.  As such it has been a vital hub in the development of legal and political talent.

ADF grew 21 percent from FY 2009 to FY 2012, increasing gross revenues from $34.7 million to $39.8 million.  ADF litigated Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell, which the Supreme Court later consolidated with what became the historic Hobby Lobby case.

ADF employs around 50 lawyers and has provided continuing legal education training to more than 1,800 attorneys.  Since 2000, its Blackstone Legal Fellowships have trained more than 1,600 first-year law students from more than 225 law schools in 21 countries.  These internships aim to inspire a “distinctly Christian worldview in every area of law, and particularly in the areas of public policy and religious liberty.”

Thus it is fair to ask: What is this distinct worldview?  While the Blackstone program includes “natural law” as part of its legal and “worldview” curriculum, its recommended reading list features books by leading Christian Reconstructionist authors who advocate for transforming society according to “Biblical principles” in all areas of life, including politics and government.117 Numerous Blackstone alumni have risen to positions of influence in state and federal courts, the federal government, the United Nations, and international agencies.118

The ADF’s model Student Privacy Policy offers a highly individualized notion of religious exemption from civil rights laws, claiming, “Allowing students to use opposite-sex restrooms and locker rooms would seriously endanger students’ privacy and safety, undermine parental authority, violate religious students’ right of conscience, and severely impair an environment conducive to learning.”  Its use of the term “opposite-sex” is clearly aimed at transgender students or in response to the introduction of trans-inclusive policies.119

Unsurprisingly, an international dimension to the struggle has emerged, with ADF launching a Global Initiative in 2010 to wage an “international fight for religious liberty for Christians and establishing a larger ADF footprint to accomplish this mission.”  ADF says it funds “human rights legal work” in Europe, North America, and South Asia.120  In so doing, it has worked in national and regional courts as well as the United Nations system. Since opening a regional office in Vienna, Austria, ADF has worked across Europe (and increasingly in Latin America) on issues of abortion, euthanasia, registration of churches, and homeschooling. In FY2012, ADF spent $6 million to build alliances with religious and secular organizations that share its interests. ADF’s 2013 annual report states:

ADF works with our allies to develop effective approaches to legal cases that could result in important state, federal, and U.S.  Supreme Court and foreign court precedents.  Our most important example of this is found in court actions upholding voter initiatives affirming the traditional definition of marriage, by defending the rule of law in our courts and governmental bodies.  ADF’s alliance has been on the leading edge of this effort.

As Gillian Kane reported in PRA’s quarterly, The Public Eye, this strategy of gaining precedents in international courts is working, with U.S. courts noting the cases in their decisions.121

PROFILE: The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (click to expand)

becketfundThe Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, founded in 1994, grew 86 percent in just four years, with a gross revenue increase from $2.7 million in FY2009 to $4.75 million in FY2012.  It litigated and won the landmark cases of Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, Hobby Lobby Stores v. Burwell, and Holt v. Hobbs.  These cases are among the most important religious liberty cases in recent American history, and, as noted, challenge contemporary understandings of the First Amendment, with implications that are just beginning to be felt.

Its case docket includes seven that are follow-ups to the Hobby Lobby case, now consolidated into one that will reach the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016.122  The case, now named Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell, challenges the procedure for seeking an exemption to the contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act.  The Little Sisters, a Roman Catholic order, does not want to be “complicit” in abortion and contraception by having to fill out the simple form requesting an exemption from the law on grounds that this would facilitate the very acts to which it objects.  Becket’s cases will be presented by Paul Clement, Solicitor General during the administration of George W. Bush, who also argued the Hobby Lobby case.123  ADF has litigated two of the seven cases.124

In addition to its remarkable domestic record, the Becket Fund frequently litigates at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France.  The ECHR is the primary international court designed to enforce the European Convention on Human Rights.125

PROFILE: Liberty Counsel (click to expand)

Liberty Counsel logoLiberty Counsel, founded in 1989 and headquartered in Orlando, Florida, is headed by Mat Staver, the (now former) longtime dean of the Liberty University School of Law.  (Liberty University is a rightwing evangelical school founded by the late Jerry Falwell.) Liberty Counsel grew 17 percent in three years, with an increase in gross revenue from $3.58 million in FY2010 to $4.20 million in FY2013.  Liberty Counsel has several related tax-exempt organizations, perhaps the most important of which is its political action arm, called Liberty Counsel Action (which is one of the organizational sponsors of the annual Values Voters Summit, the premier political conference of the Christian Right).  It grew 39 percent in two years, with an increase in gross revenue from $1.44 million in FY2011 to $2 million in FY2013.  Staver is perhaps best known for his legal defense of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses in defiance of a federal court order.  The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated Liberty Counsel as a hate group, describing it as “a legal organization advocating for anti-LGBT discrimination under the guise of religious liberty.”126

PROFILE: Stanford University Law School Religious Liberty Clinic (click to expand)

stanford bannerIn an important mainstreaming move, the huge conservative philanthropy John Templeton Foundation funneled $1.6 million through the Becket Fund to establish a religious liberty clinic at Stanford University Law School. It opened in January 2013.  “In framing our docket, we decided we would represent the believers” rather than governments, the clinic’s founding director, James Sonne, told The New York Times:  “Our job is religious liberty rather than freedom from religion.”127

Douglas Laycock, a professor of law at the University of Virginia who keynoted the clinic’s opening, said it is not a religious liberty clinic in the full sense of the term. It is not litigating the separation of church and state, but instead focusing on the “free-exercise” of religion.128  The clinic has filed 13 amicus briefs, including two on behalf of the Becket Fund; the clinic often files amicus briefs on cases in which the Becket Fund has also filed briefs.129

PROFILE: The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (click to expand)

freedom of conscience defense fund logoThe Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund in Rancho Santa Fe, California, was founded in 2012. By FY2013 it reported gross revenues of $1.33 million.  Charles Limandri, President and Chief Counsel, provides legal services at the trial level to protect religious liberty and free speech.  The Roman Catholic-oriented organization often works with attorneys affiliated with Alliance for Defending Freedom.  It is providing pro-bono representation for David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress, the producer of the infamous anti-Planned Parenthood videos released in 2015.130

PROFILE: The Liberty Institute (click to expand)

Liberty InstituteThe Liberty Institute headquartered in Plano, Texas, was founded in 1972 as the Free Market Foundation.  It has since transformed into a national religious liberty advocacy group, pro bono legal network, and funding agency.  Headed by Kelly Shackleford, the Institute more than doubled its gross revenues in two years, from $3.63 million in FY2011 to $8.4 million in FY2013.  It is currently best known for the publication of manuals for “religification” of churches and other institutions as a form of legal inoculation against civil rights lawsuits.

institutional impact

Federal Religious Freedom Cases

The Hobby Lobby chain of retail arts and craft stores based in Oklahoma City, OK, won an important religious freedom case for the Christian Right.

The Hobby Lobby chain of retail arts and craft stores based in Oklahoma City, OK, won an important religious freedom case for the Christian Right. Courtesy of Nicholas Eckhart via Flickr. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In the 2014 Hobby Lobby case opposing the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the first time that “closely held” for-profit companies with few shareholders have religious freedom – a right of the kind normally applied to individuals or religious organizations,23 and that this right may be applied in matters related to certain regulations of the Affordable Care Act.24  In so ruling, the Court gave some businesses the right to encroach on the religious liberty and workers’ rights of its employees while declaring exemptions from the law for themselves.

While commonly referred to as Hobby Lobby, it was actually a consolidated case involving Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell.  ADF represented Conestoga Wood Specialties and the Becket Fund represented Hobby Lobby.  Often overlooked is that the Court also allowed the religious views of the owners of these companies to trump medical science in claiming that the four contraceptives at issue – two kinds of birth control pills and two kinds of intrauterine devices – were abortifacients.25  An amicus brief submitted by medical associations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, stated that notwithstanding the personal views of the company owners regarding when life begins,

The medical and scientific communities define pregnancy as beginning upon implantation. While personal beliefs may dictate individual choices and values, they cannot alter established scientific standards and terminology:  abortion refers to the termination of a pregnancy.  Thus, the term ‘abortifacient’ refers to — and should only be used in connection with — drugs or devices that end a pregnancy, not those that prevent it.26

The result is that Hobby Lobby, et al. redefines what pregnancy is, and therefore what abortion is. This may become a further issue with religious claims once again trumping the religious rights and health needs of women as further litigation tests the reach of Hobby Lobby.  Feminist author Patricia Miller writes that although it was evangelicals who defeated the contraception mandate, they had a lot of Roman Catholic help. Indeed, the Catholic bishops had long “sought a broad-based conscience clause that would allow any employer or insurer to refuse to cover contraceptives for any religious or moral objection.”  They may now have one. 27

Americans United for Separation of Church and State used the hashtag #FreedomFraud to comment on the Hobby Lobby case.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State used the hashtag #FreedomFraud to comment on the Hobby Lobby case. Courtesy of www.au.org

In its decision, the Court relied on the bipartisan 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was intended to protect individuals against government actions.  RFRA set a high standard in which policymakers may not “substantially burden” a person’s exercise of religion unless they can show a “compelling governmental interest” and that the policy was the “least-restrictive means” of achieving it.  Hobby Lobby reinterprets that standard to allow not just individuals but third parties such as businesses to make claims of religious exemption from various laws.  As Professor Marci A. Hamilton of Yeshiva University’s Benjamin Cardozo School of Law noted, this interpretation of RFRA “dramatically increases the rights of religious believers against all laws as compared to the First Amendment.” 28

Hobby Lobby also relied upon a less well known law unanimously passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000: the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The Court cited RLUIPA in the first paragraph of its Hobby Lobby decision.

A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2015 that was widely deemed a reasonable accommodation of religion also relied on RLUIPA.  Holt v. Hobbs (litigated by the Becket Fund, and argued by Professor Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia Law School29), allowed an Arkansas prison inmate to grow a half-inch beard (even though beards were against prison regulations) because his Muslim faith required it.  The ruling, which relied on RLUIPA, was widely deemed a reasonable and uncontroversial accommodation of prisoner Holt’s religion.  It was, however, a significant judicial ratification of the language of RFRA and RLUIPA expanding the scope meant by the “exercise of religion.” 30

State-level Religious Freedom Restoration Acts

The original purpose of the federal RFRA was to restore individual religious liberty, seen to have been taken away in the 1990 Supreme Court case Employment Division v. Smith.  This case involved Native Americans denied state unemployment benefits in Oregon because they had been fired as state drug counselors for using the illegal drug peyote in traditional religious ceremonies.  The Court ruled that they had no legal recourse, so Congress in 1993 sought to narrowly set a standard essentially reversing the Smith decision via RFRA.

After the Supreme Court limited the scope of RFRA to the federal government (in the case of City of Boerne v. Flores),31 civil rights activists got versions of the legislation passed in 21 states.  Most of these were identical or similar to the original federal RFRA, but in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, Christian Right groups sought to pass state-level RFRAs that would allow third parties such as businesses to claim religious exemptions from laws.  This was particularly aimed at businesses that did not want to participate in any way in same-sex marriage.  In 2014, the legislation failed in several states, but passed in Mississippi, where it remains on the books.  In 2015, state RFRAs passed only in Indiana and Arkansas. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissenting in Hobby Lobby, warned, “The court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths.”  Her concerns were realized in the efforts to insert Hobby Lobby-ized provisions into state RFRAs. 32

A national controversy erupted in Indiana in March 2015 following the passage of a state RFRA which seemed to justify anti-marriage equality discrimination.  (Nineteen original sponsors of RFRA were so outraged by this trend that they withdrew their support for the act.33 )The bill was modified in April to ensure that was not the case.34  A standard RFRA has so far failed to pass the legislature in Michigan.  Instead, the state enacted legislation in June 2015 that allowed adoption agencies that contract with the state to decline service to prospective parents on religious grounds.  The principal beneficiaries of the legislation were the evangelical Bethany Christian Services and the Michigan Catholic Conference, which together reportedly provide 25 to 30 percent of adoptions in the state.35  Catholic agencies in several states, beginning in Massachusetts a decade ago, previously withdrew from providing state contracted adoption services rather than conform to state law upholding LGBTQ equality and recognizing same-sex marriages. 36  These are the kinds of exemption controversies we are likely to see for the foreseeable future, following from other such efforts to legalize LGBTQ discrimination without consequences for the discriminating party.37

Obergefell v. Hodges

Supporters en route to the Marriage Equality Rally on the day of Obergefell v. Hodges case oral hearings at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C., April 28th 2015

Supporters en route to the Marriage Equality Rally on the day of Obergefell v. Hodges case oral hearings at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C., April 28th 2015. Courtesy of Elvert Barnes Protest Photography via Flickr. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

The landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage nationally in June 2015 was a major defeat for the Religious Right, but one for which they were prepared.  As we will see, their political and legal contingency plans are now appearing all over the country, as activists invoke new forms of conscientious objection, and private spaces and places are being turned into legal bastions against the wider culture in which abortion and contraception are legal, and LGBTQ equality is mainstreamed.  The Christian Right is now busy seeking to limit the implementation of the decision and to make it as unworkable as possible, in part by attempting to subject it to a death of a thousand exemptions.

Fighting for Religious Freedom in North Carolina

A pivotal North Carolina court case from 2014, General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Reisinger, demonstrates that the Christian Right does not get to define Christianity and that LGBTQ equality can, in fact, express the sacred.

At issue was a 2012 amendment to the North Carolina state constitution asserting that same-sex marriages were invalid.  Together with the state’s general statutes, this amendment effectively criminalized the performance of same-sex marriage ceremonies. The upshot of the subsequent legal fight was that the million-member United Church of Christ (UCC), a mainline Protestant denomination with more than 5,000 local churches, won a clear victory for both marriage equality and religious liberty.  The UCC engaged the foundational values of religious equality and equal protection under the law that bind this diverse and often fractious nation.

“By depriving the Plaintiffs of the freedom to perform religious marriage ceremonies or to marry,” the UCC complaint read in part, “North Carolina stigmatizes Plaintiffs and their religious beliefs.”  The complainants also argued that the law relegated same-sex couples “to second-class status.”  Along with same-sex couples, plaintiffs also included the Alliance of Baptists, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and clergy from several traditions, including Episcopal, Lutheran, and Unitarian Universalist.

The complaint continued:

The laws forbidding same-sex marriage tell Plaintiffs that their religious views are invalid and same-sex relationships are less worthy, thus humiliating each Plaintiff and denigrating the integrity and closeness of families and religious organizations, depriving Plaintiffs of the inclusive religious community of family units they wish to establish.38

Had the amendment stood, UCC clergy and others who routinely perform same-sex marriage ceremonies could have been subject to criminal prosecution.  “We didn’t bring this lawsuit to make others conform to our beliefs,” UCC General Counsel Donald C. Clark, Jr. told The New York Times, “but to vindicate the right of all faiths to freely exercise their religious practices.”39

After a complicated legal trajectory, U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. issued a final decision after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by the state in another case.  He wrote, “It is clear [that these laws,] threatening to penalize those who would solemnize such marriages, are unconstitutional.”

Cogburn’s ruling underscores an idea that transcends the issues of the day:  that religious liberty is only possible in the context of religious pluralism.

Since then, a fresh suit filed in 2015 challenges the constitutionality of a related North Carolina state law.40  This law allows magistrates responsible for performing marriages to not only self-exempt themselves for religious reasons, but spend state funds in support of their choice.  The state would spend money to bring in a willing magistrate to perform the wedding or if necessary, issue the license if every official in a given jurisdiction declines to perform a ceremony.  The legislation also pays retirement benefits for the time out of office of those who resigned as a matter of conscientious objection but were later reappointed after the law took effect.  Among the plaintiffs are a same-sex couple from the Reisinger case and an interracial couple barred from marrying in the era of miscegenation laws.

About 5 percent of North Carolina’s roughly 670 magistrates had filed recusal paperwork as of September 2015.41 Utah is the only other state currently allowing religious-objection opt outs for court officials.

‘RELIGIFICATION’ AND ZONES OF EXEMPTION

In the ever-shifting terrain of the so-called culture wars, the Christian Right is seeking to minimize its losses and consolidate its reserve strengths by seeking individual, institutional, and territorial exemptions from laws and regulations on religious grounds so they do not have to follow the same rules as the rest of society.  These overlapping exemptions threaten to give rise to theocratic zones of control violating the religious liberty of those who find themselves under their sway.  By opposing government sovereignty, the zones also would feed into the antigovernment efforts of free marketeers who oppose government regulation.

Individual Exemptions

In the United States, religious liberty historically has been considered first and foremost a right for individuals.  Individuals are free to believe as they will, shielded from the undue influence of powerful religious institutions or the government.  This was not intended as an exemption from the law.  Everyone from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that freedom of conscience is limited in some areas of conduct.  But the religious and political Right are increasingly turning to civil libertarian ideas to seek exemption from the legal norms of society, even at the expense of the rights of others.

President Obama and Pope Francis in Washington D.C., September 2015

President Obama and Pope Francis in Washington D.C., September 2015. Image courtesy of the White House..

Supported by Christian Right institutions, individual pharmacists and health workers have sought exemptions to avoid being “complicit” in abortion and contraception. Similarly, government workers and elected officials have sought to gain exemption from executing same-sex marriages.   Sometimes they make headlines.  Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis went to jail (briefly) rather than have her office issue same-sex marriage licenses. Some probate judges in Alabama invoked a segregation-era law to stop issuing all marriage licenses in their counties to avoid issuing same-sex marriage licenses: an all-White Alabama legislature passed the 1961 law making it optional for counties to issue marriage licenses, so judges could avoid issuing licenses to interracial couples.  As of October 2015, at least nine of Alabama’s 67 counties have quit issuing marriage licenses since the June Obergefell decision.42

Legislatures are also weighing in.  In North Carolina, the Family Policy Council (the state political affiliate of Focus on the Family) wrote a bill allowing clerk magistrates and registers of deeds to ask a judge to “recuse” them from performing all marriages by stating that performance of same-sex marriages would violate their religious beliefs.  It passed over the governor’s veto and, as mentioned, is now in the courts.  Even though the reason for the recusal may be same-sex marriage, the aim is apparently to avoid charges of discrimination since these elected officials would recuse themselves from participating in all marriages.43

Even before Obergefell legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the Christian Right was preparing conscientious objection strategies based on existing law in several states.  In 2012, for example, ADF advised that officials responsible for issuing marriage licenses in Maine, Maryland, and Washington did not have to violate their religious conscience by personally issuing licenses to same-sex couples.  They said existing state laws allowed them to delegate responsibility for issuing the licenses to others who do not have conscience-based objections.44  No one took them up on it, and not all states have such provisions for conscientious objection.  But the utility of the idea as a tactic became clear as marriage equality advanced.

Pope Francis highlighted religious freedom and the right to conscientious objection during his widely celebrated U.S. visit.  The pontiff discussed religious liberty during his visit to the White House, in his address to Congress, and especially in his speech in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.45  On the flight back to Rome, Terry Moran, Chief Foreign Correspondent for ABC News, asked him about government officials who refuse to perform their duties because of religious objections to same-sex marriage.  The Pope replied that “conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right.”46  Soon afterward, news broke of his secret meeting with Kim Davis (which has since led to much speculation, confusion, and controversy,47 with the Vatican asserting “his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.”).48

Religious Freedom rally in Washington D.C., 2012.

Religious Freedom rally in Washington D.C., 2012. Courtesy of American Life League via Flickr. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

There was no ambiguity in Pope Francis’ visit with the Little Sisters of the Poor while he was in Washington, D.C.  “This is a sign, obviously of support for them [in their court case against the contraception waiver under the Affordable Care Act]” said Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the head of the Vatican Press Office.  “In this sense,” he added, “it is connected also to the words that the Pope has said in support of the Bishops of the United States in the speech to President Obama.”49

No one should be surprised.  In 2014, Francis slammed as “bastardized” any definitions of marriage and family that do not comport with Church teaching, including “new forms” of unions which are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”50

Meanwhile, the notion of accommodation took a different turn in Utah in April 2015.  The state legislature passed a workplace and housing nondiscrimination law with strong religious exemptions, co-written by civil rights groups and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints or LDS (commonly known as the Mormon Church).  As PRA reported at the time, the Mormons collaborated with conservative legal theorist Robin Fretwell Wilson to help draft it.  The bill added sexual orientation to the list of protected classes against whom employers and landlords cannot discriminate – but exempted faith-based schools, hospitals and organizations from conforming to the law.51

PRA Communications Director Eric Ethington criticized the “compromise” as a “watered-down nondiscrimination law” that undermines the LGBTQ and other minority communities.  The price, he noted, was the de facto “endorsement by high-profile LGBTQ groups of the Right’s false contention that religious freedom is somehow at odds with LGBTQ rights, requiring a compromise.” 52

The Church capitalized on the situation, secretly writing a second bill that granted county clerk employees a religious exemption from processing same-sex marriage licenses, as long as there was someone else in the office available to do the job.  The Mormon Church then told lawmakers that if it didn’t also pass, the Church would withdraw its support for the so-called nondiscrimination law.  Human rights groups were caught flat-footed and reluctantly released a statement saying they “did not oppose” the second bill.

Revealing a tension between the Christian Right’s notion of religious liberty and the LDS Church’s belief that it must always conform to the law, Mormon Elder Dallin H.  Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the church, said that public officials “are not free to apply personal convictions – religious or other – in place of the defined responsibilities of their public offices.”  Apparently referring to the Kim Davis episode, he added, “A county clerk’s recent invoking of religious reasons to justify refusal by her office and staff to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples violates this principle.”53

One way that the Christian Right is developing and promoting legal justifications and popular messaging is by publishing legal guides for individuals and institutions in order to generate popular resistance to legal and cultural safeguards against religious supremacy.  For example, there has always been (and probably always will be) a degree of tension about when and how students and staff can engage in religious expression in public schools.  But Liberty Institute is ramping up its efforts to expand reasonable accommodation, issuing a Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Students and Teachers.

The booklet addresses a range of issues, from religious expression in class to Christmas celebrations.  While not all of the information is incorrect, it is premised on the notion that a creeping antireligious secularism in the schools must be combated because, the Institute claims, it results in rising “crime and suicide rates…in our schools while academic scores and career readiness are falling.”54  This too, is a carefully worded retread of a long disproved meme, linking the elimination of official school prayer to crime and other negative social and economic indicators. It is a meme that, like the claim of creeping secularism and its variants, falls apart under scrutiny.55  It also conveniently ignores the high incidence of bullying and suicide among LGBTQ students.

Religious liberty struggles are also expanding in the military.  Here Christian Right groups resist the protection of the constitutional rights of all with demands for accommodation and legal exemptions for Christian expression – largely proselytizing – and religious coercion by the chain of command.

Tony Perkins and Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William G. “Jerry” Boykin of the Family Research Council claim that: “pressures to impose a secular, anti-religious culture on our nation’s military services have intensified tremendously during the Obama Administration.”  They attribute this to targeting of the military by “anti-Christian activists.”56

In 2013, the Washington, DC-based Family Research Council (FRC) published A Clear and Present Danger:  the Threat to Religious Liberty in the Military as a prelude to launching a coalition made up of about two dozen Christian Right political and legal groups to address these issues.57  This was at once an effort to control the definition of religious freedom in the military context, and a response to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which opposes religious intimidation and coercion by people in positions of power (usually evangelical Christians) within the U.S. military. One group has alleged, for example, that MRFF is an “Anti-Christian Bigotry Group,” and that MRFF uses “lawsuits and intimidation to silence any reference to Christianity from the public square.”58

Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council published a 2nd edition of "A Clear and Present Danger" in 2015.

Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council published a 2nd edition of “A Clear and Present Danger” in 2015.

Liberty Institute screens requests from members of the armed services for legal assistance, and refers potential cases to members of the coalition’s legal team and network of attorneys.  The Institute produced a Religious Liberty Protection Kit for the U.S. Military, which emphasizes the key terms of RFRA and the recent court decisions hinging on it.  Specifically, consistent with the language of RFRA (and RLUIPA) via Hobby Lobby, it claims that the military must accommodate “sincerely held religious beliefs” and that the government may “deny… religious expression only when it can show a compelling governmental interest and uses the least restrictive option in accomplishing that interest.”59

Institutional Exemptions

The notion that businesses, schools, and other institutions have a right to the religious freedom accorded religious institutions and individual clergy is a key ground of contestation in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions relying on its interpretation of RFRA.

The Court’s Hobby Lobby decision concluded that private, for-profit businesses may be exempted from the law, but the ruling did not spell out how far religious liberty claims of exemption could go, and is likely to be tested in the courts for years to come.  The Little Sisters of the Poor case involves refusing to file the paperwork to request a religious exemption from the mandate.  The federal government has made clear that the exemption would be granted, but the Becket Fund is arguing that it violates the order’s conscience even to have to request it.60

Beyond this the Christian Right is seeking to advance its agenda by expanding the definition of ministry.  Their legal groups’ key tactic is to build on the unanimous 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Briefly, in Hosanna-Tabor, a mainline Lutheran-owned school fired a social studies teacher over a disability, leading to the teacher’s claim that she suffered from discrimination.  The church argued that the government had no right to intervene in its employment decisions since the teacher served in a ministerial capacity because she was “called” by the church (unlike lay teachers in the school), led students in prayer three times a day as part of her duties and taught religion four times a week.  The Court agreed, extending the longstanding “ministerial exception” to the teacher, and saying that relationship trumped any unlawful discrimination charge.61  It thus raised Christian Right hopes that the Court will stretch the notion of ministry even more in the future.  The words of Chief Justice John Roberts who authored the decision were encouraging.  The court had opted not to “adopt a rigid formula for deciding when an employee qualifies as a minister.”  The limited time the social studies teacher spent on religious duties was sufficient, in the view of the court, to define the role of a teacher as one of ministry.

“Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision,” wrote Roberts. “By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes the Free Exercise Clause, which protects a religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments.” 62

Christian Right leaders and advocates for the interests of religious institutions saw Hosanna-Tabor as a “great victory” and a departure from “the usual focus on the religious rights of individuals.”63  Dr. C. Peter Wagner, the evangelical founder of the theocratic New Apostolic Reformation 64 and a longtime professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, observed that: “not only churches, but ministries supported by the church are included in this ruling.  Schools are specifically mentioned, but how about a number of other kinds of ministries attached to our churches and apostolic networks? I would think they would fall under the same umbrella.” 65  Mormon apostle Dallin H. Oaks said he found “comfort” in the decision, against thethreat” of governmental actions that he believes “are overshadowing the free exercise of religion by making it subordinate to other newly found ‘civil rights.’” 66

The Wall Street Journal editorialized, “The case is arguably among the most important religious liberty cases in a half century, and the concurrence of Justices across the ideological spectrum will be felt for years. Hallelujah.”67  The Becket Fund called it “the greatest religious liberty case in 50 years.”68  They may not be wrong about its significance – even though many opponents of the Christian Right agree that the Court ruled correctly in the case.

The Christian Right is already exploiting the open-endedness of the Court’s definition of ministry.  The extent to which religiously affiliated institutions such as schools, charities, hospitals, and perhaps even for-profit businesses can define employees as ministers is now an active question – certain to be tested – as conservative religious movements and leaders seek to carve out zones of exemption from the advance of secular law, equality, and accountability.

The practical effects of Hosanna-Tabor are already being felt as several Roman Catholic dioceses have sought to reclassify teachers and other Catholic school employees as part of the “ministry” of the church.69  This religification was on vivid display in early 2015, when Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, following Roman Catholic prelates in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Honolulu, and Oakland, declared that teachers in the Catholic schools will be required to conform to Catholic teaching in their personal lives.  (As chair of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage of the USCCB, Cordileone is a leading culture warrior.)70  Cordileone wanted unionized employees to accept contract and faculty handbook language against homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, contraceptives, and artificial insemination.  He also said that all Catholic school employees – even non-Catholics – must conform with and not contradict Church teachings.71  Cordileone’s initiative was met with resistance in San Francisco, but the future battle lines in San Francisco and beyond are clearly drawn.

As employers, religious institutions themselves are subject to labor laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, federal income tax, and Social Security withholdings.  But in recent years, a number of Roman Catholic colleges and universities have claimed, for example, that the National Labor Relations Board lacks jurisdiction over union organizing among their workers.72  They have thus far not succeeded, but they will surely continue testing the breadth and depth of implications of the Hosanna-Tabor decision.73

Cordileone’s attempts to religify San Francisco’s Catholic school employees were in fact part of a larger effort by the Christian Right to “religify” religious – and also nonreligious – institutions and businesses by linking them and their employees to ministerial duties.74  The tactic aims to advance and consolidate Christian Right gains at the Supreme Court, and stanch other losses.

Christian Right legal groups are issuing manuals for conservative churches and other organizations to inoculate themselves against private lawsuits and government enforcement of civil rights laws.  Under the rubric of religification, the Liberty Institute urges institutions to specify, document, and enforce their beliefs as a defensive tactic against feared legal attacks.  This includes:

…examining articles of incorporation, bylaws, employee handbooks, policies & procedures, independent contractor agreements, and other documentation to ensure that churches, ministries, and faith-based businesses are prepared and protected against legal and financial ruin from individuals and organizations who are offended by traditional religious viewpoints—and seek to litigate employment or discrimination claims to further a larger political or cultural agenda. 75

Having lost the main legal battle over marriage equality in the United States, the Christian Right is hunkering down for what they foresee as a long siege against conservative Christian churches, businesses, and organizations on this, and a range of concerns.  The Liberty Institute’s religification manuals demonstrate that Christian Right leaders of the culture war intend to fight LGBTQ rights and marriage equality in the states, in the towns and cities, and in many kinds of institutions for years to come.

Alliance Defending Freedom and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission co-published "Protecting Your Ministry From Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Lawsuits."

Alliance Defending Freedom and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission co-published “Protecting Your Ministry From Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Lawsuits.”

In 2015, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), joined forces with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention to issue another such handbook, urging religification by revising documents – from employee job descriptions to facility rental agreements – for churches and related institutions. Workers and volunteers should be reclassified under a broad redefinition of “ministry,” and institutional functions should be cast in terms of religious doctrine.  The goal is to qualify for broad “ministerial exemptions” from the law.76

The ADF and ERLC handbook, Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Lawsuits:  A Legal Guide for Southern Baptist and Evangelical Churches, Schools, and Ministries, anticipates needing to “engage a hostile social and political culture… amid the gathering spiritual darkness.”  Consistent with the dualistic framing that pits LGBTQ rights against religious freedom, the ERLC claims, “A new concept – that “sexual liberty” trumps religious freedom – has begun to impact churches, ministries, and Christians across this nation.”77

The Liberty Institute sees it as “not a matter of if but when religious institutions will be faced with damaging, anti-religious legal attacks.”78  [Emphasis in the original.]  To prepare, the Institute advises institutions from churches and synagogues to fraternities and for-profit corporations to “religify.”79

The Institute has also issued Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Christian Schools, which, like their manual for churches, “provides templates and guides for writing legally defensible statements of faith, mission, purpose, school bylaws and constitutions, and more.”80  The Institute plans to issue similar manuals for nonprofit organizations, businesses, and even fraternities and sororities.81

The Southern Baptist manual suggests assigning “… employees duties that involve ministerial, teaching, or other spiritual qualifications – duties that directly further the religious mission.  For example, if a church receptionist answers the phone, the job description might detail how the receptionist is required to answer basic questions about the church’s faith, provide religious resources, or pray with callers.”82

While the courts may not buy the idea that a receptionist can be reasonably construed as a minister in the legal sense, this is the kind of thinking that is permeating the conservative Christian world in the wake of Hosanna-Tabor.

This religification project has immediate implications on matters of sexual identity. The Liberty Institute’s template titled “Statement of Faith:  Marriage and Human Sexuality” advances a strident, exclusivist, and detailed doctrine identifying permanent, heterosexual marriage or celibacy as the only acceptable parameters of human sexuality, stating,

All of our members, employees, and volunteers must affirm and adhere to this Doctrinal and Religious Absolute statement on marriage and human sexuality to qualify for involvement with the ministry.  This is necessary to accomplish our religious mission, goals and purpose.83

The Institute’s Facility Use Policy agreement would require outside groups and individuals to conform to a given church’s views on faith, marriage, sexuality, and gender identity.  This is intended to help these institutions avoid “legal and financial ruin” due to the activities of “individuals and organizations that are offended by traditional religious viewpoints and seek to litigate employment or discrimination claims to further a larger political or cultural agenda.84  The goal, they say is to be able to “prove the sincerity of their faith – and protect themselves from coming legal attacks.”85

"Religious Liberty Protection Kits" published by the Liberty Institute.

“Religious Liberty Protection Kits” published by the Liberty Institute.

The Baptists claim that a reason for such measures is that malevolent intentions lurk behind the passage of local LGBTQ anti-discrimination ordinances.  These laws “are not designed for the innocent purpose of ensuring all people receive basic services,” they claim.  “Rather, their practical effect is to legally compel Christians to accept, endorse, and even promote messages, ideas, and events that violate their faith.”  The manual avers that religification cannot inoculate institutions from “all attacks by marriage counterfeits and those advocating for complete sexual license.”  But it concludes that these measures might place an organization in a “more defensible legal position should it face a lawsuit for discrimination.”86

This is also the goal of conservative Christian colleges that receive federal funds seeking exemption from Obama administration guidelines regarding matters of sex and gender identity, homosexuality, and marital status.  Like other religifying institutions, the schools are seeking to put themselves in the most legally defensible position they can if they are sued for discrimination.

These requests follow a religification-style template produced by the Springfield, VA-based Christian Legal Society, an early Christian Right legal project founded in 1961 that has specialized in education cases and wider religious freedom matters since 1980.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights granted waivers to 27 religious colleges and universities in 17 states in 2014 and 2015.  Most of these are conservative evangelical schools.  Some are Roman Catholic.  More applications are reportedly pending.  The waiver granted to the Southern Baptist-affiliated Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee, includes women who have had an abortion or who may be pregnant.87

When the U.S. Congress passed Title IX in 1972 to combat discrimination based on sex in education, Congress stipulated that a school that is “controlled by a religious organization” may be exempt if compliance “would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.”

Such requests were rare until 2014 when the Obama administration issued guidance that the Title IX discrimination prohibition extends to transgender and gender nonconforming people. 88

Belmont Abbey College, a Benedictine Catholic school near Charlotte, NC wrote regarding their policies on gender, sexual identity, and marital status, “We will make institutional decisions in light of this policy regarding housing, student admission and retention, appropriate conduct, employment, hiring and retention, and other matters.”89

Biola University (founded as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles) requires its faculty to sign a statement of creedal conformity; and requires non-faculty employees to state in what ways they are in disagreement and their reasons why.  Their views on abortion and on traditional marriage are deemed non-negotiable and “require the full agreement and support of all employees.” 90

All of these religification measures aim to allow institutional leaders to at once justify and compel their institutions, staff, and students into deeper conformity with contemporary religious orthodoxies, including those at odds with the civil and Constitutional rights of others.

Exceptional Exemptions in Indiana (click to expand)

Indiana is a hotbed of conflict over the politics of exemptions as this report goes to press. At stake are both a state version of RFRA and whether the statehouse can preempt and limit local LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances.

In 2015, after public outcry, Indiana’s legislature amended a state RFRA it had just passed, specifying that the new law was not intended to legalize discrimination.  The law had allowed for third parties, specifically businesses, to claim a right to discriminate if their owners had sincerely held religious beliefs against same-sex marriage.  The so-called RFRA fix131 also clarified that it would not supersede local antidiscrimination ordinances.

But the story does not end there.  Two Christian Right groups, the Indiana Family Institute and the American Family Association of Indiana, filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the amendment to the state RFRA is unconstitutional.  They claim that specifying that RFRA does not afford anyone room to discriminate not only violates their religious liberty, but also their freedom of conscience, right to free speech and association, equal protection under the law, and right to due process.

The lawsuit also challenges the constitutionality of the city ordinances passed by Indianapolis a decade ago and Carmel in 2015, which banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The suit contends that protecting the rights of LGBTQ people in nondiscrimination laws violates the religious freedom of those who oppose homosexuality, as does the RFRA “fix.”  “The ‘fix’ makes people of faith second-class citizens,” according to Indiana Family Institute president Curt Smith.  The Institute’s attorney, James Bopp Jr., further claims that the government is protecting LGBTQ-friendly religions while other religions will “suffer government punishment if they don’t fall in line” and that “this discrimination between religious views is unconstitutional.” 132

Many leaders of the Christian Right do not in fact believe in civic equality for those with whom they religiously disagree or otherwise do not approve.  Indeed, the suit claims that by barring individuals and businesses from discriminating against LGBTQ people in employment, housing, and public accommodations, local antidiscrimination ordinances in Indiana compel conservative Christians “to associate with activities and social, political, and ideological messages with which they disagree, which are substantial burdens on free association.”

This pitting of the religious rights of some against the civic equality of others is at the heart of many contemporary disputes about the meaning of religious freedom.

In the second conflict, a bill before the Indiana state legislature would ban local jurisdictions (cities, towns, and counties) from enacting their own laws governing everything from land use to minimum wage and other workplace issues, as well as LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinances. Such measures are part of a significant trend.  Nearly all states, PRA’s Mariya Strauss reports, “have already done away with cities’ and towns’ ability to pass local gun control laws; not quite as many states have blocked local control of tobacco, e-cigarettes, and environmental regulations.”133

Borrowing from anti-LGBTQ policies established in Arkansas earlier this year and Tennessee in 2011, the proposed legislation in Indiana would prohibit local ordinances that would be “more stringent or otherwise in conflict” with the bill.134  The bill also borrows from the controversial “First Amendment Defense Act,” introduced but not passed by Congress (see page 23 of this report).  The bill would provide broad religious exemptions for individuals and organizations to discriminate, including adoption agencies, nonprofit schools, and religiously affiliated organizations “that provides social services or charitable services.”135

That such obvious discrimination is being so blatantly cloaked in a broad religious freedom claim is extraordinary.  Yet Indiana Republicans claim the coarse bigotry in “Senate Bill 100 is a good-faith attempt to balance religious liberty and the civil rights of LGBT Hoosiers.”136

Territorial Exemptions Involving Zoning and Land Use

Religious institutions invoke religious liberty to give them the upper hand in local zoning and land use issues using the Religious Land Use Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) signed by President Clinton in 2000.91  The law gives religious institutions access to the federal courts to make religious liberty claims in local zoning cases, and makes localities liable for damages and attorney’s fees.  Professor Hamilton of Benjamin Cardozo School of Law argues that religious visions for property can lead to a sense of entitlement that transcends respect for, and fair treatment of the rights and interests of, others.92  Similar situations exist when churches seek to add childcare centers, homeless shelters, and other facilities deemed incompatible with residential land use regulations.

In RLUIPA you can see the main elements of the Christian Right’s approach to religious liberty and the expansive notions of religious exemptions that flow from it.  It creates a presumption of antireligionism on the part of people who oppose a particular project.  Resistance by residential neighborhoods to the addition or expansion of large modern religious institutions is, of course, not necessarily a matter of being anti-Christian, anti-Jewish or antireligious in any sense of the word.  And yet, the charge that religious bigotry is involved is given great credence under RLUIPA. 93

The law’s biggest boosters are Christian Right ideologues like Anthony Picarello.  A litigator for the Becket Fund for seven years, he is now the General Counsel for and Associate General Secretary for Policy and Advocacy of the Roman Catholic USCCB.94 “RLUIPA does not create ‘two classes of citizens’ across religious lines.”  Instead, he claims, “it creates two classes of activities – land use that involves religious exercise, and land use that does not – and then reinforces the constitutional protection for all citizens who choose to use their land for religious exercise.”  Hamilton observes in response, “In other words, religious land is more valuable than anyone else’s.  Note also his sly use of the phrase ‘constitutional protection,’ as though RLUIPA is constitutionally required.  It is not.”95

The presumption of the superiority of religious uses of land over all others, and that opposition is rooted in hyper-secular or even antireligious animus, is in line with the underlying views of the signers of the Manhattan Declaration.

RFRA AND THE BIPARTISAN MEMO

A key battleground is whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allows federal contractors and grantees to discriminate in their hiring.  A legal analysis by the Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice justified such a reading of the law.  This reading – what is referred to in D.C.-shorthand as “the OLC Memo”– continues to stand under President Obama despite the efforts of civil rights advocates.

Religious agencies use the OLC Memo to justify discriminating in favor of members of their own faith, even if the grant program in question requires recipients not to do so.  The Memo’s influence extends deeply into federal programs including the 2014 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  Certain religiously affiliated organizations that receive federal funds under VAWA use religion as a criterion when hiring employees using taxpayer dollars, despite the law’s clear nondiscrimination requirement.

Following years of unsuccessful efforts to get the Obama administration to rescind the Memo, 130 civil rights, labor, and liberal organizations wrote to President Obama in August 2015 urging him to reconsider it.96  As Americans United for Separation of Church and State (a leader in the effort) put it, the OLC Memo provides a legal rationale for “taxpayer-funded religious discrimination.”97

The August 2015 letter states that “some have cited the OLC Memo in arguing that RFRA should broadly exempt religiously affiliated contractors from the nondiscrimination requirements” in an executive order barring government contractors from discriminating against LGBTQ workers.  Others claim the Memo allows them to refuse to provide services or referrals required under federal funding agreements covering medical care for unaccompanied immigrant children who are victims of sexual abuse.

Despite saying the right things about religious and gender equality – and as a candidate vowing to repeal the Memo –President Obama is dragging his feet on the matter.  The administration’s official inaction has allowed millions of dollars to be channeled to groups that engage in religious and antigay discrimination via the “faith-based” offices in 13 federal agencies and departments.  The administration is secretive about the budgets, grantees and their activities, as journalists and advocacy groups learn when they try to get information.98

This trend of awarding ever greater special status to “faith-based” organizations runs deep in elements of both the Democratic and Republican parties.99  What is more, this is among a number of faith-based points of discrimination that the Obama administration allows to stand; discredited HIV and abstinence-only pregnancy prevention programs still receive money, as journalist Andy Kopsa reported in The Nation in 2014.100

Meanwhile conservatives in Congress are not only relying on the OLC Memo to support discrimination.  They responded to the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage with an ill-fated piece of legislation called the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA). 101  The Act would make it legal for businesses and public officials to use their religious beliefs as an excuse to discriminate against LGBTQ people.  Christian Right groups also want state legislatures to approve similar measures that stop the government from discriminating against those who do not believe in marriage equality.  The Conservative Action Project, a strategy group headed by Reagan-era Attorney General Edwin Meese, invoked the alleged threat to religious liberty to rally movement conservatives around the bill declaring, “No individual should lose their tax exempt status, face disqualification, be fined, or lose grants or contracts for following their beliefs.”102  In fact, such legislation has been introduced in Indiana.  (See box)

Writing in support of FADA, the USCCB made an astounding claim that casts a fresh light on the Church’s intentions to legalize anti-LGBTQ discrimination even without relying on claims of religious conscientious objection.  The bishops explained in supporting the bill that the “[a]ct would protect a wide array of persons, including individuals and organizations – both for-profits and nonprofits – regardless of whether or not they are religiously affiliated.  Thus, business owners as well as faith communities would be protected.”

The USCCB argues that the legislation is needed to prevent the federal government from joining in an alleged growing intolerance of and discrimination by state governments “toward religiously-minded individuals and organizations who want to live by their conviction that marriage is the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”103  In other words, the Roman Catholic bishops want business owners to be able to discriminate against same-sex married couples even without the fig leaf of religious conscientious objection.

The proposal’s implications go well beyond issues of discrimination.  Walter Olsen of the libertarian Cato Institute observed that the proposed legislation would “even exempt federal workers who don’t want to process benefits and rights claims made by married same-sex couples.  There are at least 1,100 such benefits under federal law.”  Olsen considers the bill to be one directional, protecting proponents of “traditional values” while denying equal protection to proponents of marriage equality or sex outside of one-man-one-woman marriage.104

THE POWER OF DUALISTIC THINKING

An animating notion across the widest spectrum of the Religious Right is the idea that Christianity, and often religion itself, is under siege and that everyone from teachers, to LGBTQ activists, to reproductive health providers, and certainly atheists and advocates of “big government” are part of a continuum of an existential threat.  One cannot understate the seriousness with which many on the Christian Right take this ancient and powerful idea, nor how it animates our contemporary politics.

Other Christian leaders and the organizations they lead are working to expose this dualistic narrative that this is a fight between the religious and the antireligious.  The United Church of Christ (UCC) took this on in North Carolina, when it successfully challenged the anti-marriage equality amendment to the state constitution on grounds that it criminalized ceremonies which they and other religious communities considered to be valid and sacred.  This was a religious freedom claim against a state law that privileged one group of religious views of marriage over others.

The North Carolina case underscores that religious freedom is only possible in the context of religious pluralism.  It also reveals that when Christian Right leaders talk about religious liberty, they often really mean theocratic supremacism of their own religious beliefs institutionalized in government.  Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, suggested that the UCC is not really Christian, and that those who support LGBTQ rights don’t have the same rights as conservative Christians – because “true religious freedom” only applies to “orthodox religious viewpoints.”105   UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer responded, “There is no liberty intended” if it is “only for those who believe as we do.”  He is confident that “our commitment to religious liberty” can withstand contemporary attacks by the Christian Right.106

Still, in light of the growing support for the civil rights of LGBTQ people, Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee (among others) has repeatedly claimed that the United States is moving toward “criminalization of Christianity.”107  As preposterous as such claims may sound to many Americans, they resonate deeply with those who are grounded in the idea that Christianity is incompatible with marriage equality, reproductive rights, LGBTQ civil rights, and broad social inclusion.

Throughout American history, “established power brokers” have stirred up sexual fears when they feel their position is threatened, explain Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the president of the North Carolina NAACP, and Christian writer Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.  “The widespread acceptance of interracial relationships makes ‘mongrelization’ a moot point in 21st-century America.  But we who know this history can see that public expressions of concern about the ‘gay lifestyle’ are not about religious freedom.  They are about dividing an increasingly diverse electorate that has twice elected a black president.”

Referring to state level RFRAs, they added, “As Southern preachers engaged in moral-fusion organizing, we say to our fellow ministers:  ‘religious freedom’ laws are an immoral ploy to stir up old fears. As people of faith, we must oppose them.” 108

The academic Marci Hamilton also turns to history to challenge the Christian Right’s dualistic notion that it is engaged in a battle between religiosity and its enemies.  “Many of the early American colonists departed Britain to escape the theological mandates imposed on them by the European theocracies that blended sovereign and religious power,” she reminds us.  “In this pluralist society, the pressure by a subset of Christians to push for a single moral vision… cannot be characterized other than as a drive to institute a theocracy in their own image.”109

The narrative is powerful, but it cannot stand up to the facts of history, or to existing political and social reality.  Acknowledgement of the very existence of religious support for reproductive rights and marriage equality blows up this notion.  Yet even civil rights activists sometimes unwittingly fall into the narrative.

The values of religious freedom, pluralism and separation of church and state are essential guiding principles that can keep our religiously plural society from factionalizing to the point of religious warfare.  Without them, the country risks splintering into what Hamilton calls “a collection of separate mini-theocracies” carved out in law. 110

How contemporary religious rights and civil equality of religious minorities and dominant factions are respected and managed in a religiously plural society is something that the Revolutionary leaders could not have imagined.  We need to wrestle with our lineage in the current moment.  Our future on these matters is in our own hands.

The question in our time then becomes, what beliefs shall be accommodated, and if so, to what degree and by what standard?  And perhaps most significant, who gets to decide?

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The contemporary Christian Right has been developing and fine-tuning its approach to religious freedom for decades.111  For the Christian Right, it is part of an integrated agenda of religious and political philosophies and issues, accompanied by steady strategic capacity building.  The historic reframing of religious freedom as one of three main concerns outlined by Christian Right leaders in the 2009 Manhattan Declaration is underappreciated outside of the conservative Christian community.  By the same token, the full implications of the major decisions of the Supreme Court outlined in this report will be felt for at least as many decades as it took for the Christian Right to develop a religious freedom agenda (and the coalitional, electoral, and legislative capacity to carry it out).

These conflicts are integral to the story of our time.  We owe it to ourselves, our shared concerns, and to the preservation of the best of our history, culture and shared values to rise to these distinct and in many ways unprecedented challenges.

The Christian Right aims to profoundly reorganize our relationship to law, religion, government, and to each other.  The rights of women, workers, and racial, religious, and sexual minorities, are all deeply threatened.  More broadly, the ability of government to ensure equal protection under the law is under assault.  To meet this threat will require more than a broadening of tactical coordination among racial equality, feminist, LGBTQ, labor, civil libertarian, progressive religious, and other constituencies.  We face a decades-long struggle that will require our own long game, comprising durable strategies, alliances, and campaigns that include and transcend any specific legal, legislative, communications, or culture change approach.

Religious Freedom Day (click to expand)

Every year since 1992, Religious Freedom Day has been recognized on January 16 with a presidential proclamation.  The day commemorates the enactment of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786.  This law is so integral to our history that Thomas Jefferson viewed his role in creating it as one of the three signature accomplishments of his life — along with writing the Declaration of Independence and founding the University of Virginia.

Here is why Jefferson thought it was that important.

Jefferson drafted the bill in 1777 but it took nearly a decade to be shepherded into law by James Madison, then a member of the House of Delegates.  The law not only disestablished the Anglican Church as the state church of Virginia, but also declared that citizens are free to believe as they will, and that this “shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”137  Historians widely regard it as the root of how the framers of the Constitution approached matters of religion and government.  It was as revolutionary as the era in which it was written.

religious freedom day tweetFollowing the statute’s dramatic passage in 1786, Madison traveled to Philadelphia where he served as a principal author of the Constitution in 1787.  As a member of Congress in 1789, he was also a lead author of the First Amendment, which passed in 1791.  But the new nation was hardly unified on the matter of religious freedom.  Some did not like the Virginia Statute any more than they liked the Constitution and its First Amendment.  So before his death, Jefferson sought to get the last word on what it meant.

The Statute, he wrote, contained “within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohametan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”  These words ring down through time in the face of contemporary demagogues calling for religious tests on refugees and international travelers. Jefferson and the leaders of the founding era not only knew Muslims but that religious freedom only meant something if Muslims had equal protection under the law.138

So with this clear and powerful statement Jefferson, almost 200 years ago, refutes contemporary claims that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Jefferson further explained that the legislature had rejected proposed language that would have described “Jesus Christ” as “the holy author of our religion.”  This was rejected, he reported, “by the great majority.”

The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom does not fit the Christian Right’s narrative of history or justify its shining vision of a theocratic future.  But they actively seek to minimize this problem.  For example, topping the list from a Google search for Religious Freedom Day is ReligiousFreedomDay.com, run by a small outfit called Gateways to Better Education.  It treats the Day as an opportunity to evangelize in the public schools. “Religious Freedom Day is not ‘celebrate-our-diversity day,’” they insist.139

By contrast, in his 2015 proclamation, President Obama declared that religious freedom “protects the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose, to change their faith, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free from persecution and fear.”t140

That’s why it was so significant that in 2015, the Washington DC-based Coalition for Liberty and Justice — composed of 60 organizations opposed to the imposition of “one religious viewpoint on all” — decided to seize the day.141  The Coalition, whose members include Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Catholics for Choice, National Council of Jewish Women, National LGBTQ Task Force, Secular Coalition for America, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, took to the op-ed pages and social media and launched a conversation that continues.

Case Study: Workers Win Victory for Religious Freedom Against Church-Run Health and Hospital Company (click to expand)

In a major setback for Christian Right efforts to evade the law in the name of religious freedom, a federal appeals court held in December 2015 that a Catholic hospital pension plan was not eligible for a religious exemption from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) protecting individuals in most private pensions by setting minimum standards. In Kaplan v. St. Peter’s Healthcare System, the federal Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, determined that the hospital did not qualify as a church, and thus is not entitled to the religious exemption under the law.

The St. Peter’s Healthcare System of New Brunswick, NJ, had established its own employee retirement plan, which it underfunded to the tune of $30 million, claiming a church exemption to many of the provisions of ERISA, such as mandatory fiduciary and funding requirements. Pensioner Laurence Kaplan was concerned that the plan was underfunded142 and his lawsuit showed that indeed it was.

St. Peter’s is a nonprofit healthcare system employing over 2,800 people. For more than 30 years it operated the plan according to ERISA standards. But in 2006, St. Peter’s stopped fully funding the plan, seeking – and eventually receiving – a determination from the IRS that it was eligible for the church exemption under ERISA. But the federal courts disagree. St. Peter’s must now comply with ERISA’s protections including full funding of the plan.

Karen Ferguson, director of the Pension Rights Center, called the decision “a terrific victory for thousands of orderlies, cafeteria workers, nurses, and others who were told throughout their careers at Saint Peter’s that they were fully protected by federal law.” 143 James Sonne of the Stanford Religious Liberty Clinic submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty on the side of St. Peter’s. The Southern Baptist Convention also weighed in with an amicus brief for St. Peter’s.144

The Court noted the case is likely to be influential in a “new wave of litigation” challenging the exempt status of pension plans established by religiously affiliated hospitals claiming that their pension plans are “church plans.” 145

Here are recommendations for how we might better seize the opportunity to defend religious freedom in our time.

The Development of Ideas, Message, and Strategy 

1 – Envision and resource a long-term strategy. The struggle cannot (and is not) only being waged in the courts.  We must to develop, refine, and propagate our long game by:

  • Resourcing a network of strategists, scholars, and think tanks over the long term. This is vital for educating and empowering a wide range of constituencies and building coalitions.  We need a clear and compelling analysis that contextualizes the stakes for constituencies not currently at the forefront of efforts to challenge the Right’s legal and legislative initiatives, for example the historical use of religious exemptions to justify racial segregation in schools.
  • Strengthening the alliance between prochoice and pro-LGBTQ forces, as well as labor, religious, traditional civil rights, and other affected communities.
  • Refreshing historic alliances with liberal business owners, libertarians, and moderate Republicans.

These efforts should actively identify best practices where coalitions were successful and learn from where they were not.

2 – Reclaim religious freedom as a fundamental democratic value. This means embracing religious freedom as emphasizing the equality of all people including everyone’s right to believe and to practice faith (or not) as we will, and to change our minds – free from undue influence of powerful religious institutions and government.  Religious freedom also means the freedom to act on our beliefs as long as those actions do not harm or infringe on the rights of others.  The notion of third party “harms” is a critical part of the discussion that needs to happen regarding the meaning of religious freedom in our time.  All this is in keeping with the historic trajectory of the law in the United States, as well as international human rights conventions.  We can develop a powerful religious freedom narrative that can answer and overcome many of the Right’s claims.

3 – Avoid reinforcing the dualistic narrative that pits civil rights concerns against religion. Routinely framing public controversies as religious vs. secular plays into a false narrative.  Similarly, pitting LGBTQ rights or reproductive rights against religious freedom also plays powerfully into the false narrative.  There are no perfect solutions.  But we can embrace religious pluralism as a value underlying the vision of the Framers of the Constitution, modern Supreme Court decisions, and federal case law.  Religious pluralism in this sense incorporates the equal rights of nonbelievers as well.

4 – Actively collaborate with and elevate religious communities. Religious leaders are already playing key roles in the struggle for religious freedom, including those who have thwarted the passage of RFRAs in Georgia and in North Carolina. We should

  • Consult, support, and promote these religious leaders to social justice constituencies and to the news media.
  • Catalyze the creation of a common “Call to Conscience” of religious and nonreligious people to rally defenders of religious pluralism, separation of church and state, and the religious freedom heritage of the framers of the Constitution.

5 – Create high-profile religious freedom events to offer a clear and consistent positive alternative to the Christian Right’s redefinition of religious liberty. A key element in this approach could be to expand celebrations of Religious Freedom Day on every January 16th. (See box.)112 This day commemorates the enactment of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, authored by Thomas Jefferson and sponsored in the legislature by James Madison.  Historians recognize the statute as the direct precedent to the approach to religion and government by Framers of the Constitution and the First Amendment to the Constitution.113 This lineage provides a moral and historical high ground that we must not cede to the religious and political Right.114

6 – Counter misinformation. Many conservative religious liberty claims rely on falsehoods, bogus history, and scare tactics. For example, in all of U.S. history, no clergy were forced under the law to perform any marriage of which they did not approve. This has not changed since the advent of marriage equality in Massachusetts in 2003. Social justice advocates must learn and be able to counter the Right’s go-to examples of spurious religious liberty violations while supporting religious freedom itself.

7 – Take seriously the influence of rightwing academics on policy and public debate. This means giving greater prominence and support to the fair-minded scholars who address this issue. Religious freedom is a complex topic which cannot be adequately addressed by short-term, message-oriented efforts of liberal interest groups.

8 – Question and challenge those denying and downplaying the ongoing political strength of the Christian Right. While we celebrate movement victories and project a positive vision for the future, at the same time, social justice thought and strategy is held back by making wrong assumptions about the strength and resilience of the Christian Right.  Phrases like “the Christian Right is dead” (or dying) and “the culture wars are over” (or declining) are indicators of ignorance and wishful thinking, at best.115

9 – Consider international human rights standards regarding religious freedom and the rights of conscience. They are very strong and are consistent with a domestic agenda, and are part of the growing international dimension to this struggle.  It is important not to allow the international Christian Right to appropriate the idea of religious freedom as it has sought to do in the United States.

The Political Arena

10 – Urge candidates and elected officials to end legal justifications for all forms of discrimination under the rubric of religious freedom.

11 – Organize public discussion of how to best defend religious freedom in the legal arena and all levels of government. This is not always clear.  For example, Marci Hamilton of the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law has called for repeal of RFRA, RLUIPA, and state RFRAs.  The Center for American Progress has called for reforming RFRA, particularly by eliminating the “harms” to third parties.116 Still others think RFRA is benign and offers protections that would not be otherwise available, and that RFRA and LGBTQ civil rights are compatible.  This is a public discussion worth having.

12 – Continue to urge the Obama administration to end discrimination by faith-based contractors by reversing the OLC Memo before President Obama leaves office.

13 – Develop a progressive electoral answer to the Right. The Right has been remarkably successful in developing an electoral capacity and strategy to gain control of the institutions of government, using the tools of democracy in order to undermine it.  The campaign to redefine religious liberty is but one theme; its successes in this arena result from the Right’s political power. Envisioning a broader and more robust response required for our time and circumstances is beyond the scope of this report.  But it needs to happen.  Repeating the pattern of ignoring the decades-long development of the Christian Right’s vast electoral capacity and trajectory of success through the Republican Party is a formula for failure.


About the Author

Frederick Clarkson is Senior Fellow of Political Research Associates and an analyst of the Religious Right for over 30 years. He is a longtime contributor to PRA’s quarterly Public Eye and a member of its editorial board. His work has appeared in a wide range of publications including Mother Jones, Church & State, Ms. Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, Salon.com and Religion Dispatches. He has worked as an investigative editor at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as Communications Director at the Institute for Democracy Studies, and cofounded the important group blog about the Christian Right, Talk to Action. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of several books, including Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America and Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.


Endnotes

[*] Jay Michaelson, Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights (Somerville, MA: Political Research Associates, March 2013). http://www.politicalresearch.org/resources/reports/full-reports/redefining-religious-liberty/#sthash.VFqG8kCB.dpbs.

[1]  See for example, Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore, The Godless Constitution:  A Moral Defense of the Secular State (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005) p. 106. “By 1819 he [James Madison] said that at the founding, people had been overly fearful that ‘the civil government could not stand without the prop of a religious establishment’… The American experience had proved that rejecting the Christian commonwealth and effecting ‘a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters’ could work. In 1832, at the age of 81, Madison conceded that it might not be easy to keep clear the line between religious and civil authority … All the more reason, then he advised, future generations, to take the strictest reading of the separation of church and state…”

[2]  Jay Michaelson, Redefining Religious Liberty:  The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights (Somerville, MA: Political Research Associates, March 2013). http://www.politicalresearch.org/resources/reports/full-reports/redefining-religious-liberty/#sthash.VFqG8kCB.dpbs .

[3] With notable exceptions. See Marci A. Hamilton, God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty, rev. 2nd ed, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), p. 266; and Carolyn J. Davis, Laura E. Durso, and Carmel Martin with Donna Barry, Billy Corriher, Sharita Gruberg, Jeff Krehely, Sarah McBride, Ian Millhiser, and Anisha Singh, Restoring the Balance: A Progressive Vision of Religious Liberty Preserves the Rights and Freedoms of All Americans, (Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress: October 2015), p. 7. http://www.scribd.com/doc/285920642/Restoring-the-Balance-A-Progressive-Vision-of-Religious-Liberty-Preserves-the-Rights-and-Freedoms-of-All-Americans .

[4]  Will Weissert, “6 Republican 2016 hopefuls woo faithful at Texas megachurch,” Associated Press, October 18, 2015. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/c50f35d772824f3ea17648d9cf64b3e0/6-republican-2016-hopefuls-woo-faithful-texas-megachurch .

[5]  Randall Balmer, Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts Faith and Threatens America (New York: Basic Books, 2007); see book excerpt, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5502785 .

[6]  Supreme Court of the United States, 1983, Bob Jones University v. United States, 461 U.S. 574.

[7]  Supreme Court of the United States, 2014, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc, No. 13–35, p. 52 http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/13-354_olp1.pdf .

[8]  Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility:  The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1997), passim.

[9]  Matthew Yglesias, “Democrats are in denial. Their party is actually in deep trouble,” Vox Policy & Politics, October 19, 2015. http://www.vox.com/2015/10/19/9565119/democrats-in-deep-trouble .

[10]  Ralph Z.Hallow, “500 pastors heed call to run for office, restore Christian values in U.S.,” The Washington Times, November 12, 2015.  http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/nov/12/david-lane-american-renewal-project-founder-recrui/ .

[11] Michelle Conlin, “For God and country: more U.S. pastors seek political office in 2016,” Reuters, December 11, 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-evangelicals-idUSKBN0TU16M20151211 . For more on Lane, see Frederick Clarkson, “Rumblings of Theocratic Violence,” The Public Eye, Summer 2014.  http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/06/11/rumblings-of-theocratic-violence/#sthash.HShBsO1D.dpbs .

[12]  For more on the Wilks family, see Michelle Conlin, “Special Report: Touting morality, billionaire Texas brothers top 2016 donor list,” Reuters, September 11, 2015.  http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-wilks-specialreport-idUSKCN0RB0ZF20150911 .

[13]  Zachary Mider, “PAC Built by Ted Cruz Mega-Donors Gets Evangelical Leader: David Barton will lead a political conglomerate that has already raised at least $38 million,” Bloomberg, September 9, 2015. http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-09-09/pac-built-by-ted-cruz-mega-donors-gets-evangelical-leader .

[14]  See for example, Chris Cillizza, “Republicans have gained more than 900 state legislative seats since 2010,” The Washington Post, January 14, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/01/14/republicans-have-gained-more-than-900-state-legislative-seats-since-2010/ ; Olga Pierce, Justin Elliott and Theodoric Meyer, ​“How Dark Money Helped Republicans Hold the House and Hurt Voters,” ProPublica, December 21, 2012, http://www.propublica.org/article/how-dark-money-helped-republicans-hold-the-house-and-hurt-voters ; Bill Berkowitz, “The Secret of How the GOP Has a Lock on the House for the Foreseeable Future: Tens of millions poured into a stealth redistricting project before the 2012 elections kept dozens of GOP Districts safe from Democratic challengers,” AlterNet, December 29, 2012. http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/secret-how-gop-has-lock-house-foreseeable-future .

[15]  Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, November 20, 2009, http://manhattandeclaration.org/man_dec_resources/Manhattan_Declaration_full_text.pdf ; also see Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance,” The Public Eye, Summer 2013. http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/07/23/christian-right-seeks-renewal-in-deepening-catholic-protestant-alliance/#sthash.gVfKQIc2.dpbs .

[16]  Manhattan Declaration, pp. 7-8.

[17]  Albert Mohler, “Why I Signed The Manhattan Declaration,” AlbertMohler.com, November 23, 2009. http://www.albertmohler.com/2009/11/23/why-i-signed-the-manhattan-declaration/ .

[18]  Manhattan Declaration; Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance.”

[19]  Frederick Clarkson, “Will Our Prisons Overflow with Christians?” Political Research Associates, March 1, 2015, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/03/01/will-our-prisons-overflow-with-christians/#sthash.uMkddk2i.dpbs ; Frederick Clarkson, “Previewing the next anti-marriage equality manifesto,” LGBTQ Nation, February 15, 2015. http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2015/02/previewing-the-next-anti-marriage-equality-manifesto/ .

[20]  Frederick Clarkson, “Rumblings of Theocratic Violence,” The Public Eye, Summer 2014. http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/06/11/rumblings-of-theocratic-violence/#sthash.G2H6hYF1.dpbs .

[21]  Frederick Clarkson, “EXPOSED: How the Right’s State-Based Think Tanks Are Transforming U.S. Politics,” The Public Eye, Fall 2013. http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/11/25/exposed-how-the-rights-state-based-think-tanks-are-transforming-u-s-politics/#sthash.TtfibaMS.dpbs .

[22]  Mat Staver, “On Marriage, We Will Not Render to Caesar What Is God’s,” Christian Post, April 20, 2015. http://www.christianpost.com/news/on-marriage-we-will-not-render-to-caesar-what-is-gods-137872/ .

[23]  Drew DeSilver, “What is a ‘closely held corporation,’ anyway, and how many are there?” Pew Research Center, July 7, 2014. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/07/what-is-a-closely-held-corporation-anyway-and-how-many-are-there/ .

[24]  For a helpful overview of the implications of the Hobby Lobby case, see Carolyn J. Davis, et al., Restoring the Balance.

[25] Jen Gunter, “The Medical Facts About Birth Control and Hobby Lobby—From an OB/GYN,” The New Republic, July 6, 2014.  https://newrepublic.com/article/118547/facts-about-birth-control-and-hobby-lobby-ob-gyn .

[26]  Physicians for Reproductive Health, “Amicus brief, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.,” Physicians for Reproductive Health January 28, 2014. http://prh.org/iPaper/amicus-brief-hobby-lobby-v-sebelius/ .

[27] Patricia Miller, “How the Catholic Church masterminded the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby debacle: While evangelical Christians ultimately brought down the contraception mandate, they had big help from Catholics,” Salon.com, September 14, 2014. http://www.salon.com/2014/09/14/how_the_catholic_church_masterminded_the_supreme_courts_hobby_lobby_debacle/ ;  See also Patrica Miller, Good Catholics:  The Battle over Abortion in the Catholic Church (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2014); The National Women’s Law Center, “The Hobby Lobby ‘Minefield’: The Harm, Misuse, and Expansion of the Supreme Court Decision,” The National Women’s Law Center, June 12, 2015. http://www.nwlc.org/resource/hobby-lobby-minefield-harm-misuse-and-expansion-supreme-court-decision .

[28] Hamilton, God vs. the Gavel, p. 266.

[29]  “Holt v. Hobbs,” SCOTUSblog, January 20, 2015, http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/holt-v-hobbs/ ; “Holt v Hobbs,” The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty website, 2015. http://www.becketfund.org/holt/ .

[30] It now means any exercise of religion, “whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief,” which is to be “construed in favor of a broad protection of religious exercise, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of this chapter and the Constitution.” Hamilton, God vs. the Gavel;  Davis, et.al., Restoring the Balance, p. 7.

[31]  Hamilton, God vs. the Gavel, pages 264-277.

[32]  Supreme Court of the United States, 2014, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

[33]  Katherine Franke, et al., “Letter to Representative Ed DeLaney (Indiana House of Representatives),” February 27, 2015, fn24. http://web.law.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/microsites/gender-sexuality/law_professors_letter_on_indiana_rfra.pdf .

[34]  Frederick Clarkson, “Not All the Same: Christian Right’s Hobby Lobbyization of State RFRAs,” Political Research Associates, April 20, 2015. http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/04/20/not-all-the-same-christian-rights-hobby-lobbyization-of-state-rfras/#sthash.1sH5MbTN.dpbs .

[35]  Jonathan Oosting, “Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signs controversial religious objection adoption bills,” Lansing News, June 11, 2015.  http://www.mlive.com/lansing-news/index.ssf/2015/06/michigan_gov_rick_snyder_signs_7.html .

[36]  Patricia Wen, “Catholic Charities Stuns State, Ends Adoptions,” The Boston Globe, March 11, 2006.  http://www.glad.org/uploads/docs/news/globe-catholic-charities-stuns-state.pdf .

[37]  Such legislative work-arounds are detailed on the web site RFRA Perilshttp://rfraperils.com/

[38]  General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Reisinger, 760 F.3d 352 (4th Cir. 2014).  http://uccfiles.com/pdf/complaint.pdf .

[39]  Michael Paulson, “North Carolina’s Gay-Marriage Ban Is Challenged by Church,” The New York Times, April 28, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/29/us/churchs-lawsuit-challenges-north-carolina-ban-on-same-sex-marriage.html?_r=2 ; See also a background story on the struggle of North Carolina Christians to be able to marry in their church: Jack Jenkins, “The Unlikely Story Of How Religion Helped Bring Same-Sex Marriage To North Carolina,” Think Progress, November 18, 2014. http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/11/18/3593464/the-unlikely-story-of-how-religion-helped-bring-gay-marriage-to-north-carolina/ .

[40]  Kay Diane Ansley, Catherine “Cathy” McGaughey, Carol Ann Person, Thomas Roger Person, Kelley Penn, and Sonja Goodman, Plaintiffs, v. State of North Carolina,  Case 1:15-cv-00274 Document 1 Filed December 9, 2015;  See Michael Gordon, “Charlotte attorneys challenge law that allows magistrates to avoid performing same-sex marriages,” The Charlotte Observer, December 9, 2015.  http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/article48679320.html#storylink=cpy .

[41]  Tom Foreman Jr. and Gary D. Robertson, “Lawsuit Challenges Gay Marriage Law in North Carolina,” Associated Press, December 9, 2015. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/lawsuit-challenges-gay-marriage-law-north-carolina-35668286 .

[42]  Jay Reeves, “Alabama judges use segregation-era law to avoid gay marriage,” Associated Press, October 3, 2015. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/7e82ce42b3b846b6bef9023c085987e3/alabama-judges-use-segregation-era-law-avoid-gay-marriage .

[43]  John Rustin with the North Carolina Family Policy Council, “Protecting Religious Freedom for Elected Officials,” CitizenLink Report video, September 22, 2015. https://www.citizenlink.com/2015/09/22/protecting-religious-freedom-for-elected-officials-cl-report/ .

[44]  Ann Carroll, “Gays Can’t Force Christian Clerks to Issue Same-Sex Licenses,” Charisma News, November 11, 2012. http://www.charismanews.com/us/34603-gays-cant-force-christian-clerks-to-issue-same-sex-licenses .

[45]  David O’Reilly, “Pope’s speech, heavy on religious liberty, echoes Chaput,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 27, 2015., http://articles.philly.com/2015-09-28/news/66932583_1_chaput-pope-francis-philadelphia-archbishop-charles-j ; Pope Francis, “Speech at Independence Mall,” Pope Francis Visit 2015, September 26, 2015. http://www.popefrancisvisit.com/schedule/visit-to-independence-mall/ .

[46]  ABC News, “EXCLUSIVE: Kim Davis Recounts Secret Meeting With Pope Francis,” ABC News video, September 30, 2015, http://abcnews.go.com/US/exclusive-kim-davis-recounts-secret-meeting-pope-francis/story?id=34143874 ; Robert Moynihan, “Letter #38, 2015: Kim and Francis,” Inside the Vatican, September 29, 2015, http://insidethevatican.com/news/letter-38-2015-kim-and-francis; see also, Mat Staver, “Pope’s Words and Meetings Support Conscientious Objection,” Liberty Counsel, October 2, 2015. https://www.lc.org/newsroom/details/popes-words-and-meetings-support-conscientious-objection .

[47]  Laurie Goodstein and Jim Yardley, “Pope Francis, the Kentucky Clerk and Culture Wars Revisited,” The New York Times, September 30, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/us/pope-francis-kim-davis-kentucky-clerk-washington-same-sex-marriage.html?emc=edit_th_20151001&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=46567787 .

[48]  Joshua J. McElwee, “What we don’t know about Francis’ Kim Davis meeting,” National Catholic Reporter, October 1, 2015, http://ncronline.org/news/vatican/what-we-dont-know-about-francis-kim-davis-meeting ; Goodstein and Yardley, “Pope Francis”; Americans United for Separation of Church and State, “Controversy Swirls Over Pope’s Meeting with Kim Davis During D.C. Visit,” Church & State, November 2015, p. 15. https://www.au.org/church-state/november-2015-church-state/people-events/controversy-swirls-over-pope-s-meeting-with .

[49]  “Pope Francis visits Little Sisters of the Poor.” Narrated by Devin Watkin. Vatican Radio, September 24, 2015, http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-visits-little-sisters-of-the-poor ; Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Abby Ohlheiser, “Pope Francis meets with Little Sisters of the Poor, nuns involved in an Obamacare lawsuit,” The Washington Post, September 23, 2015.

[50]  Elise Harris, “What is being proposed is not marriage’ – Pope calls for defense of family,” Catholic News Agency, October 26, 2014. http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/what-is-being-proposed-is-not-marriage-pope-calls-for-defense-of-family-12766/ .

[51] Eric Ethington, “The Religious Right Operative Who Helped Write Utah’s Nondiscrimination Law,” Political Research Associates, March 19, 2015. http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/03/19/the-religious-right-operative-who-helped-write-utahs-nondiscrimination-law/#sthash.lHrxigF2.dpbs .

[52]  Eric Ethington, “Growing Mormon-Catholic Alliance: Quiet Partners Behind Christian Right’s Religious Discrimination Agenda,” Political Research Associates, April 27, 2015. http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/04/27/growing-mormon-catholic-alliance-quiet-partners-behind-christian-rights-religious-discrimination-agenda/ .

[53]  Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Mormon apostle: Kim Davis was wrong not to issue same-sex marriage licenses,” The Salt Lake Tribune via Religion News Service, October 21, 2015. http://www.religionnews.com/2015/10/21/mormon-apostle-kim-davis-was-wrong-not-to-issue-same-sex-marriage-licenses/ .

[54]  Liberty Institute, Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Students and Teachers: How You Can Exercise Your Legal Rights in Public School (Plano, TX: Liberty Institute, 2015).

[55]  Frederick Clarkson, “The New Secular Fundamentalist Conspiracy!” The Public Eye, Spring 2008, http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/v23n1/secular_fundamentalist.html .

[56]  Tony Perkins and Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William G. “Jerry” Boykin, A Clear and Present Danger:  The Threat to Religious Liberty in the Military (Washington DC: Family Research Council, 2013, updated June 2015), http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF15F47.pdf ; Chris Rodda, “Rep. Fleming: NDAA Religious Freedom Language Not a ‘Touchdown’ – New Talking Points Needed,” Huffington Post, December 17, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-rodda/rep-fleming-ndaa-religiou_b_4461318.html . In fact, MRFF responds to complaints by service members, both religious and nonreligious but overwhelmingly Christian, about misuses of military resources to promote certain religious groups and views over others and misuses of the chain of command to compel participation in religious events. This is cast by the Christian Right as anti-Christian and antireligious, when in fact MRFF seeks to protect the religious freedom of all, and not just religious conservatives.

[57]  Perkins and Boykin, A Clear and Present Danger; Chris Rodda, “Pentagon Assures Anti-Religious-Freedom Coalition That Rumor They Started Isn’t True!” Huffington Post, September 23, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-rodda/pentagon-assures-anti-rel_b_3977046.html ; Liberty Counsel, “Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition Offers Legal Aid to Bible Verse Cadets, Calls Out Air Force Academy for Violating Constitutional Rights,” [press release] March 13, 2014, https://www.lc.org/newsroom/details/restore-military-religious-freedom-coalition-offers-legal-aid-to-bible-verse-cadets-calls-out-air-f .

[58]  “American Family Association Bigotry Map,” American Family Association. http://www.afa.net/bigotrymap .

[59]  Liberty Institute, Religious Liberty Protection Kit for the U.S. Military:  How Service Members and Chaplains Can exercise their Legal Rights, (Plano, TX: Liberty Institute, 2015) pp. 1-2.

[60]  Laurie Goodstein, “Kim Davis, Kentucky County Clerk, Met Pope Francis,” The New York Times, September 30, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/30/us/county-clerk-kim-davis-who-denied-gay-couples-visited-pope.html?_r=0 .

[61] “Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC: The Court’s Unanimous Decision,” Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, January 11, 2012.  http://www.pewforum.org/2012/01/11/the-supreme-court-takes-up-church-employment-disputes-and-the-ministerial-exception/ .

[62]  Supreme Court of the United States, 2012, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al., 10-553; see also, Frederick Clarkson, “Papering Over the Differences, The Political Alliance Between Evangelicals and the Catholic Right,” Conscience, vol. XXXIII, no. 2, 2012.

[63]  Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, “Hosanna-Tabor:  A Big Victory for Religious Freedom,” January 20, 2012, http://www.irfalliance.org/component/content/article/21-in-the-news/54-hosanna-tabor-a-big-victory-for-religious-freedom.html .

[64]  Rachel Tabachnick, “Spiritual Warriors with an Antigay Mission: The New Apostolic Reformation,” The Public Eye, March 22, 2013. http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/03/22/spiritual-warriors-with-an-antigay-mission/ .

[65]  C. Peter Wagner, “Can the Government Tell the Church What to Do?,” Communion With God Ministries, February 14, 2012. http://www.cwgministries.org/blogs/can-government-tell-church-what-do-c-peter-wagner .

[66]  Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Hope for the Years Ahead,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, April 16, 2014. http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/transcript-elder-dallin-oaks-constitutional-symposium-religious-freedom .

[67]  “Hosannas for the Court,” (Editorial), The Wall Street Journal, January 12, 2011, http://www.becketfund.org/wsj-hosannas-for-the-court/ .

[68]  The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, “Supreme Court Briefs.”

[69]  Julia Carrie Wong, “’I want education, not indoctrination’: Catholic Teachers and Students Protest Archdiocese,” San Francisco Weekly, April 27, 2015, http://www.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2015/04/27/i-want-education-not-indoctrination-catholic-teachers-and-students-protest-archdiocese .

[70]  “Catholic archdiocese of Cincinnati to tweak teacher contract morality clauses,” LGBTQ Nation, March 10, 2015, http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2015/03/catholic-archdiocese-of-cincinnati-to-tweak-teacher-contract-morality-clauses/ ; Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance.”

[71]  Victoria Colliver, “Hundreds march against S.F. archbishop’s ‘morality clauses,’” San Francisco Chronicle, March 31, 2015; Lisa Leff, “San Francisco archbishop wants teachers to not contradict church,” Associated Press, February 6, 2015, http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Hundreds-march-against-S-F-archbishop-s-6169349.php#photo-7743263 .

[72]  Scott Jaschik, “Big Union Win,” Inside Higher Ed, January 2, 2015. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/01/02/nlrb-ruling-shifts-legal-ground-faculty-unions-private-colleges .

[73]   Adelle M. Banks, “Religious college presidents agree on ‘calling’ and common threats to their schools,” Religion News Service, February 3, 2015, http://www.religionnews.com/2015/02/03/religious-college-presidents-agree-calling-common-threats-schools/ .

[74]  Frederick Clarkson, “When in Doubt, Religify!  Fear Mongering about Religious Liberty,” Political Research Associates, May 29, 2015, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/05/29/when-in-doubt-religify-fear-mongering-about-religious-liberty/#sthash.SsW5wz8q.dpbs .

[75]  A READY DEFENSE: How to Protect Your Ministry or Faith-Based Business from Legal Attack and Ruin (Plano, TX: Liberty Institute, May 14, 2015). http://blog.libertyinstitute.org/2015/05/a-ready-defense-how-to-protect-your.html .

[76]  Guidelines: Drafting Church Employment and Administrative Policies, (Plano, TX: Liberty Institute, 2015). https://www.libertyinstitute.org/staffing-and-administration-church .

[77]  Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Lawsuits:  A Legal Guide for Southern Baptist and Evangelical Churches, Schools, and Ministries, (Washington, DC: Alliance Defending Freedom and Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, 2015). https://erlc.com/store/product_detail/18876 .

[78]  A READY DEFENSE (Liberty Institute).

[79]  Frederick Clarkson, “When in Doubt, Religify!”

[80]  Liberty Institute, “Liberty Institute to Announce Religious Liberty Protection Kits at Values Voter Summit,” [press release]. September 24, 2015, http://blog.libertyinstitute.org/2015/09/liberty-institute-to-announce-religious.html .

[81]  Clarkson, “When in Doubt, Religify!” The Liberty Institute took down its public promotion of future manuals for businesses and for college fraternities and sororities after this article was published. But they have not taken down the original article announcing their plans.

[82]  Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Lawsuits (ADF and ERLC).

[83]  “Statement of Faith: Marriage and Human Sexuality,” Liberty Institute, 2015. https://www.libertyinstitute.org/statement-of-faith-marriage-and-human-sexuality .

[84]  “Facility Use Policy,” Liberty Institute website, 2015, https://www.libertyinstitute.org/Facility-Use-Policy-CHURCH .

[85]  A READY DEFENSE (Liberty Institute).

[86]  Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Lawsuits (ADF and ERLC).

[87]  Lauren Davis, “Carson-Newman University granted exemption from discrimination laws,” Local 8 Now, December 3, 2015, http://www.local8now.com/home/headlines/Carson-Newman-University-granted-exemption-from-discrimination-laws-360521761.html .

[88]  Andy Birkey, “Dozens of Christian schools win Title IX waivers to ban LGBT students,” The Column, December 1, 2015. http://thecolu.mn/21270/dozens-christian-schools-win-title-ix-waivers-ban-lgbt-students ; See also Liam Stack, “Religious Colleges Obtain Waivers to Law That Protects Transgender Students,” The New York Times, December 10, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/11/us/religious-colleges-obtain-waivers-to-anti-discrimination-law.html?hpw&rref=us&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region&region=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well&_r=0 .

[89]  Matt Comer, “Belmont Abbey College, other Carolinas colleges receive anti-LGBT Title IX waivers: Charlotte-based group responds with ‘Shame List’,”  MattComer.net, December 2, 2015.  http://www.mattcomer.net/1549/belmont-abbey-college-other-carolinas-colleges-receive-anti-lgbt-title-ix-waivers/ .

[90]  Jon Green, “Christian university applying for a religious exemption under Title IX imposes religious test for employees,” AmericaBlog, December 11, 2015. http://americablog.com/2015/12/christian-university-applying-for-religious-exemption-under-title-ix-imposes-religious-test.html .

[91]  Marci A. Hamilton, Professor of Law at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University is challenging the constitutionality of the legislative successor to the federal RFRA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), in cases involving local governments and religious land use. She was the lead counsel for the City of Boerne, TX, in Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997), the seminal federalism and church/state case holding the federal RFRA is unconstitutional as it applied to the states.

[92]  Hamilton, God vs. the Gavel, pp.115-150.

[93]  Hamilton, God vs. the Gavel, pp. 115-150.

[94]  USCCB, “Anthony Picarello Named USCCB Associate General Secretary,” [press release], October 21, 2011, http://www.usccb.org/news/2011/11-200.cfm . Picarello co-edited with Douglas Laycock and Robin Fretwell Wilson, Same Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty:  Emerging Conflicts, (Lanham: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, 2008). This was one year after Picarello joined the USCCB as General Counsel.

[95]  Hamilton, God vs. the Gavel, pp. 120-121.

[96]   9to5, National Association of Working Women et al., to President Barack H. Obama, “Request for Review and Reconsideration of June 29, 2007 Office of Legal Counsel Memorandum re: RFRA,” August 20, 2015. https://www.au.org/files/2015-08-20%20-%20OLC%20Memo%20Letter%20to%20President-FINAL_2.pdf .  Political Research Associates was one of the organizational signatories to the letter to President Obama.

[97]  Simon Brown, “Down With Discrimination: Broad Coalition Of 130 Organizations Asks President Obama To End Taxpayer-Funded Discrimination,” Wall of Separation, AU.org. https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/down-with-discrimination-broad-coalition-of-130-organizations-asks .

[98] Jacey Rubinstein, “White House Fails to Reveal Faith-Based Initiative Budget, Though Some Agencies Will Share Theirs,” Political Research Associates, July 20, 2015, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/07/20/white-house-fails-to-reveal-faith-based-initiative-budget-though-some-agencies-will-share-theirs/ .

[99]  Andy Kopsa, “Obama’s Evangelical Gravy Train,” The Nation, July 2014, http://www.thenation.com/article/180435/obamas-evangelical-gravy-train ;  see also Frederick Clarkson, “An Uncharitable Choice: The Faith-Based Takeover of Federal Programs,” The Public Eye, Fall 2014, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/10/10/an-uncharitable-choice-the-faith-based-takeover-of-federal-programs/#sthash.0QhnX6fz.dpbs ; and Jacey Rubinstein, “White House Fails to Reveal Faith-Based Initiative Budget, Though Some Agencies Will Share Theirs,” Political Research Associates, July 20, 2015, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/07/20/white-house-fails-to-reveal-faith-based-initiative-budget-though-some-agencies-will-share-theirs/ .

[100]  Barry Lynn, “Indiana’s Religion Bill Is Partially Fixed — But There’s More Work to Be Done,” Huffington Post, April, 7, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barry-w-lynn/indianas-religion-bill-is_b_7011456.html ; Kopsa, “Obama’s Evangelical Gravy Train.”

[101]  Senator Mike Lee, et al, First Amendment Defense Act, June 17, 2015, https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/1598/text .

[102]  Edwin Meese, et al, “Memo to the Movement: Religious Liberty,” Conservative Action Project, July 10, 2015, http://files.ctctcdn.com/2438cc3e001/bbdeae79-5d01-449e-9746-202217c0d5e2.pdf .

[103]  “First Amendment Defense Act,” USCCB Backgrounder. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/promotion-and-defense-of-marriage/upload/Backgrounder-FADA.pdf .

[104]  Dale Carpenter, “More Criticism of the First Amendment Defense Act from the Right,” The Washington Post, September 10, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/09/10/more-criticism-of-the-first-amendment-defense-act-from-the-right/ ;  Walter Olsen, “Gay Marriage and Religious Rights: Say Nada to FADA,” Newsweek, September 10, 2015, http://www.newsweek.com/gay-marriage-and-religious-rights-say-nada-fada-370860 .

[105]  Brian Tashman, “Tony Perkins, Arbiter Of Christianity, Says Pro-Gay Christians Don’t Have Same Religious Rights As Conservatives,” Right Wing Watch, May 8, 2014, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/10/29/christian-right-undermines-marriage-equality-with-religious-supremacism/ .

[106]  Frederick Clarkson, “Racial Justice Will Be Top Priority for New Prez of the United Church of Christ,” Religion Dispatches, August 20, 2015, http://religiondispatches.org/racial-justice-will-be-top-priority-for-new-prez-of-the-united-church-of-christ/ .

[107]  Nick Gass, “Mike Huckabee: U.S. moving toward ‘criminalization of Christianity,” Politico, April 24, 2015. http://www.politico.com/story/2015/04/mike-huckabee-us-criminalization-of-christianity-117310 .

[108] Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove,  “The Ugly History Behind ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws: They are about dividing an increasingly diverse electorate that has twice elected a black president,” The Washington Spectator, May 1, 2015. http://washingtonspectator.org/the-ugly-history-behind-religious-freedom-laws/ .

[109]  Hamilton, God vs. the Gavel, p. 99.

[110]  Hamilton, God vs. the Gavel, p. 8

[111] I discussed this in my 1997 book Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, and pointed out that it had already been going on for decades.

[112] Frederick Clarkson, “An unexpected win for religious freedom,” LGBTQ Nation, February 1, 2015, http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2015/02/an-unexpected-win-for-religious-freedom/ ;  Sally Steenland, “3 Ways to Celebrate Religious Freedom Day,” Center for American Progress, January 16, 2015, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/religion/news/2015/01/16/104780/3-ways-to-celebrate-religious-freedom-day/ .

[113] See for example, Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore, The Godless Constitution:  A Moral Defense of the Secular State, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005), pp. 91-94; 103-104; Frank L. Lambert, Separation of Church & State: Founding Principles of Religious Liberty (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2014); Frank Lambert, Religion in American Politics:  A Short History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), p. 29. John A. Ragosta, Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia’s Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution & Secured Religious Liberty (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); John A. Ragosta, Religious Freedom:  Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2013).

[114] See, Frederick Clarkson, The Christian Right does not want you to know about this day, LGBTQ Nation, December 7, 2014; Frederick Clarkson, Taking Religious Freedom Day Astray, Political Research Associates, December 23, 2014, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/12/23/taking-religious-freedom-day-astray/; John Ragosta, Religious freedom: A proud day for Richmond, Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 12, 2015, http://www.richmond.com/opinion/their-opinion/guest-columnists/article_ae6fea4c-88d9-55df-9587-11a5806c0127.html; Frederick Clarkson, An unexpected win for religious freedom, LGBTQ Nation, February 1, 2015, http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2015/02/an-unexpected-win-for-religious-freedom/; Frederick Clarkson, Stand in the bright light of history on Religious Freedom Day, The Hill, January 16, 2015, http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/religious-rights/229488-stand-in-the-bright-light-of-history-on-religious; Rob Boston, Religious Freedom Day 2015:  Resolve To Protect True Freedom Of Conscience, Wall of Separation, January 16, 2015, https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/religious-freedom-day-2015-resolve-to-protect-true-freedom-of-conscience.

[115] See for example, Theo Anderson, “Would Jesus Vote for Bernie Sanders?  With the decline of culture war issues and the rise of crises like climate change, Bernie might actually be able to win over young evangelicals,” In These Times, August 14, 2015, http://inthesetimes.com/article/18318/bernie-sanders-liberty-university-evangelicals .

[116] Hamilton, God vs. the Gavel, p. 359; and Davis, et al., Restoring the Balance, pp. 17-19

[117] Sophia Resnick and Sharona Coutts, “Not the ‘Illuminati’: How Fundamentalist Christians Are Infiltrating State and Federal Government,” RH Reality Check, May 13, 2014, http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/05/13/illuminati-fundamentalist-christians-infiltrating-state-federal-government/ ; Bruce Wilson, “The Hobby Lobby Case and The Alliance Defending Freedom’s Ties To Christian Reconstructionism,” Twocare: Center Against Religious Extremism, July 2, 2014. http://www.twocare.org/the-alliance-defending-freedoms-ties-to-christian-reconstructionism/ ; Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Reconstructionism:  Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence,” The Public Eye, Spring/Summer 1994, http://www.politicalresearch.org/1994/03/19/christian-reconstructionism-part-1-theocratic-dominionism-gains-influence/#sthash.muY8mJ8V.dpbs . See also, Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility; Michelle Goldberg, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism (New York: W.W. Norton, 2007);  Julie Ingersoll, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[118] Resnick and Coutts, “Not the ‘Illuminati.’”

[119] Jeremy Tedesco and Kevin Theriot, “ADF recommends policy to protect student privacy in restrooms, locker rooms, Model policy provides solution for public schools,” Alliance Defending Freedom, December 05, 2014, http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/?CID=82478http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/?CID=82478http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/?CID=82478 . See also: Cole Parke and Gabriel Joffe, “Alliance Defending Freedom: the Right-Wing Lawyers Fueling Transphobia in Schools,” Political Research Associates, December 18, 2015, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/12/18/alliance-defending-freedom-the-right-wing-lawyers-fueling-transphobia-in-school/#sthash.e1yQL5jN.dpbs .

[120]  Alliance Defending Freedom, IRS Form 990, 2012, http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2013/541/660/2013-541660459-0a0d95a7-9.pdf .

[121]  Gillian Kane, “Latin America in the Crosshairs: Alliance Defending Freedom Takes Aim,” The Public Eye, Summer 2015. http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/07/13/latin-america-in-the-crosshairs-alliance-defending-freedom-takes-aim/#sthash.YDpC1yWo.G7BXQsew.dpbs .

[122]  Emma Green, “The Little Sisters of the Poor Are Headed to the Supreme Court: The justices will take on a complicated set of cases related to the birth-control mandate in the Affordable Care Act,” The Atlantic, November 6, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/the-little-sisters-of-the-poor-are-headed-to-the-supreme-court/414729/ .

[123]  Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, “BREAKING: High Court to decide if Government can force nuns to provide contraceptives,” November 6, 2015, http://www.becketfund.org/scotus-to-decide-little-sisters-case/ .

[124]  Alliance Defending Freedom, “Supreme Court agrees to tackle abortion-pill mandate’s sham ‘accommodation’: ADF attorneys represent Penn. Christian college, four Okla. Christian universities,” November 6, 2015, http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/9791 .

[125]  “European Court of Human Rights Cases,” The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. http://www.becketfund.org/echr-cases/ .

[126]  Dawn Ennis, “The Two Words That Lawyers for Kim Davis Say Endanger Their Lives,” Advocate, October 21 2015. http://www.advocate.com/media/2015/10/21/liberty-counsel-demands-ap-retract-kim-davis-story-calling-it-hate-group .

[127]  Ethan Bronner, “At Stanford, Clinical Training for Defense of Religious Liberty,” The New York Times, January 21, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/us/at-stanford-clinical-training-for-the-defense-of-religious-liberty.html?_r=2 .

[128]  Bronner, “At Stanford.”

[129]  “Briefs,” Stanford Law School Religious Liberty Clinic website. https://law.stanford.edu/religious-liberty-clinic/rlc-briefs/ .

[130]  Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund website. http://www.consciencedefense.org/.

[131]  Sunnivie Brydum, “Gov. Mike Pence Signs ‘Fix’ to Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” The Advocate, April 2, 2015.  http://www.advocate.com/politics/2015/04/02/gov-mike-pence-signs-fix-religious-freedom-restoration-act .

[132] Stephanie Wang, “Conservative groups’ lawsuit says RFRA fix unconstitutional,” Indianapolis Star, December 10, 2015.  http://www.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2015/12/10/conservative-groups-lawsuit-says-rfra-fix-unconstitutional/77102680/ .

[133]  Mariya Strauss, “Who was behind Michigan GOP’s one-two punch against LGBTQ working families?” Political Research Associates, December 1, 2015  http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/12/01/end-of-a-tough-year-for-michigan-who-was-behind-the-one-two-punch-from-gop-lawmakers/#sthash.V7NJNVv6.dpbs .

[134] Zack Ford, “Protecting LGBT People From Discrimination Is Now Illegal In Arkansas,” Think Progress, February 24, 2015  http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2015/02/24/3626203/lgbt-protections-ban-arkansas-texas/ .

[135] Zack Ford, “Indiana Republicans Introduce The Most Anti-LGBT LGBT Rights Bill Ever,” Think Progress, November,18, 2015   http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2015/11/18/3723348/indiana-lgbt-road-map-to-discrimination/ .

[136] Indiana Senate Republicans, “Senate Bill 100 Information.” http://www.indianasenaterepublicans.com/senate-bill-100-information/ .

[137] John Ragosta, “Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786),” Encyclopedia Virginia, First published: August 10, 2012, Last modified: July 2, 2014. http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Virginia_Statute_for_Establishing_Religious_Freedom_1786#start_entry .

[138]  Elahe Izadi, “The fascinating history of how Jefferson and other Founding Fathers defended Muslim rights,” The Washington Post, December 11, 2015.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/12/11/how-thomas-jefferson-and-other-founding-fathers-defended-muslim-rights/ .

[139]  Frederick Clarkson, “Taking Religious Freedom Day Astray,” Political Research Associates, December 23, 2014. http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/12/23/taking-religious-freedom-day-astray/#sthash.a0cahxWz.UVVgoZ0A.dpuf .  This is detailed in Katherine Stewart, The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, Public Affairs, 2012.

[140]  See for example, Barack Obama, “Presidential Proclamation — Religious Freedom Day, 2015,” January 15, 2015  https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/01/15/presidential-proclamation-religious-freedom-day-2015 .

[141]  Rob Boston, “Seize The Day!: Upcoming Religious Freedom Event Provides An Opportunity For Separation Advocates, Wall of Separation,” January 2, 2015.  https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/seize-the-day-upcoming-religious-freedom-event-provides-an-opportunity-for .

[142] Pension Right Center, “St. Peters University Hospital Retirement Plan: The Law and the Facts,” February 29, 2012. http://www.pensionrights.org/publications/fact-sheet/saint-peters-university-hospital-retirement-plan-law-and-facts .

[143] Hazel Bradford, “Appeals court upholds ruling denying church-plan status for health-care system,” Pensions & Investments, December 29, 2015. http://www.pionline.com/article/20151229/ONLINE/151229925/appeals-court-upholds-ruling-denying-church-plan-status-for-health-care-system .

[144] Laurence Kaplan v. Saint Peter’s Healthcare System, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, No. 15-1172, December 29, 2015 http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/151172p.pdf

[145] Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, “Third Circuit Rules St. Peter’s Healthcare Not a Tax Exempt Church Plan: Appeals Court Rules St. Peter’s Healthcare is Not a Church Plan Exempt From ERISA Laws,” Globe Newswire, December 31, 2015. https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2015/12/31/798872/0/en/Third-Circuit-Rules-St-Peter-s-Healthcare-Not-a-Tax-Exempt-Church-Plan.html?print=1 .

 

 

 

 

 

When the Exception Is the Rule: Christianity in the Religious Freedom Debates

When historians recount the history of separation of church and state in our time, one of the signature events may be a federal court case that didn’t even make it to the Supreme Court. It didn’t need to.

PE cover Summer 2015

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

The 2014 case of General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper was a landmark event because, although the case was ostensibly about opposition to marriage equality, the decision upheld foundational notions of religious equality and equal protection under the law that bind this diverse and often fractious nation. It at once affirmed the equal standing under the law of all religious and non-religious points of view and showed that the Christian Right does not represent all of Christianity.

At issue was a 2012 amendment to the North Carolina state constitution that provided that same-sex marriages were invalid. Together with the state’s General Statutes, this amendment effectively criminalized the performance of same-sex marriage ceremonies. The upshot of the subsequent legal fight was that the million-member United Church of Christ (UCC), an historic Protestant denomination with roots dating back to the Plymouth Colony and more than 5,000 local churches, won a clear victory for both marriage equality and religious liberty.

Protesters gather in Washington, D.C., for the Stand Up For Religious Freedom rally. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of the American Life League

Protesters gather in Washington, D.C., for the Stand Up For Religious Freedom rally. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of the American Life League

“By depriving the Plaintiffs of the freedom to perform religious marriage ceremonies or to marry,” the UCC complaint read in part, “North Carolina stigmatizes Plaintiffs and their religious beliefs.” The complainants also argued that the law relegated same-sex couples “to second-class status.” Along with same-sex couples, the plaintiffs included religious denominations and clergy from several traditions, including the Alliance of Baptists, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. The complaint continued:

The laws forbidding same-sex marriage tell Plaintiffs that their religious views are invalid and same-sex relationships are less worthy, thus humiliating each Plaintiff and denigrating the integrity and closeness of families and religious organizations, depriving Plaintiffs of the inclusive religious community of family units they wish to establish.1

As a result, clergy in the UCC and fellow complainants,2 who routinely perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, could have been subject to criminal prosecution. “We didn’t bring this lawsuit to make others conform to our beliefs,” UCC general counsel Donald C. Clark, Jr. told The New York Times, “but to vindicate the right of all faiths to freely exercise their religious practices.”3

The case had a complicated legal trajectory, but the final decision came from U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr., who, after the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by the State of North Carolina in another case, declared in his written decision: “It is clear…that North Carolina laws…threatening to penalize those who would solemnize such marriages, are unconstitutional.”

This case did not fit the culture war narrative as promulgated by the Christian Right, wherein religious liberty debates simply pit secularism against Christianity.4 It demonstrated that religious freedom is neither owned, nor entirely defined, by the Christian Right.

Many religious freedom cases turn on claims by conservative religious groups or individuals—or corporations—that various public policies and the rights of others, with which they disagree, violate their constitutional rights. Most famously, such claims have been made regarding businesses providing services such as cakes and flowers for same-sex marriages or providing contraception through insurance packages.

Religious liberty is only possible in the context of religious pluralism.

But Cogburn’s ruling, in addition to finding for the right to perform same-sex marriages, also underscored an idea that transcends the issues of the day: that religious liberty is only possible in the context of religious pluralism. By undermining the Christian Right’s narrative about how Christianity is under attack due to the advance of LGBTQ rights and marriage equality, it also cast into sharp relief what Christian Right leaders usually mean when they talk about religious liberty: not a broad understanding of religious freedom for all believers, but rather a narrowly-defined, theocratic religious supremacism.

The implications of the ruling weren’t lost on the Right. A caller to the Washington Watch radio program hosted by Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), asked him about the “Christian organization” that he heard had filed the suit. “I would use that term ‘Christian’ very loosely,” Perkins replied. “Here’s a test of what is a true religious freedom: a freedom that’s based on orthodox religious viewpoints. It has to have a track record; it has to come forth from religious orthodoxy.”5 In April 2015, Mike Huckabee, the former Republican governor of Arkansas, similarly told a group of ministers participating in an FRC-organized conference call that supporting marriage equality meant opposing Christianity. Raising the stakes, he further warned that trends to legalize same-sex marriage across the country would lead to the “criminalization of Christianity.”6

The UCC case highlighted the rise of a distinctly theocratic politics at the highest levels of government and indeed, constitutional law, in which theocratic elements are reframing so called culture war issues involving homosexuality and reproductive justice as issues of religious liberty. It might be hard to see, given the nature of press coverage, but the culture wars have always been about more than abortion and the definition of marriage. Recent legal battles over religious liberty help to illuminate how that’s so.

The Ministry of Truth

Though you might not know it to read the news about religious freedom debates, not all Christian—let alone all religious—leaders share the same concerns as Huckabee and Perkins. J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), a longtime leading proponent of religious liberty in Washington, D.C., represents much of the Baptist world beyond the conservative Southern Baptist Convention. The BJC does not have a formal position on marriage equality, but the organization disagrees with the conflation of religious freedom with anti-marriage equality activism. Religious liberty in the U.S., Walker wrote in the Joint Committee’s monthly newsletter, is protected “like no other place in the world.” Providing LGBTQ people with “goods and services in the marketplace is an act of hospitality,” he continued, that need not “indicate approval of their nuptial decisions or their sexual orientation.”7

In a stark contrast to Walker, Perkins’s and Huckabee’s talk about religious freedom echoes the late theocratic theologian R.J. Rushdoony, one of the most influential evangelical thinkers of the 20th Century. “In the name of toleration,” Rushdoony objected in his 1973 opus, Institutes of Biblical Law, “the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal and the adherents of other religions.”8 Many other recent leaders of the Christian Right do not in fact believe in civic equality for those with whom they religiously disagree or otherwise do not approve. And they usually ignore those who represent major religious institutions that hold different views, like Rabbi Steven Fox, Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, who, along with other Reform rabbis, declared in a statement regarding marriage equality, “There is no more central tenet to our faith than the notion that all human beings are created in the image of the Divine, and, as such, [are] entitled to equal treatment and equal opportunity.”9

As complicated as these issues can be, what is clear is that when we talk about religious freedom, we do not all mean the same thing. The United States, which led the way on Enlightenment-era approaches to the rights of individual conscience and separation of church and state in a pluralist society, is still trying to get it right. While civil liberties and civil rights need not be seen as mutually exclusive, navigating the conflicting interests of personal conscience and the public interest is fraught even in the best of times. This task is made more difficult when not everyone shares the values and vision of religious pluralism and constitutional democracy, and indeed may see those values as obstacles to their own ends.

The idea of religious exemptions is not new. While they have a longer history than the last 100 years, in the 20th Century, exemption debates famously included issues like how to deal with conscientious objection to military service; requirements for safety features on horse-drawn Amish buggies driven on public roads; and even legal requirements to seek medical treatment for children instead of relying on prayer. In more recent years, lawyers have litigated church zoning laws, regulations regarding religious homeschools and “troubled teen” group homes, vaccination requirements, and more.10

One of the guiding principles in weighing these decisions has been Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, sex, and national origin. But even the Civil Rights Act created what are called “ministerial exceptions” for religious groups.11

SIDEBAR: A Christian Root of Religious Exemption (click to expand)

George W. Bush’s first major action in what would become his signature faith-based programming and policy development came when he was governor of Texas in the mid-1990s, when he championed claims of religious exemption from state regulation.1 Bush was influenced in this by author and WORLD magazine editor Marvin Olasky, a man whose political vision originates from the dynamic school of modern Christian theocratic thought called Christian Reconstructionism.2

The vehicle for this newfound religious exemption from standard state regulation was a newly created entity: the Texas Association of Christian Child Care Agencies, the board of which comprised members of the very organizations it was supposed to oversee. The entity was not a broad coalition of religious child-care agencies but rather a narrow group of explicitly Christian facilities and programs.3

Although an evangelical addiction program called Teen Challenge originally brought the matter of state regulation of Christian social services to the fore, the political hot potato was the Corpus Christi-based Rebekah Home for Girls, headed by fundamentalist Baptist radio evangelist Lester Roloff. His Rebekah Home had become notorious for its abusive disciplinary practices. An investigative report in the Texas Monthly found that Roloff’s girls were “often subjected to days in locked isolation rooms where [Roloff’s] sermons played in an endless loop.” They also endured exhaustive corporal punishment. “Better a pink bottom than a black soul,” Roloff famously declared at a 1973 court hearing. But the abuse was both pervasive and profound. Texas Attorney General John Hill submitted affidavits from sixteen girls who, the Texas Monthly reported, “said they had been whipped with leather straps, beaten with paddles, handcuffed to drainpipes, and locked in isolation cells.”4

The situation eventually led to a standoff that pitted against each other the interests of those who believe in the necessary role of government in protecting people from the likes of Roloff, and those who adhered to a flinty fundamentalist suspicion of government. The 1979 event, which Roloff called “the Christian Alamo,” featured hundreds of supporters and barricades to keep state officials off his compound. Roloff died in 1982, and the Rebekah Home moved out of state, but later returned, following Bush’s deregulation of Christian social services.5

The case is additionally important because Roloff’s lawyer was David Gibbs III, whose legal work—along with that of his father, David Gibbs, Jr., and the Christian Law Association—is one of the first Christian Right legal organizations to use religious liberty as an argument for exemption from government regulation. Gibbs was also the lead attorney in the Terri Schiavo case, where a family conflict over Schiavo’s long dependency on life support became a celebrated cause among Christian anti-abortion activists.6

One contemporary window into this difference of worldview, and the related difference in interpretations of religious freedom, is a 2015 manifesto by Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Since 1994, the influential group has fostered dialogues among an evolving cast of leading American Catholics and evangelicals, agreeing on some things, disagreeing on others, and seeking ways to move forward as a joint activist body. Via its periodic manifestos, the conversation has arguably been one of the formative ideological engines of the contemporary Christian Right.

The 2015 manifesto was apparently written in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s consideration of marriage equality in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. The authors, including prominent Southern Baptist Pastor Rick Warren and Catholic neo-conservative strategist Robert P. George, declared that “Genuine freedom is found in ¬obedience to God’s order.” They place marriage equality under the rubric of “false freedom” that they say inevitably leads to “coercion and persecution of those who refuse to acknowledge the state’s redefinition of marriage.” They claim their speech is already being “policed” and that their “dissent” is being “assiduously suppressed.”7

Elements of the Christian Right are now seeking to expand the definition of a religious organization, and the extent to which religious exemptions extend to individual beliefs and religious institutions. The contemporary Christian Right’s notion that individuals and institutions should have the right to choose which laws they will respect and which ones they won’t is arguably one of the more extraordinary developments in American legal history. They are not only claiming the right to be selective about complying with the law, but are also claiming the right to determine the criteria by which such decisions are made.

In recent years this notion has dramatically influenced U.S. political and legal discourse. Those who embrace what theocratic evangelicals call a biblical worldview or what Catholics call the magisterium of the Church see their particular religious traditions as the sources of law to which all law must conform. Despite their many differences, these conservative believers have adopted a common platform regarding issues—as they define them—of life, marriage, and religious liberty.12 But there are deep repercussions to each of these major coalitional tenets that are not always well reflected in public discourse.

The current wave of state legislation allegedly seeking to protect the rights of conscience of people opposed to homosexuality generally and marriage equality in particular, may be best understood as abuses of the historic idea of religious freedom.

On a wide range of matters—from abortion and contraception to LGBTQ civil rights and federal labor laws—the Christian Right, in both its evangelical and Catholic expressions, is seeking to find new approaches to ensuring that the law does not apply to them.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), for example, offered an amendment to the 2015 congressional budget that sought to apply the broad framing of the Christian Right’s political agenda to the relationship between the federal government and private contractors. “Federal agencies,” Inhofe’s amendment read in part, “do not discriminate against an individual, business, or organization with sincerely-held religious beliefs against abortion or that marriage is the union between one man and one woman.”13 The amendment was unsuccessful, but it epitomizes the contemporary thinking of the Christian Right.

The current wave of state legislation allegedly seeking to protect the rights of conscience of people opposed to homosexuality generally and marriage equality in particular, may be best understood as abuses of the historic idea of religious freedom. Or, as it’s often put, it’s conservatives using the idea of religious freedom to justify discrimination.

Inhofe’s amendment, for example, would not have protected the religious beliefs of those individuals and institutions whose conscience compels them to respect reproductive rights and moral consciences, or those who honor and celebrate same-sex marriages. In fact, major, historic religious traditions and institutions support the very rights opposed by the Christian Right. Thus when the Christian Right (and the politicians who pander to it) invoke religious freedom, often they’re using it as an excuse to deny religious freedom to others.

It’s also worth underscoring that, as a practical matter, the “religious” in “religious freedom” genericizes what is almost exclusively an initiative of conservative Christian institutions.

Religious Justifications for the Indefensible

Some of the most widely publicized contemporary religious freedom conflicts involve individual florists and bakers refusing to provide flowers or cakes for same-sex weddings. The notion that these private businesses’ denial of service amounts to a religious freedom battleground is based on the claim that the proprietors’ faith forbids them from supporting something contrary to their particular beliefs about God. Almost exclusively, this has meant their particular notion of Christianity.

Such claims may not ultimately prevail, but within living memory, religious justifications have often been successfully used to justify discrimination of many kinds. Politicians and preachers alike cited Christianity and the Bible to support generations of racial segregation in the U.S. But while the argument that religious beliefs should protect racial discrimination has lost its standing, the broader idea that faith merits exemptions from other anti-discrimination measures lives on.

In the 1983 landmark Supreme Court case of Bob Jones University v. United States, the federal government took the view that the Christian fundamentalist school was not entitled to its federal tax exemption if it maintained its policy against interracial dating. The case became a cause célèbre among the then-budding Christian Right, and was credited by New Right strategist Paul Weyrich and historian Randall Balmer, among others, as the catalyst that politicized conservative evangelicals.14 The case, which began during the Nixon administration, was used as a political cudgel against Democratic President Jimmy Carter, turning many evangelicals against one of their own.

Bishop Salvatore Cordileone a the Marriage March in Washington, D.C., 2013. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of American Life League

Bishop Salvatore Cordileone a the Marriage March in Washington, D.C., 2013. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of American Life League

Bob Jones University argued that to censure an institution over this issue was a violation of religious freedom under the First Amendment. But the Supreme Court ultimately decided against them, declaring: “Government has a fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education…[which] substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on [the University’s] exercise of their religious beliefs.” The Court made clear, however, that its verdict dealt “only with religious schools—not with churches or other purely religious institutions.”15

Expanding the Definition of Ministry

A more recent Supreme Court case involved the expansion of the definition of religious ministry in ways that serve to broaden the set of institutions that qualify for exemptions from federal laws and regulations. Whereas these exemptions historically applied to a few highly specific cases, now a great range of religiously owned institutions is able to invoke them. There is a distinct trend in this regard, away from individual rights of conscience, and toward the rights of religious institutions.

This was on vivid display in 2015, when the Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco (following Catholic prelates in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Honolulu, and Oakland), declared that teachers—and perhaps all employees—in the Archdiocese’s schools would be required to conform to Catholic teaching in their personal lives.16 Cordileone wanted unionized employees to accept contract and faculty handbook language that condemned homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, contraception and artificial insemination. He also said that Catholic school employees must not publicly contradict Church teachings.17 Union leaders were concerned that the Archbishop was attempting to reclassify not only teachers but all employees of the school as part of the church’s ministry.18

Liberty Institute called for organizations to “religify” their organizational documents in order to fall under the definition of a ministry so they can circumvent civil rights laws.

As chair of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Cordileone is a leading culture warrior in the church. He was one of at least 50 prelates who signed the Manhattan Declaration, the historic 2009 manifesto which formally aligned Catholic and evangelical leaders on a shared 21st Century culture war agenda.19

The underlying legal justification for Catholic bishops to impose religious doctrine on school employees was the unanimous 2012 decision of the Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In that case, a mainline Lutheran school had fired a kindergarten teacher over issues arising because of a disability, leading to a discrimination claim by the dismissed teacher. The church argued that the government had no right to intervene in its employment decisions because the teacher served in a ministry capacity. The Court agreed, and in so doing, expanded the definition of which employees are covered by the term—and who would then be exempt from normal employment protections.

Religious institutions themselves have long enjoyed a “ministerial exemption” from certain labor laws. Hosanna-Tabor expanded that and opened the door to further expansion. Catholic and evangelical colleges and universities may be among the first to walk through that door, as they are increasingly claiming creeping violations of institutional religious liberty—from concerns about the Obama administration’s “contraception mandate” (which may apply to church-related colleges and universities, the Hobby Lobby decision notwithstanding) to a 2014 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that permits unionization of employees at religious and other private universities.20

The reasons for religious freedom exemptions in churches’ employment practices are understandable. As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion, “Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision…By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes the Free Exercise Clause, which protects a religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments.”

However, calling a kindergarten teacher of numerous subjects, including math and social studies, a minister was a significant stretch. The teacher in question spent only a few minutes each day leading students in prayer or teaching religion for short intervals across the week. Nevertheless, this was sufficient in the view of the court, which decided not to “adopt a rigid formula for deciding when an employee qualifies as a minister.”21

Advocates for expanded exemptions for religious institutions in this area, such as the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, saw the decision as a “stunning victory” and a departure from “the usual focus on the religious rights of individuals.”22

Still, much was left unresolved. Although the decision drew a bright line—that government may not interfere with personnel decisions regarding persons in ministry—the extent to which religiously-affiliated institutions such as schools, charities, hospitals, and perhaps even for-profit businesses can define employees as ministers is now a fair question. And it’s one that’s certain to be tested as conservative religious movement leaders seek to carve out zones of exemption from the advance of secular law. leaders certainly see many opportunities in broadening the legal definition of ministry.

Dr. C. Peter Wagner, founder of the dominionist New Apostolic Reformation and a longtime professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary,23 observed that “not only churches, but ministries supported by the church are included in [the Hosanna-Tabor] ruling. Schools are specifically mentioned, but how about a number of other kinds of ministries attached to our churches and apostolic networks? I would think they would fall under the same umbrella.”24

Mormon Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the church, said he found “comfort” in Hosanna-Tabor, against thethreat” of governmental actions that he believes “are overshadowing the free exercise of religion by making it subordinate to other newly found ‘civil rights.’”25

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York came to a similar conclusion when he discussed the core issue in the landmark case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (discussed below) a few years later. The so-called contraception mandate, he declared, was primarily about “the raw presumption of a bureau of the federal government to define a church’s minister, ministry, message and meaning.”26

This year, Jeff Mateer of the Liberty Institute, a Texas-based legal advocacy group, began preparing manuals for what the Institute suggested is an inevitable wave of anti-religious legal attacks against everything from churches to frat houses to for-profit corporations.27 They called for organizations to “religify” their organizational documents, from bylaws to employee job descriptions, to specifically reflect doctrine so that they may fall under the definition of ministry. This, they suggested, would be part of an inoculation against civil lawsuits and government regulation.28

We have become familiar with how, when the goals of the Christian Right conflict with the rights of others, the conflict is framed as an attack on Christianity or, more broadly, religion. Seen from their perspective, there’s logic to this argument. Conservative Christians have long understood that the origins and trajectory of religious freedom in America run against the hegemony of conservative Christian churches that enjoy a close relationship with the state and its leaders.

Turning Phrases

Many of the contemporary legal struggles rest on the definition of particular terms and phrases originating in federal legislation or Supreme Court decisions. In addition to ministry, one of the key terms on which religious exemptions to state and federal laws now turn is the phrase “sincerely held religious belief.” The current use of the phrase is rooted in the federal 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA),29 which enjoyed overwhelming support in Congress and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. RFRA was an answer to the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith, which had upheld the right of the State of Oregon to deny unemployment benefits to Native American employees fired for using peyote in a religious ritual. Here Congress sought to restore the rights of Native Americans for whom peyote was part of their religious practice. More broadly, Congress wanted to reaffirm that a person’s sincerely held religious belief may not be substantially burdened unless the government can justify the law with a compelling state interest, and show that the law is narrowly crafted to protect that interest via the “least restrictive means” possible.30

A later Supreme Court decision limited the scope of the law to the federal government, leading some states to pass state-level versions of RFRA.31 Most of these laws were simply intended to replace the loss of the federal RFRA, but in the past few years, modified state RFRAs have been introduced with the obvious intention of justifying discrimination against same-sex couples by businesses and even government agencies.

Concepts that meant one thing in the federal RFRA have come to take on new meanings when applied at the state level in the wake of the 2014 Hobby Lobby case.

Concepts that meant one thing in the federal RFRA have come to take on new meanings when applied at the state level in the wake of the 2014 Hobby Lobby case (and the related Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. vs. Burwell). That Supreme Court decision extended, for the first time, religious rights to a “closely held” private corporation, stating that the company—not a church, or school, but a chain of craft stores—did not have to offer certain contraceptives via the company health plan because the owners of the company believed these contraceptives to be abortifacients (a position contradicted by every major medical organization in the country). The Court held that Hobby Lobby was exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that insurance packages cover these contraceptive options because, as Justice Samuel Alito put it in the majority opinion, requiring the corporation to provide this contraceptive coverage imposed a “substantial burden” on companies’ sincerely held religious beliefs.

The four dissenting justices said the majority opinion expanded the federal RFRA to protect companies in ways unintended by Congress. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “The court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths.” She said, for example, that a company could decide that covering vaccinations or paying the minimum wage violates their religious beliefs. She also noted a past religious freedom challenge from a restaurant chain that didn’t want to serve African-Americans, and that of a photography studio that didn’t want to take pictures at a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony.

Ginsberg’s concerns are being realized in the efforts to insert “Hobby Lobbyized” provisions into state RFRAs. Conservative supporters of these bills have claimed that the state and federal RFRAs are all the same. This is not only false, but transparently so. The shorthand in the Indiana legislature for the state RFRA was “the Hobby Lobby bill.”32 The fact is that the federal RFRA—and until recently, most state RFRAs—applies only to government actions. The Hobby Lobbyized state RFRAs added language—at the behest of Alliance Defending Freedom, The Becket Fund, the Mormon Church, and allies at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops—that sought to extend exemptions to third parties, such as corporations and individuals, on the grounds that providing services to LGBTQ people violates their consciences. In some cases the language may be broad enough to claim religious exemptions from standing civil rights laws in the manner that concerned Justice Ginsberg.

Indiana conservatives were open about their goals: they intended the state’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act to provide a faith-based defense against discrimination claims, should a business decline to provide services on account of their beliefs.33 But, faced with widespread public outcry, the state’s governor and legislature were compelled to amend the law to explicitly state that their RFRA did not provide a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people. This in turn led to loud objections from Christian Right leaders, who correctly understood that the original bill would do just that. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said the clarification made matters worse by forcing “religious businesses and even nonprofits deemed ‘not religious enough’ to participate in wedding ceremonies contrary to their owners’ beliefs. If the government punishes people for living their faith, there are no limits to what government can control.”34

A New Era for Religious Exemptions

Tony Perkins speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Tony Perkins speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of Gage Skidmore

As this article was going to press, the Supreme Court recognized marriage equality as a “fundamental right” in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. The court was silent on the matter of exemptions, but Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 5-4 majority, emphasized that religious institutions and individuals “may continue to advocate” in opposition.

“The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths,” he wrote, “and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”35 The question of what constitutes “proper protection” may well lead to a continuation of the Christian Right’s approach to advocacy for many kinds of religious exemptions, albeit on a vastly altered playing field.

Perkins shed light on this strategy in a column in The Patriot Post:

The clash between religious liberty and same-sex “marriage” continues to explode in businesses across America, where shop owners, B&Bs, and other vendors try to come to grips with the government’s twisted definition of “tolerance.” Faced with losing their jobs, businesses, and life savings, most Christians want to know: isn’t there anything we can do?

There is. In at least 10 states, conservatives are fighting back with a string of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs), [which] give men and women of all faiths a powerful tool to stop the government from walking all over their beliefs on issues like marriage and sexuality.36

There will always be tensions in reconciling religious beliefs with the rights of others, but there will also always be people who will exploit the normal strains of a religiously plural society for their own political ends. The issues of the so-called culture wars have been recast as a battle over the definition of religious liberty. There is a deep, dominionist agenda in play here, with the battle over religious liberty at its cutting edge, and it is not limited to matters before the courts.

We live in theocratic times. Not in the sense that the United States has become a theocracy, but in that the uneasy theocratic coalition we refer to as the Christian Right remains one of the most powerful and dynamic religious and political movements in American history. Like any other large coalition, the interests of the main players are sometimes in conflict. But they remain bound together by a shared opposition to religious pluralism, the rights of individual conscience, and the separation of church and state.

Historian and Christian Right theorist Gary North argues that the ratification of the Constitution signified a clean “judicial break from Christian America.” He was referring to the proscription of “religious tests for public office” in Article VI, which he correctly observed erected a “legal barrier to Christian theocracy” that led “directly to the rise of religious pluralism.”37 Article VI is, of course, not the only codified barrier to Christian theocracy. But the theocratic activists of modern America are patient revolutionaries. For the rest of us, learning how to recognize, anticipate, and respond to the Christian Right’s theocratic agenda remains one of the central tasks of our time.


Frederick Clarkson is Senior Fellow for Religious Liberty at Political Research Associates. He is the author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy (Common Courage Press, 1997). 

Endnotes

[1] General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper, 760 F.3d 352 (4th Cir. 2014), http://uccfiles.com/pdf/complaint.pdf.

[2] Central Conference of American Rabbis, “Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) Joins Federal Lawsuit Challenging North Carolina’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban,” June 4, 2014, http://ccarnet.org/nc-press-release/.

[3] Michael Paulson, “North Carolina’s Gay-Marriage Ban Is Challenged by Church,” New York Times, April 28, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/29/us/churchs-lawsuit-challenges-north-carolina-ban-on-same-sex-marriage.html?_r=2.

[4] Frederick Clarkson, “The New Secular Fundamentalist Conspiracy!,” The Public Eye, 2008, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2008/03/05/the-new-secular-fundamentalist-conspiracy/.

[5] Brian Tashman, “Tony Perkins, Arbiter Of Christianity, Says Pro-Gay Christians Don’t Have Same Religious Rights As Conservatives,” Right Wing Watch, May 8, 2014, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/tony-perkins-arbiter-christianity-says-pro-gay-christians-dont-have-same-religious-rights-co.

[6] Nick Gass, “Mike Huckabee: U.S. moving toward ‘criminalization of Christianity’,” Politico, April 24, 2015, http://www.politico.com/story/2015/04/mike-huckabee-us-criminalization-of-christianity-117310.html.

[7] J. Brent Walker, “Reflections: Do states need religious freedom legislation?,” Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, February 19, 2015, http://bjconline.org/reflections-do-states-need-religious-freedom-legislation/.

[8] Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973), 294.

[9] Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, “Reform Movement Welcomes Ruling in Marriage Equality Cases,” June 26, 2013, http://www.rac.org/reform-movement-welcomes-ruling-marriage-equality-cases.

[10] Dr. Jay Michaelson, “Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights,” Political Research Associates, March 21, 2013, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/03/21/redefining-religious-liberty-the-covert-campaign-against-civil-rights/; see Brief Amici Curiae of Julian Bond, The American Civil Liberties Union et al. at 32, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, No. 13-354 (Jan. 28, 2014).

[11] Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, “The Religious Exemption to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” civilrights.org, August 1, 2001, http://www.civilrights.org/lgbt/enda/religious-exemption-1.html.

[12] Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance,” The Public Eye, 2013, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/07/23/christian-right-seeks-renewal-in-deepening-catholic-protestant-alliance/.

[13] Zack Ford, “Senator proposes Budget Amendment That Would Force The Government To Hire Anti-Gay Employers, ThinkProgress, March 25, 2015. http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2015/03/25/3638630/inhofe-discrimination-amendment/.

[14] Book excerpt: Linda Wertheimer, “Evangelical: Religious Right Has Distorted the Faith,” NPR, June 23, 2006, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5502785; Randall Balmer, Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts Faith and Threatens America, (New York: Basic Books, 2007).

[15] Bob Jones University v. United States, 461 U.S. 574 (1982).

[16] LGBTQ Nation, “Catholic archdiocese of Cincinnati to tweak teacher contract morality clauses,” March 10, 2015, http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2015/03/catholic-archdiocese-of-cincinnati-to-tweak-teacher-contract-morality-clauses/; Victoria Colliver, Hundreds march against S.F. archbishop’s ‘morality clauses,’ San Francisco Chronicle, March 31, 2015.

[17] Lisa Leff, “San Francisco archbishop wants teachers to not contradict church,” CBS News, February 6, 2015, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/san-francisco-archbishop-wants-teachers-to-not-contradict-church/.

[18] Julia Carrie Wong, “‘I want education, not indoctrination’: Catholic Teachers and Students Protest Archdiocese,” SF Weekly, April 27, 2015, http://www.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2015/04/27/i-want-education-not-indoctrination-catholic-teachers-and-students-protest-archdiocese.

[19] Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance.” http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/07/23/christian-right-seeks-renewal-in-deepening-catholic-protestant-alliance/

[20] Scott Jaschik, “Big Union Win,” Inside Higher Ed, January 2, 2015, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/01/02/nlrb-ruling-shifts-legal-ground-faculty-unions-private-colleges; Adelle M. Banks, “Religious college presidents agree on ‘calling’ and common threats to their schools,” Religion News Service, February 3, 2015, http://www.religionnews.com/2015/02/03/religious-college-presidents-agree-calling-common-threats-schools/.

[21] Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al., 565 U.S. ___ (2012).;  See also, Frederick Clarkson, “Papering Over the Differences, The Political Alliance Between Evangelicals and the Catholic Right,” Conscience, Vol. XXXIII – No. 2, 2012, http://www.catholicsforchoice.org/conscience/current/PaperingovertheDifferences.asp.

[22] Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, “Hosanna-Tabor: A Big Victory for Religious Freedom,” January 20, 2012. http://www.irfalliance.org/hosanna-tabor-a-big-victory-for-religious-freedom/   The IRFA became a project of the Center for Public Justice in September 2014. The CPJ is a self-described “Christian-democratic” and “principled pluralist” organization.

[23] Rachel Tabachnick, “Spiritual Warriors with an Antigay Mission: The New Apostolic Reformation,” The Public Eye, March 22, 2013, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/03/22/spiritual-warriors-with-an-antigay-mission/.

[24] C. Peter Wagner, “Can the Government Tell the Church What to Do?,” Communion With God Ministries, February 14, 2012, http://www.cwgministries.org/blogs/can-government-tell-church-what-do-c-peter-wagner.

[25] Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Hope for the Years Ahead,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, April 16, 2014, http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/transcript-elder-dallin-oaks-constitutional-symposium-religious-freedom.

[26] Timothy Dolan, “Let Freedom Ring…!,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, September 10, 2012, http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/upload/Let_Freedom_Ring_9_8_12_JCS1.pdf.

[27] Liberty Institute, “Religious Liberty Audits, https://www.libertyinstitute.org/religious-liberty-audits?.

[28] Jeff Mateer, “A Ready Defense: How to Protect Your Ministry or Faith-Based Business from Legal Attack and Ruin,” Liberty Institute, May 14, 2015, http://blog.libertyinstitute.org/2015/05/a-ready-defense-how-to-protect-your.html; Liberty Institute, “Religious Protections Guide,” https://www.libertyinstitute.org/audit; for discussion, see Frederick Clarkson, “When in Doubt, Religify! Fear Mongering About Religious Liberty,” Political Research Associates, May 29, 2015, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/05/29/when-in-doubt-religify-fear-mongering-about-religious-liberty.

[29] Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, Pub. L. No. 103-141, 107 Stat. 1488 (1993).

[30] Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990).

[31] Richard Fausset and Alan Blinder, “States Weigh Legislation to Let Businesses Refuse to Serve Gay Couples,” New York Times, March 5, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/06/us/anticipating-nationwide-right-to-same-sex-marriage-states-weigh-religious-exemption-bills.html.

[32] Kristine Guerra and Tim Evans, “How Indiana’s RFRA differs from federal version,” IndyStar.com, April 2, 2015, http://www.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2015/03/31/indianas-rfra-similar-federal-rfra/70729888/; Public Rights / Private Conscience Project, “RFRA FAQ,” Columbia Law School, http://web.law.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/microsites/gender-sexuality/rfra_faq_for_website.pdf.

[33] Zack Ford, “Conservatives Admit the Truth on Indiana ‘Religious Liberty’ Bill,” ThinkProgress, January 6, 2015, http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2015/01/06/3608286/indiana-license-to-discriminate/.

[34] Family Research Council, “Religious Freedom Should Not Be Held Hostage to Big Business, Family Research Council Urges Veto,” April 2, 2015, http://www.frc.org/newsroom/religious-freedom-should-not-be-held-hostage-to-big-business-family-research-council-urges-veto.

[35] Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S.__ (2015).

[36] Tony Perkins, “Georgia Peaches a Fit Over Senate Bill,” The Patriot Post, February 23, 2015, http://patriotpost.us/opinion/33349.

[37] Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1997), 84-85.

Sidebar Endnotes

[1] John Gibeaut, “‘Welcome to Hell’: How allegations of child abuse at a Texas church home for problem kids could threaten a major part of President Bush’s faith-based initiative,” ABA Journal, August 2001.

[2] Michelle Goldberg, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism (New York: Norton, 2006), 109-114.

[3] Pamela Colloff, “Remember the Christian Alamo,” Texas Monthly, December 2001, http://www.texasmonthly.com/story/remember-christian-alamo.

[4] Colloff, “Remember the Christian Alamo.”

[5] Colloff, “Remember the Christian Alamo.”

[6] Frederick Clarkson, “Tragedy on the national stage: conservative intervention into the Terri Schiavo case was a disservice to everybody,” Conscience XXVIII, no. 3 (2007); Frederick Clarkson, “Papering Over the Differences, The Political Alliance Between Evangelicals and the Catholic Right,” Conscience XXXIII, no. 2 (2012), http://www.catholicsforchoice.org/conscience/current/PaperingovertheDifferences.asp. Gibbs III now has his own legal organization, the Texas-based National Center for Life and Liberty, which describes itself as “a ministry organization that defends life and liberty freedoms nationwide.” (National Center for Life and Liberty, “About,” www.ncll.org/about.)

[7] Evangelicals and Catholics Together, “The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Reclaiming Marriage,” First Things, March 2015, http://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/03/the-two-shall-become-one-flesh-reclaiming-marriage-2; see Frederick Clarkson, “Previewing the next anti-marriage equality manifesto,” LGBTQ Nation, Febraury 15, 2015, http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2015/02/previewing-the-next-anti-marriage-equality-manifesto/.

Charleston Massacre An Attack on Christianity? Yes, But Not How the Christian Right Says

This is a tricky time for the Christian Right. Immediately following the mass murder at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina, some Christian Right leaders jumped onto the airwaves to claim the shooting was an example of the campaign against religious freedom in America. It turns out they were onto something, just not what they had thought it was. There has been an eerily-telling silence since then.

Rev. E.W. Jackson

Rev. E.W. Jackson said on Fox & Friends June 18th that the Charleston shooting was part of a “growing hostility” towards Christianity.

The horrific Charleston massacre in which nine people were killed has tended to derail the Christian Right’s narrative of how faith and Christianity are under attack in America. On its face, this would seem to be an unlikely consequence of the episode, since it happened at a Wednesday evening Bible study at the church. This is significant in part because the constellation of dubious claims about the persecution of Christians and the threat to religious liberty in America is at the center of the Christian Right’s approach to politics and public policy—and is increasingly the go-to gambit of conservative Republican politicians trying to demagogue their way into office – or out of a difficult issue of public policy.

Nevertheless, it would seem that this episode would fit the narrative: Christians killed right in their own church. Isn’t that in line with what the Christian Right is saying about Christianity being under a wide-ranging siege in America?

Several prominent Christian Right leaders have tried to cast the assassinations in these terms, but it was a hard case to make. The tragedy seemed to be so much more about race.  Surviving witnesses reported that the young White supremacist Dylann Roof simply said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

Rick Santorum, GOP presidential candidate and a vocal conservative Catholic said the mass murder was a “crime of hate” but that it was also part of a broader “assault on our religious liberty.”

Rev. E.W. Jackson, Senior Fellow for Church Ministries at the Family Research Council, the 2012 GOP candidate for Lt. Governor of Virginia, and an African American, created a stir with his surprising reaction. He said that people shouldn’t “jump to conclusions” that the Charleston massacre was “some sort of racial hate crime.”  He also suggested the murders are part of the “growing hostility and antipathy to Christianity and what this stands for, the biblical worldview about sexual morality and other things.”

Other Christian Right leaders were more careful.  Their own hyperbole notwithstanding, they know conservative Christians are not being killed for their faith in the U.S.  It is obvious that the mass murder of African American Christians in their own church makes their claims of persecution appear shallow.

But arguably the murders of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston were indeed an attack on Christians for their faith, but not in a way that fits with the Christian Right narrative. The Charleston massacre is just the latest in a long line of White supremacist attacks on Black churches.  Arsons and bombings punctuated the Civil Rights Movement, but such attacks stretch through much of the length of American history. The Black church has historically been an institution where African Americans could organize on behalf of their own interests in relative safely. That is part of why the churches also became targets. The Emanuel AME itself was burned to the ground in 1822 in the years before all Black churches were banned and driven underground.

This poses problems for the Christian Right.  If they are going to say that this was an attack on Christianity, they have to say why this church and these particular Christians were attacked—just as they would if an evangelical or Catholic Church had been attacked. It was not random. In the explanatory manifesto he published on a web site created for the occasion, Dylann Roof wrote:

“I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

But the mostly-White leaders of the Christian Right can’t zero-in on the racist reasoning that led him to target the most prominent African American church in Charleston and its politically influential pastor – at least not without displacing themselves from the center of their own persecution narrative.

Clearly it was not just any Christian church, nor Christianity in general, that was under attack in Charleston. It was the Black church, African American Protestantism generally, and the Emanuel A.M.E. Church, pastored by Rev. Clementa Pinckney in particular. This church was involved in a planned slave rebellion in 1822, and the institution it has come to be in Charleston has epitomized the African American story in the South for nearly 200 years.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously preached there during the Civil Rights movement.

The Mother Emanuel congregation (as it is known locally) is part of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a member of the mainline National Council of Churches (NCC).  The NCC comprises 45 million people in 37 denominations, including, the Presbyterian Church (USA), The Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ.  What’s worse, these African American Christians tend to vote Democratic and their pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a prominent Democratic State Senator and a rising star in state politics. The assassination of Pinckney and fellow members of his Bible study group undermines much of the Christian Right’s narrative because the narrative discounts as non-Christian many of those with whom they religiously and politically disagree. The Christian Right’s list of infidels often includes Democrats, liberals, and even mainline Christians – such as the members of Emanuel AME.

Indeed, these are the kinds of Christians that the Christian Right would rather not have to acknowledge even exist; let alone come to define the story anti-Christian persecution in America.

That this was a carefully planned political assassination is hard to dispute. But it is also hard to dispute that this was an attack on Christianity of the kind that believes in the empowerment and equality of all people, and advancing social justice is at the core of this particular church’s mission.  It is hard for the Christian Right to co-opt the legacy of the African American Civil Rights Movement, as is currently the fashion, while ignoring the assassination of nine Black Christians who were killed both for their race and for their progressive faith.

And that is why after some initial claims that the Charleston massacre was part of a wide ranging attack on Christianity and a threat to religious liberty in America, we just aren’t hearing such claims anymore.

CitizenLink Prepares to “Muscle Up” for [One-Man-One-Woman] Marriage

The new president of one of the most powerful conservative organizations in the country is well-steeped in the Christian Right’s scheme to redefine the meaning of religious freedom into a weapon designed to roll-back LGBTQ rights and attack reproductive justice. And as the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision looms, he’s readying a massive response.

CitizenLink announced last week that after nearly 30 years at the helm, Tom Minnery will be stepping down as president, transitioning leadership of the right-wing political advocacy group to Paul Weber, who previously served as vice president of communications and development for one of the Right’s most prominent legal advocacy groups, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), from 2000-2013.

Outgoing CitizenLink president Tom Minnery (left) and incoming president Paul Weber (right)

Outgoing CitizenLink president Tom Minnery (left) and incoming president Paul Weber (right)

Founded in 2004, CitizenLink is the public policy arm of Focus on the Family, operating out of the same building and under the same executive leadership team. Its mission is to “equip citizens to make their voices heard on critical social policy issues involving the sanctity of human life, the preservation of religious liberties and the well-being of the family as the building block of society.” Essentially, CitizenLink endeavors to insert—and enforce—a conservative biblical worldview into government and civil society.

Weber, who says he was originally recruited into the conservative movement through New Jersey’s CitizenLink affiliate, the Family Policy Council, is excited to “muscle up” CitizenLink’s work, focusing especially on the development and expansion of the nationwide network of Family Policy Councils.

Similar to the national network of conservative State Policy Network groups, there are currently 38 state-based Family Policy Councils formally associated with CitizenLink. Through these affiliates, CitizenLink works to “advance Christian values in laws, elections and our culture.” In the 2014 midterm elections alone, CitizenLink mobilized a huge nationwide effort targeting 21 state and federal races with an aggressive and well-funded field campaign that included nearly 5 million phone calls, 11,000 door knocks, and 2.3 million mailers.

CitizenLink’s campaign efforts include defunding Planned Parenthood, restricting abortion access, enforcing abstinence-only sex ed, resisting marriage equality efforts, countering attempts to curb global warming, and promoting creationism in schools.

In a recent fundraising appeal, outgoing president Tom Minnery conceded that despite the Right’s valiant efforts to restrict the benefits and privileges of marriage to the one-man-one-woman Christian Right model, the Supreme Court will likely rule in favor of marriage equality when they issue their decision in Obergefell v. Hodges later this month. “We need to be prepared for this devastating setback,” he wrote, going on to say, “Despite the court’s ruling, we must look to the future and get ready for the inevitable battles to come.”

Minnery also recommends looking to the past. In CitizenLink’s Spring 2015 newsletter, he reflected on the success of the anti-choice movement in the 40-plus years since Roe v. Wade. The veteran conservative explains that instead of falling into despair and giving up, anti-choice activists “began chipping away at Roe, by supporting smaller bills that limit abortions in many ways. Today, hundreds of those laws are in place around the country.”

In the last four years alone, over 200 laws restricting abortion access have passed in state legislatures (at least one in every state except Oregon), and more than 300 additional regulations have already been proposed in 45 different states this year.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality later this month, Minnery warns that what he calls the “radical Left” will next seek to “shut down the free religious expression of millions of pro-family Americans.” By this, he means that Christian business owners won’t be allowed to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. Bakers, florists, and wedding photographers will, indeed, be expected to accommodate the needs of LGBTQ customers in the same way that they serve their heterosexual clientele.

The strategy to use the progressive value of religious freedom to mask discriminatory laws is largely being authored by the Alliance Defending Freedom—the former workplace of new CitizenLink president Paul Weber—and other Christian Right  groups.  While the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) promoted the progressive values of religious pluralism, respect for all beliefs and non-beliefs, and tolerance, the RFRA bills being proposed and promoted by the Christian Right in state legislatures all over the country are designed to legalize religious authoritarianism—in direct contradiction to the original definition of religious freedom.

The strategy to use the progressive value of religious freedom to mask discriminatory laws is largely being authored by the Alliance Defending Freedom—the former workplace of new CitizenLink president Paul Weber—and other Christian Right groups. While the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) promoted the progressive values of religious pluralism, respect for all beliefs and non-beliefs, and tolerance, the RFRA bills being proposed and promoted by the Christian Right in state legislatures all over the country are designed to legalize religious authoritarianism—in direct contradiction to the original definition of religious freedom.

Though many on the Left may scoff, the narrative that “good, God-fearing Christians” are being persecuted by laws that prevent them from discriminating against LGBTQ people is gaining strength and momentum. CitizenLink has played a key role in the effort to redefine religious liberty and oppress LGBTQ people and women across the country by working to advance more repressive, state-level laws essentially granting licenses to discriminate, all under the same name as the more progressive federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA). Simultaneously, through their on-the-ground network of Family Policy Councils, CitizenLink is also fighting legislation that would expand civil rights protections to LGBTQ people, including laws that would prevent employment and/or housing discrimination. The organization was an active part of the RFRA fights in Indiana and Arkansas, and claims credit for the defeat of laws in Idaho and North Dakota that would have provided critical protections to LGBTQ people.

Elliot Mincberg, a senior fellow at People for the American Way, explains, “These [state “religious freedom” bills] are, in part, a component of the far right’s efforts to reframe their decades-long war against every advance in societal acceptance and legal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans into a noble effort to protect ‘religious liberty.’”

They are also an echo of the anti-abortion movement’s state-by-state chip away strategy—a nod to the lesson that no defeat is ever final.

Regardless of whether or not the Supreme Court gives same-sex couples the stamp of approval, the Right won’t stop fighting. Paul Weber has already pledged to expand the network of CitizenLink-affiliated Family Policy Councils to all 50 states, and we can anticipate that wherever they are, they’ll be hard at work weakening whatever rights and protections might be gained.

When in Doubt, Religify! Fear Mongering about Religious Liberty

Liberty InstituteSo much of the contemporary religious liberty campaign being conducted by the Christian Right is demagogic fear-mongering designed to justify discrimination against other Americans, particularly LGBTQ people. While most of our attention is directed to larger-than-life marriage equality dramas being played out in courtrooms, legislative chambers, and major media outlets, the foundation is being laid for massive resistance to marriage equality and much more.

This is the story of one such effort that has received little attention.

The Liberty Institute, a leading Christian Right legal advocacy group based in Plano, Texas, is rolling out a plan to prepare people for what they suggest is an inevitable wave of anti-Christian legal attacks against everything from churches to frat houses and for-profit corporations. “What’s the solution to protecting yourself from legal attacks?” the Institute rhetorically asks. “In a word: ‘“religify.”” [Emphasis in the original]

“In a world where hostility toward religion is on the rise, it’s not a matter of if but when religious institutions will be faced with damaging, anti-religious legal attacks. That’s why Liberty Institute now offers free-of-charge Religious Liberty Templates and Guides to religious institutions—including churches and synagogues, faith-based charities, orphanages, shelters, sororities, fraternities and faith-based for-profit companies.” [Emphases in the original.]

The Liberty Institute says they want to help these agencies avoid “legal and financial ruin” due to the activities of “individuals and organizations that are offended by traditional religious viewpoints and seek to litigate employment or discrimination claims to further a larger political or cultural agenda.”

Yes, the answer to this alleged “open season on people of faith” is to religify your organization by specifying all of your beliefs, and to act in accordance with those beliefs by integrating them deeply into all institutional policies, from statements of faith to employment manuals to rental agreements for outside groups. The goal is to be able to “prove the sincerity of their faith—and protect themselves from coming legal attacks.”

The Institute draws on detailed understandings of recent Supreme Court cases as sources for this legal groundwork against the coming siege. They point particularly to the 2012 case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which disallowed a discrimination complaint by a teacher, declaring that her role was part of the ministry of the church, and her employer therefore was exempt from employment discrimination laws. The decision is widely seen as having opened the door to a wide range of religious exemptions from civil rights and labor laws. The Institute also points to the 2014 decision in Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. & Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell, which for the first time endowed “closely held” for-profit corporations with religious rights under the First Amendment.

There are a lot of problems with the Institute’s approach.  Let’s look at two of them.

In a recent article, the Institute offered six examples of how religious freedom is under attack, and therefore why religious institutions should reorganize using the Institute’s templates. The Institute claims, for example, that Catholic Charities was “forced” to close its adoption services in Boston. This is, unfortunately, typical of the hyperbolic distortion in many such claims. The Institute wrote:

“When a Massachusetts state law was passed stating that homosexuals must be allowed to adopt, Catholic Charities of the Boston Archdiocese made the difficult decision to stop offering adoption services—to avoid violating their sincerely held religious beliefs by providing adoptions to same-sex couples. Then, when the Catholic agency tried to obtain, an exemption from state law, it was denied.”

In fact, same sex couples had been able to adopt since a decision of the State Supreme Judicial Court in 1993. The Boston Globe reported in 2005 that for years, Catholic Charities had been placing children with gay adoptive parents in explicit compliance with Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws. In the wake of the Globe report, the 42-member board of Catholic Charities voted unanimously to continue gay adoptions, but the state’s four Roman Catholic bishops disagreed, and initially said they would seek an exemption from the law. Then-governor Mitt Romney said he did not have the power to grant such an exemption, so the bishops decided to discontinue their adoption program rather than comply with state non-discrimination laws or engage in potentially expensive litigation whose outcome was uncertain.

It should be added that Catholic Charities made its announcement near the expiration of a 20-year contract with the state to provide adoption services. That contract would likely not have been renewed in light of the Bishops’ refusal to obey the law.

Second, it is worth a look at the Institute’s recommended language for revising the policies of religious and other institutions to maximize the possibility of success in defense against lawsuits for violations of civil rights and labor laws.

In their template, Guidelines: Drafting Church Employment and Administrative Policies, Liberty Institute points to several court decisions, especially Hosanna-Tabor, that highlight the court’s recognition of “ministerial exceptions” to governmental regulation. The Supreme Court held in Hosanna-Tabor that the ministerial exception does not apply solely to persons that are traditionally thought of as “ministers.” The Institute believes that this may allow churches to cover most if not all church employees under the legal definition of ministry, and thereby justify broad exemptions from compliance with civil rights and labor laws. One of the ways they suggest accomplishing this is by tailoring job descriptions to emphasize how each position is an expression of their doctrine.

This has immediate implications, for example, on matters of sexual identity. The Liberty Institute’s template titled “Statement of Faith: Marriage and Human Sexuality” advances a strident, exclusivist, and detailed doctrine identifying permanent, heterosexual marriage or celibacy as the only acceptable parameters of human sexuality, adding:

“All of our members, employees, and volunteers must affirm and adhere to this Doctrinal and Religious Absolute statement on marriage and human sexuality to qualify for involvement with the ministry. This is necessary to accomplish our religious mission, goals and purpose.”

The Institute’s Facility Use Policy agreement would even require outside groups and individuals to conform to a given church’s views on faith, marriage, sexuality, and gender identity.

The Liberty Institute is not wrong to anticipate cultural and legal adjustments that will be made as LGBTQ equality advances, particularly in the wake of the marriage equality case currently before the Supreme Court. But people of good will across society will undoubtedly do their best to make adjustments to accommodate the rights of others without necessarily compromising their own views. (Others, perhaps not so much.)

However, the Institute is deeply misguided in its repeatedly articulated, conspiracist view that there is a massive effort to squelch religious belief and expression generally, and Christian belief and expression in particular. It’s an old saw with many today. But it has no more validity today than it did a hundred years ago, when the raging anti-Semite Henry Ford declared that Jews were waging a war on Christmas and Easter in America.

A certain amount of tension over the nature of religious activity and expression in our democratic, religiously plural society is normal. It’s not whether we all agree that matters so much as how we handle our disagreements.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Religion is to democracy as a bridle is to a horse.” – Archbishop Charles Chaput

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

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

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