Previewing the Next Anti-Marriage Equality Manifesto

Top leaders of the Christian Right plan to issue a fresh manifesto against marriage equality in March.  It may be the defining document for the anti-marriage equality forces in the run up to the legal show down at the Supreme Court this summer (not to mention the 2016 presidential elections). It is certainly an advance in the evolving alliance between conservative Catholics and conservative evangelicals—and a remarkable expression of their fears about the survival of Christendom as they see it.

David Gibson of Religion News Service, who received an advance copy of the manifesto, reports that it “reads like a declaration of war,” and that it claims “that a faithful Christian witness cannot accommodate itself to same-sex marriage.”  What’s more, “it suggests that believers who accept gay marriage are no longer fully Christian.”

The manifesto, entitled The Two Shall Become One Flesh:  Reclaiming Marriage, has been signed by several dozen Christian Right leaders so far, and will be published in the March issue of the neoconservative magazine First Things, which provided copies to selected reporters.

“If the truth about marriage can be displaced by social and political pressure operating through the law, other truths can be set aside as well,” the signers of the manifesto warn.  This, they assert, can lead “to the coercion and persecution of those who refuse to acknowledge the state’s redefinition of marriage… ”

Evangelical signers of the statement reportedly include megachurch pastor Rick Warren; Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University; Mark Galli, editor of the evangelical magazine Christianity Today; and Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Catholic signers include Robert P. George, chairman emeritus of the National Organization for Marriage;  longtime NBC News “Vatican analyst,” George Weigel; and prominent anti-marriage equality activist Maggie Gallagher.

Some of these leaders have been threatening civil disobedience over abortion, marriage equality, and religious liberty since at least the publication of the 2009 Manhattan Declaration.  In the Declaration, the culture-warring leaders of both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and of conservative evangelicalism threatened massive civil disobedience if they didn’t get their way.

Just before the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Hobby Lobby v. Burwell in 2014, Rick Warren told a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) gathering that the fight for religious liberty might bring persecution.  He warned that this may require personal sacrifices.  “And,” he declared, invoking Martin Luther King, Jr., “[this] may take some pastors going to jail. I’m in. I willingly said it, I’m in.”

Megachurch pastor David Platt of Alabama added, “I hear Pastor Rick say, ‘I’m in,’ and I’m with you. And I want to raise up an army, an entire body of members that says, ‘I’m in,’ who are in regardless of what happens in this case.”

While Warren and Platt claimed that they were willing to go to jail for their notions of religious freedom, SBC official Russell Moore said, “I’m doing everything we can to keep out us out of jail, but there is one thing worse than going to jail.  And that is staying out of jail and sacrificing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

But for all the big talk over the years, the published quotes from The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Reclaiming Marriage suggests a group of leaders on the eve of a major battle they are about to lose—trying to rally themselves and their followers for the rest of the war.

They remind themselves of their professed “obligation to speak the truth in love,” and express regret for “injustices against those who experience same-sex attraction.”  But their words also drip with scorn for those who do not share their views. Compared with divorce and cohabitation, they claim that “so-called same-sex marriage is a graver threat” to the institution of marriage.  They complain that it is “a parody of marriage” that not only “distorts the Gospel” but “threatens the common good.”

They also complain that “those who refuse to conform are regarded as irrational bigots.”

Perhaps they doth protest too much.

In any case, this group insists that any accommodation of marriage equality violates their religious freedom—for which they have repeatedly indicated that they are willing to fight. How far they are willing to go remains to be seen.

Old Time Revisionism—Southern Baptists Seek to Redefine Separation of Church and State

A conference at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, DC a few months ago provided a platform to launch a trial balloon for revising the Christian Right’s contentious and often bizarre approach to separation of church and state. Russell Moore, head of the powerful Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), told participant at AEI’s first Evangelical Leadership Summit that they need to “reclaim” the phrase “separation of church and state,” a term he admitted that “we long ago tossed overboard.”

This is a development worth exploring in some detail.

Russell Moore,

Russell Moore, head of SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

The Baptist Press reported that Moore declared that separation of church and state “does not mean secularization.” Rather, “It means that the state is limited and does not have lordship over the conscience …” It’s a variation on the old Manichean framing, pitting religion vs. the secular—as if they were mutually exclusive ideas.

Historically, the separation of church and state has been considered to be a necessary prerequisite for the true meaning of religious liberty. The Framers of the Constitution recognized that creating a new nation would require finding a way for people of all faiths (as well as those with no faith) to live in peace and be treated as equals. (Given the history of religious warfare, bigotry, and persecution, that was a tall order, and we are clearly still working on it.)

The secular state does not mean a place where there are no religious people, nor is it opposed to religion generally or to any particular religion, and it is certainly not seeking “lordship” over anyone’s consciences. Rather, the secular state is intended to be neutral in matters of religion—allowing every citizen the freedom to choose for themselves what they will or will not believe in.

And this is where Moore’s argument gets even more slippery.

Moore’s SBC, in alliance with the Roman Catholic bishops, and bodies of conservative evangelicalism, are seeking to craft zones of exemption from reasonable public policies, as we saw in the Hobby Lobby case, and in the introduction of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (crafted in part by the Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF) in the states, which seek to limit the scope of LGBTQ civil rights, especially marriage equality.

Historically, religious liberty (or religious freedom) and separation of church and state are about the guarantee of the right of individual conscience, against the excesses of both the state and powerful religious institutions.

Thus it is important to note that what the SBC and the wider Christian Right has “tossed overboard”, is actually the traditional Baptist understanding of the term. Before it departed in the wake of the fundamentalist takeover of the denomination, the SBC was a member of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Today, the Joint Committee represents 15 Baptist entities in Washington, DC (which takes no position on marriage equality) and summarizes the traditional Baptist view:

“Baptists have valued religious freedom and separation of church and state because they suffered the hard lessons of history. From jail cells in England to stockades in Massachusetts Bay to whipping posts in Virginia, early Baptists experienced firsthand the pain of persecution — the heartache and bloodshed caused by religious zealots armed with the coercive power of government.”

“[R]eligious liberty,” the Joint Committee concludes, “is best protected when church and state are institutionally separated and neither tries to perform or interfere with the essential mission and work of the other. Separation has been good for both church and state.”

Interestingly, Moore also took a more nuanced view of Islam than some of his co-belligerents on the Christian Right, while simultaneously suggesting that the common enemy is actually secular government, which he sees as a religion unto itself.

Moore says that conservative evangelicals, for example, do not have to agree with Islam to oppose local governmental efforts to zone “a mosque out of existence.” But they should do so in order to oppose the “power to the mayor and the city council to hand down theological edicts.” If city government can zone one group out of town “on the basis of what they believe,” Moore insists, “[it] will in the fullness of time drive us all out.”

These are the types of clever arguments that are going to continue to be the stuff of politics for the foreseeable future. But they are a contemporary twist on the same hoary old casting of secular government as the anti-religious devil out to squash all religious expression and to drive institutions from the public square.

One-time Southern Baptist televangelist Pat Robertson claimed in 1993 that the “radical left … kept us in submission because they have talked about the separation of church and state. There is no such thing in the Constitution. It’s a lie of the left, and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

Of course, SBC Baptists have not been alone in making outlandish claims. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), a conservative Catholic, recently distinguished himself by claiming “the words ‘separation of church and state’ is not in the U.S. Constitution, but it was in the constitution of the former Soviet Union. That’s where it very, very comfortably sat, not in ours.”  Santorum and his ilk are correct that the phrase does not appear in the Constitution, but the principle certainly is. The U.S. Supreme Court has found it to be a useful and authoritative shorthand phrase to describe the Constitution’s approach to religion and government.

History is Powerful

The battle for the story of religion in America has been a vastly under-appreciated aspect of the so-called culture wars. But Brent Walker of the Joint Committee, for one, has taken on the man who is arguably the leading culture warrior of Christian historical revisionism, David Barton. He notably debunked Barton’s claim that when Thomas Jefferson used the phrase “separation of church and state” in his famous letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, Jefferson meant that there is a “one directional wall”—to prevent the government from harming religion, not to prevent religion from capturing the government.

Walker wrote that “there is absolutely nothing in the letter even to hint that” Jefferson thought of the wall of separation between church and state as being “one directional.” In any case, Walker wrote, “most scholars would argue that he was more concerned with the church harming the state than vice versa.”

Russell Moore, nevertheless, sounded decidedly Bartonesque when earlier this year he argued “…that the state has no business in recreating marriage.” He failed to acknowledge that same-sex marriage is sacred in other religious traditions, while urging the federal government to enforce his particular notion of religious marriage, “by holding mothers and fathers to their vows to each other and to the next generation.”

But he then raised one of the wild bogeyman of the debate about marriage equality—that the government would compel a church to marry someone against their will.

“If the state ever attempts to force us to call marriage that which is not marriage in our churches and ceremonies, let’s obey God, even if that means we sing our wedding hymns in the prison block.”

It is easy for Moore and his ilk to suggest that Christian martyrs should go to prison out of principle—for something that has never happened and that no has argued should.  But there are a lot of religious and non-religious Americans who are fighting every day for the rights of all, and not just their favorite brands—including a lot of Baptists and, as Jefferson once put it, “Infidels of every Denomination,” and even Moore’s much derided secularists.

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A Manhattan Declaration Reunion in Rome: Conservative Catholic-Protestant Alliance Strengthens

Five years ago, approximately 150 American right-wing religious and political activists came together to sign The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, which called for a rededication to the fight for “the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.” The Vatican hosted a conference last week featuring similar themes and many of the same faces, further solidifying the conservative Catholic-Protestant alliance against LGBTQ people and reproductive justice.

Culture War Exporter Rick Warren sits in the front row as Pope Francis speaks at the Humanum meeting at the Vatican

Culture War Exporter Rick Warren sits in the front row as Pope Francis speaks at the Humanum meeting at the Vatican

The Manhattan Declaration—published in 2009covered familiar right-wing talking points, but it was far more than just another conservative call-to-arms. As PRA research fellow Fred Clarkson observed, “[I]ts distinct achievement has been to broaden and deepen the emerging alliance between conservative Roman Catholics and right-wing evangelical Protestants.”

Nine Catholic Archbishops joined some of the best-known Christian Right leaders in the United States on the list of original signatories. Among them were key right-wing leaders such as James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Alan Sears, president of the Alliance Defending Freedom; Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; and Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. Evangelical scholars like Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, added their names to the list. Prominent anti-gay culture warriors like Rick Warren also signed. Key leaders involved with the New Apostolic Reformation—Harry Jackson, Joseph Mattera, and Samuel Rodriguez—were on the list, too.

Many of these same individuals teamed up again this week in Rome at “Humanum: An Interreligious Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman,” which was convened by Pope Francis. The conference follows a recent synod gathering at which Catholic bishops considered, but ultimately rejected, proposals to soften the church’s stances on homosexuality and divorce.

Robert P. George, creator of the Manhattan Declaration and co-founder of the Witherspoon Institute which funded the debunked anti-gay Regnerus study, was a key organizer of Humanum. Speaking in an interview at the conclusion of the event, George enthusiastically described the shared values and understandings that had been made evident at the event despite so many “profound theological differences” among attendees. Though admitting that “things look very black” back in the U.S. when it comes to marriage and family, George was optimistic about the potential found in the unification of conservative believers. “People are leaving this conference on fire!” he exclaimed.

Several prominent signatories were also in attendance, including Tony Perkins, Alan Sears, and Brian Brown. And Eric Teetsel, executive director of the Manhattan Declaration’s nonprofit, was present as well. In the list of goals he presented to his Facebook followers before departing for Rome, #1 on Teetsel’s list was “ask Pope to sign the Manhattan Declaration.”

Rick Warren and Russell Moore—two of the most prominent right-wing Protestants in the U.S. and both signers of the Manhattan Declaration—were featured speakers at the event.

Indulging anti-Western sentiments, Moore explained to the global interfaith audience, “Western culture now celebrates casual sexuality, cohabitation, no-fault divorce, marriage redefinition, and abortion rights as parts of a sexual revolution that can tear down old patriarchal systems.”

Critiquing the Western world as “anti-family” is an increasingly popular tactic for right-wing Western culture war exporters who are seeking to foster stronger relationships and gain favor with their conservative international comrades. In doing so, these [mostly U.S.] right-wing leaders are effectively forming a consolidated conservative voting bloc at the UN and in other international decision-making bodies which enables them to advance their anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice agenda with increasing efficiency.

Speaking later in the day, Warren agreed with Moore. Marriage, he said, is being “ridiculed, resented, rejected, and even redefined.” He went on to charge the attendees, “The church cannot cower in silence. The stakes are too high!”

Warren—like Moore—is a strategic thinker. For a Protestant speaking at the Vatican to address “the church” in broad, collective terms, he’s effectively making a bold statement of shared ideology and mission, brushing aside historic tensions between Catholics and Protestants that have been smoldering ever since Martin Luther famously nailed his Ninety-Five Theses onto the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517.

The linking of conservative movements in the Roman Catholic and right-wing evangelical Protestant worlds is a dangerous threat to movements for LGBTQ and reproductive justice, and the ties are growing stronger. Next year, the Vatican will be coming to the U.S., providing further opportunity to strengthen these new alliances. In September 2015, Philadelphia will play host to the Eighth World Meeting of Families—an event coordinated by the Roman Catholic Church and held every three years with the expressed purpose of “strengthening the sacred bonds of the family unit across the globe.”

During his address to the Humanum audience, Pope Francis announced that he will be personally attending the event in Philadelphia. This will be his first papal visit to the United States, and organizers expect his presence will attract more than a million people.

When the Manhattan Declaration was first published in 2009, many social justice advocates especially expressed concern about the inclusion of a call for civil disobedience. Timothy Kincaid, writing for the Box Turtle Bulletin, noted:

“While this alliance is one that does not reflect the face of Christianity, it also is not a declaration of a new-found position of agreement based on shared Christian teaching and ideology. There is no mention of shared faith in creeds or teachings, no virgin birth, no resurrection, no divine redemption.

Rather, this is a statement of political purpose by an alliance of socially conservative activist who oppose abortion and marriage equality. … This is, in short a political alliance. It is a pact and a threat.”

This threat cannot be overstated. As various factions of the Christian Right continue to strengthen their alliances through the common ground of shared enemies, culture war casualties will only increase.

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

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

transgender day of remembrance PRA

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

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

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

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

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

Who Are The Architects of Anti-Trans Violence?

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

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

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

Christian Right Church Leaders

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

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

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

Right-Wing Parachurch Organizations

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

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

Right-Wing Think Tanks & Legal Lobbyists

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Next?

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

Rita Hester

Rita Hester

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

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

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Southern Baptist Leader Takes Religious Liberty Arguments to the Absurd

Russell Moore,

Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

There is much we can learn about the state of the Christian Right from Russell Moore, the point man on public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Like other Christian Right leaders, Moore continues to rely on historical revisionism, bogus science, dubious claims of religious persecution, and hints darkly of tyrannical governmental violence to come. But his arguments in favor of discrimination quickly drift into outright absurdity.

Moore, who is celebrating the first anniversary of his presidency of the SBC’s public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said during a recent interview that a key influence on his thinking about religious liberty—as it relates to marriage equality–is his mom, who happens to be a cake decorator.

Before we discuss this, it is worth recalling that Moore, as we reported here at Eyes Right, recently distinguished himself by featuring two controversial and ethically compromised figures at a SBC “summit” on the Gospel and sexuality: Mark Regnerus, who is best known for his thoroughly debunked study on same-sex parenting (a study bankrolled by Christian Right interests opposed to gay parenting–a fact he attempted to conceal); and Greg Belser, who has been deeply implicated in the cover-up of a notorious child sex scandal among Baptist clergy. The two appeared on a panel on homosexuality at the Summit along with Baptist pastor J.D. Greear, who sparked a storm on social media when he compared opposing marriage equality in the church to opposing slavery in the South at the beginning of the Civil War. Moore is planning an entire conference on homosexuality slated for October 2014.

Currently, Moore is miffed about what he regards as “elitist disdain” for the consciences of people in the cake business. “I am the son of a mother who was a cake decorator, worked for weddings,” Moore told his interviewer, Jason Allen, President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Kansas City, MO. “Sometimes you have people who bake wedding cakes [who say]: ‘Here is our wedding cake. Come have the wedding cake. You come in, and you do not need to say what this wedding is for.”

“My mother used to sit down with the couple and would say: ‘We are going to make a groom’s cake that is indicative of his interests and what he is doing. We are going to make a wedding cake that seeks to tell the story of this wedding,'” Moore said.

Wedding photographers, he claims, “do the same thing.”

“They are coming in and saying, ‘You stand here and you stand there, because we are wanting to tell the story of this wedding,'” Moore continued. “So, [for] those people who say, ‘My conscience is implicated in this,’ the Scripture tells us that to sin against conscience is to sin against God.”

While there is considerable controversy over vendors of cakes, flowers, and wedding photography who seek exemptions from public accommodation laws requiring businesses not to discriminate against their customers (including same-sex couples), the arguments in favor of such “religious exemptions” are becoming what can only be described as “odd,” as Moore’s interview shows.

Moore and attorneys for the Alliance Defending Freedom (one of the primary right-wing legal groups pushing for religious liberty laws in state legislatures) argue that these services are forms of expression protected by the First Amendment. They also argue that compelling vendors to provide services which they willingly provide to others, but refuse to provide to LGBTQ couples, is a violation of their religious freedom.

These arguments from the Right closely echo similar arguments made in the past for identical exemptions from anti-discrimination laws on the basis of race, gender, and religion. During the civil rights movement just a few short decades ago, many on the Right sought to use similar arguments to gain exemptions from public accommodation laws affecting service at restaurants, rental housing, and employment discrimination.

But as happened a few decades ago, the courts (if not the state legislatures), have so far ruled that allowing people to claim “religious liberty” as a justification for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation clearly violates the law.

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in August 2013, that Elane Photography had violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act when they refused to shoot the commitment ceremony of a same-sex couple. In its ruling, the court said:

“The purpose of the NMHRA [New Mexico Human Rights Act] is to ensure that businesses offering services to the general public do not discriminate against protected classes of people, and the United States Supreme Court has made it clear that the First Amendment permits such regulation by state. Businesses that choose to be public accommodations must comply with the NMHRA, although such businesses retain their First Amendment rights to express their religious or political beliefs. They may, for example, post a disclaimer on their website or in their studio advertising that they oppose same-sex marriage but that they comply with applicable anti-discrimination laws.”

On April 7th, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the case, essentially upholding the ruling of the lower court.

“When you come into the marketplace,” Moore said while speaking of the Elane Photography case, “it is the price of citizenship to give up that conscience and those convictions.”

Taking Up the Sword

But in his interview, Moore went further than the decoration of cakes. He engaged in a form of soft-spoken anti-government demagoguery that is becoming increasingly common on the Right. Issues are hyperbolized, invoking violent imagery as part of a distinct otherization of government.

“Christian ministries are going to become increasingly under assault,” Moore claimed in his explanation of business owners being required to comply with the law protecting the rights of others. In support of his prediction, he engaged in wildly revisionist history, asserting that Roman Catholic Cardinal Sean O’Malley, of Boston, and his three fellow Massachusetts Bishops were “compelled” to shut down Catholic Charities in the state because of marriage equality. But the actual facts of the story do not support his conclusion.

The agency had been a state contractor for providing adoption services in the city and had in fact, placed 13 children with gay couples, according to a report in the Boston Globe. But after deciding not to provide those services to same-sex couples any longer, O’Malley opted to shut down Catholic Charities rather than continue to comply with the law recognizing the rights of same sex couples to adopt–which it had been in compliance with since the law was passed in 1989. This case has been frequently distorted and cited as an example of government persecution of Christians for their faith, with right-wing activists and media continually claiming that somehow government had forced Catholic Charities to close down—instead of the simple truth that they chose to close their doors.

“Does the government, with the power of the sword,” Moore asked, “have the right to force someone whose conscience says that he should not bake this cake, to bake the cake?” That is the question. We will be hearing more such questions.

Moore is correct in this one assertion, the debate over the meaning of religious freedom is certainly going to continue nationwide. Just this year, after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a religious exemption bill passed by her state’s legislature, the Mississippi Legislature passed its own version of the bill which was quickly (and with much less public attention and condemnation than Arizona) signed into law by the governor. Similar proposals have been made in several other states. And while the times and circumstances are different, what we are seeing may be the beginnings of the kind of “mass resistance” that marked the era of the African American civil rights movement. How massive this resistance will be remains, of course, to be seen.