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.

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.

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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Profiles on the Right: Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

cbmw

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) is an evangelical organization established in 1987 to “defend against the accommodation of secular feminism” in the church and promote gender “complementarianism,” which teaches that “distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order.” CBMW’s mission is to counter the influence of gender justice activism and to push back against women’s, reproductive, and LGBTQ rights by making the case for complementarianism through biblical interpretation, “scholarship,” and arguments from “common sense.” Despite its modest resources and media footprint, CBMW’s work provides talking points and theological rationales against gender equality that reach a large swath of American evangelicals.

The organization’s priorities are laid out in its founding document, the Danvers Statement. It is CBMW’s position that forbidding certain roles to girls and women does not undermine gender equality, but rather that “masculinity” and “femininity” are equal in value but have distinct roles. In addition to promoting these “roles” within the family, CBMW opposes the ordination of female clergy, gender-inclusive Bible translations (which it calls “gender-neutral”), and church and societal acceptance of any relationships outside monogamous heterosexual marriage.

CBMW’s former executive director, Owen Strachan, has written that husbands are the “God-appointed ‘head’” of wives and households, and that women—not men—are “called to be workers at home” and “designed to be physically and spiritually nurturers of their children.” Strachan has also written that those who harass patients at abortion providers are “suffering with Christ” and risking violence from pro-choice advocates with “murder in [their] eyes.”

The current executive director of the organization, Colin Smothers, is a Ph.D. candidate in Biblical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he advocates for strong anti-transgender and anti-abortion positions. Smothers even goes as far to argue that homosexuality will led to the accepting of incest.

CBMW’s teachings on female submission and patriarchal headship have particularly disturbing implications within the context of intimate partner violence. Founder John Piper preaches that the wives of abusive men continue to have a divine obligation to “submit” to their husbands, though he concedes that their obligation to “submit” to laws criminalizing spousal abuse may outweigh “duties” to violent husbands. This is a “clarification” of an earlier teaching that wives may have to “[endure] verbal abuse for a season … [or] perhaps being smacked one night” before seeking support from the church.

CBMW council member Bruce A. Ware has asserted that wives resist showing appropriate submission to husbands because of sinfulness and that men “may be required, in response, to reestablish [their] God-given rulership over” their wives. While Ware teaches that abuse is a “sinful” method of exercising that rulership, his remarks imply that abuse is a natural response by husbands to “threat[s] to their authority.”

CBMW used to have a small and dwindling budget, but they have recently experienced a budgetary revival—their 2016 budget was almost double that in 2012. Despite this, they still tend to spend more in expenses than they receive in donations. In 2016, the group received about $255,000 in donations but spent about $315,000. Even though CMBW has little visibility or direct political impact outside the evangelical world,  it has deep connections and influence within some of the most powerful evangelical institutions in the United States. Its founders, John Piper and Wayne Grudem, are influential evangelical theologians and authors; Grudem is a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society. CBMW’s council members include Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), and Bruce Ware, a professor at SBTS and also former president of the Evangelical Theological Society. The former president of the Council, Presbyterian (PCA) pastor J. Ligon Duncan, was also the former president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

Several board and council members are original signers of the Manhattan Declaration, which itself claims gender and sexual “complementarity” as a basis for opposition to reproductive and LGBTQ rights (see Fred Clarkson on the Declaration’s role in forging a new evangelical-Catholic alliance). Several members of CBMW’s board and council also belong to The Gospel Coalition, an increasingly powerful evangelical organization.

John Piper and Wayne Grudem are co-editors of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (RBMW), a large collection of essays published in 1991 under CBMW’s auspices. Essays in RBMW cite not only scripture, but also biology, sociology, history, psychology, and law as evidence for the “wisdom” of complementarian gender roles. Topics include “The Biological Basis for Gender-Specific Behavior” and “Psychological Foundations for Rearing Masculine Boys and Feminine Girls”—the latter is an essay by the now thoroughly discredited “ex-gay therapy” proponent George Alan Rekers. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was honored by evangelical flagship magazine Christianity Today as its 1992 Book of the Year.

An abridged version of RBMW, “Fifty Crucial Questions: An Overview of Central Concerns about Manhood and Womanhood,” cites Rekers’ work as providing “clinical evidence that there is no such thing as a ‘homosexual child’” and instead that “there are dynamics in the home that direct the sexual preferences of [a] child.” Piper and Grudem write that fathers play a particularly crucial role in instructing children in the distinctions between “masculinity” and “femininity,” in “firm and loving affirmation of [those distinctions]” in their children, and in “[shaping] the sexual identity of their tiny children.” RBMW and “Fifty Questions” remain the primary publications touted by CBMW—they are available for free download from CBMW’s website—in addition to its Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood published twice annually. The Journal includes articles discussing how Caitlyn Jenner (who they continue to refer to as Bruce) is part of a “gender rebellion” and another article referring to the “modern West” and “rural East’s” distinctions when discussing Christian gender roles.

CMBW’s most recent statement is the 2017 “Nashville Statement”, which has more than 20,000 including an advisor to President Trump and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. The statement reaffirms CMBW’s anti-LGBTQ policies and adherence to strict traditional gender roles. It discusses the value of “chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage,” calling anything else a “form of sexual immorality.” The Nashville Statement has been promoted not just within the American Evangelical Community but also internationally, and it has been translated into Spanish, German, and Chinese. It also continues to expand CMBW’s discriminatory rhetoric by explicitly calling “transgenderism” an “explicit departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.” The Statement also stresses that all Christians should believe in the immorality LGBTQ people, and states that it is not a “matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”  The Nashville Statement is the key document CMBW wants to advocate for at their next event, the April 2018 T4G Pre-Conference, in order to increase their “coalition for articulating the biblical view of gender and sexuality.”

CBMW’s messaging through its publications, its website, and the teachings and writings of its influential members reaches millions of American evangelicals through the network of evangelical organizations to which CBMW belongs. Its teachings are taking on new relevance as the Right increasingly turns its attentions to the anti-LGBTQ battles it feels more confident about winning, specifically against transgender communities. CBMW’s copious teachings on gender difference and “gender confusion” are sure to play an important role in evangelical messaging against transgender rights and equality—and given CBMW’s relative lack of visibility, perhaps a stealth role.

Updated 4/10/18.

 

 

The Stuff of Which Religious War is Made

Gregory M. Aymond, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans

Gregory M. Aymond, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans

Gregory M. Aymond, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans, has declared economic war on anyone who participates in the construction of a new regional Planned Parenthood facility in New Orleans.

Yet another Catholic prelate denouncing an abortion provider might seem to some like a small, if dramatic, moment in the so-called culture war—but I think this incident may be a bellwether.

The archdiocesan newspaper Clarion Herald front-paged Aymond’s open letter, in which he declared that the Archdiocese and its related institutions will not do business with anyone, Catholic or non-Catholic, “involved in the acquisition, preparation and construction of this facility.” Aymond makes clear that even in the era of Pope Francis, the theocratic impulses that drive the so-called culture war are undiminished. “The archdiocese, including its churches, schools, apartments for the elderly and nursing homes,” he decreed, “will strive in its privately funded work not to enter into business relationships with any person or organization.”

Here is the key section in which the Archbishop declares he will punish not only Catholics but non-Catholics, even to the point of economic ruin:

This policy applies to all businesses, regardless of religious affiliation or non-affiliation. Our fidelity to Church teaching and our conscience necessitates this stance.

There is no justification, including economic hardship that will make a direct or indirect relationship with Planned Parenthood, or any abortion provider, acceptable.

The significance of this should not be underestimated. Aymond is the leader of the majority religious institution in the state’s largest city, and he has made clear he is willing to use its economic leverage against any person or business that defies him.

This was treated as unremarkable in an account published by Catholic News Service (the ostensibly independent news agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops), and syndicated to Catholic publications nationwide. CNS reported that Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, was surprised but pleased by all of this.

“It should be a model for other religious leaders, not only in this state but in other areas,” Clapper said. “Most of the time, people expect the bishop to say things and to teach principles, but I don’t believe most people expect a bishop to make this real-life, declarative statement that actually impacts the corporate world.”

As dramatic as Aymond’s declaration certainly is, it is unclear how much economic leverage he actually has. Also, such tactics aren’t new, as businesses are often pressured by anti-choice activists not to do business with abortion providers. What is notable here, as Louisiana Right to Life leader Clapper observes, is that religious leaders don’t usually get directly involved, let alone lead the way.

Abortion is a legal and constitutionally protected medical procedure. It is considered a moral and responsible choice by many mainstream religious institutions and organizations, notably those affiliated with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, most of them Protestant or Jewish.

Aymond and his church have the right to their view of abortion of course, but others—religious and non-religious alike—are not under any moral or legal obligation to agree. Yet Aymond’s decree targets people who conduct normal business activities in keeping with the law and their own religious and moral conscience, regardless of the economic havoc it creates. This fundamental lack of respect for pro-choice religious and secular traditions, and for the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, shows that at least this Catholic culture warrior is escalating, rather than moderating, his approach to the culture war.

As unlikely as it may be, we can hope that Aymond’s newly aggressive anti-choice efforts will turn out to be a local tempest in a teapot. But it is worth noting that this is the stuff of which religious war is made.

When the “Family Values” Agenda Includes Child Sex Abuse

The exposure of widespread sex abuse by Roman Catholic clergy—and of the subsequent cover-ups by church leaders—has rocked the Catholic church for more than a decade. Less well known, though closely analogous, is the issue of widespread abuse within Protestant evangelical churches.  Such stories raise doubt that the evangelical/Catholic alliance that defines the contemporary Christian Right is, in any legitimate sense, a defender of “family values.”

Boz Tchividjian rattled the evangelical world in 2013, when he declared that the problem of child sex abuse in evangelicalism is “worse” than the problem in the Roman Catholic Church. The grandson of Billy Graham, a former child sex crimes prosecutor for the state of Florida, and now a law professor at Liberty University, Tchividjian has both the public profile to hold an audience, and the professional experience to back up his assertions.

Tchividjian is not the only prominent evangelical speaking out. “Catholic and Baptist leaders have more similarities than differences on the child-abuse front,” wrote Robert Parnham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics. “Both have harmed church members and the Christian witness by not swiftly addressing predatory clergy and designing reliable protective systems.”

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which currently claims 15.9 million members in 46,000 churches in the U.S., has acknowledged the problem of child sex abuse within member churches. Still, too many Baptist leaders—like their Catholic counterparts—have responded to the problem with denials, inattention, and cover-ups. Indeed, Rev. Peter Lumpkins of Georgia called for the SBC’s governing body to adopt “a zero-tolerance policy toward the sexual abuse of children in churches,” but now thinks church officials are ignoring his 2013 resolution.

As just one example, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), SBC’s public policy arm, is holding an April “summit” in Nashville on “The Gospel and Human Sexuality.” Yet the program fails to include anything about child sex abuse. “From broken marriages to pornography to homosexuality, sexual confusion and sexual brokenness has ravaged our culture and can deteriorate the integrity of our churches,” the published program declares.  It assures prospective conferees that they can “discover” how their “church and local congregations can be a beacon of hope, clarity, and restoration as the gospel is brought to bear on human sexuality.”

Greg Belser

Rev. Greg Belser

Adding insult to injury, Rev. Greg Belser, a man who epitomizes the problem in the SBC, is not only a member of the ERLC’s “leadership council,” but also a panelist at the sex summit.  The Senior Pastor at Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Mississippi, Belser also happens to be at the center of a major, ongoing clergy sex abuse scandal.  In other words, the ERLC—the SBC body with delegated responsibility for addressing sex abuse within churches—features as a leader someone who himself is deeply entangled in a cover-up of abuse.

John Langworthy

Former-minister John Langworthy

Christa Brown, a leading advocate for reform in the SBC, contemplated the wider issue last year by drawing upon a quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “True evil lies not in the depraved act of the one, but in the silence of the many.” Indeed, the “silence of the many” helped facilitate the criminal career of John Langworthy, a youth music minister at Belser’s Morrison Heights church and a serial child molester. When allegations surfaced that Langworthy may have molested at least one boy, leaders at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Texas (one of the largest in the SBC), including the Senior Pastor (and future SBC President) Jack Graham, took the allegations seriously enough to fire Langworthy in 1989. Yet they did not report him to the police, although state law at the time required it.

Amy Smith, an advocate with SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), tried for more than two years to alert Morrison Heights Baptist Church leaders and Mississippi officials about Langworthy before Morrison Heights (the church where Langworthy had worked for two decades) finally conducted an internal investigation in 2011. Belser initially decided to keep Langworthy on staff but later allowed him to resign and to make a highly limited confession to the congregation about his “sexual indiscretions with younger males” in Texas—acts Langworthy described as “ungodly.” After Langworthy’s statement, Belser claimed that church officials had made “a biblical response” in the matter.

After Langworthy’s confession surfaced online, police launched an investigation.  As the Associated Baptist Press reported, “Six men came forward claiming they were sexually abused by Langworthy as children in the early 1980s.”  But Morrison Heights refused to turn over the findings of their internal investigation to police or prosecutors, apparently following the legal advice of Phillip Gunn, a Morrison Heights elder and a state representative.

That was in 2011.

Jack Graham

Prestonwood Senior Pastor Jack Graham

Langworthy went on to plead guilty to five felonies committed against boys at two Mississippi Baptist churches prior to his time at Prestonwood and Morrison Heights. Thanks to a plea deal, he did no time. Meanwhile, Gunn was elected Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives in 2012 (the first Republican since Reconstruction) and was also elected Trustee of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Graham, who served two terms as President of the SBC in 2003 and 2004, remains the Senior Pastor at Prestonwood and is fending off questions about his role in the Langworthy affair. Belser remains Senior Pastor at Morrison Heights.

Christa Brown, writing at StopBaptistPredators, suggests that SBC leaders have not created mechanisms for disciplining those who “cover-up for the unspeakable crimes of their colleagues,” either because they are afraid or because they just don’t care. She also observes that there is no denominational process for assessing clergy abuse reports, keeping records of ministerial abuses, or providing a way to inform congregations about accused ministers.

“One of the best ways to protect children in the future,” Brown concludes, “is to hear the voices of those who are attempting to tell about abuse in the past. Those voices almost always carry ugly, hard truths – truths about not only the preacher-predators but also about the many others who turned a blind eye or who were complicit in covering up for clergy child molestations.”

The “silence of the many” certainly includes those who, while claiming to uphold “family values,” remain unusually quiet in the face of crimes against children.  Even more egregious is that such abuse is occurring in the care of the churches they claim best represent these values. The story of this silence may well be the one for which they are most remembered.

Over the next year, PRA will be continuing to report on cover-up attempts within both Protestant and Catholic churches.

Profiles on the Right: National Organization for Marriage (NOM)

NOM logo

HISTORY, LEADERSHIP, AND GOALS

Conservative activist Maggie Gallagher and Princeton professor Robert George launched the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) in 2007. NOM’s mission is to defeat same-sex marriage at the polls, in the legislature, and in the courts, from state to state and across the country. The group functions as an organized infrastructure that coordinates state and federal initiatives into a national movement to ban same-sex marriage.

For its first project, NOM worked in tandem with the Mormon Church to funnel money into California’s Proposition 8 campaign, which led to suspicions that NOM is a front group for the Mormon Church. NOM has since incurred suspicion that it is also a front for the Catholic Church, due to close ties with—and funding from—Catholic groups. Catholic conservative Brian Brown took over as president in 2010 from co-founder Maggie Gallagher, who now serves as president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, a conservative anti-marriage equality think tank.

Gallagher previously worked for other antigay groups such as the Institute for American Values and the Marriage Law Foundation. In her book The Abolition of Marriage, Gallagher equates same-sex marriage with polygamy, stating that “for all its ugly defects, [polygamy] is an attempt to secure stable mother-father families for children… [and] there is no principled reason why you don’t have polygamy if you have gay marriage.” NOM also recently shared an image on their Facebook page, comparing equal marriage to incest. Current board chair Dr. John Eastman, a Chapman University law professor, has vocally defended the Boy Scouts’ antigay discrimination and referred to homosexuality as a form of “barbarism.”  NOM recently made the news when the Mormon science fiction author, Orson Scott Card, stepped down from NOM’s board after being criticized for his homophobic views.

Despite the economic recession, NOM’s revenue increased exponentially in its first few years, starting out with a modest half million dollars in 2007 and rising to $7.4 million in 2009, 14 times its 2007 income. Three-quarters of its 2009 revenue came from 14 big donors (minimum $5000) who together contributed $5.5 million, the largest donor contributing $2.5 million. In 2010, that number grew again to $9.1 million. Thus, a small group of extremely wealthy donors is responsible for NOM’s funding, giving this handful of privileged individuals an exaggerated influence on the same-sex marriage debate and public policy. However, in 2011, after pledging to spend $20 million, NOM’s upward trend in fundraising changed, reporting only $7.2 million in revenue (mostly from two donors), down almost $2 million from 2010 (NOM’s budget continues to shrink). Considering their limited spending in Illinois, it appears that their financial heft is dwindling. Upon losing marriage equality ballot initiatives in all four 2012 state contests–Iowa, Minnesota, Maine, and Washington–NOM President Brian Brown blamed the defeats on being “greatly outspent” and claimed “same-sex marriage is not inevitable.”

Shirking financial disclosure laws, NOM fiercely protects the anonymity of its donors and thereby encourages them to continue giving large sums of money. The largest known donor is the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal society based in New Haven, CT, that contributed $500,000 in 2008 and $1.4 million in 2009. Many suspect that the largest donations are coming from the Mormon and Catholic Churches because of their connections to NOM founders and board members. “You’ve got this really interesting funnel of tax-free money coming from the Dioceses and the Council of Bishops and the Knights of Columbus directly to these campaigns,” noted Phil Attey, executive director of the pro-gay marriage Catholics for Equality.

NOM leaders claim they maintain this secrecy to protect donors from persecution by gay rights supporters. They even use this policy of anonymity as a fundraising tool, with Brian Brown promising prospective donors that their identities will remain secret: “And unlike in California, every dollar you give to NOM’s Northeast Action Plan today is private, with no risk of harassment from gay marriage protesters.” Furthermore, NOM defends its non-disclosure by suing states such as California and Maine, challenging their financial disclosure requirements as unconstitutional. In response to a 2010 ethics investigation from the state of Maine, NOM committed millions for litigation to delay disclosure in the courts as long as possible.

STRATEGIES

One of NOM’s chief strategies involves campaigning for anti-gay legislators and working to unseat lawmakers and judges who support marriage equality, particularly Republicans and moderate Democrats who support pro-LGBTQ legislation and court cases. In 2011, it vowed to spend $1 million on these goals in Maryland alone. The group successfully implemented this strategy in 2010 to unseat three State Supreme Court judges in Iowa who ruled in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. In 2012, the group pledged $100,000 to unseat a fourth Iowan judge who supported marriage equality. This strategy has been used repeatedly, including in New York and earlier this year in Minnesota. While not unusual, NOM is able to wield significant financial heft in some of the state level elections they are involved in. Their efforts are less and less successful, however, as exemplified by their 2013 support for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli (R ) who lost to Democrat Terry Mcauliffe.

With fiery rhetoric, NOM demonizes so-called “traitors” against marriage through extensive mailings, robo-calls, and e-newsletters. Prone to fear mongering and hyperbole, NOM’s leaders rally their ultra-conservative base to vote the “traitors” out of office and donate to anti-same-sex marriage candidates. For instance, in a July 2011 newsletter, NOM president Brian Brown declared that with Senate hearings on repealing DOMA, “President Obama and the hard-left core of the Democratic Party in Washington declared war on marriage, on federalism, on democracy and on religious liberty.” NOM wields hyperbolic rhetoric to distort the pro-same-sex marriage campaign into an all-out war on traditional American principles. Framing same-sex marriage as an insidious threat to such universally accepted American values, it galvanizes target audience and makes it difficult for supporters of equality to argue against them. With their seemingly innocuous claim that they are “protecting families,” NOM’s leaders hope to confound and silence opponents.

Another fear mongering argument that NOM employs is the notion that redefining marriage would result in religious persecution by the government. Its leaders argue that such “persecution” would include: forcing pro-gay views on children in public schools, forcing churches to perform same-sex marriages, and denying tax breaks to religious institutions that fail to recognize same-sex marriage. For instance, Maggie Gallagher has argued that she and Robert George founded NOM because “if nothing changes, state legislatures are going to begin to pass laws to redefine marriage and…our churches, charities, schools and other organizations were going to be persecuted by state governments as a result.”

As summarized in our recent profile of Brian Brown, the NOM president has been involved in organizing the World Congress of Families in Russia next year, and testified in front of the Russian Parliament (the Duma), advocating a legal solution to protecting ‘traditional’ families. Back in the U.S., NOM has continued campaigning in order to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage. In Hawaii, they have contributed towards advertisements, arguing Hawaiian heritage is “rooted in family” and that in other states, “people and families are punished for not agreeing” with equal marriage. Political watchdog Fred Karger sent a complaint letter to the Hawaii Ethics Commission, detailed in our article about the Mormon Church in Hawaii, which was also a joint complaint against NOM, alleging that neither organization registered, as required, as lobbyists.

NOM has also branched out, beyond campaigning against equal marriage, to attacking a bill in California that allows transgender students to use facilities and participate in activities corresponding with their gender identity. They are hoping to bring forward a referendum on repealing the law, and replicate their success with the Prop 8 campaign. With regards to this law, Brown accuses activists of using “children as a weapon in their culture war.”

In March 2012, LGBTQ advocates got a detailed look into NOM’s campaigning and messaging strategies following a lawsuit related to the group’s Maine activities. Documents from the case reveal NOM’s efforts to develop anti-LGBTQ media to directly appeal to racial minorities, using it to drive a “wedge between blacks and gays.” At the end of August 2012, NOM launched a radio ad campaign in swing state North Carolina’s Raleigh media market, home to 40 percent of the state’s African-American population. The advertisement features Dr. Patrick Wooden, a prominent African-American pastor, and urges listeners to say “no more” to President Barack Obama based on his endorsement of marriage equality. The same documents showed that NOM hoped to inflame tensions among those in the African-American community who take issue with equating LGBTQ equality with civil rights, and to target the Latino community by making support for “traditional marriage” a “key badge of Latino culture” and recruiting “glamorous” Latino spokespeople to help further the cause.

In the summer and fall of 2010, NOM sponsored two bus tours to promote its anti-LGBTQ message, which generated little publicity and small turnouts. Undeterred, the group embarked on another bus tour in August 2011, aiming to sway Iowan voters to select an anti-gay marriage presidential candidate.In March 2013, NOM hosted a rally in Washington, D.C., against equal marriage, attempting to replicate protests in France. This rally, however, consisted of only a few thousand attendees. On the state level, NOM also promotes ballot initiatives to ban gay marriage, heavily funding referendums such as California’s Prop 8 and Maine’s Question 1. In states such as New York that lack a ballot initiative procedure, NOM focuses on lobbying legislators to oppose gay marriage through laws or constitutional amendments. The group spent $2 million to target three Republicans in the New York State Senate who voted in June of 2011 to legalize marriage rights for LGBTQ couples, helping to defeat one in a GOP primary. Another Republican who voted for the measure, Jim Alesi, opted not to seek a ninth term in the State Senate, fearing intense negative campaigning on the part of NOM and its allies.  In the wake of New York’s gay marriage legalization in June 2011, NOM plannned a failed yet massive campaign to lobby for a constitutional amendment to overturn same-sex marriage by 2015.

In March 2018, NOM has become involved in battles by businesses and corporations that want the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people on the grounds of religious liberty. They are strong supporters of the First Amendment Defense Act, which was proposed by Utah Republican senator Mike Lee. The act would prevent “government officials from targeting [business owners] for harassment and punishment over their views about marriage.” NOM has named the protection of marriage supporters as one of its top objectives in its 2018 Strategic plan.

Surprisingly, NOM as of April 2018 has directed its attention to stopping one of President Trump’s appointments: Chai Feldblum to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. NOM states “while we appreciate President Trump’s work to support religious liberty in other contexts, his nomination of this radical lesbian activist will cause real and lasting damage to people of faith who want nothing more than to be left alone by gay activists…”. Despite the fact that NOM has been disappointed by its previous efforts to change legislation supporting LGBTQ rights, it continues to advocate for discrimination against LGBTQ people under the guise of protecting religious freedom.

Updated: 4/10/18.

Next Profile

Pope Francis: Liberal Leader or Benign Conservative

Pope Francis (right) and his predecessor Pope Benedict Photo credit: AFP

Pope Francis (right) and his predecessor Pope Benedict
Photo credit: AFP

A recent interview with Pope Francis conducted on behalf of America Magazine has been making waves in the Catholic community. The interview highlights what many people see as an important step in modernizing the Catholic Church, a movement that has stagnated during the previous two papacies following John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council.

The Second Vatican Council, presided over by Pope John XXIII from 1962-1965, addressed the relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world. Notably, the Council weakened the papal hierarchy, granted members of the church permission to celebrate mass in vernacular languages, and encouraged lay participation in liturgy. The forward momentum created by the Council, however, was halted by the ascensions of Popes John-Paul II and Benedict. Both were conservatives, with Benedict calling for “a leaner, smaller, purer church.” This stagnation and renewed conservatism of the church has created rifts within the Catholic community, a scenario that Francis might be able to attenuate. In his interview, Francis endorsed the Second Vatican Council, stating “its fruits are enormous.”

Since his ascension, Pope Francis had made a number of comments about atheism and LGBTQ people that have hinted at a more liberal outlook than his two predecessors, and has garnered appeal with Roman Catholics who have more liberal religious and political inclinations, as well as those who approve of religious and ideological pluralism.

In his interview with American Magazine, Francis chastised the church for locking itself up “in small things, in small-minded rules,” citing an obsessive focus on culture war issues like abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. Latching onto these excerpts, a deluge of commentary from both the Right and Left Wing has praised, lamented, and expressed general antipathy towards Pope Francis’ comments.

Francis’s interview often came across as an indictment of the conservative, traditionalist Catholic environments created under John-Paul II and Benedict. “There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective,” Francis said, “but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the church’s teachings as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.” He goes on to say, “If a person says he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is proof that God is not with him.” Quotes like these seem to rally against religious dogmatism, and in light of his comments on social issues, seem to suggest a more modern understanding of Catholicism.

Many right-wing pundits and Catholic leaders, have been quick to do damage control on the pope’s comments. American uber-conservatives such as Ave Maria Radio CEO Al Kresta, Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, Catholic Priest and Fox New contributor Jonathan Morris, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights Bill Donohue, and AFTAH’s Peter Labarbera have all come forward to point out that the church has not changed its view on homosexuality, and that the pope did not say anything new or groundbreaking in his interview. LaBarbera went so far as to accuse the Pope Francis of being “naive about the aggressive homosexual agenda.”

Some liberals have also expressed antipathy towards the interview, claiming a few benign comments that amount to less than an endorsement of homosexuality are nothing to be happy about. Others have pointed towards an issue Francis side-stepped in the interview: the role of women in the church. Francis’s discussion of the role of women in the church amounted to “We have to work harder to develop a profound theory of the woman,” a non-stance that rubbed many liberals and progressives in the church the wrong way.

Francis’s views on homosexuality, contraception, and abortion are nuanced enough to be confusing. He says that if someone is, say, gay, once they accept Jesus as their savior they will renounce the sin of homosexuality, and that the church needs only to “heal” people by showing them Jesus’s love. In other words, the church does not need to convince someone being gay or having an abortion is wrong, only that Jesus loves them. Put another way, Francis still believes homosexuality—and abortion—are antithetical to being a good Catholic.

The day after American published the interview, addressing his perceived relaxed stance towards social issues, Pope Francis delivered a strong anti-abortion message, encouraging Catholic doctors to refuse to perform them.

The focus on the Pope’s comments on social issues, however, ignores the bulk of the content of his interview. His comments on homosexuality, women’s reproductive health rights, and contraception only constitute a small portion of the interview that Pope Francis tries explicitly to efface in favor of what he perceives to be the true vocation of the church. “I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess,” he says, “The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.” His vision of the church is one of the people. It is ironic and unfortunate that the issues Francis tries to efface are the ones the media has latched onto. While Francis’s stances on women’s rights and homosexuality barely register as anything new for the church, more liberal Catholics are also correct in noting that his overall tone seems to suggest a more modern and less dogmatic pope, and there is reason to see Francis as an improvement over his more conservative predecessors.

Profiles on the Right: The Becket Fund

becketfundNamed for the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, the Becket Fund was founded in 1994 by attorney Kevin ‘Seamus’ Hasson. Originally nonpartisan and an advocate on behalf of many religious interests, the Becket Fund has become more conservative under the leadership of William Mumma. The organization bills itself as the intellectual leader of the right-wing “religious liberty” campaign, and has litigated landmark cases, including the 2014 McCullen vs. Coakley case which allowed for “sidewalk counselors” to wait outside abortion clinics. In 2012, it litigated and won the landmark Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC case, which allows religious groups to hire and fire clergy without regard to employment discrimination law. The Becket Fund’s revenue has been steadily increasing in past years. In 2016, it drew a revenue of $6,396,572, a drastic increase from its 2011 revenue of $2,684,403.

Notwithstanding Becket’s intellectual orientation, it has advanced the specious claim that marriage equality laws will force Roman Catholic churches to perform marriages for gay and lesbian couples. Becket is also at the forefront of the spate of adoption cases in Massachusetts and Illinois, where Catholic Charities pulled out of adoption networks rather than place children with gay or lesbian couples. The Becket Fund names the Affordable Care Act as one of the top religious freedom issues facing the United States, and has filed seven suits against it. Some of the more prominent clients of the Becket Fund include Wheaton College and Catholic organizations such as The Little Sisters of the Poor.

Not all of its projects, however, are culture war related. For example, the Becket Fund has prosecuted cases in International Fora, including representing Muslims before the European Court of Human Rights.

Organizationally, the Becket Fund is a public interest law firm that represents states, municipalities, and members of many different religious faiths with the goal of defending the constitutional right to free expression of religion. The Becket Fund is at the center of a small, Roman Catholic-dominated group of “religious liberty” activists. Its entire leadership and funder base is made up of conservative Roman Catholics: current executive director William Mumma, founder Kevin Hasson, general consul Luke Goodrich (who was part of the team that in 2014 won the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, allowing for the owners of Hobby Lobby to not provide birth control that violated their belief that life begins at conception), board members Robert P. George (coauthor of the Manhattan Declaration), and Mary Ann Glendon (former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and a leading antichoice theorist).

Despite its nonsectarian presumptions, the Becket Fund can be viewed as a virtual arm of the Roman Catholic Church. Financially, the ties are clear and deep, as are the personal religious affiliations of key Becket leaders. And philosophically, the Becket Fund is continuing a Roman Catholic campaign that is at least 150 years old to create separate domains for religious people and organizations that are removed from public scrutiny and laws—even as they receive public funds and subsidies. This goes beyond religious freedom; it is about creating a separate religious magisterium beyond the rule of law. Together with Becket’s overlap with neoconservative Roman Catholic thinkers and theological orientations (fights between relativism and objective truth, for example), not to mention the organization’s very name, this situates the Becket Fund within a clear and conservative Catholic context.

Given the Catholic-heavy nature of the organization, it is no surprise that the Becket Fund is the second largest recipient of political funding from the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization, according to a report released by the Roman Catholic progressive coalition Equally Blessed in October 2012. From 2010 to 2014, the Knights donated more than $625,000 dollars to the Becket Fund. The report also found the Knights disbursed $15.8 million to anti-Marriage Equality groups between 2005-2012, $6.25 million directly to oppose marriage equality and $9.6 million to “build a conservative religious and political culture to oppose marriage equality.” The Equally Blessed report determined that the leadership of the Becket Fund, the USCCB, and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) are “closely intertwined.” During this period, according to the report, NOM received $1.9 million from the Knights of Columbus, the USCCB $1.2 million, and the Becket Fund $1.5 million. As of 2018, the Becket Fund’s lead donors are the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the John M. Templeton Foundation. In 2016, the Becket Fund received $400,000 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. However, 70% of the Fund’s donations are from individuals who donate anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 to the organization.

This profile has been adapted from PRA’s 2013 Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights report.

Updated: 4/10/18.