VIDEO: Hobby Lobby Decision Restricts Religious Freedom

PRA’s executive director Tarso Luís Ramos joined The David Pakman show to discuss how SCOTUS’ Hobby Lobby decision actually restricts religious liberty.

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“Despite the rhetoric of Christian Right groups, the battle for the meaning of religious liberty is not between Christianity and secularism, but between pluralism and authoritarianism. However strong their convictions may be, the Religious Right’s campaign is about exempting themselves from federal laws and winning the government-backed right to impose their religious beliefs on others. This is exactly what the Constitution’s Framers sought to avoid. They called it “tyranny.”

Watch it below, and check out more from The David Pakman Show here!

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Demographic Winter: Right-Wing Prophecies of White Supremacy’s Decline

 And What They Mean for Reproductive Justice

This post is the first in a series examining the Right’s efforts to alter demographic trends by re-popularizing arguments and ideologies rooted in eugenics (read part two and three). Today, I discuss the ideas of white supremacy underpinning claims that the continuity of hinges on spurring population growth (and thus the cessation of contraceptive use).

Reproductive justice, as opposed to reproductive rights, is often defined as the ability to parent, not to parent, and—if one is a parent—to raise children in a safe and healthy environment. While reproductive rights have often been narrowly understood as the legal right to terminate an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy, an understanding of reproductive justice broadens our analysis in critical ways. It raises up the structural inequalities that render reproductive choice and care disproportionately unattainable for people of color, poor people, undocumented immigrants, trans* people, and other marginalized groups, and it reminds us that reproductive justice is inextricable from housing justice, from food justice, from transit justice. Indeed, the creation of a safe and healthy environment for all parents and all children requires the broad realization of social justice.

Unfortunately, full reproductive justice remains a distant prospect, and it was dealt a significant blow in this week’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have religious rights—rights that were hampered by the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraception mandate. In addition to its manifold and ominous implications for civil rights, this decision poses a severe threat to low-income workers’ reproductive health care access. The decision reminds us—those of us with the privilege to be sheltered from a constant barrage of reminders—that attacks on reproductive justice are not confined to standard anti-abortion efforts.

The plaintiffs argued that because certain contraceptives take effect subsequent to fertilization, they are in fact abortifacients: “If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions,” wrote Justice Alito (2).

This argument is not merely a new stratagem to undermine the ACA. For years, initiatives such as the American Life League’s “The Pill Kills” campaign have sought to inflame conservative religious sentiment against contraceptives. Significantly, the Right has also undertaken much more subtle and insidious attempts to limit birth control access. Perhaps surprisingly, these attempts often are not explicitly rooted in religious conviction.

Many anti-contraceptive arguments couched in secular rhetoric are designed to incite fear, even panic, concerning not the deaths of “preborn children,” but rather the demise of entire populations. In her review of a documentary titled Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family (2008), Kathryn Joyce discusses how the film tacitly invokes right-wing Christian morality and ideology to undergird claims posited as “research-driven” and “based on social science alone.” The never-quite-stated thesis Joyce extracts from the documentary is that “birth control and the sexual revolution, and the widespread cultural decision of women to limit their fertility” are the egregious “sin” that will precipitate the fall of civilization. Political prospects such as marriage equality are, of course, easily subsumed into this nebulous menace.

The U.S. Right’s demographic agenda is highly racialized; in recent years, however, the doomsday argument for traditional family values has gained global currency. Its momentum is largely attributable to organizations such as the World Congress of Families (WCF), which has scant visible presence in Demographic Winter but enormous behind-the-scenes influence. Theresa Okafor, a Nigerian right-wing activist who has worked closely with WCF and Family Watch International, espouses anti-LGBTI and anti-reproductive health measures based substantially on tenuous correlations between demographic trends and development in sub-Saharan Africa. In a 2012 interview, Okafor decried contraceptives as superfluous before saying, “It is instructive that Nigeria and Ethiopia which have high fertility rates feature among the fastest growing economies in the IMF 2011 economic survey. The UN data is evidence that population growth does lead to economic prosperity.” Okafor has gone so far as to allege that the provision of reproductive health care in Africa is part of an imperialist Western “conspiracy,” a claim reproduced in the WCF newsletter. (Much of Demographic Winter was filmed at the 2007 WCF conference. On Tuesday, on the heels of the Hobby Lobby decision, WCF announced that their 2015 conference theme will be “religious liberty.”  The regional conference is to be held in Salt Lake City.)

That Okafor’s politics appear to be lockstep with the U.S. Religious Right is indicative of the latter’s success in imposing their agenda in the Global South. Furthermore, that Okafor cries imperialism while promoting the U.S. Right’s imperial agenda illustrates the Right’s facility with shaping narratives to obfuscate the presence of their own aims. However, it would be inaccurate to assume that Okafor’s work is entirely congruent with, let alone identical to, that of her U.S.-based collaborators. Her stance on demographic winter differs from that of the U.S. Right in one critical respect: for Okafor, augmenting population growth in the Global South is a priority; for the U.S. Right, it is a threat.

Because, as Joyce pointedly shows, nativism and racism constitute another hidden cornerstone of Demographic Winter and the reactionary movement it represents. She observes, “The concern is not a general lack of babies, but the cultural shifts that come when some populations, particularly immigrant communities, are feared to be out-procreating others,” a fear that “permeates nearly all of the current debate on demographic worries.” Joyce names a bevy of books published since 2001 that gravely forecast non-white immigrants supplanting white populations in the Global North. Joyce also cites an assertion made at the 2007 WCF conference by a U.S. anti-contraception activist, who pronounced that the children of immigrants are “too many, and too culturally different from their new countries’ populations to assimilate quickly … They are contributing to the cultural suicide of these nations as they commit demographic suicide.”

The white supremacy underlying demographic winter prophecies is also visible in the work produced by the Population Research Institute (PRI), a right-wing organization run by Steven W. Mosher. Mosher, a Catholic social scientist, specializes in Chinese demography, and PRI aims to dismantle “population control” efforts across the globe. Ostensibly, PRI is a natural ally to activists like Okafor. However, articles such as “How to debunk the myth of overpopulation in three easy steps,” written by Mosher and Anne Roback Morse and published on, deploy demographic winter rhetoric exclusively with respect to Europe in contrast to Africa, implicitly conjuring up the specter of white supremacy’s collapse. “Africa’s growth,” the authors assure, “is not something to worry about. Europe’s decline, however, is something to worry about.” Eventually, they warn, “the French, German, Italians and British will virtually cease to exist.”

The scare tactics employed by PRI, WCF, and other organizations on the Right exemplify the urgency of reproductive justice work. Right-wing efforts to chisel away reproductive freedoms are not random attacks on uteruses. They are carefully crafted elements of powerful Americans’ long-standing attempts to determine and regulate who ought to procreate and who ought not to.

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Works Cited

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Supreme Court of the United States. 30 June 2014. Web. 1 July 2014.

Joyce, Kathryn. “Review: Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family.” Kathryn Joyce. Web. 01 July 2014.

Mosher, Steven W., and Anne Roback Morse. “How to Debunk the Myth of Overpopulation in Three Easy Steps.” LifeSite. LifeSiteNews, 1 Oct. 2013. Web. 01 July 2014.

Ramos-Ascensão, José. “The African Situation with Regard to ‘sexual and Reproductive Health'” Europeinfos: Christian Perspectives on the EU. Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the EU and the Jesuit European Office, July-Aug. 2012. Web. 1 July

“WCF Newsletter.” WCF Newsletter. World Congress of Families, Apr.-May 2010. Web. 01July 2014.




PRA’s Fred Clarkson Discusses Religious Liberty on Between The Lines Radio

PRA’s senior fellow, Frederick Clarkson, joined Between The Lines radio this week to discuss the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby decision, and the broader campaign to redefine religious liberty by the Religious Right.

Between the Lines“The greatest significance [of the Hobby Lobby ruling] is going to be over time. When a Supreme Court decision comes down, a body of federal case laws develop as a result… As a matter of religious belief, the Supreme Court has now said that a company can defy medical science, and get an exemption from federal law. That’s an extraordinary development.”

Clarkson goes on to explain how the Right is implementing not only a judicial and court campaign to redefine religious liberty, but are also using legislative and PR attacks in an effort to create the exemptions necessary for them to be able to dictate the religious consciences of individuals.

Click here to listen!

Check out more from Between The Lines here.

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Fred Religious Freedom Picture

Executive Director Tarso Luís Ramos Explains Hobby Lobby Decision on Real News Network

PRA’s executive director Tarso Luís Ramos appeared on The Real News Network to discuss the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. “The decision effectively transforms the Framer’s notion of religious liberty as a shield against tyranny into a sword institutions can wield to impose religious dictates on individuals in the marketplace.”

Watch the interview below, can check out more from The Real News Network here.

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Tarso Real News Network

VIDEO: Fred Clarkson Explains the Fight for Religious Freedom

The concerted effort by the Religious Right to redefine Religious Freedom is steadily making its way through the courts and legislators. Political Research Associates’ senior fellow, Fred Clarkson, explains why all Americans (religious and non-religious alike), should be paying attention.

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Fred Religious Freedom Picture

Greasing the Line: Multiple Court Rulings Advance Government Sectarian Prayer

The combined case of Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius may be one of the most important religious liberty cases in American history.  But the recently decided—but less well known—case Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway should not get lost in the shadows.  These cases’ impact on how we manage the intersection of religion and public life may be transformative.

(Stephanie Ragusky of Loudoun County, Virginia demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears arguments in the case of Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway, in Washington November 6, 2013.  REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan )

(Stephanie Ragusky of Loudoun County, Virginia demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears arguments in the case of Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway, in Washington November 6, 2013. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan )

At issue in Greece was the practice of opening town meetings with Christian prayers over a ten year period. Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit on behalf of two citizens (one Jewish, one atheist) objecting to the practice—which they said made them feel alienated and unwelcome. The case was originally decided in their favor, but when appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices ruled 5-4 in favor of the Town, overturning the lower court’s decision and declaring that sectarian prayer was constitutionally permissible. The author of the majority opinion however, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, sought to limit the practice to what he called “ceremonial prayers,” to open governmental meetings.  But the justices offered a variety of concurring and dissenting opinions, so it is clear that the courts have a long way to go with an issue that may be forever litigated and never completely resolved.

“The Supreme Court just relegated millions of Americans—both believers and nonbelievers—to second-class citizenship,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “Government should not be in the business of forcing faith on anyone, and now all who attend meetings of their local boards could be subjected to the religion of the majority.”

For the Greece decision, SCOTUS relied on a 1983 decision in which the court had ruled that state legislatures may pay for official chaplains and open sessions with prayers.  The Kennedy-led majority in Greece believes that the reasoning of this case authorizes the town’s practice. (Underscoring how divided the judiciary and the country is on these matters, the decision in 1983 case was also a 5-4 vote.)

Indeed, Justice Kennedy explicitly rejected the argument that government-sponsored prayers must be non-sectarian. “Respondents argue, in effect, that legislative prayer may be addressed only to a generic God,” Kennedy wrote. “The law and the Court could not draw this line for each specific prayer or seek to require ministers to set aside their nuanced and deeply personal beliefs for vague and artificial ones.”

Paradoxically, Kennedy also suggested that even as he thinks the depth of religious expression should not be limited, there also are limits.

“If the course and practice over time shows that the invocations denigrate nonbeliev­ers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion, many present may consider the prayer to fall short of the desire to elevate the purpose of the occasion and to unite lawmakers in their common effort,” Kennedy declared,. “That circumstance would present a different case than the one presently before the Court.”

Justice Elena Kagan, writing in dissent, said the decision will foster majoritarianism rather than respect for religious differences and the rights of individuals. “I think the Town of Greece’s prayer practices violate that norm of religious equality – the breathtakingly generous constitutional idea that our public institutions belong no less to the Buddhist or Hindu than to the Methodist or Episcopalian,” she wrote.

The two Greece residents who brought the suit, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, objected to the town board’s practice of inviting clergy to open meetings with prayers that left them feeling unwelcome and alienated. That, Kennedy feels is OK, because if they don’t like Christian prayers, they can step out for the prayer and come back for the meeting. No one is coercing anyone to pray.

But since the board had not required that the invocations be inclusive and non-sectarian, unsurprisingly, town records showed that about two-thirds of the 120 recorded invocations over about ten years contained references to “Jesus Christ,” “Jesus,” “Your Son” or the “Holy Spirit.”  And almost all of the prayer-givers have been Christian clergy.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in May 2012 against the Town. Judge Guido Calabresi said “a given legislative prayer practice, viewed in its entirety, may not advance a single religious sect.”  Nevertheless, the Kennedy-led majority of the SCOTUS saw it differently.

“This ruling is out of step with the realities of modern-day America,” Lynn added. “In a country where pluralism and diversity are expanding every day, a Supreme Court decision that gives the green light to ‘majority-rules’ prayer at local government is exactly what we don’t need.”

Sectarianism Today, Sectarianism… Forever?

One of the first results of the SCOTUS ruling in Greece was the lifting of a preliminary injunction against sectarian prayer imposed earlier this year by a federal judge on the Carroll County, Maryland Board of Commissioners.  The judge had essentially put the case on pause until SCOTUS ruled in the similar case of Greece vs. Galloway.   In the Carroll County case, a Catholic and a deist said they had been made to feel unwelcome by the Christian prayers offered at meetings of the county Board of Commissioners.

The Carroll County case is different from Greece v. Galloway in one important respect, and will continue despite SCOTUS’ ruling.

“The sectarian prayers being said here are being said by the elected officials themselves, whereas in the Greece case the prayers were said by invitees, usually clergy,” David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association explained to The Washington Post. “When an elected official speaks, he or she presumably speaks for the government, whereas when someone else is invited in from the outside it is not the government endorsing the prayers.

Supporters of the sectarian Commissioners might agree with Niose on this point, albeit for very different reasons.

Christian Right political operative, David Lane of the American Renewal Project, has also denounced  the preliminary injunction and the judge who issued it.

Christian Right political operative, David Lane of the American Renewal Project, has also denounced the preliminary injunction and the judge who issued it.

As we previously reported here at Eyes Right, Pastor David Whitney of Anne Arundel County, Maryland was very animated about the prayer issue in nearby Carroll County and the role of the Federal Courts.  Whitney said that telling “an elected official that they cannot acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ, the one to whom all authority belongs, is to deny that the so-called civil government has any authority at all.”

Similarly, a leading national Christian Right political operative, David Lane of the American Renewal Project, has also denounced  the preliminary injunction and the judge who issued it—U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr., who was appointed by President George W. Bush.

Mockingly referring to “Emperor Quarles,” Lane wrote, “[u]nelected and unaccountable Judges imposing a false religion of political correctness, multiculturalism and secularism have no right to rule a free people…”

“The pretension and foolishness of the U.S. Supreme — and inferior courts – Court,” Lane continued, “is mind-blowing.”

Lane is widely seen as a behind-the-scenes “kingmaker” who has helped develop the national profiles of major political leaders and 2016 presidential prospects who have demonstrated appeal to the Christian Right.  These include Fox News personality Mike Huckabee, Governors Rick Perry (R-TX) and Bobby Jindal (R-LA), and Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX).

“Let’s decide if America is a Christian or pagan nation,” Lane concluded, “and get on with it.”

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Corporate Religious Freedom: The 3 Possible Outcomes in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby

The Christian Right’s campaign to redefine religious liberty has picked up steam in recent years and PRA has been closely tracking its progress through legislatures, legal strategy groups, op-eds, and the courts.

Hobby Lobby protestersIn March, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which was combined with Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. No matter how the cases are decided, they may well be two of the most pivotal Supreme Court rulings of our time.

The plaintiffs claim that the contraception provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) violate the religious freedom of the large craft-store chain and a Christian bookstore chain, which are both owned by an evangelical Christian family.  In the related Conestoga case, an Amish family-owned manufacturer of cabinets makes the same claim.  The ACA, a.k.a. Obamacare, requires that female employees be provided with health insurance that includes no-cost access to 20 forms of birth control, including emergency contraception (the “morning after” pill) and intrauterine devices (IUD). But the case is more about abortion than the ACA itself. Because the “morning after” pill and the IUD may prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in a woman’s uterus, anti-choice groups have claimed they are abortifacients, and argue that religious employers are being forced to be complicit in the funding of abortion.  Their false labeling of the contraceptives have been highlighted by both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association, which have publicly stated that these are not abortifacients, and note that actual abortifacients—such as RU486—are not covered under the ACA.  It should also be noted that these companies’ current health plans already cover contraceptives, minus the four they are attacking, thus the case is not now, and never has been, about contraception per se.

Legal experts offer three main scenarios for a Supreme Court ruling.  However, no matter how the Court decides, the implications extend far beyond the legal realm.

If the Court rules for Hobby Lobby

Beyond the detrimental impact on women’s health, a ruling for the plaintiffs would establish a new and dramatic precedent that private for-profit corporations can claim religious exemptions from federal law. A limited exemption to labor law was allowed a few years ago in the case of Hosanna v. Tabor, in which a non-profit religious school denied a teacher’s disability claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act because the church defined her work as a “ministry” of the church.

How various groups, including corporations, define ministry will likely be a major issue in post-Hobby Lobby litigation. Can a corporation really be considered a ministry? As some justices noted during oral arguments at SCOTUS, if Hobby Lobby wins religious exemption for coverage of certain contraceptives, then what’s to stop other companies from denying coverage for other medical and non-medical services deemed objectionable? Justice Kennedy, considered to be the key swing vote, also wondered about the religious rights of employees who may not agree with their employers’ religious beliefs.

A ruling granting religious liberty benefits to private business would immediately extend to other areas of discrimination as well, opening the door for businesses to force an employee to live by the religious tenets of whatever their employer happens to believe—despite the employee’s personal beliefs—leaving them vulnerable to job-loss and potential financial ruin for reasons unrelated to their job performance.

If the Court rules against Hobby Lobby

Rulings against Hobby Lobby and Conestoga could trigger political backlash on the Religious Right, which asserts that government is deceiving Christians into paying for abortions. Conservative evangelicals and the Catholic Bishops are not kidding when they say they are drawing a line in the sand on this, as they challenge not only contraceptive coverage but also what they perceive to be broader government control over their institutions. Religious Right leaders have adopted increasingly conservative anti-government positions, angered by the various alleged encroachments on religious freedom: civil rights laws and their effects on the federal tax-exempt status (such as the Bob Jones University case); by the requirement that colleges receiving federal funds adhere to the equal treatment of women under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act (Grove City College); and, most recently, by the Windsor decision that partly overturned the Defense of Marriage Act. Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, for example, has been busy claiming in conservative media outlets that Windsor is coercing Christians into accepting the legitimacy of gay marriage.

If the Court finds a compromise

Some have speculated that the Court may decide the case narrowly, holding that policies of family-owned companies constitute an extension and expression of an owner’s religious faith and thus allow for certain limited exemptions to the ACA. Such a decision, however, could invite litigation on the breadth and depth of corporate personhood under the First Amendment. If corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections (as decided in the 2010 Citizens United decision and the 2014 McCutcheon decision), then opening the door to the notion that corporations of any kind have religious rights may invite litigation over proposed exemptions to federal laws,  such as civil rights laws and labor laws.

As we await the Supreme Court’s decision, the Christian Right is pressing for religious exemptions through state legislatures. Some states—notably Virginia, Arizona, and Mississippi—are seeking to expand conscience clauses to deny women comprehensive reproductive health care, and justify discrimination against LGBTQ people and others.  To learn more, download our groundbreaking report, Redefining Religious Liberty, and check back for regular updates.

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Hobby Lobby Claims “Christian Principles” Could Cost $1.3 Million — Per Day

Photo credit: hattiesburgmemory

Photo credit: hattiesburgmemory

Saturday, shoppers nationwide were asked to stand up for Hobby Lobby, a chain of over 500 stores that faces debilitating fines under the Affordable Health Care Act for refusing to cover contraception in its insurance plans. Much like last August’s Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day, created by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee to support its “Godly values” and opposition to same-sex marriage, supporters were asked to head for the cash register in honor of Hobby Lobby Appreciation Day.

As a result of last January’s Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate, Hobby Lobby is required to provide its employees with health insurance plans that include coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptives. David Green, Hobby Lobby’s evangelical owner, claims that this mandate conflicts with his business’ “Christian principles,” and decided to sue on First Amendment grounds. This is one of the more prominent of a recent spate of suits filed in response to the HHS mandate’s supposed breach of religious liberty — which, in turn, are the latest manifestations of a long-time Religious Right tactic of defending regressive or discriminatory behaviors under the guise of religious liberty. Despite losing many such court cases on matters as discrimination against homosexual couples, school prayer, the teaching of creationism, and racial discrimination, the tactic persists.

In 2012, Hobby Lobby lost a series of court cases, most recently their emergency appeal for an injunction to block the new regulations or forestall the fines of up to 1.3 million dollars per day ($100 for each of Hobby Lobby’s 13,000 employees), which was denied on December 26 by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Green — or rather, the right-wing Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Hobby Lobby — claims that the HHS mandate infringes on his right to free expression of religion. Green argues that the requirement that his company’s insurance policy cover emergency contraceptives (e.g. the morning-after pill) amounts to the government forcing him to personally pay for abortions, something he believes his religion forbids.

Unfortunately for Green, some, including Sotomayor, don’t see it in quite the same light. The 10th Circuit Count of Appeals determined that the possibility that an employee might use insurance money to purchase Plan-B does not present a clear case of direct harm to Hobby Lobby’s owners. Nonetheless, the case with its victim-narrative has attracted sympathy and outrage from many conservative evangelicals, with a post by Southern Baptist Professor Denny Burke, “Does Anyone Care What Happens to Hobby Lobby?” shared over 100,000 times on Facebook.