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

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

This is a development worth exploring in some detail.

Russell Moore,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History is Powerful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right


Co-Author: Frank L. Cocozzelli
Frank L. Cocozzelli writes a regular column on Roman Catholic conservatism at Talk2Action.org and is a contributor to Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America. A former director of the Institute for Progressive Christianity, he is working on a book on American liberalism as well as documentary on Msgr. John A. Ryan’s quest for a living wage. See more of Frank’s writing here.

Behind the recent surge of nullification bills in state legislatures there is an ongoing battle for the soul of the GOP—and the future of the union itself. The nullification movement’s ideology is rooted in reverence for states’ rights and a theocratic and neo-Confederate interpretation of U.S. history. And Ron Paul, who is often portrayed as a libertarian, is the engine behind the movement.




Ron Paul speaking at a rally in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

“I have a dream that one day in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” —Martin Luther King Jr., August 28, 19631

Nullification is once again a strategic weapon in the battle for states’ rights. Since 2010, state legislators have introduced nearly 200 bills—on eleven issues alone—challenging federal laws that they deem unconstitutional.2

Advocates base their argument for nullification and its ideological twin, secession, on the “compact theory,” which holds that the U.S. government was formed by a compact among sovereign states that have the right to nullify federal laws—or leave the union.3 Their work has the potential to provoke the most dramatic showdown over states’ rights since President John F. Kennedy federalized Alabama’s National Guard in response to Gov. George Wallace’s refusal to desegregate the University of Alabama.4

If there is a showdown, it may come in Kansas. In April 2013, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law the Second Amendment Protection Act, which prohibits the enforcement of federal laws regulating guns produced and used within the state of Kansas.5 U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has warned Brownback that the law is unconstitutional. Similar bills have been introduced in at least 37 other states.6 In September, the Missouri legislature narrowly failed to override the governor’s veto of a nullification bill that would have allowed for the arrest of federal agents attempting to enforce gun laws.7 At least nine states have announced that they will not issue military identification cards to same-sex spouses at 114 Army and Air National Guard facilities, refusing to comply with Department of Defense policy.8

Click here for the

Click here for the full profile on CSPOA

In addition to gun-control laws, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or “Obamacare,” has been a prime target of nullification activists. At least 20 bills have been introduced in state legislatures to nullify the ACA. In North Dakota, the bill became law. The original version of a bill introduced earlier this year in the South Carolina House would have made implementation of the ACA by state employees a crime punishable by a fine of up to a thousand dollars, two years imprisonment, or both.9 And the wave of challenges to federal law extends beyond the 50 state legislatures, spreading to county and local governments,10 including about 500 county sheriffs who have affirmed their commitment to “saying ‘no’ to Obama gun control.”11 [See related profile.]

But the movement’s significance cannot be measured by ordinances and proposed legislation alone. Though nullification bills have sometimes been dismissed as political theater,12 activists are organizing across the nation, and their work has real implications. They are mainstreaming interpretations of American history and law that delegitimize the regulatory role of the federal government—interpretations that have been central to the emergence of the Tea Party and to the recent Congressional battles over the federal budget.

Whatever its implications for electoral politics in the United States, though, the nullification movement is not limited to helping a particular party gain control of Congress or the presidency. Its goal is much more ambitious: to discredit and dismantle the federal government. Thus the movement’s rising popularity poses a dilemma for the Republican Party—and the nation more broadly. At stake are the definition and future of the union itself.

Warring Visions: Old Right vs. New Right

The resurgence of the nullification movement predates Barack Obama’s presidency and the emergence of the Tea Party. Indeed, the current tension is half a century in the making and has emerged from a struggle between the Old Right and the New Right, also known as “paleoconservatives” and “neoconservatives,” respectively.

In a collection of essays published in 1999, leading intellectuals of the Old Right described “paleoconservatism” as “a phrase that came into circulation during the 1980s, perhaps as a rejoinder to the rise of neoconservative influence on the American Right.”13 Identifying themselves as the true heirs of the Old Right’s ideology, these paleoconservatives included Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, Allan Carlson, M.E. Bradford, Sam Francis, Thomas Fleming, and Murray Rothbard.

The struggle between these two camps—abbreviated as paleos and neocons—has often been bitter. Paleos accuse neocons of supporting open borders and being statists, globalists, and imperialists. Neocons, in turn, accuse paleos of being isolationist, racist, anti-Semitic, and inclined toward conspiratorial thinking.

Paleos embrace the charge of isolationism and identify as cultural conservatives, or traditionalists. As a paleo once described their principles, they “share the Founding Fathers’ distrust of standing armies, look to the original American foreign policy of isolationism as a guide to any post-Cold War era, and see the welfare state as a moral and Constitutional monstrosity.”14

Even paleos with libertarian leanings are usually antichoice, opposed to LGBTQ rights, and hostile to what they call “multiculturalism”—used interchangeably with the terms “Cultural Marxism” and “political correctness”—which they believe is a stealth effort to level society. Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation produced a booklet in 2004 providing an account of the conspiracy that the organization claimed had infiltrated American society. This Marxist conspiracy was supposedly organized by a group of intellectuals—members of the Frankfurt School—who fled Nazi Germany and were exiles in the United States in the 1930s.15

In their media, paleos often recount with bitterness the pivotal events that resulted in decades of their marginalization by neoconservatives. One such event was William F. Buckley’s 1962 “excommunicationof the John Birch Society—a bastion of the Old Right—from the conservative movement.16 Another flashpoint was the firing of neoconservative Richard John Neuhaus in 1989 by the paleoconservative Rockford Institute. The firing followed Neuhaus’s accusations against Thomas Fleming—editor of the institute’s magazine—of “nativism, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia”and “a penchant for authoritarian politics.”17 The Rockford Institute subsequently lost about $700,000 in funding from conservative foundations.

Despite such setbacks, paleos were far from idle during these decades. In 1992, a paleo alliance came together to support Patrick Buchanan’s GOP primary challenge to President George H.W. Bush’s bid for re-election. Buchanan’s supporters included Llewellyn “Lew” Rockwell Jr., founder of the paleoconservative Ludwig von Mises Institute; and anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard, the organization’s most prominent economist.18

In their Rothbard-Rockwell Report, Rothbard and Rockwell described Buchanan’s candidacy as “an unprecedented opportunity to forge a powerful paleo coalition, to create a new libertarian-conservative, Old Right movement that can grow, can become extraordinarily influential, and that can even take over the presidency within a short period of time.” The article included a reassurance that Ron Paul, the Libertarian candidate for president in 1988, had declined to run and was supporting Buchanan.19

The late Rothbard, who described himself as a member of the Old Right faction since 1946, was a Jewish New Yorker who supported Strom Thurmond’s States’ Rights Party in 1948. Bemoaning the neoconservatives’ success in establishing themselves as the only right-wing alternative to the Left, Rothbard called for a resurgence of the Old Right to “repeal the twentieth century.” In the 1960s, Rothbard temporarily formed an alliance with the antiwar New Left, including Students for a Democratic Society.20 He later molded a paleo alliance limited to what he considered “good” libertarians. As described in a 1990 issue of the John Birch Society’s New American magazine, this would mean purging undesirable elements from the Libertarian Party, including “hippies, druggies, antinomians, and militantly anti-Christian atheists.”21

As their hopes for capturing the White House faded with Buchanan’s failed presidential bids in 1992 and 1996, paleos focused on building a movement opposed to both liberal and neoconservative “statists.” In 1995, inspired by the dissolution of the Soviet Union several years earlier, the Ludwig von Mises Institute hosted a conference on the legality and viability of secession. It was held in Charleston, SC. Following the conference, the Mises Institute published Secession, State, and Liberty, a collection of the proceedings that featured several of the institute’s scholars.22

A prominent paleoconservative had noted in 1987 that the waning of neoconservativism might in fact “bring forward a much harder and more radical right, with serious political prospects.” His quote was reprinted in a 2012 article in the American Conservative, co-founded by Patrick Buchanan.23 With the mainstreaming of nullification and secessionist rhetoric in recent years—and a well-organized movement to promote them—those words now seem prophetic.

The Ron Paul Revolution and “One Nation Indivisible”

Ron Paul’s retirement from Congress in 2012 did not end his political activism. The former U.S. Representative from Texas is developing a paleoconservative movement around his allies and the nonprofits that he has founded since 1976.24 The Ron Paul Revolution, as his supporters call it, provides the vital connective tissue for a small but growing network of organizations devoted to the cause of nullification.

Paul’s agenda has included the rejuvenation of paleoconservatism through his youth outreach and a strong emphasis on his “libertarian” credentials, despite his record as the most conservative legislator in the modern history of the U.S. Congress.25 The libertarian elements of Paul’s political agenda derive primarily from his allegiance to states’ rights, which is often mistaken as support for civil liberties.

Paul is far more transparent about his paleoconservative—rather than libertarian—agenda when he speaks to audiences made up of social conservatives, as when he assured LifeSiteNews that he opposed federal regulatory power and supported state-level banning of abortion, and that he would veto a same-sex marriage bill if he were a governor.26

He also told an enthusiastic audience at the fundamentalist Bob Jones University in 2008 that “you don’t have to wait till the courts are changed” to outlaw abortion, pointing out that his plan for removing jurisdiction from the federal courts would allow South Carolina to enact laws against abortion. And he sponsored the “We the People Act,” which proposed stripping the federal courts of jurisdiction in cases related to religion and privacy, freeing state legislatures to regulate sexual acts, birth control, and religious matters.

Paul, who has been called the “father of the Tea Party,”27 has long been rooted in the paleoconservative Right, a world inhabited by a substantial number of neo-Confederates and theocrats. Though largely ignored or downplayed by the mainstream media, these connections are freely talked about in certain circles. For example, during Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign, the former editor of Southern Partisan, a neo-Confederate publication, endorsed Paul on his personal blog. He described Paul as being an honorary member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans for at least 12 years, writing that he “has given countless speeches in front of Confederate flags for Southern Heritage groups and has never faltered from his defense of Dixie.28 When Paul was initially confronted with the racist, reactionary, and conspiracy-filled commentary of newsletters published by his own organization in the 1980s and 1990s, he staunchly defended them—before changing course during the 2008 election and claiming that he had no knowledge of their content.29

The 1995 Mises Institute conference on secession included a session led by Paul, in which he applauded the willingness of Mises’s leadership to talk openly about secession, as opposed to those who were a “bit more shy” and talked in terms of the Tenth Amendment.30 In 2012, Paul confirmed his position on secession “as a deeply American principle” on his House of Representatives website.31 In a YouTube video posted in 2009 by one of his nonprofits, Campaign for Liberty, he blamed the notion of an “indivisible” nation on “avowed socialist” Francis Bellamy, author of the Pledge of Allegiance.32

The nonprofits and projects that comprise the Ron Paul Revolution are a vehicle for advancing the paleoconservative agenda, rebranded as libertarian, with young people as a special focus of the movement. Paul’s emphasis on liberty, along with his antiwar stance and opposition to federal marijuana laws, have obscured his ties to theocrats and neo-Confederates and have endeared him to a generation of young libertarians (and even some people on the Left). As Paul’s collaborator Lew Rockwell has written, “The young are increasingly with us. The neocons are yesterday’s men.”33

Youth appeal: libertarians and the Old Right join forces

The Tenth Amendment Center (TAC) is a prime example of nullification’s crossover appeal—that is, the energy the movement generates by casting itself as libertarian rather than paleoconservative in origins.

The TAC was founded in 2007 by Michael Boldin, a Californian whose libertarianism is rooted, he says, in objections to the Iraq War and to federal excesses in the “psychotic war on drugs.”34 The TAC is a source for model legislation, and it tracks the progress of nullification bills across the country. Its concerns span the political spectrum and include NSA spying, the Second Amendment, marijuana and hemp laws, the military’s use of drones, Obamacare, and environmental regulations, among other things.Its website offers a “Nullification Organizer’s Toolkit” with resources for activists. 35 Since the TAC is not registered as a nonprofit, little information is available about its finances, but it appears to function primarily as an internet-based organization with affiliates in most states.36

Click here for the full profile on the John Birch Society (JBS)

Click here for the full profile on the John Birch Society (JBS)

The TAC has promoted state nullification through its ongoing Nullify Now! tour of cities across the United States, starting in Ft. Worth, TX, in September 2010. The John Birch Society advertised the launch and has provided speakers.37 [See related profile for more about the John Birch Society’s role in the tour.] The most recent event was held in Raleigh, NC, in October 2013, and was co-sponsored by the League of the South, an Alabama-based organization founded in 1994 and dedicated to promoting states’ rights and Southern secession. In 1995, the League of the South published a “New Dixie Manifesto” in the Washington Post, calling for Southern states to take control of their own governments and oppose “the government’s campaign against our Christian traditions.”38

A previous Atlanta TAC event was sponsored by Ray McBerry, a candidate for governor of Georgia in 2010. McBerry is a former head of the Georgia League of the South and provides public relations for the Georgia Sons of the Confederacy. He was the top funder—at $250,000—of the Revolution political action committee that supported Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in 2012.39

An important Tenth Amendment Center ally in nullification advocacy—Young Americans for Liberty (YAL)—was formed from the estimated 26,000 students who participated in Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign.40 YAL recently announced the creation of its 500th campus chapter (at Cornell University) and claims to have 125,000 student activists. Its mission is to “cast the leaders of tomorrow and reclaim the policies, candidates, and direction of our government.”41

Founded on the belief that “government is the negation of liberty,” YAL holds a national, invitation-only summit each year featuring Ron Paul and his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). The 2013 event included a Senate Roundtable with Rand Paul, Mike Lee (R-UT), and Ted Cruz (R-TX). Training partners for the YAL chapters include Ron Paul’s nonprofit Campaign for Liberty, along with Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. The latter two organizations were formed from the split of Citizens for a Sound Economy, founded in 1984 by Charles and David Koch. Ron Paul was its first chairman.42

YAL’s director of outreach is Jack Hunter, who was dismissed from Rand Paul’s Senate staff in July 2013 after his neo-Confederate beliefs—particularly his speaking persona as the Rebel flag-masked “Southern Avenger”—became a public controversy.43 Hunter, who has worked as Ron Paul’s official blogger and co-authored a book with Rand Paul, is a regular speaker on the Nullify Now! tour.44

The lead speaker of the Nullify Now! tour, Thomas E. Woods, is a partner in another Ron Paul venture. Woods, who has degrees from Harvard University and Columbia University, is one of the producers of the Ron Paul Curriculum, a homeschooling program introduced in 2013. In a 1997 essay, Woods described the “War Between the States” as the South’s “struggle against an atheistic individualism and an unrelenting rationalism in politics and religion, in favor of a Christian understanding of authority, social order and theology itself.” His author biography noted that he was “a founding member of the League of the South.”45

Woods wrote Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century—described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the “Bible of the movement46—and he is the star of the film Nullification: The Rightful Remedy, which is being shown on the Nullify Now! tour. Since the 1990s, Woods has been a regular speaker at neo-Confederate events, and he was one of the contributors to the “American Secession Project,” which aims to “place the concept of secession in the mainstream of political thought.”47 His work has reached a general audience through his New York Times bestsellers—including The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and Meltdown—and regular appearances in conservative media.

A convert to Catholicism, Woods is also recognized for his books attacking the post-Vatican II church and promoting laissez-faire economics to Catholics.48 While headlining the Nullify Now! tour, he has shared the stage with state legislators across the country49 and has been referenced by legislators introducing nullification bills.50 In Idaho, GOP legislators distributed Woods’s book on nullification to their Democratic colleagues and to the governor.51

God, guns, and a Civil War theology

A consistent theme of the states’ rights and nullification movement is the sacralization of the Old South’s “lost cause.” In this interpretation of what is called the “War of Northern Aggression,” Abraham Lincoln is the great villain of American history—sometimes portrayed as a Marxist—whose intent was to establish an imperialistic federal government. Racism in America is described as a product of Reconstruction, rather than of slavery, which is defined as a benign and biblical institution.52 This interpretation has broad appeal beyond the South and across the religious spectrum, and its adherents include a surprising number of traditionalist Catholics.53

neverforgetconfederateflag (1)

Photo taken in South Carolina by author Rachel Tabachnick in 2013

In an article in the Canadian Review of American Studies, Euan Hague and Edward Sebesta describe the interpretation as a “Civil War theology” that casts the Civil War as battle over the “future of American religiosity fought between devout Confederate and heretical Union states.”54 The article tracks this narrative from the Southern Presbyterian church of the Confederate era to its post-World War II revival by “Southern Agrarian” writers and, later, the late Christian Reconstructionist Rousas J. Rushdoony. It made its way into neo-Confederate magazines like Southern Partisan and religious publications like Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Report, and since then into popular books and media.

The sacralized “lost cause” of the South is often undergirded by Christian Reconstructionism—that is, the belief that the United States and other nations must be reconstructed and governed according to biblical law.55 Reconstructionism merges theocracy with laissez-faire capitalism, or “biblical economics,” to arrive at a vision of government that promotes biblically aligned law at the local level and a radically limited federal government. 56

This narrative has been a part of some Christian homeschooling and private-school curricula for decades. A Christian Reconstructionist text published in 1989 and still used today provides this summary of the events following the “War Between the States”:

After the war an ungodly Republican element gained control of the Congress.  They wanted to centralize power and shape the nation according to their philosophy. In order to do this, they had to remove the force of Calvinism in America, which was centered in the South at this time, and rid the South, which was opposed to centralization, of its political power. They used their post-war control of Congress to reconstruct the South, pass the Fourteenth Amendment, and in many ways accomplish their goals.57

Rushdoony—the father of Christian Reconstructionism and a pioneer of the modern homeschooling movement—advocated localism and a “Protestant feudal restoration” as a “libertarian” alternative to central government.58 His work is in keeping with a long tradition of using religion to fight the New Deal specifically and the federal government’s regulatory power more broadly.59 As early as 1978, the newsletter of Rushdoony’s disciple and son-in-law, Gary North, had introduced nullification as a biblical way to fight the centralized “totalitarian State.”60

Christian Reconstructionism has also played a significant role in the ideology of the civilian militia movement. Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America since 1976, was the “chief theoretician of the militia movement” of the 1990s.61 More recently, he has helped expand this potential source of armed resistance to the federal government to include elected county sheriffs across the nation. [See profile.]

In one of the early Christian Reconstructionist publications, Pratt contributed an essay titled “Tools of Biblical Resistance,” in which he claims that the Supreme Court has “taken the authority to find rights that never existed and taken away rights bestowed by God and set forth in the Constitution drawn up two hundred years ago.62 Militias are necessary, according to Pratt, because, “anti-Christian governments such as we have in the United States cannot be counted on to keep the peace.”63

Pratt’s book Safeguarding Liberty opens with the story of the Lincoln County, MT, militia being deputized by Sheriff Ray Nixon as a defense against the federal government.64 His 1990 book Armed People Victorious extols the virtue of armed citizen militias and uses the examples of Guatemala and the Philippines as a model for the United States.65 He has also traveled to Ireland to call for the Protestant population to arm itself and has promoted unregulated gun access in South Africa.

Pratt made news in 1996, when he was ousted as co-chair of Patrick Buchanan’s presidential campaign after being exposed for his role at White supremacist gatherings.66 More recently, Pratt spoke at the Southern Heritage Conference and was a sponsor (along with Ron Paul, the Chalcedon Foundation, and the Texas League of the South) of the Southern Historical Conference. Both are Christian Reconstructionist, neo-Confederate events.67

Pratt appeared in the political documentary Molon Labe: How the Second Amendment Guarantees America’s Freedom, which premiered in October 2013. The film, which also features Ron Paul and Patrick Buchanan, is about the “duty” of citizens to keep and bear arms as part of their militia responsibilities. According to the producer, “We the people will never regain the power of the purse or the power of the sword until and unless we re-establish the 50 Militias in each and every one of our 50 states.”68 The film is part of a series starring Paul and Buchanan. Other films include one about the possibility of a third party winning the presidency. Another is titled Cultural Marxism.

The Movement’s Think Tanks

The work of developing the intellectual underpinnings of the nullification movement—and reviving neo-Confederate ideology—is taking place at two influential think tanks, the Abbeville Institute and the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The former’s work is largely behind the scenes; the latter is intensely popular among fans of Ron Paul.

The Mises Institute has a multi-million dollar budget and claims 350-plus faculty and donors in 80 countries.69 Based in Auburn, AL, it touts its website as the “most trafficked institutional economics site in the world.”70 Mises was founded in 1982 by Lew Rockwell Jr., former Congressional chief of staff for Ron Paul and creator of the popular LewRockwell.com blog. He credits several people with helping to found the think tank, including Ron Paul. Rockwell has served on the national board of advisors for the Southern Heritage Society and describes himself as the only “copperhead” on the board.71

The Abbeville Institute is named for the birthplace of John C. Calhoun, a U.S. Senator from South Carolina known for his role in the Nullification Crisis of 1832 and as an outspoken supporter of slavery and secession. The institute has a post office box in McClellan, SC, and an annual budget of less than $200,000 dollars, but it hosts an influential annual scholars’ conference and summer program.

Abbeville was founded in 2003 by an Emory University philosophy professor, Donald Livingston, who also founded and led the League of the South’s educational arm.72 Abbeville claims to have about a hundred affiliated scholars, though only about three dozen are listed publicly on its website. Most of the scholars are college and university faculty, and many have also been affiliated with the League of the South and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.73 Time described Abbeville’s group of scholars as the “Lincoln loathers,” and a Chronicle of Higher Education article summed up their online lectures: “Abraham Lincoln is not the Great Emancipator; he is Dishonest Abe, a president hellbent on creating a big central government, even if that meant waging war.”74

In 2009, the Abbeville Institute Scholars’ Conference focused on the superior religiosity of the South. It was held at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, founded by the late Jerry Falwell. According to the conference summary, “Northerners became progressively liberal and secular, the political doctrine of human rights replacing the Gospel in importance and in doing so lost influence; whereas Southerners and their section remained orthodox and flourished in Christian and humanitarian influence.” 75

In 2010, the Abbeville Institute hosted “State Nullification, Secession, and the Human Scale of Political Order.” It featured speakers affiliated with Abbeville and Mises, including Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), and leaders from the Second Vermont Republic and the Middlebury Institute.76 FEE is the “grandaddy of all libertarian organizations,” with a founding board of directors that included the creator of the John Birch Society, Robert Welch.77 Before going to FEE, Reed was president for 20 years of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, one of the first and largest of the state free-market think tanks. Reed has been described as having “nurtured so many state policy groups that he has been called the movement’s Johnny Appleseed.”78

The 2010 Abbeville event was promoted by the John Birch Society and the Tenth Amendment Center.79 Speakers focused on the “peaceful secession” of states from the Soviet Union as a model. “Nullification and secession were understood by the Founders as remedies to unconstitutional acts of the central government,” according to an ad for the event. “Yet over a century of nationalist indoctrination and policy has largely hidden this inheritance from public scrutiny. The aim of the conference is to recover an understanding of that part of the American tradition and to explore its intimations for today.”80

Mises and Abbeville have several scholars in common, including Livingston, Woods, and Thomas DiLorenzo, all of whom have been affiliated with the League of the South and are regulars on the neo-Confederate speaking circuit. Livingston and DiLorenzo are both listed as faculty for the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ education arm.81

Their books and media have gone mainstream, and they make regular appearances in a variety of media venues, including Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. DiLorenzo’s 2003 book The Real Lincoln became one of the top-selling selections of the Conservative Book Club.82 These scholars are also called on to testify as “experts” before legislative bodies. Livingston, for example, was invited by South Carolina Rep. Bill Chumley to testify before the state legislature in February 2013 in support of nullifying the Affordable Care Act.83

The Conservative Schism and the GOP’s Dilemma

The nullification movement, cloaked in the language of liberty, poses a serious challenge to conservatives and the Republican Party. The New Right infrastructure developed over the last several decades has an ongoing agenda of shifting power from the federal government to the states, but it has generally avoided promoting nullification. In 2012, The Heritage Foundation published a forceful denunciation of nullification, titled “Nullification: Unlawful and Unconstitutional.”84 (This was prior to Jim DeMint’s arrival as head of Heritage. DeMint, a Tea Party leader and former Republican U.S. Senator from South Carolina, is now deviating from previous positions held by the conservative foundation.85 The new Heritage Action, formed in 2010, took a leading role in promoting the 2013 government shutdown and, as a senator, DeMint called for governors to refuse to implement the ACA.)86 In 2013, the libertarian Cato Institute also began warning about the limits of nullification.87 It recently expressed concern about the rise of “Confederate-defenders” gaining traction in libertarianism,88 and posted a video that warned viewers not to be seduced by neo-Confederate ideology.89

In particular, the GOP’s hopes to expand its coalition and attract more minorities are threatened by the radicalism of the Ron Paul Revolution. For example, Paul has signed a proclamation calling for an end to public education, 90 and his book The School Revolution, published in 2013, also calls for the abolition of public schools. He stresses home-schooling as an essential part of his vision—and has a Christian Reconstructionist, Gary North, serving as the director of the new Ron Paul Curriculum for homeschoolers. A Mises scholar and former Congressional staffer from Paul’s first term in the House, North has written that he is “trying to lay the biblical foundations of an alternative society to humanism’s present social order.”91

An example of Paul’s ability to use his libertarian brand to promote reactionary ideas and organizations—and cause headaches for the Republican Party—was the Rally for the Republic, his GOP counter-convention, held in Minneapolis in 2008. As the Republican National Convention took place across the river, an estimated 10,000 people gathered to cheer their hero and a roster of speakers, including one special, secret guest. The rally’s emcee, Tucker Carlson, was surprised by the special guest’s identity—John McManus, longtime president of the JBS—and declined to introduce him. Carlson was “apparently scandalized at the prospect of introducing someone from the JBS,” according to a JBS account of the event. McManus nonetheless took the stage and closed his well-received speech by saying, “If you like Ron Paul, you’ll love the John Birch Society.”92 A few weeks after his 2008 Rally for the Republic, Paul gave the keynote speech at JBS’s 50th anniversary.93

Paul and the nullification movement pose challenges for progressives, too, who face the temptation of using state nullification as a way to counter the federal government on multiple issues, including privacy violations, marijuana laws, and the military’s use of drones. Whatever the short-term gains it might yield, collaboration with paleoconservatives could strengthen the position of “tenthers” (a term used by many nullification advocates to describe themselves, referring to their reverence for the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) who would use their interpretation of states’ rights to restrict civil liberties.

Partly because of its broad appeal, the nullification movement continues to escalate, and its base is expanding. Right-wing radicalism is hardly a new phenomenon in American society, but its modern manifestation is unprecedented since the era of resistance to school integration. Those threatening to resist federal law and regulation are no longer just patriot militias in camouflage, training in isolation in the woods. They are elected county sheriffs, politicians, and state legislators, declaring that their resistance to the federal government is grounded in their interpretation of the Constitution and U.S. history. Understanding the ideology behind their work is crucial to navigating the challenges that lie ahead.

This article will be featured in the upcoming issue of The Public Eye magazine.

1 Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream,” Aug. 28, 1963, www.archives.gov/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf.

2 These issues are the Affordable Care Act, food regulation, government-issued identification cards, gun control, marijuana laws, the Federal Reserve, the use of the National Guard, the National Defense Authorization Act, the Transportation Security Administration, and “war on terror” concerns such as privacy violations and the use of drones by the U.S. government. See the Tenth Amendment Center’s “Action Center Home,” http://tracking.tenthamendmentcenter.com; and the National Conference on State Legislatures, “State Legislation and Actions Challenging Certain Health Reforms,” www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-laws-and-actions-challenging-ppaca.aspx.

3 Samuel Hutchinson Beer, To Make a Nation: The Rediscovery of American Federalism (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998), 313.

4 Claude Sitton, “Alabama Admits Negro Students; Wallace Bows to Federal Force; Kennedy Sees ‘Moral Crisis’ in U.S.,” New York Times, June 12, 1963, http://partners.nytimes.com/library/national/race/061263race-ra.html.

5 Rachel Weiner, “Fight brewing in Kansas over gun-control nullification laws,” Washington Post, May 3, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/05/03/fight-brewing-in-kansas-over-gun-control-nullification-laws.

6 Lois Beckett, “Nullification: How States Are Making It a Felony to Enforce Federal Gun Laws,” ProPublica, May 2, 2013, www.propublica.org/article/nullification-how-states-are-making-it-a-felony-to-enforce-federal-gun-laws.

7 Leslie Bentz and George Howell, “Missouri lawmakers fail to override governor’s gun bill veto,” CNN, Sept. 12, 2013, www.cnn.com/2013/09/11/us/missouri-gun-laws-challenge, and David Neiwert, “Missouri Gun-Law ‘Nullification’ Bill Had Roots in ’90s ‘Patriot’ Movement,” Southern Poverty Law Center, Sept. 18, 2013, http://www.splcenter.org/blog/2013/09/18/missouri-gun-law-nullification-bill-had-roots-in-90s-patriot-movement.

8 Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube, “Defense Secretary Hagel calls out 9 states for refusing to issue military IDs to same-sex spouses,” NBC News, Oct. 31, 2013, <http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/10/31/21268214-defense-secretary-hagel-calls-out-9-states-for-refusing-to-issue-military-ids-to-same-sex-spouses.

9 South Carolina General Assembly, “South Carolina Freedom of Health Care Protection Act,” Dec. 11, 2012, http://scstatehouse.gov/sess120_2013-2014/prever/3101_20121211.htm.

10 Jeff Stewart, “Easton, KS Passes Ordinance to Nullify Federal Gun Control,” Tenth Amendment Center, Oct. 2, 2013, http://blog.tenthamendmentcenter.com/2013/10/easton-ks-passes-ordinance-to-nullify-federal-gun-control.

11 “Growing List Of Sheriffs, Associations and Police Chiefs Saying ‘No’ to Obama Gun Control,” Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, July 31, 2013, http://cspoa.org/sheriffs-gun-rights.

12 Robert Schlesinger, “Montana’s Governor Scores One for Modernity,” U.S. News & World Report, Mar. 28, 2013, www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/robert-schlesinger/2013/03/28/montana-governor-vetoes-gun-control-nullification-bill.

13 The Paleoconservatives: New Voices of the Old Right, ed. Joseph Scotchie (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1999), 1.

14 Lew Rockwell, “Paleos, Neos, and Libertarians,” New American, Feb. 26, 1990, 5.

15  “’Political Correctness:’ A Short History of an Ideology,” ed. William Lind, (Free Congress Foundation, 2004), www.lust-for-life.org/Lust-For-Life/PoliticalCorrectnessAShortHistory/PoliticalCorrectnessAShortHistory.pdf. Lind is on the board of American Ideas Institute DBA, The American Conservative.

16 William F. Buckley Jr.,” Goldwater, the John Birch Society, and Me,” Commentary, Mar. 1, 2008, www.commentarymagazine.com/article/goldwater-the-john-birch-society-and-me; and Murray N. Rothbard, “A Strategy for the Right,” LewRockwell.com, Jan. 1992, http://archive.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/ir/Ch1.html.

17 John Judis, “The Conservative Crack Up,” American Prospect, Dec. 4, 2000, http://prospect.org/article/conservative-crackup.

18 The Mises Institute is the hub of the “Austrian School” of economics.

19 Murray N. Rothbard and Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr., “For President: Pat Buchanan,” Rothbard-Rockwell Report, Jan. 1992, 1.

20 John Payne, “Rothbard’s Time on the Left,” Journal of Libertarian Studies (Winter 2005), 7-24,  http://mises.org/journals/jls/19_1/19_1_2.pdf  and http://mises.org/daily/2762.

21  Lew Rockwell, “Paleos, Neos, and Libertarians,” New American, Feb. 26, 1990, 7.

22 David Gordon, ed., Secession, State, and Liberty (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1998). Contributors also included Donald Livingston, Clyde Wilson, Hans-Hermanne Hoppe, and Thomas DiLorenzo, https://mises.org/store/Secession-State-and-Liberty-P88.aspx.

23 Eugene Genovese, quoted in a reprint of a 1987 article by Paul Gottfried, “Toward a New Fusionism?” American Conservative, Oct. 17, 2012, www.theamericanconservative.com/repository/toward-a-new-fusionism.

24 In 1976 Paul founded the nonprofit Foundation for Rational Economics and Education, which publishes “Ron Paul’s Freedom Report.” A recently established project of that foundation is the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. Two nonprofits—Campaign for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty—emerged from Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign.

25 Ranking based on common space scores explained in Keith T. Poole, “Recovering a Basic Space From a Set of Issue Scales,” American Journal of Political Science (July 1998), 954-993. The 2004 ranking showed Ron Paul as the most conservative of the 3,320 legislators tracked since 1937. “Is John Kerry A Liberal?” Voteview.com, Oct. 13, 2004, http://voteview.com/is_john_kerry_a_liberal.htm.

26 Kathleen Gilbert, “LifeSiteNews interviews Ron Paul: protect family, marriage, life by protecting subsidiarity,” LifeSiteNews, Jan. 19, 2012, www.lifesitenews.com/news/lifesitenews-interviews-ron-paul-protect-family-marriage-life-by-protecting.

27 Paul has taken credit for initiating the Tea Party and was labeled “father of the Tea Party” in a book by that title in 2011. The author, Jason Rink, was also the producer and director of the movie Nullification: The Rightful Remedy.

28 Tim Manning Jr., “An Open Letter to Neo-Confederates On Behalf of Ron Paul,” Southern Heritage News and Views, Dec.19, 2007, http://shnv.blogspot.com/2007/12/open-letter-to-neo-confederates-on_19.html.

29 Judd Legum, “FACT CHECK: Ron Paul Personally Defended Racist Newsletters,” Dec. 27, 2011, http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2011/12/27/395391/fact-check-ron-paul-personally-defended-racist-newsletters.

30 Ron Paul, “The Moral Promise of Political Independence,” YouTube, Mar. 26, 2011, www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHKmr69JbhE.

31 Joe Wolverton II, “Ron Paul: Free People Have the Right to Secede,” New American, Nov. 21, 2012, www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/13712-ron-paul-free-people-have-the-right-to-secede.

32 “Ron Paul: Secession Is an American Principle,” RonPaul.com, Nov. 13, 2012 (reposted from 2009), www.ronpaul.com/2012-11-13/ron-paul-secession-is-an-american-principle.

33 Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr., “Why Do the Neocons Hate LRC?” LewRockwell.com, Dec. 27, 2012, www.lewrockwell.com/2012/12/lew-rockwell/why-do-the-neocons-hate-lrc.

34 Michael Boldin, “Body Control: The War on Drugs is War on You,” CounterPunch, Apr. 3-5, 2009, www.counterpunch.org/2009/04/03/the-war-on-drugs-is-a-war-on-you. Also see Stephanie Mencimer, “If at First You Don’t Secede,” Mother Jones, July/Aug. 2010, www.motherjones.com/politics/2010/07/michael-boldin-tenth-amendment.

35 “Welcome to the Tenther Action Center!” Tenth Amendment Center, http://tracking.tenthamendmentcenter.com.

36 State affiliates can be accessed by (name of state).tenthamendmentcenter.com. For example, http://texas.tenthamendmentcenter.com.

37 Bill Hahn, “The John Birch Society Announces Sponsorship of Tenth Amendment Center’s Nullify Now! Tour,” John Birch Society, Sept. 1, 2010, www.jbs.org/press-room/the-john-birch-society-announces-sponsorship-of-tenth-amendment-center-s-nullify-now-tour.

38 Michael Hill and Thomas Fleming, “The New Dixie Manifesto: States’ Rights Will Rise Again,” League of the South, Oct. 29, 1995, http://dixienet.org/rights/2013/new_dixie_manifesto.php.

39 Matthew Ericson, Haeyoun Park, Alicia Parlapiano and Derek Willis, “Who’s Financing the ‘Super PACs,’” New York Times, May 7, 2012, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/01/31/us/politics/super-pac-donors.html?_r=0.

40 “History of YAL,” Young Americans for Liberty, www.yaliberty.org/about/history.

41 “Mission,” Young Americans for Liberty, www.yaliberty.org/about/mission.

42 Ron Paul, Letter to National Taxpayers Legal Fund, Dec. 3, 1984, www.lib.ku.edu/paul/RonPaulCitizensforaSoundEconomy.pdf.

43 James Kirchick, “What Rand Paul Aide Jack Hunter and His Resignation Say About His Boss,” Daily Beast, July 23, 2013, www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/23/what-rand-paul-aide-jack-hunter-and-his-resignation-say-about-his-boss.html.

44 Hunter is the co-author, with Rand Paul, of The Tea Party Goes to Washington, and he wrote the “Paulitical Ticker” blog for Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign. He introduced Thomas Woods when he spoke about nullification at CPAC in 2011, at a session sponsored by Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty. Tom Woods, “Tom Woods on Rollback, CPAC 2011,” YouTube, Feb. 11, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcAX0oX9ANU.

45 Thomas E. Woods, Jr., “Christendom’s Last Stand,” Southern Partisan Magazine, 1997, reprinted in Studies in Reformed Theology, 1998, http://web.archive.org/web/19991023114339/http://reformed-theology.org/html/issue04/christendom.htm.

46 David Neiwert, “Missouri Gun-Law ‘Nullification’ Bill Had Roots in ’90s ‘Patriot’ Movement,” Southern Poverty Law Center, Sept. 18, 2013, www.splcenter.org/blog/2013/09/18/missouri-gun-law-nullification-bill-had-roots-in-90s-patriot-movement.

47  Woods is author of Secessionist No. 10, titled “Secede!”  http://archive.lewrockwell.com/orig/woods3.html. He has been featured at numerous neo-Confederate events hosted by League of the South and the Southern Historical Conference, the latter hosted by the Texas League of the South members in conjunction with the Bonnie Blue Ball. Woods and Ron Paul spoke at the premiere event in 2003.

48 These include The Church and the Market (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005), which won the 2006 Templeton Enterprise Award.

49 William Cherry, “Nullification Rally Sets Stage for Opposition to Obamacare,” New American. Sept. 8, 2010, www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/politics/item/3314-nullification-rally-sets-stage-for-opposition-to-obamacare.

50 “Book Discussion on Nullification,” North Dakota Policy Council, Sept. 11, 2010, www.c-spanvideo.org/program/295582-1.

51 Scott Logan, “Nullification sails through House committee,” KBOI TV, Jan. 26, 2011, http://www.kboi2.com/news/local/114683304.html; Ian Millhiser, “Idaho Lawmakers Cite Founder Of Neo-Confederate Hate Group To Justify Plan To Nullify Health Reform,” ThinkProgress, Jan. 21, 2011, http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2011/01/21/140123/tom-woods-idaho.

52 See for example the pamphlet Southern Slavery: As it Was (Canon Press, 1996) by Christian Reconstructionists Steven Wilkins and Douglas Wilson. Wilkins is also a former board member of League of the South and the founder of the Southern Heritage Society.

53 Many major leaders are Catholic, including Thomas Woods, Lew Rockwell, Thomas DiLorenzo, and League of the South co-founder Thomas Fleming. See Frank Cocozzelli, “Thomas E. Woods, Jr. and the Neo-Confederate Catholic Right,” Talk to Action, May 1, 2013, www.talk2action.org/story/2013/5/1/163858/0598; and Frederick Clarkson, “A Talk to Action Anthology on Nullification and Secession”, Talk to Action, Sept. 12, 2013, www.talk2action.org/story/2013/7/9/03849/39753.

54 Edward H. Sebesta and Euan Hague, “The US Civil War as a Theological War: Confederate Christian Nationalism and the League of the South,” Canadian Review of American History (2002), www.theocracywatch.org/civil_war_canadian_review.htm. See also Euan Hague, Heidi Beirich, and Edward H. Sebesta, eds., Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010).

55 Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Reconstructionism: Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence,” Public Eye, Mar./June 1994, www.publiceye.org/magazine/v08n1/chrisrec.html.

56 See, for example, the story of Micah Hurd, a 24-year-old Texan who recently left the National Guard to join a local militia: Bud Kennedy, “In Texas, if at first you can’t secede, try — joining a militia?,” Star-Telegram, Sept. 7, 2013, www.star-telegram.com/2013/09/07/5142554/in-texas-if-at-first-you-cant.html.

57 Mark A. Beliles and Stephen K. McDowell, America’s Providential History (The Providence Foundation, 1989), 243.

58 Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Nature of the American System (Ross House Books, 2002). Originally published in 1965.

59 See Michael McVicar, “Reconstructing America: Religion, American Conservatism, and the Political Theology of Rousas John Rushdoony” (Ph.D. diss.,The Ohio State University, 2010), and Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal (W.W. Norton & Co., 2009).

60 Tom Rose, “How to Reclaim the American Dream Via Constitutional and Christian Reconstruction,” Biblical Economics Today (Apr./May 1978), A-8, A-9.

61 Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1997), 103.

62 Lawrence Pratt, “Tools of Biblical Resistance” in Gary North, ed. Christianity and Civilization: The Theology of Christian Resistance. No. 2., (Tyler, TX: Geneva Divinity School Press, 1983), 436.

63 Pratt, “Tools of Biblical Resistance,” 442.

64 Larry Pratt, ed., Safeguarding Liberty: The Constitution & Citizen Militias (Franklin TN: Legacy Communications, 1995), p. ix.

65 Larry Pratt, Armed People Victorious, (Springfield, VA: Gun Owners Foundation, 1990).   Reconstructionists promoted their ideology in Guatemala following the 1982 coup of Efraín Rios Montt, who was supported by many in the U.S. Christian Right. Rios Montt was tried and found guilty for genocide in 2013, but the guilty verdict was overturned in May 2013. “The Trial of Efrain Rios Montt & Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez,” Open Society Justice Initiative, www.riosmontt-trial.org.

66 Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, 21.

67 “Thanks to Our Sponsors,” Foundation for Christian Alternatives, http://web.archive.org/web/20041207005902/http://sincerelysouthern.com/sponsors.htm. In 2007, the parent organization of the Southern Historical Conference sponsored a fundraising ball for Ron Paul.

69 “About the Mises Institute,” Ludwig von Mises Institute, http://mises.org/page/1448/About-The-Mises-Institute; and “Senior Fellows, Faculty Members, and Staff,” Ludwig von Mises Institute, http://mises.org/Faculty. Also see Chip Berlet, “Ludwig von Mises Rises from the Scrap Heap of History,” Public Eye, http://www.publiceye.org/economic_justice/labor/anti_labor/history/von-mises.html.

70 “Frequently Asked Questions,” Ludwig von Mises Institute, http://mises.org/page/1479/Frequently-Asked-Questions.

72 According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Livingston left the League of the South because of its increasingly overt racism. Livingston insists that there is nothing racist about the scholarship of his institute.

73 “Associates,” Abbeville Institute, http://abbevilleinstitute.org/index.php/associates.

74 “Scholars Nostalgic for the Old South Study the Virtues of Secession, Quietly,” Chronicle of Higher Education, Dec. 6, 2009, http://chronicle.com/article/Secretive-Scholars-of-the-Old/49337.

75 “The Older Religiousness of the South,” Abbeville Institute Scholars’ Conference, 2009, https://web.archive.org/web/20110829061826/http://www.abbevilleinstitute.org/archschol/09Scholars/09schol.php.

76 The Second Vermont Republic and Middlebury Institute, founded by Thomas Naylor and Kirkpatrick Sale, represent the “left” wing of the secession movement. However, both embraced much of the neo-Confederate ideology of their secessionist partners.

77 Gary North in Gary Galles, ed., Apostle of Peace: The Radical Mind of Leonard Read (Baltimore: Laissez Faire Books, 2013).

78 Jason DeParle, “Right of Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government,” New York Times, Nov. 17, 2006.

www.nytimes.com/2006/11/17/us/politics/17thinktank.html?ex=1321419600&en=3b6af3fbfa4ff01e&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss. Mackinac’s biannual Leadership Conference has trained nearly 500 think-tank executives from 42 nations and nearly every U.S. state: www.mackinac.org/8154.

79 FEE is the senior organization of this group, founded in 1946 with funding from J. Howard Pew and others, to roll back the reforms of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. FEE became a vehicle for the sacralization of unfettered free market ideology while opposing the minimum wage, labor regulations, and Social Security. Ludwig von Mises was on the staff and wrote for its publication, Freeman. In the 1960s and ‘70s, Reconstructionist Gary North became a regular contributor to Freeman, providing a theological foundation to the publication’s Christian libertarian philosophy. North compiled some of his Freeman contributions into his 1973 volume, An Introduction to Christian Economics. There has been significant overlap between FEE and the JBS, as there has been with the JBS, Reconstructionism, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

80 “State Nullification, Secession, and the Human Scale of Political Order,” Foundation for Economic Education, www.fee.org/publications/detail/state-nullification-secession-and-the-human-scale-of-political-order#ixzz2hrIq6X5M.

81 The Stephen D. Lee Institute lists an ad for the John Birch Society and Tenth Amendment Center event: www.stephendleeinstitute.com/faculty.html.

82 “The Real DiLorenzo: A ‘Southern Partisan’ Interview,” LewRockwell.com, June 17, 2004, http://archive.lewrockwell.com/dilorenzo/dilorenzo68.html.

83 Ben Lewis, “A Professor’s Defense of Nullification,” Tenth Amendment Center, Mar. 23, 2013, http://ohio.tenthamendmentcenter.com/2013/03/23/a-professors-defense-of-nullification and “Written Testimony on Behalf of Nullification,” Tom Woods, Mar. 5, 2013, www.tomwoods.com/blog/written-testimony-on-behalf-of-nullification.

84 “Nullification: Unlawful and Unconstitutional,” Heritage Foundation, Feb. 8, 2012, www.heritage.org/research/factsheets/2012/02/nullification-unlawful-and-unconstitutional.

85 Jennifer Rubin, “Jim DeMint’s Destruction of the Heritage Foundation,” Washington Post, Oct. 21, 2013, www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2013/10/21/jim-demints-destruction-of-the-heritage-foundation.

86 “DeMint Statement on Supreme Court Ruling on Obamacare,” Jim DeMint: U.S. Senator, South Carolina, June 28, 2012, http://web.archive.org/web/20120724193426/http://www.demint.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=PressReleases&ContentRecord_id=85303109-8c0c-491b-972e-5816836350a0.

87 Robert A. Levy, “The Limits of Nullification,” New York Times, Sept. 3, 2013, http://nytimes.com/2013/09/04/opinion/the-limits-of-nullification.html?_r=0.

88 Jonathan Blanks, “Why ‘Libertarian’ Defenses of the Confederacy and ‘State’s Rights’ are Incoherent,” Libertarianism.org, Feb. 22, 2012, http://libertarianism.org/publications/essays/why-libertarian-defenses-confederacy-states-rights-are-incoherent.

89 Jason Kuznicki writes in “Rand Paul, the Confederacy and Liberty” that “anyone who cares about human liberty—to whatever degree—ought to despise the Confederacy”:


90  “Our Proclamation,” Alliance for the Separation of School and State, May 27, 2009, www.schoolandstate.org/proclamation.htm.

91 Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), ix. For a description of the book and a link to the full text in pdf format, see www.garynorth.com/freebooks/docs/21f2_47e.htm.

92 “John McManus Rocks the Rally for the Republic,” John Birch Society, Sept. 2, 2008, www.jbs.org/presidents-corner/john-mcmanus-rocks-the-rally-for-the-republic. Paul has a long history with the John Birch Society. He was featured in a JBS movie in 1998 supporting his American Sovereignty Restoration Act, which he introduced in 1997 and reintroduced in 2009, calling for the United States to end participation in the United Nations. The movie included John McManus and schismatic traditionalist Catholic leaders, known for their narratives about the New World Order plot of “Judeo-Masonic” conspirators. See “Ron Paul to Keynote Catholic Traditionalist Summit with NeoFascist and Overtly Anti-Semitic Speakers,” Talk To Action, Aug. 23, 2013, www.talk2action.org/story/2013/8/23/144536/636. On Sept. 11, 2013, Paul keynoted a conference led by these same schismatic Catholics. McManus was also on the program.

93 Brian Farmer, “Ron Paul Addresses the John Birch Society,” New American, Oct. 8, 2008, www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/7623-ron-paul-addresses-john-birch-society and www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/32002684.html.

Nazism, Godwin’s Law, and the Far Right

obama hitler

There is an internet adage coined in the 1990s by Mike Godwin called Godwin’s Law. The rule states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the possibility of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” This adage is often invoked to signal desperation in an argument. The use of such inappropriate and hyperbolic language suggests the side making the comparison has exhausted any substantive rhetorical devices.

Among the Far Right’s favorite phraseological bricks to throw at anything or anyone they do not approve of are the terms “Nazi” and “Hitler.” Comparisons to Hitler and Nazism are nothing new in politics, and people from both the Far Left to the Far Right have invoked the Third Reich for comparative fodder for decades. In 2011 Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) compared Republican plans to repeal Obamacare to Nazism and the Holocaust. George H.W. Bush called Saddam Hussein the “new Hitler,” while building support for Desert Storm.

Members of the Far Right, however, outshine their peers in their cavalier and demagogic use of Nazi terminology.

This name-calling phenomenon is a good example of using a word to invoke a meaning that does not reflect the actual nature of a concept. Instead, it reflects an attempt to conflate anything the Far Right finds objectionable with Nazism. But the Far Right leaders’ use of Nazi terminology is not thoughtless. Their practice of invoking Nazism and Hitler is both shrewd and fraught.

There are political benefits to reducing something as complex and nuanced as the current state of the United States to being a direct analogue to the Third Reich. At this year’s Values Voters Summit (VVS), former Arkansas legislator Jim Bob Duggar compared the current state of the U.S. to Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, saying “that’s where we are at in our nation.” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has compared those skeptical about defunding Obamacare to “Nazi appeasers.” By using Nazi terminology and conflating it with anything “bad”, people such as Duggar and Cruz are able to conceal conceptual complexity under rhetoric that is both inflammatory and simplistic.

The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer and anti-LGBTQ crusader Scott Lively both claim gays were responsible for the Nazi Party and the Holocaust (suggesting an understanding of German history based solely on Mel Brook’s The Producers). Fischer also claims LGBTQ Americans are “literally” Nazis and will launch a new Spanish Inquisition. Glenn Beck was quoted on Honest Questions With D.L. Hughley saying, “ I think Jesus Christ and Hitler had a lot in common, and that was they could both look you in the eye and say, ‘I’ve got an answer for you, follow me.’ One was evil; one was good.” Mixed metaphors such as Fischer’s and Beck’s are par for the course when talking about the Far Right and Nazi terminology.

The Far Right’s weaponized soundbites are, on one hand, an attempt to vilify anything they disapprove of by linking the issue in question to one of the darkest moments in history. Institutions and people that the Far Right have compared to Nazis and/or Hitler include: the IRS, feminists, NPR, religious pluralism, secularism, Boy Scouts, Obamacare, gun laws and background checks, and abortion. Matt Barber of the Liberty Counsel has cited an “exact comparison between those who stood by silently during the Nazi Holocaust and those who today stand by silently and allow, accept the abortion holocaust.” Again, a mixed metaphor, but in a way, whether or not such comparisons hold up to scrutiny does not matter. Mention of Nazi Germany can engender a reflexive and involuntary sense of disapproval that allows Far Right leaders to bypass conceptual complexity and accuracy in favor of a passionate knee-jerk response.

Nazi rhetoric also justifies an evangelical, pre-millennial dispensational ideology. Many people thought that Hitler and the Third Reich were a sign of the end times, and that no atrocity could be more horrific. If humanity is going to usher in the end times and the second coming of Christ, humanity must be in a state that rivals or is worse than that during the Third Reich. Pat Robertson speaks to this effect, having stated that the “abortion holocaust” has been more lethal than Hitler’s Holocaust. Truth In Action has also released content claiming that the US “is becoming Nazi Germany.”

Along these lines, another way to look at this rhetorical phenomenon is how it represents an ideal for the Far Right. It seems that they wish that the United States were more like the Third Reich. Such conditions would create a call to action they so desperately desire. If, in the U.S., Christians were being persecuted like the Nazis persecuted Jews, if homosexuals were Nazis, and if abortion provided a direct corollary to the Holocaust, then the Far Right might be justified in their outrage. This idea is reflected in the hypothetical nature of a lot of the Nazi rhetoric being used by the Far Right. Glenn Beck has commented on how the Obama administration could “shut down the Tea Party” and “round up” Tea Party members like Hitler did to the Jews. It isn’t happening, but it would justify Beck’s rancor if it were.

In a way, the Far Right is attempting to reverse engineer a Nazi state by labeling anything they disapprove of as an analogue to the Third Reich. Far Right leaders wish to invoke Nazism as a way to justify their vitriolic hatred of any number of diverse groups, people, and ideas.

Labels create a favorable condition in which complex, nuanced, and often abstract ideas can be reduced to simple words and concepts. They are often useful for groups of people who want to gain political room, but can be problematic and reductive when a person or a group of people let the word choose the meaning, instead of the other way around. The Far Right ignores the loaded nature of such terminology, choosing to use Nazi rhetoric to evoke passionate fear and anger. From an outside perspective, though, the Far Right’s use of Nazi terminology seems to suggest a group of people who have lost an argument and have resorted to petty name-calling. So while the Far Right may be using Nazi terminology for a purpose, that purpose seems mainly to be desperation.

Constructing Homophobia: Colorado’s Right-Wing Attacks On Homosexuals

**This article appeared in the March, 1993 edition of The Public Eye magazine**

“History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.”

On the Pulse of Morning, Maya Angelou

An eerie unease hangs in the air in Colorado. For lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals, nagging questions pervade everyday life: did the kindly person who just gave me her parking place vote for Amendment 2? Did my landlord vote for the amendment, knowing that I am gay? Will gay rights be pushed back to the days before Stonewall? Who or what is behind this hate?

Amendment 2 is a ballot initiative that seeks to amend the Colorado Constitution. The amendment was passed by a majority of Colorado voters in November 1992, and was to take effect on January 15, 1993. The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal Defense Fund, the cities of Boulder, Aspen, and Denver, and individual plaintiffs joined forces under the leadership of attorney Jean Dubofsky, a former Colorado Supreme Judicial Court judge, and filed a motion in Denver District Court seeking to enjoin the governor and state of Colorado from enforcing Amendment 2. On January 15, 1993, Judge Jeffrey Bayless granted a preliminary injunction, giving the plaintiffs the first victory in a legal struggle over the constitutionality of Amendment 2. That injunction was later made permanent, but was then appealed to the US Supreme Court.

Amendment 2 reads as follows:

“Neither the State of Colorado, through any of its branches or departments, nor any of its agencies, political subdivisions, municipalities or school districts, shall enact, adopt or enforce any statute, regulation, ordinance or policy whereby homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships shall constitute or otherwise be the basis of, or entitle any person or class of persons to have or claim any minority status, quota preferences, protected status or claim of discrimination. This Section of the [Colorado] Constitution shall be self-executing.”

Historical Background to Colorado’s Amendment 2

The gay rights movement in the US is often traced to June 27, 1969, in New York City, when police raided a Greenwich Village bar, the Stonewall Inn, and bar patrons rebelled in protest. Seven years later, in 1976, in Dade County, Florida, Anita Bryant led the first religious campaign against gay rights. Bryant’s campaign (run by Bryant, her husband Bob Green, and a political operative named Ed Rowe, who went on to head the Church League of America briefly and later Christian Mandate) was in opposition to a vote by the Dade County commissioners to prohibit discrimination against gay men and lesbians in housing, public accommodation, and employment. Bryant promoted a successful referendum to repeal the commissioners’ vote, and her campaign gained strength and notoriety.

In 1977, Anita Bryant inspired a similar campaign in California, where State Senator John Briggs, who had worked with Bryant in Miami, sponsored the “California Defend Our Children Initiative,” a binding initiative on the general election ballot in November 1978. The initiative provided for charges against school teachers and others advocating, encouraging, or publicly and “indiscreetly” engaging in homosexuality. It prohibited the hiring and required the firing of homosexuals if the school board deemed them unfit. This was in reaction to a 1975 California law preventing local school boards from firing teachers for homosexuality. California Defend Our Children, the organizing group supporting the initiative, was chaired by State Senator John Briggs. Rev. Louis Sheldon, now head of the Anaheim-based organization Traditional Values, was executive director. The initiative failed, but Rev. Louis Sheldon would remain extremely active in anti-homosexual organizing. That same year, David A. Noebel, later to head Summit Ministries of Colorado, published The Homosexual Revolution, which he dedicated to Anita Bryant.

Bryant’s anti-homosexual campaign ended in 1979 with the collapse of her two organizations, Anita Bryant Ministries and Protect America’s Children, which were hampered by a lack of political sophistication. Contemporary techniques in influencing the political system–direct mail, computer technology, religious television ministries–were not available to Bryant. Although US history is dotted with right-wing movements led by preachers (such as Father Charles Coughlin, who used radio to enormous effect), at that time few religious fundamentalists and evangelicals were interested in the political sphere. Bryant herself was plagued by personal problems, such as divorce, and her organizations were unable to respond effectively to a boycott mounted against Florida’s orange industry, for which Bryant was a major spokesperson. Her organizations collapsed because they were unable to expand their base through direct mail and fundraising, to use the media to build that base, or to use the political system for their own religious ends. With the creation of the New Right at the end of the 1970s, a political movement was born that incorporated conservative fundamentalists and evangelicals as full partners. Now there were tremendous political resources available to the Religious Right, and the success and influence of religious fundamentalists in the spheres of public policy and popular opinion improved dramatically.

Under the benign influence of the Reagan Administration, the New Right and its Religious Right component flourished. Several major leaders emerged, their individual fortunes rising and falling, but their collective political clout reaching into new spheres of influence, especially the political sphere. A focus of attention that emerged with the advent of the New Right was a rollback of gains made by the gay rights movement.

The Second Right-Wing Anti-Homosexual Campaign

The “second” anti-homosexual campaign, born within the New Right in the early 1980s, has been a far more sophisticated one. It has been planned at the national level, carried out by at least 15 large national organizations using the most refined computer technology, showing an understanding of the political system, and therefore exerting influence only dreamed of by the first movement.

The effects of this new sophistication are:

  • to make local anti-homosexual campaigns appear to be exclusively grassroots efforts, when they are guided by major national organizations;
  • to increase the effect of each New Right organization’s efforts by building networks and coalitions among the organizations and by coordinating political campaigns;
  • to camouflage the religious content of the organizing and create the more secular theme of “defense of the family”;
  • to pursue the anti-homosexual campaign under the slogan “no special rights,” despite that slogan’s inaccuracy.

The Anti-Homosexual Campaign of the Early 1980s

The opening of the second anti-homosexual campaign can be traced to three events:

  1. the 1982 publication of Enrique T. Rueda’s massive The Homosexual Network (Old Greenwich, CT: Devin Adair Co.);
  2. the onset of the AIDS epidemic, which in its earliest days in the US, was almost exclusively confined to the gay male community. (For an account of the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, see Randy Shilts, And The Band Played On (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.);
  3. the work of anti-gay activist Dr. Paul Cameron, director in the early 1980s of the Institute for the Scientific Investigation of Sexuality in Lincoln, Nebraska, and now chairperson of the Family Research Institute in Washington, DC. Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation would prove an early supporter of Dr. Cameron: FCF distributed copies of Cameron’s “Model Sexuality Statute” in 1983.

Enrique Rueda’s massive book, The Homosexual Network, is a thorough examination of the organizations, activities, and ideology of the gay rights movement. The book does not discuss AIDS, and much of its critique of homosexual organizations is directed at their liberalism. Rueda, a native of Cuba and a Catholic theologian, is also interested in the moral dimension of homosexuality and its offense against the church.

In 1987, the Free Congress Foundation, which had sponsored Rueda’s book, developed a new condensation that updated the critique of homosexuality to include the AIDS crisis. This book, Gays, AIDS and You, by Michael Schwartz and Enrique Rueda, stands as a seminal work in the right’s analysis of homosexuality in the context of the AIDS crisis. A quote from the introduction illustrates the significance of this book to an understanding of Colorado’s Amendment 2:

“For the homosexual movement is nothing less than an attack on our traditional, pro-family values. And now this movement is using the AIDS crisis to pursue its political agenda. This in turn, threatens not only our values but our lives. . . .

“They are loved by God as much as anyone else. This we believe while affirming the disordered nature of their sexual condition and the evil nature of the acts this condition leads to, and while fully committed to the proposition that homosexuals should not be entitled to special treatment under the law. That would be tantamount to rewarding evil.”

It is significant that Rueda wrote his two important critiques of the gay rights movement at the suggestion of, and under the sponsorship of, Paul Weyrich and the Free Congress Foundation, which Weyrich directs. FCF’s early and important work on the issue of homosexuality foreshadowed a national campaign to highlight homosexuality as a threat to the well-being of Americans.

Paul Weyrich is a founder and central leader of the New Right. He was more astute than many in the New Right in his early appreciation of the potential of anti-gay themes in building the success of the New Right. But he was not alone in understanding the appeal of this issue in right-wing organizing. As early as 1978, Tim LaHaye, “family counselor,” husband of Beverly LaHaye (head of Concerned Women for America), and prominent leader in both the pro-family and Religious Right components of the New Right, wrote The Unhappy Gays (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1978).

In 1983, Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority sent out at least three mailings that highlighted the threats of homosexuality and AIDS.

In a similar vein, Robert G. Grant’s organization, Christian Voice, used the threat of homosexuality as a major theme in a fundraising letter that began, “I am rushing you this urgent letter because the children in your neighborhood are in danger.”

Phyllis Schlafly, head of Eagle Forum and grande dame of the pro-family movement, made heavy use of the accusation of lesbianism in her early 1980s attacks on Equal Rights Amendment organizers. She argued that the ERA would promote gay rights, leading, for example, to the legitimization of same-sex marriages, the protection of gay and lesbian rights in the military, the protection of the rights of persons with AIDS, and the voiding of sodomy laws.

Dr. Paul Cameron is a tireless anti-gay activist who has played an important roll in encouraging punitive measures against people with AIDS. In 1983, the American Psychological Association dropped Cameron from its membership rolls “for a violation of the Preamble to the Ethical Principles of Psychologists.” Despite being discredited by reputable social scientists, Cameron has served as an “expert” on homosexuality at numerous right-wing and Religious Right conferences, and was hired as a consultant on AIDS by California Assemblyman William Dannemeyer.

As the 1980s unfolded and the New Right achieved substantial gains on economic, military, and foreign policy issues, its Religious Right and pro-family sectors devoted their most passionate organizing to the anti-abortion crusade, where there were significant successes. The campaign against homosexuality was not a major focus in the mid-1980s, though it was never repudiated as a goal of right-wing organizing. A shared alarm and loathing over the gains of the gay rights movement was understood within the New Right.

The Current Anti-Homosexual Campaign

In the late 1980s, three issues reinvigorated the New Right’s anti-homosexual activism and focused added attention at the national level. The first issue was the promotion of school curriculum reform to reflect a greater acceptance of gay men and lesbians (e.g., Project 10 in southern California). The second was the religious and political right’s objection to public funding for homoerotic art. The third issue was the passage of gay rights ordinances, bills, and initiatives in the local sphere and in state legislatures. According to People for the American Way, 19 states and more than 100 cities and counties now have laws or executive orders protecting gay and lesbian rights.

It is commonly thought that the local responses to each of these three gay rights issues are grassroots efforts, mounted by outraged citizens stirred to action by local manifestations of “gay power.” In fact, while local anti-homosexual groups did and do exist, their power and effectiveness is enormously enhanced by the technical assistance provided by national New Right organizations.

Colorado provides a case study of the effective involvement of national right-wing groups at the local level. Colorado for Family Values (CFV), the local group that sponsored Amendment 2, was founded by Coloradans Kevin Tebedo and Tony Marco, and is headed by Colorado Springs car dealer Will Perkins. It promotes itself as a grassroots group, but its tactics, success, and power are largely the result of support from a national anti-homosexual campaign mounted by the New Right. Five of the national organizations active in this campaign are represented on the executive and advisory boards of CFV: Focus on the Family, Summit Ministries, Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum, and Traditional Values. Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition is not officially represented on the board of CFV, but has a strong presence in Colorado and is ubiquitous in anti-homosexual organizing nationally. Many other New Right and “old right” organizations are climbing on the anti-homosexual bandwagon as the issue becomes more prominent.

Colorado for Family Values has maintained adamantly that its strategy was not coordinated by national religious or political groups. However, according to People for the American Way, a Washington, DC, organization that monitors the right wing, “the Religious Right’s anti-gay vendetta is not, as its leaders often claim, a spontaneous outpouring of concern about gay issues. Theirs is a carefully orchestrated political effort, with a unified set of messages and tactics, that is deliberately designed to foster division and intolerance.” A review of the national organizations involved with Colorado’s Amendment 2 will support this analysis.

Key Homophobic Groups Active in Colorado

Rev. Louis Sheldon’s Traditional Values

Traditional Values (often called the Traditional Values Coalition) is headed by Rev. Louis Sheldon and is based in Anaheim, California. Rev. Sheldon and his organization have taken leadership within the Religious Right’s anti-homosexual campaign. In October 1989, Rev. Sheldon led the “West Coast Symposium on Homosexuality and Public Policy Implications” in Orange County, California. Two of the featured speakers were Roger Magnuson, Esq., author of Are Gay Rights Right?, and Congressman William Dannemeyer, author of Shadow in the Land: Homosexuality in America.

Building on the success of the west coast symposium, Rev. Sheldon convened a January 1990 conference in Washington, DC, that was billed as a “national summit meeting on homosexuality.” One of the two dominant themes of the conference was that homosexuals have, since the 1960s, been seeking “special protection over and above the equal rights already given to all Americans.” This theme would later appear in Colorado as the central theme of the Colorado for Family Values’ promotion of Amendment 2.

Rev. Louis Sheldon was an aide to Pat Robertson in 1987, and he shares much of Robertson’s interest in the legal codification of moral issues. In 1988, Sheldon led the opposition to Project 10, a counseling program for gay adolescents in the Los Angeles school system. In 1986 and 1988, his zeal against homosexuals led him to endorse the California anti-homosexual initiatives sponsored by far right extremist Lyndon LaRouche. The initiatives sought, in effect, to require quarantine for people with AIDS. Sheldon himself has advocated establishing “cities of refuge” for people with the HIV infection. In 1991, Sheldon submitted to the California attorney general a constitutional amendment that would bar civil rights laws from protecting homosexuals, unless approved by a two-thirds vote of the California voters. Sheldon has recently announced his intention to pursue in California an initiative modeled on Colorado’s Amendment 2.

Barbara Sheldon, chairwoman of the Traditional Values Coalition of Colorado, is on the executive board of Colorado for Family Values. She is not related to Rev. Sheldon.

Focus on the Family

It is widely agreed that the 1991 arrival in Colorado Springs of Dr. James Dobson and his organization, Focus on the Family, was an important catalyst for Colorado Springs’ local anti-homosexual organization, Colorado for Family Values. CFV had already led a successful campaign against a local gay rights ordinance. Focus on the Family, however, brought to Colorado Springs a tremendous influx of resources and sophisticated political experience: it arrived with 750 employees (and has since added another 300) and an annual budget of nearly $70 million, including a $4 million grant from the El Pomar Foundation to buy 50 acres in Colorado Springs. Focus on the Family is indeed a national organization. While it has no official ties to CFV, it has offered “advice” to CFV, and several Focus on the Family employees, such as public policy representative Randy Hicks, sit on CFV advisory boards. Focus on the Family has given an in-kind donation worth $8,000 to Colorado for Family Values.

Dr. Dobson’s background is in pediatrics and he is best known as an advocate of traditional discipline and corporal punishment for children. However, his organization has also been heavily involved in anti-homosexual organizing. In 1988, Focus on the Family merged with the Washington, DC-based Family Research Council, headed by Gary L. Bauer. The Family Research Council distributed a “homosexual packet,” available through Focus on the Family, which contained the lengthy document, The Homosexual Agenda: Changing Your Community and Nation. This detailed guide includes a section titled “Starting An Initiative.” In October 1992, the Family Research Council separated from Focus on the Family after warnings from the Internal Revenue Service that the Council’s lobbying activities were endangering Focus on the Family’s tax-exempt status.

In keeping with the Family Research Council’s anti-gay organizing, Focus on the Family’s newsletters have shown an increase in anti-gay articles over the last several years. For instance, in the May 1990 Focus on the Family newsletter, Dr. Dobson himself began a column with the statement, “I am familiar with the widespread effort to redefine the family. It is motivated by homosexual activists and others who see the traditional family as a barrier to the social engineering they hope to accomplish.” A March 1991 article in the newsletter uses this argument against treating gays equally: “There are people in our society who find sexual satisfaction from engaging in intercourse with animals. . . .Would anyone suggest that these groups deserve special protection?”

Summit Ministries

Summit Ministries of Manitou Springs, Colorado, is a little-known Religious Right organization whose work is national in scope. It is a 30-year-old Christian organization specializing in educational materials and summer youth retreats. Its president is Rev. David A. Noebel, formerly a prominent preacher in Rev. Billy James Hargis’s Christian Crusade. As early as 1977, Noebel authored The Homosexual Revolution, in which he claims that “homosexuality rapidly is becoming one of America’s most serious social problems.” He has also written several books claiming that rock’n’roll and soul music are communist plots to corrupt US youth. Summit Ministries later published AIDS: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome: A Special Report, co-authored by David Noebel, Wayne C. Lutton, and Paul Cameron. For the last several years, virtually every issue of The Journal, Summit Ministries’ monthly newsletter, has contained several anti-homosexual entries. Summit Ministries has just published Noebel’s new book, Understanding the Times: The Story of the Biblical Christian, Marxist/Leninist and Secular Humanist Worldviews.

Noebel’s background with Rev. Billy James Hargis’s Christian Crusade helps to explain the historical friendly relationship between Summit Ministries and the John Birch Society (JBS). Both the Christian Crusade and the John Birch Society represent a political sector known in political science literature as the “old right.” Born out of the conviction that communism was rampant in the United States, both organizations believed that the civil rights movement was manipulated by communists, that the National Council of Churches promoted communism, and that the United Nations was controlled by communists. In 1962, Rev. Billy James Hargis purchased an old resort hotel in Manitou Springs, which was renamed The Summit. The Summit became a retreat and anti-communism summer college.

Summit’s relationship with the John Birch Society is deeper than mere ideological affinity. In fact, in 1983, a donor responding to a John Birch Society fundraising letter sent a check to Robert Welch of JBS, and received a thank-you letter from Welch. The check, however, was made out to Summit Ministries.

Rev. David Noebel was a member of the John Birch Society until at least 1987, and for many years Summit Ministries took out full-page advertisements for its summer youth retreats in Review of the News andAmerican Opinion, two John Birch Society publications.

Summit Ministries is also politically close to Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Dr. Dobson, especially since moving to Colorado, leads seminars at Summit Ministries, and his endorsement of Summit’s work was prominent in Summit’s material promoting its 30th anniversary. David Noebel is on the advisory board of Colorado for Family Values.

Beverly LaHaye’s Concerned Women for America

Touting itself as the largest women’s organization in America, Concerned Women for America claims a membership of 500,000, a number disputed by many. CWA was founded in 1979 as “the Christian women’s answer to the National Organization for Women.” It is based in Washington, DC, and organizes its member chapters through prayer circles and LaHaye’s monthly newsletter. CWA distributes a pamphlet titled The Hidden Homosexual Agenda that condemns the homosexual agenda for seeking “to take away the right of those who believe that homosexuality is wrong and immoral to voice that opinion.”

CWA’s most recent anti-homosexual pamphlet is The Homosexual Deception: Making Sin A Civil Right. It is a reprint of a treatise by Tony Marco, co-founder of Colorado for Family Values, that CFV filed with the state of Colorado as evidence supporting the correctness of Amendment 2. Here, to give a local activist his due, we see the local group creating material that is then used by a national group–a reversal of the usual pattern. Concerned Women for America is represented on the CFV advisory board by the president of its Colorado chapter, Bert Nelson.

Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum

Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, based in Alton, Illinois, is another national organization whose local affiliate is represented on the advisory board of Colorado for Family Values. Phyllis Schlafly is perhaps best known for her successful campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment. During that campaign, she used the threat of homosexual and lesbian privileges as a central argument to support her opposition to the ERA. Eagle Forum continues to oppose gay and lesbian rights.

Other National Groups Prominent in the Anti-Homosexual Campaign

Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition

Rev. Pat Robertson, longtime host of the cable television program “The 700 Club,” and prominent leader of the Religious Right, ran unsuccessfully in the Republican presidential primary in 1988. In October 1989, Robertson used the 1.9 million names he had collected from his 1988 campaign to identify 175,000 key activists and donors, and launch the Christian Coalition. The new Coalition’s stated goal was “to build the most powerful political force in American politics.”

The 175,000 activists were contacted and urged to establish chapters of the Christian Coalition in their precincts. Five goals were identified:

  1. build a grassroots network using professional field organizers and training schools;
  2. construct a lobbying organization to work at the national and state levels in every state and in Washington, DC;
  3. create a mass media outreach program;
  4. build a legal arm to defend the gains made in state legislatures from challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union;
  5. build a prayer network to unite all evangelical and pro-family voters.

Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation was an early endorser of the Christian Coalition.

The Christian Coalition’s training tapes teach activists to fight those forces pursuing “an agenda of chaos.” An early videotape distributed by the Christian Coalition used homosexual scenes to illustrate the moral decline of America; opposition to homosexuality has always been a commitment of the Christian Coalition. However, it was the 1990 political battle over a gay rights initiative in Broward County, Florida, that moved the anti-homosexual agenda to prominence within the organization. In its literature, the Christian Coalition took credit for “spearheading” the defeat. It claims to have “led the charge and won a major political victory.” Robertson calls on Christian Coalition members to “duplicate this success in your city and state and throughout the nation.”

By 1992, the organization had grown dramatically. Ralph Reed, its executive director, claimed 250,000 members in 49 states and $13 million in the bank. The Christian Coalition launched an election year get-out-the-vote effort which included “in-pew” registration at churches, the distribution of up to 40 million “voter guides,” and the use of computer-assisted telephone banks to help elect favored candidates in key races.

Reed’s tactics are self-confessedly surreptitious. “I want to be invisible,” he told one reporter. “I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag. You don’t know until election night.” Despite this statement, Reed later publicly distanced himself from the “stealth” strategy.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Coalition overwhelmingly has targeted local Republican Party precinct and county organizations for takeover. It works closely with Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation, which was founded in 1974 with money from the Coors family and its foundation. County Christian Coalition chapters have been directed to subscribe to Weyrich’s National Empowerment Television (NET) satellite program. Ralph Reed is on the NET board.

Colorado for Family Values is not an affiliate of, nor is it funded by, the Christian Coalition (unlike the group that led the anti-homosexual initiative campaign in Oregon, the Oregon Citizens Alliance); the link between the Christian Coalition and Colorado’s Amendment 2 is an indirect one. The National Legal Foundation of Chesapeake, Virginia (a conservative Christian legal organization founded by Pat Robertson and funded by Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, but no longer affiliated with Robertson), gave advice to Colorado for Family Values as early as 1991, long before Amendment 2 was on the ballot. The consultation was intended to help CFV formulate ballot language that would survive legal and political challenges. By the end of 1992, the National Legal Foundation had taken over much of the legal work of CFV.

The Berean League

The Berean League, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, has published Roger J. Magnuson’s much-cited book Are Gay Rights Right? This discredited work was used by Tony Marco in the treatise he wrote for Colorado for Family Values. In addition to publishing Magnuson’s book, the Berean League developed a successful campaign to oppose a local civil rights ordinance for gay men and lesbians. On the basis of that success, it began to conduct workshops at national conferences on “Strategies for Defeating Homosexual Privilege Proposals.”

A Christian organization, the Berean League states in its promotional literature that “the League’s authority is Scripture.” Recently, it has issued a “Back-grounder” report titled Some Things You May Not Know About Homosexuality. An inflammatory three-page document, it was circulated in Oregon as a tool to organize support for Oregon’s 1992 anti-homosexual Measure 9, the Abnormal Behavior Initiative.

The American Family Association

Headed by Rev. Donald Wildmon and based in Tupelo, Mississippi, the American Family Association has an annual budget of $5 million, and focuses primarily on profanity, adultery, homosexuality, and other forms of anti-Christian behavior and language on television. An earlier Wildmon organization was called CLeaR-TV (Christian Leaders for Responsible Television) and was based in Wheaton, Illinois. Wildmon has specialized in boycotting the corporate sponsors of shows which he dislikes. He called for a boycott of American Express because it sponsored the television program “L. A. Law,” which ran an episode featuring a bisexual woman kissing another woman. Wildmon opposes even the depiction of homosexuality. One of his “top goals” for 1989 was to force off the air three TV shows (“Heartbeat,” “Hooperman,” and “thirtysomething”) that, he said, “promote the homosexual lifestyle and portray practicing homosexuals in a positive light.” Wildmon was accused of anti-Semitism for inflammatory comments he made during his campaign against the film The Last Temptation of Christ.

The Rutherford Institute

The Rutherford Institute, based in Manassas, Virginia, and founded and headed by John W. Whitehead, is a non-profit, legal defense organization associated with the far-right fringe of the Religious Right. Speakers listed in its Speakers Bureau include R. J. Rushdoony, a prominent Christian Reconstructionist. Reconstructionists believe that the text of the Bible provides the only legitimate basis for civil law. The most zealous wing of Reconstructionism has called for the death penalty for homosexuals, adulterers, and recalcitrant children. In 1992, the Rutherford Institute spearheaded a suit in Hawaii to block implementation of that state’s new gay rights law.

The John Birch Society

The John Birch Society is another national organization with a prominent anti-homosexual agenda. JBS is not properly categorized as a New Right organization, but is best seen as “old right.” Historically, the John Birch Society has existed as an isolationist, anti-communist organization. It was founded near the end of the McCarthy era, and expanded on Senator Joseph McCarthy’s conspiracy theory of communist penetration of the United States. Since the death of its founder, Robert Welch, the JBS has moved from Belmont, Massachusetts, to Appleton, Wisconsin. Its recent concerns have been family issues, AIDS, US internationalist foreign policy, opposition to government regulations, and the right to bear arms. High on its list of concerns within family issues is homosexuality. The September and October 1992 issues of its publication, New American (published immediately before the November votes on anti-gay initiatives in Colorado and Oregon), carried anti-homosexual stories. The October story was a two-page article supporting Oregon’s Abnormal Behavior Initiative.

Lyndon LaRouche: A Special Case

Lyndon LaRouche is a far-right political extremist who is now serving a 15-year sentence in federal prison for mail fraud and tax evasion. LaRouche runs a vast empire of organizations with ideological positions that exactly mimic his bizarre conspiracy theories. His followers are seen in airports and on street corners, often campaigning to free LaRouche from jail or attacking the organization’s mortal enemy–Henry Kissinger. LaRouche’s many organizations have always incorporated sexual themes into their analysis, and have been obsessed with AIDS since the pandemic began. LaRouche has conducted a long-running and fanatical campaign against homosexuality. Most recently, LaRouche spearheaded Proposition 64 in California, which would have established restrictive public health policies regarding AIDS. Proposition 64 was opposed by virtually all public health officials and elected officials (one exception was legislator William Dannemeyer). A public health specialist for the California Medical Association described Proposition 64 as “absolute hysteria and calculated deception.” LaRouche organizers continue to peddle hysteria over AIDS and homosexuality. Their embrace of anti-Jewish and other scapegoating conspiracy theories and use of demagoguery add a firm base to the claim that the LaRouchians are a neo-fascist movement. Many New Right groups avoid any official alliance with the LaRouchians.

Analyzing the Anti-Homosexual Campaign’s Coordination & Networking

Since its earliest days in the late 1970s, the New Right has been a political and religious movement that has self-consciously networked among its members. The Religious Roundtable, the Free Congress Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, Christian Voice, the Conservative Caucus, the Moral Majority, Eagle Forum, and Concerned Women for America, among others, have held frequent conferences, published in each other’s journals and newsletters, and promoted legislation within the context of a sympathetic Republican administration.

The anti-homosexual campaign nests within a sector of the New Right known as the pro-family movement. The major national gathering for the pro-family movement is the Family Forum conference, held annually since 1981. The conference has usually been sponsored by Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. These conferences are symptomatic of the coordination and networking among the New Right leadership. The issues of concern to the pro-family movement are aptly described in a 1984 promotional letter for Family Forum III. They are “important moral issues such as: the economic survival of the family, parents’ rights in education, the homosexual movement, personal charity, child pornography, and abortion.”

Reflecting the New Right leadership’s shared opposition to homosexuality, the Family Forum conferences nearly always feature an anti-homosexual speaker. With the arrival of the AIDS epidemic, and the publication of Gays, AIDS and You, sponsored by the Free Congress Foundation, the anti-homosexual profile became much higher. We see the fruits of a decade of organizing by the pro-family movement of the New Right in the many challenges to gay rights bills and initiatives, and most recently in the anti-gay initiatives in Colorado and Oregon.

The analysis underlying the pro-family movement’s morality is a fervent distrust and irrational hatred of “secular humanism,” which is used as a shorthand for all that is evil and opposed to God. This distrust of secular humanism can be traced to the US nativist right at the turn of the century, which believed secular humanists were engaged in a conspiracy to undermine the United States. The purported conspiracy was linked, from its beginning, to an extreme fear of communism and its undermining effect on Christianity and the Christian family. Today, a major focus of the New Right, and particularly of the pro-family movement, is unrelenting opposition to the perceived secular humanist conspiracy. As Paul Weyrich describes it, “Well, first of all, from our point of view, this is really the most significant battle of the age-old conflict between good and evil, between the forces of God and the forces against God, that we have seen in our country.”

For a better understanding of how fear of secular humanism serves as the theoretical basis for right-wing organizing, see the Berlet/Quigley chapter on the Culture War: Theocracy and Racism.

Camouflage of the Christian Agenda

In the discussion above, three of the four national New Right organizations playing the highest profile role in organizing support for Colorado’s Amendment 2 are explicitly Christian organizations. However, the association of anti-homosexual organizing with religious (specifically Christian) principles is highlighted only when activists are targeting fellow Christians in order to recruit or educate them. When organizing in the wider political arena, anti-homosexual organizing is cast in the secular terms of “family values” and “defense of the family.”

This is an important aspect of the Religious Right’s organizing style. Since the mid-1980s, when the heavy-handed style of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority lost popularity, the Christian Right has cast its campaigns in terms not so obviously linked to the Bible. Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition refers to the soft-peddling of the religious message in his own organization’s work as conducting a “stealth campaign.”

In the case of the anti-homosexual campaign, the Religious Right has dwelt on calumnious depictions of predatory behavior by homosexuals. Various anti-gay campaigns have accused homosexuals of eating feces, molesting children, and destroying the family. Many of these characterizations are “documented” by the work of Dr. Paul Cameron and Roger J. Magnuson. Oregon’s 1992 anti-gay initiative (which was rejected by the voters) equates homosexuality with “pedophilia, sadism or masochism.” While it is only in explicitly religious attacks on homosexuals that homosexuality is equated with Satan, that connection is uncontroversial among many involved in organizing against homosexuals.

Though the religious basis of this anti-homosexual fervor often is not mentioned, occasionally this bias becomes clear. On February 10, 1992, Bill McCartney, head football coach at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said at a press conference that homosexuality is a “sin” that is “an abomination of almighty God.” McCartney is a member of the advisory board of Colorado for Family Values. Former US Representative William Armstrong, who describes himself as having had a “life-changing experience” when he became born again, is chairman of the advisory board of CFV.

But the clearest revelation of the religious basis for the work of CFV is a talk given by Kevin Tebedo, CFV executive director, at the First Congregational Church in Colorado Springs on August 23, 1992. In this setting, Tebedo states that Amendment 2 “is about authority.”

He goes on to say, “It’s about whose authority takes precedence in the society in which we live. . . [I]s it the authority of God? The authority of the supreme King of Kings and Lord of Lords? You see, we say we should have the separation of church and state, but you see, Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. That is politics; that is rule; that is authority.”

In spite of the obvious preeminence of Christian principles in the values of its national organizational supporters and some of its advisory board members, the literature of Colorado for Family Values does not refer to Christianity, Biblical admonitions regarding homosexuality, or religious principles. A large CFV packet of information dated January 9, 1992, does not mention a religious basis for CFV’s work. Finally, there is no mention of religion in the CFV Mission Statement.

The History of “No Special Rights”

Another area of deception in the public face of the anti-homosexual campaign is its assertion that lesbians and gay men are seeking “special rights” or “special protections.” This was the guiding premise behind Anita Bryant’s campaign, was raised again by Enrique Rueda in The Homosexual Network and Gays, AIDS and You, and eventually emerged as the slogan of the national anti-homosexual campaign. In the case of Colorado’s Amendment 2, the slogan was the dominant theme of CFV’s advertising and promotion.

The use of “no special rights” is purposefully misleading. Gay rights initiatives do not provide “special rights,” but a guarantee of equal rights for lesbians and gay men. Amendment 2 would deny equal protection against discrimination only to this group. CFV’s decision to use “no special rights” only in its public materials and not in the legal language of the amendment itself was made on the advice of the National Legal Foundation.

A June 1991 letter from Brian McCormick of NLF advises CFV to stay away from the “no special rights” language in its legal formulations, but to use it as the centerpiece of its public campaign. Coloradans were bombarded with advertisements and flyers all drumming home the message that Amendment 2 did nothing but reverse the unfair granting of “special rights” through gay rights initiatives. Future anti-gay initiatives will undoubtedly continue the use of the “no special rights” slogan because the cohesiveness of the right’s anti-homosexual campaign virtually guarantees that local initiatives will follow the lead of national organizations.

Legal Issues Raised by Amendment 2

After the voters in Colorado approved Amendment 2 by majority vote, a preliminary injunction was successfully sought by a group of plaintiffs that included individuals, gay rights organizations, and the three Colorado cities–Denver, Aspen, and Boulder–that had existing gay rights ordinances. The injunction was requested on the grounds that Amendment 2 would deprive gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals of any legal remedy for acts of discrimination against them, and deprive the state and all local governments from enacting any statutes, ordinances, or policies that prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination may occur in such areas as insurance, employment, housing, and accommodation.

The plaintiffs faced the difficult burden of overcoming the “presumption of constitutionality” granted to any successful amendment. They also needed to prove that there was a reasonable likelihood that they would prevail on the merits of their case. The plaintiffs argued that the amendment denied fundamental constitutional rights and also violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection because there was no rational relationship between its provisions and the accomplishment of a legitimate public goal. To prevail, the plaintiffs needed to establish that such a denial of rights would create real, immediate, and irreparable harm to lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals.

Colorado District Court Judge Jeffrey Bayless determined that there was a reasonable probability that the amendment denied the plaintiffs a fundamental right–the right to participate in the governmental process–and that the amendment could be upheld only if the defendants could show that it furthered a compelling governmental purpose.

Judge Bayless concluded that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals are an identifiable group that deserves protection. Acknowledging that the Constitution cannot control private prejudices, he ruled that legislation must not indirectly “give them effect.” Judge Bayless then granted the temporary injunction blocking Amendment 2. A later permanent injunction was then appealed to the US Supreme Court.


Homophobia is a bedrock value in our society, one that crosses lines of class, race, and even gender. Our Calvinist attitudes toward sex, based in religious teaching that sex is only for procreation, and a patriarchal culture that is discomforted by any breaking down of rigid sex roles, combine to create a culture that can deal with homosexuality, if at all, only in the artistic and commercial spheres. The lesbian and gay civil rights movement has pushed homosexuality out of the artistic and commercial world and into the political and social sphere. This is almost guaranteed to create a backlash while society absorbs and adjusts to new values.

While that backlash may be inevitable, it can be tamped down or fanned by political forces. This review of the right wing’s organizing to promote a backlash against the gay rights movement is a study in reaction. Deprived of its old enemies and needing a new issue to promote, the right’s anti-homosexual organizing is rank opportunism. The anti-gay backlash is in large part a creation of the right. It is generating funds, keeping right-wing organizations that were in danger of complete eclipse alive with an infusion of new support, and generating the all-important evidence of political power–media attention.

The threat this backlash represents is very real. Violence is its most blatant manifestation, but the litany of pain and waste caused by homophobia includes subtle attacks on gay men and lesbians as well. Furthermore, confronting the backlash distracts time, energy, and money from the work necessary to bring about equal rights for lesbians and gay men.

In the case of Colorado’s Amendment 2, it would be comforting to think that the people who voted for the amendment were simply misled, and believed they were opposing special rights for homosexuals. While that deception was promoted by Colorado for Family Values, the vote also reflects the deep-seated persistence of homophobia in our society. The skillful manipulation of homophobia by the right wing creates anti-gay sentiment and actions that bolster and promote intolerance.

In the United States, we must decide what role the church and religious tenets are going to play, especially when those tenets are in conflict with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It is not an attack on Christianity or religion to question the propriety of imposing Biblical law on a secular society. If ours is a society in which church and state are separate, then the prohibitions of church dogma cannot overrule the protections provided by the Constitution. And the Constitution, to paraphrase Mr. Justice McKenna in the 1910 case of Weems v. U.S., is progressive–it is not fastened to the obsolete, but may acquire new meaning as public opinion becomes enlightened by a humane justice.