This op-ed by Rev. Timothy McDonald III, , was originally published at The Huffington Post.
Last week, a bill disguised as a "religious liberty" measure that would give a green light to discrimination was passed by the Georgia Senate and will now go to the House.
As a Baptist pastor, I feel called to weigh in on a proposal that is supposedly designed to protect religious rights in my state. I fully support every person's constitutionally-protected right of the free exercise of religion. The right to pray to whatever God you believe in and freely practice your religion is a fundamental one, and one that must be protected.
But I do not support this bill, which is not a true effort to protect First Amendment rights. And the fact that supporters in the state Senate quickly and unexpectedly brought it up in committee when no Democrats were present makes me wonder if even proponents aren't so sure of its merit.
The proposed bill is modeled on a national religious freedom bill that passed in 1993, and supporters claim that it would shield people of all religions from government intrusion. In reality, this is a bill that threatens to allow businesses and individuals to simply flout the laws they don't like. It threatens to turn "religious liberty" law from a shield to guard individual liberties into a sword to bring harm to others.
For example, what happens if medical workers, citing religious beliefs, decide that they won't treat gay or transgender people? If business owners decide that they won't serve Muslims or interracial couples? If landlords decide they won't rent to single women? Beyond anti-discrimination protections, what happens if individuals or business owners claim they are exempt from any number of laws they disagree with? What happens, for example, if employers decide that paying their workers a minimum wage goes against their religious beliefs? Do we want to live in a society where your legal rights depend on the religious beliefs of others in the community?
Basic rights and equality should never yield to discrimination.
Other religious leaders here in Georgia aren't fooled, either. Working with a group of more than 160 clergy across the state, we have been asking our elected officials to abandon this misguided project, urging them not to pass any so-called "religious freedom" legislation that could lead to widespread discrimination. Handing people the "right" to use the mantle of religious liberty to harm others? Not in our name.
It's clear that rather than fixing a problem, as good public policy should, this bill would create problems, and often for those most vulnerable among us.
Even former state attorney general Michael Bowers, who once fought in favor of anti-gay "sodomy" laws, has called the bill "nothing but an excuse to discriminate," saying it is "ill-conceived, unnecessary, mean-spirited, and deserving of a swift death in the General Assembly."
I agree. My faith tells me that I should stand up for the marginalized. That I should speak out against proposals that could deny basic rights to others -- especially when it's being done in the name of religion.
This op-ed by Michael Keegan, President, People For the American Way was originally published at The Huffington Post.
On March 3, the House of Representatives finally voted for a clean DHS funding bill. Much of the media reported that Republicans saw the irresponsibility of their threats to shut down Homeland Security and passed a clean bill. But they didn't, and no one should lose sight of that.
After trying every trick in the book to scuttle the bill, their leadership allowed the vote to happen, but Republicans never caved. Republicans voted over two to one (167-75)against the bill. It only passed because of full Democratic support.
It's clear that Republicans will stop at nothing to attack immigrants. The fact that national security was on the line was immaterial: Republicans saw an opportunity to display their animus toward all immigrants, and Latinos in particular, and they took it.
This publicity stunt gave Republicans the chance to pander yet again to the most virulent anti-immigrant members of their party. Take, for instance, William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration and his comments during the heat of the DHS fight in mid-February:
[I] wouldn't put anything past [the administration, because] the people who are supporting the organized and well-funded illegal alien invasion of our homeland have the blood of many thousands of Americans on their hands that have been killed, injured raped and robbed by illegal immigrants.
Sure, Gheen is a fringe extremist. But what he's saying is strikingly similar to what we're hearing from the Republican Party.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of Mitt Romney's "self-deportation" strategy, entertained the suggestion that Obama's executive actions could eventually result in Latinos conducting an "ethnic cleansing" of their fellow Americans. Sen. Tom Coburn, Rep. Mike Kelly, and Rep. Louie Gohmert have also warned that the president's immigration policies could lead to violence.
While some in the GOP tried to tell a different narrative -- that this was just about reining in presidential excess and not about their being anti-immigrant -- the fact is that the entire Republican Party is at fault. Not one House Republican signed the discharge petition to allow even a vote on the Senate's bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. And Senate Republicans who backed that bill, including Sen. Marco Rubio, now say they no longer support it. At this very minute, House Republicans are bringing up even more anti-immigrant legislation, including deportation-only legislation and a bill that would drastically change U.S. asylum and humanitarian protections to put domestic violence survivors and victims of human trafficking at serious risk.
Ultimately, it was Ann Coulter who summed up the Republican position on the DHS debate: Undocumented immigrants (she calls them "illegal aliens [who] have killed, raped and maimed thousands of Americans") pose a greater threat to our nation than does ISIS." While not all Republicans used language as biting as that, it was crystal-clear that Republicans believe that attacking immigrants, not funding DHS, should be the top priority.
Who would have imagined that a national party, never mind the Republican Party, would be so opposed to finding any solution for the almost 12 million undocumented people already here that they would risk our national security during the dangerous time we are in now? Yet that's the reality of the GOP today, and it's our responsibility to hold them accountable.
Yesterday the Oregon Senate passed an expansive new voter registration bill, a significant step forward in the fight to make voting easier, more secure, and more accessible for everyone in the state.
The Oregonian explains how the legislation will work:
Under the measure, driver's license data stretching back to 2013 will be used to begin registering Oregon citizens who aren't already signed up to vote. Elections officials will send a postcard to the prospective new registrants giving them a chance to opt out…. The secretary of state's office has estimated that the measure will add about 300,000 to the voting rolls, which now total just under 2.2 million.
Gov. Kate Brown, who as secretary of state supported the bill as a way to make it easier for low-income people and young people to vote, has promised to sign the measure.
With new barriers to voting taking root across the country and voting discrimination still a persistent problem, it can be easy to believe that our country is only turning back the clock on voting rights. But this win in Oregon underscores the fact that when we work together to make it easier rather than harder to cast a ballot, we can set an example of how to strengthen our democracy.
This Sunday on Univision America Network’s “Newsmaker Sunday with Fernando Espuelas,” Dolores Huerta, civil rights leader and board member of People For the American Way, discussed the dangers of the Kochs’ Libre Initiative to the Latino community. During the interview, Huerta emphasized that despite the image the Libre Initiative is trying to project to Latino voters, the organization is actually working to get anti-immigrant and anti-worker candidates elected.
“We’ve got to let our community know that Libre, which is funded by the Koch brothers, are not our friends,” Huerta said.
Dolores Huerta: The one thing that’s really concerning just now is that the Koch brothers have started a new initiative, called Libre, which targets Latino voters. They’re really deceiving the voters and trying to make them think that they’re supporting immigration reform, but at the same time, they are supporting all of the Republican candidates that are right now trying to keep Obama’s executive actions from taking effect. They’re putting unlimited amounts of money into getting politicians elected that are anti-immigrant, anti-workers, anti-clean environment, and they’re going to try to confuse Latino voters into thinking that they’re their friends. We’ve got to let our community know that Libre, which is funded by the Koch brothers, are not our friends.
Fernando Espuelas: In particular in the 2014 cycle, Libre spent millions of dollars to bring down certain Latino candidates in Florida and elsewhere, with what objectively would seem to be lies in their commercials. Do you think this is a real menace going forward, including in 2016?
Dolores Huerta: Oh I think so! Basically they’ll just be telling a lot of lies and making people think that the candidates they’re supporting are pro-immigrant, at the same time that they’re voting against everything that we’re trying to get for immigration reform. So it’s a very deceptive, but very well-funded operation….We [have to] spread the message that when people hear the word libre, it doesn’t mean libre [free], it means cadenas, it means chains, just the opposite of libre. This is a ruse that is going to try to entrap people, try to confuse them. We want to do a better job to inform and to educate the Latino voting public who your friends are and who your enemies are. And one of those big enemies is going to be Libre, the group that wants to put us in chains. There’s a good saying in Spanish, dar gato por liebre, so this is dar gato por Libre.
You can listen to the entire interview here:
For more information about the Libre Iniative, see People For the American Way’s report, “The Libre Initiative: The Koch Brothers’ Focus on Latino Voters.” The report is also available in Spanish here.
Yesterday People For the American way joined more than fifty other organizations in sending a letter to President Obama asking him to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose all of their political spending.
Right now, corporations with government contracts are able to funnel unlimited sums of dark money to influence the elections of those who can put pressure on the officials deciding who is awarded future contracts. Contracts should be awarded to those best for the job, not those who can shell out the most political cash.
But with the stroke of a pen, President Obama could require that government contractors disclose their political spending. This would increase transparency and accountability in our democracy and bring us closer to the “better politics” the president called for in his State of the Union address – a politics in which we “spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter.”
And we are indeed drowning in dark money. In 2014's ten most competitive Senate contests, more than 70 percent of outside money spent in support of the winner was from dark money groups.
As the letter notes,
Six years into your presidency, and five years after the Supreme Court issued its tragically misguided ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, we’re now living in a Wild West campaign spending world… Against this backdrop, it is imperative that you act.
Today, People For the American Way, America’s Voice, and ColorOfChange.org released an open letter to Republican presidential candidates urging them to make clear that they don’t support CPAC’s ongoing relationship with ProEnglish, a group led by white nationalist Bob Vandervoot. Despite CPAC’s troubling history of welcoming white nationalists as participants and sponsors, Republican leaders continue to headline the conference. CPAC has included ProEnglish as a sponsor in the past, and in 2012, CPAC hosted a panel on race featuring Vandervoot and infamous racist writer Peter Brimelow. This year, ProEnglish is again participating as a sponsor of the conference.
Dear Gov. Jeb Bush, Dr. Ben Carson, Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Rand Paul, Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rick Santorum, and Gov. Scott Walker:
We understand that you are scheduled to speak at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, an event which is being partially sponsored by ProEnglish, a group led by white nationalist Bob Vandervoort. We urge you to decline to speak at CPAC unless it cuts ties with ProEnglish and Vandervoort.
ProEnglish has sponsored CPAC for the past several years, despite Vandervoort’s well documented ties to the white nationalist movement. As the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights has reported, Vandervoort is the former leader of Chicagoland Friends of American Renaissance, a group dedicated to supporting the ideals of the infamous white nationalist publication American Renaissance. One member of the group described its mission as encouraging “white survival and maintaining white majorities.”
Vandervoort’s own writings reflect these views. He has expressed concern about the need to “halt the cultural and racial dispossession of the West's historic people” and expounded on “racial differences” in “intelligence and temperament.” He has wondered how “race realists and pro-Western Civ nationalists” like himself can counter historical comparisons to the Holocaust and slavery.
CPAC has a troubling history of welcoming white nationalists. In 2012, the conference hosted a panel on race featuring Vandervoort and fellow white nationalist writer Peter Brimelow. And ProEnglish has continued to be allowed to sponsor the event even after civil rights groups have raised concerns.
Clearly, Robert Vandervoort and his group should have no place as a financial sponsor of the nation’s largest convention of conservatives. We urge you to distance yourself from Vandervoort’s views and refuse to speak at CPAC unless ProEnglish’s sponsorship is withdrawn.
Michael Keegan, President
People For the American Way
Frank Sharry, Founder and Executive Director
Rashad Robinson, Executive Director
This op-ed by Dolores Huerta, civil rights activist and board member of People For the American Way, was originally published at La Opinion.
Los republicanos en el Congreso están amenazando con cerrar el Departamento de Seguridad Interna de manera inútil, para impedir que el Presidente Obama permita que miles de familias y niños inmigrantes vivan sin el miedo a ser deportados.
Los republicanos proclaman que las familias inmigrantes ponen en peligro a los Estado Unidos, y como receta, están dispuestos a cerrar el departamento que se encarga de la seguridad nacional. No tiene mucho sentido, pero propagar miedo sobre los inmigrantes nunca ha estado basado en el sentido común.
Mientras ellos atacan a las familias latinas con la intención de aplacar a los extremistas de su partido, los líderes republicanos están conscientes de que nuestros números están creciendo y con ello, nuestro poder en las elecciones. Los votantes latinos fueron la razón por la cual Barack Obama derrumbó a Mitt Romney en 2012, y los republicanos saben bien que ello volverá a pasar si no actúan. Por eso, algunos grupos republicanos están gastando millones de dólares para convencer a los latinos que voten por su partido.
Por ejemplo, los hermanos Koch, quienes preven gastar casi mil millones de dólares comprando las elecciones de candidatos en el 2016, financian un grupo llamado "La Iniciativa Libre", el cual trata de fabricar una imagen amistosa del Partido Republicano hacia los latinos.
El problema es que La Iniciativa Libre promociona ideales conservadores que ofenden a nuestra comunidad. Ellos se oponen a los sindicatos, se oponen a un aumento en el salario mínimo y se oponen a medidas que protegen el medio ambiente. Sostienen que apoyan la reforma migratoria pero respaldan a candidatos republicanos que la oponen. El año pasado, publicaron anuncios que ayudaron a un candidato que apoyó la ley antiinmigrante de Arizona, SB 1070.
Y el grupo elogia la declaración a favor de la reforma del presidente de la Cámara de Representantes, John Boehner. Sin embargo, Boehner fue la razón principal por la cual el proyecto de ley del Senado para la reforma migratoria integral, apoyado por ambos partidos, nunca se debatió ni votó en la Cámara Baja. Y ahora, él encabeza el intento de cerrar el Departamento de Seguridad Interna para detener la orden ejecutiva del Presidente Obama sobre inmigración.
Eso no es crear enlaces verdaderos hacia la comunidad. Es solo una fachada.
Los republicanos saben que tienen un problema con el voto latino. Pero no pueden solucionarlo con solo tirarle plata. Todo el dinero en el mundo no puede esconder las prioridades y retórica antilatina del Partido Republicano. Si los republicanos quieren que los latinos los tomen en serio, ellos tendrán que tomarnos en serio primero.
This op-ed by Michael Keegan, President, People For the American Way was originally published at The Huffington Post.
Late last month, news broke that the network of political organizations tied to Charles and David Koch was developing plans to spend nearly a billion dollars in the 2016 elections.
Given that unprecedented investment, it's essential to understand precisely what the Kochs and their front groups are doing. Yesterday, People for the American Way released a new report exploring one of these groups: the Libre Initiative, which aims to win over Latino voters for Republicans.
With much of its funding coming from the Kochs, Libre has the resources it needs to try to run an aggressive campaign aimed at making inroads in the Latino community. As Politico reported recently, "Libre, which already has a presence in eight states, plans to expand to Wisconsin and North Carolina this year and increase its staff by about 30 percent ahead of 2016."
The group's millions go to promoting conservative causes to the Latino community and using deceptive ads to attack Democrats. Civil rights leader and People for the American Way board member Dolores Huerta described Libre best: "This is just another flashy way for the Koch brothers to try to con Latinos into supporting a party that's run by anti-immigrant, anti-Latino, anti-environmental extremists. We won't be fooled; the group has the wrong priorities on the issues that matter most to us." Though the group is doing all it can to push GOP priorities like blocking an increase in the minimum wage and rallying against clean energy development, poll after poll has shown that the majority of Latinos and Libre aren't on the same page when it comes to these and other issues.
If Libre stuck to debating the issues, that would be one thing. Libre's real threat -- both to Democrats and to the Latino community -- is that it uses its considerable financial resources to say one thing and do another.
In typical Koch fashion, Libre has made vicious, often dishonest attacks against Democrats. It's ironic, albeit unsurprising, that the Democrats Libre attacked in 2014 included some of the strongest Latino voices in Congress, like former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Texas). And based on Libre's actions in the past, we can count on Libre to pay only lip service to supporting immigration reform. So far, the Libre playbook has gone like this: Claim to support immigration reform, applaud Speaker Boehner for making vague remarks somewhat supportive of immigration reform, and -- here's the kicker -- run attack ads against Democrats who actually vote in favor of immigration reform.
Activists shouldn't hold our breath hoping that the Kochs and other deep-pocketed conservatives will stop their lies. Instead, it's up to us to push back. PFAW's doing that by reaching out to Latino voters with a focus on the issues that matter and calling out Republicans when their promises just don't match up with their votes.
Despite Libre's deep coffers and its apparent desire to win over Latino voters to the GOP, that party's offensive anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions continue. Just look at the current Congress, where Republicans are hijacking funding for the Department of Homeland Security to block the president's executive actions on immigration even though, as Ted Hesson wrote at Fusion, "only a small minority of Americans think that's the best way to approach the issue" in Congress.
As long as Republicans keep opposing policies that most Latinos and Americans as a whole support, it's unlikely the Libre Initiative will have much success. But given the deep support and huge bank accounts of its two most important funders, the threat posed by Libre is one that we should all take seriously.
Today, People For the American Way released a new Right Wing Watch: In Focus report on the Libre Initiative, a right-wing organization attempting to win over Latino voters for the Republican Party. The report explores the Koch brothers’ control over Libre, the values the group espouses, and the deceptive tactics it uses.
With plans to spend nearly $1 billion to support conservatives in 2016, it should come as no surprise that the Koch brothers are behind a group like Libre, providing at least half of its funding in 2011 and 2012.
The group uses those funds to attempt to push for a range of conservative policy priorities, such as fighting increases in the minimum wage. As the report explains, Libre tries to send a “kinder and gentler Republican message to Latino voters while continuing to push the GOP’s economic policies — many of which disproportionately hurt Latinos.”
In 2014, Libre invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in attack ads — technically “nonpartisan” — to attack Democratic incumbents in heavily Latino states and districts. Although the group nominally supports comprehensive immigration reform, in several cases its ads aided Republican candidates who were hostile to reform.
In the next election cycle, conservatives will use gobs of outside money to try to win over Latino voters. In the meantime, PFAW will remain committed to engage all communities in our political system, fight to reduce the harmful influence of corporate money (including the Kochs’) in politics, and expose the deceitful tactics of the Right.
In an interview with Vox released today, President Obama expressed his support for constitutional remedies to our country’s worsening money in politics problem.
The president said:
I would love to see some constitutional process that would allow us to actually regulate campaign spending the way we used to, and maybe even improve it.
This isn’t the first time the president has weighed in on the push for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United. In 2012 during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, President Obama made a splash when he said that “over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United.” As the Vox article notes, today’s comments go a step beyond his previous remarks.
Agree with the president? Share our graphic and show your support:
You can watch the full interview with President Obama here:
PFAW activists joined with allies from Public Citizen, Open Democracy, and others last Thursday at public hearings on New Hampshire House and Senate bills calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United.
About 50 supporters of a constitutional amendment attended each hearing, creating standing room only and overflow in the small room reserved for the House bill hearing.
Speakers included small business owners, activists who passed local town resolutions in favor of an amendment, and high school students. Not a single person testified in opposition to the proposed legislation, underscoring the deep support among Americans of all backgrounds for fixing our big money system.
The bills (HB 371 and SB 136) call for the state legislature to recommend a constitutional amendment to the state’s congressional delegation, as well as for public hearings in geographically diverse areas across the state to decide the exact language for such an amendment.
A committee in the New Hampshire House will vote on the bill in an executive session on Wednesday afternoon, while the appropriate Senate committee has not yet set a date for a vote. PFAW activists and allies will be back at the state capitol next week for a lobby day to meet with key representatives and senators on Wednesday, February 4th.
Interested in joining us? For more information and to RSVP, email Lindsay Jakows at email@example.com.