American Family Association

Don't Turn Political Opponents Into Spiritual Enemies

This piece by PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery was originally published in the Greenville News.

Gov. Nikki Haley appeared at a Christians-only prayer rally in Charleston on Saturday. It was an unfortunate decision to lend the prestige of her office to that exclusionary event, one organized by political strategists who view the 2016 elections as an opportunity to turn America back to what they believe are its origins as a country founded by and for Christians.

The event was organized by the American Renewal Project, run by political operative David Lane under the umbrella of the American Family Association. The rally was emceed by Doug Stringer, an “apostle” who promotes the belief that the right kind of Christians are meant to be in charge of every sphere of influence in society, and who has blamed the 9/11 attacks on America turning away from God.

Haley’s video promoting the event invited “everyone” and said it had nothing to do with politics or government. Both statements are disingenuous at best. The South Carolina Baptists’ page urging participation in the rally promised “Evangelical Christians only to lead in program.” Members of the Response “prayer force” were told that it is God’s will “to have His hand-picked civil leadership in place at all times.” In daily calls for prayer in the weeks before the rally, people were asked to pray that the nation would repent for, among other things, political correctness, abortion, and “an unbiblical definition of marriage.” One pre-rally dispatch urged, “Repent of times when citizens have voted for someone based on personal preference and not the will and heart of God, whose values and beliefs were in conflict with His Word.”

Lane is out to recruit 1,000 conservative pastors to run for political office, mobilizing an “army” of volunteers who will determine the outcome of the 2016 elections. Hundreds were scheduled to attend a recruiting session the day before Haley’s “non-political” prayer rally.

But the problem is not getting people involved in politics. The problem is the political agenda Lane’s projects are designed to advance. In Lane’s worldview, America will either be a Christian nation or a pagan nation and there will be no peace until we decide which. He wrote in Charisma in January that “there can be no reconciliation of opposites, particularly the spiritual and the secular.” In one of his many online diatribes he asked, “Who will wage war for the Soul of America and trust the living God to deliver the pagan gods into our hands and restore America to her Judeo-Christian heritage and re-establish a Christian culture?”

Lane denounces court rulings upholding church-state separation; calls for Christianity to be established as America’s official religion with the Bible as a primary textbook in public schools; vehemently opposes equality for LGBT people; and demands the impeachment of judges whose opinions he disagrees with.

This vision of America is both historically inaccurate and deeply out of pace with our times, in which America’s religious landscape is increasingly diverse and a large and growing majority supports legal equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.

A problem with treating politics as spiritual warfare is that you turn political opponents into spiritual enemies. People who disagree on public policy issues are not just wrong, but evil. For David Lane, that’s a self-evident truth. But for a political leader like Nikki Haley, it’s a damaging proposition that makes it harder to govern on behalf of all the people she was elected to represent.

Peter Montgomery is senior fellow for People For the American Way and an associate editor at Religion Dispatches.


Why Do Republican Officials Keep Partnering With Christian-Nation Extremist David Lane?

In pursuit of conservative evangelical voters, GOP candidates embrace far-right political operative who is raising an ‘army’ to fulfill his ‘Christian nation’ vision

On Saturday, June 13, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley will host a day-long, Christians-only prayer rally organized by political operative David Lane. Lane, who organized similar events for Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, is trying to recruit 1,000 conservative evangelical pastors to run for office, which he believes would mobilize hundreds of thousands of election volunteers and lead to conservative election victories in 2016.

Lane prefers to work outside the glare of the national media. Although his close connections to Republican officials and presidential candidates have drawn some notice, the extremism of the agenda he is promoting deserves far more attention than it has received to date.

When one-third of the Republican National Committee took a nine-day junket to Israel in January with the American Family Association picking up the tab, things got a little ugly. Israeli media started asking questions about the extreme positions taken by AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer, including his claims that the First Amendment’s religious liberty protections apply only to Christians and that gays were responsible for the rise of the Nazi Party. In damage control mode, the AFA disavowed some of Fischer’s most inflammatory statements and took away his title – but not the radio show that continues to give him a bigotry-spewing platform. Meanwhile, the actual organizer of the trip, Christian nationalist David Lane, slipped out of the spotlight and got right back to building political alliances between high-level Republican politicians and conservative evangelical pastors, especially those in key primary states.

David Lane runs the American Renewal Project, which functions as a project of the American Family Association. Bad publicity over the Israel trip did not keep Lane from inviting all 168 members of the Republican National Committee to an Iowa Renewal Project “Pastors and Pews” event on March 9 and 10, which was headlined by two Republican presidential hopefuls, Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Bobby Jindal, along with Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. It didn’t prevent the RNC’s faith outreach arm from teaming up with Lane to present a breakout session at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in May. And it hasn’t kept Gov. Haley from endorsing Lane’s latest “Response” prayer rally.

Why David Lane Matters

David Lane promotes a vision of America as a nation founded by and for Christians; denounces court rulings upholding church-state separation; calls for Christianity to be established as America’s official religion with the Bible as a primary textbook in public schools; vehemently opposes legal equality for LGBT people; and demands the impeachment of judges who rule in favor of allowing same-sex couples to be legally married. Lane matters because these are not just the opinions of a far-right fringe figure. They are the explicit agenda of a political operative who is working closely with the highest leaders of the Republican Party. The explicit goal of Lane’s political organizing is to advance his particularly narrow and divisive vision of America. Republican politicians who embrace Lane in the hope of winging votes are playing with fire, giving credibility to his divisive worldview and troubling political agenda.

David Lane’s Worldview

In Lane’s worldview, there are essentially no gray areas: America will either be a Christian nation or a pagan nation and there will be no peace until we decide which. Judges who uphold the right of same-sex couples to marry must be impeached. The Supreme Court’s rulings upholding the separation of church and state have imposed a destructive secularism on America and must be reversed. Secularism and homosexuality are twin evils from which America must be rescued. This quote gives a pretty good summary of Lane’s worldview:

Who will wage war for the Soul of America and trust the living God to deliver the pagan gods into our hands and restore America to her Judeo-Christian heritage and re-establish a Christian culture?...

As to the future of America – and the collapse of this once-Christian nation – Christians must not only be allowed to have opinions, but politically, Christians must be retrained to war for the Soul of America and quit believing the fabricated whopper of the ‘Separation of Church and State,” the lie repeated ad nauseum by the left and liberals to keep Christian America – the moral majority – from imposing moral government on pagan public schools, pagan higher learning, and pagan media….

Christian America is in ruins…

You ask, “What is our goal?” To wage war to restore America to our Judeo-Christian heritage with all of our might and strength that God will give us. You ask, “what is our aim?” One word only: victory, in spite of all intimidation and terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory, America will ultimately collapse.

Lane has no patience for those who don’t see the world as he does. His message to lawmakers: “Vote to restore the Bible and prayer in public schools or be sent home,” he has written. “Hanging political scalps on the wall is the only love language politicians can hear.”

Lane’s emails to activists, often including garbled syntax and repetitive rhetoric, nonetheless give a good sense of his approach to the world. These are excerpts from a January 27, 2015 email from Lane:

  • “This struggle for the Soul of America is merely the ongoing battle since the beginning of time, “man says” or “God says.” God has said multiple times over thousands of years that homosexuality is wickedness – just like stealing or committing adultery, it is sin – but to double-down on the U.S. Supreme Court, in its omniscience, sanctioned and legitimized homosexual marriage in 2014 as a diverse and acceptable lifestyle, well inside the cultural norm.”
  • “God says” or man says” is the choice facing America. “We the people” must hold the Judicial, Legislative and Executive Branches of government accountable or be ready to answer to God; this is our point of no return. The secularist ideology is more than a mere political philosophy, dueling for ideological supremacy, it is a Weltanschauung (a world view), a religion. Secularism – the false idol instituted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1963 – has finally bloomed, blossomed, and produced fruit, it’s stench is nauseating.

He made similar points in a January op ed for Charisma:

“More to the point, there can be no reconciliation of opposites, particularly the spiritual and the secular. Therefore, we need to establish if America is a pagan or Christian nation and get on with it- the sooner the better….We have to make the peace: either secularism of Christian values are going to reign supreme….The grandiosity and recklessness of the radicalized, secular United States Supreme Court in the last century is mind-blowing. The Court has birthed a full-scale catastrophe, corrupting 500 years of natural law and threatening America’s long-term, sustainable freedom. Congress has failed to fulfill its historic role to check and balance the judicial and executive branches of government. It’s up to us “we the people” to hold them accountable.”

Last November he told the Washington Times:

“Government is not going to save America. Wall Street is not going to save America. The Republican party is not going to save America. If America is going to be saved it will be done by Christian men and women restoring a Judeo-Christian culture to the country….

He argued that America was established as a Judeo-Christian nation and that separation of church and state was never meant to keep religion out of politics.

“There’s no truth to that, the Constitution says the state is to keep out of the church, it doesn’t say the church is to keep out of the state,” Mr. Lane said, adding that secularism is another religion that’s being imposed on Americans.

“It’s just a matter of somebody’s values are going to reign supreme,” Mr. Lane said, “It’s just a little minority imposing their values. It’s part of a spiritual battle. If we are going to survive as a nation, we have to have a spiritual resurrection”

Christian Nation Covenant versus Secularism/Paganism

“Secularism is paganism clothed in tolerance,” Lane wrote in a January 21 email, “its ubiquitous chant, ‘We are a pluralistic society,’ is not the same nation bequeathed to us by our Founders.” 

Lane’s belief that America is “a nation founded by Christians…for the Glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith” is not based on the people traditionally seen as the nation’s Founding Fathers – the authors of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Lane looks back to the pilgrims and the Mayflower compact, and even further to the covenant declared by Robert Hunt, founder of the Jamestown, Virginia, colony in 1607:

“We do hereby Dedicate this Land, and ourselves, to reach the People within these shores with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to raise up Godly generations after us, and with these generations take the Kingdom of God to all the earth. May this Covenant of Dedication remain to all generations, as long as this ear remains, and may this Land, along with England, be Evangelist to the World.”

That covenant, Lane insists, “is still in force.” In May 2015, he ranted, “Egregious and scandalous is the Church’s submission to secularists,” and the abandonment of that founding “mission.”

“America was a Christian nation,” he says. But now, “America has boarded the wrong, secular train. Now we’ve lost our Judeo-Christian heritage and its byproduct – a Christian culture.”

“It’s evident we’ve lost the culture, and we’ve lost our heritage now,” he said in a fall 2014 interview.  “I mean, with Obama, you’ve got red ink as far as the eye can see, homosexuals praying at the inauguration, 55 million babies dead.” He sounded a similar theme in Charisma in January:

 “Ah, but what has godless secularism produced? Red ink as far as the eye can see: racism, injustice, the murder of fifty-five million babies, the advancement of the homosexual agenda, fatherless homes, an epidemic of drugs and crime and the widespread acceptance and usage of pornography, especially among America’s youth.”

Punishing and Purging Judges

Who is to blame for secularism and its attendant evils? According to Lane, it’s the Supreme Court, secularists in the schools, politicians who promote the secularist agenda – and pastors who don’t stand against all these evils. He complains that the “the Church didn’t even shudder when the Bible, prayer, Jesus, and the Ten Commandments were removed from the public schools in 1963.” And he says there was “not a peep from the Christian Church” in response to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, when the church “should have initiated riots, revolution, and repentance.”

By ending Bible reading in public schools, he says, the Supreme Court removed the foundation for real knowledge and the transmission for wisdom and virtue. He wrote in August 2014:

Virtue is required for sustainable freedom. Secularists have successfully removed the transmission agent (The Word of God) for the accumulation of wisdom and knowledge, which created freedom in America. The nation is now basically biblically illiterate. Let’s be clear, the secularists and their priests — i.e., public education, higher learning, Hollywood and Media elite — have a coordinated, deliberate, sustained effort, a blitzkrieg, imposing an intolerant and aggressive false religion on America — Secularism.

This false god of Secularism — embedded in public education by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1963 — has glamorized, exalted and now normalized sin in America, creating a spiritually decadent, godless society.

This is why the work of Lane’s American Renewal Project is so urgent, he explained in a March 2015 email: “Unless Christianity resurrects in America and the moral underpinning restored, secularism’s amoral ideology will eventually collapse, along with Western Civilization.”

One response is to go after judges who don’t share Lane’s view of the Constitution. In October 2014 Lane told the Washington Post  that the American Renewal Project would “take aim at lower court judges who have overturned anti-gay marriage statutes and constitutional provisions.” Says Lane: “I want a fight over this,” he said. “I think the way to address it is to start removing these unelectable and unaccountable judges who are doing this to our country. They have no right to rule a free people. What they’re doing, it’s judicial anarchy.”

Lane has said he is looking for a member of the House of Representatives to introduce an impeachment bill. “The way we address this is we start removing unelected an unaccountable judges,” he said. “And then we remove the members of Congress who don’t vote to impeach them.” Lane was deeply involved in the 2010 purge of three Iowa Supreme Court justices who voted for marriage equality.

This approach to the courts is one reason Lane seems so fond of Huckabee, whose win in the 2008 Iowa caucus is often attributed to Lane’s efforts. (Evangelical strategist Doug Wead described Lane as “the mysterious, behind-the-scenes, evangelical kingmaker who stormed into Iowa in 2008 and tilted the whole thing from Romney to Huckabee.) Huckabee has signaled for some time that he would make attacks on “judicial supremacy” central to his campaign. His call for a rejuvenated nullification movement among the states has been taken up by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and the state Supreme Court.

Republican Party Loves Lane

While Lane often expresses his contempt for “establishment” Republicans who don’t embrace his radical vision for a Christian America in which the Bible is a primary textbook in public schools, GOP officials like party head Reince Priebus attend and promote his events. Priebus was scheduled to participate in Lane’s trip to Israel in January before controversy flared; he ended up not making the trip, saying he needed to attend a funeral.

Indeed, Republican Party officials seem unconcerned with Lane’s extremism and are eager to make use of his network of conservative pastors. The invitation letter for the Israel junket came from Priebus himself; although he said it was not an RNC trip, committee members interested in participating were told to RSVP to the RNC’s Member Services department. Priebus praised David Lane by name in October during a television interview in which he reiterated the Party’s support for a federal constitutional ban on same-sex couples marrying, which would overturn marriage equality in every state that now recognizes it.

TIME reported that the RNC members’ trip to Israel was organized by the American Family Association and Lane’s American Renewal Project, “in concert with RNC faith director Chad Connelly.” When Right Wing Watch reported in August 2014 that Cruz and Huckabee were planning to appear at a Lane-sponsored event in Michigan, the RNC’s Connelly posted on his Facebook page, “My buddy David Lane is drawing the attention of the God-haters and left wingers, but I repeat myself, out there! We had a great Michigan event and I’m convinced that the faith component is what will bring our nation together!” Connelly’s post was shared by the American Renewal Project, as was one of Connelly’s photos from the event, with Connelly’s caption: “honored to speak and give my testimony to a terrific crowd of enthusiastic pastors at the Michigan Renewal Project last night!” A few days later, Connelly bragged, “The RNC was well represented tonight at the California renewal project conference….”

Lane returns the love by helping Republicans win elections. Last year, his American Renewal Project teamed up with four potential 2016 candidates – Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee – to record radio ads urging “God’s people” to vote in the 2014 mid-terms. The ads were reportedly meant to run on almost 300 radio stations in more than 35 states. Those ads capped off the American Renewal Project’s 12-state strategy to turn out conservative evangelical voters in the 2014 cycle, a strategy that reportedly included a $2 million registration, education, and turnout ground game in North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa and Arkansas, states with key Senate races

Lane’s love for the GOP, however, is far from unconditional. In April 2013 he complained that the Republican Party establishment was not taking a strong enough stand against homosexuality and said there was a war for ideological supremacy – “the moral against the immoral” – within the Republican Party between “establishment moderates and the biblically conservative grassroot, precinct-level ground forces.” He has praised GOP officials who speak out against marriage equality, as he did when  Iowa State GOP Chair AJ Spiker wrote:

“While inclusion is important, elected Republicans (we all know the most recent example) and National/State Party leaders who embrace so-called same sex marriage are doing grave harm to our Party and the whole of society.

Lets not forget, so-called same sex marriage is an irreconcilable difference with the Republican PARty’s largest constituency…Committed Christians.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

All of Lane’s events are designed to promote conservative GOP candidates by introducing them to networks of politically engaged conservative pastors who are willing to turn their churches into GOTV operations on behalf of the right kind of right-wing candidate. Lane claims those events have engaged some 15,000 pastors since he began conducting them in the 1990s.

Bobby Jindal is one beneficiary. In January, Jindal hosted “The Response,” the Lane-organized prayer rally that was modeled on a similar event that Lane put together in 2011 to help Rick Perry launch his ill-fated presidential bid. Two months later, Lane organized a meet-and-greet for Bobby Jindal with pastors in Greenville, South Carolina. Jindal has also accepted Lane’s invitation for his own trip to Israel this summer, where he will be joined by evangelical pastors from the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Rand Paul talked about his own trip to Israel with Lane this past fall at a meeting Lane organized for Paul with a group of North Carolina pastors.

Lane also picked up the tab – reportedly a million dollars -- for a group of pastors from Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina (four early primary contests) to join Mike Huckabee on a European tour. It was a pilgrimage to Poland, London, and California to celebrate the leadership of Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan. Right-wing blogger Bethany Blankley joined Huckabee’s European tour, on which the subpoena of Houston ministers’ emails and sermons were apparently cited to suggest American Christians were facing Nazi-like persecution. “On route to Auschwitz,” she wrote, “Lane reference similarities between 1930 Germany and 2014 America.” Huckabee said at Auschwitz that the horrors carried out by educated Germany “should be a sobering reminder that unless we stand against evil in our own time,” another Holocaust to another people group “will happen again.”

Lane, who calls himself a political operative, still tries to portray some of his events – like the Perry and Jindal prayer rallies, as spiritual and not political. But Huckabee was clear about the political benefits of his European junket:

“A lot of them asked the obvious question – sort of the 800-pound gorilla in the room: Why are pastors from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada the lion’s share of participants on this trip?” Huckabee said. “And I think some of them probably honestly, and perhaps somewhat cynically, probably said, ‘Is it because you’re trying to secure their support, if, in fact, you decide to run?’ My honest answer was, ‘Fair enough. If I should run, would I like to have your support? Sure.’”

Also on the trip were people like Rich Bott, president of a Christian radio conglomerate, whose support could be very useful.

During the flap over RNC members’ trip to Israel, Lane told Ha’aretz that he made his first trip to the country in 2008 or 2009 and has since taken seven or eight trips, including the one with Rand Paul in 2013, abou which Lane says, “A lot of people believe that after Rand Paul went in January 2013, his views evolved and he saw how wonderful the Jewish people are.” Researcher Rachel Tabachnik reports that Perry has also taken one of Lane’s trips to Israel.

Lane’s American Renewal Project also hosted an event for Rand Paul in October 2014 with 400 anti-abortion pastors in North Carolina. At the event, which was closed to press except for Breitbart, Paul reportedly said that “a civilization cannot long endure that doesn’t respect life from the very beginning to the very last breath.”

“When we talk about freedom or liberty people say that can get carried away you can’t have too much of that. I tell people thought that the fabric of our country though wasn’t just liberty and freedom. It was liberty and freedom and tradition.”

In organizing these events, Lane works with other Religious Right leaders. Among those listed in promotional materials for an event in Michigan were right-wing radio host Dennis Prager, “historians” David Barton and Bill Federer, the American Family Association’s Don Wildmon, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, former Congressman Bob McEwen, and Pastor Laurence White of the Texas Restoration Project.

Lane’s 2016 Political Strategy

Lane himself is not a pastor; he describes himself as a political operative. He believes America is in the sad state it’s in because pastors have not preached more aggressively, and conservative Christians have not been active enough in the public arena. He told the New York Times’ Jason Horowitz in March that his goal is to raise up “an army.”

Right-wing blogger Bethany Blankley quotes Lane saying, “With the retreat of evangelical pastors from the public square, it’s no accident that America’s city halls and statehouses are spiritually empty. The only currency to rebuild America is God’s economy rooted in righteousness – beginning with a contrite spirit for what we believers have allowed to happen to America.”

In 2016, Lane’s political strategy has two major prongs: one is using “Pastors and Pews” events, trips to Israel, and public prayer rallies to promote politicians he likes and mobilize political engagement by conservative evangelicals. During controversy over Israel trip, Lane told Ha’aretz, “The Lord gave me this model of mobilizing pastors to try and engage the culture. Somebody’s values are going to reign supreme. America was founded by Christians for the glory of God and the Christian faith.”

Lane clearly hopes these efforts to vet presidential candidates will help conservative evangelicals coalesce around a single champion. He says he will not endorse in the primary, but he has complained bitterly about Jeb Bush’s hiring of pro-marriage-equality campaign staff. Lane bemoans the fact that divided evangelical voters allowed McCain and Romney to take the GOP nominations in 2008 and 2012. He told the Houston Chronicle in 2013, “We’re going to try to eliminate the stuff that they [GOP leaders] do to us every four years, which is picking somebody who has no chance of being viable and they kill us off and we have the McCains and Romneys left.”

Lane ally Bob Vander Plaats of the Iowa Family Leader said in November that the only way that will happen will be through prayer that God will reveal to us… that’s the one we need to coalesce around.”  Lane said something similar to the Christian Examiner in January 2015.

“Only a merciful God can cause America to change, and God works through His people,” Lane said.

That’s why prayer is so important; people need God’s guidance about whom to elect, Lane explained.

In a March 3 email, Lane summed up the quest this way: “The challenge is this – can we find a man or a woman whose faith is so great that they will voluntarily abandon those things which men cherish, including their very life, to defend against the seemingly invincible omnipotence of secularism?”

The other prong of Lane’s 2016 strategy is an effort to recruit 1,000 conservative evangelical pastors to run for office themselves. Lane says he was inspired by his own pastor, Rob McCoy of Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks, California, who decided to run for the state assembly last year. McCoy won the Republican primary but was defeated in the general election. In both races he was outspent but managed to mobilize hundreds of volunteers. Lane figures that if he could replicate that experience on a grand scale, “would revolutionize the political process” and dramatically change the political climate in America.”

Here’s how he described the plan to the Washington Times in January:

“Our goal in 2016 is to have 1,000 pastors running for city council, county commissioner, school board, mayor, Congress — who attract an average of 300 Christian volunteers per campaign,” Mr. Lane explained.

“That would amount to a total 300,000 grassroots, evangelical, precinct-level conservatives — from the bottom up — in 2016,” he added. “It would change America for good, a step toward restoring the nation to our Judeo Christian heritage and reestablishing a Christian cultur.”

In January, Lane put on a recruitment and training session for pastors thinking about running for office. Jindal signed an invitation letter, which said, “There is a great need for the kind of leaders we read about in the Old Testament, ‘The Men of Issachar’ (1 Chronicles 12:32). We need such men and women of wisdom today who will accept the challenge to restore our Judeo-Christian heritage in America.” Jindal and Sen. Steve Lankford of Oklahoma were among the speakers at the event, which was held the day before “The Response,” the Lane-organized, Jindal-hosted prayer rally.

Lane says he sent an invitation to 100,000 pastors on his list, in which he spelled out his vision:

A thousand pastors running in 2016-and three to four hundred pastors winning their political races – would ignite a spiritual movement in the public arena of America not seen since America’s Founding. Again, the flock of God hungers for leadership in the battle for restoring America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and reestablishing a Christian culture.”

Among similar “Issachar Training” events Lane is holding across the country were a training for pastors in Las Vegas in April and one in Oklahoma City in May (featuring Ted Cruz and Sen. James Lankford).  Jindal will host an Issachar training in Charleston, South Carolina this Friday before Nikki Haley’s prayer rally and fellow presidential contender Mike Huckabee will host one in Orlando on July 9 and 10.

Funding Lane’s Christian-Nation Politicking

Lane’s American Renewal Project operates under the umbrella of the American Family Association, a nonprofit organization that is not required to disclose its donors. Lane has always refused to name the big donors who pick up the tab for flying pastors and politicians around the world, or picking up the meals and lodging for preachers to attend one of his state “Pastors and Pews” events with elected officials. But we know where at least some of Lane’s money is coming from.

 In 2013, the Christian Broadcasting Networks’ David Brody reported on one of Lane’s Iowa events. Brody’s story included short clips of comments by brothers Farris and Dan Wilks, who were identified only as members of Lane’s Pastors and Pews group. Brody introduced the brothers by saying, “The Wilks brothers worry that America’s declining morals will especially hurt the younger generation, so they’re using the riches that the Lord has blessed them with to back specific goals.”  Dan Wilks told Brody, “I just think we have to make people aware, you know, and bring the Bible back into the school, and start teaching our kids at a younger age, and, uh, you know, and focus on the younger generation.”  Brother Farris said, “They’re being taught the other ideas, the gay agenda, every day out in the world so we have to stand up and explain to them that that’s not real, that’s not proper, it’s not right.”

As Right Wing Watch reported in 2014, Farris and Dan Wilks made billions of dollars in the fracking business and have since become major funders of Religious Right organizations and groups associated with the Koch brothers’ networks. Farris also pastors a church founded by the brothers’ father, and his sermons make it clear that he shares much of Lane’s anti-gay, anti-secular, Christian-nation worldview, and has been inspired by Lane to do more to shape America’s future. RH Reality Check reported this year that the Wilks brothers’ are big funders of right-wing radio host Denis Prager’s right-wing propaganda site, Prager University.

Each of the brothers has, with their wives, set up charitable foundations: Farris and Joann created The Thirteen Foundation and Dan and Staci the Heavenly Father’s Foundation. The Thirteen Foundation in particular became a source of millions for right-wing political groups. According to the 2013 990 forms filed by the foundations with the IRS, The Thirteen Foundation gave 922,000 that year to the American Family Association. It is not clear how much of that was for Lane’s projects, but the filing from Heavenly Father’s Foundation is more explicit, reporting $750,000 to the AFA for three Pastors and Pews conferences.

Lane is, not surprisingly perhaps, a fan of today’s big-money approach to politics. Speaking about a post-Citizens United World, Lane told NBC News’s Perry Bacon in 2014: “The problem used to be, you had to raise $2,500 per person, so you had to come up with the bundlers. With Citizens United, I don’t think it’s as big of a hurdle. Now you can have somebody who gives $15 or $20 million into a super PAC and that changes the game.”

CBN’s David Brody as David Lane’s Personal Press Agent

David Lane has been careful over the years to manage his media presence, preferring with few exceptions to do his work beneath the radar of the national news. But he has often relied on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, who calls Lane “a good friend,” to promote his events or videos, reported breathlessly by Brody as “exclusives.”

One good example of Brody serving as Lane’s public relations man came in a March blog post, in which Brody enthused about the upcoming event featuring Jindal and Cruz: “The influential David Lane has done it yet again, pulling together a big event in Iowa where the two soon-to-be presidential candidates will speak in front of a couple hundred pastors next week.”

Brody added a message directly to reporters:

“Hey mainstream media: you better pay attention to these events. These spiritual events are authentic as can be and here's some straight talk for the media as well: don't think that Cruz, Jindal, and others do these events for political purposes. They are both authentic Christians who believe every word of what they say when they talk to these pastors. They are NOT ashamed of the Gospel.

Will there be some political benefit? Well, of course but their heart is in the right place. And after all, God looks at the heart.”

Is it remotely possible that David Brody really believes that Cruz and Jindal do not go to Lane’s explicitly political events “for political purposes”?

David Lane, the GOP, Gideon and Rahab the Harlot

Lane ends just about every email and column with the question, “Will a Gideon or Rahab the Harlot please make a stand?” As RWW has noted, in the Old Testament, Gideon is called by God to defeat the armies of enemies of the Israelites and end the worship of false gods. Rahab the Harlot enabled the Israelites’ conquest of Jericho by helping two spies sent into the city by Joshua. She and her family were the only ones spared when the city was destroyed and every other man, woman and child was killed. Politicians who stand with Lane might consider asking him just what he means by his frequently repeated calls for a Gideon or Rahab to stand up among American evangelicals.

Appendix: A David Lane Primer

  • Argued that “homosexuals praying at the Inauguration” of President Obama in 2013 will provoke God’s wrath in the form of “car bombs in Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Des Moines, Iowa.”
  • Feared that God might destroy the U.S. just as he punished Nazi Germany: “If we get judgment like Nazi Germany, I’m assuming we go to rebel, and God says ‘I’m done.’”
  • Urged conservative Christians to prepare for martyrdom in their fight to “save the nation from the pagan onslaught imposing homosexual marriage [and] homosexual scouts.”
  • Warned that homosexuality has created an unparalleled “moral crisis” and “threatened our utter destruction.”
  • Favorably quoted a Christian author who said that “same-sex marriage practiced universally is suicide. To survive gays and lesbians are parasites, depending for their cultural survival on couples that birth the next generation.”
  • Explained why homosexuality is a threat to freedom: “Homosexuality is debauchery. God’s loyalty and fidelity — that guard the nation — make sustainable freedom dependent on seeking virtue.”
  • Predicted that homosexuality will lead to the destruction of America: “Homosexual desire and marriage is unnatural and — more so — is a symptom of advanced cultural decay and precursor to the collapse of the Republican Party and the nation.... The mark of a decadent society is the exaltation and normalization of sin — which leads to the death.”
  • Said homosexuality is part of a Marxist “psychological conditioning” plot.
  • Attacked gay Republicans Richard Tisei and Ken Mehlman along with GOP marriage equality supporters Rob PortmanLaura Bush, Barbara Bush and Cindy McCain for trying “to impose homosexual marriage — and indecency — on Christian America.”
  • Compared Republicans who support marriage equality to politicians who backed slavery in the run-up to the Civil War.
  • Called the separation of church and state a “lie” and a “fabricated whopper” used to stop “Christian America – the moral majority – from imposing moral government on pagan public schools, pagan higher learning and pagan media.”
  • Claimed that while “America was a Christian nation” since its founding, now it must choose between being “a Christian nation or a pagan nation.”
  • Said America needs a “thorough cleaning from pornography, abortion, homosexuality, filth from TV and Hollywood, racism, and injustice.”
  • Asserted that the “false gods of multiculturalism, political correctness and secularism must be removed from Christian America.”
  • Disclosed that “our long-term strategy must be to place the Bible in Public Schools as the principle [sic] textbook of American education.”
  • Congratulated a pastor for exposing Mitt Romney’s belief in the “false god of Mormonism” during the 2012 GOP primaries.
  • Lamented that the “‘religion of secularism’ has produced red ink as far as the eye can see, homosexuals praying at the Inauguration, tax-funded abortion, homosexual marriage in several States, Evangelicals held in contempt, and God expelled from the classrooms of America — and the public square.”
  • Warned that while America has “grovel to the false god of Islam,” “America, a Christian nation in heritage and culture, is being dismantled brick by brick.

PFAW Criticizes Jeb Bush for Taxpayer Funding of Anti-Gay Group

In an International Business Times article from earlier this month, Andrew Perez and David Sirota reported that Jeb Bush, as governor of Florida, used taxpayer funds to subsidize a company owned by the far-right, anti-gay American Family Association (AFA).

Specifically, the “lucrative tax break” that Bush delivered helped the company’s production of “Web filter technology to prevent Internet users from seeing pornography or information about homosexual relationships or transgender identities.”

In the article, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan pointed out that Bush’s actions highlight his extremism as an elected official:

"That Jeb Bush gave taxpayer money to a subsidiary of a hate group whose founder has compared homosexuality to theft and murder and has claimed that gay people target children speaks volumes about who Bush is as an elected official,” said Michael Keegan of the liberal activist group People for the American Way. “If there was any question about his extremism before, this eliminates any shred of doubt.”

People For the American Way has long monitored the far-right, homophobic actions and rhetoric of the American Family Association. When Bush first provided the tax break to AFA’s company, PFAW was one of the leading groups to call him out on it. In 2001, PFAW President Ralph G. Neas and PFAW Florida Director Lisa Versaci urged Bush to rescind his support for an organization whose president had declared: “For the sake of our children and society, we must oppose the spread of homosexual activity! Just as we oppose murder, stealing, and adultery.”


It’s a Radical Right Red Meat Feast as 2016 GOP Primary Kicks Off with a Bang

Over the weekend, likely Republican 2016 presidential candidates stepped up to the microphone at two extremist events to throw red meat at their Radical Right base and prove their ultraconservative bona fides in the run up to primary season.

Here’s a taste of what went down at Iowa’s so-called Freedom Summit, hosted by Rep. Steve King – who is most famous for his radical and dehumanizing anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Union-busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker won the day with the most well-received speech, in which his biggest applause came when he bragged about his party’s attempts at voter suppression in his state, saying, “we required in our state, by law, a photo ID to vote.”

Former Arkansas Governor and 2008 Iowa Caucus winner Mike Huckabee said states should ignore Supreme Court rulings favorable to marriage equality.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie played up how staunchly anti-choice he is.

Senator Ted Cruz made the case for caucus voters to weed out anyone but extreme right-wing candidates. “Every candidate is going to come to you and say they are the most conservative person that ever lived,” Cruz said. “Talk is cheap.”

And at a separate Religious Right event, hosted by SPLC-designated hate group the American Family Association, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal discussed the need to enshrine discrimination against same-sex couples in the Constitution, promoted Islamophobic conspiracy theories and closed his speech with the statement “our god wins.” That event, titled The Response, perfectly embodied the dangers of mixing religion with politics in the way that the Right so loves to do.

By making political issues – even incredibly important ones, and even ones that are historically divisive – litmus tests for their followers’ religious conviction, they cast their opponents not only as wrong, but as evil and satanic, allowing for no possibility of compromise and making even civil coexistence difficult.  

It was a lot of what you’d expect – unfortunately – but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying. These are the people who are setting the agenda for one of America’s two major parties – and the one that right now controls both houses of Congress.

Read more and check out video from both events at

UPDATE: Jon Stewart's can't-miss segment on the Freedom Summit from the Daily Show (video courtesy of Comedy Central):


The Right Wing's Inflammatory Reaction to the Border Crisis

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As we’re dealing with the refugee crisis on the southern border, right-wing elected officials have amped up their inappropriate, inflammatory rhetoric to dehumanize immigrants and attack immigration reform:

  • Sen. Ted Cruz announced last week that his new “top priority”  in Washington is to end President Obama’s deferred action program for DREAMers and deport undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. While trying to soften his appearance by bringing teddy bears and soccer balls to children at the southern border, he proclaimed that “as long as that promise of amnesty is there, more and more children will come... We need to eliminate the promise of amnesty.”
  • Rep. Louie Gohmert claims children being held are a problem because “we don’t even know what all diseases they have” and added that our healthcare system “can’t withstand the influx,” which, he believes was orchestrated by President Obama to recruit millions of people to cast fraudulent ballots for Democrats.
  • Sen. David Vitter has “had it with undocumented immigrants,” and tweeted on Friday that “enough is enough.” To deal with the crisis, he introduced a bill that would “require mandatory detention for anyone” that is in the U.S. illegally, in order to get “illegal aliens on the next plane home.” (Mother Jones calculated that this effort would require more than 64,000 planes to actually work.)
  • Rep. Tom Tancredo shared a similar plan when he said that President Obama should “sign an executive order saying all these people ought to be returned. Put them on buses or planes, send them back to the countries from which they came and have the governments there take care of it.”
  • Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, claimed that these unaccompanied minors from Central America are probably “gangbangers” and questioned why they are being sent to this county in the first place.

Of course, elected extremists aren’t the only ones making outrageous statements:

  • The Minuteman Project’s Jim Gilchrist said this crisis is “part of a concerted effort to transfer populations of Central America and Mexico into the United States using minor children, illegal immigrants under the age of 18, as human shields… to detour our ability to enforce our immigration laws.”
  • The American Family Association’s Sandy Rios suggested the child refugees should be quarantined like lepers used to be, harking back to “biblical times” when the “lepers were separated” because it was “understood that leprosy was so contagious.” Rios' fretted that these children are transported in the “same planes that you and I fly in… How do we know about lice and disease before they get on public transportation?”
  • Jody Hice, running to replace Georgia Rep. Paul Broun in the U.S. House, suggested that people take up arms in response to “a government that refuses to secure our borders” because “that is the reason we have a Second Amendment.”

The Right Wing's inflammatory rhetoric distorts the reality of the crisis, causing more conflict and damage.


LGBT Equality Pioneer Harvey Milk Memorialized with New Stamp

Though the right-wing has long tried to rewrite Milk's legacy, it's clear that today is a day to celebrate how far the LGBT equality movement has come and to recognize the work that remains.
PFAW Foundation

Fair Housing for LGBT People Rejected in Louisiana

Under current law, Louisiana protects the ability "to compete for available housing on an open, fair, and equitable basis, regardless of race, color, religion, [and] sex." House Bill 804, introduced by Representative Jared Brossett of New Orleans, would have added to the list protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and marital status.

Put this toolkit to good use and call your Senators today, "pass ENDA now!"

The government may be shut down, but Congress is still on the job, and we need to show them that they need to get back to work not only on the budget but on all of the urgent issues that we care about.

PFAW Releases New Toolkit on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act

First introduced in 1994, ENDA has been introduced in every subsequent session of Congress except one, including its introduction this April by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate. Advocates in Congress and on the ground believe that the growing momentum surrounding LGBT equality should help ENDA move forward this year.

Gun Violence Prevention Legislation Advances, Newtown Unites, and the Gun Lobby Doubles Down

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved gun violence prevention legislation with the support of Newtown citizens and other families across the nation. NRA officials, meanwhile, continue to rely on incendiary rhetoric and fear mongering.

Connecticut and The Cause Of Our National Political Paralysis

Call it an occupational hazard for someone who pays close attention to the right wing in America. On Friday, even while my mind and heart were struggling with how to take in, much less make sense of, the news about the killings at a Connecticut elementary school, another part of me was steeling itself for what I knew was to come.

And come it has. Rather than contributing to constructive discussion about a way forward on issues like the insufficient availability of mental health treatment and the extravagant availability of equipment designed for large-scale killing, Religious Right leaders and their Tea Party allies have wasted no time in placing blame for the killing on their usual targets: liberals, teachers, religious pluralism, judges, and the separation of church and state. Yet again.

These past few days have reminded me how Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, while the smoke had not even cleared from the destruction of the World Trade Center, blamed liberals, feminists, gays, People For the American Way, and others for the attacks. Falwell was shamed into an apology, which he later recanted. But Religious Right leaders are showing no shame in using this tragedy to push their agendas in offensive and destructive ways.

On his radio station Monday morning, James Dobson cited lack of belief in God, legal abortion, the advance of marriage equality as reasons for the school shooting: "I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that's what's going on."

The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer also blessed his listeners with his personal insight into what he says was God's gentlemanly reason not to protect those children from harm:

God is not going to go where he is not wanted. Now we have spent since 1962 - we're 50 years into this now - we have spent 50 years telling God to get lost. Telling God, 'We do not want you in our schools.'...In 1962 we kicked prayer out of the schools. In 1963 we kicked the word of God out of the schools. In 1980 we kicked the Ten Commandments out of schools. We've kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us, 'Hey, I'll be glad to protect your children, but you've got to invite me back into your world first. I'm not going to go where I am not wanted. I am a gentleman.

Presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee made similar comments as did others. The Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody defended them from their critics, saying their views were shared by millions of evangelicals.

Why look at what these people are saying? Because of the real power they now hold. What they say is what keeps us from even discussing, never mind solving, this country's critical problems.

Even efforts to bring people together to comfort the suffering brought attacks. Operation Save America called Sunday's interfaith memorial service "an affront to Almighty God" and added that "We expelled God from school and banished Him from the schoolyard. He was replaced with metal detectors, condoms, policemen, anti-bullying policies, No-gun zones, and violence of unprecedented order."

One of the most dismaying statements came predictably from Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel, who responded to President Obama's remarks at the memorial service on Sunday with this tweet:

Absolute slime ball, #Obama exploiting memorial service to push radical#GunControl. His extremism knows no lows#Newtown

It is amazing what can be conveyed about our politics in 140 characters or less. It strikes me that Barber's tweet is emblematic of everything that the radical right has done to distort our political system and destroy our ability to even have a reasonable conversation about critical problems the country needs to solve.

Would that this was just about guns. This frenzied effort to forestall even a conversation about the ready availability of military-style weapons - and this is even before the NRA itself wades in - points to a larger picture.

Just five years ago, we were able to have some reasonable political conversations, even across party lines, about important issues like climate change and immigration reform. Of course, there were significant disagreements about the exact nature of the issues and the proper policy responses. But more recently, any effort to even acknowledge the existence of climate change runs up against a solid wall of denialism from the right wing and most importantly from legislators who now so fear the far right. Similarly, some conservatives who championed comprehensive immigration reform five or six years ago saw the effort savaged by the right wing who sounded the alarm of losing white America.

On the fiscal front, Grover Norquist's no-taxes-ever pledge, backed with the kind of political intimidation that deep-pocketed ideologues have perfected in the Tea Party era, have made it nearly impossible for the country to seriously address both its short-term job shortage and its long-term deficit problem. And we saw last year that the fear of a right wing primary challenge is much greater than the fear of damaging the credit rating of our country.

The horrific shootings in Connecticut may be leading some elected officials to consider tackling some problems that have been ignored or considered politically off-limits. But we should not have to rely on tragedies to overcome obstacles to needed action. While the far right's ideological enforcers can be counted on to fight any move by conservatives toward common sense and common ground, such movement is essential. As we are sometimes so painfully reminded, Americans need a functional political system, one with the ability to address urgent political questions to achieve much needed compromises. And quite simply, none of this can happen until we have political leaders with the courage to stand up against the far right's willingness to paralyze our country.

This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post.


Is That Bryan Fischer or Mitt Romney?

Earlier this week, PFAW’s Right Wing Watch caught this rant by American Family spokesman and all-purpose bigot Bryan Fischer, who declared on his radio program that American Latinos voted Democratic in record numbers this year because “they want big government goodies.”

 Hispanics are not Democrats, don’t vote Democrat, because of immigration. That’s not the main reason why they vote for Democrats. It doesn’t have anything to do with lax immigration policy. It has to do with the fact that they are socialists by nature. They come from Mexico, which is a socialist country. They want big government intervention. They want big government goodies. It’s primarily about that.

Now, they want open borders, make no mistake, because they’ve got family and friends that they want to come up and be able to benefit from the plunder of the wealth of the United States just as they have been willing to do. Republicans can pander all they want to Hispanics, to immigrants, and it will not work. There is no way on Earth you’re going to get them to leave the Democratic party, it’s one reason we’ve got to clamp down on immigration.

Fischer’s racist diatribe echoes generations of right-wing innuendo about “handouts” for minorities. It also, as it happens, lines up pretty closely with the worldview of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. In a call with donors today, Romney blamed his presidential loss on the “gifts” President Obama offered to African Americans, Latinos, women and young people. What “gifts” did he mean? Universal health care, contraception coverage, college loans and the DREAM Act.

The New York Times reported on the call:

A week after losing the presidential election to President Obama, Mitt Romney blamed his overwhelming electoral loss on what he said were big “gifts” that the president had bestowed on loyal Democratic constituencies — including young voters, African-Americans and Hispanics.

In a conference call on Wednesday afternoon with his national finance committee, Mr. Romney said that the president had followed the “old playbook” of wooing specific interest groups — “especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people,” Mr. Romney explained — with targeted gifts and initiatives.

“In each case they were very generous in what they gave to those groups,” Mr. Romney said.

“With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest, was a big gift,” he said. “Free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008.”


“You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity, I mean, this is huge,” he said. “Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”

Sure, Bryan Fischer is more willing than Mitt Romney to say outright racist things. But the content of what they’re saying is pretty much the same. Bill O’Reilly put it even more clearly when he opined that “traditional America” was being lost to people of color who “want stuff.”

I have to guess this is not going to be the way for Republicans to win back non-white voters, women and young people, all of whom have been fleeing their party in droves.


Mitt Romney and Rick Perry Confirmed to Attend Far-Right Values Voter Summit

The Family Research Council sent word today that GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney is now confirmed to join Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Herman Cain at this year’s Values Voter Summit, a far-right extravaganza hosted by some of the most intolerant Religious Right groups in the business. Organized by the vehemently anti-gay Family Research Council, the event is also sponsored by the American Family Association and Liberty Counsel, among other right-wing groups.

Last year, we raised an alarm when Romney and Bachmann, along with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Rep. Mike Pence and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee attended the event. We were particularly concerned that these leaders would be willing to share the stage with the American Family Association’s spokesman Bryan Fischer, whose record of bigotry against gays and lesbians, Muslim Americans and American Indians, among others, is truly appalling.

Although Fischer is not yet listed as a confirmed speaker at this year’s event, attendees will have the honor of sharing the stage with some pretty extreme Religious Right activists, including Liberty Council’s Mat Staver, who opposes anti-bullying initiatives that protect LGBT kids and says that gay rights supporters have “a very militaristic anti-Christian viewpoint”; retired General Jerry Boykin, who thinks President Obama is using health care reform legislation to recruit an army of brownshirts loyal only to him; and Star Parker, who claims that black family life “was more healthy” under slavery than today.

And that’s not to mention the two main organizers of the event, the FRC and the AFA, which have both been listed as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center for their propagation of false anti-gay rhetoric.

Highlights of last year’s summit included FRC leader Tony Perkins simultaneously insulting gay troops and a number of key U.S. allies in Iraq and Afghanistan by declaring that countries that allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in their armed forces are “the ones that participate in parades, they don't fight wars to keep the nation and the world free”; and Rick Santorum asserting that there are “no families” in impoverished neighborhoods.

Apparently the tone of last year’s event and the guest list of this year’s haven’t given any pause to the top GOP presidential candidates, who are eager to recruit the support of even the most extreme leaders of the Religious Right. That Romney is returning to VVS is an important reminder that, despite his self-styled “moderate” image, he is just as beholden to extreme Religious Right interests as the rest of the field.


The Company Rick Perry Keeps

Last night, People For's Peter Montgomery went on MSNBC's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell to discuss Texas Gov. Rick Perry's newest big project: a prayer rally cosponsored by the American Family Association.

As it happens, our Right Wing Watch blog has been following the American Family Association and its spectacularly bigoted spokesman Bryan Fischer for years. On the show, O'Donnell introduced our new report on Fischer, which you can read here.

For the occassion, we also put together a highlight real of Bryan Fischer's most bigoted moments (it was hard to choose): 

Yes, this is who Texas governor and potential presidential candidate Rick Perry is choosing to associate himself with. More on the AFA and other participants in Perry's rally here.


Focus on the Family Leader Admits that Right is “Losing” Equality Debate

Jim Daly, president of the Religious Right group Focus on the Family conceded to an interviewer last week that anti-gay groups have “probably lost” the debate over marriage equality. It’s a big admission by a prominent figure on the Right, but it’s also an acknowledgement of what has become common sense. Poll after poll shows that for the first time majorities of Americans support marriage equality, with the highest numbers among young people. As anti-gay legislation is fought out in the courts and in statehouses, it is accompanied by a sea change in public opinion that threatens to make it archaic.

After last summer’s federal court decision striking down California’s Proposition 8, PFAW’s Michael Keegan noticed that Religious Right activists were beginning to admit defeat on gay rights:

This parade of apoplectic anger is nothing new--the Right has fought every step toward acceptance of gay people with similar Armageddon-invoking tirades. What is remarkable about the reaction to the Prop 8 decision is that within the anger are the beginnings of admissions of defeat. The Right has won many important battles against gay rights, but they are losing the war...and they know it.

A few days after Judge Walker's decision, the pseudo-historian David Barton, founder and president of the right-wing group WallBuilders, explicitly described the nervousness that has been behind much of the Right's outrage. The case against Proposition 8, Barton argued, could win in the Supreme opponents of marriage equality should sacrifice California in order to save anti-equality laws in 31 other states.

"Right now the damage is limited to California only," Barton told Tim Wildmon, President of the American Family Association during a radio interview, "but if California appeals this to the US Supreme Court, the US Supreme Court with Kennedy will go for California, which means all 31 states will go down in flames, although right now this decision is limited only to California...the problem is that instead of California losing its amendment, now 31 states lose their amendment. And that won't happen if California doesn't appeal this.

Last week, I went to a talk with the attorneys arguing the Prop 8 case, Ted Olson and David Boies. Olson said he saw their job as having two parts: presenting the Constitutional case against discrimination in the court of law, and presenting it in the “court of public opinion.”

“If we win this case,” Olson said, “we want people to look at it and say, ‘Of course. It’s about time.’”

Constitutional rights should never be decided by the will of the majority – that’s why we have constitutional rights in the first place. But Olson and Boies are building their case in a country where the rights of gays and lesbians are increasingly accepted as a given. The Religious Right isn’t going to give up its fight against equality anytime soon. But its leaders are beginning to see that they are fighting a losing battle in both the court of law and the court of public opinion.


Pandering for the Primaries, Pawlenty Tacks Right

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty officially launched his presidential campaign today in Iowa. Although he has been campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire for a couple of years now, you may not know much about him. He has low name recognition and low poll numbers, and his book Courage to Stand is not selling that well. But journalists from The New Republic and National Review think he could well be the GOP candidate. So it's worth taking a good look at his record and his far-right ideology.

Part of Pawlenty's appeal is supposed to be that he is from Minnesota, and was elected as a conservative in a bluish-purplish state. Some people wrongly assume that being from Minnesota automatically makes him some kind of moderate. In fact, Pawlenty is campaigning as a hard-core, across-the-board conservative.

He makes appeals to Religious Right voters by talking up his faith and appearing on even the most offensive radio shows, like that of the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, who is surely one of the most extreme, hateful and bigoted personalities in Christian radio. Pawlenty helped raise money for Ralph Reed's "Faith and Freedom Coalition" in Iowa. And he appointed an education commissioner who equated teaching of evolution with teaching of creationism but thought teaching sharing in kindergarten was "socialist."

Pawlenty's attacks on reproductive rights please anti-abortion advocates. A National Review Online blogger says Pawlenty "may be the strongest pro-life candidate" in 2012. As governor, Pawlenty signed legislation erecting barriers to women seeking abortions, including a required waiting period and anti-choice lecture. He has spoken at anti-choice rallies, looking forward to a day when Roe v. Wade would be overturned, saying: "We have a dream today that someday soon this will not be an anniversary of sadness, but an anniversary of justice restored."

Pawlenty has also fine-tuned his campaign and his record to be more attractive to the far-right Republican Party of the Tea Party era. He once actively supported regional action to address climate change and even filmed an environmental commercial. But now he apologizes, calls his former position "stupid," and has joined the ranks of climate change deniers. Pawlenty once voted for a gay rights bill as a state legislator, but then disavowed it and embarked on a journey that Think Progress described as "evolving homophobia." And he is a vocal supporter of the current effort to amend Minnesota's constitution to ban gay couples from getting married.

Pawlenty doesn't even support legal protections short of marriage, like those that could be provided by civil unions. He went so far as to sign an Orwellian letter defending the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and other anti-gay groups against criticism that they were promoting hate.

Pawlenty appears at Tea Party events and appeals to Tea Partiers with his opposition to health care reform. He denounces "Obamacare" as unconstitutional and one of the worst pieces of legislation in the history of the country. He compares the health care reform law to drug dealing and has joined legal efforts to prevent it from being implemented. In 2006, Pawlenty, in what opponents called election-year politics, pushed a wide array of proposals to crack down on immigration. Last year, he advocated amending the Constitution to deny citizenship to the American-born children of undocumented immigrants. Speaking to a Hispanic Republican group in January, he fudged his position, but said, "We can't have wide swaths of the country nodding or winking or looking the other way to broad violations of the law," rhetoric that echoes the "anti-amnesty" language used by opponents of comprehensive immigration reform.

And Pawlenty works hard to appeal to the economic and corporate right. He wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal last December slamming government employees and decrying a "silent coup, an inside job engineered by self-interested politicians and fueled by campaign contributions." The nonpartisan PolitiFact rated the column and its claims about government workers "Pants on Fire" -- its most-lying "Truth-o-meter" rating.

Pawlenty's self-portrait doesn't always mesh with reality. He rails against the "immoral debt" and touts his record as a governor of holding the line on growth in government. But in fact, as governor, he used short-term budget tricks that "left the state with a $5-billion projected deficit, one of the highest in the nation as a percentage of the state's general fund." He railed against the Obama administration's stimulus bill but then asked for $236 million from it.

He portrays himself as an anti-tax champion, but that's not how many Minnesotans experienced him. A state revenue department study in 2009 found that Minnesotans earning less than $129,879 saw their tax rates increase under Pawlenty. "Don't let anyone tell you Governor Pawlenty didn't raise taxes," said Sen. Al Franken. "It's about whom he raised them on. He raised them on lower- and middle-income families all across the state in order to pay for our kids' education."

Pawlenty promises right-wing groups that as president he will appoint "strict constructionist" judges -- code for judges with an 18th-century view of Americans' rights and interests. Last year he bypassed his state's Commission on Judicial Selection to appoint to a judgeship an attorney with strong Religious Right connections who served as counsel for the Minnesota Family Council in an anti-gay marriage case.

Back in 2008, when Pawlenty was frequently mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate, he was criticized for being too boring on television, maybe a bit too "Minnesota nice." So the 2012 Pawlenty has learned how to make himself sufficiently aggressive for the GOP zeitgeist. In speeches at conservative conferences, Pawlenty denigrates President Obama, accusing him of appeasing the nation's enemies. In his campaign launch message, Pawlenty said President Obama lacks both understanding of the nation's problems and the courage to address them.

While these may all be traits that will help Pawlenty win the Republican nomination, it's hard for me to imagine that a majority of American voters would agree that what we really need in the White House is a trash-talking, flip-flopping, science-denying, abortion-criminalizing, gay-rights-bashing, Religious Right-embracing politician who is so eager to get elected that he'll promise the far right just about anything. He even faked a southern accent when speaking to conservatives in Iowa, provoking well-deserved mockery back in Minnesota.

Pawlenty's backers are convinced that his polling numbers are low only because Americans haven't gotten to know him yet. But as Nate Silver noted back in November, Pawlenty was not that popular among those who know him best of all:

... a survey of Republican primary voters in Minnesota -- where Mr. Pawlenty is the governor and where his name recognition is near-universal -- showed him getting only 19 percent of the Republican primary vote there (although this was good for a nominal first place with Ms. Palin placing at 18 percent). Mr. Pawlenty's approval rating in Minnesota is also a tepid 47 percent.

Cross posted on The Huffington Post


"Hide/Seek" and the Future of Fighting Censorship

Watching "A Fire in My Belly"

The National Portrait Gallery’s “Hide/Seek” exhibit closed last month, but the debate surrounding it is far from over.

On Feb. 17, People For’s president, Michael Keegan joined People For board member Ron Feldman and NYU law professor Amy Adler at Feldman’s gallery to discuss “Hide/Seek” and the right-wing outcry that led to a work of art being removed from the exhibit.

The discussion began with a viewing of a four-minute version of David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly,” which was removed from the exhibit after Religious Right leaders and Republicans in Congress deemed it, in the words of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, “an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season.”

Adler recalled the last time the Religious Right took aim at Wojnarowicz: in the early 1990’s, the American Family Association included edited images of the artist’s work in mailings meant to provoke anger against National Endowment for the Arts spending. Wojnarowicz sued the AFA for copyright violations, and became a symbol of fighting back against right-wing censorship efforts.

Don Wildmon, the head of the AFA at the time, “chose [Wojnarowicz] as a symbol because there is something very powerful about his work,” said Adler. “Ironically, his continuing vulnerability to censorship becomes a testament to the greatness of his art…his art seems to continually provoke and that says something of his greatness.”

Keegan spoke of the National Portrait Gallery’s decision to host the potentially controversial exhibit in the first place. “What the Smithsonian did was wonderful, and we and other groups were very happy that they decided to host the exhibit and celebrate gays and lesbians as part of the American experience,” he said.

When Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough decided to remove the Wojnarowicz work from the exhibit in response to an outcry from far-right leaders like the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, People For called on the museum to correct its mistake and put the work back, and then called on Secretary Clough to resign his post. Neither effort succeeded, but the outcry among arts groups and proponents of free speech was strong.

“It wasn’t a victory in terms of putting the piece back and getting Clough out,” said Keegan, “but it was a victory in terms of drawing attention to censorship and starting the discussion.”

Feldman, who has been a leader in the battles over arts funding and freedom of expression for decades, said, “I think it’s the best we’ve ever done in one of these cases.” Although the Religious Right succeeded in getting a work it didn’t like removed from the exhibit, he said, “they had no traction.” Instead, he argued, the controversy spurred discussion of censorship, the AIDS crisis, and Wojnarowicz’s life and work: “We won in the sense that people were talking about David.”

Feldman argued that the art world was successful in fighting back against the Religious Right’s attacks by defining the works in question. “They attack the subject without actually having to deal with the meaning of the artwork,” he said, “The art world fought back with definitions."

Adler, Feldman, and Keegan


Conform or Be Cast Out

Right Wing Watch has a post this morning on how the Religious Right is bringing back the "Halal Meat Panic," exposing their fight to prevent stores and restaurants from selling Halal food:

WorldNetDaily believes it's time for another right-wing panic over "creeping Sharia law" in supermarkets and restaurants, and Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association is happy to help. Fischer warns against eating the food of "the demon God-Allah" and lends his support to a messianic Jewish leader's campaign against all foods Halal.

Ominously, far right activists are increasingly comfortable expressing their intense hatred of Muslims. In certain ways, their crusade against Halal is similar to their battles against "happy holidays," government uses of language other than English, and any acknowledgment in schools or government forms that children are being raised by same-sex parents.

For all their rhetoric about "freedom" and "liberty," far-right activists have little tolerance for those whose views diverge from their narrow sense of appropriateness.

In their view, if you're not like them, you're not part of America.


How Much Extremism Can the “Mainstream” GOP Handle?

For several years now, our RightWingWatch blog has been reporting on the bigoted shenanigans of one Bryan Fischer. Fischer, a leader of the American Family Association and host of a weekly show on the AFA’s radio station, is one of the more spectacularly extreme public figures on the Right. He’s said that all Muslim citizens should be treated as traitors; he’s called for banning Muslim Americans from the military; he thinks the U.S. should ban the building of new mosques. He’s also argued that gay people aren’t fit to hold public office, and asserted that “gay sex is a form of domestic terrorism.” And don’t forget his infamous pseudo-history lesson on how gay men were the only people “savage and brutal and vicious enough” to serve Hitler.

You’d think that even in a party that’s moving rapidly to the right, serious, mainstream GOP presidential contenders wouldn’t want to be associated with someone as extreme and incendiary as Fischer. You’d be wrong.

This weekend, Fischer will be speaking at the Family Research Council’s annual Values Voter Summit. Joining him will be leading GOP figures Mitt Romney, Bob McDonnell, Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Jim DeMint and Mike Pence.

Do these GOP leaders know about Fischers record of hate speech? And if they do, are they still willing to acknowledge his credibility be appearing alongside him this weekend?

We’ve drafted a letter to the Summit attendees, asking them these questions. You can add your name to the letter here.

Values Voter Summit Participants:

Reasonable people can, and do, have reasonable differences of opinion. Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association, is not a reasonable person.

By sharing a stage with Fischer at this year's Values Voter Summit, public figures acknowledge the credibility of his shameless anti-Muslim and anti-gay propaganda. Any candidate thinking seriously of running for president in 2012 should think twice about standing alongside a man who has called for the deportation of all Muslims in America; insulted Muslim servicemembers; claimed that brave Americans died in vain because Iraq was not converted to Christianity; and called gay people deviants, felons, pedophiles and terrorists. Bryan Fischer is no mainstream conservative. And neither is any person who shares a platform with him while refusing to denounce his hate-filled propaganda.

We urge you to denounce Fischer's extremism and separate yourself from his comments.

And, in case you need more proof of Fischer’s extremism, watch the video of him trying to defend himself against our charges yesterday.

And  finally, here's Rachel Maddow asking the question: Are there any political consequences to appearing with Bryan Fischer?

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