Religion

Pastors Challenge The Extremism Behind 'The Call: Detroit'

Cross-posted on Right Wing Watch

As Lou Engle prepares to lead The Call:Detroit on Friday, Detroit pastors are beginning to speak out against Engle’s radical ideology and some are urging Detroit residents not to participate in his prayer rally. Rev. Charles Williams II of the Historic King Solomon Baptist Church, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action, said the rally is only bringing “divisiveness and fear” to the city. “Religious leaders who support this event should really take a look at what its undertones are all about,” he said.

Today, Rev. Williams and other faith leaders will be holding a press conference challenging the prayer rally, and yesterday the reverend spoke to Fox Detroit on why people of faith should think twice about participating in The Call. Williams highlighted the fact that Engle took The Call to Uganda where he and other speakers spoke out in support of draconian legislation that would criminalize homosexuality and even impose the death penalty for homosexuals in some cases. He also addressed claims by Engle and other organizers of The Call that Islam and Muslims are literally demonic.

“I think most of us in the City of Detroit and I think most Christians have much more sense then some of [these] radical religious right values that this guy’s promoting,” Rev. Williams said. “We just don’t need that kind of politics of deception nor fear here in Detroit.”

Watch:

PFAW

Fox News’ Misinformation Campaign on Muslims a Rousing Success

The Brookings Institution today released a new extensive poll on American attitudes toward racial and religious diversity in the ten years since 9/11. There are a whole lot of interesting themes in the study, but one thing that stood out was the amazing success of Fox News’ concerted misinformation campaigns on race and religion.

When Brookings asked participants about their views on American Muslims, those who trust Fox News -- along with those who trust public television -- were more likely than those who trust other news sources to “report knowing a lot about the beliefs and practices of Muslims." But Fox News viewers were far more likely than other subgroups or the general public to say “that the values of Islam are at odds with American values” and to agree that “American Muslims want to establish shari’a law in the U.S.”


Those who trust Fox News were also more likely than other groups to agree that “discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.”

Some of this can probably be contributed to self-selection – those who think that Muslims want to establish Sharia law and that white people face greater discrimination than minorities are more likely to want to watch news that affirms their views. But what Fox News does so well is to present its audience with a closed world of right-wing “facts” – on Muslims, on race, on economics – and repeat those "facts" over and over until they seem to be unquestionable truths. It’s no wonder, then, that Fox News viewers were the most likely to report being Islam experts, while having wildly off-base views on American Muslims.

For more on how Fox News and other right-wing media outlets have succeeded in making up and popularizing their own “facts” on American Muslims, check out PFAW’s report The Right Wing Playbook on Anti-Muslim Extremism.
 

PFAW

Americans Support Tax Increases

We know the Republican view on taxes. In Minnesota, the government has shut down over Republican refusal to raise taxes on the fewer than 8,000 people making over $1 million. On the national level, Republicans are refusing to even consider raising revenue, threatening to let the U.S. default on its debt. But what about everyday Americans? Even with the influence of the anti-tax Tea Party, Americans strongly support raising taxes in order to decrease the deficit and reduce income inequality, as 19 polls taken since the beginning of the year show. Bruce Braley has the rundown:

A June 9 Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 61 percent of people believe higher taxes will be necessary to reduce the deficit.

A June 7 Pew poll found strong support for tax increases to reduce the deficit; 67 percent of people favor raising the wage cap for Social Security taxes, 66 percent raising income tax rates on those making more than $250,000, and 62 percent favor limiting tax deductions for large corporations. A plurality of people would also limit the mortgage interest deduction.

A May 26 Lake Research poll of Colorado voters found that they support higher taxes on the rich to shore-up Social Security’s finances by a 44 percent to 25 percent margin.

A May 13 Bloomberg poll found that only one third of people believe it is possible to substantially reduce the budget deficit without higher taxes; two thirds do not.

A May 12 Ipsos/Reuters poll found that three-fifths of people would support higher taxes to reduce the deficit.

A May 4 Quinnipiac poll found that people favor raising taxes on those making more than $250,000 to reduce the deficit by a 69 percent to 28 percent margin.

An April 29 Gallup poll found that only 20 percent of people believe the budget deficit should be reduced only by cutting spending; 76 percent say that higher taxes must play a role.

An April 25 USC/Los Angeles Times poll of Californians found that by about a 2-to-1 margin voters favor raising taxes to deal with the state’s budget problems over cutting spending alone.

An April 22 New York Times/CBS News poll found that 72 percent of people favor raising taxes on the rich to reduce the deficit. It also found that 66 percent of people believe tax increases will be necessary to reduce the deficit versus 19 percent who believe spending cuts alone are sufficient.

An April 20 Washington Post/ABC News poll found that by a 2-to-1 margin people favor a combination of higher taxes and spending cuts over spending cuts alone to reduce the deficit. It also found that 72 percent of people favor raising taxes on the rich to reduce the deficit and it is far and away the most popular deficit reduction measure.

An April 20 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that by a 2-to-1 margin, people believe that the wealthy should pay more taxes than the poor or middle class. Also, 62 percent of people believe that growing inequality of wealth is a serious problem.

An April 18 McClatchy-Marist poll found that voters support higher taxes on the rich to reduce the deficit by a 2-to-1 margin, including 45 percent of self-identified Tea Party members.

An April 18 Gallup poll found that 67 percent of people do not believe that corporations pay their fair share of taxes, and 59 percent believe that the rich do not pay their fair share.

On April 1, Tulchin Research released a poll showing that voters in California overwhelmingly support higher taxes on the rich to deal with the state’s budgetary problems.

A March 15 ABC News/Washington Post poll found that only 31 percent of voters publican policy of only cutting spending to reduce the deficit; 64 percent believe higher taxes will also be necessary.

A March 2 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 81 percent of people would support a surtax on millionaires to help reduce the budget deficit, and 68 percent would support eliminating the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000.

A February 15 CBS News poll found that only 49 percent of people believe that reducing the deficit will require cuts in programs that benefit them; 41 percent do not. Also, only 37 percent of people believe that reducing the deficit will require higher taxes on them; 59 percent do not.

A January 20 CBS News/New York Times poll found that close to two-thirds of people would rather raise taxes than cut benefits for Social Security or Medicare in order to stabilize their finances. The poll also found that if taxes must be raised, 33 percent would favor a national sales tax, 32 percent would support restricting the mortgage interest deduction, 12 percent would raise the gasoline taxes, and 10 percent would tax health care benefits.

On January 3, a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll found that 61 percent of people would rather raise taxes on the rich to balance the budget than cut defense, Social Security or Medicare.

h/t Teagan Goddard

PFAW

A Call to Action: Restore Equal Employment Opportunities in America

Saturday was the 70th anniversary of President Roosevelt’s issuance of Executive Order 8802, which prohibited racial discrimination by defense contractors. Last week, Congressman Bobby Scott hosted a press conference and briefing in honor of the anniversary of this event, which marked the first time a U.S. president had acted to combat discrimination by private employers who were using federal taxpayer money. Future presidents expanded on President Roosevelt’s action and added to its protections.

However, this was more than just a celebratory event of an important civil rights milestone: it was a call to action to correct an erosion of equal employment opportunity law that has been in effect since 2002. That’s when President Bush signed an Executive Order that made discrimination on the basis of religion by faith-based organizations using federal taxpayer money legal. In so doing, he reversed our nation’s continuous expansion of the promise of equal protection and opened a gaping hole in our nation’s civil rights protections. Religious entities had always been able to discriminate based on religion using their own money, but never to use taxpayer money to do so.

All the panelists were united in asking President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise of restoring the law. On the panel were: Congressman Bobby Scott (convener of the event); Congressman Jerrold Nadler; Professor Eric Arnesen (professor of history at George Washington University and biographer of civil rights and labor leader A. Philip Randolph, whose activism prompted FDR’s executive order); Rabbi David Saperstein (Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and also a board member of our affiliated People For the American Way Foundation); Barbara Arnwine (Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law); Hilary Shelton (Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau); and Rev. Dr. Paul L. Brown, Sr. (Pastor of Miles Memorial CME Church and member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action).

Among other things, speakers discussed how employment discrimination harms the victims and society as a whole; warned that religion can easily be used as a proxy for race, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity; condemned discrimination paid for by the tax dollars of its victims; asked why the religion of someone ladling out soup for the hungry should matter; and warned of the dangerous consequences to churches that want to retain federal funding they have become dependent on. As the last speaker, Rev. Dr. Brown opened a window into his daily work helping the hungry and the homeless, the “least and the lost,” and strongly condemned federally funded discrimination.

When he was running for President, then-Senator Obama promised to reverse President Bush’s policy, but he has yet to do so. What better time than the anniversary of the issuance of Executive Order 8802 for President Obama to put our nation back on the right road and restore through executive order the prohibition against federally funded discrimination? Yesterday, People For the American Way and African American Ministers In Action joined more than 50 other civil rights and religious organizations asking him to do just that.

PFAW

Sanctimonious Santorum Continues his Assault on Women’s Rights

Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania who announced his candidacy for president on Monday, may not have a great shot at winning the GOP nomination, but might very well succeed in moving the Republican debate on social issues even further to the right than it has already become.

Today, Think Progress caught Santorum on video expressing a truly extreme position on abortion rights. Discussing his role in bringing about the federal late-term abortion ban, Santorum dismissed exceptions meant to protect the health of the mother as “phony” and claimed that such exceptions would render the ban “ineffective”:

Heartless remarks like these have earned Santorum the reputation as one of the most hard-right politicians on the national stage. Today, People For’s Michael Keegan posted a retrospective of Santorum’s career in the Huffington Post, writing about Santorum’s history of making dehumanizing remarks about women, gays and lesbians, Muslims, and victims of sexual abuse:

Santorum has a social issues record to make the Religious Right cheer. He made a name for himself on the national scene with his attacks on gay rights, most notably in a 2003 interview comparing gay relationships with "man-on-dog" sex. (In the same interview he argued that the Constitution does not protect a right to privacy. Recently he said that allowing loving gay couples to adopt children is "trying to defy nature" and should be illegal, as should gay marriage. He says that the Obama administration's decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court meant that the "free exercise of religion will be eviscerated."

Although, while in the Senate, Santorum supported the occasional pro-choice Republican, he calls Roe v. Wade a "monstrosity" and supports criminalization of abortion, which he says is the reason Social Security is in trouble. He backs right-wing attacks on funding for Planned Parenthood's family planning services, actively taking part in the right-wing propaganda campaign against Planned Parenthood. Santorum has slammed the Griswold decision, in which the Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to privacy and overturned a state ban on contraception, as a "constitutional wrecking ball."

Santorum gave Religious Right activists a powerful tool for pushing religion into public school classrooms when he sponsored an amendment to the "No Child Left Behind" law that encouraged the teaching of intelligent design in science classes. The amendment, written in part by the creationist Discovery Institute, became a force behind creationists' bogus "teach the controversy" strategy. Santorum wrote in 2002 that "Intelligent Design is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes." Scientists and courts disagree.

Santorum has been a severe critic of Islam from his perch at the "America's Enemies" program at the right-wing Ethics and Public Policy Center. He says Islam is incompatible with western civilization because Shariah is both a civil code and a religious code. But he also says of Christians that "it is our obligation" to make civil law in America "comport with God's laws."

Santorum has tried to get attention to his desire to be the second Catholic president by slamming the first, saying he was "appalled" by John F. Kennedy's "radical" support for the separation of church and state - a centerpiece of Kennedy's vision of America. Speaking of the Kennedys, Santorum criticized church officials for praising former senator Ted Kennedy at his funeral, saying there was "no excuse" for it and arguing that it was harmful to send the message that it was okay for Catholic politicians to dissent from church teachings.

Although Santorum has been quick to slam progressive Catholics for not hewing closely enough to the doctrine of Church hierarchy, he's shown no compunction in casting aside Church teaching when it conflicts with his extreme ideology, as he did when repeatedly supporting "enhanced interrogation" techniques like waterboarding -- which has been clearly labeled "torture" and "an intrinsic evil" by the Catholic Church. Santorum blamed the church's sex abuse scandal on the liberal political culture of Boston:

"Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm."

PFAW

Rick Santorum: The Hapless Holy Warrior Starts Another Crusade

Former Senator Rick Santorum formally launched his bid for the White House today. Given that Santorum's last run for reelection resulted in a crushing 17-point defeat, and given that his poll numbers are still in the low single digits in spite of his having been running a de facto campaign for the past year and a half, it would seem that Santorum's race is mostly a sign of the self-deceiving wishful thinking that overtakes people who believe they are meant to be president -- or in Santorum's case, who believe God truly wants them to be president.

Indeed, Santorum's campaign has already won him enough mockery that Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman recently dubbed him "the Rodney Dangerfield of American politics," saying he gets "as little respect as support."

Part of Santorum's problem is simply that he comes across to many people as annoyingly self-righteous. Norman writes, "His biggest problem is that he reminds everyone, including Republicans, of the annoying kid in Sunday school who memorizes all 66 books of the Bible so he can recite them in reverse order for the old ladies at church." In 2009, as Santorum's plans to run were becoming more apparent, journalist Matthew Cooper wrote, "My favorite Santorum anecdote actually comes from Bob Kerrey. After Santorum denounced Sen. Mark Hatfield, the Oregon Republican, for his opposition to the balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, the Nebraska Democrat was asked what he thought. 'Santorum, that's Latin for a--hole.'"

Fans on the Far Right

In spite of Santorum's huge negatives, he has his cheerleaders among right-wing activists and pundits who think he could still emerge from the unimpressive GOP pack.

Last month, right-wing Catholic activist Keith Fournier published a column that was essentially a mash note, declaring Santorum the winner of the South Carolina debate, calling his demeanor "Kennedy-esque," and gushing that Santorum's "courage to lead" is "what this Nation needs."

In February, columnist George Will praised Santorum as a "relentless ethicist" and said the GOP needs someone who can energize social conservatives who "are feeling neglected and are looking for someone like Santorum." To those who thought his loss would make him unelectable, Will asks, "Well, was Richard Nixon defunct after losing the California gubernatorial race in 1962?" I wonder if Santorum welcomed that comparison.

In January, when Santorum was criticized for slamming Obama's support for abortion in racial terms -- saying, "I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say 'now we are going to decide who are people and who are not people'" -- The National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez praised Santorum for raising the issue of abortion in the black community.

The Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody also praised Santorum back in January, before Brody's crush on Donald Trump burst into full flower.

Love him or hate him, let's be clear about Rick Santorum. He doesn't hold back. He doesn't mince words and conservative Christians and Catholics find this quality to be his best attribute. If and when he dives into the 2012 GOP mosh pit, he's going to be the guy that won't hold back and in the process he'll put some of these other 2012 contenders on the spot by bringing up issues that everybody whispers about but rarely talks about in public.

Hard Right Record

Santorum's far-right rhetoric and policy positions are what keep hope alive among some of his supporters. He is campaigning as a hard-right candidate who can appeal to every stripe of conservative. And he certainly has the record to back up that claim.

Speaking to a Tea Party gathering in February, Santorum embraced an extreme view of the constitutional separation of powers and the role of the federal judiciary, reportedly saying that Congress has the power and the right to declare what is constitutional or not. He said Congress has the power to disband the federal courts and that "I would sign a bill tomorrow to eliminate the 9th Circuit [Court of Appeals]. That court is rogue. It's a pox on the western part of our country." He told the Conservative Political Action Conference in February that "America belongs to God" and the judiciary has no right to "redefine" life or marriage.

He's a fierce critic of federal health care reform legislation, saying it will "destroy the country," portraying it as the equivalent of drug dealing and telling a group of Christians that getting hooked on health care would make them "less than what God created you to be." He has said that "if Obamacare is actually implemented," then "America as we know it will be no more."

Today, after he announced his candidacy, Santorum declared that American troops at D-Day had been fighting for Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to effectively end Medicare. "Those Americans risked everything so they could make that decision on their health care plan," he said.

He pushes the Tea Party's small-government ideology, saying the problems in the housing industry will be resolved by "getting regulators to back off" and letting the markets work their magic. Similarly, he says the answer to creating jobs is to get rid of all the government intervention that he believes is strangling businesses -- health care reform, financial regulation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and more.

In a bid to salvage his sinking 2006 reelection campaign, Santorum turned to bashing immigration reform and "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.

Santorum has a social issues record to make the Religious Right cheer. He made a name for himself on the national scene with his attacks on gay rights, most notably in a 2003 interview comparing gay relationships with "man-on-dog" sex. (In the same interview he argued that the Constitution does not protect a right to privacy. Recently he said that allowing loving gay couples to adopt children is "trying to defy nature" and should be illegal, as should gay marriage. He says that the Obama administration's decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court meant that the "free exercise of religion will be eviscerated."

Although, while in the Senate, Santorum supported the occasional pro-choice Republican, he calls Roe v. Wade a "monstrosity" and supports criminalization of abortion, which he says is the reason Social Security is in trouble. He backs right-wing attacks on funding for Planned Parenthood's family planning services, actively taking part in the right-wing propaganda campaign against Planned Parenthood. Santorum has slammed the Griswold decision, in which the Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to privacy and overturned a state ban on contraception, as a "constitutional wrecking ball."

Santorum gave Religious Right activists a powerful tool for pushing religion into public school classrooms when he sponsored an amendment to the "No Child Left Behind" law that encouraged the teaching of intelligent design in science classes. The amendment, written in part by the creationist Discovery Institute, became a force behind creationists' bogus "teach the controversy" strategy. Santorum wrote in 2002 that "Intelligent Design is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes." Scientists and courts disagree.

Santorum has been a severe critic of Islam from his perch at the "America's Enemies" program at the right-wing Ethics and Public Policy Center. He says Islam is incompatible with western civilization because Shariah is both a civil code and a religious code. But he also says of Christians that "it is our obligation" to make civil law in America "comport with God's laws."

Santorum has tried to get attention to his desire to be the second Catholic president by slamming the first, saying he was "appalled" by John F. Kennedy's "radical" support for the separation of church and state - a centerpiece of Kennedy's vision of America. Speaking of the Kennedys, Santorum criticized church officials for praising former senator Ted Kennedy at his funeral, saying there was "no excuse" for it and arguing that it was harmful to send the message that it was okay for Catholic politicians to dissent from church teachings.

Although Santorum has been quick to slam progressive Catholics for not hewing closely enough to the doctrine of Church hierarchy, he's shown no compunction in casting aside Church teaching when it conflicts with his extreme ideology, as he did when repeatedly supporting "enhanced interrogation" techniques like waterboarding -- which has been clearly labeled "torture" and "an intrinsic evil" by the Catholic Church.

Santorum blamed the church's sex abuse scandal on the liberal political culture of Boston:


Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.


Obama as Enemy

At least one columnist has suggested that Santorum is angling for a VP spot, where he would serve as the GOP campaign's attack dog. He has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to savage President Obama in the most extreme terms. Obama he says, does not have "a love of this country and an understanding of the basic values and wants and desires of its people." If Obama is reelected, he says, "Democracy and freedom will disappear." Santorum says Obama's talk about his faith is "phony" because the president, like other liberal Christians, has "abandoned Christendom" and has no "right to claim it." In fact, he says, Obama and "the left" are actively seeking to "destroy the family and destroy the Church" because that is the only way they can "be successful in getting socialism to be accepted in this country and that's what their objective is." During the 2008 campaign, Santorum was declared one of Keith Olbermann's "Worst Persons in the World" for continuing to spread the right-wing lie that Obama "won't wear the American flag pin."

When President Obama criticized cable news, Santorum ridiculously portrayed it as a prelude to tyrannical censorship: "This reminds me of what Hugo Chavez is doing down in Venezuela, trying to shut down the voice of opposition in the media." He says Obama "doesn't believe in the foundational principles that made this country great, which is limited government and free people." He said his own grandfather came from fascist Italy to a country that would allow him to be free: "That's the kind of change we need in Washington, DC."

In an April 28, 2011 foreign policy speech at the National Press Club, Santorum declared that "unlike President Obama I believe we were a great country even before the Great Society Programs of the 1960s." He went on to say, "Freedom has been our watchword, our anchor and our moral guide for nearly every cause both here and abroad. But today we have lost this mission because our president doesn't believe in it." After another (now-GOP-requisite) slam on Obama for not believing in American exceptionalism, Santorum slammed Obama for not doing more to support protesters in Iran: "We sided with evil because our president believes our enemies are legitimately aggrieved and thus we have no standing to intervene." Last year Santorum reportedly told a Pennsylvania crowd "that Obama seeks to make the United States like Europe, a continent whose citizens have turned their backs on faith and grown selfish, and where governments bestow rights upon the citizenry, rather than a place where all are born with God-given rights."

Violating Reagan's 11th Commandment

One reason Santorum might not be very popular in spite of his reliably right-wing record is that he is a habitual violator of Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment. Santorum seems quite happy to speak ill of his fellow Republicans. He has slammed Romney as "Obama's running mate" (a reference to Romney's support for health care reform in Massachusetts) and criticized Newt Gingrich for criticizing Paul Ryan.

During the 2008 campaign, he repeatedly criticized John McCain. After pledging that he would never support McCain, he tepidly endorsed him after Sarah Palin joined the ticket. Santorum even wrote a snide column after McCain's loss predicting (wrongly) that McCain would seek historical redemption by leading the charge in Congress to help Obama move his agenda.

One of Santorum's less-successful slams on a fellow Republican came when he criticized Sarah Palin for not attending the Conservative Political Action Conference and suggested that her duties as a mom to five kids may have made her too busy. Palin in turn suggested that Santorum might be a "knuckle-dragging Neanderthal."

God's Candidate?

Santorum sees politics in spiritual terms. He says that government gets bigger and more intrusive without a "moral consensus" to guide society. In 2008 he told faculty and students at right-wing Ave Maria University, "This is not a political war, it is not a cultural war; it's a spiritual war." Santorum suggested that his opponents were agents of Satan: "The Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on -- a good, decent, powerful, influential country: the United States of America." He warned the students that if they signed up for God's army, "you'll be ridiculed and you'll lose most if not every one of your battles. But you know who's going to win in the end, so you warrior on happily."

The Campaign Limps Along

Last spring, Santorum said he saw "an opening for someone who can unite the various primary factions -- economic libertarians, party establishment types and cultural conservatives," according to CBS News' Marc Ambinder. But after more than a year of campaigning, Santorum is polling at just two percent among Republicans.

Santorum is unfazed, saying that his poor showing in national polls is only because he's focusing on important early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, where he won a GOP straw poll earlier this year. Though to keep that win in perspective, Santorum was the only candidate to show up to the GOP dinner and took 150 votes out of the 408 cast.

Cross posted on The Huffington Post

It's hard to predict what could happen in the GOP primary, but at this point, Santorum's barely-limping-along campaign seems in need of divine intervention.

PFAW

Tennessee: Front and Center on Anti-Gay Legislation

Tennessee really seems to be going down the rabbit hole with their recent anti-gay legislation. Last month, a bill advanced to their state Senate, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would prohibit educators from discussing any sexual orientation other than heterosexuality with students in kindergarten through eighth grade. This not only applies to lessons in classrooms, but to all discussions between educators and students. Any acknowledgement that gay people exist is officially prohibited, a cruel effort to isolate and declare as abnormal any children who are gay or who have gay family members (including parents).

This week, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill prohibiting local governments from enacting anti-discrimination laws that are stricter than those in state law. This new law overturns the recent Nashville Metro Council ordinance requiring businesses contracting with the city to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Tennessee state law prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin, but that leaves out a number of groups who are still facing discrimination with no legal support.

Haslam told a reporter, "We're not in favor of discrimination in any form at all," but actions speak louder than words, and Haslam’s support of this legislation certainly screams out loud and clear.

Nashville attorney Abby Rubenfeld is currently putting together a lawsuit to fight this legislation. She notes that the bill is homophobic and targeted at LGBT workers, but it would also affect veterans, disabled people, and other groups that aren’t protected by the state anti-discrimination law.

PFAW

The Unwelcome Return of the Newt

After more than a dozen years out of office, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich jumped into the GOP presidential campaign this week, rolling out his candidacy via social media and a friendly interview with Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity. Gingrich thinks he's just what is needed to save America from itself and its flirtation with Barack Obama and the rest of the evil of what he calls the "secular-socialist machine."

Much of the media attention of Gingrich's candidacy has centered around his role in the 1995 government shutdown, which Gingrich alone seems to think was a great success for the GOP, and his more recent urging of congressional Republicans not to fear a repeat. The implication seems to be that if you're the kind of voter who wants a more combative conservative willing to take down the federal government in order to bring down deficits, Newt may be your guy. But that kind of discussion -- and the crazily early poll-watching "which tier is he in?" stories -- miss something more important. Let's remind ourselves what kind of person Newt Gingrich is, and what kind of impact he has had on our public life.

Gingrich hasn't exactly been in hiding. In fact, he is at the center of his own machine, a 24/7 festival of self-promotion that includes an emailed "Newt and Callista Weekly Recap" courtesy of Gingrich Productions. If self-promotion were the top trait Americans were looking for in a president, Gingrich would be a shoo-in. But the job requires a bit more than that. People For the American Way's Right Wing Watch, Mother Jones and Media Matters have already posted compilations of Newtonian 'wisdom' from a long and dishonorable career. Once you start to consider characteristics like honesty and integrity, it becomes clear that Gingrich is unfit to lead our country.

The Newt McCarthyism

Gingrich is an enthusiastic participant in the right wing's divisive and destructive McCarthyism, portraying his political opponents as enemies of America's very existence. In To Save America, Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine, he warns, "America as we know it is now facing a mortal threat... The secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did... It's up to those of us who love our country to save America from the destructive, irreversible transformation that the Left have in store for us." In Real Change: The Fight for America's Future, he claims that the Obama administration (that would be the Faith-Based Initiative-continuing, National Prayer Day-celebrating, Easter Breakfast-sponsoring Obama administration) "has shown an unprecedented hostility to Christianity." He promotes ridiculous Religious Right claims about religious persecution in America, saying that Christians are threatened by "gay and secular fascism."

Gingrich spoke this spring at the Texas church led by John Hagee, whose support proved too controversial for John McCain in 2008. Newt combined two of his favorite threats, secularists and Islamists, into one memorable, if intellectually incoherent, sentence, declaring that he feared that his grandchildren could grow up "in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American." He told the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody, "In a sense, our Judeo-Christian civilization is under attack from two fronts. On one front, you have a secular, atheist, elitism. And on the other front, you have radical Islamists. And both groups would like to eliminate our civilization if they could. For different reasons, but with equal passion."

Newt is also placing himself at the forefront of the concerted conservative campaign to turn "American exceptionalism" into an attack on the patriotism of their political opponents. Candidates like Sen. Marco Rubio made American exceptionalism into a campaign theme in 2010, and hope to continue to smear Democrats as unbelievers in America's divinely-blessed founding and mission in the world. Gingrich has teamed up with Citizens United's David Bossie for a new "documentary" on American exceptionalism, A City Upon a Hill, The Spirit of American Exceptionalism, which features, among others, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Allen West, Andrew Breitbart and Phyllis Schlafly.

Gingrich, an old hand at politics-by-smear, is responsible for much of the venomous state of our politics. In the mid-1990s, his GOPAC distributed to Republican lawmakers a memo titled "Language: a Key Mechanism of Control." The memo urged Republicans to use a set of denigrating words to describe their opponents and the Democratic Party: "decay, failure (fail) collapse(ing) deeper, crisis, urgent(cy), destructive, destroy, sick, pathetic, lie, liberal, they/them, unionized bureaucracy, 'compassion' is not enough, betray, consequences, limit(s), shallow, traitors, sensationalists, endanger, coercion, hypocricy, radical, threaten, devour, waste, corruption, incompetent, permissive attitude, destructive, impose, self-serving, greed, ideological, insecure, anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs; pessimistic, excuses, intolerant, stagnation, welfare, corrupt, selfish, insensitive, status quo, mandate(s) taxes, spend (ing) shame, disgrace, punish (poor...) bizarre, cynicism, cheat, steal, abuse of power, machine, bosses, obsolete, criminal rights, red tape, patronage."

Religious Liberty: Hypocrisy and Bad History

Gingrich, like other Religious Right political figures, postures as a defender of Americans' religious liberty against a deeply hostile elite, the "secular-socialist machine." Yet he joined with gusto the opponents of the proposed Park51 Islamic community center in Manhattan, which right-wing activists vilified as the "Ground Zero Mosque," saying, "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia." In his book, Rediscovering God in America, Gingrich declared, "A steadfast commitment to religious freedom is the very cornerstone of American liberty." Regarding the Islamic center in New York, he said, "No mosque. No self-deception. No surrender."

Gingrich, like other Religious Right leaders, justifies his attacks on Islam by suggesting that it is not really a religion, saying radical Islam "is a comprehensive political, economic, and religious movement that seeks to impose sharia -- Islamic law -- upon all aspects of global society... Radical Islamists see politics and religion as inseparable in a way it is difficult for Americans to understand. Radical Islamists assert sharia's supremacy over the freely legislated laws and values of the countries they live in and see it as their sacred duty to achieve this totalitarian supremacy in practice." Yet while Gingrich decries radical Islamists' goal of achieving "totalitarian supremacy," one of his own organizations, Renewing American Leadership, is run by an advocate of the 7 Mountains Mandate, a dominionist theology that argues that Christians are meant to control the levers of power in every aspect of government and society.

Gingrich is ideologically joined at the hip to "Christian nation" pseudo-historian David Barton. In Barton's worldview, the First Amendment is not about protecting religious pluralism, but was only meant to keep the federal government from siding with one group of Christians over another. Barton believes the First Amendment should not apply at all to the states, but that states should be free to pose religious tests for office, and local religious majorities should be free to use public schools for proselytizing prayer. On Barton's radio show, Gingrich promised that if he ran, he would be calling on Barton for help, presumably the way Barton helped turn out evangelical voters for the Republican Party during George W. Bush's reelection campaign. It seems to be a mutual admiration society. When Barton and other right-wing activists were pushing for changes in Texas textbooks, they urged that Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall be dropped, but that Newt be added.

Gingrich shares Barton's view of the federal courts as evil usurpers of the founding fathers' religious intentions. "There is no attack on American culture more destructive and more historically dishonest than the secular Left's relentless effort to drive God out of America's public square," Gingrich wrote in Rediscovering God in America. In a recent speech to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Gingrich said the courts have been "especially powerful engines of coerced secularization," and that "From the 1962 school prayer decision on, there has been a decisive break with the essentially religious nature of historic American civilization." While in Congress, Gingrich promoted the Religious Right's false claims that courts had somehow banned students from praying, and repeatedly supported efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to return organized prayer to public schools.

Politics over Principle

In addition to intellectual arrogance, a shameless lack of principle may be Gingrich's most identifying characteristic. When the popular uprisings in the Middle East spread to Libya, Gingrich denounced President Obama for not immediately imposing a no-fly zone: "We don't need to have the United Nations. All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we're intervening." Less than two weeks later, when the U.S. joined other nations in imposing a no-fly zone, Gingrich attacked Obama, saying "I would not have intervened" and declaring that "it is impossible to make sense of the standard for intervention in Libya except opportunism and news media publicity." Newt clearly knows a thing or two about opportunism and publicity-seeking; getting some coverage for an attack on Obama was clearly more important to him than questions of U.S. policy in Libya.

Hubris

For all the far-right's charges that President Obama harbors anti-democratic tendencies -- Gingrich vowed to Hannity that he would abolish all the White House "czar" positions by executive order -- Gingrich's own behavior has made it clear that he sees himself as so superior to others, such an essential treasure for the nation, that the rules he would apply to others should not apply to him. When his second wife asked Newt how he could give a speech about the importance of family values just days after he admitted that he was having an affair, he reportedly told her, "It doesn't matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live." That is a breathtaking level of hubris, even by presidential candidate standards. And when the CBN's Brody lobbed him the fluffiest of softballs by asking him to talk about his affairs in the context of his experience of God's forgiveness, Newt blew it by blaming his cheating on his love of country: "There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate."

So Right and So Wrong

Gingrich's policy positions are pretty much standard fare in today's far-right Republican Party, including anti-worker, pro-corporate economic policies and support for criminalizing abortion. He has demonstrated his new-found commitment to the sacred nature of marriage by trying to buy the support of Religious Right activists in presidentially important Iowa, where he funneled about $200,000 into an unfortunately successful campaign to punish and purge three state Supreme Court justices who had voted to end marriage discrimination against same-sex couples in the state.

America is grappling with a set of deeply serious challenges at home and abroad. Americans would benefit from a substantive discussion of those problems and the policy choices that face them. What they're most likely to get from Newt Gingrich is toxic McCarthyism, petty and unprincipled partisanship, and preening self-promotion. Thanks but no thanks.

Cross posted on The Huffington Post

PFAW

Barton Hits the Big Time, Brings His Made-Up History Lessons With Him

It’s been a big couple of days for the Right’s favorite self-declared historian, David Barton. Last night, he went on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart to try to defend his shoddy scholarship to a national audience – which he did, mostly, by flatly denying things that are demonstrably true.

And this morning, Barton was the subject of a profile in the New York Times, mildly titled “Using History to Mold Ideas on the Right.” The problem, of course, is that Barton’s version of history is not one that most Americans, and most historians, would recognize:

“The problem with David Barton is that there’s a lot of truth in what he says,” said Derek H. Davis, director of church-state studies at Baylor University, a Baptist institution in Waco, Tex. “But the end product is a lot of distortions, half-truths and twisted history.”

Mr. Barton says it is his critics who cherry-pick history by underplaying the religious dimension. Over the years, he has only dug more deeply into his documents, filling out books like “Original Intent” (published by WallBuilders, his organization here).

One of his most contested assertions is that the Supreme Court has misconstrued Thomas Jefferson’s statement that the First Amendment erected a “wall of separation between church and state.” According to Mr. Barton, Jefferson meant that government should not interfere with the public exercise of religion — not that public spaces should be purged of prayer. He also cites biblical passages that, he says, argue against deficit spending, graduated income taxes, the minimum wage and costly measures to fight global warming.

People For explored Barton’s history of twisting the bible and historical documents for political purposes in the recent report, “Barton’s Bunk.”

We’ll also be posting fact-checks of Barton’s interview with Jon Stewart throughout the day at Right Wing Watch.

In case you missed it, here’s People For’s Peter Montgomery giving a Barton primer on the Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

PFAW

Attorney General Disappoints on Faith-Based Issue

Question: When does a law saying "do not discriminate" really mean "discrimination is allowed"? Answer: Now, since Attorney General Holder yesterday refused to repudiate the Bush Administration’s seemingly deliberate misreading of federal law in the context of grants to faith-based organizations.

One of the gravest flaws of the Faith-Based Initiative that President Obama inherited and has since made his own is that it permits federally funded employment discrimination on the basis of religion. Numerous federal statutes creating grant programs specifically prohibit those receiving funds from engaging in employment discrimination. However, the Bush Administration’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) adopted a policy memo turning those provisions on their head.

According to the memo, requiring compliance with anti-discrimination laws as a condition of receiving federal funds can impose a substantial burden on the religious beliefs of faith-based grant recipients. Therefore, it reasoned, such a requirement may be impermissible under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening religious exercise unless that burden is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. According to this harshly criticized legal memorandum, RFRA can be interpreted to let religious grantees ignore very specific nondiscrimination provisions within a federal grant program.

At a hearing before the House Oversight Committee yesterday, upon questioning by Rep. Bobby Scott, Attorney General Holder testified that the OLC memo is not being reconsidered. Even worse, when asked the Obama Administration has adopted that interpretation as its policy, Holder gave a meaningless and evasive answer. According to Congressional Quarterly (subscription required):

SCOTT: So if you're running a Head Start Program, they're running the Head Start Program they can discriminate, even though there's a statutory provision prohibiting discrimination? They can discriminate anyway?

HOLDER: What I'm saying is that in terms of -- with regard to that specific OLC opinion, we are not in the process of reconsidering it. That is not something that, as I understand ...

SCOTT: Well I'm not talking about the memo. I'm talking about the policy. Can they discriminate notwithstanding a specific statutory prohibition against discrimination; they can discriminate anyway based on that interpretation?

HOLDER: Obviously discrimination cannot occur, that is, that contravenes federal law.

Since whether an act of employment discrimination violates federal law is the focus of the debate, Holder’s response is not enlightening.

It is hard to believe that less than three years ago, candidate Barack Obama told an audience in Zanesville, Ohio that "if you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them—or against the people you hire—on the basis of their religion."

PFAW

At Smithsonian Forum, Hide/Seek Curators Fiercely Defend Controversial Exhibit

On Tuesday night, I sat in on the first session of the Smithsonian’s two-day forum on what it called “Flashpoints and Faultlines: Museum Curation and Controversy.” The forum, despite its somewhat vague title, centered on the particular controversy of curation that it was organized to respond to: the decision by Smithsonian top brass to remove a work of art from a National Portrait Gallery exhibit after the exhibit came under fire from right-wing culture warriors.

Tuesday night’s panels didn’t do much to reconcile those who opposed the Smithsonian’s decision to cut David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly from the Portrait Gallery’s Hide/Seek exhibit and those who thought it was a necessary step to tamp down a damaging controversy. But it did provide an outlet those who had been caught up in the controversy to air their grievances – albeit too late to change any decisions.

The most passionate and interesting remarks came from the two co-curators of the Hide/Seek show, whose close-up view of the mechanics of a right-wing smear was fascinating, and led them to be unapologetically clear about what had happened to lead to the Smithsonian’s censorship of its own groundbreaking exhibit.

David Ward and Jeff Katz started working on the Hide/Seek exhibit in 2006, when Ward, as part of an exhibit on Walt Whitman, posted a photo of Whitman and his lover of eight years, labeling it as such. Katz approached ward and told him that his was the first major museum exhibit to mention Whitman’s long-term relationship with a man. Ward said he was “gobsmacked” by this revelation, and the two curators started working on an exhibition that would bring together the themes of sexual difference that had been “hiding in plain sight” in American art.

Both emphasized how remarkable it that their exhibit had been accepted by the Smithsonian at. “The rich museums with extraordinarily powerful boards were scared to take this exhibit,” Katz said, “That it was a national museum with the most to lose that took the exhibit should not be forgotten.”

In fact, Katz added, the very existence of the Hide/Seek exhibit broke a decades-long pattern of prominent museums refusing to take on exhibits dealing with gay and lesbian themes. The Robert Mapplethorpe scandals of the 1980’s and 90’s, Katz said, “set a pattern of blacklisting gay and lesbian themes in art exhibitions, which with the exception of Hide/Seek continues in the museum world today.” The Smithsonian’s censorship was remarkable in part because the museum had an exhibition to censor in the first place, Katz said, while “The passive acts of censorship have been the norm in the museum world for 24 years.”

While the curators praised the Smithsonian’s decision to take the Hide/Seek exhibit, they were unswerving in their criticism of Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough’s decision to remove the work that had become a lightning rod for right-wing critics. Katz said, “This scandal was ostensibly about religion. It was not. It was about politics.”

The Smithsonian, Katz said, had by giving in to the Catholic League-manufactured controversy about Hide/Seek had confirmed the legitimacy of anti-gay critics. Removing the Wojnarowicz work from the exhibit, he said, “didn’t extricate the museum from [the culture war attacks], it implicated it.” Katz spoke of the hate mail he received after the Catholic League had distributed his personal contact information. He said he at first tried to respond personally to each of thousands of emails, but was invariably met with more hate. “I realized this is not a discussion, this is not a conversation,” he said.

Secretary Clough had opened the forum with a speech on explaining his decision to censor one work from Hide/Seek because, he said, “Above all, I wanted to keep the exhibition open.” I asked Katz and his co-panelists – a museum director and a Smithsonian curator– if it was ever appropriate or effective to remove one work of art from a show in order to save an exhibit or a museum or an entire institution. All answered “no.”

Thom Collins, a museum director who spoke of the numerous funding threats he had received in his work at publicly funded museums, said “As in any situation when you want to negotiate effectively, you have to be willing to walk away from the table.”

Katz added that removing a work from an exhibit in response to criticism “inherently aligns you with the censorious voices, and that’s a position a museum should never be in.” He added that in reacting so quickly to congressional Republicans’ threats of withdrawing hundreds of millions of dollars of Smithsonian funding, the Smithsonian was “selling itself short” – that if our national museums were stripped of their funding “the American people would not stand for it.”

Earlier this month, PFAW held a panel discussion in New York to discuss censorship of the Smithsonian's Hide/Seek exhibit, featuring President Michael Keegan, artist AA Bronson, PFAW founder Norman Lear, critic Blake Gopnik, journalist Katrina Vanden Heuvel, and art museum director Dennis Barrie.

Michael Keegan's suggestions of ten questions for the Smithsonian panelists can be viewed here.

PFAW

Roberts Court Leaves State’s Church/State Money Laundering Scheme Intact

A closely divided Supreme Court issued a seriously flawed decision today in Arizona Christian Tuition v. Winn, using constitutional sleight of hand to get around the Establishment Clause's prohibition against the use of public funds for religious purposes and to frustrate Americans' ability to go to court when the constitutional guarantee of church-state separation is violated.

Here's the background to the case, which involves the state of Arizona's program to support religious schools.

States are constitutionally prohibited from directly supporting religious education. So Arizona figured out a way to try to get around that inconvenient First Amendment by setting up a system where that money goes to the religious organization before it gets to the treasury.

Arizona has a program where taxpayers get dollar-for-dollar tax credits for money they give to "school tuition organizations" (STOs), nonprofit organizations that award private school scholarships to children. Many of the STO awards actually require parents to send their children to religious schools as a condition of receipt.

So an Arizonan can take a certain amount of money that he owes in taxes and instead give it to a religious STO to pay for someone's religious education. As Justice Kagan said during oral arguments, Arizona established the program so STOs, acting as state intermediaries, could "make distinctions that the state itself cannot make."

Essentially, the state has set up a money laundering scheme to get around the Establishment Clause.

However, before the Court could address the program's constitutionality, it first had to determine if the taxpayer plaintiffs have standing to sue. The Constitution prohibits federal courts from hearing a case unless the plaintiff has a personal stake in the outcome. Simply being a taxpayer generally does not give you such a personal stake. However, in the Flast v. Cohen decision of 1968, the Supreme Court recognized that federal taxpayers do have such a stake when they challenge Congressional spending.

The Roberts Court today ignored common sense and the reasoning of Flast and concluded that Arizona state taxpayers don't have standing to bring this case to federal court. As they did in the 2007 Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation case, the five conservatives acted to prevent courts from enforcing the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

According to the Roberts Court, there is no government spending here to contest. Instead, it is simply a series of independent spending decisions made by private citizens who are spending their own money, not the government's.

This is constitutional sleight of hand at its worst, which Justice Kagan pointed out in dissent. As she noted, the majority is making an arbitrary distinction between cash grants and targeted tax breaks for the purposes of standing: Either way, the government has financed religious activity, so either way, taxpayers should be able to challenge the subsidy.

Since there are times when no one other than taxpayers has suffered the injury necessary to challenge government sponsorship of religion, the majority opinion "will diminish the Establishment Clause's force and meaning." The dissent continued:

"The Court opinion thus offers a roadmap – more truly, just a one-step instruction – to any government that wishes to insulate its financing of religious activity from legal challenge. Structure the funding as a tax expenditure, and Flast will not stand in the way. No taxpayer will have standing to object. However blatantly the government may violate the Establishment Clause, taxpayers cannot gain access to the federal courts."

It is a good day for the religious right, and a bad one for the United States Constitution and the rule of law.

PFAW

House Passes DC Vouchers, Bypasses DC Rights and Church-State Separation

This afternoon, the House of Representatives passed a bill to resurrect private school vouchers in the District of Columbia.

While Tea Party Republicans are claiming to take the high ground on government spending, they vote to throw millions of dollars at reviving a program that the Department of Education has shown is ineffective. After studying the program for four years, the Department found that use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading. The results were the same when the Department looked only at students who had applied from schools in need of improvement. As the Obama Administration stated in opposing the bill: "The Federal Government should focus its attention and available resources on improving the quality of public schools for all students. Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement."

So if the program doesn't educate kids effectively, what exactly does it do?

For one thing, it helps religious schools stay open. This voucher program has been in existence since 2003, and more than three fourths of the students in it have used these government funds for private religious schools. While Congress is slashing government spending on public education in communities across the country, the House decided to throw a few million dollars to keep religious schools afloat. This raises significant First Amendment concerns.

It also insults the 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia. The mayor opposes this program, as does Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. If the people of DC wanted a voucher program, they would adopt one, something they have never done.

Finally, it furthers the right wing's drives to privatize core government functions and get around First Amendment restrictions on government-funded religion.

For some people, those are apparently good enough reasons to support the bill.

PFAW

A Religious Exemption From the Rule of Law

As originally written and introduced, the marriage bill that recently failed to pass in Maryland was very straightforward, simply removing the restriction that limits marriage to opposite-sex couples. Other laws in the state would have remained unchanged. However, a number of equality opponents expressed concern that some people would have to recognize the civil marriages of same-sex couples in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs. Therefore, they introduced a variety of "conscience clause" amendments.

These amendments tell us a great deal about their supporters' real agenda, and it has nothing to do with a principled stand for religious liberty. The amendments did things like provide:

  • that a public school teacher not be required to teach materials that promote same-sex marriage if the content of the materials violates their sincerely held religious beliefs.
  • that a religious entity (or any nonprofit organization operated or controlled by one) need not provide adoption, foster care, or social services if providing the services would violate the entity's religious beliefs.
  • that a government employee (like a clerk or judge) not be required to perform a civil marriage ceremony if performance of the ceremony would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

The common phrasing – violating someone's religious beliefs, as opposed to violating their First Amendment rights – is extremely important. It makes it sound like people's constitutional Free Exercise rights are being protected. But in Maryland and elsewhere, that is not the case: Provisions like these do not codify existing First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion.

Neutral laws of general applicability that infringe on a person's religious beliefs have been upheld as not violating a person's First Amendment rights. For instance, in the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith case, the Supreme Court upheld Oregon's right to deny unemployment benefits to a person who had been fired for violating the state's anti-drugs laws (specifically, smoking peyote), even though the person smoked peyote as part of his religion.

In that case, with Justice Scalia writing for the majority, the Court ruled that the First Amendment does not allow a person to cite their own religious beliefs as a reason not to obey generally applicable laws. "To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself."

Anti-discrimination laws have long required people to do things that may not be consistent with their religious faith. For instance, an election worker who believes God commanded the sexes to remain separate in public cannot force men and women to vote in different rooms. A white innkeeper who believes that God commands segregation must nevertheless open his inn to all races. An employer who believes God commanded women to defer to men cannot refuse to make women supervisors.

So opponents of marriage equality certainly aren't acting to protect anyone's constitutional right to religious liberty. What they are demanding is a religious exemption from laws they don't like.

As if that wasn't bad enough, it's only those who share their particular religious beliefs who they deem worthy of this special right.

Since the marriage equality bill in Maryland failed to pass, have these self-styled stalwarts of religious liberty insisted that the amendments they proposed be made into law anyway, as general religious liberty protections not targeting gay people as a class?

They have not.

Perhaps what drives them is animus toward gays and lesbians. Or perhaps it's an arrogant certainty that their religious beliefs and no one else's should be protected by law.

Whatever it is, it certainly is not a principled fidelity to religious liberty.

We faced a similar issue more than forty years ago, when people with religious opposition to interracial marriages found themselves in a society that no longer prohibited such marriages. Indeed, as the Virginia trial court judge wrote when convicting Richard and Mildred Loving of violating the state's prohibition of interracial marriage:

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

After Loving v. Virginia, our nation did not empower that judge or any other public official to opt out of performing his duty to marry eligible couples simply because he personally opposed interracial marriages on religious grounds. Nor did we empower public school teachers to "opt out" of teaching students that such couples exist. No different standard should be applied with respect to gay couples.

PFAW

School Voucher Hypocrisy

In the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen takes the Speaker of the House to task on his hypocrisy in supporting the slashing of vitally important programs while setting some funds aside for a pet project of his in the District of Columbia.

Let me get this straight. As far as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is concerned, the United States government is "broke," which means we can't afford to pay for key domestic priorities, even if we want to.

Boehner, however, is also convinced that we have federal funds lying around to pay for private school tuition. …

[He] wants U.S. taxpayers to spend $20 million for private school tuition in D.C. over the next five years.

Maybe this is just an extension of Boehner's deep and abiding passion for looking out for struggling children? I have a strong hunch that's not it. After all, the Speaker's budget plan calls for devastating cuts to Head Start, Pell grants, Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty), and nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children, among other things.

If Boehner were motivated solely by a desire to help children and students, these cuts would be off the table. Instead, they remain near the top of the GOP to-do list.

So what's really going on here? It's simply a matter of priorities. Boehner supports brutal spending cuts for most domestic priorities, but he loves vouchers, especially those that benefit Roman Catholic private schools and undermine public education (which his party is growing increasingly hostile towards).

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program certainly does help religious schools stay open. This voucher program has been in existence since 2003, and more than three fourths of the students in it have used these government funds for private religious schools. In other words, the program funnels taxpayer money into religious organizations. In addition to the many other arguments against school vouchers, this program raises significant First Amendment concerns.

Does the Speaker support the program because he thinks it helps students achieve academically? In fact, neutral analyses of the program demonstrate clearly that it simply has not significantly improved the educational attainment of the enrolled students. The Department of Education has concluded that the use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading. The results were the same for students who applied from schools in need of improvement.

Does the Speaker think that the people of DC want this voucher program? In fact, the city’s mayor opposes it, as does Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and numerous members of the DC Council. If the people of DC wanted a voucher program, they would adopt one, something they have never done.

So why support a program that the locals don’t want and that the local population’s elected officials have asked you not to impose on them?

Throughout America and within Congress, there are ideologues seeking to privatize education as part of a larger push to privatize a wide swath of core government functions. Other ideologues chafe against the restrictions on government-funded religion that the Founders wisely placed in the First Amendment. So-called “opportunity scholarships” are an opportunity for them, but not for students.

People For the American Way opposes the Speaker’s bill, H.R. 471. It has been passed by committee, and a floor vote is expected near the end of March.

PFAW

Progressive Groups: King Hearings Will Encourage “Toxic Climate of Suspicion Toward American Muslims”

Rep. Peter King will begin his hearings on the “radicalization” of American Muslims on Thursday. Yesterday, People For and a coalition of over 50 progressive groups sent King a letter [PDF] expressing concern over his targeting of Muslims. The letter reads in part:


While we all take the threat of terrorism seriously, we see no productive outcome in singling out a particular community for examination in what appears to be little more than a political show-trial. American Muslims, like all Americans, want to keep our country safe, and to cooperate with law enforcement when they are aware of criminal activity. Yet many elected officials have chosen to demonize all American Muslims, denigrating their religion and questioning their patriotism. We fear that these hearings will only add to this toxic climate of suspicion toward American Muslims and may hinder the important efforts to maintain trust and mutual respect between American Muslims, law enforcement, and public officials.

Much of the concern over King’s hearings comes from the false statements King himself has repeatedly made about American Muslims, falsely claiming that Muslim communities don’t cooperate with law enforcement and saying that there are “too many mosques” in the United States. Think Progress has put together a video debunking some of King’s smears of American Muslims:

PFAW

Supreme Court Decision Exposes Religious Right Deceit on Hate Crimes Laws

When Congress debated and ultimately passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, detractors unfairly criticized the law as a threat to free speech and religious freedom. Opponents, especially from the Religious Right, tried to cover up their animus by maintaining that efforts to protect people against violent crime were really attempts to ban “hate speech,” and consequently “criminalize religion."

Rob Boston, a senior policy analyst of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, writes about how the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Snyder v. Phelps yet again exposes the dishonesty of the Religious Right’s arguments:

There has been no end of discussion about this church and its antics. Today I want to focus on an overlooked aspect of the controversy: For years, we’ve been hearing Religious Right leaders claim that their freedom to speak out on issues like homosexuality and abortion is at risk. To hear them tell it, “hate speech” laws are just around the corner, and Pastor Bob is only one step away from being tossed in the hoosegow if he dares to read from the Book of Leviticus in the pulpit.

It’s hard to imagine speech more hateful than that put forth by Westboro Baptist’s members. They think God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality, so they hoist signs reading, “God Hates Fags,” “Thank God for IEDs” and “Pray for More Dead Soldiers.”

This is some seriously hateful stuff – and by an 8-1 vote the Supreme Court said in Snyder v. Phelps that it is protected speech. If Westboro Baptist can claim the mantle of the First Amendment to unleash this stuff, I don’t think Pastor Bob has to worry about his pulpit criticisms of same-sex marriage. W

henever cases like this come up, the term “hate speech” is thrown around a lot in the media. Although this term appears in common parlance, it’s not something the courts have adopted. Sure, a lot of speech can be termed “hateful” – and it’s also protected speech. The First Amendment does not require that speech be polite, rational or popular. After all, the First Amendment wouldn’t be very useful if all it did was protect your right to say something everyone agrees with.



The claim that “hate speech” laws are going to shut down fundamentalist churches and gag conservative pastors is, to put it politely, bunk. It was never a persuasive argument, and in light of Wednesday’s ruling stands in shreds. I’m hoping Religious Right leaders will have the decency to stop saying it – but I won’t hold my breath.
PFAW

Stoking Fear with Silence: Broun Apologizes, but When Will Republican Officials Stop Condoning Lies?

Last Friday, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia was at a town hall meeting when a constituent asked him, “Who will shoot Obama?” Rather than confronting the call to violence, Broun—who has his own history of incendiary remarks— laughed it off, and answered, “The thing is, I know there’s a lot of frustration with this president… Hopefully, we’ll elect somebody that’s going to be a conservative.”

Today, after a national outcry made it impossible for him to sweep the incident under the table, Broun issued a full apology, saying, “I condemn all statements -- made in sincerity or jest -- that threaten or suggest the use of violence against the President of the United States or any other public official. Such rhetoric cannot and will not be tolerated.”

Broun was right to apologize, however belatedly. But his apology doesn’t erase what has become a troubling habit among many Republican members of Congress: choosing to ignore—and thereby tacitly embracing—lies and conspiracy theories about President Obama’s birth, religion, and love of country. Earlier this month, House Speaker John Boehner led the way when he refused to publically correct members of his base who believe that Obama is a secret Muslim who is illegally serving as president, stating, “I can’t tell Americans what to think.” Progressives called him out for his slippery response, but he ultimately got away with his convenient non-denial.

Broun himself has fed conspiracy theories about the president, saying that Democrats want to take over “all of society,” and even comparing the president to Hitler. Unfortunately, he’s hardly alone in his sometimes subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle embrace of extreme rhetoric.

Elected officials spend a lot of time talking with, and trying to be polite to, people who they may or may not agree with, and they certainly shouldn’t be held responsible for the views of every person who they happen to be in the room with. But elected officials do have the responsibility to operate honestly and responsibly—and that means correcting clear lies and confronting clear calls to violence.

Broun was rightly criticized for his failure to immediately condemn a call to assassinate the president. But when will he and his fellow members of Congress stop stoking the suspicion and fear that leads to such calls in the first place?

PFAW

President Obama Calls DOMA Unconstitutional

Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Department of Justice will no longer defend Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in court because it is unconstitutional. This is the provision prohibiting federal recognition of the marriages of gay or lesbian couples. As if that wasn't big enough news by itself, DoJ has concluded that legal classifications based on sexual orientation, like those based on race, sex, national origin, and religion, should be subject to a higher level of judicial scrutiny.

While the Department has previously defended DOMA against legal challenges involving legally married same-sex couples, recent lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of DOMA Section 3 have caused the President and the Department to conduct a new examination of the defense of this provision. In particular, in November 2010, plaintiffs filed two new lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA in jurisdictions without precedent on whether sexual-orientation classifications are subject to rational basis review or whether they must satisfy some form of heightened scrutiny. Windsor v. United States, No. 1:10-cv-8435 (S.D.N.Y.); Pedersen v. OPM, No. 3:10-cv-1750 (D. Conn.). Previously, the Administration has defended Section 3 in jurisdictions where circuit courts have already held that classifications based on sexual orientation are subject to rational basis review, and it has advanced arguments to defend DOMA Section 3 under the binding standard that has applied in those cases.

These new lawsuits, by contrast, will require the Department to take an affirmative position on the level of scrutiny that should be applied to DOMA Section 3 in a circuit without binding precedent on the issue. As described more fully below, the President and I have concluded that classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny and that, as applied to same-sex couples legally married under state law, Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.

This is the first recognition by the United States government that gays and lesbians have suffered a long history of discrimination so bad that it makes suspect any laws that treat people differently based on sexual orientation.  Moreover, that discrimination continues today and limits their political influence.

[T]he adoption of laws like those at issue in Romer v. Evans [prohibiting the state from passing civil rights protections for gay people] and Lawrence [laws making their private sexual conduct a crime], the longstanding ban on gays and lesbians in the military, and the absence of federal protection for employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation show the group to have limited political power and "ability to attract the [favorable] attention of the lawmakers." Cleburne, 473 U.S. at 445. And while the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Act and pending repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell indicate that the political process is not closed entirely to gay and lesbian people, that is not the standard by which the Court has judged "political powerlessness." Indeed, when the Court ruled that gender-based classifications were subject to heightened scrutiny, women already had won major political victories such as the Nineteenth Amendment (right to vote) and protection under Title VII (employment discrimination).

The Attorney General's announcement notes that it will continue to enforce DOMA until it is repealed by Congress or struck down definitively by the courts. In addition, it will work to ensure that Congress, should it wish, has the opportunity to defend the law in court since the Administration cannot in good conscience do so. (This would presumably avoid a situation like the one in California, where the state refused to pursue an appeal of the district court ruling against Proposition 8, leaving in doubt whether anyone has standing to do so.)

PFAW

The House GOP's Aboogaboogaboogabooga Constitution

For the past few decades, Republicans have aggressively and notoriously acted as if only they love the flag, only they appreciate families, only they are religious, and only they care about national defense. In the past couple of years, inspired by the Tea Party, they've added a new object to which they falsely lay sole claim: the United States Constitution.

Of course, for many of them, it's little more than a fetish. After all, the Republican Party's Constitution has long denied the right to abortion (and, in many cases, the right to privacy altogether), denied church-state separation, denied the right to vote, and denied equality under the law for LGBT people. The Tea Party's version of the Constitution is even more removed from the real thing, as analyzed in a recent PFAW report, Corporate Infusion: What the Tea Party's Really Serving America.

So it's no surprise that House Republicans' latest effort to lay claim to the Constitution – requiring bill sponsors to submit statements specifying the constitutional authority for their legislation – has turned out to be meaningless. As reported by Congressional Quarterly (subscription required):

During a Feb. 11 subcommittee markup on a bill (HR 358) offered by Joe Pitts, R-Pa., to prohibit federal funds from being used to pay for health insurance that covers abortion, New York Democrat Anthony Weiner offered a point of order against the legislation on grounds that its "statement of constitutional authority" does not point to any specific authority for Congress to take such action.

The bill's statement says: "The Protect Life Act would overturn an unconstitutional mandate regarding abortion in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," last year's health care overhaul.

The markup soon became chaotic as lawmakers clashed for nearly an hour over whether the statement passed muster, and whether the Republicans were flouting their own rule. "The rules are the rules, and the Constitution is the Constitution," Weiner exclaimed.

Eventually, Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., consulted the Rules Committee, which in January issued a handy guide to complying with the new rule. The Rules Committee provided guidance on how statements of constitutional authority might be phrased, but said the only requirement is that a statement be submitted.

"The question of whether the statement is sufficient is a matter for debate and a factor that a member may consider when deciding whether to support the measure," Upton said.

The committee's top Democrat, Henry A. Waxman of California, called that “a mockery” of the rules. "The ruling is that it doesn't make any difference what you say,” he said. “You could say, 'Aboogaboogaboogabooga!' and that's enough to justify the constitutionality of the proposal."

The Constitution that established a careful separation of powers, an independent court system, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the eradication of slavery, and equality for all is far too precious a document to become just a symbol in meaningless political posturing. Shame on the House Republicans.

PFAW