Religion

Justice Department, Civil Rights Division: It gets better

In recent months I’ve written about various contributions to the It Gets Better Project. Dan and Terry. Ellen DeGeneres. President Obama. Secretary Clinton. Today brought a video from the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.

As you can see:

The Civil Rights Division, and the entire Justice Department, is committed to ending bullying and harassment in schools, and the video highlights the Department’s authority to enforce federal laws that protect students from discrimination and harassment at school because of their race, national origin, disability, religion, and sex, including harassment based on nonconformity with gender stereotypes. The video also features Division employees who share their individual stories and personal messages that a better future awaits youth who may be experiencing bullying or harassment.

PFAW agrees that every student, LGBT or not, has the right to be educated in the same way. Click here for more information.

PFAW

Right Wing Escalates Drive to Censor and Investigate the Smithsonian

Even after successfully demanding that the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery censor part of its “Hide/Seek” exhibit, congressional Republicans and conservative commentators have continued their attacks on the Smithsonian. House Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor joined right wing extremists like Bill Donohue and Glenn Beck to pressure the Smithsonian to remove a video by the late artist David Wojnarowicz in an exhibit on the ways art portrays homosexuality and AIDS.

Georgia Republican Jack Kingston, who is in the running to become chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, called for a Congressional investigation into the art at the Smithsonian with hopes to strip the museum of its funding, despite the fact that the exhibit was entirely funded by private donors. Speaking to Fox News, Kingston said that parts of the “pro-gay exhibit” are “really perverted” with “lots of really kinky and questionable kind of art.” Kingston went on to say that the Smithsonian “should be under the magnifying glass right now” and is “a waste of tax dollars, and during these hard budget times we can’t afford it.”

With the prospect of congressional investigations of art and the de-fuding of museums, critics of censorship are speaking out.

PFAW President Michael Keegan writes in his new Huffington Post Op-Ed that “the path from David Wojnarowicz's struggle with AIDS to the director of a Smithsonian museum announcing, ironically on World AIDS Day, that Wojnarowicz's artwork might spoil someone's Christmas, says a lot about American politics at the start of a new era of right-wing power.”

Blake Gopnik, the arts critic for the Washington Post, spoke out against the Right’s blatant attempts at censorship in a must-read Op-Ed for the Post. In his November 5th review of “Hide/Seek,” written well-before the Right cultivated the controversy, Gopnik in his description of a painting by Andrew Wyeth said that “it’s that censor-baiting force that clearly made it worth painting for Wyeth -- and worth looking at for all the rest of us.” Now, Gopnik is pushing back on the conservatives’ demands for censorship:

If every piece of art that offended some person or some group was removed from a museum, our museums might start looking empty - or would contain nothing more than pabulum. Goya's great nudes? Gone. The Inquisition called them porn.

Norman Rockwell would get the boot, too, if I believed in pulling everything that I'm offended by: I can't stand the view of America that he presents, which I feel insults a huge number of us non-mainstream folks. But I didn't call for the Smithsonian American Art Museum to pull the Rockwell show that runs through Jan. 2, just down the hall from "Hide/Seek." Rockwell and his admirers got to have their say, and his detractors, including me, got to rant about how much they hated his art. Censorship would have prevented that discussion, and that's why we don't allow it.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has said that taxpayer-funded museums should uphold "common standards of decency." But such "standards" don't exist, and shouldn't, in a pluralist society. My decency is your disgust, and one point of museums, and of contemporary art in general, is to test where lines get drawn and how we might want to rethink them. A great museum is a laboratory where ideas get tested, not a mausoleum full of dead thoughts and bromides.

In America no one group - and certainly no single religion - gets to declare what the rest of us should see and hear and think about. Aren't those kinds of declarations just what extremist imams get up to, in countries with less freedom?

Of course, it's pretty clear that this has almost nothing to do with religion. Eleven seconds of an ant-covered crucifix? Come on.



The attack is on gayness, and images of it, more than on sacrilege - even though, last I checked, many states are sanctioning gay love in marriage, and none continue to ban homosexuality.

And the Portrait Gallery has given into this attack.



Artists have the right to express themselves. Curators have the right to choose the expression they think matters most. And the rest of us have the right to see that expression, and judge those choices for ourselves.

If anyone's offended by any work in any museum, they have the easiest redress: They can vote with their feet, and avoid the art they don't like.
PFAW

Bipartisan Agreement Breaks Out at Hearing on Faith Based Initiatives

At today’s hearing before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, there was one item on which witnesses and Members of Congress from across partisan and ideological divides agreed: the Obama administration is ducking an important and controversial decision on whether religious organizations that take federal money to provide social services can discriminate on the basis of religion when hiring people to provide those services.  The administration further dodged the issue and rankled committee members by declining an invitation to testify.

There is some progress to report: the hearing came one day after the White House issued a long-awaited Executive Order (Subcommittee Chair Jerold Nadler called the pace of reform “glacial”) on the topic of federal funding for faith-based groups.  The Executive Order implements a number of recommendations made by an advisory council the administration had created to review what was called the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives by the Bush Administration and what is now called the Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships. Melissa Rogers, Director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest Divinity School and a co-chair of the president’s commission, was among those who testified.
 
Among the elements of the new Executive Order and provisions to: require that beneficiaries who object to a religiously affiliated program have access to a secular alternative; clarify rules requiring that federal money not be used for religious activities like worship or proselytizing; ensure that awards are made on the basis of merit, not religious or political considerations; and require meaningful oversight of grants without excessive entanglement in religious groups’ internal affairs.  These provisions were mostly welcomed across the political spectrum (with some sniping from the Religious Right), though there was disagreement in the advisory council over the issue of social services being provided in rooms where religious art or symbols are displayed (the administration OK’d religious symbols in rooms where secular programs are carried out) and over the question of requiring churches to set up separate nonprofit organizations to receive federal money (the administration decided not to require that step).
 
But the big unresolved issue is one that the Obama White House prevented its own advisory commission from addressing – whether groups can decide to hire only people of a certain faith for social service jobs that are being funded by American taxpayers.
 
People For the American Way, like all the Democrats present at the hearing, believes the Obama administration should overturn the poorly reasoned Bush-era Justice Department memo that misinterpreted the law to allow federally funded discrimination.  During his 2008 campaign, Obama explicitly pledged to do so. But since then the administration has declared that the Justice Department would consider the issue on a case-by-case basis. 
 
Religious Right groups and their political allies want the administration to explicitly embrace the status quo set up during the Bush administration, which allows hiring discrimination.  Progressive groups want the administration to revoke the controversial Bush-era legal memo and return to a bright line standard against taxpayer-funded discrimination.  Pretty much everyone agrees that churches and religious groups can and should be able to make religiously-grounded hiring decisions for jobs that are paid for with privately raised funds.  And everyone agrees that administration’s “case by case” approach makes no sense.
 
Come to think of it, there was one other topic of agreement: Rep. Trent Franks doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  Franks, who gained a measure of infamy last year when he denounced President Obama as an “enemy of humanity,” popped into the hearing to assert that the administration’s lack of clarity on the hiring issue was stirring controversy over a principle that the federal courts had settled for 50 years, the right of religious groups to hire based on religion.  After Franks left, there was general consensus in the room that, to be charitable, Franks was confusing the basic issue: the difference between private and taxpayer funds.  Franks wrapped his embarrassing confusion in Religious Right rhetoric about groups that supposedly want to erase religion from public life, or in his memorable words, ensure that “anything in the shadow of the American flag cannot be religious.”
PFAW

Justice Department Files a Brief Confirming that Islam is a Religion

To the litany of public safety threats resulting from anti-Muslim fear-mongering, add the fact that Justice Department officials have had to spend time writing a brief explaining that Islam is, in fact, a religion. TPM reports on the DOJ’s amicus brief supporting the expansion efforts of the Islamic Center of Mufreesboro, TN. Opponents have claimed that the Islamic Center can’t get a religious permit to build a new mosque because, they say, Islam isn’t really a religion. The Justice Department did a little research:

"To suggest that Islam is not a religion is quite simply ridiculous. Each branch of the federal government has independently recognized Islam as one of the major religions of the world," Martin said in the press release.

The brief painstakingly cites proof, from the Oxford English Dictionary, Supreme Court rulings, presidential proclamations by Clinton and George W. Bush and the writings of Thomas Jefferson, that Islam has long been recognized as a major world religion.

It also notes the definition of religion set forth by other federal courts, including that a belief system must address "fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters" in order to be considered a religion.

In the brief, the DOJ argues that the lawsuit implicates two federal civil rights statutes, the Religious Land Use Act and the Church Arson Prevention Act, which fall under the DOJ's purview. The county, the brief argues, would be in danger of violating the land use act were it to deny building permits for the mosque.

A concerted right-wing misinformation campaign has succeeded in making denial of the scientific consensus about climate change a politically acceptable position. Will denying the existence of one of the world’s largest and diverse religions be next?
 

PFAW

Santorum Slamming JFK, Secularism

Fifty years ago, the man who would become America’s first Catholic president delivered a historic speech that helped reduce anti-Catholic prejudice in our public life. Five decades later, a man who would like to be the nation’s second Catholic president celebrated the occasion by slamming Kennedy. It’s a remarkable reversal. 

Former Senator Rick Santorum has been using the anniversary of then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy’s famous address on church-state separation to decry the destructive forces of secularism that he says Kennedy unleashed. (People For the American Way is among Santorum’s targets.)
 
Santorum’s attack deserves attention, especially at a time when religious and political leaders, Santorum among them, are eagerly fanning the flames of religious intolerance. Much of Santorum’s recent speech – delivered in Houston on September 9 and reprised since then at events like Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom conference – is given over to repeated claims that Kennedy emboldened secularists who want a public square “cleansed of all religious wisdom and the voice of religious people of all faiths.” He says Kennedy’s speech launched a movement that is “repressing or banishing people of faith from having a say in government.”
 
These inflammatory claims are regularly advanced by Religious Right leaders who portray supporters of church-state separation as hostile to faith and religious liberty. But how can they be taken seriously?
 
Choose any topic that is being debated in the public square, and you’ll find people of faith advancing their values, probably on both sides of the issue – and not just on abortion and gay rights.  Religious Right activists spouted Tea Party arguments about the evils of government while progressive religious leaders worked hard to promote health care reform. The Catholic hierarchy is among the religious organizations working to deny gay couples legal recognition while other religious groups like the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism are working for full marriage equality.  At the same time, the two groups are both lobbying for humane immigration reform.
 
It’s a complicated scene, and it’s a noisy one. Who has been silenced? Not Ralph Reed, who is bragging that he’s planning to mobilize conservative evangelical voters to turn Election Day into a historic rout for Democrats.  And certainly not conservative Catholics like Santorum.  At Reed’s Faith and Freedom conference, a panel included leaders of two groups organized to promote conservative Catholic values in the public arena – Catholic Advocate and Faithful Catholic Citizens.
 
There are situations that bring constitutional values into tension. America, via the Supreme Court and civil rights legislation, has decided (Rand Paul notwithstanding) that a business owner’s desire to discriminate against racial minorities does not trump other individuals’ right to equal access to public accommodations, even if the desire to discriminate was based on sincerely held religious beliefs.  Courts and legislatures are wrangling with similar situations that consider religious beliefs about homosexuality, abortion, and contraception alongside LGBT Americans’ right to legal equality, and all Americans’ access to medical care.
 
But the fact that some court cases have gone against those seeking a religious exemption to a generally applied law is no grounds for claiming that religious people have been silenced, or no longer have the right to make their case in the public square. What Santorum seems to want is a kind of double standard: religious conservatives can take part in public debate but should be shielded from criticism. They can engage in legal and political advocacy, but if they lose they can claim the process has been stacked against them by sinister anti-religious forces.
 
Santorum argues that the secularist forces unleashed by Kennedy threaten peaceful coexistence and even put American civilization at risk. He says the founders believed that “if they fostered religion and the Judeo-Christian moral code we would achieve something that was never before seen in a country with so many competing faiths - a truly tolerant, democratic and harmonious public square.”
 
But Santorum himself is actively undermining the possibility for a “tolerant, democratic and harmonious” public square. He seeks political gain by branding his opponents as enemies of religious liberty. And he has played a significant role in inflaming an ugly anti-Islamic wave of public opinion that has resulted in fatal violence and could leave communities damaged and divided for years.
 
Santorum portrays himself as heroic, telling audiences, “I have been criticized in the media for daring to speak out on these sensitive moral issues.”  That’s not true.  Santorum is criticized not for “daring to speak out” but for saying things many people disagree with. Santorum has every right to denigrate the loving relationships of same-sex couples by comparing them to man-on-dog sex. But just as surely others have the right to criticize and even ridicule him for those statements.  
 
The First Amendment is a two-way street. But that seems to be one truth that Santorum and his allies refuse to acknowledge.
PFAW

Muslim Bashing = Racism

To borrow from Bill Maher, I'm going to go ahead and make my own "New Rule."

NEW RULE: Republicans and right-wing activists cannot get breathlessly indignant every time someone calls them out for racism while actively promoting vile Islamophobic hate speech.

Here is the latest campaign ad from Renee Ellmers, a Sarah Palin-backed candidate for Congress in North Carolina:

This ad looks more like something you'd get from a Grand Wizard than a "Mama Grizzly." It's excruciatingly clear that the religious persecution of Muslims is heavily loaded with racism. The Right's continued use of Muslims as their convenient political punching bags casts them as "other," foreign, not American and certainly not white. Let me be clear: bigotry based purely on religion is unacceptable on its own, but if anyone can say with a straight face that this latest wave of vicious Islamohphobia is not a clear cut example of racism, that person is not living in reality. The fact that mainstream society and the media somehow tolerate this is a scary statement about where we are as a country in our current political climate.

PFAW

President Obama: “We Are Not At War with Islam”

At his news conference today, President Obama was asked “to weigh in on the wisdom of building a mosque a couple of blocks from Ground Zero.” His answer was straightforward and reasoned…and it’s how every political leader should be responding to the overblown, opportunistic ‘Ground Zero mosque’ controversy:

With respect to the mosque in New York, I think I’ve been pretty clear on my position here, and that is, is that this country stands for the proposition that all men and women are created equal; that they have certain inalienable rights — one of those inalienable rights is to practice their religion freely. And what that means is that if you could build a church on a site, you could build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you should be able to build a mosque on the site.

Now, I recognize the extraordinary sensitivities around 9/11. I’ve met with families of 9/11 victims in the past. I can only imagine the continuing pain and anguish and sense of loss that they may go through. And tomorrow we as Americans are going to be joining them in prayer and remembrance. But I go back to what I said earlier: We are not at war against Islam. We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts.


The other reason it’s important for us to remember that is because we’ve got millions of Muslim Americans, our fellow citizens, in this country. They’re going to school with our kids. They’re our neighbors. They’re our friends. They’re our coworkers. And when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?

I’ve got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the United States armed services. They’re out there putting their lives on the line for us. And we’ve got to make sure that we are crystal-clear for our sakes and their sakes they are Americans and we honor their service. And part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that we don’t differentiate between them and us. It’s just us.

And that is a principle that I think is going to be very important for us to sustain. And I think tomorrow is an excellent time for us to reflect on that.

Unfortunately, very few national leaders have had the guts or common sense to say something as simple as, “We are not at war with Islam.”

In the Huffington Post today, People For’s President, Michael Keegan, writes about the destructive consequences of the Right’s persistent and subtle campaign against Islam in America. “The campaign against the Park51 community center,” he writes, “has succeeded in taking strains of extremist Islamophobia and making them mainstream.”

Update: Here's the video of the President's remarks, via PolitiClearNews

PFAW

Sign the Pledge: Stand for Religious Freedom and Against Intolerance

The past month’s attacks on Muslim Americans have marked a disturbing break from the core American values of religious freedom and tolerance. The National Security Network, a leading foreign policy organization, is calling on Americans to affirm those values by signing a pledge in the week before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks:

We are proud to live in the United States, a country founded on the principles of tolerance and religious freedom as embodied in the U.S. Constitution.
We affirm America's commitment to these principles.
We condemn bigotry and intolerance by any and all, especially those who murder others in the false name of their religion.
We condemn the act of burning the Koran, a sacred text for millions of Americans and others around the world, as we would condemn the burning of all sacred texts.
We pledge to remember Americans and others from around the world, including Muslims, Christians, Jews, and people of other faiths, who were murdered on September 11, 2001, American service men and women of all faiths who have lost their lives in the wars since then, and innocent civilians, of all faiths, who have died in those wars, and to honor their sacrifice by reaffirming our commitment to the principles of tolerance and religious freedom.
We encourage all to light a candle on the evenings of September 10 and 11 in memoriam and in reaffirmation of these principles.

You can add your name to the pledge here, and support the campaign on Facebook here.
 

PFAW

The Tea Party and the Religious Right at "Restoring Honor"

Many political commentators suggested that the emergence of the Tea Party would diminish the foothold and clout of the Religious Right in American politics, especially within the Republican Party. Politico’s Ben Smith said that social conservative leaders mistrust and fear the rising influence of the Tea Party. David Waters, the Religion editor of the Washington Post, expressed skepticism of any alliance between “Tea Partying fiscal conservatives” and the “Christian Right,” claiming: “this is an anti-government movement, not a pro-God movement.” “So far,” Waters said, “it seems the Tea Partiers are mostly interested in reclaiming America for the Chamber of Commerce.”

But the Religious Right’s free-market ideology is tremendously consistent with the Tea Party’s pro-corporate agenda. Sharron Angle, Nevada’s Tea Party-backed Republican nominee for US Senate, believes that government programs such as Social Security and Medicare violate the Ten Commandments: “We have become a country entrenched in idolatry, and that idolatry is the dependency upon our government. We're supposed to depend upon God for our protection and our provision and for our daily bread, not for our government.” Texas Governor Rick Perry, a favorite of the Tea Party, expressed his fight against “big government” in religious terms: “Do you believe in the primacy of unrestrained federal government? Or do you worship the God of the universe, placing our trust in him?” Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann, founder of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress, is a prominent Religious Right activist, and led a prayer ceremony calling for the defeat of health care reform. Michele Goldberg notes that along with Christian Right superstar Sarah Palin, the Tea Party National Convention featured leaders such as “Rick Scarborough, Roy Moore, and Joseph Farah, men who are radical even by religious-right standards.”

The ever-present religious rhetoric of the Restoring Honor rally and the Divine Destiny reception demonstrated the use of religion to legitimize the Tea Party and justify its political goals. One speaker at Restoring Honor claimed that “we are Americans and we stand together: Black, White, Jew, Gentile, together in unity as one strong group of people of Americans, today in the name of Christ.” Rev. C. L. Jackson said that supporters should follow the “servant of God, son of God, Glenn Beck,” and another speaker called for attendees to become “covenant warriors in Christ.”

At “Divine Destiny,” Beck introduced David Barton, a frequent guest on his show, as “a true American hero.” Barton and his organization, WallBuilders, were extremely influential in the Far-Right’s rewriting of history and science curriculum in the Texas textbook controversy, and is a leading opponent of the separation of Church and State. Barton and WallBuilders promote a discredited and religious interpretation of American history that claims that the Founding Fathers meant to build a Christian nation ruled according to the Bible. Now Beck and Barton want to export the Texas textbook battle to the rest of the country in their efforts to modify American history and distort the Constitution.

One lesson from this weekend is that the political leaders of the Tea Party and Religious Right movements believe they have a shared interest in convincing Americans that their agendas represent the supposedly “original vision” of the Founding Fathers.

PFAW

More Conservative Demagoguery on Obama’s Faith

Right-wing leaders continue to feed into the increasingly-held belief that Obama is not a committed Christian, a view now held by one-fifth of Americans. From a Republican National Committeewoman to the RNC’s new media director and even Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, the Republican Party has not shied away from feeding into the massive misinformation campaign about Obama’s Christian faith. Glenn Beck, who earlier described the President’s religion as “it's not Muslim, it's not Christian,” claimed on Fox News Sunday that “people aren't recognizing his version of Christianity.”

Now, Carl Paladino, a Republican candidate for governor of New York, flat-out claims in an interview with Capital Tonight that Obama is dishonest about being a Christian, and is deceitful about his faith for political purposes:

Q: You do not believe that the President is a practicing Christian?

CP: No. Not in his heart. I think it’s part of the theater of Mr. Obama. I’m not quite, I’m not saying he’s anything else, but I think Mr. Obama is about himself. I think any religious beliefs that he advocates are part of the theatre to make himself look better to the American people.”

Q: “So, you’re not specifically saying that he is not a Christian. You just don’t believe him when he says he’s a practicing Christian?”

CP: “I don’t believe he… No, I think he worships himself. He’s a very condescending person.”


Paladino’s claim about Obama’s alleged narcissism is extremely close to the description of Obama as “uppity” from conservative figures such as Rush Limbaugh and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA). With Republican leaders pushing these smears, is it any wonder why one in three self-defined conservatives believe that Obama is not a Christian?

 

PFAW

Glenn Beck: Educator? Prophet??

God is speaking through Glenn Beck... or so he and many other Religious Right figures would have us believe. Despite an historical animosity towards Mormons like Beck from the evangelicals who control the Religious Right, his efforts to become the leader of a "spiritual awakening" are being aided by Religious Right figures like David Barton, Jim Garlow and Ralph Reed.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph taken this morning by PFAW Foundation at the Kennedy Center. This is a tee shirt worn by a crowd member who showed up for tickets to the "Divine Destiny" event.

Beck's "Restoring Honor" event tomorrow will be preceded by a warm-up event at the Kennedy Center tonight called Divine Destiny. At tonight's event, Beck and others will present some good old fashioned revisionist history on "the role faith played in the founding of America." Tickets were to be distributed at 10am this morning, but so many people were already in line by 8:30pm on Thursday that tickets were gone far ahead of schedule -- talk about a "hot ticket!"

We need to seriously examine how Glenn Beck is perceived by the Right. According to a recent Democracy Corps study, among the Tea Party crowd, Beck is one of the most revered and highly regarded figures. According to the same study, Beck is more than a trusted commentator: he's an "educator." That's a chilling reminder that the hate-drenched right-wing propaganda Beck passes off as "history" is being swallowed whole by his millions of viewers and radio listeners. In Beck, the Right has added an atomic bomb to its arsenal in its war on science, history and reason. Beck insists that "progressives" -- whom he calls a "cancer" on our country -- "control the textbooks." He's an avid climate change denier. And with his attempt to "reclaim the civil rights movement" this weekend by holding a rally in the same spot as and on the anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, he is twisting our nation's history to serve a scary agenda.  

Just the other night Glenn Beck aggressively attacked President Obama's Christianity -- fanning the flames of bigotry at a time when a whopping 18% of Americans think the president is a Muslim and some on the Right are trying to start a new "Birther-style" movement demanding proof of Obama's baptism. Is this the spirit of Dr. King's movement Beck is talking about reclaiming? 

One would think that as someone whose own faith has come under attack, Beck would be more careful about attacking others' religion. But in the messianic light in which he sees himself, he can do no wrong and commit no hypocrisy.  

Stay tuned. People For will be covering Beck's self-aggrandizing events in Washington, DC this weekend as well as Sunday's "early 9/12" Tea Party event. 

 

PFAW

You Can Have Your Freedom of Religion, But You Can’t Exercise It

This afternoon, the “yes, the Constitution grants freedom of religion, but this time you’d better not use it” argument has gained its newest, and most disappointing, adherent.

Under pressure from his ultra right-wing opponent in the Nevada senate race, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid paid lip service to the First Amendment while stating his opposition to the building of a Muslim community center a few blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan:

"The First Amendment protects freedom of religion," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said in a statement. "Sen. Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else."

Reid is the most senior Democrat to come out in opposition to the mosque.

It perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise that hoards of Republican elected officials who live far from New York have come out against what the Right Wing has branded the “Ground Zero Mosque.” It was, after all, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich who turned what was a New York City zoning issue into a national fit of misinformed intolerance.

But it’s deeply disappointing to realize we’ve reached the point where the most powerful Democrat in the Senate is parroting Right Wing talking points at the expense of defending basic American values and constitutional rights.

The Right’s extremist machine has tried to make intolerance and xenophobia a noisy election year issue. When someone like Reid gives them cover for their cynical ploy, they begin to succeed.


 

PFAW

Conservatives Against Religious Tolerance

Recently the right wing, including Sarah Palin and other prominent Republicans, has been loudly protesting the proposed construction of an Islamic center and mosque in the vicinity of Ground Zero. The center is intended to help build an interfaith community in downtown Manhattan. But to hear the National Republican Trust tell it, radical Islamic terrorist-supporters are planning to build a mosque next to the world trade center site in order to celebrate the 9/11 attacks. In one ad, the NRT Pac pairs disturbing images of 9/11 with this message:

"On Sept. 11, they declared war against us. And to celebrate that murder of 3,000 Americans, they want to build a monstrous 13-story mosque at Ground Zero. This ground is sacred. When we weep, they rejoice. That mosque is a monument to their victory and an invitation for more. A mosque at Ground Zero must not stand."

It’s hard to count everything that is wrong with this statement: there is no link between the organizers and extremist Muslim groups; the project is a community center, not just a mosque, complete with a swimming pool and art exhibition space; the building isn’t even visible from Ground Zero; and the list goes on. As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made clear in an eloquent speech, conservatives’ misleading rhetoric does a disservice to the American spirit of religious tolerance that was attacked on September 11.

In a statement, PFAW President Michael Keegan said:

Of course a Muslim community center should be allowed in lower Manhattan. This is not a close question.

Our country is built upon the bedrock principle that people of all faiths and of no faith at all are equally welcome in our nation’s civic life. No community should be told to move away because of its religion. Arguing that Muslims are unwelcome anywhere is a threat to religious liberty everywhere. Religious intolerance is not the American way.

Those political leaders who have spoken out against religious intolerance should be applauded—they have taken a stand for our most essential values. It’s deeply disappointing that so many of their colleagues chose instead to use this incident to inflame religious strife.

I just can’t get over the hypocrisy of Sarah Palin tweeting “Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand. Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts,” while her Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives blocked a health care bill for New Yorkers and first responders sickened from inhaling toxins from the 9/11 attacks.

That’s right, Americans, the GOP will NOT be there to help if you are made permanently ill in the aftermath of a terrorist attack – but don’t worry, they’ll fight to protect the site of the attack from “peace-seeking Muslims.”

PFAW

Dreaming Of What Might Have Been Had Boykin Testifed At Kagan's Hearing

Last week we noted that Senate Republicans had put Gen. Jerry Boykin on their list of witnesses to testify against Elena Kagan during her Supreme Court confirmation hearing, seemingly unaware of just how radically right-wing his views were.

Sadly, they quickly wised up and dropped him from the list but, in a serendipitous turn of events, the AFA's Bryan Fischer had Boykin on his radio program today to discuss the entire issue.

In this clip, Fischer calls out Senate Republicans to caving to a bunch of bloggers sitting around in the pajamas and clicking away on their laptops, and Boykin agrees, saying that Sen. Sessions called him to apologize but that doesn't change the fact that there are no good Christian men in Congress who are willing to stand up for the truth.  Boykin then goes on to give a quick synopsis of what he would have said, had his invitation not been rescinded, eventually getting into Sen. Inhofe territory suggesting that the troops will be unwilling to die for their fellow gay soldiers:

Now, that sort of testimony might be relevant to a hearing about Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but that Boykin intended to deliver it during a confirmation hearing for Kagan seems rather odd, to put it mildly.  

So it seems pretty clear that Senate Republicans made a smart move by dropping Boykin ... after all, I am sure that the last thing they wanted was to watch Boykin go off about how Islam is not a religion and should not be protected by the First Amendment:

Crossposted from RWW.

PFAW

A Victory For Religious Liberty

In today's 5-4 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court correctly ruled that a publicly funded law school need not provide funding and recognition to a campus group with policies that discriminate based on religion and sexual orientation.

The University of California, Hastings College of Law, is a public institution with a viewpoint-neutral policy of recognizing and providing some funding to official student organizations, as long as the groups open their membership to all comers regardless of their status or beliefs. The campus Christian Legal Society (CLS) denies voting membership to those who do not subscribe to its religious beliefs, including those which condemn sex outside of heterosexual marriage. Because the CLS's discrimination on the basis of religion and sexual orientation violates the school's "all comers" policy, Hastings denied them official recognition.

All student groups, the CLS included, are subject to the same rules. But the CLS demanded – and the four arch-conservative Justices would have given them – a special favored status denied to other groups: the right to the funds and benefits of recognition from a public institution, along with an exemption from the rules that apply to any other group seeking those funds and benefits.

People For the American Way Foundation filed an amicus brief with other civil rights organizations in support of Hastings College of Law in the case. The brief emphasized that the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the right of the states to withhold public funding that would support discrimination. This is particularly relevant in the context of government-funded "faith-based initiatives," where conservative Christian groups are demanding the right to receive public funds and then use them to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Had the four-Justice dissent carried the day, grave damage would have been done to the power of government to prohibit public funds from being used to forward invidious discrimination. Today is a victory for religious liberty.

PFAW

Judging, Judges and Prop 8

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, in a piece titled, “Don’t ask, don’t judge?” gave a rhetorical green light to Religious Right activists who have responded to news that federal judge Vaughn Walker is gay by attacking his ability to rule fairly on the constitutional challenge to Prop. 8, the California ballot initiative that stripped same-sex couples of the right to get married.

Although Marcus concludes in the end that Walker, who was randomly assigned to hear the case, was right not to recuse himself simply because he is gay, she does so after a lot of “squirming” like this:

So when Walker considers claims that the ban on same-sex marriage violates the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process of law, it's hard to imagine that his sexuality, if he is gay, does not influence his decision-making -- just as the experience of having gay friends or relatives would affect a straight judge.

In the end, Marcus writes,

In this case, I hope the plaintiffs win and that Walker rules that the same-sex marriage ban violates their constitutional rights. At the same time, I've got to acknowledge: If I were on the side supporting the ban and found it struck down by a supposedly gay judge, I'd have some questions about whether the judicial deck had been stacked from the start.

But why wouldn’t the deck be considered “stacked” against gay people if a straight judge were deciding the case? By concluding her column that way, Marcus gives credence to the offensive notion that is already being promoted by right-wing leaders that a gay judge cannot be expected to rule fairly in a case involving the legal rights of gay Americans.

Here’s Matt Barber, director of cultural affairs with Liberty Counsel, responding to news that Judge Walker is, in Barber’s words, “an active practitioner of the homosexual lifestyle.”

“At worst, Judge Walker’s continued involvement with this case presents a textbook conflict of interest. At best, it objectively illustrates the unseemly appearance of a conflict.

"If Judge Walker somehow divines from thin air that the framers of the U.S. Constitution actually intended that Patrick Henry had a ‘constitutional right’ to marry Henry Patrick, then who among us will be surprised?

“Any decision favoring plaintiffs in this case will be permanently marred and universally viewed as stemming from Judge Walker’s personal biases and alleged lifestyle choices.

"For these reasons, and in the interest of justice, Judge Walker should do the honorable thing and immediately recuse himself.”

Barber tries to make a case that he is taking a principled stand by saying, “This is no different than having an avid gun collector preside over a Second Amendment case,” continued Barber, “or a frequent user of medical marijuana deciding the legality of medical marijuana.”

Really, Matt? You expect us to believe that you would advocate that judges who collect guns should recuse themselves from cases involving the Second Amendment? What about avid hunters, like Justice Antonin Scalia? Should anyone who owns a gun be assumed not to be able to rule fairly on legal issues involving guns?

The Post’s Marcus concluded that asking Judge Walker to recuse himself would “invite too many challenges to judicial fairness -- Jewish judges hearing cases about Christmas displays, or judges who once represented unions or management presiding over labor disputes.”

What about Christian judges presiding over Christmas displays? Can you imagine the outrage from Matt Barber and his Religious Right colleagues if someone were to suggest that Christian judges should be barred from hearing cases involving legal and constitutional questions about separation of church and state?

In a diverse and pluralistic nation, it’s important that the federal bench reflect that diversity. But what’s far more important than an individual judge’s race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation is his or her judicial philosophy and understanding of the Constitution’s text, history, and role in protecting the rights and opportunities of all Americans.

The unspoken offensive presumption at work here is that people who come to the law with a life experience that is considered “normal” – say, straight white male Christian – are inherently unbiased, or that their life experience somehow gives them a singularly correct way of viewing the law. Others are suspect.

This notion was on ugly display during the Sonia Sotomayor hearings, when her recognition that she would bring her life experience as a Latina to the bench was used to pillory her as a white-male-hating racist. What about all those white male senators, and the white male Supreme Court Justices they had voted to confirm? Samuel Alito’s ethnic pride and empathy were considered valid, while Sotomayor’s was radical and threatening.

Ruth Marcus is no Matt Barber. She is in some ways simply acknowledging the reality that there is still a level of emotional prejudice against gay people that will keep some Americans from believing that a gay judge can be fair. But she is far too sympathetic to the purveyors of that prejudice. Her column validates their bigotry and will encourage more of the kind of divisive rhetoric we see from the likes of Barber.

PFAW

DC Victory for Marriage Equality

Yesterday, PFAW staff joined hundreds of DC residents at the Rally for Marriage Equality at the Kennedy Recreation Center in Washington, DC to support the DC Council’s vote on marriage equality.

Several lead sponsors of the bill including Jim Ward, David A Catania, and Harry Thomas Jr. addressed the boisterous crowd to declare their emphatic support for marriage equality. Community organizers and activists also shared their thoughts on the battle they have waged for years for marriage equality.

Earlier today, the DC Council voted 11-2 in favor of marriage equality. Mayor Adrian Fenty is expected to immediately sign the bill. Congress has 30 legislative days to review the measure.

PFAW President, Michael B. Keegan, issued the following statement:

“Today’s vote is a major step forward for equality and a proud day for all the residents of the District of Columbia. At long last, same-sex couples will be allowed the same protections and responsibilities that straight couples have always enjoyed.

“This vote wouldn’t be possible without the years of hard work by activists from every ward in the city. Today’s legislation is supported by people of every race and religion. I am especially proud of the many clergy members who spoke out in favor of equality as a core value that all of us share.
 

PFAW

Supreme Court Takes Church-State Case

Yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a case with important consequences for church-state separation.

The group, the Christian Legal Society, says it welcomes all students to participate in its activities. But it does not allow students to become voting members or to assume leadership positions unless they affirm what the group calls orthodox Christian beliefs and disavow “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle.” Such a lifestyle, the group says, includes “sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman.”

The law school, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, part of the University of California, allows some 60 recognized student groups to use meeting space, bulletin boards and the like so long as they agree to a policy that forbids discrimination on various grounds, including religion and sexual orientation. The school withdrew recognition from the Christian group after it refused to comply with the policy.

Hastings is a public university, and it has a clear policy requiring all student groups to be open to all comers. So, to make a long story short, the group, CLS sued and the case made its way to the Supreme Court.

At stake is whether or not tax dollars—your tax dollars—should go to fund a group which specifically excludes people based on religion or sexual orientation. The answer, in case you were wondering, is “no.”

PFAW

Quite the 360: The Mormon Church is backing gay rights bill in Salt Lake City

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is publicly supporting two proposed ordinances in Salt Lake City protecting gay and lesbian residents from housing and employment discrimination.

According to Michael Otterson, the managing director of the LDS Church’s public affairs office, “the church supports this ordinance because it is fair and reasonable and does not do violence to the institution of marriage.”

We applaud the church for their stance on this ordinance, but we remember all too well their unfair and unreasonable support of Prop 8 in California:

Last year at the urging of church leaders, Mormons donated tens of millions of dollars to the "Yes on 8" campaign and were among the most vigorous volunteers. The institutional church gave nearly $190,000 to the campaign — contributions now being investigated by California's Fair Political Practices Commission.

PFAW

What a Shooting Doesn’t Mean

The attack that took place yesterday at Fort Hood was utterly horrifying, and Americans of all stripes are holding the victims of the violence in their thoughts and prayers.

That the perpetrator of the attack was deeply disturbed is obvious, but it’s also been widely reported that he is a practicing Muslim.

If he were a Christian, no one would use the incident to spread suspicion of Christians, but because of deeply ingrained cultural misunderstanding of Islam, some commentators are pushing the lie that Nidal Malik Hasan’s reprehensible actions should in some way reflect on all Muslims.

That’s absurd.

People For the American Way Foundation said as much today.

While the facts of the case are still being established, some commentators have latched onto the suspect’s name and religion and used them to impugn the characters of all Muslim Americans. That’s unacceptable. All Americans are united in condemning this violence, and it would be horrific if this incident was used to sow divisiveness and discord.

Our friends at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) put out a press release that should have been entirely unnecessary, but which should clear up any lingering misconceptions:

We condemn this cowardly attack in the strongest terms possible and ask that the perpetrators be punished to the full extent of the law. No religious or political ideology could ever justify or excuse such wanton and indiscriminate violence. The attack was particularly heinous in that it targeted the all-volunteer army that protects our nation. American Muslims stand with our fellow citizens in offering both prayers for the victims and sincere condolences to the families of those killed or injured.

Yesterday’s shooting was a tragedy, and the proper response is sympathy for the heartbreaking ordeal the Fort Hood community is going through. Not intolerant attacks on fellow Americans.
 

PFAW