In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, PFAW founder Norman Lear describes the values that have guided his activism for the past 30 years: a belief that the right to individual liberty is not dependent on one’s religious beliefs and that the opportunity to pursue a decent life should be available to all. Now, argues Lear, those ideals are being held hostage by demagogues of many forms, and it is up to the American people to fight back.
The religious right leaders who got me engaged in politics often portray such things as free expression and equal protection for all Americans no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation as anti-Christian and un-American, as symptoms of cultural decline. I couldn't disagree more. What strikes me as un-American are the greed, deception and systematic corruption that have infected politics, business and so much of our culture in recent years. Some of those with power and privilege have worked to create a system that continually reinforces that privilege and power, leaving ever-increasing numbers of Americans without reasonable hope for the kind of life their parents worked to give them….
Call it the American dream, the American promise or the American way. Whatever term you use, it is imperiled, and worth fighting for. It is that basic, deeply patriotic emotion that I believe is finding expression — bottom-up, small-d democratic expression — in the Occupy movement. We can, and I would say must, fully embrace both love of country and outrage at attempts to despoil it. What better cause? What better time?
You can read the full op-ed here.
On November 8, 2011, People For the American Way Foundation hosted a forum at the National Press Club entitled America as a ‘Christian Nation’ – A conversation with experts on religion, history, law and the Constitution. The panel of experts discussed the historical and political forces behind the often-peddled myth that America was founded specifically as a Christian Nation and the effects of this narrative in today’s religious and political dialogue. Highlights are below, and you can find the full video with the transcript here.
Peter Montgomery, Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation, provides background information on the notion of America as a “Christian Nation” and introduces the panel.
Dr. John Ragosta, author and Resident Fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, describes the historical significance of 18th and 19th century evangelical Baptists’ insistence on the separation of church and state.
Dr. John Ragosta compares religious nations that have officially sectarian governments with the United States' experience under the doctrine of the separation of church and state and challenges the misleading statements and faulty evidence cited by figures such as David Barton to advance the myth that America is a “Christian nation.”
Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin, a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation and the Director of the Law and Government program at American University’s Washington College of Law, describes the ways in which David Barton's ideology is at odds with the Constitution and its ban on religious tests for holding public office.
Jamie Raskin explains why interpreting the Constitution as a religious document is inaccurate, and betrays the original meaning of the First Amendment and denies two centuries of American jurisprudential development.
Dr. Julie Ingersoll, author, associate professor of religious studies at the University of North Florida and contributor to Religion Dispatches, analyzes the incorporation of David Barton’s biblical views into conservative policy.
Dr. Ingersoll identifies some of the subtle language used by Dominionists and Christian Reconstructionists, including a focus on “sphere sovereignty.”
Dr. John Kinney, dean of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University and pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Beaver Dam, Virginia, and member of People For the American Way Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council, argues against the notion that there is only one correct, “Christian” interpretation of the bible and public policy, and provides a progressive perspective on the role of the church in public and private life.
In a bit of good news, the Supreme Court today declined to hear the appeal of two Establishment Clause cases from Utah striking down as unconstitutional state-approved memorial crosses on public highways. But in dissenting from this decision not to take the case, Clarence Thomas has done us the favor of reminding Americans just how out of the mainstream he is.
While Thomas's dissent is an expansive critique of the Court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence, he does briefly remind readers just how far from the mainstream his views are.
Even if the Court does not share my view that the Establishment Clause restrains only the Federal Government, and that, even if incorporated [by the 14th Amendment to apply to the states], the Clause only prohibits "actual legal coercion," the Court should be deeply troubled by what its Establishment Clause jurisprudence has wrought. [emphasis added and internal citation removed]
Mitt Romney has made clear that he sees Clarence Thomas as the kind of jurist he would nominate to the Supreme Court. This is no surprise coming from someone who asked rejected Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork to lead his campaign's legal advisory team.
Thomas's dangerously narrow vision of the Establishment Clause is a good reminder of how much is at stake when Americans vote for president in 2012.
Update: Whole Foods, via its Twitter feed, claims that the email in question was sent by one of its twelve operation regions, that the promotion is continuing nationwide and that the email in question is being "addressed and corrected."
Apparently, Whole Foods has decided that it can make more money catering to anti-Muslim extremists than it can catering to American Muslims and supporters of religious liberty.
Last month, in what seemed like a fairly straight-forward business move for a large grocery chain, Whole Foods announced a promotion of a line of Halal products for Ramadan.
Unsurprisingly, when the anti-Muslim blogosphere caught whiff of this, they started throwing a fit, calling Whole Foods “jihadist” and “anti-Israel” for daring to sell Halal food to Muslim customers.
And the company listened. According to the Houston Press, an internal email was sent to stores around the country saying “It is probably best that we don't specifically call out or 'promote' Ramadan ... We should not highlight Ramadan in signage in our stores as that could be considered 'Celebrating or promoting' Ramadan."
Whole Foods is a private company and can advertise its products however it wants. But it’s disturbing that the Internet protests of a really fringe group were enough to prompt the company to bail out of an entirely innocuous seasonal marketing campaign.
In case you missed it, here’s what New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie had to say about Sharia scare tactics -- in a different context -- at a press conference last week:
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.
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
It seems that the religious right is resorting to that old schoolyard taunt to yet again attempt to portray themselves as the victims of the fight for marriage equality.
I am rubber, you are glue…
In her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Maggie Gallagher, Chairman of the Board of the National Organization of Marriage, warned members of the panel that Americans must brace for the impending scorn they will receive for standing up for “religious liberty.”
In a lovely bit of circular reasoning, Gallagher bemoans the intolerance of the pro-equality community:
The great animating idea behind same-sex marriage is this: there are no relevant differences between same-sex and opposite-sex unions, and if you see a difference there’s something wrong with you. You are like a bigot opposed to interracial marriage.
If you want to see what this big new idea, embraced by law, means, ask yourself: how do we treat bigots who oppose interracial marriage? If we—and the law—accept the core ideas driving same-sex marriage, we will also have to accept the consequences for traditional faith communities, for those Americans who continue to believe that marriage is the union of husband and wife.
Apparently, there is a new type of bigot: The bigot-bigot. Strangely, Gallagher is trying to claim that supporters of marriage equality are actually bigoted themselves for thinking that treating gay couples as second-class is inherently bigoted. Around and around we go.
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:
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.
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.
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.”
One of the more interesting developments in the latest push for comprehensive immigration reform has been the split developing between conservative anti-immigrant groups who are committed to mass deportation at all costs and some right-wing evangelical leaders who have come out in favor of a compassionate and realistic approach to immigration reform.
In May, a coalition of conservative evangelical leaders announced their intention to gather support for “a just assimilation immigration policy.” Soon afterwards, of course, they made it clear that their definition of “just” does not include justice for LGBT couples.
On Wednesday, a number of those leaders spoke to the House Judiciary Committee on their support for ethical immigration reform—and its limits.
In the hearing on the Ethical Imperative for Reform of our Immigration System , immigration reform was discussed in the context of ethics and morals, and the committee heard testimonies from three religious leaders and one scholar about the problems and possible solutions for immigration reform in America.
Nobody at the hearing denied that the current immigration system is broken and untenable. Rev. Gerald Kicanas, Bishop of the Archdiocese of Tucson, contextualized immigration as a humanitarian issue with moral implications, underlining that our immigration system fails to protect basic human rights and dignity. He voiced his support for comprehensive immigration reform that would encompass features such as paying a fine, paying taxes, learning English, and waiting behind those who already applied legally to eventually gain citizenship, and argued that CIR would fulfill our moral obligation to protect immigrants under rule of law.
Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, echoed those sentiments, stating that when looking at the issue of immigration through a faith-based lens, individuals had a biblical mandate to care for others and act mercifully.
Both speakers advocated an earned path to citizenship, recognizing that deporting over 11 million immigrants was not only unfeasible, but immoral and inconsistent with the rule of law.
It’s troubling that the compassion Kicanas and Land are advocating stops at the equal treatment of gay people. Both are right that too often, pivotal issues like immigration reform become mired in politics and party-line ideology, and it’s important for leaders from different faith backgrounds to step up and have a conversation on the detrimental effects of our broken system of immigration on millions of families. But that discussion should include all families.
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.
Over the past few weeks, the DC Council has been considering a bill to allow gays and lesbians to marry in Washington, DC. In light of some misleading charges by Catholic Charities that the existing bill would impair its religious liberty – and its threat to withdraw charitable services from the homeless, the sick, and the orphaned – the Council is considering a poorly-worded amendment that would apply only to same-sex marriages, but not to any other civil marriage. The amended bill would provide that:
a religious society, or a nonprofit organization which is operated, supervised, or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, facilities, or goods for a purpose related to the solemnization or celebration of a same-sex marriage, or the promotion of same-sex marriage through religious programs, counseling, courses, or retreats, that is in violation of the religious society's beliefs (emphasis added).
If the issue is genuinely protecting religious liberty, shouldn't it apply to all civil marriages and all religious beliefs?
If the issue is genuinely religious liberty, then shouldn't those with religious opposition to interracial marriages receive the same protection of their religious beliefs, noxious though they may be? Shouldn't those who believe God wants America to throw out all people of color be protected from having to provide services for non-whites' weddings? Or shouldn't they be allowed to force people to present proof of citizenship, if they claim their religious belief calls for America to expel undocumented aliens? If someone's religious belief is that Christians are worshipping a mortal man in violation of the Ten Commandments, why is her religious liberty less protected when she wants to deny services related to Christian weddings?
If the concern is genuinely religious liberty for all, then the bill should be written that way.
But if the only religious beliefs being "protected" are those condemning homosexuality, then that is in no way a religious liberty protection. The DC Council would be elevating one group's religious beliefs above all others, giving them special legal rights denied to others with different religious beliefs.
Any religious exception should apply to all religious beliefs and all types of civil marriages.
Last week we mentioned the anti-Muslim witch hunt that some members of Congress wanted to start against, of all people, Congressional interns.
And yesterday People For President Michael B. Keegan wrote about the chilling resurgance of McCarthy-like tactics coming from the Right Wing.
But we'd be remiss in failing to point out another Congressman standing up for religious liberty and against anti-Muslim bigotry. Representative Keith Ellison, himself the first Muslim-American member of Congress, took to the floor of the House to read a statement from the Congressional Tri Caucus. The statement made clear that people of all races and religions are welcome in the halls of Congress.
You can read the statement and watch a video of Rep. Ellison's remarks here.
Congressman Ellison and all the members of the Tri Caucus, we salute you! Thanks for standing up for religious liberty for all.
Almost 100 people testified on Monday, October 26 in a 7 ½ hour hearing on marriage equality legislation moving in the District of Columbia council. Another 169 people who signed up will testify on Monday, November 2. After that, marriage equality will move from committee to the full council and should be passed into law by the end of the year.
The hearing was inspiring and invigorating. I testified in support of the bill on behalf of People For the American Way and as a DC resident hoping to get married next year. I was at the halfway point of the hearing but stayed until almost 11 p.m. to hear everyone speak.
The good news is that pro-equality speakers, and pro-equality clergy, vastly outnumbered opponents. Included were other professional advocates from the Human Rights Campaign and the ACLU; a dozen pro-equality religious leaders, men and women representing many faiths, races, and ethnicities, among them Rev. Dennis Wiley of Covenant Baptist Church and Rev. Robert Hardies of All Souls Church, Unitarian, leaders of DC Clergy United for Marriage; pro-equality leaders from the local Democratic and Republican political parties; and a long list of DC residents, LGBT and not, testifying on behalf of themselves, their partners, their families and friends, and their children.
There were many moving moments: a young gay couple, one of them a vet, tightly holding hands and fighting back tears to testify; a heterosexual married man who testified with his seven-year old daughter at his side, because she already understands that it's wrong that the gay people in her life, including the parents of her best friends, aren't treated equally under the law; dozens of women and men speaking the truth about their lives, their eagerness to protect their loved ones, and their desire to be treated equally in the city that is their home.
Opposing the measure were Bishop Harry Jackson, who leads the city's anti-equality forces, a handful of local civic activists, and a group of officials from the Catholic archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities. The most interesting back-and-forth of the night took place between the panel of Catholic leaders and Councilmembers David Catania and Tommy Wells over the scope of the religious liberty protections in the bill. Councilmember Catania had said earlier in the day that he was willing to consider changes to those provisions, but he and Wells were deeply skeptical of demands that Catholic Charities be given carte blanche to discriminate against same-sex couples in provision of services and treatment of its employees when 75 percent of its revenues are from public funds. Notably, a few panels earlier, Professor Joseph Palacios from Georgetown University had testified in favor of the legislation, citing recent research showing strong support for marriage equality among lay Catholics nationally and even stronger support in the District of Columbia.
The legislation is assured of passage: it was co-sponsored by nine of the 12 councilmembers, and another councilmember announced his support at the hearing. DC Mayor Adrian Fenty has pledged to sign it. Activists are working with congressional leaders to make sure that the legislation survives the legislative review period that DC's laws are subjected to. The council's overwhelming support for the measure was a source of frustration to some of the anti-equality speakers, who angrily denounced the hearing as a sham and demanded that the issue be put to a public vote. Earlier in the day, Jackson and other anti-equality speakers urged the District's Board of Elections to allow them to put marriage equality before the voters, even though the board had ruled earlier this year that doing so would violate DC law against putting human rights protections on the ballot.
Watch my testimony here:
People For the American Way Foundation's recent Right Wing Watch In Focus report documented the deceptive ways that Religious Right leaders blur the distinction between civil and religious marriage in order to convince Americans that marriage equality is a threat to religious liberty. Today's thrilling unanimous Iowa Supreme Court decision that it is unconstitutional to deny marriage to same-sex couples in the state included a powerful and respectful section on the same topic. Here's how it concludes:
In the final analysis, we give respect to the views of all Iowans on the issue of same-sex marriage—religious or otherwise—by giving respect to our constitutional principles. These principles require that the state recognize both opposite-sex and same-sex civil marriage. Religious doctrine and views contrary to this principle of law are unaffected, and people can continue to associate with the religion that best reflects their views. A religious denomination can still define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a minister, priest, rabbi, or other person ordained or designated as a leader of the person’s religious faith does not lose its meaning as a sacrament or other religious institution.
The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past. The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law. This result is what our constitution requires.
Every February, People For the American Way, along with the rest of the country, celebrates Black History Month. And this year, more than ever, it's humbling to see just how far our nation has moved. And how far we still have to go.
I'm proud that People For the American Way can point to its own history to demonstrate why Black History Month is relevant to people of all backgrounds. Barbara Jordan was the first African American woman to serve in the Texas State Senate, the first African American woman to represent a southern state in Congress, and one of the founders of People For the American Way.
In 1981, when U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan joined Norman Lear to form People For the American Way, they understood that the promise of our nation, that all men (and women) are created equal, was not just unrealized, but was under active attack. But instead of focusing on what was wrong with our country, they used their powerful, utterly unique voices to speak for America's highest ideals and to push forward towards a better America.
Rep. Jordan was an energetic advocate of our Constitution's core values of fairness and equality under law. She continues to be an inspiration in our work, and it's not an exaggeration to say that it's because of leaders like Barbara Jordan that we were all able to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama last month.
But still, there are those who are intent on dragging us backwards. While the inauguration was still fresh in our minds, People For was forced to lead an aggressive campaign to help confirm President Obama's Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder -- the first African American to hold the position. After eight years spent undermining the crucial work of the Department of Justice, the Right is fighting hard to prevent the new administration from truly restoring justice at the DOJ. This is why Attorney General Holder's comments about the racism in America ring true to so many of us in this constant battle against those who would turn back the clock on civil rights. And just last week we all got an ugly reminder of this pervasive racism and racial insensitivity in America when the New York Post published an offensive cartoon depicting President Obama as a chimp getting shot by two white police officers. The cartoon literally included several layers of tastelessness: the comparison of our first African American president to an ape, what could be construed as an invitation for violence against the president AND the stirring up of racial issues with law enforcement in a city that has particularly sensitive recent history in that area.
Many have pointed out that the lack of diversity in senior management and on the editorial staff of the Post was a major contributing factor to how a cartoon like that could get published in the first place. That's why I'm proud that People For and our affiliate foundation have taken so seriously our mission to help promote diversity. It can be seen very clearly in People For the American Way Foundation's leadership development programs, the Young Elected Officials Network and Young People For, which are among the most diverse programs of their kind -- ever. And it can be seen in our groundbreaking efforts to promote equality for all, like with People For Foundation's work with African American ministers to combat homophobia in the Black Church.
We're working hard to make sure that civil rights remain a top priority for this administration, and fighting against those who are intent on erecting barriers to the ballot, not to mention advocating for a more just Supreme Court, organizing for marriage equality for all and defending religious liberty by maintaining the separation between church and state.
Barbara Jordan made clear that there are certain principles that are not negotiable, values she called "indigenous to the American idea." Opportunity. Fairness. Equality under law. Those are still the values that bind our community together, and every day we're moving closer to that nation that she envisioned.
We here at People For have been making the case since the November elections that even though the results were devastating for the Republican Party, they actually strengthened the Radical Right and increased its influence within the GOP. Republicans in Congress are now unabashedly taking their marching orders directly from right-wing demagogues and organizations ... even scarier: some Democrats seem to be falling in line as well.
Kyle at Right Wing Watch had two great posts yesterday on the Right's direct manipulation of some of the biggest current debates in Washington. He exposed how the targeting of President Obama's DOJ nominees is really being directed by the Family Research Counsel and other fringe groups and wrote about the outright lie started by Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) that a provision of the stimulus package -- now being debated in the Senate -- is an attack on people of faith.
The ACLJ’s water was carried by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) who actually offered an amendment to the stimulus package which would have stripped the 'controversial' provision -- the provision in question simply prevents the tax dollars being appropriated here from being used to support religion. So we had DeMint and others parroting lies on the Senate floor to support an amendment that had no legitimacy whatsoever.
And the amendment only failed by a close vote of 54-43 ... with several Democrats defecting and voting for DeMint's amendment!
Why did they defect? Well, in part, it's because President Obama's been sending them the wrong message about how to deal with the Religious Right. The other day, the president announced the creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, but very conspicuously did not use the opportunity to rescind the Bush-administration policy making it legal for recipients of faith-based funding to discriminate in providing services.
Equivocation on very fundamental religious liberty issues will not help the country, and it will not help the president move his agenda. President Obama is starting to get angry – and rightly so -- at the people who are trying to derail his stimulus package. Most critics are trying to Republicanize the spending package to kill some very vital spending that would aid recovery and add more tax cuts. The president correctly states that the old supply-side economic policies of Reagan and Bush -- reckless tax cuts, cuts in spending where the economy needs it most, rampant and irresponsible deregulation -- were exactly the same policies that landed us in this economic mess to begin with. But now, some Democratic Senators are being cowed by the Rush Limbaugh-led Right into compromising on key parts of the stimulus plan.
Getting beyond partisanship is a lofty ambition, but when the other side is trying to take the country backwards, firm opposition is what's needed. Our new president would be best served to stick to the principles he campaigned on and stand up to the Right's ideological agenda -- whether it rears its ugly head in the economic debate or in the arena of constitutional rights and the separation of church and state.
President Obama and all the Democrats on the Hill should read People For the American Way's new Right Wing Watch In Focus memo on The Right's "Big Lie" Strategy.