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“Why Is It So Hard To Call Racism Racism?”: Let There Be No (Pretend) Confusion About Church Shooter’s Motivation

This is for Elisabeth Hasselbeck of Fox & Friends, who described last Thursday’s act of white extremist terrorism at Emanuel AME church in Charleston as an “attack on faith.”

It’s for Rick Perry, who said maybe the shooting happened because of prescription drugs. It’s for Jeb Bush, who said, “I don’t know what was on the mind” of the killer. It’s for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who said, “We’ll never understand what motivates” a crime like this. It’s for Glenn Beck, who said, “I don’t know why this shooter shot people. He might shoot people because he’s a racist. He might have shot people because he’s an anarchist. He might have shot people because he hates Christians.”

This is also for the reader who called the tragedy a “hoax” perpetrated by the White House to promote racial hatred and gun control, and for the one who said, “Charleston was not a hate crime.” Finally, it’s for any and everyone who responded to the massacre by chanting, tweeting, or saying, “All lives matter.”

For all of you, a simple question: What the hell is wrong with you people? Why is it so hard for you to call racism racism?

It is not news that some people go to extraordinary lengths to avoid conceding that America remains a nation stained by racial discrimination. Bring them a hundred testimonies illustrating it and they are unmoved. Bring them a thousand studies quantifying it and they say that numbers lie. They deny self-evident truth because otherwise, they must concede racism did not, in fact, end 50 years ago, and they are heavily invested in that fiction.

Still, it is breathtaking and heartbreaking to learn that this recalcitrance holds firm even in the face of so blatant a crime. Nine people dead following an attack upon a storied African-American church. The alleged killer: Dylann Roof, a 21-year old dropout with a Moe Howard haircut whose racist motivations were pretty clear to authorities from the beginning and have only become clearer since.

He said he wanted to shoot black people. You don’t get plainer than that.

Yet, even in the face of this utter lack of mystery, some of us professed confusion about the killer’s motives.

An “attack on faith”? Only the “War on Christmas” delusions and anti-gay fixations of Fox could make this about that.

“All lives matter”? Of course they do. But what is it about the specificity of declaring “Black Lives Matter” that some people object to? What is it they find problematic about acknowledging that black lives in particular are under siege in this country? It certainly wasn’t “all lives” Roof sought to snuff out when he entered that church.

And Glenn Beck’s professed confusion about the shooter’s motive? It is simply bizarre that a man who once famously dubbed President Obama “a racist” based on no evidence beyond the voices in his own head has such difficulty being that definitive about a white man who drove 100 miles to shoot up a black church.

A few days ago, a Toronto Star reporter tweeted video of a mostly white crowd that marched through Charleston chanting “Black Lives Matter.” God, but that was a welcome sight — ice-cold lemonade on the hottest day in August. It was a stirring, needed reminder that compassion has no color.

All this obfuscation and pretend confusion, on the other hand, is a less welcome reminder that, for all the undeniable progress we have made in matters of race, there remain among us not simply moral cowards, but far too many moral cripples hobbling about on stumps of decency and crutches of denialism.

Last week, nine people were slaughtered in a house of God for no other reason than that they were there, and they were black. It is a sad and simple truth that some of us, for some reason, have not the guts to say.

For that, they should be profoundly ashamed.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, June 24, 2015

June 24, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Emanuel AME Church, Racism, White Supremacy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Religion Won’t Save Cruz’s White House Bid”: Evangelical Appeal Only Takes You So Far

Given that Ted Cruz formally announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in the most overtly religious way possible, pollsters, pundits, and the public will quickly begin to speculate about the role of faith in the 2016 GOP nominating contest.

Unfortunately for Cruz, there is little reason to believe that the Republican Party is going to nominate someone who looks and talks like a televangelist. Yet evangelical elites’ stature within the GOP coalition assures that the party will cater to some—though not all—of their priorities.

Cruz announced his candidacy to a packed convocation at Liberty University. Founded by Jerry Falwell, the famed fundamentalist pastor and political operative who died in 2007, the Lynchburg, Virginia, campus is a bastion of cultural conservatism. The optics of Cruz’s speech, which reporters likened to a sermon, were clearly designed to highlight his evangelical bona fides.

Americans, and especially Republican primary voters, will now take a closer look at Cruz.

Well-known in political circles for his Tea Party-fueled campaign for Senate in 2012, Ted Cruz defied the Beltway expectation that freshmen senators should learn the ropes, quietly deferring to and learning from party elders. Instead, Cruz quickly jumped headlong and uninvited into high-profile political fights, taking it upon himself to help sabotage the Senate’s relationship with the Obama administration and with the House of Representatives.

Never missing an opportunity to grandstand, Cruz has shown that he has the ambition and sense of self-importance to think himself the best person for the job, but only his most ardent supporters could possibly think he seems “presidential.”

Cruz’s path to the GOP nomination (if there is one) centers around one goal: becoming the conservative movement’s alternative to the party establishment’s candidate of choice. Unfortunately for Cruz, it will not work.

With varying degrees of success, GOP presidential aspirants titillate conservative evangelicals with the idea that someone who shares their values could become president. A generation ago, Pat Robertson and Patrick Buchanan gave voice to grassroots longing for rhetoric about faith and values in Republican politics. In 2008, Mike Huckabee won eight states and more than 4 million primary votes before withdrawing in March. A motley crew of characters split evangelicals’ allegiances in 2012. Rick Santorum, a Roman Catholic, received vital evangelical support in winning primaries in six conservative states.

Evangelicals often prefer GOP primary candidates who end up losing the nomination to whoever the party establishment prefers. The nominee ends up being someone the party feels is a safer bet for the general election but whose religious commitment evangelicals greet with private, and sometimes public, skepticism.

Pundits overstate the notion that evangelicals “hold their noses” to vote for candidates like John McCain or Mitt Romney. But it is clear that evangelical leaders harbored doubts about recent GOP nominees’ personal faith and commitments to evangelicals’ core issues.

McCain somewhat overcame his failure to win over evangelicals by adding Sarah Palin to the 2008 ticket. Romney’s Mormon faith was an issue because a majority of evangelicals do not consider Mormons to be Christians.

But McCain’s and Romney’s success ironically points to the reasons for Cruz’s pending failure. Political science research points to the outsized and unseen power of party insiders in presidential nominations. Less scientific but no less true is the oft-made observation that the GOP in particular defers not only to the establishment, but also to whichever candidate has “paid his dues” and seems to be “next in line.”

Cruz has repeatedly defied and alienated the Republican establishment, and no candidate has ever won the nomination without significant support from party insiders.

After the Liberty University speech, a Cruz staffer employed a March Madness metaphor, claiming that the senator is the top seed in the Tea Party bracket and in the evangelical bracket.

Unfortunately for Cruz, whichever candidate wins the establishment bracket will almost certainly win the nomination.

Activating a key GOP constituency like anti-government libertarians or conservative evangelicals is only a viable strategy if it is combined with significant establishment appeal. For this reason, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and even Rand Paul are better positioned than Ted Cruz.

In previous Republican nominating contests, Cruz’s outspoken evangelical faith could have been a political advantage. But white evangelicals are now so used to working with Catholics on sex-related issues that a candidate’s evangelical identity hardly matters.

This cycle’s GOP nominating contest features a large number of Catholic candidates. Given evangelicals’ primary support for Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum at various points in the 2012 race, Catholic GOP politicians who share evangelicals’ opposition to abortion and concerns about religious liberty should feel secure in their ability to attract and retain evangelicals’ support.

Fears that Ted Cruz would be trounced in November 2016 like “a Republican George McGovern” are vastly overstated. But Ted Cruz’s fervent evangelical faith, however sincere, does nothing to advance his credibility as a contender for the nomination.

 

By: Jacob Lupfer, The Daily Beast, March 24, 2015

March 26, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Evangelicals, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Using Faith To Discriminate”: Religious Freedom Gives Me The Constitutional Right To Violate Your Constitutional Rights. Right?

Conservatives just love the Constitution. Or at least they say they do. The thing is, they don’t seem to have any idea how it works. At least that’s a more charitable explanation than saying they don’t care how the Constitution works and merely use it as a fig leaf while they undermine the rights it guarantees. And I’m a charitable kind of guy, so I won’t say that.

When the Supreme Court recognizes that marriage equality is a constitutionally guaranteed right, one part of the battle will be over. But conservatives have already begun to fight on another front, namely how to implement (or not) that right. Republican state legislators in Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, and both Carolinas (South Carolina was first!) have this year proposed various bills that would give government officials who perform civil marriage ceremonies and/or issue marriage licenses and other related documents the ability to refuse same-sex couples if it would violate a “sincerely held religious belief.”

Additionally, Oklahoma State Rep. Todd Russ proposed to take civil officials out of the marriage business altogether and force prospective couples to be married by “an ordained or authorized preacher or minister of the Gospel, priest or other ecclesiastical dignitary of any denomination who has been duly ordained or authorized by the church to which he or she belongs to preach the Gospel, or a rabbi.” Not a Christian or a Jew? Out of luck, apparently, although Rep. Russ says anyone else who wants to get married can “fil[e] an affidavit of common law marriage with the court clerk.” Small problem: the state of Oklahoma doesn’t recognize common law marriages, although courts have recognized some on a case-by-case basis. I’m sure Hindu and atheist couples will be just fine with that.

Even if they were adopted, such laws almost certainly would be struck down as unconstitutional. Nevertheless, they are instructive because of what they say about the conservative concept of religious freedom. John J. Kallam is a Baptist minister in North Carolina. He also served for 12 years as a magistrate judge in Rockingham County, in which capacity he officiated at numerous civil marriage ceremonies. Last October he quit after he was told he could not “opt out” of performing same-sex marriages.

“I felt, and still feel, that that is stepping on my right of religious freedom,” said Kallam. He brought up the matter of a Sikh soldier in the U.S. Army who successfully argued that religious freedom gave him the right to wear a turban and grow a beard, as mandated by his faith. Kallam asked why he should not have the freedom to act on the basis of his faith as well.

Let’s take Kallam’s argument seriously for a moment, in order to demonstrate why it is wrong to conflate these two examples as being equally deserving of legal protection under the framework of religious freedom. First, the Sikh-American soldier’s turban and beard are an act of expression that affects only himself, whereas a North Carolina magistrate judge refusing to perform a marriage directly affects other people, specifically by denying them a right that, as of last October 10, they possessed as citizens of that state. The soldier’s turban and beard do not violate anyone else’s rights, therefore they merit protection.

Religious freedom means that Kallam has every right to believe that marriage ought to be restricted to a man and a woman, or, for all I care, three men and a baby (whatever happened to Steve Guttenberg, anyway?). But Kallam cannot act on those beliefs–especially not as an officer of the state–if doing so would deny others their constitutional rights.

And this rejection of the clear distinction between expressing one’s faith and acting on it to discriminate against others is at the heart of the conservative concept of religious freedom. Last October, Gordon Klingenschmitt celebrated John Kallam for having stood up to “tyranny.” Klingenschmidt, by the way, also expressed the belief that LGBT activists “want you to disobey God so that you go to hell with them,” and added that the judges who declared bans against same sex marriage to be unconstitutional are “demonic judges who are imposing the devil’s law upon the people.”

Who is Gordon Klingenschmitt? A few weeks after making those statements on his “Pray in Jesus Name” television program, he won election and became a brand-new Republican state representative in Colorado. It’s a struggle between freedom and tyranny, folks.

In addition to pushing laws that would allow government officials to discriminate in the name of religious freedom, conservatives are also pushing laws that would allow private businesses to do the same thing, mostly in response to bakers, florists, and photographers who refused to provide services to customers putting on a same-sex marriage. According to Jim Campbell of the Alliance Defending Freedom, this is about “religious liberty.” He added, “we believe the Constitution protects the right of all citizens including business owners to live in a way consistent with their faith.” (Judges in Colorado, New Mexico, and Washington have already ruled against business owners in such cases. The business owner in the New Mexico case appealed to the Supreme Court, which declined to intervene.)

Along lines similar to Campbell and Kallam, South Carolina Republican State Sen. Lee Bright argued that laws allowing this kind of discrimination are not only right but constitutional because “we have similar language for folks that work in health care that don’t want to participate in abortions” due to their religious beliefs. At first glance, this might seem a potent argument. However, it’s little more than sleight of hand. Medical professionals are not allowed to say: “I perform abortions, but only for heterosexuals.” That would be discrimination, and that’s exactly what florists, bakers, and county magistrates would be doing if they provided their services to some, but not others.

Here’s the one I’d like to run by conservatives who talk about religious freedom in these terms: Think about someone whose religious beliefs state that women must not work outside the home. Now imagine that person having authority over hiring decisions at his job. Do his religious beliefs allow him to discriminate against a female candidate for a position? Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of both religion and sex. I’d like to see a conservative argue that religious freedom gives the man in this scenario the right to reject, out of hand, all women candidates seeking employment.

This is not about religious freedom. All Americans are guaranteed the right to their religious beliefs, the right to worship (or not) any deity they choose in the manner in which they choose. That is a bedrock principle of this country and progressives would fight tooth and nail to preserve it, should it ever be endangered. The thing is, it’s not in danger, other than from conservatives themselves, from people like Bryan Fischer, who last September said that all immigrants should be forced to convert to Christianity. Fischer remains connected to the American Family Association, an organization closely allied to the Republican National Committee.

It’s real simple. Conservatives think religious freedom gives them the right to discriminate on the basis of their religious beliefs. They’re wrong, because, to paraphrase Zechariah Chafee, their right to practice their religion ends where my nose begins.

 

By: Ian Reifowitz, The Blog, The Huffington Post, February 2, 2015

February 6, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Discrimination, Religious Freedom | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stone-Engraved Sacrosanct Principles”: The Tea Party Isn’t A Political Movement, It’s A Religious One

America has long been the incubator of many spiritual creeds going back to the Great Awakening and even earlier. Only one of them, Mormonism, has taken root and flourished as a true religion sprung from our own native ground. Today, however, we have a new faith growing from this nation’s soil: the Tea Party. Despite its secular trappings and “taxed enough already” motto, it is a religious movement, one grounded in the traditions of American spiritual revival. This religiosity explains the Tea Party’s political zealotry.

The mark of a national political party in a democracy is its pluralistic quality, i.e. the ability to be inclusive enough to appeal to the broadest number of voters who may have differing interests on a variety of issues. While it may stand for certain basic principles, a party is often flexible in applying them, as are its representatives in fulfilling them. Despite the heated rhetoric of elections and the bombast of elected representatives, they generally seek consensus with the minority in order to achieve their legislative goals.

But when religion is thrown into the mix, all that is lost. Religion here doesn’t mean theology but a distinct belief system which, in totality, provides basic answers regarding how to live one’s life, how society should function, how to deal with social and political issues, what is right and wrong, who should lead us, and who should not. It does so in ways that fulfill deep-seated emotional needs that, at their profoundest level, are devotional. Given the confusions of a secular world being rapidly transformed by technology, demography, and globalization, this movement has assumed a spiritual aspect whose adepts have undergone a religious experience which, if not in name, then in virtually every other aspect, can be considered a faith.

Seen in this light, the behavior of Tea Party adherents makes sense. Their zeal is not the mercurial enthusiasm of a traditional Republican or Democrat that waxes and wanes with the party’s fortunes, much less the average voter who may not exercise the franchise at every election. These people are true believers who turn out faithfully at the primaries, giving them political clout in great excess to their actual numbers.  Collectively, this can make it appear as if they are preponderant, enabling their tribunes to declare that they represent the will of the American people.

While a traditional political party may have a line that it won’t cross,the Tea Party has a stone-engraved set of principles, all of which are sacrosanct. This is not a political platform to be negotiated but a catechism with only a single answer. It is now a commonplace for Tea Party candidates to vow they won’t sacrifice an iota of their principles. In this light, shutting down the Government rather than bending on legislation becomes a moral imperative. While critics may decry such a tactic as “rule or ruin,” Tea Party brethren celebrate it, rather, as the act of a defiant Samson pulling down the pillars of the temple. For them, this is not demolition but reclamation, cleansing the sanctuary that has been profaned by liberals. They see themselves engaged in nothing less than a project of national salvation. The refusal to compromise is a watchword of their candidates who wear it as a badge of pride. This would seem disastrous in the give-and-take of politics but it is in keeping with sectarian religious doctrine. One doesn’t compromise on an article of faith.

This explains why the Tea Party faithful often appear to be so bellicose. You and I can have a reasonable disagreement about fiscal policy or foreign policy but if I attack your religious beliefs you will become understandably outraged. And if I challenge the credibility of your doctrine you will respond with righteous indignation. To question the validity of Moses parting the Red Sea or the Virgin Birth or Mohammed ascending to heaven on a flying horse is to confront the basis of a believer’s deepest values.

Consequently, on the issues of government, economics, race, and sex, the Tea Party promulgates a doctrine to which the faithful must subscribe. Democrats and independents who oppose their dogma are infidels. Republicans who don’t obey all the tenants are heretics, who are primaried rather than burned at the stake.

Like all revealed religions this one has its own Devil in the form of Barack Obama. This Antichrist in the White House is an illegitimate ruler who must be opposed at every turn, along with his lesser demons, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. They are responsible for everything that has gone wrong with the country in the last six years and indeed, they represent a liberal legacy that has betrayed America’s ideals for the better part of a century. Washington is seen in the same way Protestant fire-breathers once saw Rome: a seat of corruption that has betrayed the pillars of the faith. The only way to save America’s sanctity is to take control of Washington and undermine the federal government while affecting to repair it. Critical to this endeavor is the drumroll of hell-fire sermons from the tub-thumpers of talk radio and Fox News. This national revival tent not only exhorts the faithful but its radio preachers have ultimately become the arbiters of doctrinal legitimacy, determining which candidates are worthy of their anointment and which lack purity.

Having created a picture of Hell, the Tea Party priesthood must furnish the faithful with an image of Paradise. This Eden is not located in space but in time: the Republic in the decades after the Civil War when the plantocracy ruled in the South and plutocrats reigned in the North. Blacks knew their place in Dixie through the beneficence of states’ rights, and the robber barons of the North had a cozy relationship with the government prior to the advent of labor laws, unions, and the income tax. Immigrants were not yet at high tide. It was still a white, male, Christian country and proudly so. When Tea Party stalwarts cry  “Take back America!” we must ask from whom, and to what? They seek to take it back to the Gilded Age, and retrieve it from the lower orders: immigrants, minorities the “takers” of the “47 percent,” and their liberal enablers.

Most critical to any religious movement is a holy text, and the Right has appropriated nothing less than the Constitution to be its Bible. The Tea Party, its acolytes in Congress and its allies on the Supreme Court have allocated to themselves the sole interpretation of the Constitution with the ethos of “Originalism.” Legal minds look to the text to read the thoughts of the Framers as a high priest would study entrails at the Forum. The focus is on text rather than context and authors; the writing rather than the reality in which the words were written. This sort of thinking is a form of literalism that is kindred in spirit to the religious fundamentalism and literal, Biblical truth that rose as bulwarks against modernity.

One thing that Tea Partiers and liberals alike both recognize is that the Constitution forbids the establishment of religion. The prohibition was erected for good reason:  to prevent the religious wars that wracked Europe in the previous century. The Enlightenment was to transcend such sectarian violence inimical to the social order together with the concomitant religious oppression that burdened individual conscience. By investing a political faction with a religious dimension the Tea Party presents a challenge to both religion and democracy.

 

By: Jack Schwartz, The Daily Beast, July 13, 2014

July 14, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Religion, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Gird Thy Loins, War Is Nigh”: Bobby Jindal Tries To Become A General In The Eternal War On American Christians

Tonight at the Ronald Reagan presidential library—America’s greatest library—Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal will deliver a speech that will be seen (probably correctly) as an early component of the Jindal for President ’16 campaign. Its subject is an old favorite, the religious war currently being waged in America. It’s partly Barack Obama’s war on Christianity, but since Obama will be leaving office in a few years, it’s important to construe the war as something larger and more eternal. The point, as it is with so many symbolic wars, isn’t the victory but the fight.

Here’s how Politico describes the speech, which they got an early copy of:

“The American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war,” Jindal will say at the Simi Valley, Calif., event. “It threatens the fabric of our communities, the health of our public square and the endurance of our constitutional governance.”

“This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power,” he adds, according to the prepared remarks. “It is pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith into a land where faith is silenced, privatized and circumscribed.”

The speech sounds like pretty standard stuff; Jindal reiterates his support for Duck Dynasty homophobe/Jim Crow nostalgist Phil Robertson, saying, “The modern left in America is completely intolerant of the views of people of faith. They want a completely secular society where people of faith keep their views to themselves.” Which is not actually true; what Jindal (and some others) seem to want is a society where conservatives can say ignorant, bigoted things and no one is allowed to criticize them for it. But what interests me is the religious war stuff.

“Our religious freedom was won over the course of centuries of persecution and blood,” Jindal says, “and we should not surrender them without a fight.” Maybe he explains in the actual speech about the centuries of persecution and blood—is he talking about here in America? Because I don’t really remember all the Christians being tossed in jail or rounded up for massacres during the colonial period, culminating in the First Amendment, but maybe I missed something. In any case, this is a little more complex than simply appealing to social conservative voters, though it certainly is that.

Jindal is rather shrewdly attempting to tap into something that’s universal, but particularly strong among contemporary conservatives: the urge to rise above the mundane and join a transformative crusade. It’s one thing to debate the limits of religious prerogatives when it comes to the actions of private corporations, or to try to find ways to celebrate religious holidays that the entire community will find reasonable. That stuff gets into disheartening nuance, and requires considering the experiences and feelings of people who don’t share your beliefs, which is a total drag. But a war? War is exciting, war is dramatic, war is consequential, war is life or death. War is where heroes rise to smite the unrighteous. So who do you want to get behind, the guy who says “We can do better,” or the guy who thunders, “Follow me to battle, to history, to glory!”

Not that candidates haven’t tried to ride the “war on Christianity” thing before, with only limited success. But Fox News does crank up the calliope of Christian resentment every December, and there’s enough of a market there to keep it going. Can Bobby Jindal—slight of build, goofy of mien, dull of voice—be the Henry V of the 2016 version of this unending war? Let’s just say I’m a wee bit skeptical.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 14, 2014

February 15, 2014 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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