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“The Origins Of The Religious Right”: Still Insisting That Religious Freedom Is A Justification For Discrimination

It is often assumed that the origins of the religious right’s political awakening (known back then as the so-called “moral majority”) was in response to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs Wade decision. But in an article a friend recently pointed out to me from 2014, Randall Balmer locates it’s origins in another court case: Green vs Connally. It has interesting relevance for some of the issues we are hearing about today.

Balmer first points out that immediately before and after Roe vs Wade, evangelical leaders didn’t see a problem with abortion. He provides several quotes, including this one:

When the Roe decision was handed down, W. A. Criswell, the Southern Baptist Convention’s former president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas—also one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century—was pleased: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

Meanwhile, Paul Weyrich was looking around for an issue that would galvanize evangelical support for Republicans. He found it in an edict from President Nixon’s Treasury Department that the provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act precluded a tax-exempt status for private schools that discriminated against African Americans. Schools like Bob Jones University and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University responded.

Although Bob Jones Jr., the school’s founder, argued that racial segregation was mandated by the Bible, Falwell and Weyrich quickly sought to shift the grounds of the debate, framing their opposition in terms of religious freedom rather than in defense of racial segregation.

In other words, “religious freedom” was used as the justification for discrimination. Sound familiar? That was the issue at stake in Green vs Connally.

It was on the heels of that argument that these religious leaders then turned to theologian Francis Schaeffer and surgeon C. Everett Koop (who later became Reagan’s Surgeon General) to stir up objections to abortion. They did that with the film Whatever Happened to the Human Race?

In the early months of 1979, Schaeffer and Koop, targeting an evangelical audience, toured the country with these films, which depicted the scourge of abortion in graphic terms—most memorably with a scene of plastic baby dolls strewn along the shores of the Dead Sea.

It is hard to avoid seeing a parallel with the doctored videos produced by The Center for Medical Progress that have raised evangelicals in opposition to Planned Parenthood.

All of that laid the groundwork for the involvement of the religious right in the 1980 presidential race between Carter and Reagan, although their positions on these issues were not as well-defined as we have been led to believe.

By 1980, even though Carter had sought, both as governor of Georgia and as president, to reduce the incidence of abortion, his refusal to seek a constitutional amendment outlawing it was viewed by politically conservative evangelicals as an unpardonable sin. Never mind the fact that his Republican opponent that year, Ronald Reagan, had signed into law, as governor of California in 1967, the most liberal abortion bill in the country. When Reagan addressed a rally of 10,000 evangelicals at Reunion Arena in Dallas in August 1980, he excoriated the “unconstitutional regulatory agenda” directed by the IRS “against independent schools,” but he made no mention of abortion. Nevertheless, leaders of the religious right hammered away at the issue, persuading many evangelicals to make support for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion a litmus test for their votes.

More than 35 years later, the religious right is still insisting that religious freedom is a justification for discrimination and using deceptive videos to ignite opposition to women’s reproductive health. As the saying goes…”everything old is new again.”

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 28, 2016

April 29, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, Religious Freedom, Religious Right | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Blame Jerry Falwell For Walker’s Slip”: A Trap Devised Long Ago By The Moral Majority

Well, we’re getting a pretty quick narrative rethink on Scott Walker, aren’t we? Two weeks ago he was a conquering hero. Now he’s a nincompoop. The truth is undoubtedly somewhere in between—although exactly which of the two poles he ends up nearer is one of the coming campaign’s mysteries.

But whether you’re liberal or conservative—that is, whether you think his cutesy refusal to confirm Barack Obama’s religiosity to The Washington Post was an outrage or act of truth-telling—the bottom line here is what my colleague Matt Lewis said it is: The way Walker and his people handled it was plain old not-ready-for-prime-time-ism. A first-time presidential candidate doesn’t get many mulligans on that front before the media decide he’s a second-rater and start covering him that way.

The most interesting thing about this hubbub, though, is the nature of the defense of Walker, which reveals a breathtaking lack of self-awareness on the right, or maybe dishonesty, or maybe both.

The main defense has been: Why was this question relevant? Why does Scott Walker even have to be asked about whether the president is a Christian? Well, maybe because for the last 30 or 35 years, the political right has dragged the question of a candidate’s piety from the fringes of the political debate, where it belonged and belongs, to the white-hot center, where it is a malignant tumor on our politics.

It wasn’t always this way. Of course we’ve had moralizers from the beginning. Thomas Jefferson’s political foes called him an “infidel” and a “howling atheist” and warned that if he won the presidency, churches would be converted into whorehouses. But then America matured, a little, and became a world power, and began taking in large numbers of immigrants, and started thinking about the world not only in terms of spirituality but in terms of psychology, social science, and so on. By the time all those forces had coalesced—the 1930s, let’s call it; the thermidorean backwash of the Scopes Trial—we by and large stopped having religious litmus tests for the presidency.

Ah but 1960, you’re thinking; well, yes, but that was totally different. No one questioned John Kennedy’s lack of religious faith. Indeed the issue was the opposite—that his Catholic faith was so all-defining that he’d govern as a Vatican fifth-columnist. For many years after that, a candidate’s religious beliefs were part of the story, certainly, but what reigned was a quality of tolerant and easy-going religious neutrality that was a reflection of the regnant, and largely bipartisan, Protestantism of the day. Candidates didn’t run around dog-whistling to the pious and implying that the impious were somehow lesser Americans whose votes ought to count for less.

Oddly it was a Democrat who first wore his religion on his sleeve in the presidential arena. Still, Jimmy Carter, though an evangelical, was still enough of a liberal to not tie his religious beliefs to a particular ideological agenda.

This all changed—and give the man his due—with Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, and the growing evangelization of the Republican primary electorate. Professions of faith from GOP candidates became more and more grandiose, like George W. Bush’s claim that Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher. I’ve never known whether it was planned that he would say that or whether he just said it off the cuff, but whatever the case it was kind of brilliant of him, it must be admitted. When liberals made fun of him for not saying Locke or whatever, they managed to sound like snooty eggheads and Jesus-haters both at once.

At the same time that the religious right pushed Jesus into the presidential boxing ring, it did all it could to throw traditional religious neutrality out of it, such that positions that had been completely uncontroversial 20 years before grew to be toxic for Democrats. I think here of Al Gore being afraid to say in 2000 that he believed in evolution, one of the nadirs of recent presidential history.

In other words, it’s Republicans and conservatives who have made religious belief central to the conversation of presidential politics. And not just religious belief—a particular kind of (conservative) religious belief. Republicans made this a topic.

Now in fairness, Obama’s faith was a question in 2008, because of Jeremiah Wright, and that pot got a stirring not only from Republicans but from Hillary Clinton too. But the guy has now been the president for a long time, and voters twice elected him by reasonably comfortable margins. So these kinds of questions about Obama are still raised only in the fever swamps where Walker is trying to launch his dinghy. It’s only over there that these things matter.

So the question the Post put to Walker was completely logical and defensible within that tradition for which conservatism was responsible and to which Walker has recently been pandering, by weaseling around recently on the topic of evolution.

So it’s supposed to be unfair for Walker to have to answer a simple question like the one he was asked? Ridiculous. Liberals didn’t make faith a litmus test. If Walker and the others want to parade their own Christian credentials, any question along those lines is fair game. Besides, as Lewis said, there’s an easy answer: I don’t doubt that he is, it’s just his ideas and policies that are wrong. But of course that’s not enough for their base. If Walker got caught in any trap over the weekend, it’s one of conservatism’s devising, not the media’s.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 23, 2015

February 25, 2015 Posted by | Jerry Falwell, Religious Beliefs, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rand Paul’s Godfather”: The Party Of Far Right Activists And Christian Reconstructionists

I just realized, via Julie Ingersoll of Religion Dispatches, that Howard Phillips, one of the true founders of the Christian Right and one of that movement’s most aggressive theocrats, died over the weekend at 72 after suffering from a debilitating illness for the last couple of years.

Aside from his important role in working with Paul Weyrich and Jerry Falwell in building the Moral Majority and serving as an unofficial ideological commissar during the Reagan years, Phillips was better known in the 1990s for bailing out of the Republican Party and founding the U.S. Constitution Party (originally the U.S. Taxpayers Party). Phillips’ party was a vehicle for far-right activists and especially Christian Reconstructionists determined to build a society where rigid biblical norms governed culture but private activity ruled the economy. While the Constitution Party has never had any electoral clout, it has had some well-known supporters whose influence continues to rise, notes Ingersoll:

The Constitution Party’s goal is to “reestablish” Biblical Law as the foundation for American society. Part of the ability of the Constitution Party to endure, despite structural impediments to third parties in the American political system, is no doubt due to longstanding support from Ron Paul, Rand Paul and a dedicated core of their supporters.

Rand Paul spoke at a Constitution Party event as recently as 2009. His father actually endorsed the Constitution presidential ticket in 2008, and after his retirement from Congress, has devoted much of his time (as Sarah Posner has reported) to the promotion of a home-school curriculum whose development was supervised by Gary North, a major Christian Reconstructionist theorist with links to the Constitution Party, who has also been cited as an influence by Rand Paul.

I wonder how aware some of the young hip libertarians attracted to the Family Paul–or for that matter, the MSM journalists who occasionally interpret the Paulite message in the image of their own economic conservative/cultural liberal views–about the Christian Reconstructionist associations of Ron and Rand. Sure, it’s possible to systematically dislike government on purely libertarian or even anarchist grounds, but it’s also possible to hate “government schools” because they compete with strict conservative evangelical madrassa training and wish to undermine government generally for interfering with the imposition of biblical law. If Rand Paul does emerge as a viable candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2016 or later, I do hope he’s asked early and often about Howard Phillips and the Constitution Party, and exactly how much freedom he actually wants us to have from the Revealed Truth as he understands it.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 23, 2013

April 25, 2013 Posted by | Libertarians, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pat Robertson’s Alzheimer’s Divorce Comments Demean Marriage

Pat Robertson has made some pretty crazy remarks. Remember  the “hit” he wanted us to take out on Hugo Chavez?!  Yes, the self-proclaimed leader of the moral  majority, former presidential candidate, and television talk host on the 700 Club. But Robertson is also a  pastor, a man who claims to believe that the Bible is the word of God. So imagine my and so many others’ surprise  when he spoke of divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s because they’re pretty much  dead anyway?! (Remember “’til death do us  part?” It certainly gives a new slant to that notion.)

Now of course I’m paraphrasing. And you might find this odd coming  from me, a  liberal, progressive, Democrat; but I’m as angry at the  message as I am the  messenger.

Robertson is a leader in the conservative Christian circles.  These  are the same people that fight for the definition of marriage to only be   between a man and a woman; certainly not a man and a man or a woman  and a  woman. Why? Because marriage is holy, ordained by God. It’s one of  the first things God does in book of Genesis.

I am angry at this remark Mr. Robertson made, although not  surprised,  because it shows the true hypocrisy of not only these leaders, but  of  so many Christians who use the Bible only when it suits them. Remember  what Gandhi  said about not being able to find Christ among them?

I have been married for 15 years. Happily? Yes, for the most part. I did take  the vows when I married to love  and honor in sickness and in health,  for better or worse, ’til death do us  part. And I meant it when I took  those  vows.

If we simply divorce, or do away with a “problem,” as a  person with  Alzheimer’s may often be perceived, then what’s next? Divorce when  someone is burned in a fire?  Partially dismembered in an auto  accident?  Loses a breast (or two) to breast cancer? When a man can no  longer maintain an  erection? How about when one’s beauty  fades? Oh  right, they already do that. (At least in Los Angeles where I live.)

The point is, Alzheimer’s is an illness; it’s one of those   “sicknesses” the Bible and those vows refer to.  And, it is certainly  one of the worst times for a spouse, for a family.

Marriage is not a walk in the park. But if you’re going to  fight to  defend it, define it, and protect it based on the Bible, at least read the Bible Mr. Robertson and see what God says about the very institution He  designed.

Maybe if more of us took those vows more seriously, we  wouldn’t have a  divorce rate that hovers above 50 percent in America today.

Shame on Mr. Robertson for twisting the “word of God” as he  calls the  Bible, when he chooses. I  believe it’s men like Robertson who keep  many of us more than an arm’s length  from our creator.

 

By: Leslie Marshall, U. S. News and World Report, September 21, 2011

September 21, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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