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“The Antithesis Of Religious Liberty”: Why The GOP Has The First Amendment Upside Down

One entertaining aspect of recent dramatic Supreme Court rulings was learning that the court’s high-minded intellectuals can be just as thin skinned and spiteful as everybody else. Apparently, Justice Antonin Scalia was a law-school whiz kid about 50 years and 50,000 cocktails ago, and finds it hard to accept that lesser minds are not obliged to agree with him.

For his part, Chief Justice John Roberts turned political prognosticator in his dissent to Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision legitimizing gay marriage. “Stealing this issue from the people,” he wrote, “will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.”

Granted, if all you had to go by was the sky-is-falling rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates and their theological allies, you might think that Roberts had a point. But he doesn’t, partly because the Supreme Court ruling won’t bring about dramatic social change at all. It merely affirms social changes that have already happened.

But hold that thought, because political handicappers at the New York Times argue that same-sex unions could be the best thing that ever happened to the GOP. Not because millions of outraged religious conservatives will stampede to the ballot boxes, but because… well, here’s the headline: “As Left Wins Culture Battles, GOP Gains Opportunity to Pivot for 2016.”

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum believes that the gay marriage fight is over. “Every once in a while,” he told reporter Jonathan Martin, “we bring down the curtain on the politics of a prior era. The stage is now cleared for the next generation of issues. And Republicans can say, ‘Whether you’re gay, black, or a recent migrant to our country, we are going to welcome you as a fully cherished member of our coalition.’”

Sure, Republicans could say that. If Republicans were in the habit of dealing with reality, that is. Frum, a Canadian Jew who became a U.S. citizen in 2007, may be forgiven a bit of wishful thinking. Ever since getting pushed out of the American Enterprise Institute for saying Republicans were foolish not to negotiate with the White House on Obamacare, he’s been trying to persuade Republicans to act more like British Tories.

But that’s not how today’s GOP rolls. On the party’s evangelical right, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was breathing smoke and fire. A Baptist preacher, Huckabee indulged in a bit of ecclesiastical word play, denying that the Supreme Court could do “something only the Supreme Being can do — redefine marriage.” He denounced the ruling as a “blow to religious liberty, which is the heart of the First Amendment,” and vowed to defy it.

In this, Huckabee echoed Rev. Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, who even before the Supreme Court ruling had vowed that “as a minister of the Gospel, I will not officiate over any same-sex unions or same-sex marriage ceremonies. I completely refuse.”

Isn’t that brave of him?

However, do you really suppose it’s possible that Floyd, Huckabee, and the rest of the hyperventilating GOP candidates fail to understand that all churches have an absolute First Amendment right to their own beliefs and practices? They’re bravely refusing to perform ceremonies that nothing in this nor any imaginable Supreme Court decision would require of them.

If your church refuses to sanctify same-sex marriages (as mine certainly does), that’s its unquestioned right. For that matter, the Catholic Church also refuses to marry previously divorced couples, or even admit them to communion — an absurdity to me, but not a political issue.

Nothing in the Supreme Court ruling changes those things. It’s about marriage as a secular legal institution: two Americans entering into a contract with each other. Period.

That’s why Bloomberg View‘s Jonathan Bernstein is right and Justice Roberts is wrong about same-sex marriage causing long-lasting social resentment. Marriage, he writes, is “a done deal,” and the issue will soon be relegated to “history books alongside questions of whether women should vote or alcohol should be prohibited.”

Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 decision invalidating miscegenation laws, was accepted almost immediately. Bernstein points out that in states such as Massachusetts and Iowa, where same-sex unions have been legal for years, they’re no longer controversial.

Because it’s really none of your business, is it, who loves whom? And it has zero effect on you personally. So grow up and get over it.

In time, as Bernstein says, most people will.

In the near term, however, millions of aggrieved GOP voters appear to have gotten the First Amendment upside down. They won’t easily be dissuaded. Feeling besieged by the mainstream culture, they’re encouraged by the Huckabees, Cruzes, and Santorums of the world to believe that they’re being persecuted because they can’t make everybody else march to their drumbeat.

The Republicans’ problem is that to most Americans, that’s the antithesis of religious liberty, and a surefire political loser.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, July 1, 2015

July 2, 2015 Posted by | 1st Amendment, GOP, Religious Liberty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Just West Virginia!”: The State Where The Right Won The Culture War

This is not, I readily confess, the development that will dominate the headlines on November 5, but I couldn’t help but notice recently that there is a sporting chance that, after this election, my old home state might no longer be represented by a single Democrat in the United States House of Representatives. So what, you say—it’s just West Virginia. Okay, maybe. But trust me: This idea would have been beyond inconceivable only a decade or so ago, and there’s an interesting and much broader story behind the change that has to do with deep cultural and economic anxieties, and I can’t help but wonder whether the Democrats can tap into them and attempt to ameliorate their effects.

First the facts. West Virginia has three congressional districts. The first, which contains the northern panhandle and my home town of Morgantown, is represented by Republican David McKinley, who first won in 2010 (by less than 1 percent) and was the first Republican to represent most of those areas since I was playing Little League. He is strongly favored to be reelected. The second district is an open seat, vacated by Republican Shelley Moore Capito to run for Senate. Tea Party Republican Alex Mooney is facing Democrat Nick Casey. They are basically tied (Casey’s in the hunt in part because Mooney is actually from Maryland; it’s complicated), but Mooney is getting lots of national money. In the third district, longtime Democratic incumbent Nick Joe Rahall, one of the few Lebanese-Americans roaming the halls of Congress, is facing a stiff challenge from a state senator named Evan Jenkins, who switched from D to R last year and can boast two important endorsements, from the Coal Association and the state’s right-to-life group, that don’t usually land in a non-incumbent’s lap.

Now, two of those races are close, and if the Democrats win them, the party would actually pick up a seat, so there goes my alarmism. But still, it could well be a GOP sweep, which is especially jarring when you throw in Capito, the Republican who’ll be taking over Jay Rockefeller’s seat (the state hasn’t had a Republican senator since 1958). That would leave Joe Manchin as the state’s only Democrat in Washington, and of course, on the coasts, lots of Democrats don’t think he’s much of a Democrat.

It’s really a stunning transformation. People don’t pay much attention to the state, but if they did, they’d know that West Virginia is the only—yes, only—state in the union that has gone in this century from deep blue to rock-ribbed red.

So what’s happened? No, it’s not as simple as the president is b-l-a-c-k. It’s the decline in union membership (a handful of men can now mine as much coal as hundreds used to). It’s the organizing strength of the NRA. It’s the less-discussed-but-pivotal inroads the Southern Baptist Convention has made into the state since the 1980s. It’s the fact that there are no real cities to speak of, not many people of color, only one large university, no hipsters (well, a few; I know some of them). I watched the transformation only as an occasional interloper on trips back home to see my folks, but even from that vantage point, things were pretty clear—the increasing proliferation of NASCAR paraphernalia in the stores next to the Mountaineer swag, the appearance in Morgantown of a Christian high school, and of course presidential vote totals (although Obama did carry my home county in 2008). We smart people in the big cities all agree that the right has lost the culture war. That may be so nationally. But West Virginia is the one place where the right won the culture war.

And so it’s a place of profound anxieties, cultural and economic. Being from Morgantown doesn’t give me much of a window on them. Morgantown is one of the nicest small cities in America (no, really) and has a diverse economy and diverse (by West Virginia standards) population.

The southern part of the state, which is really what outlanders think of when they bother to think of West Virginia, is where the anxieties run deeper. It’s a place in real trouble, and the people know it. Culturally, America has changed on them. The state is now issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Let’s just say that in some of those counties down there, I wouldn’t want to be the first guy to apply for one. And fossil fuels probably aren’t long for this world—there is still plenty of coal in them thar hills, as they say, but in 20 or 30 years, the way energy technologies are transforming, the world may not want it anymore.

I, you’ll be un-shocked to hear, do not think the Republican Party has any real answers for these people. The GOP will fight for coal, but at the same time its broader policies are all harmful to the state (aren’t many 2 percenters in West Virginia). What the state really needs is to figure out how to elbow its way into the tech economy. That requires investments, in schools and in infrastructure of both the physical and telecom varieties. And it means, yep, taxes.

I suppose there’s a chance that Hillary Clinton could win West Virginia, if Bill spends a lot of time there. But why would they bother? She won’t need its five measly electoral votes. I think it would be a grand thing if President Clinton, among her first acts, proposed something big and meaningful for precisely the people who didn’t vote for her (a Republican president should do the same). But that just isn’t likely, the way things are today. Politics is too expensive, and a new president has people to pay back.

No, we’re not sure it’s going to be President Clinton, but we are sure that the GOP is up against both the electoral college and demographic walls in a big way, and it may not win a presidential election for some time. Poor West Virginia: It stayed true to Democratic losers like Walter Mondale and Mike Dukakis but is completing its insistent makeover to red just as the Republicans are in danger of being a quasi-permanent out party.

There’s a great scene in the lovely film October Sky where the residents of Coalwood gather to watch Sputnik race by in the sky. One person speculates about the Russians dropping a bomb on the town. Another retorts: “I own’t know why anybody’d drop a bomb on ’is place. Be a waste of a perfectly good bomb.” It captured a worldview and fate that I hope the people from the poorer parts of the state can one day escape.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 10, 2014

October 12, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Politics, West Virginia | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Origins Of The Modern GOP”: The Party Of Lincoln Is Now The Party Of Voter ID Laws

Dartmouth Professor Randall Balmer argues convincingly that the origin of the religious right as a political force stemmed from opposition to school desegregation rather than opposition to the Roe v. Wade decision. I don’t think it is well known that evangelicals were largely silent about the Roe ruling at the time it was issued, nor that some of the most influential evangelical leaders at the time were supportive of the ruling.

Today, evangelicals make up the backbone of the pro-life movement, but it hasn’t always been so. Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a “Catholic issue.” In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.

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.”

Although a few evangelical voices, including Christianity Today magazine, mildly criticized the ruling, the overwhelming response was silence, even approval. Baptists, in particular, applauded the decision as an appropriate articulation of the division between church and state, between personal morality and state regulation of individual behavior. “Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision,” wrote W. Barry Garrett of Baptist Press.

It was actually a ruling by the DC District Court upholding the Internal Revenue Service’s decision to revoke Bob Jones University’s tax exemption that convinced evangelical leaders Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich to rally the religious right against President Jimmy Carter’s reelection. They could hardly make Bob Jones’ anti-miscegenation their rallying call, however, so the modern-day Republican Party was founded on an evangelical “awakening” on what had formerly been considered an issue only for “papists.”

Today, the party of Dwight Eisenhower and Everett Dirksen is the party of Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich. The party of Lincoln is now the party of voter ID laws.

 

By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 28, 2014

May 29, 2014 Posted by | Evangelicals, GOP, Religious Right | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Uncle Sugar As Religious Bogeyman”: Women, Contraception And The Infringement On Conservatives “Biblical Role”

Mike Huckabee’s instant classic in the canon of modern Republican misogyny, denouncing overbearing government bogeyman “Uncle Sugar” for contraceptive handouts to women who “cannot control their libido or their reproductive system” may seem, on the surface, to be merely Tea Party anti-governmentism blended with run of the mill Rush Limbaugh slut-shaming.

Any Republican cringing over Huckabee’s remarks is really about his phrasing, not his ideology. After all, the RNC just adopted the resolution proposed by Committeewoman Ellen Barrosse “to fight back against Democrats’ deceptive, ‘war on women’ rhetoric.” Huckabee may have not been this effort’s best messenger, but in reality he’s an honest one: religious conservatives see “Uncle Sugar” (or, in the more frequently used parlance, “government bureaucrats”) as encouraging women to — gasp! — have lots of sex, when women should only be having sex with husbands, and on their husbands’ terms.

Recall when Huckabee was running for president in 2008, he faced criticism over his endorsement of the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention Family Statement, which read:

A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.

Asked about this in a debate — and in the glare of the national spotlight — Huckabee fudged his answer, first questioning why he was the only candidate to be asked about religion, and then insisting that “it’s not a matter of one being somehow superior over the other.” But fellow Baptists wasted no time in calling out Huckabee’s lie, noting that despite his efforts to suggest he has an egalitarian view of wifely submission, the Southern Baptist statement is undeniably clear that, in Richard Land’s words, “somebody has to be in charge.”

Of course Huckabee isn’t the first Republican called to answer for his endorsement of biblical patriarchy. Just this week, New Mexico Republican Steve Pearce, in a new book, writes that “the wife is to voluntarily submit, just as the husband is to lovingly lead and sacrifice” and “the husband’s part is to show up during the times of deep stress, take the leadership role and be accountable for the outcome, blaming no one else.”

In 2011, Michele Bachmann had to explain what she meant in a 2006 speech at a megachurch when she said, in describing how her husband persuaded her to seek a second law degree in tax, “the Lord says, be submissive, wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.” Faced with a national audience, Bachmann fudged and said her marriage was based on love and respect.

In 2010, while running for his House seat, Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL) was faced with similar questions in Alan Grayson’s notorious “Taliban Dan” ad, which unearthed a speech Webster had given at Bill Gothard’s Institute for Basic Life Principles, in which he is seen saying, “wives submit yourselves to your own husband” and “she should submit to me, that’s in the Bible.”

Webster complained his words were taken out of context, as did Factcheck.org and others. The conventional wisdom was that the ad had “backfired;” it was Grayson, not Webster, who had gone too far. But as Kathryn Joyce, who wrote about biblical patriarchy in her book Quiverfull, noted, “submission is a contentious and tricky issue even within conservative evangelical churches,” and that Webster’s emphasis “as those familiar with Christian rhetoric could recognize, is not on the optional nature of wives’ submission.”

A few months later, after Webster had unseated Grayson, I interviewed his mentor Gothard (who also counts Huckabee, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, and Republican anti-contraception darlings the Duggars among his fans). (In the full video excerpted in the Taliban Dan ad, Webster describes how Gothard’s teachings “absolutely changed my life” and are the “basis for everything I do today.”) Gothard, too, tried to backtrack on his authoritarian theology:

Gothard insisted to me (in direct contradiction to materials on his own website) that he does not teach submission. When I asked Gothard whether he teaches that wives should submit to their husbands’ authority, he laughed, answering, “no, no,” adding, that Jesus taught “he who is the greatest among you be the servant of all. That makes the woman the greatest of all because she has served every single person in the world by being in her womb.”

Gothard’s effort to soft-pedal his teachings—by portraying women as venerated objects, and by saying that “authority” is simply “love” and “love” is “freedom”—flies in the face of his critics’ descriptions of the impact of his authoritarian teachings on their lives. In interviews, former adherents to Gothard’s teachings, disillusioned former members of “ATI families,” and an evangelical critic told me that his unyielding theology, including “non-optional” compliance with seven “biblical” principles (the “basic” life principles), compliance with 49 “character traits,” and other periodic Gothard revelations, are contrary to the Bible and have wreaked havoc on their emotional and spiritual lives and those of their families.

Gothard doesn’t deny he teaches adherence to what he calls “the commands of Christ.” And even though he has developed his own highly unusual interpretation of the Bible, he insists he’s not demanding that his followers obey him, but that they obey God (or how he singularly has interpreted God’s word). Following this path, he tells me cheerfully, will bring one “success and health and happiness and joy.”

What is womens’ most important collective role, in Gothard’s view? “Serving” by having a womb. In the Southern Baptist Convention’s view, “nurturing the next generation.” Contraception, especially doled out (allegedly) by “Uncle Sugar,” gets in the way of that role of ultimate “love” and “freedom,” as described by Gothard. In this “biblical worldview,” “Uncle Sugar” puts government above God. But most important, and the reason why the Huckabee is so threatened by “Uncle Sugar” giving women an entirely different kind of freedom, is that Uncle Sugar upsets his “biblical” role as head of the household, the one to whom the wife must submit. And in that sense, Huckabee’s comments reveal not just his fear that the contraception benefit threatens womens’ traditional role, but how he worries that “Uncle Sugar” — and more crucially, women themselves — infringe on his.

 

By: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, January 24, 2014

January 26, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Contraception, Reproductive Rights | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Accepting A Deal With The Devil”: Immigration Reform May Prove To Be A Mirage

For a bright, shining moment, it seemed that the abiding spirit among conservative Protestants was one of hospitality and compassion toward the “stranger.” But that turned out to be an illusion. Despite signs that Southern Baptists and other evangelicals might finally embrace the unauthorized immigrants living among us, many conservative churchgoers remain ambivalent or outright hostile to any plans to provide a path toward citizenship.

That helps explain why House Speaker John Boehner and his rebellious caucus have denounced a comprehensive immigration reform proposal recently passed by the U.S. Senate. House Republicans believe their constituents, who include most conservative evangelicals, find comprehensive immigration reform a bit of heresy — amnesty granted to lawbreakers and grifters. There is research to back that conclusion: 55 percent of white evangelical Protestants view immigrants as a “burden,” while 58 percent believe they “threaten” traditional American values, according to the Pew Research Center.

Optimists had concentrated on a less antagonistic — and slightly contradictory — finding from that Pew survey, conducted in March: An overwhelming majority of white evangelicals, 62 percent, said that undocumented workers should be allowed to stay in the country legally. While other religious groups showed greater support, even evangelicals appeared solidly behind the Biblical imperative to treat the “stranger” with charity and acceptance.

And there were other signs that conservative evangelicals might have experienced a road-to-Damascus epiphany, a realization that their belligerence toward undocumented newcomers borders on persecution. Two years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention — the largest and most influential denomination of conservative Protestants — called for “a just and compassionate path to legal status.”

Sure, the language was vague enough to give skeptics room for cover. Still, it denounced bigotry and harassment of the undocumented, which seemed a big step down the path of righteousness for a denomination that didn’t get around to apologizing for endorsing slavery until 1995.

More recently, several prominent evangelicals organized a group called the Evangelical Immigration Table to push to legalize undocumented workers. Prominent SBC pastors — including Richard Land and the organization’s current president, Bryant Wright — have endorsed the Table’s principles.

That led some observers to hope they’d bring the same passion to fighting for undocumented workers that they’ve brought to fighting against, say, gay marriage or abortion clinics. Perhaps there would be fiery sermons denouncing the unfairness of keeping undocumented workers in the shadows, telephone banks set up to call members of Congress, and massive political demonstrations demanding legislation granting a path to citizenship.

But, alas, that was not to be. Instead, evangelical leaders are themselves divided: A counter group called Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration (whatever that may be) opposes the Senate’s call for a path toward citizenship. Among that group’s most active supporters are several leaders of the Tea Party movement, whose pronouncements provoke more fear in Republican politicians than any tent-revival preacher ever could.

Meanwhile, few evangelical flocks have taken up the cause of their undocumented brothers and sisters with any passion or urgency. Here and there, a few have protested the meanest restrictions, such as those passed by the Alabama Legislature in 2011. Some Alabama churches, for example, actively opposed provisions that could have penalized a motorist who drove an undocumented newcomer to church.

Still, there has been nothing resembling the outrage over gay marriage, which evangelical preachers continue to attack with relish. There haven’t been the sustained protests that still inspire Republican state legislatures to curb reproductive freedoms. So it’s no surprise that GOP lawmakers have gotten the message: No matter what a few evangelical leaders have said, most of their members don’t want undocumented immigrants given the full rights of U.S. citizenship.

Later this month, the Evangelical Immigration Table will convene a day of “prayer and action” in Washington, but leaders have already signaled their willingness to accept a deal with the devil, refusing to pressure GOP lawmakers to keep a path toward citizenship as part of any bill. At this stage, it seems only heavenly intervention can resurrect comprehensive immigration reform.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, July 13, 2013

July 15, 2013 Posted by | Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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