Or maybe the lawyers at Liberty Institute — the Plano-based Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family — think Christians are just remarkably gullible. During the revision of social studies standards this year, for example, the group portrayed Texas teachers on the curriculum teams as anti-Christmas zealots who want to erase the holiday from their classrooms. It didn’t matter that the teachers, themselves Christians, made clear that they had no such intention at all. Liberty Institute apparently figured enough Christians would believe such an absurd lie that it would help fundraising.
Now the group is outrageously charging that officials in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, are attacking God and a local Christian church. A Liberty Institute e-mail to activists Friday screams: “Don’t let them kick God out of Gettysburg!” Noting that Gettysburg was the scene of a pivotal Civil War battle and of one of President Lincoln’s most famous speeches, the e-mail absurdly claims that “the City of Gettysburg is trying to kick God out of Gettysburg by closing the only reconstructed Civil War chapel in America.” “We don’t know why the city of Gettysburg is discriminating against our client,” the group whines in its shamelessly manipulative e-mail. (Yes, Liberty Institute is now providing legal representation for the chapel. The group shops for clients all over the country. During 2008 its lawyers even traveled to Alaska to help Sarah Palin — the newly chosen Republican nominee for vice president — try to block a legislative investigation into whether she had abused her power as the state’s governor by pushing for the firing of a public employee who was once married to her sister. The group lost that fight.)
This newest e-mail is — as with so many others from Liberty Institute — promoting a lie calculated to anger Christians who happen not to be familiar with the facts. But the Gettysburg Times offers some facts.
According to the Gettysburg Times, the so-called “Civil War chapel” isn’t a historical site. It was built just four years ago, replacing a burned-out rental property in the town. Constructed to look like an old rural chapel, the church has become popular with tourists. About a hundred a
day week visit. But Gettysburg officials have explained that the building was constructed without a permit and doesn’t comply with safety codes and zoning laws that everyone else has to meet, such as codes for fire, electricity, plumbing and stormwater. “We didn’t make up the law,” one exasperated town official explains.
But that makes no difference to the lawyers at Liberty Institute. They seem to think Christians are gullible enough to believe any charge of anti-Christian discrimination, no matter how absurd. And it’s good business for the group: this new e-mail directs activists to an online petition, where they’re also asked to donate money to help the Liberty Institute “save the Civil War chapel.”
Meanwhile, taxpayers in Gettysburg have to pay for the legal wrangling Liberty Institute is cynically putting the town through. It’s a scam, of course, just like the group’s efforts to bamboozle Texans into thinking that their own classroom teachers are anti-Christian bigots. And by the way: Liberty Institute is helping lead the smear campaign to topple Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, and replace him with someone more obedient to the state’s rabid culture warriors. Maybe folks should be skeptical about the wild-eyed claims the group is making about Straus, too.