Archive for the ‘religious freedom’ Category

Poll Respondents: WHAT War on Religion?

March 16, 2012

The religious right insists that faith is under siege in America. Far-right leaders and pressure groups have pushed the “war on religion” trope for years now. Texas Gov. Rick Perry even used it during his doomed presidential campaign last December. Most recently, the right has argued that the Obama administration’s policy on insurance coverage for contraception is part of this mythical “war.”

But a new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows that most Americans aren’t buying it. According to that poll, Americans by a 56%-39% margin say they don’t think religious liberty is under threat in America today. Of those who do believe religious freedom is threatened, only 6 percent mentioned the current debate over health insurance coverage for birth control. Others mentioned “hostility towards Christians/religion” (10 percent), “removing religion from the public square” (23 percent) and “general government interference in religion” (20 percent).

David Barton, president of Texas-based WallBuilders, plays especially on such fears. You can see that in Barton’s recent essay absurdly claiming that Barack Obama has been “the most Biblically hostile” American president.

The PRRI poll also shows that a majority of Americans support requiring that employers, including religiously affiliated employers other than churches and other places of worship, include coverage for contraception in their health insurance plans for employees. And 52 percent of Americans (including 59 percent of Catholics and 65 percent of white mainline Protestants) support the right to marry for gay and lesbian couples.

So the next time you hear folks on the right shrieking about a “war on religion” in America, just remember that most Americans know better.

You can read more about the poll on the PRRI’s website here.

Ken Starr vs. David Barton?

January 10, 2012

Ken Starr, Baylor University president and Bill Clinton bête noire, has some interesting things to say in a Washington Post op-ed published Sunday. And David Barton, founder of the religious-right and historical revisionist organization WallBuilders, won’t like much of it.

Starr’s column addresses the question of whether Christians such as himself could vote for a Mormon, such as Mitt Romney, for president. In short, his answer is yes:

“Without endorsing or even praising (much less criticizing) any candidate, I strongly encourage Americans who would ask this question of themselves to consider and weigh thoughtfully our nation’s constitutional traditions. At their best, those are traditions of welcoming religious forbearance. . . . (T)he litmus for our elected leaders must not be the church they attend but the Constitution they defend.”

Starr goes on to discuss previous American presidents and their beliefs about religion:

“(A) number of great presidents have come to the White House without membership in any faith community. Thomas Jefferson was a Deist and was vigorously attacked for his religious views (or lack thereof). Abraham Lincoln, as a matter of conscience, refused to join any church. Yet our nation’s capital rightly dedicates two of its most stately monuments to those two men of unorthodox spiritual worldviews.”

Citizens as voters do well when they pause to reflect on our nation’s history and traditions. If an unbeliever such as Jefferson or non-churchman like Lincoln can serve brilliantly as president, then America should stand — in an intolerant world characterized all too frequently by religious persecution — as a stirring example of welcoming hospitality for highly qualified men and women of good will seeking the nation’s highest office.

Jefferson was a “deist”? An “unbeliever”? Uh-oh. Don’t tell “historian” David Barton. In pursuit of his political argument that the founders intended to establish a Christian nation with its laws and society based on the Christian Bible, Barton places Jefferson in a pantheon of early American leaders who used their public offices to promote Christianity.

Here’s what Barton said about Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and others of the nation’s founders in a discussion with Glenn Beck on Beck’s Fox News program from April 2010:

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2011 in Quotes: Religious Freedom

December 24, 2011

With 2011 winding down, it’s  time for our annual review of what we heard from the far right over the past year. Following are quotes that demonstrate a fundamental lack of respect — from elected officials and candidates for public office to other right-wing ideologues — for the faith and religious freedom of all Americans. You can read quotes from 2010 and 2009 here.

“One nation under God, there is no separation.”

– The chorus from a song performed at a religious-right gala that drew right-wing politicians like former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, to the East Texas town of Lufkin. Talk to Action, April 12, 2011

“There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit. But if you have been adopted in God’s family like I have, and like you have if you’re a Christian and if you’re saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister…. Now I will have to say that, if we don’t have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.”

– Governor-elect Robert Bentley of Alabama, speaking at a Montgomery (Ala.) church at an event commemorating Martin Luther King’s birthday. Birmingham News, January 17, 2011

“All law is legislated morality. The only question is whose morality. Because morality is based on faith, there is no such thing as religious neutrality in law or morality. . . . Ultimately, there are only two views: Either God is the final authority, and we acknowledge His unchanging standards of behavior. Or man is the final authority, and standards of behavior change at the whim of individuals or societies.”

– From a poster Richland County (Ohio) Common Pleas Court Judge James Deweese put up in his courtroom along with the Ten Commandments. A federal appeals court has ruled that the poster violates the First Amendment rights of lawyers and litigants appearing before him. Politics Daily, February 2, 2011

“I have two grandchildren — Maggie is 11, Robert is 9. I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

– Former Republican U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, courting evangelical voters in Texas as he prepares for a likely bid for his party’s presidential nomination. Politico, March 27, 2011

“It’s not just Jews or Muslims. It’s anybody that rejects the free gift of salvation through Christ. The Bible teaches there’s heaven and hell. Those who believe go to heaven. Those who don’t go to hell.”

– Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, defending his group and its sponsorship of “The Response,” a Christian prayer event hosted by Texas Gov. Rick Perry in Houston in August. Texas Tribune, June 7, 2011

“A lot of people want to criticize what we’re doing, as if we’re somehow being exclusive of other faiths. But anyone who comes to this solemn assembly regardless of their faith tradition or background, will feel the love, grace, and warmth of Jesus Christ in that assembly hall, in that arena. And that’s what we want to convey, that there’s acceptance and that there’s love and that there’s hope if people will seek out the living Christ. And that’s the message we want to spread on August 6th.

– Eric Bearse, event spokesman for the hate group American Family Association and former speech writer for Gov. Rick Perry, saying that although “The Response” in August was intended as a Christian service, it would be open to all faiths and traditions. American Independent, June 14, 2011

“This is exactly what the founders wanted, what you see here today. … Our founders believed that our public policy should be aligned with the laws of nature and the laws of God. … Marriage is one of those things. Marriage is between one man and one woman, and we tamper with that at our peril.”

– Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, in comments to a reporter during Gov. Perry’s August prayer and fasting rally the AFA helped organize in Houston. San Antonio Current, August 10, 2011

“My argument all along has been that the purpose of the First Amendment is to protect the free exercise of the Christian religion.”

— The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, asserting that the First Amendment does not apply to Mormons. RightWingWatch, September 29, 2011

“A lot of the evangelicals believe God would give us four more years of Obama just for the opportunity to expose the cult of Mormon … There’s a thousand pastors ready to do that.”

– Remarks by Craig Bergman that prompted his resignation as Iowa political director for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign. Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2011

Intolerant or Just Plain Ignorant?

December 9, 2011

A new gaffe-filled video of Rick Perry is making the rounds, this one from his editorial board interview with the Des Moines Register on Friday (video from Think Progress):

Think Progress immediately zeroed in on Perry’s reference to “eight unelected” judges on the Supreme Court. (The court has nine justices.) But it fails to mention his arguably more disturbing trampling of the Constitution and First Amendment. Referring to prayer in public schools, Perry says:

The independent school boards that oversee those should make those decision [sic], not government. Again, I mean the idea that we have to be so politically correct that there’s one family that says, listen, I don’t want my child — then that child ought to have the freedom to be, um, you know, can sit over there and play tic-tac-toe or what have you. But the issue is that for Washington to tell a local school district that you cannot have a prayer, and a time of prayer in that school, I think is offensive to most Americans.

Wow. There’s a lot of muddled thinking to unpack here.

First, Perry doesn’t seem to understand that local school boards ARE government. In Texas school boards are  made up of elected politicians who make all manner of policy decisions. If that’s not government, I don’t know what is. (They even set tax rates!)

Second, he’s basically saying here that these politicians should be able to compel students — in the captive environment of a classroom — to sit and listen to a sectarian prayer led by a teacher, principal or other authority figure. And the casual way he so dismissively adds that students who object can “play tic-tac-toe or what have you” shows how little he cares about the rights of families who don’t share the majority faith in their community.

Even more than his intolerant campaign ad earlier this week, this clip provides a window into where the governor stands on the issue of religious freedom — at least when it comes to Americans who don’t adhere to his brand of Christian faith. The question is: does this reflect some sort of cynical pandering to his conservative religious base, or a deep ignorance about the Constitution and First Amendment?

I’m not sure which explanation is more frightening.

Ask Yourself This

December 9, 2011

As we reported yesterday, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board voted to approve the “Calvary Hill” specialty license plate, which includes the words “One State Under God” and three crosses on a hill:

Just a little thought experiment — do you think the DMV board’s vote would have gone the same way if the proposed design looked like this:

Or this:

Or this:

I’m skeptical.

And I’m even more skeptical that the lobbyist for Focus on the Family-Texas would be in the papers arguing that the state should authorize those plates:

“Private speech, protected by the First Amendment, should not be subjected to second-class treatment. Anyone who opposed this plate either doesn’t know the law or has no respect for the First Amendment.”

But if this really is about the First Amendment, what’s the difference?

Board OKs Christian-Themed License Plate

December 8, 2011

The Texas Freedom Network just sent out the following press release:

STATE APPROVAL OF CHRISTIAN-THEMED LICENSE PLATE DISRESPECTFUL OF CHRISTIANITY, RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

DMV Board Vote Diminishes Religious Liberty in Texas

Thursday’s approval by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board of a Christian-themed specialty license plate is disrespectful of Christianity and the religious freedom of people of all faiths, spokespersons for the state’s leading religious liberties watchdog said today.

“It’s become pretty clear that our governor is dismissive of religious beliefs other than his own, and now his governmental appointees have voted to send a message that Texas is unwelcoming to the religious faiths of some of its citizens,” Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said. “The truth is that giving government the power to play favorites with faith ultimately diminishes religious freedom for everyone.”

The DMV board approved the “Calvary Hill” specialty license plate design on a 4-3 vote. Proceeds from the government-approved design, which includes the words “One State Under God” and three crosses on a hill, will benefit a Christian youth outreach program. Christians themselves should be concerned by the board’s approval of the license plate design, said the Rev. Dr. Larry Bethune, a TFN board member and pastor of University Baptist Church in Austin.

“I’m disappointed to see the state endorse a particular faith, even if it’s mine, and to see Christians trivialize our faith into slogans and symbols on the back of a bumper,” Bethune said.

The design’s approval by board members appointed by Gov Perry is just the latest disappointment in a challenging year for supporters of religious liberty, Miller said. In August, for example, Gov. Perry hosted a Christians-only prayer event in Houston organized by an anti-gay hate group. The governor has also made appeals specifically to Christians a central strategy of his presidential campaign. Just yesterday, for example, a new Perry campaign ad cited the governor’s Christian faith and charged that President Obama is engaged in a “war on religion” and that liberals are engaged in “attacks on our religious heritage.” The ad suggests that policies promoted by the Obama administration, particularly ending the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy against gays in the military, are anti-Christian.

2011 Lege Wrap Up: Religious Freedom

July 3, 2011

It’s a biennial legislative tradition in Texas — trotting out a new batch of devious proposals to merge religion and government and attack religious pluralism. And 2011 was no exception.  As the dust settles, the news on this front is mostly good for advocates of religious freedom, as none of the problematic legislation TFN worked to oppose on this issue ultimately made it to the governor’s desk. This should be considered a major victory, given the influx of culture warriors who joined the Texas Legislature this session.

Here are some highlights:

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Real Respect for Religious Freedom

June 1, 2011

Too often we see public officials in Texas use faith as a political weapon against their opponents. Just as appalling is that so many of those officials seemingly dismiss the reality that their diverse constituencies include people from many different faith traditions. But some officials do show real respect for faith and the religious freedom and diversity of people across Texas. A good example of the latter came on Tuesday, when state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, offered an invocation at the beginning of the Texas Legislature’s special session. Rep. Howard is a former member of the Texas Freedom Network’s Board of Directors. We couldn’t be more proud of her.

Our friends at Texas Impact posted the video below.

No Religious Test… Except for Muslims

February 15, 2011

In case you missed it, last week The Daily Show ran a funny piece on the battle over the re-election of Joe Straus as speaker of the Texas House. The show poked fun at the “miracle” of electing a Jewish speaker in a famously Christian land like Texas. And predictably, they found plenty of religious discrimination and rank hypocrisy in Texas, only it was directed at another minority religious group — American Muslims.

When correspondent John Oliver went looking for a useful bigot, Dave Welch of the right-wing Houston Area Pastor Council proved himself more than happy to oblige. Oliver asked — tongue in cheek —  “Can we at least agree that we don’t want a Muslim speaker?” To which a smug Welch replied:

“I would say right now, yes, for a variety of reasons. Again, we have deep concerns about the loyalty of Muslims to the Constitution.”

Wait a minute.

Last time I checked, the Constitution pretty clearly states “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States” (Article VI, paragraph 3).

Somebody isn’t being loyal to the Constitution, alright. But it isn’t American Muslims.

Click here to watch the full clip.

No Muslim Schools Allowed?

February 7, 2011

It turns out that a prominent association of private secular and religious schools in Texas welcomes many religious institutions as members — but not, apparently, Islamic private schools. A story in the San Antonio Express-News over the weekend reports that the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) denied membership to one Islamic school two months ago and to two Islamic schools in 2004.

As a private organization, of course, TAPPS is free to decide which schools it wants as members. The Express-News reports that many of the organization’s members are Christian schools, a couple are Jewish and others are secular. But it seems that Muslims need not apply.

And why not? TAPPS officials were reluctant to talk to the Express-News about their decisions regarding the Islamic schools seeking membership. One responded to a reporter’s queries with something akin to “none of your business.”

Not all TAPPS members, to their credit, are comfortable with making membership decisions based on religion. Some have decided to retain their membership while working to change the organization from within.

But it’s hard not to be saddened by yet another example of the growing prejudice against some Americans simply because of their religion. After all, it wasn’t too long ago in America that Catholic and Jewish individuals and institutions were regularly denied membership in some organizations.

It would be a good thing if elected public officials didn’t also promote this kind of prejudice, but too many in Texas — including some members of the State Board of Education — shamelessly do. And various pressure groups, like Texas Eagle Forum, have been outspoken in promoting anti-Muslim bigotry and hysteria. Lost on all of them, apparently, is the irony that they claim to support religious freedom. That claim is becoming harder and harder to believe.

The Year in Quotes: Religious Freedom

December 27, 2010

Threats to religious freedom — and the constitutional protections for that freedom — were evident in much of the far right’s political rhetoric in 2010. Some right-wing politicians even sought to turn religion and government into enemies by using faith as a political weapon. You can read more of our review of what the far right had to say in 2010 here and here.

“Our country was founded on religious principles … and our students will know that. . . . I think the [Founding Fathers] fully intended that our government would not separate church and state.”

— Gail Lowe, chair of the Texas State Board of Education, talking about new social studies curriculum standards for public schools, North Texas Daily, September 20, 2010

“The exact phrase ‘separation of church and state’ came out of Adolf Hitler’s mouth. That’s where it comes from. So next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of church and state, ask them why they’re Nazis.”

— Glen Urquhart, Republican congressional candidate from Delaware, Washington Post, April 2010

“WE [sic] elected a house [sic] with Christian, conservative values. We now want a true Christian, conservative running it.”

— John Cook, an elected State Republican Executive Committee member, explaining his opposition to current Texas House of Representatives Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, who happens to be Jewish, Texas Observer, November 30, 2010

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Va. Baptists Defend Church-State Separation

November 18, 2010

We’re glad to see that many Virginia Baptists remain committed to their denomination’s traditional defense of separation of church and state. Associated Baptist Press reports that messengers to the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) last week “adopted a resolution decrying versions of American history that minimize or deny the role of church-state separation.” From the ABP article:

Virginia Baptists should “regard it as a threat to the flourishing of religious liberty when any version of our nation’s history minimizes or denies the historical basis” of church-state separation, the resolution says. It also says Virginia Baptists should “be diligent in resisting and correcting any such mistaken version of our history.”

Supporters of the resolution expressed concerns about how Texas State Board of Education‘s religious-right bloc rewrote history and other social studies curriculum standards earlier this year. Rob James, a retired religion professor at the University of Richmond who chairs the BGAV’s religious-liberty committee, had this to say:

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Strong Support for Church-State Separation

October 5, 2010

A national survey from the Public Religion Research Institute has encouraging news for supporters of religious liberty. According to the survey, a large majority of registered voters either “completely agree” (36 percent) or “mostly agree” (31 percent) that “we must maintain a strict separation of church and state” in America.

Those results, from a national survey conducted Sept. 1-14, are mostly in line with what a Texas Freedom Network Education survey found in May. According to our survey, 51 percent of likely voters in Texas “strongly agree” that “separation of church and state is a key principle of our Constitution.” Another 17 percent said they “somewhat agree.”

We noted other interesting findings from the Public Religion Research Institute’s “American Values Survey”:

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Religious Freedom and America

September 10, 2010

Some critics have continually and absurdly attacked President Obama for supposedly not calling out the murderers behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks, for supposedly not talking about his Christian faith (if, indeed, they even believe he’s a Christian) and for supposedly being too pro-Muslim (whatever that means). So we thought this response by President Obama to a question at his press conference today was particularly interesting. Regardless of whether one supports or opposes the president’s public policies, surely we can all agree that his response here reveals how our nation is strengthened by respecting religious freedom for people of all faiths. Can’t we? President Obama (from the transcript here):

“One of the things that I most admired about President Bush was after 9/11, him being crystal-clear about the fact that we were not at war with Islam. We were at war with terrorists and murderers who had perverted Islam, had stolen its banner to carry out their outrageous acts. And I was so proud of the country rallying around that idea, that notion that we are not going to be divided by religion; we’re not going to be divided by ethnicity. We are all Americans. We stand together against those who would try to do us harm.

And that’s what we’ve done over the last nine years. And we should take great pride in that. And I think it is absolutely important now for the overwhelming majority of the American people to hang on to that thing that is best in us, a belief in religious tolerance, clarity about who our enemies are — our enemies are al Qaeda and their allies who are trying to kill us, but have killed more Muslims than just about anybody on Earth. We have to make sure that we don’t start turning on each other.

And I will do everything that I can as long as I am President of the United States to remind the American people that we are one nation under God, and we may call that God different names but we remain one nation. And as somebody who relies heavily on my Christian faith in my job, I understand the passions that religious faith can raise. But I’m also respectful that people of different faiths can practice their religion, even if they don’t subscribe to the exact same notions that I do, and that they are still good people, and they are my neighbors and they are my friends, and they are fighting alongside us in our battles.”

Freedom for Some, But Not All?

August 17, 2010

In the growing category of religious-right hypocrisy, read this recent statement from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land regarding the proposed Muslim community center near Ground Zero in New York:

“I take a back seat to no one when it comes to religious freedom and religious belief and the right to express that belief, even beliefs that I find abhorrent. But what I don’t do is I don’t say that religious freedom means that you have the right to build a place of worship anywhere that you want to build them.”

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