The NFL star isn’t the only one. The practice of beating children lives on, buoyed by an organized, conservative Christian movement that promotes corporal punishment.
I wish I could say it was surprising to learn that Adrian Peterson, his lawyer, and his friends are all defending Peterson from allegations of child abuse by saying that Peterson’s choice to beat his 4-year-old son with a stick was nothing but an expression of love. Beating children this way can leave scars, both physical and mental, but the practice continues—and continues to be treated by many as normal—in no small part because there’s an organized, conservative Christian movement that continues to promote corporal punishment and even argues that attempts to stymie the practice are an assault on their religion.
Like Peterson, I grew up in rural Texas and can attest that yes, it’s more common than not for parents to beat their children with sticks, belts, and various kitchen implements, all in the name of “love.” (I personally was never hit this way, but my family was the exception, not the rule.) It’s not just in Texas, either, as 67 percent of parents admit to spanking their children. In fact, 19 states, including Texas, still allow corporal punishment in schools.
Most of the people who support spanking draw a distinction between “corporal punishment” and “child abuse,” but as the Peterson case shows, where people draw that line varies wildly. To make the situation worse, the Christian right has, for decades now, both heralded corporal punishment as the best way to discipline children and has resisted efforts to strengthen protections for children on the grounds that these violate “parental rights.”
This is why the United States, along with Somalia, is the only country in the world not to have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a document that outlines U.N. expectations for how governments are to handle the rights of children. The reason for the reluctance is simple: The Christian right won’t allow the Senate to ratify the Convention. There are many reasons for this, but a big one is fear that the Convention would force the government to outlaw spanking.
It is true that the Convention, according to UNICEF, gives children “the right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, physically or mentally” and that “any form of discipline involving violence is unacceptable.” The Convention doesn’t go so far as to explicitly call on governments to outlaw spanking, but the wording does strongly advise against all hitting of children in favor of other forms of discipline.Spanking your child is a part of many people’s identities about what it is to be a Christian, which is why so many conservative Christians love to claim “spare the rod and spoil the child.”
“Parents would no longer be able to administer reasonable spankings to their children” if the U.S. ratified the Conventions, argues the Christian right website Parental Rights, the primary resource fighting efforts to protect the rights of children.
The problem with “reasonable” is there’s no good definition of what counts as reasonable. It’s a phrase designed to call to mind a soft and painless swat on a toddler’s butt to get their attention, but in reality, what Christian conservatives define as “reasonable” is intended to cause pain and injury to children. Focus on the Family argues that any kind of spanking that does more than “sting” is too much, but even their supposedly “reasonable” approach allows for parents to “use a wooden spoon or some other appropriately sized paddle” and that it “ought to hurt” and should produce “a few tears and sniffles.”
The worst part is that Focus on the Family is restrained compared to other Christian conservative child-rearing advice. A more controversial but still popular book on child-rearing, To Train Up A Child by Michael and Debi Pearl, recommends that parents start spanking at 6 months old and use belts and plumbing tubes to beat children with. Unsurprisingly, considering the harsh attitude toward children on display, this book has turned up in a number of homes of parents accused of abusing children to death.
Christian conservatives defend the practice of spanking children, even with weapons, by saying that parents are not supposed to do so in anger. “You want to be calm, in control, and focused,” writes Chip Ingram of Focus on the Family, and that a parent who embraces corporal punishment “is not an angry, insensitive person with a big club and a vicious agenda.” This echoes a common refrain from parents to justify spanking, that they don’t do it in anger and they reserve it for serious infractions that require a lot of time and processing so the child doesn’t do it again.
Unfortunately, parents are overestimating their own abilities to keep it in check. Researchers at Southern Methodist University strapped audio recorders onto the arms of 33 mothers to see if and when they used spanking, and found that instead of retreating to a quiet space to calmly administer a spanking, mothers who spank are just hitting in anger and frustration. Kids got spanked for finger-sucking, messing with pages of a book, or getting out of a chair when they weren’t supposed to. Parents who spank say they do so around 18 times a year, but the SMU researchers found it was closer to 18 times a week.
“The recordings show that most parents responded either impulsively or emotionally, rather than being intentional with their discipline,” explained the lead researcher. This study was just of mothers who were smacking with their hands, but as the Peterson case shows, there’s reason to believe that parents who escalate to much more violent kinds of hitting are no more likely to hold back or temper their anger.
To make it all worse, there’s no reason to think spanking works. In the SMU study it was found that children lasted about 10 minutes after a smack before they started misbehaving again. Farther-reaching research shows that not only are spanked children not better behaved, they’re worse off for it, and that spanking is associated with more criminal and antisocial behavior as well as slower cognitive development.
Spanking doesn’t work to improve behavior. It’s hard for parents to regulate their spanking, so that it all too frequently turns into outright abuse. The line between “reasonable” spanking and abuse is hazy for even the best-intentioned parent. So why does the practice persist and why does the Christian right melt down at the mere hint of a suggestion that anyone would make it legally more difficult to beat your children?
A major part of the problem is that spanking your child is a part of many people’s identities about what it is to be a Christian, which is why so many conservative Christians love to claim “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Because of this, attempts to fix the problem and discourage spanking and even outright abuse are often regarded as attacks on their identities as Christians. Peterson’s own public statement, where he indicates that he was disciplined like this as a child and “the way my parents disciplined me has a great deal to do with the success I enjoyed as a man.” People feel, when you criticize spanking, that you are criticizing their families, their upbringing, and even their faith.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. As Peterson also said in his public statement, “There are other alternative ways of disciplining a child that may be more appropriate,” ways that don’t cause physical or mental harm, whether intended by the spanker or not. Christian conservatives have long argued that it’s totally possible to allow spanking while disallowing child abuse. Let’s hope this Adrian Peterson debacle shows that idea is much easier said than done.
With corporal punishment in the news recently (Adrian Peterson), it is no surprise that the biggest backers of spanking your child(ren) in the name of “love” and “discipline” (even to the point of extreme abuse) are Christian Conservatives.
Their influence is the primary reason why spanking is still allowed in schools in 19 states and why the US hasn’t ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
h/t: Amanda Marcotte at The Daily Beast
In his most recent column for Catholic World News, Cardinal Francis George, Head of the Archdiocese of Chicago, wrote that Catholics in America are being forced to choose between their faith and the “State religion” which imposes “its own form of morality on everyone.”
This new religion, he said, compels people to support things like abortion and gay marriage and, as a result, Catholics who refuse worship this “false god” have now essentially become second class citizens just like "Christians and Jews [who] are fined for their religion in countries governed by Sharia law":
In recent years, society has brought social and legislative approval to all types of sexual relationships that used to be considered “sinful.” Since the biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations, the church’s teaching on these issues is now evidence of intolerance for what the civil law upholds and even imposes. What was once a request to live and let live has now become a demand for approval. The “ruling class,” those who shape public opinion in politics, in education, in communications, in entertainment, is using the civil law to impose its own form of morality on everyone. We are told that, even in marriage itself, there is no difference between men and women, although nature and our very bodies clearly evidence that men and women are not interchangeable at will in forming a family. Nevertheless, those who do not conform to the official religion, we are warned, place their citizenship in danger.
When the recent case about religious objection to one provision of the Health Care Act was decided against the State religion, the Huffington Post (June 30, 2014) raised “concerns about the compatibility between being a Catholic and being a good citizen.” This is not the voice of the nativists who first fought against Catholic immigration in the 1830s. Nor is it the voice of those who burned convents and churches in Boston and Philadelphia a decade later. Neither is it the voice of the Know-Nothing Party of the 1840s and 1850s, nor of the Ku Klux Klan, which burned crosses before Catholic churches in the Midwest after the civil war. It is a voice more sophisticated than that of the American Protective Association, whose members promised never to vote for a Catholic for public office. This is, rather, the selfrighteous voice of some members of the American establishment today who regard themselves as “progressive” and “enlightened.”
The inevitable result is a crisis of belief for many Catholics. Throughout history, when Catholics and other believers in revealed religion have been forced to choose between being taught by God or instructed by politicians, professors, editors of major newspapers and entertainers, many have opted to go along with the powers that be. This reduces a great tension in their lives, although it also brings with it the worship of a false god. It takes no moral courage to conform to government and social pressure. It takes a deep faith to “swim against the tide,” as Pope Francis recently encouraged young people to do at last summer’s World Youth Day.
Swimming against the tide means limiting one’s access to positions of prestige and power in society. It means that those who choose to live by the Catholic faith will not be welcomed as political candidates to national office, will not sit on editorial boards of major newspapers, will not be at home on most university faculties, will not have successful careers as actors and entertainers. Nor will their children, who will also be suspect. Since all public institutions, no matter who owns or operates them, will be agents of the government and conform their activities to the demands of the official religion, the practice of medicine and law will become more difficult for faithful Catholics. It already means in some States that those who run businesses must conform their activities to the official religion or be fined, as Christians and Jews are fined for their religion in countries governed by Sharia law.
h/t: Kyle Mantyla at RWW
Liberty Counsel Duo Barber And Staver: "Persecution Of Christians Is The Worst It Has Even Been In American History"
On today’s “Faith and Freedom” radio broadcast, Mat Staver and Matt Barber declared that this current period in time is the worst persecution that Christians have ever faced throughout American history because they are being forced to participate in both abortion and gay marriage.
Bizarrely, Staver claimed that, under Obamacare, Christians are not only being required to fund abortion but are literally being “forced to participate in genocide,” which is something that not even the Nazi government forced the German citizens to do.
"Even in Nazi Germany," Staver said, "the government participated in genocide but the individuals, the citizens weren’t forced to participate in it … The people were not forced to push people into the gas chamber or pull the trigger, but now you’re being forced to pull the trigger, you’re being forced to participate in a genocide, that’s different than anything before."
Barber agreed, saying “this is the most oppressive time in terms of religious liberty in the United States,” not only because of abortion but also because Christians are also supposedly being persecuted for opposing gay marriage.
"Everyone is going to have to make a decision to either obey the laws of God or to obey the laws of man," Barber said, "and this is unprecedented."
Staver warned that Christians are being compelled to “participate in a Romans 1 platform” by affirming those whom God has given up to a reprobate mind.
"Romans 1 says that when you reject God as the Creator," he said, "God gives you up to a reprobate mind and one of the consequences of that is the people turn towards the same sex for sexual activity and pleasure":
h/t: Kyle Mantyla at RWW
In an interview last month on the Daystar program “Joni,” Fox News commentator Todd Starnes agreed with the suggestion that marriage equality will legalize man-dog marriage.
Discussing the case of a Colorado bakery that denied service to a same-sex couple (and which ironically baked a cake for a “dog wedding”), Starnes agreed with cohost Rachel Lamb’s assertion that man-dog marriage is on its way, saying, “when you redefine marriage, that means anything goes.”
Starnes also said gay rights will lead to the imprisonment of pastors and restrictions on the freedom of speech, adding that Christians in America are being “persecuted” and “beat up” just like Chinese Christians.
H/T: Brian Tashman at RWW
HE NEVER SHUTS UP, DOES HE?: Cultural Icon & Village Idiot Phil The Duck Is A Homophobe Just Like Jesus [TW: Anti-LGBT Bigotry, Homophobia]
Last year’s Free Speach* martyr Phil
Last year’s Free Speach* martyr Phil “All Merchandise 50% Off” Robertson has him a book-shaped object out and is dutifully making the rounds of the morning news programs to try to gin up some interest in his thoughts. While promoting his collections of pages, titled unPHILtered: The Way I See It, Mr. Duck went on Good Morning America to share the simple homespun philosophy of a wealthy has-been reality teevee star, and revealed that Jesus is pretty OK with telling the gays they’re bound for the everlasting lake of hell firrrrrrre. Robertson reiterated that he doesn’t hate anybody at all, and when asked about his charming thoughts on gay people in GQ magazine last year, explained that there’s only one reliable compendium of bronze-age wisdom that can be trusted:
“The only place that I know of that I could have gone to answer that question would be a Bible. The dictionary wouldn’t have explained it. An encyclopedia wouldn’t have explained it, whether it was a sin or not. So I went to the only source I had to answer his question…
I’m as much of a homophobe as Jesus was. People who are participating in homosexual behavior, they need to know that I love them.”
A careful review of the New Testament showed that what Jesus actually said about homosexuality was Not A Single Word, so we would like to remind Mr. Duck that Saul of Tarsus (aka Saint Paul, aka “the cute one”) and Jesus were actually two completely different people.
Robertson also took the opportunity to clarify his GQ comments on how, back before they were all hooked on welfare, The Blacks were all “singing and happy” and never complained about discrimination. If by “clarify” you mean “state something completely different.” What he really meant to say, he explained, is something that is nothing like the words that he actually said, because it’s really unfair to quote what he said instead of what he now thinks he meant:
“There is one race, one race on this planet,” he said Tuesday. “It’s called the human race, we’re all the same. To me, there is absolutely nothing that has color to do with it.”
You see, that is the clearest possible interpretation of his words at the time, which accidentally arranged themselves this way:
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field. … They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word!
“Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues”
You see, in his view, there is absolutely nothing that has color to do with it, in his view, and so there actually was no Jim Crow or civil rights movement, and don’t you forget it because God loves us all, millionaire teevee stars and happy singing darkies alike.
Now please stop being so mean to Phil Robertson, take a deep breath, and wait a few months until his book shows up at the Remainder Outlet before you say, “Oh yeah, remember that guy?”
* Free Speech is, of course, the principle that one can say anything one wants to without criticism or consequences, and differs from Free Speech in that the Constitution doesn’t actually guarantee any such thing.
End Times broadcaster Rick Wiles said during Tuesday’s broadcast that “Trunews” will go off the air in order to let Wiles launch a new radio show, which sounds a lot like “Trunews.”
Wiles said “the American public has checked out of reality” and failed to stop President Obama — “the communist traitor in the White House who is openly helping jihadist”— in his quest to establish a “dictatorship” and “defile the military with sodomy.”
“He has ended the Constitution and yet nobody is doing anything,” Wiles said. “The people have checked out, they are gone and we are now in a dictatorship.”
As a result of these developments, Wiles said God wants him to end “Trunews” and launch a “new radio program” to provide listeners “the spiritual food that you need to get through the storm that is coming” because “you don’t need any more news or information.”
“The storm is upon us, it is here,” Wiles said.
H/T: Brian Tashman at RWW
Unfortunately, to the extent there is something that can be called a “libertarian moment” in the Republican Party and the conservative movement, it owes less to the work of the Cato Institute than to a force genuine libertarians clutching their copies of Atlas Shrugged are typically horrified by: the Christian Right. In the emerging ideological enterprise of “constitutional conservatism,” theocrats are the senior partners, just as they have largely been in the Tea Party Movement, even though libertarians often get more attention.
There’s no universal definition of “constitutional conservatism.” The apparent coiner of the term, the Hoover Institution’s Peter Berkowitz, used it to argue for a temperate approach to political controversy that’s largely alien to those who have embraced the “brand.” Indeed, it’s most often become a sort of dog whistle scattered through speeches, slogans and bios on various campaign trails to signify that the bearer is hostile to compromise and faithful to fixed conservative principles, unlike the Republicans who have been so prone to trim and prevaricate since Barry Goldwater proudly went down in flames. The most active early Con-Con was Michele Bachmann, who rarely went more than a few minutes during her 2012 presidential campaign without uttering it. It’s now very prominently associated with Ted Cruz, who, according to Glenn Beck’s The Blaze has emerged as “the new standard-bearer for constitutional conservatism.” And it’s the preferred self-identification for Rand Paul as well.
What Con-Con most often seems to connote beyond an uncompromising attitude on specific issues is the belief that strict limitations on the size, scope and cost of government are eternally correct for this country, regardless of public opinion or circumstances. Thus violations of this “constitutional” order are eternally illegitimate, no matter what the Supreme Court says or who has won the last election.
More commonly, Con-Cons reinforce this idea of a semi-divine constitutional order by endowing it with — quite literally — divine origins. This is why David Barton’s largely discredited “Christian Nation” revisionist histories of the Founders remain so highly influential in conservative circles, and why Barton himself is welcome company in the camps of Con-Con pols ranging from Cruz and Bachmann to Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee. This is why virtually all Con-Cons conflate the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence, which enabled them to sneak both Natural and Divine Law (including most conspicuously a pre-natal Right to Life) into the nation’s organic governing structure.
What a lot of those who instinctively think of conservative Christians as hostile to libertarian ideas of strict government persistently miss is that divinizing untrammeled capitalism has been a growing habit on the Christian Right for decades. Perhaps more importantly, the idea of the “secular-socialist government” being an oppressor of religious liberty, whether it’s by maintaining public schools that teach “relativism” and evolution, or by enforcing the “Holocaust” of legalized abortion, or by insisting on anti-discrimination rules that discomfit “Christian businesses,” has made Christian conservatives highly prone to, and actually a major participant in, the anti-government rhetoric of the Tea Party. Beyond that, the essential tea party view of America as “exceptional” in eschewing the bad political habits of the rest of the world is highly congruent with, and actually owes a lot to, the old Protestant notion of the United States as a global Redeemer Nation and a “shining city on a hill.”
So perhaps the question we should be asking is not whether the Christian Right and other “traditional” conservatives can accept a Rand Paul-led “libertarian” takeover of the conservative movement and the GOP, but whether “libertarians” are an independent factor in conservative politics to begin with. After all, most of the Republican politicians we think of as “libertarian”—whether it’s Rand Paul or Justin Amash or Mike Lee—are also paid-up culture-war opponents of legalized abortion, Common Core, and other heathenish practices. As Heather Digby Parton noted tartly earlier this week:[T]he line between theocrats and libertarian Republicans is very, very faint. Why do you think they’ve bastardized the concept of “Religious Liberty” to mean the right to inflict your religion on others? It appeals to people who fashion themselves as libertarians but really only care about their taxes, guns and weed. Those are the non-negotiable items. Everything else is on offer.
And then there’s the well-known but under-reported long-term relationship of Ron and Rand Paul with the openly theocratic U.S. Constitution Party, a Con-Con inspirational font that no Republican politician is likely to embrace these days.
The more you examine the evidence, the more it seems plain that the “libertarian moment” in the GOP, even it’s real, and even if it’s advanced by Rand Paul as a presidential candidate, isn’t necessarily of a nature that’s going to be wildly popular among secular-trending millennials — or among Draper’s hipsters. To the extent it has a mass base, it’s likely as much or more among conservative Christian soldiers who despise government so long as they don’t control it as among dope-smoking free-loving free-thinking anti-interventionist Reason readers. So the latter might want to think twice before climbing onto the Rand Paul for President bus, or consigning their fate to Republican politics.
h/t: Ed Kilgore at TPM
In a fundraising email today, FRC Action — the Family Research Council’s political arm — announced that it is “working closely with Senator Ted Cruz to take the lead” in opposing a proposed constitutional amendment to roll back Citizens United and related Supreme Court rulings that struck down federal campaign finance rules.
FRC president Tony Perkins has also picked up Cruz’s talking points about the subject, claiming in the email that an amendment restoring the power of Congress to regulate election spending would “scrap” the First Amendment and ultimately allow liberals to “quash our freedom of speech; to silence our calls for liberty and self-government; to muzzle the Christian viewpoint; to make the debate totally one-sided; to brainwash the next generation into believing that this is how it should be.”
In reality, the amendment would return to Congress and state governments the ability to place reasonable regulations on campaign spending, a power they had until very recently.
I thought I’d seen it all.
I thought the First Amendment was settled. I thought freedom of speech — the fundamental bulwark of liberty at the very heart of our republic — was so basic to our American way of life, no liberal would have the audacity to suggest scrapping it.
But I was wrong.
It’s utterly outrageous to suggest gutting the First Amendment. It is critically important to our national life. Freedom of speech, especially political speech, sets us apart from most other countries in the world. It keeps liberty alive.
It seems Democrats want “free speech” to consist only of government-authorized speech.
They claim they want to cut back on the influence of “special interests” in election campaigns. But of course, the “special interests” they want to silence are organizations like FRC Action. They want to muzzle you and me.
This is not about “election accountability.” This is a naked power grab.
This amendment to the Constitution would give the foxes the keys to the henhouse. Those in power — whom FRC Action is committed to holding accountable — would now have the ability to silence us, to gag us, to strip us of our right to fully engage in the political process.
Interestingly, if such a far-fetched alteration of our Constitution were to actually take place, there is a particularly strong group that would be protected — the press! Democrats’ liberal allies in the mainstream media would retain their free political speech, while organizations like FRC Action would lose theirs.
Maybe you’re thinking: they can’t seriously think such a proposal would make it through Congress. And you would be right: they don’t.
This is a bald-faced tactic for firing up the Democrats’ base — to get more liberal voters to swarm the polls in the midterm elections this November.
But if we remain silent, if we simply sit and roll our eyes at the absurdity of it all … liberals in Congress will be emboldened to keep pushing in this deadly direction.
The Left would love nothing more than to quash our freedom of speech; to silence our calls for liberty and self-government; to muzzle the Christian viewpoint; to make the debate totally one-sided; to brainwash the next generation into believing that this is how it should be.
We’re working closely with Senator Ted Cruz to take the lead in exposing this outrage and in challenging any attempt to rewrite our Bill of Rights.
H/T: Miranda Blue at RWW
Teabagger Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad wants pastors to hand out biblical voting guides in church to save America | video
During a speech in Texas last week, Rafael Cruz, the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), encouraged religious leaders to “restore America” by distributing biblical voting guides in church.
“When government ceases to work towards those ends it is our right, and it is I believe our duty, to remove that government and replace it with another government,” the conservative pastor said July 31 at Trinity I.S.D. Auditorium, paraphrasing the Declaration of Independence.
The event was promoted by the Trinity County Republican Party of Texas.
Far Right Phony “Christian” John Hagee spews hate and bigotry towards pro-choice/LGBTQ-affirming Christians, denigrates welfare and Central American Refugees
“You people who are running around calling yourselves Christians supporting abortion, you are not!” he thundered.
“Our greatest problem in this nation is counterfeit Christianity,” he explained later in the sermon, telling gay-affirming pastors, “Those of you who got on national television and endorsed homosexual lifestyle because the president did so, you are a counterfeit Christian, you are a moral coward, you are a hireling shepherd. Shame on you.”
One of these was social safety net programs. “To those of you who are sick, to those of you who are elderly, to those of you who are disabled, we gladly support you,” he said. “To the healthy who can work but won’t work, get your nasty self off the couch and go get a job!”
“America has rewarded laziness and we’ve called it welfare,” he said, adding that “God’s position” is that “the man who does not work shall not eat.”
Hagee also linked the possible doom of America to the crisis of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America, who he claimed are being used for cover by “rapists, murderers, pedophiles, drug pushers, terrorists” who are “being treated like royalty at your expense.”
Two current Religious Right fixations — the “persecution” of American Christians and the need for conservatives to do more to influence the pop culture — have come together in movies like “Persecuted” and “We the People—Under Attack.” The latest entry, “One Generation Away: The Erosion of Religious Liberty,” was screened by Rick Santorum at the Heritage Foundation on Monday night.
Santorum said the movie will be released in September. His EchoLight Cinemas is trying to create an alternative to Hollywood distribution channels by building a network of thousands of tech-equipped churches who will sell tickets for “One Generation Away” and other movies. He says the long-term strategy is to bring more people into churches and put the church back at the center of the culture.
"One Generation Away" is described as a documentary, but it’s really a preaching-to-the-choir call to arms for conservative Christians and pastors to get more involved in culture war battles while they still have the freedom to do so. Among the film’s producers are Donald and Tim Wildmon from the American Family Association, which Santorum said is packaging a shorter version of the movie into more of an activist tool.
The title comes from Ronald Reagan – specifically from a speech to the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce in 1961, a time in which Reagan was working with conservatives to rally opposition to Medicare – “socialized medicine”:
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
The thrust of “One Generation Away” is that religious freedom in the United States is disappearing fast, and if the church doesn’t fight for it now, it will soon be gone forever. Before running the film on Monday, Santorum quoted Cardinal Francis George, who said during the debate about insurance coverage of contraception, “I expect to die in my bed. I expect my successor to die in prison. I expect his successor to be a martyr.” That’s just the kind of hyperbolic “religious persecution” rhetoric we have come to expect from Religious Right leaders and their allies in the Catholic hierarchy.
At one point toward the end of the movie, it seems as if the filmmakers might be striking a more reasonable tone, with a couple of speakers saying that Christians should stand up for the rights of people of different faiths — even though the AFA’s chief spokesman opposes First Amendment protections for non-Christians— and others actually acknowledging that it is problematic for American Christians to be complaining of “religious persecution” over policy disputes when Christians and others are facing horrific, deadly persecution in many other parts of the world.
But that caution is quickly abandoned as the movie makes a direct comparison of the status of the Christian church in America with the church in Germany as the Nazis came to power. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who tried to mobilize German Christians to resist Nazi tyranny and was executed by the regime, is held up as the model that American Christians need to be willing to follow.
Eric Metaxas, a Bonhoeffer biographer who became a Religious Right folk hero when he questioned President Obama’s faith at a National Prayer Breakfast attended by the president, warned that if the church doesn’t link arms to fight, all will be lost. “The good news,” he said, “is that the American church is slightly more attuned to the rumbling heard in the distance than the German church was in the 30s. The bad news is, only slightly, right?”
The movie cuts to Mike Huckabee saying that Bonhoeffer could have saved his life if he had been willing to soften his faith, but that instead he resisted and rebuked the Nazi regime. And then we’re back to Metaxas to complete the Nazi analogy:
“The parallel today is simply that. You have a government, a state, which is getting larger and larger and more and more powerful, and is beginning to push against the church. There’s a window of opportunity where we can fight. If we don’t wake up and fight before then, we won’t be able to fight. That’s just what happened in Germany. And that’s the urgency we have in America now. And people that’s incendiary, or I’m being hyperbolic. I’m sorry, I wish, I wish, I wish I were. I’m not.”
Filmmakers said at the screening that they had conducted 75 interviews for the movie, and it sure feels like it. It includes names that will be well-known to RWW readers, like Mike Huckabee, Tony Perkins, Harry Jackson, Tim Wildmon, Alveda King, Robert George, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, Eric Teetsel of the Manhattan Declaration, and Ryan Anderson and Jennifer Marshall of the Heritage Foundation.
Also appearing are Rep. Doug Collins; Rick Perry backer Robert Jeffress; Matthew Franck of the Witherspoon Institute, which sponsored the infamous and discredited Regnerus “family structures” study; Stephen McDowell of the dominionist Providence Foundation; Gregory Thornbury of Kings College; lawyers from the Alliance Defense Fund, the Beckett Fund, the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund; and a number of pastors.
The film also includes interviews with some opponents of the Religious Right, including Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Princeton’s Peter Singer, and Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Santorum told the audience at Heritage that he wishes he had even more of his opponents included in the film because “they scare the hell out of me” and would help motivate the right-wing base.
In order to keep the movie from being one brutally long succession of talking heads, the filmmakers resort to a tactic of constantly shifting scenes, a couple of seconds at a time, in a way that feels like they got a volume discount on stock images of Americana: boats on the water, kids playing softball, families walking together. There are also odd random fillers, like close-ups of the pattern on a couch in the room in which a speaker is sitting. The endless, repetitive succession of images actually makes the film feel even longer than it actually is. (Zack Ford at ThinkProgress had a similar reaction to this technique.)
The meat of the film, or the “red meat,” mixes the personal stories of people being victimized by intolerant secularists and/or gay activists with miniature David Bartonesque lectures on the Christian roots of America’s founding; the fact that the phrase “separation of church and state” never appears in the U.S. Constitution; the notion that the American government is trying to replace “freedom of religion” with “freedom of worship” and require any expression of faith to take place behind church walls; and the disgracefulness of making any analogies between the civil rights movement and the LGBT equality movement. The 1947 Supreme Court decision in which Jefferson’s “separation of church and state” phrase was invoked by the Court and “changed everything” is portrayed as nothing more than a reflection of Justice Hugo Black’s hatred of Catholics.
Featured “persecution” stories include:
- a long advertisement for Hobby Lobby and its owners, the Green family, which recently won its legal battle against the contraception mandate;
- a baker and florist who ran afoul of their state’s anti-discrimination laws when they refused to provide services for a same-sex couple getting married;
- cheerleaders at a public high school in Texas who were challenged by the Freedom From Religion Foundation for creating football game banners featuring Christian scriptural quotes;
- Catholic Charities being “forced” to give up adoption services rather than place children with same-sex couples;
- an ACLU challenge to a large cross at the Mt. Soledad war memorial; and
- the supposed frontal attack on the religious freedom of military chaplains as a result of allowing LGBT members of the armed forces to serve openly. On this issue, Tony Perkins declares, “The military is being used as a vanguard of radical social policy. And in order for that policy to permeate and to take root, you’ve got to take out the religious opposition.”
In spite of the parade of horrors, the movie tries to end on an upbeat note, saying that the early Christian church expanded while it was being suppressed, and that it will only take “one spark of revival” to change the nation. A familiar theme at Religious Right conferences is that blame for America’s decline rests with churches that don’t speak up and pastors who don’t preach or lead aggressively enough. One Generation Away ends on this point, telling Christian pastors it is their responsibility to wake up and challenge their congregants to live their faith “uncompromisingly.”
During the Q&A after the screening, Santorum said the fact that Hobby Lobby was a 5-4 decision demonstrated the importance of the 2016 election. “Part of me almost wishes we’d lost,” says Santorum, because that would have made the threat clearer to conservative activists. “We are one judge away,” he said, adding that “if we get a Democratic president, our five, or four-and-a-half, justices are not going to hold out forever.”
“I just worry,” he said to the young people in the audience, “that the longer we delay, and America sleeps, and your generation is indoctrinated the way it is, the harder it will be to come back.”
Right-Wing Christians Tell Kids 'Convert or Go to Hell,' Then Accuse Liberals of Indoctrinating Christian Kids
For the masochists among us who tune into right-wing media, you soon learn that the all-time favorite fear pundits and preachers love to trot out is that “they” are coming for your children.
Whether it’s liberal college professors supposedly turning kids to Marxism or gay people who are accused of recruiting, over and over you hear the claim that the children of conservatives are in serious danger of being talked into everything from voting for Democrats to getting gay-married.
It’s a peculiar thing to obsess over, and not just because it suggests conservatives have an unhealthy unwillingness to allow their children to grow up and think for themselves. It’s because the imagined conspiracies of liberals trying to “indoctrinate” kids are total phantoms. A little digging shows that accusations of indoctrination are usually aimed at attempts to educate or simply offer support and acceptance. While there are always a few rigid ideologues who are out to recruit, by and large liberals are, well, liberal: More interested in arguing and engaging than trying to mold young people into unthinking automatons.
But I think I know where conservatives get the idea that other people are sneaking around trying to indoctrinate children into unthinking ideologies. It’s because they themselves are totally guilty of it, both in terms of trying to recruit other people’s children and trying to frighten their own children about the dangers of exploring thoughts outside of the ones approved by their own rigid ideologies.
Parents in Portland, Oregon were alarmed to hear that a group calling itself the Child Evangelism Fellowship’s Good News Club has been targeting children as young as five for conversion to their form of Christianity. The group pretends to be similar to more liberal and open-minded groups, claiming they are just trying to teach their beliefs but aren’t trying to be coercive. However, it’s hard to believe, in no small part because they admit they run around scaring children by telling them they are “sinners” who are hellbound unless they convert and start trying to convert others.
One mother, Mia Marceau, told the Associated Press about her 8-year-old son’s encounter with the group. “Within a few hours, however, she didn’t like what the group was telling her 8-year-old son and his friends: They were headed to hell, needed to convert their friends and were duty-bound to raise money for the organization.” Those kinds of tactics aren’t about encouraging free discourse, but about creating a cult-like mentality that discourages questions and free thought.
Accusing liberals of “indoctrination” of children does serve one very valuable purpose for conservatives: It gives them cover to launch initiatives to actually indoctrinate children into rigidly Christian or right-wing views.
Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to the issue of evolution vs. creationism. Evolutionary theory is not an ideology or a belief system. It’s part of science, a world where asking smart questions and looking at evidence and questioning what you think you know is a big part of the equation. But creationists claim that they are the skeptics who are asking hard questions and portray evolutionary biologists as the rigid ideologues who are taking their beliefs on faith. By doing so, they hope to confuse people enough about which is the science and which is the faith system so they can smuggle their beliefs into the classroom where they hope to actually indoctrinate children.
It’s easy enough to see this is true if you understand how the concept of “evidence” works. All of the “questions” creationists claim to have about evolution have all been answered by scientists. That creationists hear these answers and ignore them, preferring to pretend instead that scientists have not answered the questions, shows that creationists are the rigid ideologues in the game.
Meanwhile, creationist arguments fall apart under even the most cursory examination, and unlike scientists, creationists aren’t able to answer the questions people ask them. One reason creationists struggle to get their indoctrination attempts past the courts is that once you actually bother to look at the debate in any depth, it’s clear who is teaching people how to think and who is pushing unquestioning obedience to an ideology.
You’re starting to see the same tactic used when it comes to right-wing attacks on Common Core, a set of national standards for schools endorsed by the White House. Now, there’s plenty of reason for people who are fans of critical thinking to object to Common Core, which feeds into the same “teach the test” mentality and attempts to turn our children into worker bees that have long plagued our public school system. But right-wing complaints about it have nothing to do with that. Instead they stem from a series of fanciful claims that it’s some kind of underhanded way to indoctrinate your children into liberalism.
(Indeed, in a bit of right-wing paradoxical thinking, teaching critical thinking itself is viewed as a form of indoctrination, even though it is, by definition, the exact opposite of indoctrination. If Common Core actually promoted more critical thinking, the right’s claims that it’s “indoctrination” would probably get louder.)
But the whole scare over Common Core doesn’t actually have much to do with the realities of Common Core at all. Most of the conservative claims are a bunch of recycled scare tactic used to scare parents into believing that education itself is the enemy and that kids should be kept at home or within strictly controlled Christian right environments geared to shut down critical thinking and encourage ideological rigidity.
That was made quite clear in Nona Willis Aronowitz’s piece for NBC News where she followed a group of Christian conservatives who hit the road trying to scare people about Common Core in Texas. Never mind that Texas doesn’t use Common Core. Scaring people about a thing they call “Common Core” that is merely a stand-in for fears kids might actually get educated if they go to school is what the entire snow job they’re pulling is all about. By raising fears that kids who get a public education are being brainwashed by some nefarious liberal agenda, these activists can justify their actual desire to, well, try to brainwash kids into unblinking acceptance of whatever authority figures in their life tell them to believe.
One mother said she was protesting the current state of public education because she opposed “deeper, rigorous thinking” for her kids and wanted them to learn “that there are absolutes, that there are right and wrong answers,” even though, in reality, there really is a lot of gray between the black and white. No matter how much conservatives wish otherwise, teaching people to think for themselves is not “indoctrination” and trying to foist a rigidly unthinking right-wing ideology on them is not protecting them.
Religious Exemptions: You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet [TW: Anti-LGBT Bigotry & Discrimination, Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia] *Level 5 Should Scare Everyone, Seriously
Think religious exemptions in the post-Hobby Lobby world are bad? Just wait until you see how far the anti-gay, anti-choice Religious Right wants to go.
Is your head spinning from all the talk about religious exemptions these days? From ENDA to Hobby Lobby to state-level "turn away the gays" bills, that phrase is on the lips of everyone who works in, advocates for, or cares about LGBT civil rights.
But what does it mean?
The Daily Beast's Jay Michaelson comes to the rescue with a piece called “Why Progressives Just Woke Up and Killed ENDA,” which contains an incredibly informative primer on the different kinds of religious exemptions.
Michaelson talks about religious exemptions as a series of concentric circles, or levels, starting with churches and ministers and becoming increasingly more broad as they radiate outwards. Here’s an overview:
Level 1: Churches, ministers, and Sunday School teachers. "Here," Michaelson writes, "almost no one disputes that some religious exemptions are justified." Indeed, no one wants to force clergy to marry any couple they don’t want to marry, straight or gay. Everyone agrees that that would be an unacceptable breach of the wall of separation between church and state. Next?
Level 2: Religious organizations. Most people support some exemptions in this circle as well, Michaelson notes, “but not as many. If you’re a church official working for your denomination, maybe. But what if you’re a secretary or working in the cafeteria?”
Level 3: Religiously-affiliated organizations, such as Catholic hospitals, nursing homes, schools, universities, and charities. This is where the entire debate about Obamacare’s contraception mandate took place, Michaelson points out (the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also falls under this category), and the administration’s compromise widened the law’s exemption to include all groups in this circle. ENDA’s religious exemption falls into this circle as well.
Level 4: Private corporations whose owners are religious. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby moved the contraception into this circle. And that leaves the right wing’s wet dream:
Level 5. The individual exemption. Anyone can discriminate against anyone else, as long as they claim that it’s for religious reasons. Michaelson correctly describes this scenario as “pandemonium” for same-sex couples, who when going out on a Friday night “could be married at the movie theater but not at the bar afterward.”
But it’s that Level 5 exemption — an unquestioned “right” to discriminate against anyone, at any time, because Jesus — that the Religious Right so desperately wants. It’s the quintessential special right and would be the ultimate form of Christian privilege. And it’s why we must stop them now, before they ever get the chance to obtain it.
Michaelson’s article is well worth reading in full. Click here to check it out over at the Daily Beast.
The Family Research Council came out yesterday with a report on “hostility to religion in America,” a collection of anecdotes from the past 14 years supposedly illustrating the persecution of conservative Christians in the U.S.
Some anecdotes highlighted in the report are troubling incidents that FRC admits were later rectified. Others are incidents that we might not all count as examples of religious hostility — for instance Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean being “mocked and ridiculed” for her answer to a question on same-sex marriage in 2009. Still others are stories of dubious accuracy — for instance, the story of a girl in Florida supposedly punished for praying at school, who just so happened to be the daughter of the man in charge of promoting Todd Starnes’ book on Christian persecution.
And then there was this:
Minister’s Invitation to National Prayer Luncheon Revoked because of His Comments on Homosexuality in the Military – February 2010*
An ordained minister and Marine Corps veteran was punished for speaking out on a topic unrelated to his planned comments at the National Prayer Luncheon at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C. The minister criticized President Obama’s call to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, resulting in his invitation to speak at the National Prayer Luncheon being rescinded. The minister criticized the action as “black-listing” to suppress unwanted viewpoints.
Who is this unnamed minister who was disinvited from the National Prayer Luncheon? He wasn’t just a minister who had criticized “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal. He was none other than the Family Research Council’s own president Tony Perkins.
This attempt to gloss over Perkins’ identity to make him seem like an innocent bystander to a vast anti-Christian agenda highlights a key strategy in the Religious Right’s persecution narrative. Like David and Jason Benham, who lost a TV contract with HGTV after Right Wing Watch reported on their vocal and public anti-gay, anti-choice activism (and who are also featured in FRC’s report), Tony Perkins is not just a private citizen who holds anti-gay views. He’s the leader of a major organization that opposed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” with misleading claims and demeaning rhetoric. You can agree or disagree with Perkins being disinvited from the prayer luncheon. But FRC would like us to believe that disagreement with Tony Perkins is the very same thing as hostility to religion.
H/T: Miranda Blue at RWW
The United States is still a democratic republic, formally, but what that actually means in practice is increasingly in doubt — and the Hobby Lobby ruling, deeply disingenuous and sharply at odds with centuries of Anglo-American law, exemplifies how that formal reality is increasingly mocked in practice. It is a practice best described as neo-feudalism, taking power away from ordinary citizens, in all their pluralistic, idiosyncratic diversity, and handing it over to corporations and religious dictators in both the public and the private realm. The Supreme Court’s actions are not taking place in a vacuum — though they are filling one: As Tea Party Republicans in the House increasingly bring democratic self-government to a halt, contracting the power of we the people to act as a cohesive self-governing whole, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority shifts ever more everyday power into the hands of private dictatorships.
Hobby Lobby handed for-profit corporations religious rights for the first time in history — a radical break with all previous precedent, and yet a part of a recent pattern, as Norm Ornstein rightly pointed out:
[F]or the majority on the Roberts Court, through a series of rulings that favor corporations over labor or other interests, it is clear that corporations are king, superior to individual Americans—with all the special treatment in taxes and protection from legal liability that are unavailable to us individuals, and now all the extra benefits that come with individual citizenship. Call it the new Crony Capitalism.
The expansion of corporate power in Hobby Lobby has gotten too little attention, and I’ll return to discuss this further below. But the advancement of theocracy — religious dictatorship — is even less clearly seen through the fog of right-wing propaganda about “religious liberty.”
First, however, an important highlight of a neglected aspect of the Hobby Lobby case, the fact that Hobby Lobby’s self-professed belief appeared out of nowhere just in time for them to file suit, as Stephanie Mencimer noted in March:
The company admits in its complaint that until it considered filing the suit in 2012, its generous health insurance plan actually covered Plan B and Ella (though not IUDs). The burden of this coverage was apparently so insignificant that God, and Hobby Lobby executives, never noticed it until the mandate became a political issue.
In short, Hobby Lobby’s “deeply held beliefs” claims are transparently bogus — as well as being scientifically invalid, since none of the methods involved are abortifacients, as Hobby Lobby claims. These would not matter if they only guided individual private conduct; that’s precisely what religious freedom actually means. You’re free to be a religious hypocrite, because letting someone else judge your sincerity can lead too easily to real religious tyranny. But when you’re already in a position to tyrannize others — as Hobby Lobby is — that’s a whole different ballgame. The tyrant’s freedom is everyone else’s slavery.
Historically, theocracy meant top-down religiously sanctioned dictatorship, exemplified in Western history by the divine right of kings philosophy. No one reads John Locke’s “First Treatise on Civil Government” anymore, because it is a refutation of the divine right of kings — one might as well read a refutation of four element theory in physics class. Locke’s “Second Treatise” provided a sharply contrasted legitimate foundation for civil government — the social contract and the consent of the governed. This is the air we breathe, and have been breathing ever since America was born.
And yet, theocracy and democracy are not two utterly distinct phenomena. Theocracy can well hold sway inside the family, for example, while the larger society retains its democratic form. More to the point, one stream of extreme Christian theocratic thinking — the dominion theology of the New Apostolic Reformation — has no problem (initially, at least) assimilating its goals of a theocratic government with the existing two-party electoral system. As researcher Rachel Tabachnick explains:
Instead of escaping the earth (in the Rapture)* prior to the turmoil of the end times, they [the NAR] teach that believers will defeat evil by taking dominion, or control, over all sectors of society and government, resulting in mass conversions to their brand of Charismatic evangelicalism and a Christian utopia or “Kingdom” on earth.
In early 2010, a leading NAR figure, Edgardo Silvoso, founder of International Transformation Network, which played a major role in promoting and passing Uganda’s anti-gay legislation, confidently said, “It doesn’t matter if the Republican or the Democratic candidate wins the governorship [of Hawaii]. Either one is already in the kingdom.” It didn’t turn out that way, because Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii’s popular long-term U.S. representative, defeated both the NAR-supported candidates — one in the Democratic primary, the other in the general election. Still, Silvoso’s vision might have come true, there could have been a contested two-party election in which both candidates were Christian dominionists — and most in the media (and thereby the public) wouldn’t even have known what was going on.
Sarah Palin was the NAR’s first full-throated state governor (revealing videos here), but Rick Perry has strong NAR connections as well — the religious kickoff to his 2012 presidential campaign was entirely an NAR-run event. But the point here is a broader one: The dividing line between theocracy and a democratic republic is not nearly as sharp as most might suppose, in fact, there may not actually be such a line, only a zone of blurriness for everything involved.
While the NAR represents an international evangelical grass-roots force of remarkable power for how little press attention it has gained, the theocratic push from above in America — duplicity framed in terms of “religious liberty” — comes from a Catholic/Protestant alliance forged in antiabortion political battles of the past 30-plus years, which is also undercovered and poorly understood in the mainstream corporate media, despite being grounded in a phalanx of powerful organizations, from the high-profile Family Research Council and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, through more specialized think tanks and legal advocacy organizations, such as the Becket Fund and the Alliance Defending Freedom. A useful reference is ”Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights” by Jay Michaelson, published by Political Research Associates in March 2013. In it, he writes:
While the religious liberty debate is a growing front in the ongoing culture wars, it is actually an old argument repurposed for a new context. In the postwar era, the Christian Right defended racial segregation, school prayer, public religious displays, and other religious practices that infringed on the liberties of others by claiming that restrictions on such public acts infringed upon their religious liberty. Then as now, the Christian Right turned antidiscrimination arguments on their heads: instead of African Americans being discriminated against by segregated Christian universities, the universities were being discriminated against by not being allowed to exclude them; instead of public prayers oppressing religious minorities, Christians are being oppressed by not being able to offer them.
In the “religious liberty” framework, the Christian Right attacks access to contraception, access to abortion, same-sex marriage, and antidiscrimination laws—not on moral grounds (e.g., that contraception is morally wrong or that LGBTQ rights violate “family values”) but because they allegedly impinge upon the religious freedoms of others (e.g., by forcing employers to violate their religion by providing contraception coverage)….
In fact, there is not a single “religious liberty” claim that does not involve abridging someone else’s rights.
As I’ve already indicated, Hobby Lobby’s “deeply held beliefs” claims are transparently bogus, but this need not always be the case. What is the case is that the inversion Michaelson describes — that of turning anti-discrimination arguments on their heads — both derives from and contributes to states of confusion in which all manner of bogus claims may flourish. As I noted above, there are legitimate reasons why the content of religious beliefs should not be scrutinized when considering questions of free exercise. But when religion is being imposed upon others, the presumptions ought to be reversed; we ought to be extremely reluctant to allow anyone to impose their religious beliefs on anyone else, no matter how light or innocent that imposition might be claimed to be. The views themselves as well as the manner they are imposed on others ought to be scrutinized as rigorously as possible. Don’t want your religious beliefs questioned? Then don’t impose them on others. When push comes to shove, real religious freedom can be just as simple as that.
And the phony “religious freedom” crowd knows it, which helps explain why outright lies repeatedly slip into their arguments, as Michaelson’s report makes clear. For example, anti-gay “religious freedom” advocates routinely repeat the lie that legalizing same-sex marriage means forcing churches to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies against their will — a flat-out lie.
Legalized civil divorce did not force the Catholic Church to marry divorced individuals, and legalized same-sex marriage would not force them to marry gay individuals, either. Institutional religious practice is almost entirely insulated from civil law. What does change are the rules applying to society at large. Michaelson explains:
Typically, there are five tiers of actors:
1. Churches, clergy, and religious institutions
2. Religious organizations
3. Religiously affiliated organizations
4. Religiously owned businesses
5. Religious individuals
The law treats these tiers differently: churches are rarely required to obey antidiscrimination laws, for example, but religious organizations may be, and religious-owned businesses are. Conservative “religious liberty” rhetoric deliberately misstates harms upward, and tactically expands exemptions downward. On the one side, no clergy will ever have to solemnize any marriage against her/his beliefs, yet restrictions on tier 4 or 5 individuals are cynically extended by conservative messaging to tier 1.
Michaelson then addresses the context of the Hobby Lobby case:
On the other side, conservative “religious liberty” advocates are clearly pursuing a staged plan to migrate extensions downward. In the current HHS benefit battle, for example, the Obama administration first exempted tiers 1 and 2, and then, in February 2013, exempted tier 3. Yet still the Becket Fund has objected that “millions of Americans”—i.e., tiers 4 and 5—are still unprotected.
And this is precisely the logic that the Hobby Lobby decision pursued. The Obama administration’s exemptions of Tiers 1 and 2 were not seen as signs of respect for religious liberty, in line with traditional practice, nor was its further exemption of Tier 3 seen as going the extra mile in a spirit of conciliation. Instead, the accommodation made for Tier 3 was used by Justice Alito to argue for similar treatment for Tier 4. The end result is that women in more than half the nation’s workforce can now be deprived by their employers of their most basic reproductive rights, involving birth control, not abortion.
But that’s just one side of the story. There’s also the economic, corporate power side, where things are a bit more complicated. I quoted above from Norm Ornstein, making the point that Hobby Lobby was part of a broader pattern of shifting power into corporate hands. But it’s striking that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce did not weigh in on the Hobby Lobby Case — it produced no amicus brief. In fact, as noted by David H. Gans of the Constitutional Accountability Center, “the only noteworthy corporate voices to weigh in — the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce — actually came down against them [Hobby Lobby and its supporters].” Gans also notes another brief from dozens of corporate and criminal law professors, “who argued that Hobby Lobby’s argument would eviscerate the fabric of corporate law, undercutting the corporate veil that protects owners and shareholders from liability for the actions of the corporation.” The brief itself begins laying out its argument thus:
Hobby Lobby and Conestoga each asserts that the religious values of its present controlling shareholders should pass through to the corporation itself. This Court should reject any such “values pass-through” concept. To do otherwise would run contrary to established principles of corporate law.
The essence of a corporation is its “separateness” from its shareholders. It is a distinct legal entity, with its own rights and obligations, different from the rights and obligations of its shareholders. This Court has repeatedly recognized this separateness.
This is yet another indication of how radically the Hobby Lobby decision departs from the existing fabric of Anglo-American law. And yet, there are clearly some in the corporate world who welcome this development, and it’s surely no accident that the same five justices produced both Hobby Lobby and Citizens United. So what’s going on here?
The best answer I know of comes from political scientist Corey Robin, and it involves looking much deeper than the framework of corporate law. The day the decision came down, Robin published “A Reader’s Guide to Hobby Lobby,” listing what he called “a few posts I’ve written over the years that should help put the Supreme Court’s decision in theoretical and historical perspective.” They’re all well worth reading, but I want to focus on just one of them, the first of two that Robin described thus:
2. Second, two posts on free-market types and birth control, how even the most libertarian-ish free-wheeler seeks to control women’s bodies: Love For Sale: Birth Control from Marx to Mises and Probing Tyler Cowen: When Libertarians Get Medieval on Your Vagina.
In “Love for Sale,” Robin discusses Ludwig von Mises‘ classic 1922 text ”Socialism,” and some contemporary discussions concerning it, particularly its fourth chapter, “The Social Order and the Family.” Here is where Robin gets to the heart of the matter:
The real reason Mises’s arguments about women are so relevant, it seems to me, is that in the course of making them he reveals something larger about the libertarian worldview: libertarianism is not about liberty at all, or at least not about liberty for everyone. In fact, it’s the opposite.
Here’s Mises describing the socialist program of “free love”:
Free love is the socialists’ radical solution for sexual problems. The socialistic society abolishes the economic dependence of woman which results from the fact that woman is dependent on the income of her husband. Man and woman have the same economic rights and the same duties, as far as motherhood does not demand special consideration for the women. Public funds provide for the maintenance and education of the children, which are no longer the affairs of the parents but of society. Thus the relations between the sexes are no longer influenced by social and economic conditions….The family disappears and society is confronted with separate individuals only. Choice in love becomes completely free.
Sounds like a libertarian paradise, right? Society is dissolved into atomistic individuals, obstacles to our free choices are removed, everyone has the same rights and duties. But Mises is not celebrating this ideal; he’s criticizing it. Not because it makes people unfree but because it makes people — specifically, women — free. The problem with liberating women from the constraints of “social and economic conditions” is that … women are liberated from the constraints of social and economic conditions.
If you want to know why libertarians reflexively embrace the National Rifle Association’s vision of freedom, but not Planned Parenthood’s (contrasting visions I discussed here), you need look no further. This passage also helps explain why there’s at least a germ of historical sense in the otherwise ridiculous Tea Party accusation that Obama is a “socialist”! By using government to empower women to make their own reproductive choices — not just in theory, but for real — Obamacare’s reproductive healthcare mandate really is acting in the socialist spirit as Mises described it, however market-based the mechanisms involved may be.
But it’s worth lingering a bit further with the socialist vision as Mises describes it, because it is so intimately bound up in what a functioning democratic republic actually does, or at least has the potential to do, when, for example, we take the Constitution’s general welfare clause seriously. What the socialists want, Mises argues, is to eliminate all manner of “natural inequalities”. This would, ironically, make everyone—not just privileged, straight, white males of means — into classic libertarian subjects, exercising their own, individual, unconstrained and uncoerced free choice. And this is the very last thing that libertarians actually want.
This helps explain why, for example, today’s Tea Party Republicans reject unemployment insurance as “socialist” — if someone out of work has any freedom at all to hold out for a job that will cover their mortgage, say, that’s socialism as Mises would describe it. And he has a point: socialism really is just another word for collectively removing the hidden and semi-hidden forms of coercion that otherwise shape and control our everyday lives. That’s why public education is socialist, too — and why Democratic politicians as well as Republicans are so eager to destroy it nowadays. But none of these other examples is quite as visceral or far-reaching as that of giving women reproductive autonomy equal to that of men.
This, then, is the bottom line: Conservatives (including libertarians) stand for the preservation and reinforcement (if necessary) of purportedly “natural” inequalities, which automatically structure all of society into overlapping forms of dominance and submission, in which the vast majority of people are inherently unfree “by nature.” Any collective action taken to free people from such dependent, powerless living conditions is anathema to them. Democracy itself is anathema to them. And Hobby Lobby is just the latest signal that they are firmly in charge.
Do they contradict themselves? Of course! So what? Do facts or logic matter anymore? Don’t be ridiculous! Dictatorship means never having to say you’re sorry — much less even a teensy bit wrong. The damages done to the structure and logic of corporate law? Irrelevant!
At the beginning, I wrote, “The United States is still a democratic republic, formally, but what that actually means in practice is increasingly in doubt.” This doubt can simply be summarized in the fact that any action to promote the general welfare will be automatically blocked and denounced as “socialism” by Tea Party Republicans in the House, while at the same time, the 5-4 conservative majority in the Supreme Court rewrites decades or centuries of precedent to further empower the most powerful elements in our society, to the ever-deepening detriment of the whole.