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
Starnes: Obama Won't Confront ISIS Because He Is 'Accommodating The Islamic Faith At The Expense Of All Other Faiths'
Todd Starnes called into Alice Stewart’s radio show today to discuss a report from Fox News claiming that President Obama had been briefed on ISIS for over a year but took no action, with Starnes citing this report as evidence that Obama is refusing to confront radical Islamic groups because he favors Islam over Christianity.
Stewart warned that Obama is letting militant groups rise throughout the Middle East as “just the first step in the Islamification of America” and Starnes agreed, saying that “this may very well be the subject of my next book.”
"The soft targets in this country are the churches," Starnes said, "and we do know that the terrorists are living among us; it’s just a matter of when they are going to strike and who they’re going to strike. If nothing else, and this is going to be a very controversial statement, but looking at the evidence we have, this president’s administration seems to be accommodating the Islamic faith at the expense of all other faiths and that is a troubling thing. This needs to nipped in the bud. The president needs to put on the big boy pants and he needs to do the job that he was elected to do, which is to protect our country from the bad guys."
"This is the worst example of bullying of Christians there is," Stewart added, "and we have no strategy whatsoever to deal with it":
h/t; Kyle Mantyla at RWW
Insanely hateful racist Todd Starnes slanders President Obama for sending condolences to Mike Brown
Fixed Noise commentator Todd Starnes embarrasses this country yet again by slandering President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for the events in Ferguson, Missouri:
Holder vows to monitor shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Why didn’t he monitor the “flash mob” attacks or knockout attacks. #doublestandard— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) August 11, 2014
Hey Ferguson, Missouri shopkeepers — watch this before you decide to rebuild. http://t.co/F6onzSGujI— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) August 11, 2014
Street Justice in Ferguson, MO means looting the local Taco Bell. Business owners should be running for the border.— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) August 11, 2014
Will Holder investigate the reporter who got beat or the death threats against the mayor or the mob shouting ‘Kill the Police’? #ferguson— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) August 11, 2014
Why isn’t Holder standing in solidarity with the businesses that were looted and burned? #ferguson— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) August 12, 2014
Why isn’t Holder denouncing the violent attack on a St. Louis new photographer and videographer? #ferguson— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) August 12, 2014
Obama releases statement mourning death of Michael Brown — calls it heartbreaking.— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) August 12, 2014
First Obama speaks out for the Harvard professor - then Trayvon - and now Michael Brown. I’m sensing a pattern…— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) August 12, 2014
Obama sends “deep condolences” to family of MO teen killed after allegedly attacking police officer. No condolences for the cop.— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) August 12, 2014
Why didn’t Obama release a statement offering support to the business owners whose stores were looted?— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) August 12, 2014
Why didn’t Obama release a statement supporting the journalists who were attacked by the angry mob?— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) August 12, 2014
I don’t seem to recall Obama issuing a statement on behalf of this guy http://t.co/Oxl36Yezsi— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) August 13, 2014
Meet The Latest Conservative To Cry Persecution: Iowa Newspaper Editor Who Said Satan Is Behind The 'Gaystapo'
We have watched conservatives claim again and again that they are the victims of liberal persecution, which allows them to then embark on the almost routine practice of filing a lawsuit with the help of a Religious Right legal group or making an appeal to the media, then appearing on right-wing talk radio shows and Fox News and then, if they are really good at describing their purported persecution, landing a book deal to allow them to repeat the process anew.
So meet the next contender in the persecution Olympics: Bob Eschliman, who lost his job at a newspaper after writing a blog post on his personal website about how people must fight Satan and his minions in the evil “Gaystapo.”
The Newton Daily News fired him as editor-in-chief over the blog post, which he has since bravely removed from his website. He insists that he is the victim of having “sincerely held religious beliefs” and is now suing the newspaper, citing religious discrimination.
Fox News commentator Todd Starnes – who frequently describes the plight of persecuted Americana Christians, even when he is completely making it up or pushing a totally untrue story – has predictably picked up Eschliman’s tale and turned it into a column describing the tragic saga of this good, decent Christian man losing his Constitutional rights.Bob Eschliman is a Christian. He’s also a veteran news editor. And when he decided to write a column on his personal blog objecting to a gay-friendly version of the Bible, Bob was unceremoniously marched out of the Newton Daily News and shoved out the front door.
After a brief investigation, the Iowa newspaper fired Bob and then publicly castigated him in an editorial. They accused him of compromising the reputation of the newspaper. They said what he wrote resulted in the loss of public trust.
“If you ask me, it sounds like the Gaystapo is well on its way,” Bob wrote. “We must fight back against the enemy.”
Wednesday, Bob filed formal charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Shaw Media and the Newton Daily News. Attorneys from Liberty Institute allege the newspaper and its parent company are guilty of religious discrimination and retaliation.
And based on my conversations with Liberty Institute attorneys – they’re going to go after the newspaper like a pit bull going after a pork chop.
“No one should be fired for simply expressing their religious beliefs,” Liberty Institute attorney Jeremy Dys told me. “That’s exactly what happened to Bob. This kind of religious intolerance has no place in today’s welcoming work force. In America, it is against the law to fire an employee for simply expressing a religious belief that his or her employer may not share.”
Dys said Bob was fired for trying to “explain his belief in Holy Scripture along with the definition of marriage.”
So are Shaw Media and the Newton Daily News anti-Christian? Do they employ executives who are religious bigots? Should journalists who endorse traditional marriage simply not apply for jobs?
And then there was the matter of the content. At first glance, it appears Bob was referring to the LGBT community as “the enemy.”
But it turns out – that’s not the case at all. He said he was referring to Satan – not homosexuals.
So for what it’s worth – Shaw Media decided that Bob, a faithful husband and father, a devout and outspoken Christian man, an award-winning journalist – did not represent the values of their company.
Maybe Shaw Media ought to reconsider its values.
It’s a shame a company that exists, thanks to freedom of press, wants to take away a man’s freedom of speech.
h/t: Brian Tashman at RWW
GATHERING OF LEMMINGS, OR COLLECTIVELY, WHY I LEFT THE REPUBLICAN PARTY: FRC Announces 2014 Values Voters Summit Lineup: A Cavalcade Of Crackpots [TW: Anti-LGBT Bigotry, Homophobia]
Tony Perkins fancies himself to be a GOP presidential candidate kingmaker, so it will be interesting to see if any not entirely crazy Republicans will join the above careening clown car crowded with the cavalcade of crackpots who failed in 2012, some of whom (Paul, Perry, Santorum) are expected to make a 2016 run. Ted Cruz won last year’s Values Voters Summit presidential straw poll with 42% of the vote, the largest margin ever seen in that poll’s history and light years ahead of runners-up Frothy Mix and Ben Carson, who barely landed in the double digits.
Fox News correspondent Todd Starnes attacked an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees, accusing the Obama administration of being “hell-bent on forcing Christians to assimilate to the militant LGBT agenda.”
On July 21, President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating LGBT employees. The order amends existing non-discrimination executive orders to include sexual orientation and gender identity. As BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner reported, the order “contains no additional religious exemptions … beyond those already contained in existing executive orders.”
Fox’s Starnes attacked the executive order in a July 21 post on FoxNews.com, accusing the Obama administration of endangering religious liberty and “bullying religious groups that hold viewpoints it deems inappropriate”:
The executive order would prevent Christian and other religious organizations with federal contracts from requiring workers to adhere to the tenets of their religious beliefs. And that includes religious Christian colleges and universities that provide financial aid to students.
"If religious organizations cannot require that their employees conduct themselves in ways consistent with the teachings of their faith - then, essentially, those organizations are unable to operate in accordance with their faith," Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, told me.
"The mask is coming off of the homosexual movement’s agenda. They really do not believe in religious liberty. They want forced affirmation of homosexual and transgender conduct to trump every other consideration in the workplace - including religious liberty."
The Obama administration seems hell-bent on forcing Christians to assimilate to the militant LGBT agenda. Resistance is futile.
Starnes’ commentary is typical of the Fox News personality, who’s made a career acting as the network’s mouthpiece for some of the country’s most extreme anti-LGBT hate groups. The Family Research Council’s (FRC) Sprigg, for example, has called for the exporting of gay people out of the U.S. and endorsed the criminalization of homosexuality. Pastor Robert Jeffress, another critic cited in Starnes’ post, is notorious for his extreme comments about LGBT people and Muslims.
Starnes’ fear-mongering about the executive order’s lack of religious exemptions grossly mischaracterizes the scope of the directive, which merely extends existing non-discrimination protections to include LGBT employees of federal contractors. As the New York Times editorial board recently explained:
This is not a question of religious freedom. It is a question of whether to allow religion to be used as an excuse to discriminate in employment against a particular group of people… [T]he presidential order … would extend those rules to companies that receive federal contracts in states without those kinds of anti-bias laws, protecting millions more people.
Mr. Obama’s resolve is being tested. There is no good reason to give religious employers a special privilege to inflict undeserved pain by, for example, refusing to hire someone to work on a government-backed project just because she happens to be a lesbian, or firing a capable employee who marries someone of the same sex.
h/t: Carlos Maza at MMFA
Todd Starnes showed a shocking lack of taste (even for him) when he reacted to the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner with snarky attacks on President Obama. Kudos to Fox’s Greta Van Susteren for calling him out on it.
While most people probably took the news of the airline crash with sorrow and concern, Starnes thought of smearing Obama. Here’s a grab from Starnes’ twitter feed during the hour that the news broke of the crash.
An hour later, Starnes thought of this:
But in case you think I only criticize Greta Van Susteren, here’s a big shout out to her for having the gumption to stand up to her own colleague. On In a blog post called, "NOTE TO FNC’s TODD STARNES: THIS IS VERY BAD TASTE, 295 PEOPLE DIED," Van Susteren wrote, “This is not the time to be snarky or have some pathetic attempt at humor. Let me repeat… 295 people died.”
Good for her!
H/T Media Matters.
NOTE: I don’t agree with Greta Van Susteren very often; however, in this instance, she is correct to slam her fellow colleague Todd Starnes.
A Texas charity has abandoned a plan to help house child migrants after conservative media outlets used misleading images to suggest displaced children would be living there in luxury conditions. In fact, the same charity operates other no-frills facilities and had planned to convert a hotel in a similar style.
Conservative media have promoted multiple conspiracy theories connected to the humanitarian migration crisis, including the accusation that President Obama “planned” the recent surge of child migrants across the border for political reasons, that migrant children are infecting Americans with rare diseases, and that Obama is allowing violent gang members to cross the border.
The charity, BCFS Health and Human Services, received a federal contract to house the children at the current site of the Palm Aire Hotel and Suites in Weslaco, Texas. Inan interviewwith local TV station KRGV, BCFS officials said the facility would undergo a renovation to create a dormitory-style atmosphere at the facility.
The plans for the new facility had calledfor 600beds for children between the ages of 12 and 17. BCFS would have taken the children from Border Patrol custody and housed them for an average of 15 days. The group also operatesa facility in Harlingen, Texas, and atemporary facilityat Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Ina press releaseon July 16, BCFS announced that it had withdrawn its plans to develop the Weslaco facility due to “negative backlash caused by information misreported to the public.”
Conservative media have mostly ignored BCFS’ statement that the facility was going to be renovated and have used marketing images of the Palm Aire Hotel to leave the impression that the children would be housed in luxury conditions.
On the July 16 edition of Fox News’The Real Story, host Gretchen Carlson described the facility as “living the American dream on the taxpayer’s dime” and highlighted the fact that the resort currently has a pool.
Correspondent William La Jeunesse used his fingers to signify air quotes to describe the “emergency” of the migration situation and suggested the plans for the hotel are a “symbol of bad federal planning.”
In a story headlined "Feds to house illegal immigrants at multimillion-dollar hotel," Fox News reporter Todd Starnes wrote on FoxNews.com that “the Obama administration could soon be housing hundreds of illegal immigrant children at a multimillion-dollar hotel complex in Texas, just a few miles from the Mexican border” and highlighted that “the 7-acre site features three swimming pools, lighted tennis courts, concierge service and a Jacuzzi.” (The text of thearticlehas since been updated and substantially revised.)
Ina tweetpromoting his story, Starnes wrote, “Feds to house illegals at hotel - with poolside cabanas and concierge service,” but at the bottom of his original story on FoxNews.com, he admitted that “the illegals should not expect concierge service at the poolside cabanas. BCFS tells me it will more than likely fill in the swimming pools with dirt.”
The conservativeGateway Punditblogsaid, “The beautiful Palm Aire resort and hotel has an indoor Olympic sized pool and an outdoor pool. Free Wi-Fi and cable TV are included in the simply decorated guest rooms.” The post used images of the hotel’s pools and tennis courts as it described the planned facility as a “resort hotel for illegal alien children.”
The post noted that the $50 million contract for the hotel’s renovation “is not part of the $3.7 billion emergency funding for the illegal alien invasion requested by the Obama administration as the bill hasn’t yet passed but it is a good indication of where the money will go.”
Gateway Pundit’s post was featured at the top of the Drudge Report, which has been pushing anti-immigrant stories for several days now.
Meanwhile, BCFS told KRGV that the interior of the new facility would look similar to the “dorm room” style of its existing facilities.
Google Mapsimagesof the hotel in 2011 show a much more mundane exterior than the luxury facility described by Fox and others.
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 religious persecution narrative is nothing new – it has long been at the core of the Right’s reaction to secular government and religious pluralism – but it has taken off in recent years in reaction to advances in gay rights and reproductive freedom, and to an increasingly secular and pluralistic society.
The tales of horror keep pouring in: Two middle school girls are forced into a lesbian kiss as part of an anti-bullying program; an Air Force sergeant is fired because he opposes same-sex marriage; a high school track team is disqualified from a meet after an athlete thanks God for the team’s victory; a Veterans Affairs hospital bans Christmas cards with religious messages; a man fixing the lights in a Christmas tree falls victim to a wave of War-on-Christmas violence; an elementary school student is punished for praying over his school lunch; a little boy is forced to take a psychological evaluation after drawing a picture of Jesus.
None of these stories is true. But each has become a stock tale for Religious Right broadcasters, activists, and in some cases elected officials. These myths – which are becoming ever more pervasive in the right-wing media – serve to bolster a larger story, that of a majority religious group in American society becoming a persecuted minority, driven underground in its own country.
This narrative has become an important rallying cry for a movement that has found itself on the losing side of many of the so-called “culture wars.” By reframing political losses as religious oppression, the Right has attempted to build a justification for turning back advances in gay rights, reproductive rights and religious liberty for minority faiths.
The religious persecution narrative is nothing new – it has long been at the core of the Right’s reaction to secular government and religious pluralism – but it has taken off in recent years in reaction to advances in gay rights and reproductive freedom, and to an increasingly secular and pluralistic society.
The frantic warnings, fueled by individual persecution myths, range from the insistence that conservative Christians are losing their right to free speech to the claim that the U.S. is on the verge of instituting unconstitutional hate speech laws to dire predictions that religious faith itself might soon be criminalized.
In recent months, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly warned that “we are in a war for religious liberty” and claimed that President Obama, who speaks frequently and publicly about his Christian faith, “doesn’t want any expression of religious faith in any public place.” Activist Janet Porter declared that a reality TV star’s suspension from his program represented an effort to “shut down Christians” and, even more chillingly, predicted that religious faith itself would soon be “declared unlawful.” Pastor Jim Garlow declared that Christians are “experiencing full-blown persecution like we have not seen in America.” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins warned that President Obama was colluding with “anti-Christian” extremists to “neuter the Church” and “silenc[e] Christians.” South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott insisted, “The greatest minority under assault today are Christians.”
One activist after another warns that gay rights will lead to the literal criminalization of Christianity. In April 2014, the American Family Association claimed that there were “seven common careers Christians may no longer hold in America” – including photography, broadcasting and teaching.
In 2012, the Family Research Council and Liberty Institute started releasing an annual “Survey of Religious Hostility in America.”
These surveys of supposed “religious hostility” include prominent court cases in which the Religious Right and civil liberties groups have legitimate, long-held differences of opinion on where the line between church and state should lie – for instance, the case of a large cross displayed on public land in the Mojave Desert.
They also chronicle supposed episodes of individual “persecution,” including many originally promoted by Fox News’ Todd Starnes and many that have been long debunked. For instance, the group’s 2012 report told the story of Raymond Raines, a boy who was allegedly punished by a teacher for praying in his school cafeteria. The Raymond Raines story has been around for 20 years and has been repeatedly debunked; Raines was actually disciplined for fighting.
The claim that efforts to draw a line between church and state represent a suppression of the individual exercise of religion is key to the Right’s persecution narrative. In order to convincingly argue that being on the losing side of a policy debate or a legal argument amounts to religious persecution, you must first establish that the media, government and the culture at large are actively hostile to people of faith.
This requires a constant supply of stories of supposed religious persecution. And for that, the Right has Todd Starnes.
Todd Starnes: A Look into the Right-Wing Myth Machine
The most prolific manufacturer and promoter of apocryphal stories of American Christian persecution working today is Fox News reporter Todd Starnes. If a story emerges about a service member punished for his or her Christian beliefs or a schoolchild banned from talking about Christmas, it most likely originated with or was promoted by Starnes. And there’s a good chance the facts have been either severely distorted or completely fabricated.
For an example of how the Starnes myth machine works, take the story of Air Force Sgt. Phillip Monk, “relieved of his duties,” according to Starnes, “after he disagreed with his openly gay commander when she wanted to severely punish an instructor who had expressed religious objections to homosexuality.”
“Christians have to go into the closet,” Monk told Starnes. “We are being robbed of our dignity and respect. We can’t be who we are.” Starnes added: “[I]n essence, Christians are trading places with homosexuals.”
It appears that Monk’s story was being shopped around by his attorneys at Liberty Institute, one of several Christian Right legal groups that devote themselves to digging up and publicizing alleged cases of persecution. The Alliance Defending Freedom and the American Center for Law and Justice have played a similar role, cheered on by allies in groups such as the Family Research Council (FRC) and the American Family Association (AFA).
The Monk story hit a nerve in a movement still reeling from the 2010 repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning openly gay service members.
After Starnes reported Monk’s tale in August 2013, the story spread like wildfire in the Religious Right. Liberty University official Shawn Akers cited the story to claim that Christians were now the victims of a new “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The AFA’s Bryan Fischer pointed to Monk’s commander to claim that “homosexuals that are in the military” could now “get away with absolutely anything.” Monk was invited to share his tale at a Values Voter Summit panel on the alleged trend of anti-Christian persecution. The Family Research Council produced a tearful video in which Monk told of how he was “reassigned by his commander because of his belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.”
But Monk’s story just wasn’t true. In Starnes’ very first report on Monk, he quoted an Air Force spokesman who explained that Monk hadn’t been punished but had simply come to the end of his assignment. A subsequent Air Force investigation found, according to the Military Times, that “Monk was not removed from his position, but rather moved, as scheduled, to another Lackland unit, an assignment he was notified of in April.”
This story repeats itself over and over again in Starnes’ work. When Starnes accused a Georgia school of “confiscating” a display of teachers’ Christmas cards, it turned out that the display had merely been moved from a hallway to an office to accommodate the privacy concerns of a teacher who had wanted to participate but didn’t want her personal card displayed in a public space. School administrators, caught off-guard by Starnes’ fabricated story, accused him of “an intentional and vicious dissemination of untrue information that disrupted the good work going on inside” the school.
When Starnes reported in January that a six-year-old girl in California had been stopped in the middle of a class presentation about her family’s Christmas traditions, the story of how the girl was told “she can’t talk about religion in school” spread rapidly through right-wing media. But this story was also not true. After Starnes’ report took off, the girl’s baffled teacher explained that she had shortened her student’s presentation because of time constraints and had in no way prevented her from talking about her religious faith.
Starnes’ reports about the middle school students forced into a lesbian kiss, the athlete disqualified for thanking God, and the Pentagon blocking a Southern Baptist website unraveled in similar ways. The middle school girls were never required to kiss. The track athlete admitted he was disqualified for taunting and disrespecting a referee. Defense Department employees were briefly unable to access the Southern Baptist website because the denomination’s website was infected with malware.
No matter how quickly they are debunked, however, these stories are used to build a narrative that bolsters the Religious Right’s political goals…and benefits Starnes himself.
In April 2014, Starnes reported that an elementary school student in Florida was told by a teacher “that she was not allowed to pray before eating her lunch time meal” and that “it’s not good” to pray. School officials conducted a thorough investigation of the incident, even staging a lineup for the girl to identify the teacher who had supposedly banned her from praying. In the end, they found absolutely no basis for the claims, and even found that the teacher that the girl identified wasn’t even in the cafeteria when the incident supposedly took place.
Then it came out that an amazing coincidence had occurred: The girl’s father just happened to be head of sales at the company publishing Starnes’ new book, God Less America: Real Stories from the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values.
Starnes’ book chronicles the very sort of story that he repeats in his columns. And the very first page reveals where he thinks America went wrong: “I grew up in a much simpler time…It was a time when father still knew best – when the girls were girls and the men were men. I grew up when the rainbow was a sign of God’s promise, not gay rights.”
“I feel like a Duck Dynasty guy living in a Miley Cyrus world,” he laments.
Duck Dynasty and Redefining the First Amendment
It’s no coincidence that the very first sentence of Todd Starnes’ book mentions Duck Dynasty, the hit A&E reality show about a family of impressively bearded duck-call manufacturers in Louisiana.
Duck Dynasty – despite its wide popularity – has become a polarizing culture-war code ever since one of the show’s stars was briefly suspended by the network after letting loose with homophobic and racist comments in a magazine interview.
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” family patriarch Phil Robertson told GQ. “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers – they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
Robertson also painted a rosy picture of life for African Americans in Jim Crow-era Louisiana, saying, “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person…. Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
Whatever you think of the substance of Robertson’s comments, they weren’t phrased in a way that you would expect would make him a hero to a major social movement. But when A&E briefly suspended Robertson from the show in response to outrage over his comments, he became a convenient martyr to the “Christian persecution” cause.
The American Family Association launched a petition thanking Robertson for “declaring the truth of God’s word.” The National Organization for Marriage started its own petition insisting that “nothing that Phil Robertson said is hateful.” David Barton praised Robertson for making homosexuality seem “repugnant, which is what it should be.” One Republican congressional candidate called Robertson “the Rosa Parks of our generation.”
The Religious Right turned its anger on gay rights advocates. AFA President Tim Wildmon asked the group’s members, “Will we capture the energy Phil Robertson has generated and draw on that energy to confront the entrenched fortresses of error and sexual anarchy that now dominate our social landscape?” Americans for Truth About Homosexuality head Peter LaBarbera and the anti-gay group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) both lamented that Robertson had fallen victim to “homofacism.” The Family Research Council blasted the “totalitarian tactics of the Left.” Anti-choice activist Janet Porter said that Robertson’s suspension meant that religious faith itself was at risk of “being declared unlawful.” Sarah Palin took to Facebook to defend Robertson against the “hatin’” of “intolerants,” before admitting that she hadn’t actually read what Robertson said.
One fringe activist, Theodore Shoebat, even suggested responding to the controversy by imposing the death penalty on homosexuality.
The Duck Dynasty story fit into a broader right-wing narrative that paints progressive boycotts and pressure campaigns as immoral “economic terrorism” while promoting similar campaigns that target companies they perceive as promoting liberal values such as gay rights. In fact, just three months after right-wing groups were expressing righteous indignation about progressives’ “totalitarian” response to Robertson’s remarks, they cheered Christian radio stations who pulled Christian rocker Dan Haseltine’s music off the air after he announced his support for marriage equality. When some Christian radio stations responded by pulling Haseltine’s group’s music from the air. The Family Research Council and the American Family Association applauded. “Don’t complain when there are consequences for making a foolish declaration like that,” said the AFA’s Bryan Fischer, apparently oblivious to the irony.
Even Todd Starnes, who called a gay-rights boycott of the restaurant chain Chick-fil-A “un-American,” later promoted right-wing boycotts of the Girl Scouts and a barbecue chain restaurant.
Of course, no court has ever found a constitutional right to appear on a reality TV show. And A&E may well have had legitimate business considerations for its move; when Duck Dynasty returned for its next season, its viewership had plummeted. But the story of Phil Robertson fit so well into the Religious Right’s narrative that conservative Christians had become the scrappy underdogs in the “culture war” that it stuck.
A Changing Strategy on Gay Rights
Warnings about the persecution of conservative Christians have gone hand in hand with the rapid success of the gay rights movement in politics, courts and public opinion. This is not a coincidence. Todd Starnes’ myth machine, the perennial “War on Christmas” and the hero status of the Duck Dynasty clan are useful tools in the effort to reframe every losing policy battle and every shift in public opinion as “persecution” of the Religious Right.
In a 2013 report for Political Research Associates, scholar Jay Michaelson documents how the persecution narrative was at the core of religious conservatives’ response to desegregation, the end of school-sponsored school prayer and the victory for abortion rights in Roe v. Wade.
But nowhere has the Religious Right lost more ground in recent years than on the issue of gay rights.
The movement’s leaders have portrayed gay rights as the moral test for our time, warning that every advance in the rights of LGBT people detracts from the rights of people who have religious objections to homosexuality.
As recently as the past decade, opposition to gay rights was a winning issue for the Religious Right. President George W. Bush’s advisors (including former RNC chairman Ken Mehlman, who later came out as gay) helped to get constitutional amendments banning marriage equality on the ballot in 11 states in 2004 an effort to boost conservative turnout.
But the tide turned quickly.
In 2010, Congress overturned the ban on military service for openly gay and lesbian Americans. In 2012, voters in four states either passed laws allowing marriage equality or defeated anti-equality measures at the ballot box. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that had prohibited the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages, leading federal courts to strike down same-sex marriage bans in several states. Marriage equality is now the law in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and marriage equality lawsuits are pending in dozens more.
As the anti-gay movement found itself on the defensive, it began to increasingly embrace the “religious liberty” theme. While dire warnings about persecution of conservative Christians have been in the Religious Right’s vocabulary for decades, the success of the gay rights movement has brought them to the center of its strategy.
In 2006, as public opinion and laws were tilting ever more quickly toward LGBT rights, social conservatives at the annual Values Voter Summit painted a stark dichotomy between gay rights and religious liberty. Alan Sears of the Alliance Defense Fund, now called the Alliance Defending Freedom, one of the largest groups promoting the “Christian persecution” message, told the crowd of activists that “the homosexual agenda and [freedom of] religion are on a collision course.” Then-Rep. Marilyn Musgrove, Republican of Colorado, warned, “If we have gay marriage, our religious liberties are gone!”
Subsequent gay rights victories have generated a flurry of apocalyptic rhetoric about a coming crackdown on conservative Christians in America.
Religious Right groups have claimed that efforts to include LGBT people in federal hate-crimes laws are an attempt to “target Christians” and “silence” opposition. (Of course, the fact that hate-crimes laws apply only to people who actually commit violent crimes is inevitably left out of this kind of criticism.)
The repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and subsequent efforts to extend benefits to same-sex spouses of service members led to accusations of anti-Christianand even anti-straight discrimination. One Republican in Congress, Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, went so far as to introduce a bill that he claimed would protect “military religious freedom” by banning chaplains from using military facilities to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. The bill would have done nothing to protect religious liberty among military clergy, who are not required to perform same-sex marriages. Instead, it would have hampered the free exercise rights of clergy whose beliefs allow or require them to perform same-sex ceremonies.
In 2012, the American Family Association published an article claiming that “those who are pushing for the institution of same sex marriage are ipso facto pushing for the elimination of the Christian religion.”
The next year, as the Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of DOMA and Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Tea Party Unity and Vision America leader Rick Scarborough speculated that a decision in favor of marriage equality would cause the Obama administration to “round up” and imprison opponents of gay rights. Similarly, Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber warned that an anti-DOMA ruling would lead to “the criminalization of Christianity.” Gary Bauer warned that people of faith would soon be “fined or jailed.”
Of course, when the Supreme Court struck down part of DOMA, none of these fears turned out to be founded, but American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer still declared that opponents of gay rights had become “second class citizens and victims of a new “Jim Crow.”
Advances in marriage equality have launched a new front in the anti-gay movement. As the effort to ban marriage equality becomes a losing battle for conservative activists, they’re turning their sights toward legalizing discrimination against LGBT people under the guise of preventing discrimination against Christians.
As National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown advised activists on a conference call in April 2014, “When [gay-rights activists] bring up discrimination, we need to turn it on its head and say, this is about anti-religious, specifically in some cases, anti-Christian religious bigotry, and there’s no place for this in this country.” Brown called such “discrimination” against same-sex-marriage opponents Jim Crow “in reverse.”
Ironically, while many Religious Right activists falsely claim that marriage equality laws will require clergy to solemnize same-sex marriages against their will, in at least one state it is a ban on same-sex marriages that is stifling the liberty of pastors. In April 2014, a group of North Carolina pastors and the United Church of Christ sued North Carolina over its constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, citing a law that fines pastors for performing wedding ceremonies without a license from the state. The FRC’s Tony Perkins defended the ban by arguing that the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom does not apply to Christians who support marriage equality.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Religion in the Public Square
In 2009, a coalition of conservative evangelical and Catholic leaders convened to sign the Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto in which they vowed to defy any law that did not comply with their religious beliefs, specifically laws dealing with marriage and reproductive rights. “The freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions,” they wrote.
The declaration’s organizers hoped to gather one million signatures within a month; nearly five years later, they are still more than 400,000 signatures short. But despite the failure to live up to that goal, the declaration still marked an important turning point in the Religious Right’s strategy.
The Manhattan Declaration was an opportunity for grandstanding, but it was also an important sign of how the Religious Right planned to use the “religious persecution” narrative in policy debates. The declaration made clear that to these leaders, “religious liberty” meant the right to carve out broad exemptions to civil laws, not just for churches and houses of worship (which already enjoy such broad exemptions), but also for individuals and even for-profit businesses – even when those exemptions come at the expense of the rights of others.
This redefining of “religious liberty” has come to a head in the struggle over the interpretation of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the passage of similar laws in the states.
In 1993, President Clinton signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a bipartisan bill drafted in response to a Supreme Court decision that eliminated the need for the government to show a “compelling state interest” in enforcing a law that restricted an individual’s religious freedom. Employment Division v Smith had involved two American Indians were denied state unemployment benefits because they had been fired from their jobs for smoking peyote in a religious ceremony. RFRA garnered broad support from religious and civil liberties groups, including People For the American Way and the American Civil Liberties Union.
RFRA was intended to re-establish the legal standard that existed before the Smithruling. It requires that if a law places a substantial burden on a person’s exercise of religion, the government must demonstrate that the law serves a compelling government interest in the least restrictive way. The Supreme Court later ruled that Congress could only apply RFRA to the federal government, not to the states, leading several states to pass their own versions of the law, many written more broadly than the federal measure.
Since that time, conservative activists wielding religious persecution rhetoric have attempted to broaden the scope of RFRA to not just protect individuals from burdens on religious exercise but to allow individuals and even for-profit corporations to cite religious beliefs in order to discriminate against others. As PRA’s Michaelson puts it, “RFRA demonstrates the pattern of protections for minority religions being subsequently used by majorities.”
In a number of prominent recent cases, Religious Right activists have pushed state-level “religious freedom” laws for the explicit purpose of allowing businesses to bypass anti-discrimination laws. Although advocates of these laws have hinted that they are ways around anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT people, many have been written so broadly as to open the door for all manner of discrimination by businesses open to the public.
In 2012, a coalition of civil rights, religious, law enforcement and child welfare groups successfully urged voters in North Dakota to defeat a ballot measure that would have putoverly broad RFRA language into the state constitution. Opponents worried that the measure could have caused chaos in the state’s courts and, in the words of the Bismark Tribune, “opened the door for people to use religious beliefs as a defense in breaking laws protecting against abuse, domestic violence and discrimination.”
The next year Kentucky’s legislature overrode the governor’s veto to put a similarly broad new state RFRA law on the books.
This year, intensive organizing and education helped stall similar bills in a number of states, including Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Georgia. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill after national attention focused on the state. Among those who had urgedher to veto the measure were Arizona business leaders, GOP Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, and at least three Republican legislators who had initially voted for the bill.
By contrast, on April 3, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill that was originally modeled on the extremely expansive Arizona legislation but was modified in the wake of the Arizona controversy. Mississippi’s new law mirrors the federal legislation in some ways, but activists note that Mississippi law defines “person” to include businesses, so the new state law will apply to corporations as well as private citizens. Last year, Bryant signed another “religious liberty” bill – one that could give religious cover for anti-gay bullying in public schools.
This new wave of legislation has come in response to a handful of high-profile cases in which businesses have faced penalties for refusing to provide services for same-sex weddings. But the case that could decide the direction of the religious liberty argument is Hobby Lobby’s challenge to the federal mandate that employer-funded insurance policies cover contraception.
The attack on the contraception mandate may be the Right’s boldest attempt yet to use the rhetoric of religious liberty and religious persecution to limit the rights of other Americans. Its campaign has also taken advantage of the energy of the anti-government Tea Party, which has mobilized against the Affordable Care Act.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has required businesses with more than 15 employees to provide coverage for contraception since 2000. Similar mandates are in place in 28 states; several were promoted or signed into law by Republicans. One such bill signed by Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas in 2005 provided no exemption for religious-affiliated organizations; yet Huckabee now cites the federal mandate to ask “whether religious liberty still exists in America.”
What changed was the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that insurance plans provide coverage for contraception without copays. When some Catholic groups that had supported the ACA balked, the Obama administration changed the rule to shift the burden of contraception costs onto insurance companies providing plans for religiously affiliated organizations. Then the administration made a further concession, requiring women who work for religiously affiliated groups to buy a separate health care plan to cover contraception.
The Supreme Court is currently considering whether the Hobby Lobby chain is protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act from providing health insurance that includes contraception coverage to its employees. Hobby Lobby’s backers not only want to redefine religious liberty to include employers’ right to impose their own religious views on their employees; they want the court to establish a right to religious liberty for secular for-profit corporations.
A ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby could tip the balance in religious liberty cases in favor of giving individuals and businesses large latitude in bucking any number of popularly passed laws. As Peter Montgomery noted in Right Wing Watch:
David Barton, an influential conservative activist who helped write the Republican Party’s 2012 platform, argues that the Bible opposes the minimum wage, unions and collective bargaining, estate taxes, capital gains taxes, and progressive taxation in general. Should a company whose owners share Barton’s views be allowed to ignore laws that protect workers by claiming that those laws violate the company’s religious beliefs?
Religious Freedom For Me, But Not For You
The goal of the Religious Right’s persecution narrative is not only to carve out broad exemptions to civil laws; many use it to promote policies that suppress the free exercise rights of those who do not share a specific set of conservative Christian values.
Republican presidential hopefuls flock to events organized by David Lane, a Christian Nationalist who declares “America was founded by Christians, as a Christian nation” and wants to see the Bible used as the “principal textbook” in public schools In an op-ed announcing his 2014 election efforts, Lane wrote that activists must “engage the church in a culture war for religious liberty, to restore America to our Judeo-Christian heritage and to re-establish a Christian culture.” It’s no coincidence that Lane can utter a plea for “religious liberty” and assert conservative Christian dominance over other religions in the same sentence. For many in his movement, those two seemingly competing claims are one and the same.
Similarly, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, speaking in 2012 of the “Sharia law bans” that have been passed in seven states and introduced in many more on a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment, said, “Christians are being persecuted while people of a religion foreign to our country are doing what they want.” Moore, who once famously defied a court order to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from a government building, said that when such an establishment of Christianity is prevented, “false religions come in and that’s what’s happening in our country today.”
Religious Right historian and activist David Barton has also made this connection, claiming that the United States’ secular legal system is actually paving the way for the institution of Sharia law.
In 2012, Rev. Franklin Graham lamented that “political correctness demands tolerance of everything as it panders to the godless values of pluralism, marginalizing and even persecuting men and women of faith.”
Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri put this into words when she said that the Air Force shouldn’t accommodate “fringe religions” because “Christianity is the main religion in our country.”
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins articulated this dissonance clearly in a recent discussion of the United Church of Christ’s suit against North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban. “True religious freedom,” he argued, applies only to views “based on orthodox religious viewpoints.” In his view, clergy who choose to perform same-sex marriages are not covered by religious liberty protections because they do not share Perkins’ view of the Christian faith.
Many of the same groups that warn that America’s Christian “minority” is on the verge of religious persecution have backed efforts to erect very real restrictions on the freedoms of actual religious minorities. Some, like the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, flatly claim that First Amendment religious liberty protections don’t apply to non-Christians.
The Religious Right’s “religious liberty” argument too often translates into an effort to suppress the liberties of people who don’t share their specific religious beliefs: people of other faiths, atheists, women seeking reproductive freedom, LGBT people and Christians who don’t share the Religious Right’s political agenda.
Conclusion: Redefining Persecution, Redefining Liberty
Religious liberty is a bedrock American value, cherished on both the right and the left. Courts, lawmakers and the public have struggled throughout our nation’s history to protect the right of every person to exercise his or her own religion without being unduly burdened by the religious expression of another. Laws such as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act have placed an appropriately strong emphasis on protecting individuals’ religious expression without placing undue burdens on society as a whole.
But using the resonant rhetoric of religious persecution, bolstered by often-bogus stories of purported anti-Christian activities, the Religious Right has attempted to tip this balance away from pluralism and accommodation to a legal system that allows individuals and businesses to broadly exempt themselves from policies they disagree with – even when that means trampling on the religious rights of others.
These are not fears to make light of. Religious freedom is a core constitutional value and a cornerstone of our liberty. But the Religious Right’s narrative of religious persecution is not only far from the truth; in many cases the narrative itself serves to undermine true religious liberty and individual freedom for all.
An anti-gay pundit who used his recent appearance before a House subcommittee to champion “ex-gay” therapy is a repeated Fox News guest who has used his position at the right-wing Liberty Counsel to wage ridiculous attacks on progressives and LGBT equality.
On June 10, Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver testified before a congressional hearing on religious liberty called by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ). During his testimony, Staver condemned laws in California and New Jersey banning the thoroughly discredited practice of “conversion therapy” for gay people. Staver asserted that laws banning the practice constituted “religious discrimination,” accusing “homosexual activists” of trying to squelch the truth about how gay people “can successfully reduce or eliminate unwanted same-sex attractions.”
In an exchange with Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) during that same hearing, Staver grasped at straws as he attempted to defend anti-gay business discrimination:
That performance was par for the anti-gay course for Staver and his organization. Liberty Counsel - an affiliate of the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University - is a “nonprofit litigation, education, and policy organization” that specializes in baseless claims about supposed threats to religious liberty, routinely championing even the most fringe anti-gay causes under the guise of protecting religious freedom.
To Staver, at stake in the battle against LGBT equality is nothing less than the survival of Western civilization. In 2011, he declared that “[w]e are facing the survival of Western values, Western civilization. … One of the most significant threats to our freedom is in the area of sexual anarchy with the agenda of the homosexual movement, the so-called LGBT movement.”
For Staver and Liberty Counsel, defending freedom has entailed taking up the mantle of Scott Lively, the far-right pastor who collaborated closely with drafters of a 2009 Uganda bill that would have imposed the death penalty for homosexuality and who claims credit for Russia’s draconian anti-gay “propaganda” law. Last August, Staver assailed a Ugandan LGBT group’s human rights lawsuit against Lively, casting Lively as a “peaceful" man being victimized by "a George Soros-backed organization."
Back in the U.S., Staver has crusaded against LGBT education in decidedly hyperbolic terms. In October 2013, Staver issued a press release lambasting LGBT History Month for robbing “the innocence of our children” and promoting a “sexualized agenda.” Teaching students that LGBT people exist, Staver wrote, is nothing less than “sexual assault.”
Liberty Counsel’s latest hobbyhorse has been what it depicts as the increasingly hostile climate facing Christians in the U.S. armed forces. In November, the organization posted a video listing a litany of examples of alleged violations of religious liberty in the military; each example was easily debunked.
That kind of rabid rhetoric hasn’t stopped Staver from enjoying a friendly relationship with Fox News, where he has
peddled anti-LGBT bigotry with impunity.
In a December 2011 appearance on Fox, Staver has mocked a transgender woman as “a man … wearing lipstick” and egged on the fight for Texas textbook standards that touted “Judeo-Christian values” and curtailed referenced to minority faiths. Serial anti-LGBT misinformer and Fox commentator Todd Starnes has also relied on Staver to push groundless, conspiracy-minded attacks on LGBT non-discrimination protections.
Staver has a particularly cozy relationship with Fox host Mike Huckabee. During Huckabee’s unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, Staver served on the former Arkansas governor’s Faith and Family Values Coalition. Their ties didn’t cease with Huckabee’s campaign; the pair traveled to Israel together in 2009, and Staver has appeared on Huckabee’s Fox program and radio show. During an April 2013 appearance on Huckabee’s radio program, Staver attacked California’s “ex-gay” therapy ban as “dangerous”; Huckabee parroted Staver’s talking points and suggested that the ban put youth “at risk” of falling under the sway of “a pro-homosexual counselor.”
While Liberty Counsel and its partner university enjoy considerable stature on the Religious Right, there’s little doubt that Staver’s public profile has been boosted considerably by the reliably friendly treatment he receives from conservative outlets like Fox. That platform has helped Staver to advocate demeaning, damaging anti-LGBT bigotry and pseudoscience - first on the airwaves, and now in the halls of Congress.
h/t: Luke Brinker at MMFA
On May 29, Duck Dynasty star turned GOP darling Phil Robertson gave a keynote speech at the Republican Leadership Conference (RLC). His speech, which focused on religion and encouraged Republicans to “get godly,” is the latest milestone in the controversial reality TV star’s meteoric and unexpected rise in national conservative politics.
Robertson’s presence at the RLC perplexed Fox News’ Juan Williams, who questioned why the GOP had embraced a figure who gained national notoriety after making a number of homophobic and racist statements in an interview with GQ. During a May 31 appearance on Fox’s Cashin’ In, Williams asked what Robertson’s rise in conservative politics said about the GOP:
BOLLING: I don’t know, I don’t know Juan, what about it? I think he’s big business, and I think it’s probably good for the GOP. No?
WILLIAMS: No, are you kidding me? What does it say, Eric, that GOP makes a hero out of a guy that says black were happy with slavery and segregation, and gays are to be damned. Is he the chief of outreach for the GOP, or is he the chief of internal self-satisfaction?
But Williams’ own network is at least partly responsible for the GOP’s fawning relationship with Robertson, having worked for months to whitewash his offensive comments and prop up the reality star as a beacon of American Christianity.
Fox’s fascination with the Duck Dynasty family predates Robertson’s GQ interview. But when A&E announced in December that they had placed Robertson on a hiatus over his comments, the network went into damage control mode; Fox’s Sean Hannity described the comments as “old fashioned traditional Christian sentiment and values,” while Fox reported Todd Starnes claimed Robertson was just reflecting “the teachings of the Bible.” Even Megyn Kelly came to Robertson’s defense, calling him a “Christian guy” and criticizing LGBT activists for trying to “shut down the debate.”
After A&E reinstated Robertson, Fox News snatched the first ’exclusive’ interview with the Robertson family as part of the network’s “All American New Year.” Since then, Fox has continued to whitewash Robertson’s rhetoric by repeatedly depicting him and the Robertson family as besieged Christian heroes.
Fox’s attempt to turn Robertson into a kind of religious martyr is part of the network’s broader effort to depict blatant homophobia as a part of mainstream Christianity. From Robertson to Brendan Eich to the Benham brothers, Fox News has seized on opportunities to depict opponents of LGBT equality as victims of a culture war in which Christians are persecuted because of their views on homosexuality. By whitewashing Robertson’s comments, Fox News has been able to depict his critics as “anti-straight,” anti-Christian bigots, paving the way for his faux-victimization story to evolve into a full on conservative rallying cry.
Following his speech at the RLC, Robertson appeared on Hannity where he admitted he was “surprised to be chosen to speak at the event. ‘I’m not a political person,’ he said. ‘I guess the GOP may be more desperate than I thought to call somebody like me.’” It was an uncomfortable message on a network that can’t seem to find an anti-gay figure too extreme to champion.
With the outsized vitriol Barack Obama’s presidency has inspired among conservatives, it’s seemed inevitable that the right would try to find some reason to impeach him. For more than five years, fringe activists, conservative media, and various Republican politicians have invoked the specter of impeachment over any number of manufactured scandals and supposed outrages. In a new book out today, National Review writer and former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy tries to kickstart the movement in earnest, laying out the “political case” for impeaching the president.
Writing in the New Republic in 2010, liberal journalist Jonathan Chait predicted that if Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and Obama won a second term, “the House will vote to impeach him before he leaves office.” He continued, “Wait, you say. What will they impeach him over? You can always find something.” Indeed, for much of Obama’s presidency, the prospect of impeachment has been a hammer in search of a nail.
While fringe activists have been agitating for impeachment for years, more mainstream conservatives have been considerably more reluctant.
In Faithless Execution: Building The Political Case For Obama’s Impeachment, McCarthy tries to bridge the gap and build support for impeachment as a serious idea. The crux of McCarthy’s argument is that despite what he sees as the rock-solid legal justification for impeaching Obama, Republicans cannot move forward with the effort without first convincing the public that removing the president from office is the right course of action. To do so without public backing would “look like partisan hackery. It would be worse than futile.”
Slate’s David Weigel explained in a piece last month about Republicans’ recent push to impeach Obama “without looking crazy” that many of the supposed impeachable offenses highlighted in McCarthy’s book have already “faded under the klieg lights of big media.” (Though Weigel points out that McCarthy “puts some of the blame for that on Republicans” and their timidity over the issue of impeachment.)
While he’s ostensibly trying to jumpstart popular support for removing Obama from office, McCarthy’s book seems unlikely to win any new converts — it’s just more preaching to people already in the conservative media bubble (the first reference to frequent right-wing boogeyman Saul Alinsky comes in the third paragraph and the first invocation of “ACORN” follows shortly thereafter).
Half of Faithless Execution is comprised of McCarthy’s draft Articles of Impeachment. The supposed outrages in the book are a mix of ongoing focuses of conservative ire — “The Benghazi Fraud,” and “The Obamacare Fraud,” for example — and long-forgotten Scandals of the Month like the “racially discriminatory” Justice Department’s treatment of the New Black Panther Party. If all of these pseudo-scandals that conservatives flogged relentlessly weren’t enough to keep Obama from winning a second term, it’s hard to envision the public deciding they constitute justification for impeachment thanks to a reinvigorated push from Republicans.
Faithless Execution is already getting a boost from Fox News. This morning, after Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano pushed the idea of impeaching Obama over the release of Bowe Bergdhal, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy plugged McCarthy’s book. Napolitano added, “it’s a very, very valid argument that people are going to start talking about.”
Nonetheless, McCarthy concedes in the book, “As things currently stand, the public does not support impeachment — no surprise, given that no substantial argument for impeachment has been attempted.”
Whether or not McCarthy sees any of the other arguments as “substantial,” the prospect of impeaching Obama has been a regular source of discussion for conservatives since shortly after the president took office. McCarthy’s isn’t even the first book to try to lay out the argument in serious fashion — last year WND writer Aaron Klein and co-author Brenda Elliott released Impeachable Offenses: The Case for Removing Barack Obama from Office.
Media Matters looks back at some — but far from all — of conservatives’ incessant calls for impeachment below.
Wasting No Time: Conservatives Were Calling For Impeachment Months Into Obama’s First Term
Less than fifty days after Obama took office, conservative radio host Michael Savage told his audience that the American public was “sitting like a bunch of schmucks, watching a dictatorship emerge in front of their eyes.” According to Savage, Obama was already “out of control” and concluded, “I think it is time to start talking about impeachment.” Conservative media figures have continued talking about impeachment for the intervening five years.
In the fall of 2009, conspiracy website WND — which had already begun hawking “IMPEACH OBAMA!” bumper stickers — asked in a headline whether it was “Time To Whisper The Word ‘Impeachment’?” Conservative activist Floyd Brown and his wife Mary Beth posited in the column that impeachment was a “political act,” and should be considered due to the fact that “Barack Hussein Obama [is] a very dangerous man, and a threat to your personal liberty.” According to the Browns, the ramp up in discussion of impeachment was perhaps “best” explained by radio host and Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce, who eloquently argued, ”Ultimately, it comes down to … the fact that he seems to have, it seems to me, some malevolence toward this country, which is unabated.”
Concurrent with the column, Floyd Brown — who produced the infamous Willie Horton ad in 1988 and takes credit for jumpstarting the Clinton impeachment movement — launched an online petition at “ImpeachObamaCampaign.com.” The site remains active today and is populated with articles bearing headlines like “Obama’s Forged Birth Certificate Brings Call For Revolution.”
The impeachment talk quickly made the jump from fringe activists and websites to mainstream conservative outlets like Fox News and prominent Republican politicians. In 2010, the Obama administration reportedly offered former Democratic Representative Joe Sestak a spot on a presidential panel as incentive to stay out of that year’s U.S. Senate primary in Pennsylvania. Though legal experts asserted that no laws had been broken and historians noted that similar offers were commonplace, conservative media figures loudly and repeatedly started banging the impeachment drum.
Leading the charge was then-Fox News contributor Dick Morris, who suggested that the Sestak situation amounted to “grounds for impeachment.” Soon, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh all also pointed to the Sestak offer as a potential impeachable offense.
While Morris built a career out of saying improbable, outrageous and inaccurate things that should be viewed skeptically, his impeachment talk was nonetheless adopted by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who cited Morris’ claims during appearances on Fox News. (Five months later, the Republicans would win the House and Issa would take over as chairman of the House Oversight Committee.)
Though the Sestak non-scandal fizzled, the impeachment talk didn’t go away. In 2011, Fox Business devoted ten minutes of airtime to hashing out former Rep. Tom Tancredo’s (R-CO) twelve reasons to impeach Obama — including immigration reform, the failed Fast and Furious gunrunning operation, and the administration’s support of failed solar company Solyndra, all of which are included in McCarthy’s book.
Obama’s Re-Election Just Means There’s More Time To Impeach Him
After Republican scandal-mongering was unsuccessful in making Obama a one-term president, impeachment talk continued unabated after his re-election. Fox News contributor Todd Starnes wasted no time in getting the ball rolling, telling his Twitter followers the night of the election, “the first order of business should be a full investigation of Benghazi — followed by impeachment proceedings.” He would soon have company.
Roughly a month after Obama’s second term inauguration, Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano wascalling for impeachment over the implementation of the sequester spending cuts.
Following the Boston Marathon bombings a few months later, Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner penned a column arguing that Obama was “unwilling” to keep Americans safe by refusing “to acknowledge that we are in a war with radical Islam.” Kuhner added, “It’s time he is held responsible for his gross negligence. It’s time that he be impeached. Justice demands no less.” (Kuhner had previously written columns calling for Obama to be impeached over military invention in Libya and raised the idea of impeachment during the fight over health care reform.)
Kuhner wasn’t the only media figure that used the Boston bombings as a springboard for impeachment talk. Glenn Beck told viewers to “demand impeachment” over his bizarre and offensive conspiracy theory trying to link an innocent Saudi man to the bombings.
WND columnist and right-wing activist Larry Klayman started calling for Obama’s impeachment and conviction well before the 2012 election, but has spent the last year trying to get Obama ousted from office while starting a ”second American Revolution.” Bypassing impeachment, Klayman in October infamously called on the president to “get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.”
Fellow WND columnist Alan Keyes, who holds the historical footnote of being the Republican candidate Obama trounced in his 2004 Illinois Senate run, has spent much of 2014 trying to throw fuel on the impeachment fire. Keyes has devoted numerous columns to directing readers to sign a petition at “pledgetoimpeach.com" to "stop Obama’s dictatorship.” The “Pledge to Impeach” site includes its own draft Articles of Impeachment, featuring claims like, “Mr. Obama has attained the office of president in a verifiably fraudulent and criminal manner, and upon a false identity and false pretenses.”
Obama Should Be Impeached, But He’s Black So He’s Unfairly Safe
While several activists are pushing for impeachment, some prominent conservative media figures say that while Obama may deserve to be impeached, he’s protected from being removed from office due to the fact that he’s the first black president.
McCarthy touches on concerns that pro-impeachment conservatives will be labeled racists in Faithless Execution:
Right now, conviction in the Senate is a pipedream, and therefore one cannot reasonably expect the House to file articles of impeachment. The process of impeachment will always be an ordeal, regardless of how necessary it is. Americans may be convincible regarding the need to oust a lawless president, but they will never be happy about it. Nor should they be. Even the president’s most zealous detractors should prefer that he mend his outlaw ways and finish his term than that the country be put through an impeachment process that would be painful in the best of times. And these are not the best of times: today, the pain would be exacerbated by the vulgar propensity of the left and the media to demagogue concern for the nation’s well-being as racism. Consequently, impeachment entails substantial political risk for the protagonists, even if they are clearly right to seek it. [Faithless Execution, pg 46, emphasis added]
During an appearance on Sean Hannity’s radio show in April of this year, TruthRevolt.org founder and conservative activist David Horowitz said that “because Obama is black and because he’s a leftist he’s completely protected by the press.” He added that the president is “a menace to American security, and the sooner — and of course you can’t impeach him because you can’t impeach the first black president.”
Conservative bomb-thrower Ann Coulter has also pointed to Obama’s race as protecting him from impeachment. Discussing health care reform during an appearance on Hannity’s Fox News program in February, Coulter remarked, “there is now a caveat to the constitution — you can’t impeach a president if he is our first black president.”
Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly cited Obama’s race as a reason he is safe from impeachment. Speaking on his radio show in May 2013, Limbaugh told listeners, “the people of this country — if it came to this — are simply not going to tolerate the first black president being removed from office.” A week later, Limbaugh returned to the subject, saying the “racial component” would save Obama from impeachment.
Earlier this year, Limbaugh concluded that even if there was a “slam dunk legal case for it, you’re never going to succeed impeaching a president unless there’s the political will for it.” Limbaugh cited the need for Obama’s approval ratings to drop precipitously in order for impeachment to be on the table, adding, “even then I’m not so sure that the people of this country would ever support removing the first black president.”
He concluded, “It’s just — it’s never going to happen.”
h/t: Ben Dimiero at MMFA
What do people like Todd Starnes, Phil Robertson, Amy Kushnir, and The Benham Brothers (David and Jason) have in common? They are phony “Christians” who are falsely claiming that they’re being persecuted for their beliefs in opposing LGBTQ rights.
The son of “Duck Commander” Phil Robertson compared his father to John the Baptist at the Family Research Council’s “Watchmen on the Wall 2014″ event earlier this week. “My dad has the heart and mindset of a prophet and is most compared…