The Catholic Thomas More Law Center has already revealed itself to be more committed to promoting right-wing politics than protecting real religious rights, but they took an even more extreme step yesterday appointing anti-Muslim conspiracy theory champion Michele Bachmann to their board.
The appointment comes just as Rep. Bachmann is finding herself chastised from all sides for her sloppy, offensive attack on Muslim Americans in government. Relying on unsubstantiated conspiratorial ramblings from anti-Muslim activist Frank Gaffney, Bachmann publicly alleged that State Department employee Huma Abedin and fellow Minnesota Congressperson Keith Ellison have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and have “infiltrated” the government.
Despite condemnation even from conservatives such as John Boehner, John McCain, and her own former campaign advisor Ed Rollins, Bachmann has doubled down, painting herself as a valiant gladiator against political correctness.
Ultimately, Bachmann’s appointment to the TMLC board isn’t a surprise. The group’s anti-Islam bigotry is well-documented and has earned condemnation from the Becket Fund, a similar conservative religious liberty legal organization.
People of faith, and particularly Catholic leaders, should stay away from working with TMLC and any other group whose defense of religious rights stops short of our Islamic neighbors.
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As yesterday’s statement from religious leaders showed, the House Republican vote to drastically roll back refundable tax credits that benefit working families (which 19 misguided Democrats joined) has put them on the opposite side of the faith community. And not just the progressive and moderate faith community — the GOP plan is so radically anti-family, it’s more extreme than even far-right religious groups.
In particular, by attacking the Child Tax Credit, House Republicans took aim at a key policy priority of the Family Research Council, usually one of their closest allies. Not only does FRC boast of “conceiving” the original idea for the credit, they’ve consistently campaigned for Congress to make it permanent and quintuple its maximum amount from the current $1,000 per child to $5,000. In contrast, the House GOP plan passed yesterday cuts the average family’s tax credit by $854.
When this issue came up last April, FRC was part of a diverse coalition of faith and family groups lobbying to protect this crucial policy. They even launched a petition to Congress that garnered over 37,000 signatures.
But in this latest round, as Republican extremism and obstruction threatens working families with this painful tax hike, FRC appears to have gone quiet. If FRC were truly committed to pro-family policy over partisan politics, they would have leaned on their Republican allies to vote against these dangerous cuts.
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Catholic leaders have been busy cracking down on nuns and theologians while also keeping a vigilant eye on those wily Girl Scouts. The Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va., is pulling a card from the McCarthy-era playbook by requiring Sunday school teachers to sign loyalty oaths. David Gibson, a prominent Catholic writer, notes in a recent NPR segment that the Vatican is doing all it can to “bring a schismatic right-wing group that rejects the reforms of Vatican II back into the fold while at the same time, it’s censuring nuns and theologians who are actually following the spirit of Vatican II.”
So when will influential Catholic organizations and public figures feel the heat for ignoring church teaching when it comes to issues like poverty, economic justice and workers’ rights? Why the free pass for Catholic conservatives like Rev. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, who is making the rounds on Fox News defending the aggrieved richest 1 percent of Americans and preaching a gospel of free-market fundamentalism that is at odds with centuries of Catholic social teaching? Fr. Sirco’s public love letters to libertarianism, most recently in his new book – Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy – surely put him in the good graces of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or even the Romney campaign. But one would hope his bishop might at least raise an eyebrow.
A familiar presence on the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, Rev. Sirico recently told the New York Times that the church’s historic defense of unions might not apply to labor fights at Catholic universities today. In a lengthy interview with the National Review he praised Ayn Rand and smugly disparaged those non-habit wearing Catholic nuns for having the audacity to challenge a House GOP budget that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops described as failing a basic moral test. While the Ryan budget has no chance of passing its been endorsed by Mitt Romney and serves as an ideological blueprint for a conservative economic agenda that insists we must make a false choice between protecting the most vulnerable and being fiscally responsible. Fr. Sirico’s free-market theology and anti-government zeal often sounds more like Tea Party rhetoric than Pope Benedict XVI, who warns about the “scandal of glaring inequalities” between rich and poor, or the late Pope John Paul II who cautioned against an “idolatry of the market.” Vincent Miller, the chair of Catholic theology and culture at the University of Dayton, recently wrote in America magazine that Rev. Sirico’s “well financed defense of libertarian economics often rise to the level of self-parody.” Daniel Finn, a professor of theology and economics at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, offered a detailed theological critique of Rev. Sirico in Commonweal magazine back in 2008.
Some conservatives have questioned the funding of progressive faith groups working to balance out a values debate that in recent decades has been dominated by the Religious Right. Much of this criticism is overheated conspiracy mongering from those who live in some imaginary world where religious liberals are more organized and well-funded than a politically powerful Christian conservative movement that has helped elect presidents and until recently ran circles around religious progressives in the media. But if we’re going to play the funding game let’s take a look at who has made it possible for a Catholic priest to build a national media profile churning out paeans to the free market and putting a moral gloss on corporate talking points. Not surprisingly, big business and wealthy Republicans are bullish on Rev. Sirico. The Acton Institute is backed by the DeVos family, prominent donors to the Republican Party and various conservative organizations that lobby lawmakers to slash government programs that help the most vulnerable, lower taxes on the rich and deregulate Wall Street. “Other than possibly the Koch brothers, few billionaires have a more established place in conservative America than the DeVos clan,” according to Forbes magazine. The billionaire Koch brothers, the most influential conservative donors in the country (they just hosted a lavish fundraiser for Mitt Romney in the Hamptons and plan to spend $200 million in this election) have also contributed to Rev. Sirico’s Acton Institute in the past, according to the corporate accountability and transparency group Source Watch.
Wealthy conservatives have every right to lobby for a return of trickle-down economics, but popes and bishops for centuries have rejected the blind faith in unfettered markets and radical individualism promoted by groups like the Acton Institute. Last fall, the Vatican released a timely document that calls for more robust global financial reform and offered a sharp moral critique of the kind of laissez-faire economics Rev. Sirico preaches.
The Catholic Church has plenty of room for liberals, moderates and conservatives. We need a spirited debate over how to properly apply Catholic social teaching to public policy challenges in a pluralistic society. But I worry about the message that is sent when nuns, theologians and progressive Catholics are demonized by church officials even as prominent conservative Catholics appear on national television to peddle ideologies that are at odds with bedrock Catholic values.
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The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been receiving renewed attention in Washington this week with the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee holding a hearing Tuesday to discuss the proposed legislation to prohibit discrimination against LGBT Americans at work.
Opposing the bill, Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) appeared on Tony Perkins’s radio show to describe the legislation as “part of this administration’s ongoing war on religion.” (Perkins is president of the Family Research Council which has been named a hate group for its persistent use of false information to attack LGBT people).
Unfortunately for Gohmert, actual religious groups disagree with his assesment; coordinated by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, over 35 of them released a letter this week decrying workplace discrimination against LGBT employees and publicly endorsing ENDA:
Many of our sacred texts speak to the importance and sacred nature of work – an opportunity to be co-creators with God – and demand in the strongest possible terms the protection of all workers as a matter of justice. Our faith leaders and congregations grapple with the difficulties of lost jobs every day, particularly in these difficult economic times. It is indefensible that, while sharing every American’s concerns about the health of our economy, LGBT workers must also fear job security because of prejudice.
At the same time, as religious denominations and faith groups, we deeply value our guarantee to the freedoms of faith and conscience under the First Amendment. ENDA broadly exempts from its scope any religious organization, thereby ensuring that religious institutions will not be compelled to violate the religious precepts on which they are founded, whether or not we may agree with those precepts. In so doing, ENDA respects the protections for religious institutions afforded by the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while ensuring that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are protected from baseless discrimination in the workplace.
As the letter notes, ENDA includes broad exemptions for religious organizations. Unfortunately, religious conservatives are still unsatisfied, now demanding that any exemptions apply to any individual who objects to the law for moral reasons.
This, of course, is the same standard that has been demanded by the Catholic Bishops in the contraception regulation debate (affectionately known as the “Taco Bell exemption“) and codified in the dangerously broad Blunt amendment that failed in Congress this spring.
As with that problematic legislation, instituting such a standard in the case of ENDA would essentially nullify the entire point of the legislation, giving hostile employers a broad latitude to ignore the law so long as they cited moral justification for their decisions.
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I was kind of shocked last week when Richard Land spoke at the Q Conference about the importance of civility in politics and public debates. Less than two weeks earlier he called leaders protesting the injustice of Trayvon Martin’s killing “race-hustlers” who were ginning up outrage to turn out the black vote, and accused President Obama of “pouring gasoline on the racialist fires” by addressing the controversy. Worse, Land inaccurately alleged that civil-rights leaders don’t protest black-on-black violence.
His comments exemplified many flavors of the cynicism and incivility that plague our discourse: racially coded language; false accusations; impugning other people’s motives; accusing others of divisiveness while engaging in it yourself; plain old name-calling. Perhaps this shouldn’t be that surprising, though, since Land apparently lifted his remarks rather directly from a right-wing columnist (without giving any credit).
Fortunately, Land is facing pushback from fellow Southern Baptist Convention leaders. The AP has the story:
Last year, the denomination for the first time elected a black pastor to its No. 2 position of first vice president, and the Rev. Fred Luter is expected to become the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention at this year’s annual meeting in June.
When asked about the concern that Land’s comments hurt the effort to attract non-white members, Luter said, “It doesn’t help. That’s for sure.”
“I think his (Land’s) statements will reverse any gains from the rightful election of Fred Luter,” said the Rev. Dwight McKissic, a black pastor at the SBC-affiliated Cornerstone Baptist Church is Arlington, Texas.
McKissic said he plans to submit a resolution at the SBC’s annual meeting asking the convention to repudiate Land’s remarks.
“If they don’t, we’re back to where we were 50 years ago,” he said.
Jonathan Merritt, a white Southern Baptist minister whose book, “A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars” is due out this month, said Land’s comments turn off not only minorities, but also many young believers who are “disappointed with culture war Christianity and want to move beyond name-calling.”
Establishing civility across ideological divides is a difficult endeavor. It would be a lot easier if Land didn’t talk out of both sides of his mouth.
H/t Right Wing Watch.
UPDATE: In an interview with USA Today’s Cathy Lynn Grossman late yesterday afternoon, Land attempted to explain his failure to attribute his remarks to the columnist whose work he copied, and offered an apology of sorts for his remarks:
I obviously overestimated the extent of progress that has been made in slaying the racial dragon of our past. I should have remembered that whenever we have a discussion about race, the ghosts of our ancestors are in the room with us. And I underestimated the need to be extremely careful in how you address any controversial issue that involves race as a factor.
I am grieved that anyone would feel my comments have retarded in any way the Southern Baptists’ march toward racial reconciliation, which I have been committed to for the entirety of my ministry, since 1962.
I certainly apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended by my remarks.
While Land deserves some credit for trying to close the wound, his apology is incomplete. Rather than taking responsibility for his mean-spirited name-calling and accusations of ill intent, Land merely regrets being insufficiently sensitive to the feelings of those who are offended. Land wasn’t just tone-deaf though, he was actively accusing others of rank cynicism. But the most important part of an apology is whether it’s backed up with improved behavior. If Land refrains from such ugly rhetoric in the future, our discourse will be better off and he’ll deserve commendation.
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