Religious Freedom and the Values Voter Summit

By Mike Appleton, Weekend Contributor

“All governments are theocracies. We now live in a secular humanist theocracy. I want to change that to a government with God at its head.”

-Gary DeMar (quoted in John Sugg, “A Nation Under God,” Mother Jones (December, 2005)

When I started first grade in 1951, each school day began with the Pledge of Allegiance. We recited “one nation, indivisible,” because people understood that fidelity to one’s country is not a religious virtue. The National Prayer Breakfast was not on anyone’s calendar because it didn’t exist. Politicians felt no compulsion to invoke God’s blessings on the United States at the conclusion of every speech. Protestants opposed every effort to secure public funding of Catholic parochial schools in order to preserve the “wall of separation” between church and state. The corner grocer didn’t care whether a customer was gay or had been born again. Textbooks were not reviewed by religious committees for conformity with the King James Version. No serious person had yet suggested that insentient, artificial commercial entities could magically channel the religious beliefs of their shareholders. And no one complained that a war was being waged against religion.

But following some of the events at this year’s Values Voter Summit, I have become nostalgic for 1951.

The Summit is the premiere annual political event for conservative Christian evangelicals, and making an appearance has become almost a required pilgrimage for Republican presidential candidates who desire the support of the religious right base of the party. Those in attendance this year heard many of the usual rants against same-sex marriage, abortion and the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. However, those concerns did not top the priority list. Instead, a 39% plurality of those polled at the conference believe that the most important issue facing the country today is religious liberty.

So how is this possible? The past 30 years have seen an explosion in government support of religion. Millions of dollars in public funds are provided to a variety of so-called “faith-based” programs. Taxpayers support charter schools with decidedly sectarian curricula all across the country. A number of states provide tax credits to enable parents to send their children to religious schools. Religious institutions and, after Hobby Lobby, for-profit businesses as well, have been granted exemptions from compliance with portions of the ACA. This is in addition to the exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation which religious institutions already enjoy in their hiring and firing practices. Religious groups distribute bibles in public schools and operate after-school programs on school property to proselytize grammar school children. The Town of Greece decision now permits governments to schedule ceremonial prayer in accordance with local majoritarian religious preferences. Most rational people would agree that freedom of religion and religious expression are hardly at risk.

The comments of several of the event speakers may furnish us a clue. Kelly Shackelford of the Liberty Institute repeated the false story of the child disciplined for saying grace before eating her lunch. Michele Bachmann reminded the audience that the battle against Islamic terrorism is “spiritual warfare.” Gary Bauer accused President Obama of protecting Muslims while ignoring the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Jason and David Benham, whose proposed television program on HGTV was cancelled after revelations of their virulently anti-gay activities, compared themselves to victims of ISIS, silenced for their Christian beliefs. And Sen. Ted Cruz, who for the second year in a row won the presidential straw poll, intoned “We need a president who will speak out for people of faith, for prisoners of conscience.” So for the attendees at the Values Voter Summit, there is indeed a war on Christianity. It is being waged by Muslims and by those who object to intolerance.

But the whole story is really darker. When members of the Christian right speak of freedom of religion, what they mean is freedom for a particular brand of conservative Christianity. Tony Perkins is the president of the Family Research Council, the principal sponsor of the annual Summit.  He is neither a legal scholar nor a theologian, but that does not matter. In Mr. Perkins’ view, religious freedom does not apply to Islam. It also does not apply to Christians who support gay rights. In fact, religious liberty is reserved solely for those holding “orthodox religious viewpoints. It has to have a track record, it has to come forth from religious orthodoxy.” Mr. Perkins’ First Amendment does not compel government neutrality toward religion; it requires preferential treatment for those Christian sects whose doctrines adhere to Mr, Perkins’ notion of  orthodoxy. He is a theocratic dominionist in religious liberty’s clothing.

And that, in a nutshell, is what the war on religion in America is all about. It is a war declared by Christian fundamentalists on all religious traditions deemed non-conforming. The goal is a society in which separation of church and state is eliminated and religious pluralism rejected as unbiblical. Ted Cruz is merely the latest last hope for the hapless.

389 thoughts on “Religious Freedom and the Values Voter Summit”

  1. Mike, back in September, you wrote that I was “far too generous. Dragging the world back to the dark ages is more like it.”
    Well, I hate to tell you, but, with the results of the last election in, they don’t have to drag the world BACK to the dark ages. We are now officially living in “Dark Ages II: The Sequel.”
    On “60 Minutes” today, Orange John Boehner and his slow moving, amphibious friend, both categorically declared that two of the president’s proposals in the SOTU were “Dead on Arrival.” Or, in Boner’s words: “REAL dead.”
    The two proposals at issue: Increasing the minimum wage and raising taxes on the wealthy. How successful are these Republicans at fooling the public? I mean, what percentage of Republican voters would agree with those two declarations by their respective Congressional leaders? I’d be willing to venture a guess that it’s far less than 50.
    So we are essentially in a spot where only one person stands between us and the official beginning of “Dark Ages II: The Sequel.”

  2. And to be clear, I’m including the Bill of Rights when I say the Constitution.

  3. Mark,
    Considering that within a few years of the Constitution being passed some of the very same lawmakers passed the Alien and Sedition Act, I think we’ve struck a good balance between absolute freedom of speech and limitations.

    Pornography is such a small and relatively insignificant issue in the freedom of speech debate. Personally I don’t have any issues with it, as long as it is two (or more I suppose) consenting adults. Same with prostitution. But to go from reasonable restrictions to lambasting conservatives and religious for their morality issues is silly.

    By the way, how do you feel about the second amendment? Most people who advocate a more expansive view of the first amendment don’t extend that plain english view to the second.

    1. Bailers: You’re certainly entitled to think that an industry which, pre-Recession, brought in more gross income than the NFL, Major League Baseball and the music industry combined is a “small and relatively insignificant issue in the freedom of speech debate.” I disagree.

      Regarding the Second Amendment, which states “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” I absolute support the right of members of “a well regulated Militia” to keep and bear Arms.

  4. David, I was outdated in speaking about the porn stash since the internet has made that unnecessary. If I said “every” than I was being hyperbolic. There are no polls, but I am quite certain the vast majority of men use porn to masturbate to, whether married or single. Certainly you agree the vast majority of men masturbate? That’s what they use the porn for, an assist. And, when men masturbate they “hide it” from their wives and all others..HOPEFULLY!

    I consider almost all sexual activity between consenting adults to be protected under the First Amendment, unless it doesn’t pass the Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it” test. I could give some graphic descriptions of what I would consider out of bounds but this is not the venue. YouTube is a brand and they are, rightfully so, putting restrictions to protect their brand. Playboy, Penthouse have self imposed parameters on what they will publish. But, for the govt. to impose limits is a different story.

  5. David, The Potter Stewart quote on obscenity “I know it when I see it” sums it up. I realize there is and should be obscenity guidelines. Squeeky wants to ban all porn. Clear violation of the First Amendment unless we get an all prude SCOTUS.

    1. Nick, I would be interested in hearing about your standard of obscenity.

      YouTube seems to consider it obscene if a video shows two people having sex. They apparently object to nudity that is meant to arouse erotic feelings, but YouTube allows nudity in videos that are educational. They also allow videos showing public nudity, such as in protests with nude people.

      The FCC seems to ban any kind of nudity, so they apparently consider all forms of nudity to be obscene.

      I admit that I was surprised by some of your comments about every man having a porn stash. I’ve never had one. I am curious. Do men who have a porn stash typically hide it from their wives? If not, what do their wives think about them having a porn stash? I know my wife would not like that, which is partly why I have never had one.

  6. I KNEW that was going to be your reply!! I thought it would be in poetry form. And, being a member of the San Diego Zoo I love to sit and watch the monkeys. There’s an orangutan that LOVES to have women open their purses and show her what’s inside. Fascinating. Monkeys also like to pee on the monkey below them when they’re in a tree. So, yeah, we are all like monkeys.

  7. BFM, I’m fascinated to see where Squeeky comes down on monkey porn. Sounds like those monkeys hit from both sides of the plate. NTTAWWT.

  8. You may think porn is just monkey business but really it is an expression of our natural interest.

    “Male monkeys will ‘pay’ in fruit juice to look at a picture of a socially dominant monkey or a female’s hindquarters…. The researchers gave captive male rhesus macaques two options: a drink of cherry juice, or a different-sized shot of juice and the chance to look at one of a range of pictures of their troop members …. Monkeys would take a juice cut to look at powerful males’ faces or the perineum of a female, Deaner and his colleagues report in Current Biology1. But to persuade the monkeys to stare at subordinate males, the researchers had to bribe them with larger drinks.”

    1. bigfatmike wrote: “You may think porn is just monkey business but really it is an expression of our natural interest.”

      Did you notice that the researchers made it clear that this was not porn?

      “This is not monkey pornography, says Deaner. It’s more to do with assessing sexual receptiveness, which in the wild also involves females’ behaviour and smell.”

      1. “Did you notice that the researchers made it clear that this was not porn?”

        Whether you consider this monkey porn or not, it seems to me to, at the very least, suggest that among primates there is a basic and deeply felt need to gather visual information about sexual aspects of females.

        If that is true then trying to sandwich this activity into the context of morality or respect seems, to me at least, likely to lead to misunderstanding and inappropriate conclusions.

        How males treat females is properly related to concepts of law, morality and respect. How males make choices about visual media and entertainment is something else.

        And on a tangent – if porn is in the eye of the beholder then shouldn’t we ask the monkeys what they think before we decide on a label?

  9. I’m a movie buff so I’ll throw in 2 cents on flicks. Leo DiCaprio did a good job playing J Edgar. The flick was just OK but it was a good performance. Leo also did a good job playing Howard Hughes. I guess Leo has a dark side he can draw on for his roles.

    1. @Nick

      I agree with his performance as J. Edgar, but that movie bored me to tears. I did like his Hughes role, and that movie was better all around. He’s a good actor, when he’s given a role he can sink his teeth into.

  10. @Mark Kernes

    Oh, you poor suffering thing you! You and Martin Luther King, just peas in a pod! Here, let me help you write a speech about all the travails that the poor pornographers have gone through! Let’s start it off, like this:

    I have a dream that one day men in this nation will go to adult theaters and rise up!

    I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together in front of their DVD player and watch Craving Cocoa Cooch 5 at the table of brotherhood.

    I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice where bukkake films and other dirty movies can be filmed beneath the flowering magnolia tree of tolerance!

    You are a writer. I am sure you can finish it!

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. Nice of you to compare me to yet another person that the government (particularly cross-dressing FBI director J. Edgar Hoover) wanted to silence, part of which dirty work included attempting to prove that he was unfaithful to his wife. (They always go for the sex scandal, don’t’cha know?)

      1. @Mark

        Isn’t it a comfort to know that a closeted cross-dresser held the secrets to all of the many presidents’ secrets? I felt sorry for MLK Jr when I learned of the attempted blackmail he had to endure from this creep.

  11. @Mark Kernes

    You said: “Therein, she talks about such 18th century works as John Cleland’s “Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure” (better known as “Fanny Hill”) and Benjamin Franklin’s “Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress,” both extremely popular in the Colonies in their day, as was Sir Charles Sedley’s “Fifteen Plagues of a Maidenhead” in Britain.”

    Once again, the misses just keep coming. There was not a wide market for those books at the time, and they certainly were not mass produced for a mass market until well into the 20th century. Plus, what exactly is the literary connection between:

    The Eighth Plague

    Now I am young, blind Cupid me bewitches,
    I scratch my Belly, for it always itches,
    And what it itches for, I’ve told before,
    ‘Tis either to be Wife, or be a Whore;
    Nay any thing indeed, would be poor I,
    N’er Maiden-heads upon my Hands should lie,
    Which till I lose, I’m sure my watry Eyes
    Will pay to Love so great a Sacrifice,
    That my Carcass soon will weep out all its Juice,
    Till grown so dry, as fit for no Man’s use. — MADAM B[RAN]LE, 1707

    and some of the dreck currently available on the adult channels of my cable, including, but not limited to:

    Craving Cocoa Cooch 5
    Asian Apple Bottoms
    Filthy Greedy Sex 8
    Massive Loads on DDDs
    Booty Call Study Buddy
    Caught From Behind: Tila
    Gooey and Gaping MILFs

    I have to admit though, that I am somewhat curious how you manage to write on the differences between something like Cocoa Cooch 5, and Cocoa Cooch 4 with a straight face.

    If your point was that people have been writing about sexual relations for quite a while, perhaps you should look into Roman Erotic Elegy. Paul Veyne has a good book about it. But I should think it hardly compares in excitement to whatever has your fevered interest.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. Squeeky: “I have to admit though, that I am somewhat curious how you manage to write on the differences between something like Cocoa Cooch 5, and Cocoa Cooch 4 with a straight face.”

      Actually, I don’t do a lot of reviewing nowadays, and when I do, it’s not generally about compilations, which the Cocoa Cooch series appears to be. Of course, the title makes it pretty clear what type of scenes a potential viewer will find within, so that’s purely a matter of taste.

      What I mostly do is write articles about laws and impending legislation, as well as cultural trends and pressure groups that affect the adult industry, plus I go the sets where the movies are made and report on what happens there, plus I do the occasional interview with either a porn star or someone else with worthwhile comments on the industry. If that’s your idea of a “fevered interest,” I can only respond: “Whatever…”

  12. @NickS

    I think it is better to be too harsh than too lenient on dope. Pot users started getting special snowflake treatment, and now we have a nation full of dope fiends.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  13. Squeeky, Cannabis was actually legal, but before my time. It being made illegal was based on racism more than anything else. “Those Negroes and Mexicans smoke it!” The overreaction and making it a SCHEDULE 1 drug is hopefully something we can agree is insane. I know better to try and change your mind on its legality, but Schedule 1???

  14. maxacat, When someone is a baseball fan they tend to be more philosophical. NO other sport mirrors real life better than baseball. Nazi’s marching in Skokie is the real gut check. I can’t imagine being a Jew and not having that make my stomach convulse. I’m a gentile and it made my skin crawl. But, the courts got it right. The guy who wrote this post, Mike Appleton, is as strong as they come on the First Amendment.

    1. Nick – We also tend to see things more in the long term (162 games?). That march was despicable, and there were tears in my eyes when I watched it, yet I made myself watch it, as I felt that if I supported it, I needed to watch it as well.
      The courts did get it right, and I’d defend it again today. That is why I liked Mike’s post, and why, although it seems innocuous, I will fight tooth and nail against any amendment that smacks, to me, of religious content.

  15. @Mike Appleton

    In a way, this is still religious freedom. Some, at least, would like to ban porn on religious grounds, even though some books of the bible are pretty racy if you read them. I believe that many people have never actually read through the whole bible, Old and New Testaments. They’re a great read, believer or not.

  16. @NickS

    Well, porn and drugs used to be banned in America, too. At your age, you probably remember it. Was America such a bad place in those days??? My grandparents tell me that it wasn’t.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. Ms. Fromm: “Well, porn and drugs used to be banned in America, too. At your age, you probably remember it. Was America such a bad place in those days???”

      Heck no! That is, if you don’t count the fact that women only got the vote in (what was it?) 1919; that blacks and Hispanics couldn’t vote until they passed some sort of literacy test and paid a poll tax; that schools throughout the south and even in many northern states were segregated, as were drinking fountains and even restrooms in some places; and perhaps more pertinently, the publishers of “The Little Review” literary magazine, the gay couple Margaret Anbderson and Jane Heap, were put on trial in 1920 for publishing excerpts from that obscene” book, James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

      “My grandparents tell me that it wasn’t.”

      Guess they didn’t get out much.

  17. Annie, we just have to plod on. I’ve decided I’m not throwing in any more towels. The ones I have left belonged to my mother who, if anything, was to the left of me. She deserves at least as much in her memory.

  18. Squeeky, And I thank God you don’t, and never will, have your way on this. I’ll be honest w/ you, kid. I’m 62 years old, porn ain’t that important to me. Banning is the nuclear option and you have a quick trigger finger. And, you’re about to not have your way on cannabis. It will be legal nationwide soon. Porn and drugs are banned in Saudi Arabia!! Think about that.

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