Right-Wing Religion’s War on America

From: Church and State Magazine

By: Rob Boston

“From a posh residence in the heart of New York City that has been described as a “mini-mansion,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan is perhaps the most visible representative of an American church empire of 60 million adherents and vast financial holdings.

Dolan and his fellow clergy move easily through the corridors of political power, courted by big-city mayors, governors and even presidents. In the halls of Congress, they are treated with a deference no secular lobbyist can match.

From humble origins in America, the church has risen to lofty heights marked by affluence, political influence and social respect. Yet, according to church officials, they are being increasingly persecuted, and their rights are under sustained attack.

The refrain has become commonplace: There is a “war on religion.” Faith is under assault. The administration of President Barack Obama has unleashed a bombardment on religion unlike anything ever seen.

The average American would be hard-pressed to see evidence of this “war.” Millions of people meet regularly in houses of worship. What’s more, those institutions are tax exempt. Many denominations participate in taxpayer-funded social service programs. Their clergy regularly speak out on the issues of the day. In the political arena, religious leaders are treated with great respect.

Furthermore, religious organizations often get special breaks that aren’t accorded to their secular counterparts. Houses of worship aren’t required to report their income to the Internal Revenue Service. They don’t have to apply for tax-exempt status; they receive it automatically as soon as they form. Religious entities are routinely exempted from employment laws, anti-discrimination measures and even routine health and safety inspections.

Unlike secular lobbies, religious groups that work with legislators on Capitol Hill don’t have to register with the federal government and are free from the stringent reporting requirements imposed on any group that seeks to influence legislation.

Religion in America would seem to be thriving in this “hands-off” atmosphere, as evidenced by church attendance rates, which in the United States tend to be higher than any other Western nation. So where springs this “war on religion” talk?

Twin dynamics, mutually related and interdependent, are likely at work. On one hand, some religious groups are upping their demands for even more exemptions from general laws. When these are not always extended, leaders of these groups scream about hostility toward religion and say they are being discriminated against. This catches the attention of right-wing political leaders, who toss gasoline on the rhetorical fires.

A textbook example of this occurred during the recent flap over coverage of contraceptives under the new health care reform. The law seeks to ensure a baseline of coverage for all Americans, and birth control is included. Insurance firms that contract with companies must make it available with no co-pays.

Houses of worship are exempt from this requirement. But religiously affiliated organizations, such as church-run hospitals, colleges and social service agencies, are dealt with differently. The insurance companies that serve them must make contraceptives available to the employees of these entities, but the religious agencies don’t have to pay for them directly.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) attacked this policy and insisted that it violates the church’s right of conscience. Furthermore, the hierarchy insisted that all private employers should also have the right to deny any medical coverage that conflicts with their beliefs – no matter what the religious views of their employees.

The issue quickly became mired in partisan politics. Claims of a “war on religion” expand on long-held Religious Right seasonal claims of an alleged “war on Christmas.” The assertions of yuletide hostility paid great dividends to the Religious Right. They boosted groups’ fund-raising efforts and motivated some activists to get involved in politics.

Religious Right leaders and their allies in the Catholic hierarchy are hoping for a similar payoff through their claims of a war on religion.

With the economy improving, Republicans may be on the verge of losing a powerful piece of ammunition to use against Obama. The party’s Religious Right faction is eager to push social issues to the front and center as a way of mobilizing the base.

Many political leaders are happy to parrot this line. For the time being, they’ve latched on to the birth control issue as their leading example of this alleged war.

To hear these right-wing politicians tell it, asking a religiously affiliated institution that is heavily subsidized with taxpayer funds to allow an insurance company to provide birth control to those who want it is a great violation of “religious liberty.”

In mid February, House members went so far as to hold a hearing on the matter before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, stacking it with a bevy of religious leaders who oppose the rule on contraceptives. Among them was Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., who heads up a new Catholic lobbying effort on this and other social issues.

Americans United submitted testimony to the committee, but Republicans on the panel denied the Democrats’ request to hear testimony from Sandra Fluke, a student at Georgetown Law School who supports the contraceptive mandate, thus leaving the panel stacked with religious figures – mostly men – who are hostile to contraceptives. (See “No Fluke,” April 2012 Church & State.)

The idea was to create the impression that the religious community – and by extension the American public – is up in arms over the regulation. In fact, the religious figures who spoke at the event were from ultra-conservative traditions that represent just one segment of religion in America. Many religious leaders and denominations support access to contraceptives, and several polls have shown support for the Obama administration’s position hovering at around 65 percent. (Polls also show that many American Catholics disagree with the church hierarchy on this issue.)

This isn’t surprising in a country where use of contraceptives is widespread. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 98 percent of women who engage in sexual activity will use at least one artificial form of birth control at some point in their lives.

Contraceptives are also often prescribed for medical reasons, such as shrinking ovarian cysts or relieving menstrual pain. Americans respect religious liberty, but most believe it can be maintained while safeguarding access to needed medications.

Most Americans, in fact, understand the need to balance rights. Religious organizations have the right to believe and preach what they want, but their ability to rely on government to help them spread these views is necessarily limited.

In addition, valid social goals can override an overly broad definition of religious liberty. In some states, fundamentalist Christian parents have been ordered by courts to take their children to doctors. The theory is that a child’s right to live free of sickness and disease outweighs the parents’ religious liberty concerns.

In addition, religious liberty has not traditionally been construed as license to trample on the rights of others.

“People who cry moral indignation about government-mandated contraception coverage appear unwilling to concede that the exercise of their deeply held convictions might infringe on the rights of millions of people who are burdened by unplanned pregnancy or want to reduce abortion or would like to see their tax dollars committed to a different purpose,” wrote Erika Christakis, an early childhood educator and administrator at Harvard College, on a Time magazine blog recently.

The courts have long recognized this need to balance rights. In the late 19th century, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down plural marriage, which was then practiced by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon practice, the court held, was disruptive to society and had no roots in Western tradition; thus it could be banned.

In the modern era, the court devised a test whereby government could restrict religious liberty if it could demonstrate a “compelling state interest” and that it had employed the “least restrictive means” to meets its goals.

That standard was tightened even further in 1990, when the Supreme Court handed down a decision in a case known as Employment Division v. Smith. The decision, written by arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, held that government has no obligation to exempt religious entities from “neutral” laws that are “generally applicable.”

Since then, many religious groups have turned to the political process to win exemptions from the law. Generally speaking, they’ve been very successful. In a ground-breaking 2006 New York Times series, the newspaper chronicled the various exemptions from the law granted to religious organizations covering areas like immigration, land use, employment regulations, safety inspections and others.

The Times reported that since 1989, “more than 200 special arrangements, protections or exemptions for religious groups or their adherents were tucked into Congressional legislation….” The paper noted that other breaks “have also been provided by a host of pivotal court decisions at the state and federal level, and by numerous rule changes in almost every department and agency of the executive branch.”

But religious groups, like any other special interest, don’t get everything they want. On occasions when they’ve failed, some religious organizations have been quick to complain that discrimination or a hostility toward religion did them in. In fact, political leaders might have simply concluded that certain demands of religious groups are not in the best interests of larger society.

Is there any evidence that Obama is stingier with exemptions than past administrations or that the president has it in for religious groups? Not really.

Under Obama, the “faith-based” initiative, an idea that goes back to the days of George W. Bush, has continued to flourish. Obama even stepped back from a vow he made while campaigning in 2008 to require religious groups that receive support from the taxpayer to drop discriminatory hiring policies.

Mother Jones magazine reported in February that if Obama is hostile to religion, he has an odd way of showing it.

“But all the outrage about religious freedom has overshadowed a basic truth about the Obama administration: When it comes to religious organizations and their treatment by the federal government, the Obama administration has been extremely generous,” reported Stephanie Mencimer for the magazine. “Religious groups have benefited handsomely from Obama’s stimulus package, budgets, and other policies. Under Obama, Catholic religious charities alone have received more than $650 million, according to a spokeswoman from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where much of the funding comes from.”

Obama’s Justice Department hasn’t always pleased religious conservatives, but it has hardly been hostile to faith. The department sided with the state of Arizona in defending at the Supreme Court a private school tax-credit scheme that overwhelmingly benefits religious schools, going so far as to assist with oral arguments before the justices. When a federal court struck down the National Day of Prayer as a church-state violation in 2010, the administration criticized the ruling and quickly filed an appeal.

“If Obama is ‘warring’ against religion, he’s doing it with a popgun and a rubber knife,” Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, told The Washington Times recently. “On core religious freedom issues, they have been moderate, to a fault…. It’s not much of a war.”

Other observers note that in a nation where the government’s regulatory touch over religiously affiliated institutions is exceedingly light, it’s hard to take claims of a war on religion seriously.

People who claim the government is hostile to religion are either insincere or uninformed,” said Steven K. Green, director of the Center for Religion, Law and Democracy at Willamette University. “Religious entities enjoy a host of benefits and advantages that their non-religous counterparts lack.

Green, who was legal director at Americans United during the 1990’s, added, “At the same time, many religious entities that enjoy exemptions from neutral regulations receive subsidies from the government for their operations. Rather than there being a ‘war on religion,’ the government surrendered its regulatory forces a long time ago.”

Rob Boston is senior policy analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Rob, who has worked at Americans United since 1987, also serves as assistant editor of AU’s “Church & State” magazine. Rob is the author of three books: “Close Encounters with the Religious Right: Journeys into the Twilight Zone of Religion and Politics” (Prometheus Books, 2000); “The Most Dangerous Man in America? Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition” (Prometheus Books, 1996) and “Why the Religious Right Is Wrong About Separation of Church and State” (Prometheus Books, 1993; second edition, 2003).

Emphasis mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/154929/right-wing_religion%27s_war_on_america?akid=8589.123424.Ne4e-e&rd=1&t=5

5 Big Lies About the Phony ‘War on Religion’

From: Alternet

By: Sarah Jaffe

Republican candidates have been traveling the country pledging to end Obama’s war.

Sounds great, except for one tiny problem—the war they’re railing about doesn’t exist. They’re not calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan or the abstract “war on terror.” The candidates claim that Obama and Democrats across the country are waging a “war on religion”– and, of course, they’re the “civilian casualties,” along with the rest of America’s white Christian majority.

Exploiting religious divides has long been one of the ways conservatives seek to win over working-class voters, whom they otherwise don’t seem to care about. Abortion, gay rights and religious education become wedge issues for politicians like Rick Santorum, who blend a kind of faux-populism with frighteningly reactionary sentiments about the rights of women and LGBT people.

That’s just it, too. The claims of “war on religion” seem to always come when a move by the administration, a court, or legislature has granted more rights and protections to those who are not straight, male and usually white. When white evangelicals and Catholics claim that Obama’s declaring a war on religion, they mean on their religion. They’re evoking the same xenophobia as the demands for the birth certificate, as the claims that Obama is a Muslim. The insinuation is that the president isn’t American, isn’t like them, and thus is to be feared, hated, or simply voted out of office.

We’ve collected five examples  of the GOP and religious-right leaders claiming their rights are being infringed when the government tells them they can no longer use their beliefs as an excuse to discriminate against others.

1. Catholic employers complain about having to provide birth control coverage with health insurance.

Republican politicians and religious-right leaders—particularly the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, known previously for its willingness to tank healthcare reform over private abortion coverage that women could purchase with their own money—are claiming, incredibly, that the Obama administration’s ruling that birth control should be covered by health insurance without a co-pay infringes on their freedom of religion.

Santorum, a Catholic, pitched a fit over the contraception rule in Colorado on the campaign trail this week, calling Obama “hostile to people of faith, particularly Christians, and specifically Catholics.”

And Mitt Romney, whose church explicitly permits birth control, nevertheless had to get in on the fun, writing an op-ed for theWashington Examinerclaiming Obama is trying to “impose a secular vision on Americans who believe that they should not have their religious freedom taken away.”

The Catholic bishops fought Obama’s decision to provide birth control coverage at all, and then demanded an exemption that would have given religious institutions sweeping rights to deny coverage. As Amanda Marcotte noted at RH Reality Check:

“Sensibly, the Obama administration did not grant the exception, following federal tradition of protecting the religious freedom of individual employees over claims from employers that their rights trump those of employees. You can’t cut someone’s salary because they don’t share your religious belief, after all, so why should you be able to cut their benefits?”

Not only that, but NPR reported that many Catholic hospitals and universities already do offer contraceptive coverage as part of their health insurance. And a new poll shows that a majority of Americans — and a majority of Catholics – think Catholic hospitals and universities should indeed have to offer co-pay-free birth control coverage.

So how, exactly, is this a war on religion? If anything, it’s another symptom of the war on workers—employers claiming that they have the right not to provide the same coverage mandated for other employees, because of their personal beliefs. (Note that the Catholic bishops never speak out on behalf of workers’ rights, though the Pope has spoken out for economic justice issues many times. They’re only interested in defending the rights of the boss to impose his religious beliefs on his female employees.) The only way it becomes an attack on religion is when right-wingers lie about it.

So what is a mandate for birth control becomes, in the words of Congressman Jim Jordan, “free contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.”

There’d be nothing wrong with this if it were true—abortion is in fact a legal healthcare procedure in the United States. But the fact is that it’s not even close to true – it’s just another dangerous elision between contraception—which prevents pregnancy—and abortion, which terminates an existing pregnancy.

While most pro-choicers would like to see abortion covered by health insurance, that’s simply not the case and was a big enough point of contention in the fight over healthcare reform that the bill nearly went down. The fact that the right is continuing to lie about it simply shows that they know the American public isn’t actually on their side when they tell the truth.

2. Catholic Charities shut down adoption services rather than allow same-gender couples to adopt.

The bishops aren’t just mad about contraception, though.

In an NPR story about the “war on religion,” Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, CT, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, complained that Illinois-based Catholic Charities was “forced” to shut down its adoption services because it would otherwise have had to start placing orphaned children with same-gender couples.

“…[W]e do have a constitutional right not to be discriminated against because we’re following our own convictions,” he said.

Other people’s convictions—for instance, that no child should go homeless because of antiquated prejudices—don’t seem to hold the same weight for the bishops.

A pesky Illinois state law demands that couples joined under the state’s civil union law be considered just as valid as male-female couples married by a church—and that includes being able to adopt children. Catholic Charities wanted state money to fund its services, but didn’t want to obey the state’s non-discrimination law.

Of course, the same right-wingers who call for personal responsibility for struggling Americans don’t see anything wrong with government funding for religious organizations.

Just for the record—the Obama administration continues to fund faith-based groups, with $140 million from the stimulus bill alone making its way into the coffers of religious organizations.

3. Tony Perkins whines after Air Force apologizes for promoting an explicitly Christian charity.

Oh, Tony, Tony.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, says that Obama has “created an atmosphere that is hostile toward Christianity.”

How’s that, exactly? Well, Perkins told James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, that the Air Force Academy‘s apology for promoting Operation Christmas Child, an explicitly Christian ministry, on campus, was creating such an atmosphere.

Operation Christmas Child is not just any Christian ministry, though—it’s a subsidiary of Franklin (son of Billy) Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse. And Graham? His concern for religious liberty is pretty specific, and certainly doesn’t apply to Muslims. As Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches noted, Graham thinks the Muslim Brotherhood has also infiltrated the government. (The complaint that got the Air Force Academy to apologize was filed on behalf of 132 Academy personnel, including two Muslim families.)

Graham is also a notorious birther—and that gets to the heart of these charges that Obama is opposed to religion. As noted above, the claims that Obama doesn’t respect religion are deeply connected with the claims that he is a Muslim, or that he is not an American citizen.

So let’s get this straight. When the Air Force Academy, a government entity, respects the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and refuses to endorse an explicitly evangelical Christian charity, that’s a war on religion. But if the Air Force Academy supports the charity of a man who calls Islam “a very evil and wicked religion,” it’s…protecting religious freedom?

Sorry, Tony, Franklin, James. If you want to stand up for religious freedom, you have to stand up for everyone’s religious freedom. That means even those scary Muslims.

4. Justice Department defends a teacher who claims religious discrimination after being fired from a Lutheran school.

In a case before the Supreme Court, the Obama justice department took the side of a teacher who did double duty at a Lutheran school in Michigan, teaching secular subjects and also leading students in prayer and teaching religious courses. Cheryl Perich took a medical leave for an illness, and when she was better, the school declined to take her back. She sued, claiming discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Chicago Tribune explained what happened next:

“A federal district court rejected the claim. It said that because of her religious duties, she was covered by the long-recognized ‘ministerial exception’ — which says the government may not interfere in the relationship between churches and their clergy. An appeals court agreed on the exception, but said Perich wasn’t covered because she wasn’t a minister.”

The Supreme Court heard the case, with the Justice Department arguing that Perich should be treated like any other employee—but the whole court ruled against them, saying that protecting Perich’s job was tantamount to telling the church who was qualified to be a minister.

Once again, a position that religious folks are calling anti-religious is actually a pro-worker position. Perich wasn’t claiming that she had a right to teach Lutheran children the tenets of Judaism; she claimed that she was fired from a teaching job because she had been ill. Yet (Catholic) Justice Alito compared the school being required to give her job back to forcing Catholics to allow women to become priests, saying, “under the administration’s logic…there would be no obvious reason to prevent women from suing the Catholic church for sex discrimination because it bars them from the priesthood.”

While of course the government shouldn’t tell religious organizations who they can choose as ministers, the Justice Department hardly made that case (and indeed, has been willing, as shown above, to accommodate all sorts of religious organizations). Instead, it argued that a church, no less than Wal-Mart, doesn’t get to discriminate against a worker because of a disability or illness. Wrapping attacks on workers’ rights in religious clothing doesn’t make them OK, and it certainly doesn’t make Obama guilty of disrespecting religion.

5. Obama administration refuses to defend the Defense of Marriage Act.

No list of lies about religious faith and the Obama administration would be complete without the histrionics about marriage.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan (see a pattern here?), president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, claimed in September that Obama’s opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act, that Clinton-era compromise which, like most Clinton-era compromises, pleased and helped no one, would “precipitate a national conflict between church and state of enormous proportions and to the detriment of both institutions.”

Who’s creating conflict here again?

The Defense of Marriage Act is a federal law that prevents states from having to recognize same-gender marriages granted in other states. It has very little to do with religion in the first place—because no law can force an institution of religion to carry out a marriage ceremony for any reason. Instead, the law applies to the legal institution of marriage, and means that a married couple in one state can lose all the rights and benefits of that marriage by crossing a state line.

Obama’s Justice Department declared last spring that they would no longer defend DOMA in court; over the summer, the department released a brief arguing that the law should be rejected as it is a kind of “sexual-orientation discrimination.”

The religious right doesn’t like that—but it has absolutely nothing to do with them. And just this week, the California Supreme Court agreed, noting in its ruling overturning that state’s Proposition 8 (the law banning same-gender marriage) that the law did not have “any effect on religious freedom or on parents’ rights to control their children’s education; it could not have been enacted to safeguard those liberties.”

Members of the religious right likes to claim that their opposition to gay marriage and adoption, to contraception and abortion, is a matter of deeply held moral conviction simply because it comes from religious teachings. And no one has tried to prevent them from clinging to their outdated beliefs.

However, it is also a moral belief that discrimination is wrong, that women have the right to control their own bodies and choose when they will or will not have children, that gay and lesbian couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples and should be able to be married and adopt children.

As John Fea, chair of the history department at Messiah College in Pennsylania, wrote, “Obama’s vision for America is just as moral as the vision espoused on the campaign trail by Rick Santorum. It may also be more Christian.”

Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @seasonothebitch.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/154059/5_Big_Lies_About_the_Phony_%27War_on_Religion%27/