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The Religious Right Operative Who Helped Write Utah’s Nondiscrimination Law

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Was the nondiscrimination/religious freedom law in Utah really the “historic compromise” it’s being touted as, or a Trojan Horse for the Religious Right’s agenda? There now seems to be little doubt with the discovery that one of the law’s authors has spent years working with the country’s most prominent Religious Right leaders and groups to advance right-to-discriminate laws across the country.

After my article last week asserted that the much-hailed Utah LGBTQ rights law was really an attempt by the national Religious Right to gain legitimacy for their agenda to redefine religious liberty as a religious license to legally discriminate, many have begun looking into how the bill actually came into existence.

As Queer Nation recently pointed out, Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois, has a long history of seeking to develop loopholes in civil rights laws. In 2014, as the proposed RFRA in Arizona was causing national headlines for its provisions allowing both private and government individuals to opt-out of civil rights and public accommodation laws if done so for religious beliefs, Wilson and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) teamed up to send a letter to Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer, claiming the law was being “egregiously misrepresented.” ADF (formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund back when it was working as part of the legal team defending California’s Prop 8, which stripped marriage rights from same-sex couples), was one of the authors of the Arizona bill. Following massive protests and national outcry, that bill was eventually vetoed by Governor Brewer, but less than a month later a nearly identical bill became law in Mississippi and ADF has worked to pass similar legislation in over a dozen states since.

In 2008, Wilson teamed up with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty—the group behind the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby case—to co-edit their book Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts, where she claimed states must proactively pass “conscience clauses” for religious freedom—the right for individuals, business owners, and government employees to use their religious opinions to legally discriminate against others.[1]

Wilson was more explicit in an op-ed to The New York Times, following the state legislature’s passage of same-sex marriage in 2011. “Without such [individual religious exemptions],” Wilson argues, “groups that hew to their religious beliefs about marriage would be at risk of losing government contracts and benefits and would be subject to lawsuits from private citizens.” She goes on to claim that organizations receiving government funding should never be in danger of losing those tax dollars just because they discriminate against LGBTQ people.

In 2010, Wilson authored a paper in the Northwestern Journal of Law & Social Policy titled Insubstantial Burdens: The Case for Government Employee Exemptions to Same-Sex Marriage Laws, in which she lamented that (at that point) “not a single state has shielded the government employee at the front line of same-sex marriage, such as the marriage registrar who, if she has a religious objection to same-sex marriage, will almost certainly face a test of conscience.” She concludes with what she believes to be a fair scenario: “Same-sex marriage applications comprise a miniscule part of the overall workload in the local marriage registrar’s office. If that office is staffed by three clerks, Faith, Hope, and Charity, and only Faith has a religious objection to assisting with same-sex marriage applications, allowing Faith to step aside when no hardship will result for same-sex couples is costless.” This, of course, ignores the vast implications of allowing a publicly-funded government employee to deny civil rights to citizens—not to mention the real threat of “Hope” and “Charity” following “Faith’s” lead. Wilson also took it a step further in her 2014 paper, Marriage of Necessity: Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty Protections, where she advocates for the Religious Right to focus on inserting its corrupted view of religious freedom into state laws.

Wilson is also famous for co-writing an op-ed in The Washington Post in 2014 with Bradford Wilcox, claiming that if women want to stop being sexually abused, they should just get married. Co-author Bradford Wilcox is currently the head of the Religious Right’s “National Marriage Project.” But until 2012 he was a director at the Witherspoon Institute, where he played an integral role in the creation of the thoroughly-debunked study by Mark Regnerus, which claimed that children of same-sex parents turn out much worse than children of opposite-sex parents. Wilcox not only acted as an advisor on the project, but was a paid consultant.

And speaking specifically about the Utah law she helped write, Wilson went so far as to lay out that “if the religious right does not believe that they are going to have those [religious exemption] protections, it cannot push forward the other rights.”

Wilson’s true motives in writing Utah’s “compromise” SB296 law are clear.

LGBTQ supporters of the law are arguing that the religious exemptions in SB296 do not undermine the workplace/housing protections for LGBTQ people. But that misses the entire point of the critique of the bill. It didn’t matter what legalese actually went into the law. In fact, it behooved Wilson, the Mormon Church, ADF, and the other Religious Right actors to make the bill appear favorable to LGBTQ people who desperately need workplace and housing protections.

No, the real agenda was to obtain the endorsement of LGBTQ groups. The Religious Freedom Restoration Acts currently being pushed through state legislatures, particularly in the South, are vulnerable to court challenges. But now that the Religious Right has high-profile endorsements of their false framework of religious freedom and LGBTQ rights being opposed to each other, unfortunately, the ability of LGBTQ activists and organizations to oppose RFRAs and other efforts to codify discrimination—all dressed up in the language of “religious freedom”—has been curtailed.

 

Eric Ethington is a journalist, activist, and researcher. Originally from Utah, he now works in Boston for a social justice think tank. His writing, advocacy work, and research have been featured on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, the New York Times, The Guardian, and The Public Eye magazine. Follow him on Twitter @EricEthington.

**Cross-posted with permission from Political Research Associates


[1] Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2008.

 

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BREAKING NEWS

DOJ Signals It Is Conducting a Criminal Investigation of George Santos

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The U.S. Dept. of Justice Friday signaled it is conducting a criminal investigation of U.S. Rep. George Santos‘ campaign finances when it asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to pause its probe into the embattled New York freshman GOP lawmaker.

“The request is the clearest sign to date of an active criminal investigation examining the congressman’s campaign finances,” The Washington Post reports.

But NBC News goes one step further.

“Federal prosecutors in New York have opened an investigation into Rep.-elect George Santos, two law enforcement sources confirmed Thursday,” NBC states. “The probe by federal prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York is at least the second investigation into Santos.”

READ MORE: Another Santos Financial Concern: GOP Lawmaker Claims Campaign Paid WinRed Triple the Fees It Should Have

“The two sources confirmed that prosecutors are examining Santos’ finances, including potential irregularities involving financial disclosures and loans he made to his campaign as he was running for Congress,” NBC adds.

The Santos campaign this week, according to The Daily Beast, amended FEC filings that originally claimed about $625,000 in “personal” loans from the candidate’s personal funds were actually not from the candidates personal funds. Santos has since refused to state where the money came from.

DOJ also asked the FEC for any “relevant documents” for the Santos’ campaign, The Post noted.

READ MORE: Watch: Santos Responds to Report He Joked About Hitler, ‘The Jews’ and Black People

“Separately, the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday interviewed two people about Santos’s role in Harbor City Capital, an investment firm that was forced to shut down in 2021 after the SEC accused it of operating a ‘classic Ponzi scheme,'” according to The Post’s reporting.

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News

Watch: Nancy Pelosi Says ‘I Have Absolutely No Intention of Seeing the Deadly Assault on My Husband’s Life’

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U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) the former Speaker of the House, told reporters she has no intention of watching just-released video of the almost fatal, brutal attack on her 82-year old husband, allegedly by a hammer-wielding, far-right conspiracy theory promoting extremist.

DePape had “posted antisemitic screeds and entries defending former President Donald Trump and Ye, the rapper formally known as Kayne West who recently made antisemitic comments,” CBS News reported one day after the attack.

Earlier Friday, before the video had been released by a judge’s order, Rep. Pelosi said did not know if she would watch the video.

Later, Friday afternoon, Pelosi said she would not.

READ MORE: Pelosi Attack Video Release Leads to Criticism of Musk, Right Wingers Who ‘Trafficked in Homophobic Conspiracy Nonsense’

“As you know, today there was a release of some information. I have not heard the 911 call. I have not heard the confession. I have not seen the break-in, and I have absolutely no intention of seeing the deadly assault on my husband’s life.”

Prosecutors have described the attack as “near-fatal.”

She also thanked “people for all of their prayers,” and for “asking about the progress my husband is making, and he is making progress, but it will take more time.”

Apparently choking up, she added that she would not be making any more statements about this case as it proceeds, except again to thank people and inform them of Paul’s progress.”

Watch below or at this link.

 

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RIGHT WING EXTREMISM

Pelosi Attack Video Release Leads to Criticism of Musk, Right Wingers Who ‘Trafficked in Homophobic Conspiracy Nonsense’

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News organizations won the release of police body cam video that shows the horrific moment when an intruder, “without warning or hesitation,” whacked Paul Pelosi, the 82-year old husband of the now-former Speaker of the House, with a hammer, knocking him unconscious and to the ground in a pool of blood, in what prosecutors called a “near-fatal” assault.

The alleged assailant is David DePape, a purveyor of far-right conspiracy theories, including QAnon and Pizzagate, COVID-19 disinformation, along with “Big Lie” videos from My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell. He is facing multiple state and federal charges.

Depape reportedly broke into the Pelosi home, screaming, “where’s Nancy?” which some including The Atlantic’s David A. Graham  have noted eerily echoes insurrectionists hunting for Nancy Pelosi on January 6, 2021, screaming, “Nancy! Nancy Pelosi!” “Where you at, Nancy?” “Where’s Nancy?”

From the moment news broke of the October 28, 2022 attack on the husband of the Speaker of the House, who told police he was there to violently attack Nancy Pelosi, those on the right, including Elon Musk, ex-president Donald Trump,  and other anti-Pelosi and pro-Trump activists, quickly suggested, implied, or even claimed Depape was Paul Pelosi’s boyfriend, or that it had somehow been an anonymous sexual tryst that went bad – despite no evidence.

READ MORE: Man Charged With Attacking Paul Pelosi Is a MAGA Cultist Who Said the Speaker Was Using ‘Fake Evidence to Spy On’ Trump

In the video, which should be watched only with extreme caution, police can be seen approaching the front door of the Pelosi home, the door opening, DePape holding Paul Pelosi by the wrist with one hand, and a hammer in the other. Within seconds he attacks Pelosi, who falls to the ground. Police take DePape down to the ground, and moaning can be heard, although it’s unclear if it is from Pelosi or his alleged assailant.

DePape told police he wanted to break Nancy Pelosi’s kneecaps and hold her hostage. Since she was across the country in D.C., he ended up fracturing her husband’s skull instead.

Despite the video, the far-right refuses to let go of its false claims about Paul Pelosi, which are hurtful not only to the Pelosi family, but to the LGBTQ community.

Just days after the almost deadly attack Donald Trump falsely claimed, “You know, probably, you and I are better off not talking about it. The glass, it seems, was broken from the inside to the out and, you know, so, it wasn’t a break in, it was a break out.”

Kara Swisher, the well-known tech journalist and opinion writer, blasted those who are ignoring the clear video evidence (not to mention the massive reporting) of the attack.

READ MORE: ‘Suicide Mission’: Pelosi Attacker Named ‘Prominent State and Federal Politicians’ He Wanted to Target

“All those who trafficked in homophobic conspiracy nonsense about this,” she wrote Friday on Twitter, “such as the owner of this increasingly shitty platform, should be ashamed,” Swisher said, referring to Elon Musk.

“They won’t be, but they are heinous & utterly lost,” she added, linking to a Washington Post article titled, “Judge releases evidence, video footage in attack on Pelosi.”

Indeed, two days after the attack, Elon Musk tweeted then later deleted the claim that “there is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye.” The Independent reported Musk, “attached a screenshot of a bogus report accusing Mr Pelosi of getting into a drunken fight with a male prostitute.”

Politico’s Sam Stein also highlighted Musk pushing the apparent falsehood: “The release of the Paul Pelosi video is a useful reminder that the owner of this here platform pushed conspiracy theories around the attack.”

Entrepreneur and programmer William LeGate, who won a Thiel fellowship at the age of 18, on Friday tweeted: “Now that the Paul Pelosi surveillance footage & 911 call have been made public, it’s time homophobic bigots like Elon Musk, Tucker Carlon, & the like to issue a public apology for spreading the ‘lover’s quarrel’ conspiracy theory.”

MSNBC executive producer Kyle Griffin made remarks similar to Swisher’s: “A lot of conservatives spread disgusting, nonsensical conspiracies about the Paul Pelosi attack — including Elon Musk. Some are still spreading them. Those people should be ashamed.”

Republican former U.S. Congressman Adam Kinzinger, linking to a Politico report on the release of the video, said, “Can we please dig up every persons tweet who made fun of this or cast doubt? This was a sick attack and politicians minimizing it suck.”

READ MORE: ‘Break Her Kneecaps’: Feds Charge Suspect Who Attacked Paul Pelosi as New Details on His Motivation Are Revealed

Salon’s Amanda Marcotte defended the release of the video with this explanation: “Seeing folks question why it was necessary to release the footage of the attack on Paul Pelosi, which is incredibly violent and disturbing. Well, a big reason is Republicans have treated the attempted murder as a joke.”

She linked to an article she wrote in early November titled, “After the Pelosi attack, Republicans have quit pretending they oppose political violence.”

Journalist and SiriusXM host Michelangelo Signorile also went after Republicans.

“The Paul Pelosi video — and the surveillance video — show the danger and brutality of the attacker,” he tweeted. “Every Republican who mocked this attack is filled with nothing but hate and bile.”

NCRM is embedding the video below, from The Associated Press. We caution watching the brutal video, which is longer than many others and includes the actual attack and the moments after. Again, we urge caution.

 

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