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Growing Mormon-Catholic Alliance: Partners Behind Christian Right’s Religious Discrimination Agenda

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While Tony Perkins, Brian Brown, Bryan Fischer, and other Christian Right pundits of the more shrill variety may be easy to ignore as they demand a right to discriminate on Fox News, there is a more dangerous coalition emerging. One of the primary drivers of the movement to corrupt and redefine religious freedom isn’t someone in a shouting match on cable news, but a decades-long alliance of top Mormons and Catholics.

While Mormons and Catholics may seem like unlikely allies, from a political perspective they bring complementary strengths to their partnership. The Mormon Church has an amazing amount of wealth on hand (it is estimated to be worth over $40 billion – gathered from real estate and commercial holdings, mandatory tithing collections from members, and even a theme park in Hawaii) and a world-class grassroots mobilization and recruitment force. The Catholic Church and related groups, on the other hand, enjoy a much higher approval rating with the American public (62 percent) and thus can put a more popular face on public political campaigns. 

The political allegiance between Mormons and Catholics dates back at least to the 1990s in Hawaii, during the first U.S. battle over same-sex marriage. As I previously reported, while the Mormons could—and did—provide funding and volunteers to that campaign, the more popular Catholic Church acted as the coalition’s public face. The Catholic Church and other visible allies would thereby absorb any public backlash directed towards the coalition, while the Mormons could push their agenda without any serious consequences to their public image. The strategy was effective, and one they repeated during California’s Proposition 8 fight.

The alliance grows stronger with each passing year. Epitomizing the relationship is Princeton professor Robert P. George (image, left), one of the most influential Catholic conservative activists in the country, who partnered with the Mormon Church to create the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). He also joined the editorial advisory board of the Mormon Church-owned newspaper, the Deseret News. George is also the founder of the Witherspoon Institute (responsible for the debunked Mark Regnerus study – which was reported first by the Deseret News), was the primary author of the anti-LGBTQ Manhattan Declaration, and is one of the top national strategists leading the charge to redefine religious freedom into a sword religious institutions can use to force their doctrinal positions on individuals. This week, Mormon Church-owned Brigham Young University awarded George an “honorary Doctor of Law and Moral Values” degree, calling him “one of the most able and articulate advocates of the proposition that faith and reason are not incompatible.”

Dallin H. Oaks (image, center), one of the Mormon Church’s 12 Apostles, has been deeply involved in the effort to redefine religious freedom. He sits on the board of the World Congress of Families, an international culture-warring collection of Religious Right organizations that works all over the world to use (redefined) religious freedom arguments to enact anti-LGBTQ and anti-reproductive health laws (such as the Russian law that criminalizes any positive speech about homosexuality). In recognition of his work with WCF and frequent speeches before conservative groups extoling the benefits of using one’s faith as an excuse to dodge pesky civil rights laws, Oaks received the 2013 “Canterbury Medal” for his “defense of religious liberty” from The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative Catholic legal organization responsible for the Hobby Lobby ruling at the Supreme Court and one of the top groups in the Right’s religious freedom campaign.

Speaking earlier this month at the Mormon Church’s semi-annual General Conference to all 15 million members worldwide, Oaks quoted a speech given by Philadelphia Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput at Brigham Young University. “Speaking of ‘concerns that the LDS and Catholic communities share,’ such as ‘about marriage and family, the nature of our sexuality, the sanctity of human life, and the urgency of religious liberty,’ he [Chaput] said this: ‘I want to stress again the importance of really living what we claim to believe. That needs to be a priority—not just in our personal and family lives but in our churches, our political choices, our business dealings, our treatment of the poor; in other words, in everything we do.’” Chaput continued, in his speech to BYU, “Religion is to democracy as a bridle is to a horse.”

Another of the Mormon Church’s top leaders, Henry B. Eyring, met with Chaput and Pope Francis in November 2014 at the Vatican. Eyring described their strengthening alliance and mutual dedication to opposing civil liberties for LGBTQ people and women, saying “I think the thing was, even with other faiths, they have exactly the same feeling that the root of good society is good families.” Another of the Mormon 12 Apostles, D. Todd Christofferson, will be one of the featured speakers later this year at the Catholic’s anti-LGBTQ World Meeting of Families, where the Pope will also be speaking.

The crowning, and perhaps most insidious, achievement thus far of the Mormon-Catholic alliance is the much-hailed Utah nondiscrimination/religious freedom law. While the Christian Right’s state-level Hobby-Lobbyized RFRAs (with their overt anti-LGBTQ intentions) have generated a significant national backlash (particularly in the cases of Indiana and Arizona) and are susceptible to court challenges, the Utah RFRA “lite” law actually won endorsements from LGBTQ groups. The Mormon Church enlisted the help of Christian Right operative Robin Fretwell Wilson, who works closely with right-wing Catholic groups like The Becket Fund and Alliance Defending Freedom, to co-write the law. The end product was a bill written in such a way that LGBTQ groups hungry for a “win” in a Red state could claim victory in the form of a watered-down nondiscrimination law. The price—knowingly or otherwise—was the endorsement by high-profile LGBTQ groups of the Right’s false contention that religious freedom is somehow at odds with LGBTQ rights, requiring a compromise – or, as some LGBTQ groups described the creation of Utah’s law, “a collaboration.” Such endorsements have set a dangerous precedent for the advancement of RFRAs and other efforts to corrupt actual religious freedom in various state legislatures. Right-wing groups can (and do) point to LGBTQ support in Utah as a means of mainstreaming their agenda and deflating their opposition.

Catholic news agencies have hailed the “Mormon law” as a model to be repeated across the country. If that happens, we may well see more such pyrrhic victories, in which gains in non-discrimination legislation are overwhelmed by the emerging “right to discriminate” on the basis of religious convictions.. This is where compromising on the true meaning of religious freedom could lead. We may also see the Mormon Church emerge as a more prominent—albeit less public—partner of the evangelical and Catholic elements of the Christian Right as they continue their quest to corrupt the meaning of religious freedom. 

 

Image via The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Newsroom

 

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. 

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‘Just the First Step’: Trump Declares ‘Uniting Our Nation’ Means Ending All Cases Against Him

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Donald Trump, declaring his surviving Saturday’s attempted assassination a “miracle,” reportedly has changed his upcoming address to this week’s Republican National Convention to promoting “unity.” But unlike President Joe Biden’s Oval Office speech Sunday night urging America come together, the ex-president is defining national unity as everyone agreeing all legal and civil cases against him are baseless “Witch Hunts.”

Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours after a 20-year old registered Republican with an AR-15 style rifle unloaded eight bullets in the ex-president’s direction, causing his ear to be grazed, possibly by schraptnal or glass, while killing a 50-year old supporter at a rally in the stands behind him, Trump posted just two words to his Truth Social account: “UNITE AMERICA!”

“The former president has told multiple outlets he wants to focus on unifying the country after surviving an assassination attempt,” Rolling Stone reports. “As Trump’s allies and other prominent Republican commentators attempt to weaponize the shooting into a political cudgel against Democrats to silence criticism of Trump and his track record endorsing political violence, it may only be a matter of time before the former president slips back into his old habits.”

Monday morning, barely one hour after U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee in Florida, handed down her ruling entirely dismissing the Espionage Act/classified documents case against the ex-president, Trump expanded on his definition of unity: ending “ALL the Witch Hunts.”

RELATED: As Cannon Dismisses Trump Classified Docs Case Experts Pin Blame on Clarence Thomas

“As we move forward in Uniting our Nation after the horrific events on Saturday, this dismissal of the Lawless Indictment in Florida should be just the first step, followed quickly by the dismissal of ALL the Witch Hunts — The January 6th Hoax in Washington, D.C., the Manhattan D.A.’s Zombie Case, the New York A.G. Scam, Fake Claims about a woman I never met (a decades old photo in a line with her then husband does not count), and the Georgia ‘Perfect’ Phone Call charges. The Democrat Justice Department coordinated ALL of these Political Attacks, which are an Election Interference conspiracy against Joe Biden’s Political Opponent, ME. Let us come together to END all Weaponization of our Justice System, and Make America Great Again!”

Veteran journalist Brian J. Karem responded to Trump’s post, writing: “So much for uniting people. That didn’t last a single day.”

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) added, “I knew this mad man would soon be back. He’s incapable of unifying peanut butter and jelly. For Trump it’s always been me, me, me first (& only).”

Media columnist Justin Baragona noted, “The new Trump tone lasted a record 36 hours.”

READ MORE: Biden Channels Lincoln in Address on Trump Assassination Attempt: ‘We Are Not Enemies’

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As Cannon Dismisses Trump Classified Docs Case Experts Pin Blame on Clarence Thomas

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U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon in a 93-page opinion has dismissed the Espionage Act/classified documents case against ex-president Donald Trump, claiming Special Counsel Jack Smith’s appointment by Attorney General Merrick Garland “violates the Appointments Clause of the United States Constitution.” Legal experts, calling her ruling “wrong,” say U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is to blame.

Donald Trump was indicted by a grand jury on 37 felony charges, 31 of them under the Espionage Act, in the case related to his alleged unlawful removal, retention, and refusal to return hundreds of documents, many classified, some top secret, and some so secret they include the nation’s nuclear secrets.

“There’s no case any more, it’s been dismissed,” observed former U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg, a former Counselor to the U.S. Attorney General, on MSNBC. He said he is “confident” Judge Cannon’s ruling would be appealed.

Politico’s Kyle Cheney reported the bombshell news:

Other legal experts agree.

“This ruling (which is wrong six ways from Sunday) can (and will) be immediately appealed to the Eleventh Circuit,” wrote professor of law Steve Vladeck. “To me, the only question is whether the Special Counsel also asks for the case to be reassigned on remand…”

Former federal civil rights prosecutor Dr. Kristy Parker, Counsel at Protect Democracy, said: “Hard to characterize how wrong this is — at least in a world where law matters. We may not be in that world any longer.”

READ MORE: Biden Channels Lincoln in Address on Trump Assassination Attempt: ‘We Are Not Enemies’

Last month in oral arguments the argument Smith’s appointment was unlawful was made to Cannon, MSNBC’s Lisa Rubin noted Monday morning, saying that the judge appeared at the time to dismiss that claim.

“People tried this against Special Counsel Robert Muller,” MSNBC’s Ken Dilanian stressed, “and were unsuccessful and it’s really important to point out and so viewers understand there’s nothing in this opinion that speaks to the merits of this case, to the classified documents to the allegations of obstruction of justice. This is an entirely procedural issue. It’s a constitutional question. It’s whether whether the law establishing the Special Counsel violates the appointments clause, and she also actually made a ruling on a separate argument about the appropriations clause. And and she, and she’s decided that the way Congress is funding the way the Special Counsel is funded, is not appropriate either.”

Constitutional law professor and political scientist Anthony Michael Kreis described the dismissal as “Insanity.”

Noting today is also the start of the 2024 Republican National Convention, founder and Executive Director of Protect Democracy, Ian Bassin, a former Associate White House Counsel, blasted the Trump-appointed judge:

“Cannon likely thought releasing her latest gift to Trump at the opening of the RNC would help him, but changing today’s headlines to a pic reminding that Trump stole our nation’s most sensitive nat’l security docs and hid them in his bathroom may not be the gift she thinks it is.”

MSNBC legal analyst Joyce Vance, a former U.S. Attorney called Cannon’s decision, “Absolutely incredible,” while concurring the ruling will be appealed.

“That’s it,” she added. “Unless the 11th Circuit & ultimately SCOTUS disagree, Trump goes free for walking out of the White House with top secret documents. At best, this is seriously delayed. Disgusted.”

READ MORE: ‘Supposed to Be Hard’: Political Experts Explain Their Thinking on Biden and the Election

Some legal experts, including Vance, point to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ separate concurrence in the Trump immunity case as giving Judge Cannon the roadmap to come to this decision.

“This was the argument advanced by Justice Thomas in his concurrence in Trump v. US, which no other Justice signed into at the time,” Vance noted.

Professor of law Leah Litman observed, “Justice Thomas’s ‘Cannon-currence’ worked.”

Parenthetically, she explained, “In the Trump immunity case, Justice Thomas wrote separately to suggest the special counsel was unlawfully appointed; the reasoning laid out the roadmap for this (wrong) result/decision.”

“Justice Thomas strikes again,” wrote professor of law Melisa Murray. “Not only did a majority of the Court give presidents almost unfettered license in the immunity case, Justice Thomas concurred separately to question the constitutionality of the special counsel. He laid the table and Judge Cannon took a seat.”

“Surprising absolutely no one,” observed legal journalist Cristian Farias. “This is a Federalist Society pipe dream, one they could never achieve during the Mueller years. And precisely what Clarence Thomas, all alone, suggested should happen in the Trump immunity case.”

But, he added, “This is not the end.”

Read the social media posts above or at this link.

READ MORE: ‘Betrayal’: Trump Hosts ‘Russian Puppet’ Viktor Orbán as Biden Hosts NATO Leaders

 

This article has been updated to include Professor Murray’s remarks.

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Biden Channels Lincoln in Address on Trump Assassination Attempt: ‘We Are Not Enemies’

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Echoing President Abraham Lincoln‘s first inaugural address, President Joe Biden in a rare primetime Oval Office address Sunday night told Americans “we are not enemies,” as he urged the nation to tone down political rhetoric in the wake of the assassination attempt of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump by a 20-year old registered Republican at an outdoor Trump rally in Pennsylvania one day earlier.

It was the third time in 24-hours President Biden spoke to Americans via a televised address about the shooting in which Trump’s ear was nicked, some reports say from shards of glass from his teleprompter, while the ex-president claimed it was from a bullet. The eight bullets from the gunman’s legally-purchased AR-15 rifle killed a 50-year old former volunteer fire chief who shielded his daughters with his body, and wounded two others.

“While we may disagree, we are not enemies. We’re neighbors, we’re friends, coworkers, citizens. And most importantly, we are fellow Americans. We must stand together,” President Biden reminded the nation, as he announced “the need to lower the temperature in our politics.”

Biden said the “shooting calls on all of us to take a step back.” Earlier, on Sunday afternoon in his nationally-televised remarks the President said, “We must unite as one nation. We must unite as one nation to demonstrate who we are.”

READ MORE: ‘Supposed to Be Hard’: Political Experts Explain Their Thinking on Biden and the Election

In denouncing political violence, President Biden cited some of the most critical recent examples in America.

“We can not, we must not, go down this road in America. We’ve traveled it before throughout our history,” the President warned. “Violence has never been the answer, whether it was with members of congress of both parties being targeted and shot, or a violent mob attacking the capitol on January 6th, or the brutal attack on the spouse of the former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, or information or intimidation on election officials, or the kidnapping plot against the sitting governor, or the attempted assassination on Donald Trump, there’s no place in America for this kind of violence, for any violence, ever. Period. No exceptions. We cannot allow this violence to be normalized,” Biden said resolutely.

“In America, we resolve our differences at the ballot box, that’s how we do it, at the ballot box, not with bullets,” the President also declared, as some on the right, including far-right wing websites, quickly mocked and attacked him for his speech impediment, claiming he had said, “battle box.”

Pointing to Biden’s “desire to protect democracy,” NBC News White House correspondent Peter Alexander Sunday night reminded that the deadly 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville was “really the motivating factor” for his decision to run for President in 2020.

Indeed, Biden has a strong record of fighting against political violence and hate. On Sunday he declared that in America, “hate must have no safe harbor,” which echoed his 2023 State of the Union Address in which he said: “There’s no place for political violence in America,” and, “We must give hate and extremism in any form no safe harbor.”

“Democracy must not be a partisan issue, it’s an American issue. Every generation of Americans has faced a moment where they have been called to protect our democracy Defend it, stand up for it. And this is our moment,” Biden had also said.

Former South Carolina Democratic Congressman Bakari Sellers judged Biden’s six-minute Sunday evening speech to be “pitch perfect. Great sharp message, tone, and leadership.”

READ MORE: Critics: Where’s Trump’s Hour-Long Press Conference With Policy Questions from Reporters?

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin called Biden’s remarks “eloquent and sobering.”

“Biden speech was eloquent and sobering. It is the time for experienced, reassuring and mature leadership. We need to be called to follow the better angels of our nature not the darkest impulses. There is nothing more important.”

“Just watched Joe Biden’s speech. He just won the election,” announced SiriusXM host Dean Obeidallah.

“President Biden used the pulpit well tonight. He did what a president should do: seek to calm the country, seek to calm each of us,” declared award-winning journalist Maria Shriver.

This is an excellent speech,” rhetoric scholar and professor of communications Jennifer Mercieca wrote. “Biden is good at what scholars call the ‘priestly role of the president,’ which is when the president is called upon to speak to a nation in crisis and remind us of our values and explain why our American values will see us through hard times.”

Even Fox News’ chief political analyst Brit Hume praised President Biden’s speech Sunday night declaring his “message was just right,” as Mediate reported.

Watch clips from the President’s remarks and his full address above or at this link.

READ MORE: ‘Betrayal’: Trump Hosts ‘Russian Puppet’ Viktor Orbán as Biden Hosts NATO Leaders

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