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 isnâ€™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 â€“ 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.Â
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 couldâ€”and didâ€”provide funding and volunteers to that campaign, the more popular Catholic Church acted as the coalitionâ€™s public face. TheÂ Catholic Church and other visible allies would thereby absorb any public backlash directed towards the coalition, while the Mormons couldÂ push their agenda without any serious consequences to their public image. The strategy was effective, and one they repeated during Californiaâ€™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 â€“ 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 â€œhonorary Doctor of Law and Moral Valuesâ€ 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 Churchâ€™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 oneâ€™s faith as an excuse to dodge pesky civil rights laws, Oaks received the 2013 â€œCanterbury Medalâ€ for his â€œdefense of religious libertyâ€ 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 Rightâ€™s religious freedom campaign.
Speaking earlier this month at the Mormon Churchâ€™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. â€œSpeaking of â€˜concerns that the LDS and Catholic communities share,â€™ such as â€˜about marriage and family, the nature of our sexuality, the sanctity of human life, and the urgency of religious liberty,â€™ he [Chaput] said this: â€˜I want to stress again the importance of really living what we claim to believe. That needs to be a priorityâ€”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.â€™â€ Chaput continued, in his speech to BYU, â€œReligion is to democracy as a bridle is to a horse.â€
Another of the Mormon Churchâ€™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 â€œI think the thing was, even with other faiths, they have exactly the same feeling that the root of good society is good families.â€ Another of the Mormon 12 Apostles, D. Todd Christofferson, will be one of the featured speakersÂ 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 Rightâ€™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 â€œliteâ€ 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 â€œwinâ€ in a Red state could claim victory in the form of a watered-down nondiscrimination law. The priceâ€”knowingly or otherwiseâ€”was the endorsement by high-profile LGBTQ groups of the Rightâ€™s false contention that religious freedom is somehow at odds with LGBTQ rights, requiring a compromise â€“ or, as some LGBTQ groups described the creation of Utahâ€™s law, â€œa collaboration.â€ 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 â€œMormon lawâ€ 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 â€œright to discriminateâ€ 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 prominentâ€”albeit less publicâ€”partner of the evangelical and Catholic elements of the Christian Right as they continue their quest to corrupt the meaning of religious freedom.Â
Image viaÂ 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 TwitterÂ @EricEthington.Â
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‘Bad News’ for Sidney Powell as First Trump Co-Defendant in Georgia RICO Case Takes Plea Deal: Legal Expert
“Under the terms of an agreement with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’s office, Hall pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit election fraud, conspiracy to commit computer theft, conspiracy to commit computer trespass, conspiracy to commit computer invasion of privacy, and conspiracy to defraud the state,” NBC News reports. “Under the terms of the deal, he’s being sentenced to five years probation.”
CNN previously reported “Hall, a bail bondsman and pro-Trump poll-watcher in Atlanta, spent hours inside a restricted area of the Coffee County elections office when voting systems were breached in January 2021. The breach was connected to efforts by pro-Trump conspiracy theorists to find voter fraud. Hall was captured on surveillance video at the office, on the day of the breach. He testified before the grand jury in Fulton County case and acknowledged that he gained access to a voting machine.”
Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, a professor of law and frequent MSNBC contributor, says Hall “was in the thick of things with Sidney Powell on Jan 7 for the Coffee County scheme involving voting machines. If he’s cooperating, it’s a bad sign for her.”
Hall’s plea deal “spells bad news for, among others, Sidney Powell,” says former Dept. of Defense Special Counsel Ryan Goodman, an NYU Law professor of law. Goodman posted a graphic showing the overlap in charges against Hall and Powell, which he called “alleged joint actions.”
With breakthrough for Georgia DA (@TamarHallerman reporting: “SCOTT HALL has become the first co-defendant in the Fulton election interference case to take a plea deal with prosecutors.”)
That spells bad news for, among others, Sidney Powell.
Example of alleged joint actions.👇 pic.twitter.com/odMM5C7JtX
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) September 29, 2023
See the graphic above or at this link.
Far-Right Republicans Kill GOP Bill to Keep Government Running in ‘Embarrassing Failure’ for McCarthy: Report
With a shutdown less than 36 hours away, far-right Republicans in the House of Representatives Friday afternoon voted against their party’s own legislation to kept the federal government running. Democrats opposed the content of the bill and voted against it. Just 21 far-right members of the GOP conference were able to effectively force what appears to be an all but inevitable shutdown at midnight on Saturday.
“HARDLINE HOUSE RS take down stopgap funding bill. 21 GOP no votes. 232-198,” reported Punchbowl News’ Jake Sherman just before 2 PM Friday.
NBC News reported that a “band of conservative rebels on Friday revolted and blocked House Republicans’ short-term funding bill to keep the government open, delivering a political blow to Speaker Kevin McCarthy and likely cementing the chances of a painful government shutdown that is less than 48 hours away.”
“Twenty-one rebels, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a conservative bomb-thrower and a top Donald Trump ally, voted Friday afternoon to scuttle the 30-day funding bill, known as a continuing resolution or CR, leaving Republicans without a game plan to avert a shutdown. The vote failed,” NBC added. “The embarrassing failure of the GOP measure once again highlights the dilemma for McCarthy as his hard-liners strongly oppose a short-term bill even if it includes conservative priorities. It leaves Congress on a path to a shutdown, with no apparent offramp to avoiding it — or to quickly reopen the government.”
A bipartisan group of at least 75 U.S. Senators has passed two bills this week that would keep the government running. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy has refused to allow it to come to the floor for a vote.
‘Wannabe Dictator’: Milley Appears to Slam Trump After Ex-President Suggested He Should Be Executed
General Mark Milley, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military advisor to the President, during his retirement speech Friday appeared to deliver strong criticism of former President Donald Trump, who appointed him to that post but since has waged war against him.
“Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous, not just because it is the exact sort that incites violence against public officials,” professor of global politics and political scientist Brian Klass wrote at The Atlantic after Trump’s most recent attack on the Chairman, “but also because it shows just how numb the country has grown toward threats more typical of broken, authoritarian regimes.”
Trump had written, “if the Fake News reporting is correct,” General Milley “was actually dealing with China to give them a heads up on the thinking of the President of the United States. This is an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH! A war between China and the United States could have been the result of this treasonous act.”
Milley was acting within his duties in a White House approved conversation, according to Klass.
On Friday, Milley appeared to blast Trump.
“We don’t take an oath to a tribe. We don’t take an oath to a religion. We don’t take an oath to a king, or queen, or a tyrant, or dictator. We don’t take an oath to a wannabe dictator,” Milley declared. “We don’t take an oath to an individual. We take an oath to the Constitution, and we take an oath to the idea that is America, and we’re willing to die to protect it.”
“Every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, Guardian and Coast Guardsmen, each of us, emits our very life to protect and defend that document, regardless of personal price to a country.”
Vanity Fair on Thursday reported General Milley “said he has taken security precautions to protect himself and his family after Donald Trump all but called for his execution last week.”
Watch Milley’s remarks below or at this link.
🚨🚨🚨Wow, outgoing CJS Chair Milley hits Trump at retirement ceremony: “We don’t take an oath to a king, or queen, or a tyrant or a dictator. And we don’t take an oath to a wannabe dictator …we take an oath to the Constitution … and we’re willing to die to protect it”. pic.twitter.com/AH2eQObge4
— Andrew Feinberg (@AndrewFeinberg) September 29, 2023
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