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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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RIGHT WING EXTREMISM

Texas Attorney General Says He’s ‘Willing and Able’ to Defend Law Banning Sodomy if Supreme Court Reverses Ruling

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Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton says he is “willing and able” to defend his state’s law banning sodomy, which was struck down in 2003 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, should the court revisit it as at least one conservative justice has urged.

Responding to several questions about Lawrence v. Texas Tuesday on News Nation, Paxton said, “look my job is to defend state law and I’ll continue to do that. That is my job under the Constitution and I’m certainly willing and able to do that.”

Attorneys General are not required to defend laws they believe are discriminatory or unconstitutional, as then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in 2014, before the Supreme Court found same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage.

RELATED: Uvalde School Massacre Was God’s Plan Says Texas AG Ken Paxton – ‘Life Is Short’

Asked if he would go even further, perhaps providing a test case for the Supreme Court to test the state’s sodomy ban, Paxton said, “I’d have to take a look at it,” as the Houston Chronicle reports.

“This is all new territory for us so I’d have to how the Legislature was laid out and whether we thought we could defend it. Ultimately, if it’s constitutional, we’re going to go defend it.”

On Friday Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas appeared to target LGBTQ people.

“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Thomas wrote on Friday, as NBC News reports. “Because any substantive due process decision is ‘demonstrably erroneous,’ we have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents.”

NBC News explains that “Griswold was a 1965 Supreme Court decision that established the right for married couples to buy and use contraceptives. It became the basis for the right to contraception for all couples a few years later. Lawrence was a 2003 Supreme Court decision that established the right for consenting adults to engage in same-sex intimacy. Obergefell was a 2015 Supreme Court decision to establish the right for same-sex couples to be married.”

 

 

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RIGHT WING EXTREMISM

Mississippi House Speaker Wants 12 Year Old Rape Victims of Incest to Give Birth to their Father’s Children

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The Mississippi Republican Speaker of the House says there should be no exception to the state’s ban on abortion now that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the five-decade-old Roe v Wade ruling. Asked specifically about 12-year-old girls who are victims of incest, Speaker Philip Gunn repeatedly stated his “personal belief” is “life begins at conception.”

“What about the case of a 12-year-old girl who was molested by her father or uncle?” an Associated Press reporter, Emily Wagster Pettus, asked the Speaker on Friday, as the Mississippi Free Press reports.

Mississippi’s ban on abortion “does not include an exception for incest,” Gunn replied, as the Free Press’ Ashton Pittman reports. “I don’t know that that will be changed.”

Asked if “the Legislature should revisit” that part of the law, the Speaker responded, “Personally, no. I do not.”

“I believe life begins at conception. Every life is valuable. And those are my personal beliefs,” Speaker Gunn insisted.

Another reporter pressed Gunn further.

READ MORE: 13 Devastating Abortion Facts to Know If SCOTUS Overturns Roe v. Wade

“So that 12-year-old child molested by her family members should carry that pregnancy to term?” Daily Journal reporter Taylor Vance asked.

“That is my personal belief. I believe life begins at conception,” the Speaker repeated.

Gunn concluded by saying he did not want his remarks to overshadow the significance of the Supreme Court’s nearly unprecedented decision, reversing a civil right. He said members of the Mississippi House of Representatives were “going to celebrate that today.”

Watch the Speaker’s remarks below or at this link.

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News

What Cassidy Hutchinson’s Testimony Means for Criminal Prosecution of Donald Trump: Report

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Former White House senior aide Cassidy Hutchinson revealed some new information to the House Select Committee investigating the attack on Congress and the attempt to overthrow the election.

One question being asked by the New York Times, however, is whether the information she gave was enough to aid in a potential criminal prosecution of former President Donald Trump.

Among the things she told the committee was that as Trump went onstage Jan. 6 to speak to the rally crowd he knew that there were people in the audience with weapons, including guns. Instead of trying to deescalate the crowd, she said that he wanted the supporters brought closer and allowed in even if they had weapons that wouldn’t normally make it through metal detectors.

“Legal experts said the testimony provided more evidence to support a possible criminal prosecution, as it suggested that Mr. Trump was aware of the potential for violence but went on to urge his supporters to head to the Capitol,” wrote the Times analysis.

IN OTHER NEWS: Company fired workers who refused to take part in daily Christian prayer ritual: lawsuit

Trump then called on the crowd to “fight like hell” and told them that he would lead them to the Capitol in a powerful march.

“And after this, we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down, we’re going to walk down,” he said, repeating the phrase. “Anyone you want, but I think right here, we’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated.”

The Times pointed that the Justice Department said that it doesn’t have an explicit investigation focusing on Trump. There is, however, evidence that the DOJ is moving swiftly on the fake electors’ scandal. Meanwhile, Trump legal adviser John Eastman was raided by federal agents, including FBI agents, who took his phone to turn it over to the Justice Department Inspector General. That is an indication that there’s an internal investigation happening over the role some lawyers like Jeffrey Clark played in the attempt to overthrow the election.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department has captured many of those who came after Congress on Jan. 6 and interviews with them reveal that they’re placing the blame squarely on Donald Trump. Some said that Trump called them to Washington and to the Capitol for Jan. 6.

READ MORE: Roger Stone hints at July Trump announcement: ‘DeSantis needs to stick to his knitting’

“Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony could place Mr. Trump into a conspiratorial relationship with members of the mob, lawyers said, suggesting that he pushed them into action even though he was aware that they presented an immediate threat,” wrote the Times.

Hugo Lowell, reporter for The Guardian, explained that Hutchinson’s comments “marked a new degree of apparent consciousness of guilt among Trump’s closest advisers – in addition to that of at least half a dozen Republican congressmen and the Trump lawyer John Eastman – or fear that they might have committed a crime.

He went on to explain that “in raising Giuliani’s interest in a pardon, Hutchinson also testified that Trump’s former attorney may have also been central to a crime with respect to his seeming knowledge of what the far-right Oath Keepers and Proud Boys groups were planning for January 6.”

The idea that the White House knew about the involvement of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys “raised the spectre that the former president’s then-attorney [Giuliani] was broadly aware of the intentions of two far-right groups.” Many of the groups’ members have since been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy.

Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe urged the DOJ to be forthcoming about its intentions to dodge the implications of politicization.

Founder and executive director of Protect Democracy Ian Bassin noted that the idea of attempting to intimidate witnesses is a potential criminal offense for Trump. If the people relaying the message to Hutchinson and the other witness are investigated for being part of that it’s unclear if they will implicate the president.

Sol Wisenberg, a former deputy to special counsel Ken Starr, told the Times that it’s clear Trump has criminal culpability.

Read the other questions that the Times said Hutchinson raised with her testimony.

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