The Religious Right’s ‘blitz’ on American democracy

Last week Ireland, long a Roman Catholic country, held a vote to repeal a constitutional provision criminalizing abortion.  Ex-pat Irish citizens from around the world flew home to cast their votes. It wasn’t even close. Ireland votes overwhelmingly to overturn abortion ban:

The Irish have swept aside one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the developed world in a landslide vote that reflects Ireland’s emergence as a socially liberal country no longer obedient to Catholic dictates.

With all ballots counted and turnout at a near-historic high, election officials reported Saturday that 66.4 percent voted to overturn Ireland’s abortion prohibition and 33.6 percent opposed the measure.

The outcome of the referendum Friday was a decisive win for the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution. The 1983 amendment enshrined an “equal right to life” for mothers and “the unborn” and outlawed almost all abortions — even in cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormality or non-life-threatening risk to maternal health.

“What we have seen today is a culmination of a quiet revolution that has been taking place in Ireland for the past 10 or 20 years,” Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said.

The United States, however, is now moving in the exact opposite direction. Religious Right extremists have taken Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale not as a dystopian vision of a totalitarian Christian theonomy that has overthrown the United States government, but as a handbook on how to actually make it a reality.

In March, GOP-run Mississippi enacted the strictest abortion law in the nation, for the intended purpose of a legal challenge that may get in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to directly challenge Roe v. Wade (which permits abortions in the first 24 weeks). Mississippi gov signs nation’s toughest abortion restrictions:

Mississippi’s governor signed a law Monday banning most abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation, the tightest restrictions in the nation.

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The bill was drafted with the assistance of conservative groups including the Mississippi Center for Public Policy and the Alliance Defending Freedom [based in Scottsdale, Arizona].

Since 2015, First Liberty law firm in Texas and the Alliance Defending Freedom in Arizona have moved prominent lawyers to top jobs in attorney general’s offices in Texas and elsewhere. Conservative Christian attorneys gain influence under Trump:

In the process, they have shifted from outsiders suing government to insiders pushing religious-freedom issues. Their influence is widening under the Trump administration as it attempts to deliver on his pledges to evangelicals and other religious supporters.

Their work includes a pending U.S. Supreme Court case involving Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple and another case involving a rural Texas high school whose cheerleaders were prohibited from writing inspirational Bible verses on banners during games.

The organizations have also drafted bills introduced by Republicans in state legislatures. The proposals include a bill to allow government clerks who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds to deny marriage licenses.

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About a dozen prominent Christian legal groups are scattered across the country, none bigger than the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF, which raised more than $50 million in 2016. Others include Florida-based Liberty Counsel, Washington-based Becket and the American Center for Law and Justice, which was founded by Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal lawyers [on the Russia investigation].

Last week, Trump proposed an anti-abortion gag rule ‘straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale’:

Donald Trump has officially stepped between women and their doctors with a proposed anti-abortion rule that Planned Parenthood describes as “straight out of TheHandmaid’s Tale.” The proposal requires that Title X federal family planning money must be “physically and financially separate from programs in which abortion is provided or presented as a method of family planning, including programs that refer for abortions and programs that encourage, promote or advocate abortion as a method of family planning.” In other words, a family planning clinic not only can’t provide abortions, it can’t present them as an option at all.

There are limited circumstances under which a doctor can provide a referral of sorts:

“A doctor, though not required to do so, would be permitted to provide nondirective counseling on abortion,” the proposed rule says. In that case, it says, a physician could provide a list of health providers, “some (but not all) of which provide abortion in addition to comprehensive prenatal care.”

“Providing such a list would be permitted only in cases where a program client who is currently pregnant clearly states that she has already decided to have an abortion,” the rule says.

So-called “crisis pregnancy centers” routinely lie to women to keep them from having abortions, but legitimate family planning clinics won’t be able to give women reliable information unless they walk in already 100 percent sure what they want to do. And while the PR for this rule is that it’s less extreme than a Reagan-era attempt at a domestic gag rule, Robin Marty points out that that rule was struck down by the courts, so this is “less extreme” only insofar as it attempts to pass judicial muster.

What’s more, Marty writes:

The Trump Gag won’t just potentially eliminate hundreds of clinics from the family-planning network, potentially blocking as many as 4 million patients from receiving the treatments or contraception they need to have families when—and yes, if—they choose. The reality is that this is a gag not just on doctors or clinics, but on the entire U.S. population as the anti-abortion movement once more lays down rules that force us to agree to their personal definition of abortion and birth control. They want us to only call abortion the “taking of a human life.” They want hormonal contraception to be accepted as harming those who use it, physically and mentally, and embrace their belief that pregnancy is the inevitable potential result of any sexual encounter. They are using the White House to make their own religious views federal law, and the federal budget as the cudgel to force any dissenters to accept their position.

On Tuesday, The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to an Arkansas law concerning medication abortions, which use pills to induce abortions in the first nine weeks of pregnancy. Supreme Court Allows Arkansas Abortion Restrictions to Stand:

The law, enacted in 2015, requires providers of the procedure to have contracts with doctors who have admitting privileges at a hospital in the state. Abortion clinics in Arkansas said they were unable to find any doctors willing to sign such contracts.

“Arkansas is now shamefully responsible for being the first state to ban medication abortion,” said Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president. “This dangerous law immediately ends access to safe, legal abortion at all but one health center in the state.”

This case will now return to Judge Kristine G. Baker, of the Federal District Court in Little Rock for further fact-finding. “Judge Baker has yet to make the findings requested by the appeals court. Once she does, further appeals are likely. Planned Parenthood said it will again ask Judge Baker to block the law while the case moves forward.”

This is all part of a well-financed and well-coordinated plan of attack by Christian Nationalists who seek to impose a Dominionist theocracy on the nation, just as Margaret Atwood warned.

Katherine Stewart, the author of “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children,” writes at the New York Times, A Christian Nationalist Blitz:

America’s Christian nationalists have a new plan for advancing their legislative goals in state capitols across the country. Its stated aim is to promote “religious freedom.” Not shy, they call it “Project Blitz.”

“Blitz” accurately describes the spirit of the enterprise, but the mission has little to do with what most Americans would call religious freedom. This is just the latest attempt by religious extremists to use the coercive powers of government to secure a privileged position in society for their version of Christianity.

The idea behind Project Blitz is to overwhelm state legislatures with bills based on centrally manufactured legislation. “It’s kind of like whack-a-mole for the other side; it’ll drive ‘em crazy that they’ll have to divide their resources out in opposing this,” David Barton, the Christian nationalist historian and one of four members of Project Blitz’s “steering team,” said in a conference call with state legislators from around the country that was later made public.

According to research provided by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, more than 70 bills before state legislatures appear to be based on Project Blitz templates or have similar objectives. Some of the bills are progressing rapidly. An Oklahoma measure, which has passed the legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature, allows adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate on the basis of their own religious beliefs. Others, such as a Minnesota bill that would allow public schools to post “In God We Trust” signs on their walls, have provoked hostile debates in local and national media, which is in many cases the point of the exercise.

“ ‘Project Blitz’ Seeks to Do for Christian Nationalism What ALEC Does for Big Business,” reads the headline of a recent piece Frederick Clarkson wrote for Religion Dispatches that highlighted the danger. ALEC, of course, is the corporate lobbying group that crafts and promotes model legislation advancing business interests.

In their guidebook for state legislators and other allies, the authors of the Project Blitz program have grouped their model legislation into three categories, according to anticipated difficulty of passage. The first category consists of symbolic gestures, like resolutions to emblazon the motto “In God We Trust” on as many moving objects as possible (like, say, police cars).

In Arizona, this model legislation took a slightly different tack using Arizona’s motto,“Ditat Deus” and its English translation, “God Enriches” in Arizona classrooms. Legislature approve bill to permit ‘God enriches’ in Arizona classrooms. Senate Bill 1289 would allow the English translation, which is “God enriches,” on classroom walls. SB 1289 would add the words “In God we trust” in explaining what the national motto is.

The second, more difficult category for Project Blitz consists of bills intended to promote the teaching and celebration of Christianity in public schools and elsewhere. These bills are a means of spreading the message that Christian conservatives are the real Americans, and everybody else is here by invitation only.

The sponsors of Project Blitz have pinned their deepest hopes on the third and most contentious category of model legislation. The dream here is something that participants in the conference call referred to in awed tones as “the Mississippi missile.” The “missile” in question is Mississippi’s HB 1523, a 2016 law that allows private businesses and government employees to discriminate, against L.G.B.T. people for example, provided that they do so in accordance with “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

In Arizona, this was SB 1062 in 2014, which Governor Jan Brewer vetoed after massive public protests and opposition from the business community, e.g., Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizza, above.

The bill offers extraordinary protections, not to all religious beliefs per se, but to a very narrow set of beliefs associated mostly with conservative religion. If you hold a different set of religious beliefs, like, say, a commitment to gender and L.G.B.T. equality, there is no liberty in this bill for you.

In another piece of model legislation, the blitzers’ goal is to get state legislatures to resolve that, notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s recent decision on same-sex marriage, “This state supports and encourages marriage between one man and one woman and the desirability that intimate sexual relations only take place between such couples.” We have known for a long time that Christian nationalists seek to control what goes on in other people’s bedrooms. The striking thing about this model bill is the cruelty with which it advances the argument. The bill claims that people in same-sex relationships have a “higher instance of serious disease.”

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If you examine the roster of people and organizations behind Project Blitz, it becomes clear that demeaning whole groups of people in society is really just a means to an end. The aim is political power. In their language, it’s sometimes called “dominion” — meaning, specifically, the domination by those with the correct “biblical” worldview over all aspects of politics, culture and society.

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There is a story going around, on both the left and the right, that America’s “true believers” are a declining force and are now conducting desperate, defensive maneuvers in a secularizing society. But that is not how the leaders of the Christian Nationalist movement see it — because it is not true. They played a key role in putting President Trump in power. They are protecting him now, as they giddily collect their winnings in legislatures and in the courts. Why should they doubt that they can pull off the same trick again?

What Christian nationalists know — and many of us have yet to learn — is that you don’t need a majority to hijack a modern democracy. You just need a sizable minority, marinating in its grievances, willing to act as a bloc, and impervious to correction by fact or argument. Make this group feel good about itself by making other people feel bad about themselves, and dominion may well be in reach.

As with most of what Christian nationalists do these days, Project Blitz and its form of religious freedom is as bad for religion as it is for freedom. Religion, as most Americans understand it, has something to do with care of the soul — not ramming bills through gerrymandered legislatures. And faith has something to do with showing love for other people, not writing contempt for them into the law.

For a deep-dive on the moral decay of the Religious Right and how we have come to this dangerous point in our history, see Michael Gerson, the evangelical policy adviser and chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush, in The Atlantic, The Last Temptation (snippet):

The corruption of a political party is regrettable. The corruption of a religious tradition by politics is tragic, shaming those who participate in it.

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It is difficult to see something you so deeply value discredited so comprehensively. Evangelical faith has shaped my life, as it has the lives of millions. Evangelical history has provided me with models of conscience. Evangelical institutions have given me gifts of learning and purpose. Evangelical friends have shared my joys and sorrows. And now the very word is brought into needless disrepute.

This is the result when Christians become one interest group among many, scrambling for benefits at the expense of others rather than seeking the welfare of the whole. Christianity is love of neighbor, or it has lost its way. And this sets an urgent task for evangelicals: to rescue their faith from its worst leaders.

6 responses to “The Religious Right’s ‘blitz’ on American democracy

  1. Sen. John Kavanagh

    It’s not about religion. If a person sincerely believes that a fetus is a human being, how can that person not vigorously oppose abortion? Were that person to accept freedom to choose, it would be allowing murder.

    If a person sincerely believes the fetus to be an unviable tissue mass and he or she has an abortion, I believe they are wrong but I do not believe the person is a murderer. If they believe the fetus is a human and do so, then they are a murderer. It’s not a hard concept to grasp but pro-choice people too often miss it.

    You do not have to agree with pro-life people but you should know where we are coming ftom.

    • For Sure Not Tom

      Everyone knows where you’re coming from, the problem is you forcing your views on others.

      Do you support sex ed in schools? Birth control? Because in states where they have those things available at an early age they have less pregnancies and less abortions.

      If you have religious views, and don’t lie, you do, about sex and babies, and you are against teaching sex ed and providing birth control then you are actually responsible for more abortions.

      Good luck with that.

      • Thank you. You said this all so much nicer than I would have.

        • For Sure Not Tom

          Kavanagh is not pro-life, he’s pro-birth, you can see this in his legislative record.

          That said, I broke my own rule about never getting into a discussion about abortion.

    • AZ BlueMeanie

      You miss the point of this post. Christian Nationalists and Dominionists are not true Christians, but rather a religious cult. Their goal is not to serve their fellow man as Christ commanded, but rather to seize political power and to use that political power to impose their dominion over all others. They convince themselves that they are the one true faith, and all other faiths are heretical (this would include Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists, etc). They are anti-democratic, and anti-freedom of religion in both practice and establishment. They use “religious freedom” as coded language for the establishment of their cult religion as a state religion under a theocracy and would impose their dogma on others under penalty of law. This religious cult has been inserting itself in elected offices and in the judiciary across the nation in order to effectuate this plan. If you are not familiar with this movement, do your homework. If you are not bothered by this movement, then you are part of the problem.

  2. Frances Perkins

    I have received emails from a number of very nice friends in the Phoenix Diocese. They are quite conservative Catholics, but their emails bemoan the vote in Ireland as a disaster. It is impossible to discuss this issue rationally with them as they follow the very regimented zealot Bishop in Phoenix. But all this zealotry really show the futility of the right wing religious on these issues. The Catholic bishops and right wing Protestant zealots cannot convince their own flocks to follow their believes, so they lobby, and agitate on civil authority to enforce the beliefs they cannot get their own flocks to follow. Most Catholics honor their traditions but in reality ignore their bishops. Only a small percentage follow the bishops completely. The Irish vote is a vote for freedom not the oppression of the clergy. Follow your own conscience and have the freedom to choose, that is the message of the Irish vote. Dont believe in abortion, dont have one. But dont use the failure of church dogma to get civil authority to enforce it. The “freedom” the Catholic bishops espouse is the opposite of real freedom based on fear of people making their own choice, and their fear of tolerance for homosexuality.