The Week in Quotes (June 28 – July 4)

Here are some of the week’s most notable quotes culled from news reports from across Texas, and beyond.

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How the Religious Right Is Turning Pastors into Politicians

The Texas Renewal Project, part of a web of state-based organizations designed to drag churches into partisan politics, has a new project for turning pastors into politicians.

On Wednesday we saw an email invitation asking pastors to attend an event on August 24-25 at the downtown Hilton Hotel in Austin. The two-day gathering will feature prominent religious-right speakers, including presidential candidate and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, as well as a session called “The Men and Women of Issachar Training.”

Journalist Sarah Posner has written about how these trainings, named after a biblical figure from the Book of Genesis, are designed to teach pastors how to be politicians. Posner tells about how David Lane, the primary organizer for Renewal Project events around the country, explained the purpose to reporter David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network:

The training was held in Baton Rouge the day before The Response, the Christian prayer rally organized by the American Family Association and Lane’s American Renewal Project, and promoted by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. According to the Christian Examiner, Jindal wrote a letter promoting the training as well. “There is a great need for the kind of leaders we read about in the Old Testament, ‘The Men of Issachar’ (1 Chronicles 12:32),” wrote the governor and potential presidential candidate. “We need such men and women of wisdom today who will accept the challenge to restore our Judeo-Christian heritage in America.”

The “Men of Issachar” to which Jindal and Brody refer are members of the Tribe of Issachar, one of the lost tribes of Israel. In Jewish tradition, the Tribe of Issachar is known for dedication to religious study – not to politics, and certainly not for any commitment to “restore our Judeo-Christian heritage in America.”

Lane tells Brody that if each pastor running for mayor or school board or county council recruited 300 volunteers, then in 2016 “300,000 grassroots, precinct-level conservatives” would change America. “Somebody’s values are going to reign supreme,” Lane said. “Our values or somebody else’s values. It’s our goal to bring spiritual men and women into the civil government arena.”

This new training program is part of a long-term movement to mobilize right-wing pastors and their congregations as key parts of a partisan political machine — a machine clearly designed to benefit Republican electoral candidates backed by religious-right groups.

The Renewal Project itself is the successor to what were once called Restoration Projects. The Texas Restoration Project got its start in 2005 by hosting “Pastor Policy Briefings” at the Austin Hilton downtown. Hundreds of pastors and their spouses got free lodging and meals at the “briefing,” which featured speeches by prominent religious-righters as well as Rick Perry, who was preparing to run for re-election as Texas governor. Hundreds of others attended a second “briefing” in Austin as well as similar events in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Fort Worth later that year.

The names for participating pastors have made up a large and growing contacts list for the Renewal Project. Those names have been used by electoral campaigns, including Perry’s election campaigns. In fact, TFN later discovered that major donors to Perry’s election campaigns had provided the more than $1.2 million spent on hosting those events in 2005.

The Restoration/Renewal Project — now wrapped into an umbrella group called the American Renewal Project — has continued to hold “pastor briefings” periodically in Texas and elsewhere, especially in presidential battleground states like Iowa and Florida. David Lane continues to serve as the primary organizer.

At each of the Renewal project events, speakers encourage pastors and their spouses to politicize their congregations after they return home. The list of speakers and what they say do little to hide the desire that congregations be encouraged to support select Republican electoral candidates who oppose abortion, LGBT equality and — more broadly — separation of church and state.

And as we see with the “Issachar” events, the political training for these pastors is becoming increasingly sophisticated. You can read Posner’s full article about such efforts here.

Posted in Texas Renewal/Restoration Project, TFNEF | 7 Comments

TFN’s Kathy Miller to Texas AG Ken Paxton: Obey the Law of the Land

The Austin American-Statesman has posted a short video of TFN President Kathy Miller calling on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to stop obstructing the Supreme Court’s ruling on the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples. Kathy was speaking at a press conference on Monday at the Texas Capitol. She spoke along with leaders from the Human Rights Campaign, Equality Texas, and the ACLU of Texas as well as plaintiffs in the federal and Texas marriage court cases.

Posted in LGBT issues, marriage equality, TFNEF | 12 Comments

This Is Your Fault, Ken Paxton

Austin television station KXAN sent a reporter to San Saba, west of Austin, to find out why a county clerk there is refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Apparently, the clerk originally said she didn’t have to do so because marriage for gay and lesbian couples violates her religious beliefs.

But once the reporter got to her office, the clerk’s office changed the reason:

“I don’t have the proper documentation. I don’t have the proper forms.”

Uh, yeah. Right.

Look, many counties across Texas made the necessary accommodations to issue licenses right after the Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Constitution guarantees the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

The blame for the delays in San Saba and other countries lies largely with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who issued a formal opinion on Sunday telling county clerks that they cause use their religious beliefs to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Magistrates and justices of the peace can likewise refuse to perform weddings for such couples, Paxton wrote.

So now public officials like the one in San Saba are, with encouragement from the state’s chief law enforcement official, refusing to serve taxpayers who pay their salaries.

But those officials know they’re doing something wrong. Watch the video report from KXAN here, in which the San Saba clerk pretends there are other reasons for not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She then threatens to have the county sheriff throw the reporter out of her office.

“We’re not giving any opinions to the tee-vee. … The sheriff’s down the hall here if you don’t get out of this office. … You’re buggin’ us. You’re buggin’ us. Please get out of here.”

We’re laying this outrageous arrogance and disregard of the law and the Constitution at your feet, Ken Paxton. You encouraged it. You got it.

Posted in LGBT issues, marriage equality, TFNEF | 30 Comments

Message to Texas AG Ken Paxton: Obey the Law

Kathy_PressConference_6.29.15

This morning the Texas Freedom Network joined with partner organizations — Human Rights Campaign, ACLU of Texas, Equality Texas — at a press conference to celebrate Friday’s historic decision for the freedom to marry by the U.S. Supreme Court. Among the speakers at the Texas Capitol press conference was Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the landmark case, as well as the four plaintiffs in the Texas marriage case that went to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In addition to celebrating the decision, however, we also issued a warning to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and other state and local officials who are trying to obstruct implementation of the Supreme Court’s rulings: Obey the law. Below are remarks TFN President Kathy Miller (at the podium in the photo) made at the press conference:

I’m Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of religious and community leaders that since our founding 20 years ago has supported religious freedom and individual liberties for all.

It is truly an honor to stand with these plaintiffs who so courageously allowed their love and commitment to withstand the scrutiny of our courts. Their bravery has brought our country a bit closer to equality.

All of us here, and the thousands of Texans our organizations represent, have been celebrating the Supreme Court’s historic ruling on Friday, a ruling that moves our country closer to the Constitution’s promise of equality under the law.

But we have been alarmed and deeply disappointed by statements from elected leaders – including our state’s governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general – who cynically suggest that the freedom to marry threatens religious freedom.

In fact, the opposite is true. The Supreme Court’s decision on Friday is actually as much an affirmation of religious freedom as it is an affirmation of marriage equality. It requires no clergy to perform a wedding that violates their religious beliefs. But it does respect the religious beliefs of faith leaders who for years have been performing such weddings only to have our state refuse to recognize those religious beliefs.

In fact, last year more than 200 Texas faith leaders signed an amicus brief calling on the courts to rule in favor of the freedom to marry. Now the law of the land respects clergy whose faith calls on them to celebrate and honor the marriages of gay and lesbian couples as well as marriages of straight couples.

It is even more shocking that yesterday Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a formal opinion claiming that public officials in the Lone Star State can ignore the Supreme Court and use religion as an excuse to discriminate and refuse to carry out the duties of their taxpayer-funded jobs.

Not only has Attorney General Paxton decided to ignore the Supreme Court’s directive that gay and lesbian couples deserve exactly the same recognition, responsibilities and benefits in their marriages as straight couples, but he’s explicitly made religion the weapon he chooses to wield in support of discrimination.

Religious freedom means that government must respect the beliefs of all people, not just those of the people in power. To use religion as a weapon to divide us one against another does nothing to further religious freedom. It’s a shameful day for Texas when our leaders take such a hurtful and divisive position.

Let’s be clear: millions of Christians and other people of faith support the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples, couples who want to make a lifetime commitment to the person they love and protect their families the same way everyone else does.

They believe that, as a moral and constitutional matter, no one should be discriminated against because of who they are and whom they love.

So we are all sending a clear message today to public officials throughout the state, from the governor and attorney general down to county clerks: Carry out your duty to uphold the Constitution by swiftly implementing the Supreme Court’s ruling. No obstruction. No excuses. No politics.

And the rest of us will continue to celebrate a new beginning in furthering equality for LGBT Texans.

Posted in LGBT issues, marriage equality, TFNEF | 7 Comments

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Declares War on the Constitution

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Sunday afternoon issued a formal opinion claiming that public officials in the Lone Star State can use religion as an excuse to discriminate and refuse to carry out the duties of their taxpayer-funded jobs.

Paxton was replying to a request from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick about whether county clerks, judges and other public officials must issue licenses or conduct weddings for gay and lesbian couples. On Friday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gay and lesbian Americans have a constitutional right to marry.

In his opinion this afternoon, Paxton writes:

  • “County clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case”
  • “Justices of the peace and judges similarly retain religious freedoms, and may claim that the government cannot force them to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies over their religious objections, when other authorized individuals have no objection, because it is not the least restrictive means of the government ensuring the ceremonies occur. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case.”

Paxton even offers legal advice for public officials who refuse to do their jobs:

“It is important to note that any clerk who wishes to defend their religious objections and who chooses not to issue licenses may well face litigation and/or a fine. But, numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs, in many cases on a pro-bono basis, and I will do everything I can from this office to be a public voice for those standing in defense of their rights.”

This is shocking, even by Texas standards. What’s next? Will public employees have the right to refuse to do their jobs when they don’t share the same faith as couples who come before them? Will Christian judges be able to refuse to marry Hindus or Buddhists? Will a justice of the peace who is Muslim be able to deny services to Jews? Will Catholic clerks be able to refuse to issue a license to couples that include someone who has previously divorced? What about officials who belong to sects that preach white supremacy? Will they be able to refuse to issue marriage licenses to or marry interracial couples?

This reckless and irresponsible attorney general has effectively declared war on the Constitution’s guarantee of equality under the law for all. It’s a shameful day for Texas.

All Texans, regardless of their religious or partisan political beliefs, must take a stand for the rule of law and the Constitution. Send a message right now to Attorney General Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott: Obey the Constitution and stop unlawfully obstructing the freedom to marry.

Posted in Ken Paxton, LGBT issues, marriage equality, TFNEF | 62 Comments

The Week in Quotes (June 21 – 27)

Here are some of the week’s most notable quotes culled from news reports from across Texas, and beyond.

continue reading »

Posted in The Week in Quotes | 2 Comments

Love Wins! Supreme Court Rules for the Freedom to Marry

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller just issued the following statement following today’s U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down state bans on same-sex marriage:

“Today’s historic court decision for the freedom to marry joins other landmark rulings that have moved this country closer to the Constitution’s promise of equality under the law for all Americans. This is a truly life-affirming moment for so many gay and lesbian couples who want to make the same lifetime commitment to the person they love and protect their families the same way everyone else does.

Now all public officials in Texas should carry out their duty to uphold the Constitution by swiftly implementing this decision. No obstruction. No excuses. No politics.

We have seen in recent months a large and growing number of Texans, including business and faith leaders, rise in opposition to discrimination against LGBT people and their families. They have rejected the cynical and dishonest political argument that freedom from discrimination somehow conflicts with religious liberty. Both clearly can coexist.

In fact, today’s decision is an important affirmation of religious freedom. It does not force clergy to perform same-sex weddings. But it does respect clergy whose faith calls on them to celebrate and honor the marriages of gay and lesbian couples as well as marriages of straight couples. They have been blessing same-sex unions for years. Now those marriages will also be recognized in law.

But while we celebrate today’s court ruling, we should remember that gay and transgender people in much of Texas can still be fired from their jobs, denied housing or refused public services simply because of who they are and whom they love. Texas is better than that. Work is still needed to ensure that marriage equality blossoms into broader equality for LGBT Texans. So today we call on our state’s leaders to move forward with legislation protecting all Texans from unfair discrimination.”

Texas lawmakers in the recently ended legislative session debated whether the state should obey a Supreme Court decision for the freedom to marry. But six bills designed to subvert this ruling failed to pass the Legislature. Additional bills allowing the use of religion to discriminate against gay and lesbian families also failed.

The Supreme Court ruling also comes as the Texas Freedom Network celebrates its 20th anniversary. TFN has been and remains a strong supporter of equality for LGBT Texans and their families.

Posted in LGBT issues, marriage equality, TFNEF | 9 Comments

So What Exactly Does ‘Traditional’ Marriage Mean?

The folks at the Texas Pastor Council, like other religious-righters, are growing increasingly desperate in their attacks on the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples. In an email today to supporters, the Pastor Council’s Dave Welch calls for “press conferences, rallies, marches and civil disobedience” if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down bans on same-sex marriage:

“If the courts strikes down state Constitutional Amendments like Texas’ that define marriage as only the union of one man and one woman, declaring marriage between same sex couple a constitutional right…we must corporately and publicly declare this decision ‘unlawful’ as a direct violation of the ‘Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God’ that undergirds our U.S. Constitution.  We will neither recognize nor obey such a decision and, in fact, justices who vote in this way should be impeached for abject violation of their oath and constitutional duty.”

Welch and his cohorts have denounced what they consider attacks on “traditional” marriage. But this amusing and informative video from writer and commentator Matt Baume does a good job explaining just what “traditional” marriage has meant in human history. It appears not to mean what Welch thinks it does.

Posted in Dave Welch, LGBT issues, marriage equality, TFNEF | Leave a comment

San Antonio Pastor Plays Constitutional Scholar, Social Scientist, Historian in Marriage Debate

It doesn’t take long before religious-right opponents of the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples turn to fear-mongering about pedophilia and insist that civil laws be based on the Bible. Consider, for example, a “town hall” discussion Tuesday on San Antonio radio station KTSA.

The discussion featured Daniel McNeel “Neel” Lane, the plaintiffs’ attorney in the Texas same-sex marriage case currently before the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Charles Flowers, pastor of Faith Outreach International of San Antonio and a member of the virulently anti-gay Texas Pastor Council. You can listen to the nearly hour-long discussion here, but this short clip features one of Flowers’ main arguments against the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples:

Flowers: “And I think this is ultimately where we’re wrestling. We’re wrestling about whether or not God’s word is a legitimate foundation for the structure that governs our daily lives, as it relates to marriage or anything else. So for many of us who opposes the issue, it’s not really about some angst against homosexuals or lesbians. There are people who, from our viewpoint, battle with struggles just like every other person may battle with their own set of struggles. But every other person is not seeking to have their struggles legitimized and codified. So for us, it is not an issue of love and feeling, because if you get into that, then where do you draw the line for a person who perhaps is a male but he’s turned on sexually because he views a child. So what stops that thing from happening? What illegitimizes pedophilia, and legitimizes homosexuality or lesbianism? And to go back to the notion that Neel said a moment ago that sexuality is an immutable characteristic, boy, that’s a huge bridge too far. Because there are people whose sexual orientation, they have acknowledged has crossed moral boundaries.”

Trey Ware (host/moderator): “So people are not born that way? Is that what you’re saying? [Neel] mentioned eye color a second ago. So you don’t choose that, just like you don’t choose your eye color?”

Flowers: “There’s been nothing scientific that validates the fact that a person is born with a homosexual or lesbian gene. Are they born with certain proclivities, yes, but that is not exclusive to a homosexual or the lesbian. Everybody is born with a set of proclivities that may align with law and order, and may not.”

Flowers also argued (at the 56:35 mark in the full clip) that our laws and Constitution are based on the Bible:

“The Bible is the most quoted source in the formation of our founding documents, Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that what formed the framers’ thinking was the Bible. … You can track down through the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, the most referenced source document is the Bible.”

Flowers even echoed arguments from phony historian and religious-right propagandist David Barton, claiming that the American form of government — such as the creation of three separate branches of government — come straight out of the Bible.

At the end of the discussion, Flowers made clear that the basis for civil law in America should be the Bible — at least how he interprets it:

“ The issue is … whether or not God’s word is the foundation upon which healthy operation of society should rest. For the last 240 years, we have thought so in this country. Now we are seeking to replace the Judeo-Christian ethic and moral teaching of the Scripture as the moral foundation for the nation and move it away from that foundation….”

Posted in Charles Flowers, LGBT issues, marriage equality, Texas Pastor Council, TFNEF | 5 Comments