Religious-Right Groups Demand Freedom to Discriminate

Religious-right groups are, predictably, spitting venom over President Obama’s executive order barring discrimination against LGBT employees of the federal government and government contractors. The executive order, which the president announced on Monday, does not include an exemption allowing employers to discriminate for religious reasons.

The executive order did keep a provision from a 2002 executive order signed by President George W. Bush that allows religiously affiliated contractors to continue to give preference to workers of a certain religion. But religious-right groups also want employers to be able to fire or refuse to hire LGBT people and claim religious beliefs as the reason. (What about employers who have religious objections to women who work outside the home? Or white supremacists who base their hatred of racial minorities and Jews at least partly on their religious beliefs about what the Bible teaches?)

The executive order does not bar anti-LGBT discrimination by all employers — just by the government and contractors who do business with the government. A broader discrimination ban would require action by Congress. A weak anti-discrimination bill, the Employment Nondiscrimation Act (ENDA), has passed the Senate, but House Republicans have refused to take up the measure. A growing number of gay rights and civil liberties groups oppose the Senate version of ENDA anyway because it includes a religious exemption allowing discrimination against LGBT people.

Religious-right groups denounced the lack of a religious exemption in President Obama’s executive order.

The fanatics at Texas Values, the Austin lobby arm of Plano-based Liberty Institute and one of the most viciously anti-gay groups in the Lone Star State, revealed – as usual — their obsession with sex. The group’s president, Jonathan Saenz, charged that President Obama was “placing sexual behavior ahead of the common good.” He even suggested the executive order is President Obama’s retribution against Christians after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling against the federal mandate that employee health insurance plans include coverage for birth control:

“President Obama’s executive order allows sexual behavior to trump Americans’ religious freedom rights. People of faith should not be punished simply because of the religious freedom ruling in the Hobby Lobby case against Obamacare.”

The American Family Association, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls an anti-LGBT hate group, sent out an email this morning charging that the executive order “takes away religious freedoms from Christians”:

Obama’s love affair with homosexuality will impact some 24,000 companies with 28 million workers, or one-fifth of the U.S. workforce. More alarming, his order discriminates against Christians.

The AFA email also claims the executive order is unconstitutional, ignoring the nation’s long history of such orders. President Truman, for example, ended racial segregation in the U.S. military through Executive Order 9981. But groups like AFA and Texas Values don’t let facts get in the way of promoting hate and discrimination.

Posted in civil and equal rights, Jonathan Saenz, LGBT issues, Texas Values, TFNEF | Leave a comment

Who Will Stand? No, Seriously. Who?

TFN Insider is pleased to present this guest post from Rev. Michael Diaz, Director of Connections at Resurrection MCC Church in Houston. Rev. Diaz is a proud voice for social justice in his community for a host of issues, including equality for LGBTQ citizens.

Lunch with Liberty Counsel
Rev. Michael Diaz

Religious-right propaganda distributed at the event by Liberty Counsel.

Late last Thursday I received an invitation to a “Who Will Stand?” pastors meeting at Grace Community Church in Houston hosted by Liberty Counsel. It was short notice but my interest was piqued by the speaker line-up: “Governor Mike Huckabee, self-taught historian David Barton, Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver, and many, many others.”

About 10 people were present, and maybe five were actual local church pastors with a few bringing their significant others. That’s right, only 10 people showed up in a room set up for 80 – with a catered lunch from Chick-fil-a boxes, of course! I must say the small turn-out surprised me, considering the build-up given to the event.

The speakers “appeared” on a 70-minute DVD designed to mobilize “Christians” to vote in November. Their main message centered upon the fact that churches are allowed to lobby politically, and that no church has ever lost their tax exempt status from the IRS for lobbying. Mr. David Barton gave more revisionist history about “England attacking all preachers in the 18th Century, and that’s why America was founded as a Christian nation.” Did the English monarchy (a Protestant monarchy!) really attack ALL preachers, including those in the Church of England? One of the speakers admitted the “religious right” is no more, and that’s why there’s a need for “Christians” to vote.

The meeting ended with a song about standing up and fighting, defending our “Christian” nation against “secular socialists.” Nice try.

I was surprised no one was present from the Houston Area Pastor’s Council, except for the infamous Kendall Baker, the epitome of Christian values. It made me wonder again just how it is that the “religious right” has created such fear among progressives.

In any case, I took the meeting message to heart: Who will stand in November? Whose voice will be heard from the voting booth when Texas’ future leadership is decided and measures like the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance stand or fall based on turn-out? As a person of faith, I plan to do all I can to ensure it is the voice of inclusion my congregants and Texas’ leaders hear.

Posted in civil and equal rights, LGBT issues, religious right, Texas Freedom Network Education Fund | 5 Comments

Watch: Bill Moyers Interview with TFN Founder Cecile Richards

Bill Moyers hosted TFN founder and current Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards on the latest episode of his PBS show to discuss the religious-right crusade against reproductive rights. Here, a synopsis of the show followed by the full invterview:

Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision establishing a woman’s right to an abortion, was issued 41 years ago. Despite consistent public opinion to the contrary, conservatives and the religious right have patiently and relentlessly campaigned against it for decades. And recently, their efforts are finding some success. Two major rulings by the Supreme Court this last session limited health insurance coverage for contraception and gave protesters increased rights to demonstrate outside abortion clinics. Several states — especially in the South — in the name, legislators say, of women’s health, have passed regulations that creatively use technicalities to force clinics to close.

Posted in abortion, Cecile Richards, TFN | Leave a comment

Remember the Alamo: TX GOP Platform — Conspiracy Theory Edition

Every two years the Texas Freedom Network takes a look at the Texas Republican Party platform because, as we say around here, that platform has become a biennial exercise in extremism.

For several cycles now, the platform has been co-opted by far-right activists, and each platform can tend to look like a love letter to the extreme right of the state party.

You can read the 2014 TFN analysis here.

This year’s platform, adopted at the state party’s June convention, was given lots of press for a controversial plank on “reparative therapy,” a form of “treatment” that supposedly turns gay people straight. Professional medical associations have deemed the therapy to be harmful, abusive quackery, and some state governments have even moved to bar its use.

But the platform still has some hidden gems that didn’t get as many headlines. This year, for example, the party wants to make sure the United Nations keeps its hands off the Alamo. Here is a plank that was added to the 2014 Texas GOP Platform:

United Nations World Heritage Sites – We oppose the transfer of the Alamo and the other Franciscan missions to the United Nations. We urge the Texas General Land Office to respect the hallowed ground of the Alamo and what it means to the people of Texas. We support maintaining control of these historic sites in Texas hands, and we oppose granting jurisdiction and sovereignty over Texas’ cultural sites to any international body.

We’re giving the Alamo to the U.N? What an outrage, you say. Yes, yes it would be an outrage. It would be an outrage … if it were true.

A quick Google search will point you to the genesis of this plank: a tea partier with an email account.

Last September former San Antonio Tea Party President George Rodriguez sent an email with the subject line, “The New Battle of the Alamo,” and warning that the Alamo could fall under the control of the United Nations.

What was actually happening is that the Alamo was up for nomination as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. The designation is simply a recognition that a site is of value to humanity, and it should be protected and preserved. Not radical stuff. We’re willing to bet that most mainstream Texans would welcome such a recognition not just of the Alamo, but of other Texas monuments.

But back in tea party land the story, baseless paranoia and all, was being forwarded. It festered and eventually wound up on Infowars and other right-wing blogs where many conspiracy theories go to be famous for 15 minutes before dying.

This story didn’t die, though. It survived long enough that even Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Republican then running for lieutenant governor, had to knock down the ridiculous claim, calling it “horse hockey.”

It has been almost a year since Rodriguez sent that email, and the story still lives. Thanks to the Texas GOP platform, which is willing to give a nod and a wink to conspiracy theorists like birthers, we’re guaranteed that the story will live on for at least two more years.

That’s because in today’s state GOP, all conspiracy theories are welcome, no supporting evidence required.

Posted in Republican Party of Texas, TFN | 4 Comments

They Didn’t Do It to Protect Women’s Health — #FightBackTX

FightBackTXGraphicWhen Texas lawmakers passed some of the nation’s most extreme anti-abortion legislation one year ago, they agued they were simply trying to protect women’s health. Abortion facilities were unsafe for women, they said. New regulations, such as requiring clinics providing abortion care to be ambulatory surgical centers and their doctors to have admitting privileges at area hospitals, they insisted, were intended to protect women’s health.

They lied. We said so then. The facts a year later show we were right.

Health experts last year pointed out repeatedly that the new regulations were medically unnecessary. Here’s how the Texas Tribune explained it last September:

(A) Texas Tribune review of state inspection records for 36 abortion clinics from the year preceding the lawmakers’ vote turned up little evidence to suggest the facilities were putting patients in imminent danger. State auditors identified 19 regulatory violations that they said presented a risk to patient safety at six abortion clinics that are not ambulatory surgical centers in Texas. None was severe enough to warrant financial penalties, according to the Department of State Health Services, which deemed the facilities’ corrective action plans sufficient to protect patients.

And between 2008 and 2013, the Texas Medical Board, which regulates the state’s physicians, took action against just three doctors who performed abortions — all of them for administrative infractions that did not involve criminal practices or late-term abortions.

“The point of this legislation was to make abortion inaccessible. It wasn’t about safety,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, chief executive officer of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four abortion clinics and an ambulatory surgical center in Texas. “Because there is no safety problem around abortion in Texas.”

Those same health experts explained why those unnecessary and burdensome regulations would force many abortion clinics to close. But it didn’t matter because the real reason right-wing lawmakers passed House Bill 2 wasn’t to protect women’s health. It was to prevent women from having access to safe abortion care.

Outside of the debate over HB 2, those same lawmakers haven’t shied away from making that point very clear. Here’s a tweet today, for example, from state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-San Antonio:

With passage of HB 2 a year ago today, more unborn Texans will now live to celebrate their birth, their right to life enshrined in law.

Once again: HB 2 did nothing to protect women’s health. Lawmakers passed HB 2 to close abortion clinics.

Less than half of the state’s abortion clinics open when HB 2 passed last year are still operating today. Even more will close if the final measures in HB 2 are implemented on schedule at the end of August. That means the total number of abortion clinics in the vast state of Texas will have dropped from 41 in June 2013 to as few as six this September. Women across large swaths of the state will be forced — if they are able to do it at all — to travel great distances at considerable expense to obtain legal, safe abortion care. That’s because a majority of Texas lawmakers decided to use government as a tool to force an ideological agenda on women and interfere in the deeply personal decisions they make about whether and when to have children.

Are you ready to #FightBackTX? Find out more about HB 2 and how you can get involved here.

Posted in abortion, Donna Campbell, TFN | 1 Comment

Senate Republicans Block Effort to Overturn Supreme Court’s Anti-Birth Control Ruling

All but three Senate Republicans voted today to block legislation preventing employers from imposing their religious views on workers who want access to contraception.

The 56-43 vote failed to end a Republican filibuster against the “Not My Boss’s Business Act.” That bill would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling in June that allows for-profit companies to refuse, for religious reasons, to include birth control in health insurance coverage for the women who work for them.

Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader, switched his vote to “no,” a parliamentary move that would allow him to bring the measure back for a vote later this year.

Before the vote, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz sent out a press release attacking the bill. Under the inflammatory headline “Democrats Declare War on the Catholic Church,” Cruz accused the bill’s supporters of trampling on the rights of Catholics who oppose birth control:

“(I)t saddens me that there are not 100 senators here unified, regardless or our faith, standing together protecting the religious liberty rights of everyone.”

Well, it saddens us that Cruz and his supporters are turning the concept of religious freedom on its head. Allowing employers to impose their religious beliefs on the deeply personal decisions their workers make fundamentally redefines religious freedom. In effect, it holds a woman’s personal decisions about whether and when to have children hostage to the religious dictates of her employer. That’s not religious freedom.

In addition, earlier this year a poll showed that 78 percent of Roman Catholics worldwide said they supported the use of birth control. A 2013 poll from Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project found similar support – 76 percent — among U.S. Catholics.

Posted in birth control, Hobby Lobby, Ted Cruz, TFNEF | 5 Comments

SBOE Politics as Usual: Textbook Review Once Again Plagued by Lack of Expertise

The Texas State Board of Education will vote in November on new social studies textbooks that will be in Texas classrooms for the next decade. Earlier this month, official state review panels met in Austin to vet those books. As we did during the science textbook adoption process last year, the Texas Freedom Network researched who got appointed to the social studies panels this summer. We just sent the following press release describing what we found — the news isn’t encouraging.

When you’re done reading, head to to sign the petition calling for classroom materials that offer an honest, accurate portrayal of history and are free of political agendas.

A Texas Freedom Network analysis has revealed that numerous qualified scholars were bypassed for appointment to official state panels assigned to review proposed social studies textbooks for Texas public schools this year. Equally shocking, individuals with no qualifications in a relevant field or teaching experience got places on the panels.

State Board of Education (SBOE) members nominated many of the unqualified reviewers. In one instance the chair of the SBOE facilitated the appointment of a Texas House candidate who argues against separation of church.

“This is just the latest example of how a flawed process opens the door to ideologues who can have enormous influence on textbook adoptions and, ultimately, what students learn in our public schools,” TFN President Kathy Miller said. “It’s especially stunning that so few faculty members at our state’s institutions of higher education got appointments to the review panels.”

TFN analyzed panels assigned to review textbooks for courses such as U.S. and world history, geography and economics. Out of more than 140 individuals appointed to the panels, only three are current faculty members at Texas colleges and universities. TFN has identified more than a dozen other Texas academics – including the chair of the History Department at Southern Methodist University as well as faculty at the University of Texas at Austin – who applied to serve but did not get appointments to the panels.

But the TFN analysis found that political activists and individuals without social studies degrees or teaching experience got places on the panels. One reviewer, Mark Keough, a Republican nominee for the Texas House District 15 seat, got an appointment to a U.S. History panel after being nominated by SBOE chair Barbara Cargill. Keough, a pastor with degrees in theology, has no teaching experience listed on his application form. Keough recently retired from a career in car sales to run a ministry in Cargill’s hometown of The Woodlands and to run for office.

In an interview conducted prior to this year’s primary elections, Keough told the Montgomery County Tea Party that he does not “believe that there is a separation of church and state in the Constitution.”

While Miller said it was encouraging to see many teachers on the panels, she criticized Cargill’s appointment of a politician running in this year’s elections: “Will she report his nomination as an in-kind contribution to his campaign?”

“It is amazing that missing from these panels are many faculty members from our best universities who were willing to serve,” Miller added. “Yet someone like Mr. Keough, who denies the existence of one of our country’s most important principles, is granted a platform he could use to play politics with the education of millions of Texas schoolchildren.”

The review panels met in Austin earlier this month to vet new social studies textbooks submitted by publishers for use in Texas public schools. The SBOE will vote in November on whether to adopt those textbooks. But the board could pressure publishers to make changes to the books based on the input from the review panels.

If approved, the textbooks could be in Texas classrooms for the next decade.

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), State Board of Education, textbooks, TFNEF | 6 Comments

David Barton Wildly Distorts Key Poverty Statistic

How do lower- and working-class Americans get duped into supporting right-wing public policies that do them economic harm? They listen to phony “experts” like David Barton — a former Texas Republican Party vice chairman and the head of the religious-right organization WallBuilders.

Barton pretends to be a respected scholar of American history, but his grasp of facts is about as pitifully weak as his fealty to telling the truth. Consider, for example, Barton’s speech at a Texas Eagle Forum event during the Texas Republican Party convention in Fort Worth last month. Texas Eagle Forum’s July newsletter includes excerpts from that speech, including Barton’s suggestion that poor Americans really aren’t poor:

“Those deemed below the poverty level in the U.S. have a telephone, TV, car, eat more red meat and live in more square footage than the middle class of Europe. The poverty level for the U.S. is $40,000 annually, while in the rest of the world, it is below $456. That is why people want to come to America and live in poverty!”

Of course, people don’t come to America to live in poverty. Barton’s claim is a dog whistle for those on the right who argue that immigrants come to the United States to get access to welfare programs. But immigrants come to the United States seeking what other immigrants have sought throughout our history: liberty and the chance to find work that makes their lives better.

Even more outrageous, though, is Barton’s wild distortion of the statistics comparing poverty levels.

His claim regarding the international poverty level — $456 — appears to be based on a World Bank estimate of $1.25 per day — for one person. But Barton’s claim that the poverty rate in the United States is $40,000 is not true for one person — that annual income level (actually, it’s $40,090) is for a family/household of eight people. The poverty rate for one person in the United States is much lower – $11,670.

The American poverty level is much higher than the international poverty rate, of course. But it’s important to note that poverty levels are relative to a particular country’s standard of living. And yes, many (but certainly not all; consider the colonias in South Texas) poor Americans do have access to products that poor people elsewhere do not. But one big reason for that is government aid — aid that Barton and his fellow Republicans generally oppose.

Finally, Barton also distorts the comparison between poor Americans and middle-class Europeans. In fact, a study this spring showing that the American middle class is no longer the richest in the world also explains that the poor in much of Europe earn more than the poor in the United States.

In short, Barton appears to be either a terrible researcher or a liar. But we knew that.

So it really doesn’t surprise us anymore when Barton baldly distorts the truth. It does astonish us that his conservative audiences don’t appear to object to being treated like gullible fools.

Posted in David Barton, TFNEF | 4 Comments

The Week in Quotes (July 6 – 12)

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

Demonizing Children II

A follow-up on our post about how some on the right are demonizing the children who are fleeing to this country to escape crime, violence and poverty in their Central American countries:

Good, well-meaning people can have honest disagreements about how to deal with the serious challenge of undocumented immigration in this country. But trying to frighten Texans by portraying these children as diseased criminals is vile. Now the Texas Observer explains in more detail than we did why this kind of fear-mongering by right-wingers (including Dan Patrick, the current Republican nominee for Texas lieutenant governor) is repulsive. Excerpt:

The narrative that foreigners bring disease has long been used to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment. In the early 1900s, the immigrant cook Mary Mallon—better known as Typhoid Mary—was imprisoned for life for infecting her wealthy patrons with Salmonella typhii.

In his book The Cholera Years, historian Charles Rosenberg describes how Irish immigrants to New York in the 1830s suffered disproportionately from cholera because they lived in poor and crowded neighborhoods. Instead of working to help them, the medical profession blamed the disease on immigrants being “exceedingly dirty.” Irish people were refused medical care, and many “wandered starved and half naked across the Canadian border.”

When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, the Latino men who came to work rebuilding the city were accused of spreading infectious diseases such as chlamydia and HIV.

The targeting of vulnerable outsiders whenever disease breaks out is even older than this country. Historian Barbara Tuchman has described how outbreaks of plague in Europe would lead to pogroms. The lynchings of Jews, she writes “began in 1348 on the heels of the first plague deaths.” When we blame immigrants for infectious disease, we participate in a nasty—and deadly—old tradition.

You can read the full Texas Observer piece here.


Posted in immigration, TFNEF | 7 Comments