The Week in Quotes (Jan. 18 – 24)

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

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Rep. Zedler, Poland Would Like a Word with You

Far-right state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, is in the news again, this time for filing HB 829, a bill that would require Texas high schoolers to pass a civics test if they wish to graduate.

As he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Zedler is concerned that teens “don’t know where we got our independence from” and that he wants “kids to know as much as people who become citizens of the United States.” Perhaps valid concerns, though, as noted in the Star-Telegram, the test might not accomplish much.

But the best part of the story came at the end. When the Star-Telegram reporter asked Zedler if he’d taken a civics exam, this was his response:

“No, but I think I would do pretty well. I know the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. I know World War II was started Dec. 7, 1941. I know what the Civil War was fought over.”

Yeah, Poland would like a word with you about when World War II started. And we are just aching to find out what Rep. Zedler believes the Civil War was fought over. Would he say slavery or would he say states’ rights? The Star-Telegram story ended there, so we may never know.

Posted in Bill Zedler, TFNEF | 4 Comments

Here Is How Religious-Right Activists Sound So Much Like Opponents of Interracial Marriage Decades Ago

“Redefining #marriage “equals” no safeguards against “freedom to marry” multiple people for love, polygamy.”

Jonathan Saenz, the lawyer/lobbyist who heads the anti-gay group Texas Values, is once again making arguments Americans heard long ago when interracial couples sought the right to marry.

Greg Johnson, a professor at the Vermont Law School, has compared the arguments made against same-sex marriage today to those made against interracial marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned interracial marriage bans in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia. Writing for the Vermont Law Review in 2012, Johnson noted the similarities in arguments against interracial marriage then and same-sex marriage now, including the argument — as Saenz makes — that allowing same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy:

Defenders of traditional marriage back then worried that allowing interracial marriage would lead to, as one court put it, “the father living with his daughter, the son with the mother,” and the “Turk or Mohammedan, with his numerous wives, [] establish[ing] his harem at the doors of the capitol . . . .” When the California Supreme Court struck down that state’s ban on interracial marriage, it had to defend its decision against the charge that allowing interracial marriage would lead to polygamy. It has been sixty years since the California decision. Striking down the ban on interracial marriage obviously did not lead to polygamy or fathers marrying daughters. Perhaps the same specious argument can now also be laid to rest in the same-sex marriage debate.

Johnson also noted arguments about interracial marriage being a threat to families and children. Johnson quotes a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that went so far as to dismiss the entire notion that interracial marriages could even produce children:

“[I]f the isssue [sic] of a black man and a white woman, and a white man and a black woman, intermarry, they cannot possibly have any progeny, and such a fact sufficiently justifies those laws which forbid the intermarriage of blacks and whites . . . .”

Fast-forward to last year, when Greg Abbott — still the Texas attorney general — argued that Texas can ban same-sex marriage because such unions don’t “naturally produce children.”

Today opponents of marriage equality for same-sex couples also argue that recognizing such unions will threaten the institution and the marriages of opposite-sex couples. Again from Johnson’s article:

[C]ourts in the interracial marriage cases feared that allowing interracial couples to marry would tarnish the institution and destabilize fragile one-race marriages. Listen to the Alabama Supreme Court’s curious defense of that state’s ban on interracial marriage:

“It is through the marriage relation that the homes of a people are created . . . . These homes, in which the virtues are most cultivated and happiness most abounds, are the true . . . nurseries of States. Who can estimate the evil of introducing into their most intimate relations, elements so heterogeneous that they must naturally cause discord, shame, [and] disruption of family circles . . . . [T]he more humble and helpless families are, the more they need this sort of protection. Their spirits are crushed, or become rebellious, when other ills besides those of poverty, are heaped upon them. . . . [T]he law should absolutely frustrate and prevent the growth of any desire or idea of such an alliance . . . by making marriage between the two races, legally impossible[.]”

There is also the blanket position that seems to require no supporting evidence at all: marriage equality is just evil. Here’s Johnson again on the battle over interracial marriage:

The Georgia Supreme Court succinctly summarized the sentiment of essentially every court to consider this issue before Perez [v. Lippold in California, 1948] when it said, interracial marriages “are productive of evil, and evil only, without any corresponding good.”

Johnson points out that all of the fears about interracial arguments failed to come true:

All the worries about the end of marriage and the end of society, should interracial couples be allowed to marry, were obviously misplaced. The institution of marriage was not destroyed or even weakened by allowing interracial couples into the institution; it was strengthened. Personal liberty was enriched, and the social compact made firm, by extending marriage to interracial couples.

It’s important to acknowledge that not everyone who opposes marriage equality for same-sex couples is necessarily a bigot or just like those who opposed interracial marriage. Indeed, many may think it is wrong to discriminate against LGBT people in other areas, such as employment and housing. Their opposition to marriage equality is misguided, but its source isn’t necessarily contempt or hatred for LGBT people.

But then there are people like Saenz and others at Texas Values and other religious-right groups. They shamelessly cultivate fear and bigotry, using faith as a weapon to harm others. Indeed, they see religious freedom essentially as the right to use religion to discriminate against anyone who offends them. And in many ways, they sound just like the bigots who argued so viciously against interracial marriage decades ago.

Posted in Jonathan Saenz, LGBT issues, marriage equality, TFNEF | 4 Comments

Prominent Texas GOP Activist: Gay Marriage a ‘Mirage,’ Promotes ‘Perverse Sexual Practices’

Religious-righters are turning to increasingly vitriolic rhetoric as they rally around proposed legislation that would bar any state or local officials in Texas from issuing or recognizing marriage licenses for same-sex couples if federal courts, including the Supreme Court, strike down the state ban on such unions. House Bill 623 by state Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, would bar the use of any public funds for granting or recognizing marriage licenses for same-sex couples and strip salary and benefits from any public officials who do so.

Steven Hotze, a Houston physician and one of the most vicious anti-gay extremists in Texas, is praising the bill on the website of his political action committee, Conservative Republicans of Texas. He absurdly warns that making gay marriage legal in Texas is a threat to freedoms of speech and religion:

“If the Texas Marriage Amendment is overturned permanently, then every Texas citizen, every church and business would be coerced and compelled to recognize and affirm homosexuality and other deviant sexual relationships as morally and legally equivalent to marriage. If this occurs then anyone who speaks out against homosexuality and deviant sexual relationships will be prosecuted for hate speech and hate crimes, violating the Constitutional rights of the majority to their freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”

This is ridiculous, of course. People like Hotze will be free — as they are now — to say the most bigoted and hateful things they want (although they should remember that their critics also enjoy the right to free speech). Moreover, no one will be forced to change his or her religious beliefs about gay marriage. Anyone who thinks such unions are wrong can simply choose not to enter into one. And they’re free to preach about that to anyone who’s willing to listen.

Hotze also claims that Rep. Bell has become the target of hateful emails:

“The homosexuals have already begun harassing him with filthy and hateful emails, hoping to intimidate him and his staff. This has always been the modus operandi of those who oppose God’s Word.”

After condemning such emails to Bell, Hotze moves on to say incredibly hateful things about gay people. The “homosexual movement” is “radical and evil” and “godless,” he writes. He even trots out the “perversion” rhetoric:

“I am drawing a ‘line in the sand’ and asking you to join with me, Rep. Cecil Bell and other conservative Republican state legislators in defeating those who want to destroy the moral fabric of our state and nation by forcing us to accept and affirm ‘homosexual mirage’ and the chosen perverse sexual practices of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) as normal.”

And Hotze claims that Texas is the last hope for Christianity in America:

“Texas is the last bastion of Christian and conservative thought, power and action in the nation. If Texas were to fall, then America would be lost to the socialists and the secular humanists. We must shift the momentum in the battle for the heart of America and lead a Christian and conservative offensive that will spread across America and defeat Obama and his pro-homosexual, socialist allies.”

Hotze ignores the many Christians and other people of faith who support equality for all families. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last March showed that 59 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage. A survey last year for the Public Religion Research Institute in Washington found that support for same-sex marriage among religious Americans has grown substantially over the past decade. According to the survey, 83 percent of Jewish Americans, 57 percent of white and Hispanic Catholics and 62 percent of mainline Protestants said they supported same-sex marriage.

But haters like Hotze arrogantly pretend to speak for all Christians:

“Texas and America have a choice: Either we choose to be a Christian nation that wisely builds its laws upon the firm foundation of the Bible, as our Founding Fathers intended, or we foolishly choose to be a secular nation that establishes its laws upon the shifting sand of the desires of ambitious men. We must restore our nation to its Christian heritage.”

Posted in LGBT issues, marriage equality, Steven Hotze, TFN | 3 Comments

The Week in Quotes (Jan. 11 – 17)

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

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Adios: Gov. Perry’s Top Religious-Right Moments

Gov. Rick Perry will officially become the former governor of Texas this Tuesday at noon when he hands over the keys to the governor’s mansion to Greg Abbott. And thus will end Rick Perry’s governorship after 14 years and change.

Before he goes, let’s take a few minutes to look back at Gov. Perry’s most notable moments as a member of the Religious-Right Hall of Fame. Never one to shy away from using faith as a political weapon to attack and divide Texans, we’ve narrowed Gov. Perry’s many moments to these Gov. Perry’s Top Religious-Right Moments.

1. The ‘Strong’ Ad, Gay Veterans Can Get Out of Texas and Equating Gay People with Alcoholics

OK, so this one is technically three moments. But, hey, with the outrage level so high in these instances of Gov. Perry attacking gay people, we decided to just call it a tie.

So moment 1a. is Gov. Perry’s infamous “Strong” commercial that ran during his failed bid for the White House, an ad that many saw as a sign of desperation from a campaign that was at that point pretty much doomed. In the ad, Perry says:

“I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian. But you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”

1b. Speaking of gays in the military, Gov. Perry told gay Texas veterans to go find a “better place for them to live.” Yep, Gov. Perry said it. During the 2005 campaign to pass a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, a reporter asked Gov. Perry what he had to say “to gays and lesbians who are serving in the military right now in Iraq who are going to come back to Texas and may not be entitled to the same rights as the rest of us?” His response:

“Texans have made a decision about marriage and if there is some other state that has a more lenient view than Texas, then maybe that’s a better place for them to live.”

1c. During an event in San Francisco in June 2014, Gov. Perry was asked if he believed “homosexuals can be cured by prayer or counseling?” Here’s his response:

To his credit, and perhaps learning a lesson from his first presidential campaign as he prepares for a second run in 2016, Gov. Perry did later express contrition about the alcoholism comment. Well, sort of.

2. “The Response”

In August 2011, Gov. Perry headlined a prayer rally in Houston titled, ” “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis.” The massive rally at Reliant Stadium took place just a few days before Gov. Perry announced he would run for president in 2012. What a coincidence, right? But what was really remarkable was the sponsor of the whole thing: The American Family Association, a Mississippi-based organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and whose stances include an insistence that the First Amendment applies only to Christians.

3. Gov. Perry vs. Science

Remember all those moments when Gov. Perry expressed his love for science? Neither do we. Gov. Perry has on multiple occasions embraced creationism. If that’s what Gov. Perry believes, that’s fine. But creationism is a religious belief, and it’s a whole different ballgame when you try to impose that belief on children by teaching as if it were science in our public schools.

How old is the Earth? All Gov. Perry knows is that “it’s pretty old.”

Then there was Gov. Perry’s science denialism on climate change, telling a reporter that he’s “not afraid” to call himself a climate skeptic. This seems like the appropriate point in this post to note that Texas experienced a crippling drought during Gov. Perry’s tenure.

4. School Prayer

Popular religious-right myth: the Supreme Court made it illegal for children to pray in public schools. No, it didn’t. What the court did was outlaw government-sponsored prayer in public schools; students can still pray if they want. Gov. Perry wants that Supreme Court ruling reversed. In fact, Gov. Perry thinks it’s an easy change:

“Why not? They took it out. They can sure put it back in.”

5. Abstinence Worked for Gov. Perry

In the most TMI moment of his governorship, Gov. Perry volunteered this tidbit of information during a Texas Tribune event:

Gov. Perry: “Abstinence works.”

Interviewer: “But we have the third highest teen pregnancy rate among all states in the country. . . . It doesn’t seem to be working.”

Gov. Perry: “It works. Maybe it’s the way it’s being taught or the way that it’s being applied out there. But the fact of the matter is, it is the best form to teach our children.”

Interviewer: “Can you give me a statistic suggesting it works?”

Gov. Perry: “I’m just going to tell you from my own personal life, abstinence works. And the point is, if we’re not teaching it, and if we’re not impressing it upon them, then no.

The fact is that Texas has historically ranked among the worst states when it comes to teen pregnancy. All the while, politicians like Gov. Perry have insisted on abstinence-only sex-ed policies that the research says simply don’t work.

Bonus: Bringing the Culture Wars to the State Board of Education

Gov. Perry appointed three creationists/evolution-deniers in a row — Don McLeroy, Gail Lowe, Barbara Cargill — to chair the State Board of Education, making playing politics with public schools the norm during Gov. Perry’s years as the state’s top executive.

Posted in Rick Perry, TFNEF | 3 Comments

Texas Far-Right Group Directly Attacks Religious Faith of Elected Leaders Who Support Equality

Religious-right activists are now directly attacking the faith of elected city officials in Plano in an increasingly vitriolic campaign to repeal the North Texas city’s new anti-discrimination ordinance.

The ordinance, passed in December, bars discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations. Religious-right activists have been trying for weeks to frighten Plano residents by arguing that the ordinance will endanger women and children in public restrooms.

Those deceitful appeals to fear and bigotry are appalling. But the far-right Texas Pastor Council/Houston Area Pastor Council is also suggesting that God supports discrimination. In an email to activists today, the group even uses violent rhetoric in charging that Plano’s mayor and City Council members who support the ordinance have rejected God:

“Remember, it is Mayor Harry LaRosiliere and the five city council members who railroaded this ordinance through with complete disrespect to the community and good government practices who ‘threw the first punch.’ LaRosiliere and the council declared that God either doesn’t exist or His word is false and that even basic biological facts are up for grabs. They assaulted the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God – not us.”

Attacking the religious faith of those who support equality for all is repugnant. Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, who received an award from the Texas Pastor Council/Houston Area Pastor Council in 2013, should call on the organization’s leaders to halt their hate campaign and apologize to Plano officials.

Posted in Greg Abbott, Houston Area Pastor Council, LGBT issues, Texas Pastor Council, TFNEF | 4 Comments

Marking Religious Freedom Day: A Lesson for the Religious Right

Today is Religious Freedom Day, marking the anniversary of the passage of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Authored by Thomas Jefferson, the statute served as a model for other states. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution also includes the principle of religious freedom protected by the Virginia statute.

The statute reads, in part:

“Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

Writing about the statute in 1994, the late historian and Jefferson scholar Merrill D. Peterson of the University of Virginia noted the modern debate over religious freedom in America:

“Present-day neoconservatives and spokesmen for the religious right argue, for essentially political reasons, that a common religion is the necessary glue of the nation, that we began as a Christian people, and that however pluralist we may have become, the survival of the republic rests upon the foundation of Christian or perhaps Judeo-Christian belief. God forbid, they say, that the government should regulate our economic behavior, but it ought to regulate moral and religious belief. Again, the whole thrust of Jefferson’s philosophy was to reject that position, to reject any idea that a shared community of religious beliefs or of moral values, other than the value of freedom itself, was necessary to society. He sought to raise the republic on the inalienable rights of man, allowing every citizen sovereignty over his own mind and conscience.”

He continues:

“Nowhere in the world today is there more genuine freedom of conscience, and more respect for the separateness of Church and State, than in the United States. It is a precious legacy. Nevertheless there are powerful voices in the land which would rewrite history and undermine these revolutionary principles.”

Those voices seeking to rewrite history are just as powerful, perhaps more so, 20 years after Peterson wrote his essay.

His full essay is worth the read. Religious-righters who scream so loudly about supposed “threats” to religious freedom today could learn much from it — if they were willing.

Posted in religious freedom, TFNEF | 1 Comment

Fear-Mongering in Plano

Religious-right activists have adopted a consistent strategy in trying to stop or repeal city ordinances barring discrimination against LGBT people: use faith to divide and cultivate fear, hate and contempt. The latest example is in Plano, where in December the City Council passed an ordinance barring discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations.

In their campaign to repeal that Plano ordinance, religious-right activists are repeating the same arguments — and lies — we’ve heard elsewhere, especially in Houston and San Antonio. One of the biggest lies is posted on the Facebook page of a religious-right group in Plano. We’re not going to link to that page and send extra traffic their way, but here’s the post:

Do you believe that men who are born as men … are men? Or that women are women, not whatever they define themselves to be? If so, you are now a criminal in the city of Plano. Yes, a criminal. Plano recently passed a so-called “Equal Rights Ordinance.” Yet it could be better named, “Criminalization of Honest Citizens Ordinance,” because criminalization of honest, everyday citizens is exactly what it does.

No, it doesn’t. The Plano ordinance does not criminalize anyone’s beliefs. It prohibits discrimination simply because someone is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

But the Facebook page does more than just lie about what the ordinance does. It also suggests — as religious-right activist have done in Houston and San Antonio — that barring discrimination against LGBT people will endanger children and women:

Don’t Let Our Daughters Pay the Price! … Repeal the Amendment that allows males who perceive themselves to be female (and vice versa) to go into women’s’ restrooms & locker rooms in businesses with more than 15 employees.

This fear-mongering even goes so far as claiming that Christians are being persecuted if they’re not allowed to fire, evict or refuse service to someone who is LGBT:

Have any Plano friends that think this won’t affect them? Think again.
– YES, despite the propaganda from the other side, it will allow “trans” MEN to go into the same bathroom as little girls in PRIVATE business bathrooms. Our children are at risk here.
– YES, will discriminate against overtly Christian businesses!
– YES, will discriminate against any Plano business that has Christian principles!
– YES, will discriminate against ANY business doing business with the city of Plano, regardless of location.
– YES, will discriminate against any non profit OR CHURCH that receives any money from Plano.
– YES, will affect ALL city owned places, properties, events…any event connected to the city.

Of course, many Christians and other people of faith support Plano’s nondiscrimination ordinance. They believe their faith calls them to support equality and respect for all of their neighbors, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But once again we see religious-right activists using faith as a weapon to divide and harm others.

Posted in LGBT issues, TFNEF | 1 Comment

A Note on the Texas Freedom Network, #TFN20 Years Later

Appropriate, isn’t it? Today is the 20th anniversary of the handwritten note that essentially launched the Texas Freedom Network, and it coincides with the start of the the latest session of the Texas Legislature — a session that will feature some of the same far-right politicians and issues TFN has fought for 20 years.

Let’s call the note TFN’s founding document, so to speak. So let’s go back to the very beginning.

It was Jan. 13, 1995. Cecile Richards, TFN’s founder and now the president of Planned Parenthood, was then a couple of months removed from her mother’s campaign for a second term as governor, a contest Ann Richards lost to George W. Bush. The politics of the state were then, of course, different, yet in some ways strangely the same as they are today. The “tea party” that we know today was not around back then, but something else was brewing. It was during her mother’s re-election campaign that Cecile began to recognize that the religious right had gone beyond merely focusing on abortion and gay rights. Those far-right activists were also focusing on a host of other issues that reached into education policy.

Remember, these were the early 1990s, which saw the rise of the Christian Coalition, whose executive director, Ralph Reed, once famously said he “would rather have a thousand school-board members than one president and no school-board members.”

Which brings us back to that note. When Jan. 13, 1995, rolled around, Cecile found herself at a State Board of Education meeting​, when the board was discussing new health textbooks. Right-wing board members and activists had essentially hijacked the meeting, turning it into an opportunity to attack sex education, demonize LGBT people and push a host of other issues that energize religious-right activists.

During the meeting, Cecile handed a note (see above) to her friend Harriett Peppel. It simply read:

“It’s worse than I imagined.”

That realization solidified the idea for TFN. A few weeks later TFN was officially incorporated and Harriett would go on to become the organization’s first board chair.

It’s amazing to think that TFN has been around for 20 years. And it’s equally amazing that we can trace the beginnings of the organization back to that simple note.

Twenty years is a milestone to be proud of, for sure, but it’s not without challenges. The religious right remains a powerful force, and TFN and our allies find ourselves fighting on the same issues Cecile was fighting back in 1995.

But hey, the fact remains that there are still plenty of mainstream Texans who care about things like reproductive rights, sex education, science and equality for LGBT individuals. If not, TFN wouldn’t still be here.

We’ll have more to tell you in the coming months about the #TFN20 history that you helped create. Thank you for keeping us around all these years.


Posted in TFN | 2 Comments