David Barton Shamelessly Misleads Hundreds of Pastors at Big Texas Renewal Project Event

When hundreds of pastors and their spouses descended on Austin on April 3-4 for a Texas Renewal Project event, it was clear that the effort to drag houses of worship into partisan politics was kicking into high gear for the 2014 elections. But we were stunned by the sheer audacity of speakers who told the gathered pastors one mistruth after another — all designed to rile up pastors and encourage them to turn their congregations into political machines.

Some of the most outrageous comments came from David Barton, the religious right’s favorite phony historian and founder of WallBuilders, the Texas-based organization that argues separation of church and state is a myth. Laurence White, a Houston pastor who headed up the Texas Renewal Project’s predecessor organization, the Texas Restoration Project, introduced Barton:

“He knows more about the Founding Fathers than George Washington does. He is the most articulated, informed, knowledgeable defender of America’s Christian heritage and the values and the truths and the convictions that shaped and brought this country into being. I’m proud to call him my friend and the greatest historian of the Founding Fathers I’ve ever known.”

“Greatest historian”? Oh please. Scholars and other writers have picked Barton’s shabby, politicized “work” to pieces. Moreover, Christian publisher Thomas Nelson ceased publication of Barton’s book about Thomas JeffersonThe Jefferson Lies, in 2012 after scholars pointed out that it contained numerous errors and distortions. (And, of course, there is the ongoing embarrassment over Barton speaking at events sponsored by white supremacist groups in the early 1990s.)

But Barton, who served from 1997 to 2006 as vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, is nothing if not shameless. He spoke to the pastors several times during the two-day Austin event. During his first spell at the podium, Barton immediately launched into an attack on San Antonio’s newly revised Nondiscrimination Ordinance (NDO), which now bars discrimination against LGBT people and military veterans in employment, housing and public accommodations. (The city already barred discrimination based on other characteristics, including race, gender and religion.)

Not content with simply disagreeing with efforts to treat LGBT people equally under the law, Barton proceeded to break (repeatedly) one of the Ten Commandments — the one that forbids lying — in front of all those pastors. Speaking just after former Republican Congressman JC Watts of Oklahoma, Barton absurdly claimed that Watts — who opposes marriage equality for same-sex couples — would be barred from serving on the San Antonio City Council because of the new nondiscrimination ordinance (text below from the video at the top of this post; emphasis added):

“The problem is, under the Nondiscrimation Ordinance that they just passed in San Antonio, if you did what JC did tonight and if you stand up for traditional marriage – marriage is a man and a woman – you are dismissed from office in San Antonio under the new city law. So JC, even though he’s elected by an overwhelming majority in San Antonio, he’s out the door. ‘You can’t do that. The people elected him.’ Yeah, but the new law in San Antonio says if you criticize homosexuality or homosexual marriage, you are dismissed from office.”

The crowd let out an audible gasp — as it should have because what Barton said isn’t true. Nothing in the ordinance bars someone who opposes marriage equality for lesbian and gay people from serving on the San Antonio City Council. But Barton doubled down, suggesting what would happen if he ran for office in San Antonio:

“I decide I’m going to run for City Council in San Antonio but they have found that what I’m saying tonight is criticizing homosexuality, I am barred from running for office in San Antonio.”

Not a word of that was true. But Barton continued on, distorting what the ordinance in San Antonio really does — and, of course, riling up the bamboozled pastors at the same time.

And so it went throughout the talks by Barton and other right-wing evangelicals. Speaker after speaker painted a picture of America hurdling down the path to destruction, spiritually and otherwise. The Texas Observer accurately described the overwhelming anxiety that seemed to pervade the ballroom:

“The message on offer is grim and fearful. This is a room full of people that are falling out of love with their country. It used to be a place that held promise for them and their cohort. But it’s changed, dramatically and for the worse, and the pastors don’t know if they can get it back in time.”

Among the biggest complaints were, as one country preacher said to the audience, the “HO-MO-sexual movement” and the “abortion people.”

The government is telling Americans “you’ve got to kill children,” declared Mat Staver, dean of law at the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. He was complaining about the federal requirement that employer-provided health insurance plans include coverage for birth control. (Staver also founded the right-wing litigation group Liberty Counsel.)

Staver went on to compare — bizarrely — the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal to the infamous 1857 Dred Scott case. In that latter case the Court ruled that African-Americans — free or enslaved — had no legal standing in federal courts because they weren’t U.S. citizens. Same thing, right?

Other speakers also played on the pastors’ fear and anxiety over a shifting legal and cultural landscape in America. Jason Taylor, pastor of the Barnone Cowboy Church in East Texas, put the issue in dire terms. “You take a stand!” he thundered:

“And don’t you waver and don’t you move, and you die standing your ground! That’s what this state, by golly, was founded on. That’s what’s in my blood right there. I ain’t moving! I will not be moved. I will die standing the ground for my children and my children’s children. I’m not moving.”

And, of course, speakers encouraged pastors to return home and politicize their congregations. Staver even argued that federal regulations against tax-exempt churches engaging in lobbying and partisan elections are toothless and easy to get around: “You could literally turn your church into a lobbying machine,” Staver declared.

Dragging churches into partisan politics was, of course, the primary reason for the Austin event. TFN exposed the Texas Restoration Project as a front group supporting Gov. Perry’s 2006 re-election campaign. Organizers under that banner hosted six “Pastors’ Policy Briefings” in Austin, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio the year before. Speaker after speaker praised Perry, who had a featured speaking slot at all of the events. In fact, TFN later discovered that major Perry campaign donors funneled money through a private Houston foundation (now defunct) to cover the $1.2 million it cost to hold those events.

The Texas Restoration Project served as a model for state Renewal Projects in a number of presidential election battleground states in 2008 and 2012. The main organizer, David Lane, has used those events to build a massive pastor contact list. And each event featured favored Republican candidates as well as speakers urging pastors to politicize their churches.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor this year, was scheduled to speak at this year’s Austin event, but he ended up sending his wife instead. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz made remarks by video and introduced his father, Rafael Castro, who spoke on the second day. Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and a number of right-wing pastors also spoke. Over the next few days we’ll report more about what they told the pastors and their spouses.

Posted in David Barton, Laurence White, Mat Staver, Texas Renewal/Restoration Project, TFNEF | 7 Comments

Haters Criticize Celebration for LGBT Graduates at Texas A&M

Religious-right activists are predictably outraged that LGBT students at Texas A&M will celebrate their spring graduation at a special campus event today (April 16). The university’s GLBT Resource Center is sponsoring the banquet, dubbed Lavender Graduation, this evening. Phyllis Frye, an A&M alum and the state’s first transgender judge, will be the featured speaker. (Frye’s appointment in 2010 as a municipal judge in Houston also sparked predictable outrage from religious-righters. They always seem to be mad about something.)

Students won’t receive their diplomas at the Lavender Graduation event. The university’s official commencement ceremony is in May. Lavender Graduation is simply a celebration, much like those hosted by other student organizations and academic departments at Texas A&M and on other campuses around the country. But anti-gay activists are attacking it anyway.

One News Now, the propaganda website for American Family Association (which the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as an anti-gay hate group), quotes one of the most obnoxious voices of hate in Texas in a story about the event:

Regardless of the motive, Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, says this is foolhardy.

“This special Texas A&M ceremony essentially promotes and celebrates dangerous and risky sexual activity that can fiercely jeopardize a person’s well-being,” he tells OneNewsNow. “I’m not sure this is the most responsible way for a university to prepare students for the real world.”

Saenz also points out an issue that he believes introduces a problem for the school as it promotes the LGBT lifestyle: Texas recently passed an amendment to its constitution banning same-sex marriage.

“It would seem that groups like this at Texas A&M do not support our state law,” he suggests. “And so I would understand why students would be concerned that their fees would give the impression of being used to really advocate against clearly established law.”

Religious-right activists like Saenz seem to be obsessed by gay sex and LGBT relationships. It’s as if they see every occasion — even a graduation celebration, for Pete’s sake — as an opportunity to talk about both. (Frankly, it’s kind of creepy.)

Most Americans have grown tired of political activists who try to stigmatize and marginalize LGBT people. Public polling shows this pretty clearly. And poll after poll also shows that most Americans — by a substantial and growing margin — support marriage equality for all.

The Texas Freedom Network congratulates all of this spring’s graduates — LGBT or otherwise — and we wish nothing but success and happiness for them as they move on to their next adventures. We also wish the haters out there would get a life — or at least stop obsessing over and interfering in the lives of people they don’t like.

Posted in Jonathan Saenz, LGBT issues, Texas Values, TFNEF | 5 Comments

Lawsuit Alleges San Antonio Religious-Right Leader Treated Young Follower Like a ‘Personal Sex Object’

In November we told you that Doug Phillips had acknowledged engaging in an extramarital affair and stepped down from his position as head of a San Antonio-based religious-right organization called Vision Forum. Now a lawsuit alleges that Phillips engaged in ““inappropriate, unwanted, and immoral sexual acts” with a girl he had groomed as a “personal sex object” from the age of 15.

If true, the lawsuit’s allegations would be a bombshell for a man with a history of making incendiary statements about the morals of others. In 2009, for example, he mocked an abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller, who was murdered in his own church, by calling him “Tiller the Killer” and saying his death wasn’t a tragedy. He has also complained about the “intellectual and moral bankruptcy” of people who accept the science of evolution and see no conflict between science and faith.

Our friends at Right Wing Watch have a detailed report on the lawsuit here. (Warning: Some of the language in the lawsuit is graphic.) Excerpts from their post:

The lawsuit, which includes counts of sexual battery and assault, details the “inappropriate, unwanted, and immoral sexual acts committed by Douglas Phillips against Ms. Torres,” noting that Phillips “methodically groomed Ms. Torres” since she was 15 years old “so that she would eventually participate in illicit sexual rendezvous with him promising that she could one day marry him” and “repeatedly told Torres that this was possible because his wife, Beall Phillips, was going to die soon.”

The lawsuit contends that Phillips worked to “indoctrinate [Torres] with the patriarchal mindset” and “subtly began to manipulate Ms. Torres, so that he could use her for his sexual gratification. This calculated, planned, and methodical grooming process went on for many years.”

“Douglas Phillips used Ms. Torres—against her wishes and over her objections—as a personal sex object. Douglas Phillips repeatedly groped, rubbed, and touched Ms. Torres’s crotch, breasts, and other areas of her body; rubbed his penis on her; masturbated on her; forced her to watch him masturbate on her; and ejaculated upon her. This perverse and offensive conduct repeatedly took place over the course of several years,” the lawsuit reads.

Torres’ lawyers write that even after Vision Forum’s board was informed of Phillips’ alleged actions, “the board of Vision Forum Ministries decided to keep Phillips in the company’s highest position of leadership. This move is consistent with the ideals and beliefs of the patriarchal movement: that women exist solely for the control and pleasure of the men.” The board only took action when it became “apparent that Phillips’s behavior toward Ms. Torres could no longer remain confidential.”

The lawsuit also goes into detail on the ways the Quiverfull movement manipulates and shames women, imposing “absolute control of women” while cutting them off from “access to outside intervention and support.” It alleges that Phillips’ wife sent Torres a threatening email in an attempt to silence her.

Vision Forum has shut down since Phillips stepped down last fall.

Posted in Doug Phillips, TFNEF, Vision Forum Ministries | 5 Comments

The History of Slavery in America According to the Right

When the State Board of Education debated new social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools in 2009-10, tea partyers and other far-right activists complained about what they saw as an overemphasis on slavery in classes about U.S. history. They argued that attention paid to the history of slavery in America is too negative and that students should learn more about how Americans overcame that dark period of our nation’s history. (One activist even complained more broadly about an “overrepresentation of minorities” in social studies standards.)

But the truth is too many of those far-right activists are either ignorant about the history of slavery or would prefer to rewrite and whitewash that history. Just see what Jim DeMint, head of the far-right Heritage Foundation, said on a conservative religious radio program this month during a discussion about how the institution of slavery came to an end in the United States (emphasis added):

“Well the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.”

That’s completely ridiculous and yet another example of how the right twists and distorts history to promote an ideological agenda — in this case the almost blind hatred of government.

It is certainly true that slavery offended (with absolutely good reason) the conscience of many Americans. But that had been the case for decades without seriously threatening the legal institution of slavery in the South. The fact is slavery ended because of the actions of “big government” — among them: the Federal Government’s raising of huge armies and naval forces (and all of the fiscal and other actions required to do so) during the Civil War, President Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Government isn’t the solution to every problem. But sometimes the nation’s challenges are so great that addressing them requires government to act. This was true not just for ending slavery, but also for other great crises, such as responding to economic collapse during the Great Depression, ending racial segregation and protecting the country from foreign enemies and natural disasters.

DeMint’s laughable argument should serve as a reminder of the challenge we face this year as the State Board of Education considers the adoption of new social studies textbooks for Texas schools. Far-right board members and pressure groups will try to rewrite and censor textbook discussions of slavery, civil rights and a host of other topics they find threatening to their rigidly ideological perspectives. And they’ll do so regardless of how much scholars and other experts point out that they’re ignoring facts and true history. In many ways, the battle ahead in Texas this year will be even bigger than the fight over evolution and climate change in last year’s science textbooks.

You can listen to DeMint’s full remarks at Right Wing Watch.

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 8 Comments

Bamboozler Barton Hosts Anti-Muslim Huckster

We’ll give this to him: David Barton is one of the most prolific propaganda artists around. If he’s not torturing facts himself, the religious right’s favorite phony historian is often promoting someone else who does.

We were reminded of this again after seeing one of the guests Barton has scheduled this week for his web/radio program WallBuilders Live. He’ll be talking to Kamal Saleem in a segment titled “From Terrorism to Truth in Christ.”

As we told you in a post last year, Saleem is a Lebanese-American and self-proclaimed Islamic-terrorist-turned-Christian. He claims to have known or worked with so many Middle Eastern bigwigs — like Yasser Arafat, Saddam Hussein, Moammar Qaddafi — that a skeptical Kansas City Star columnist once referred to him as the “Forrest Gump of the Middle East.” Mother Jones magazine has also written about the many holes in Saleem’s claims to have been a radical Islamic terrorist who came to America to blow us all up but then discovered Jesus.

Iranian-American scholar Reza Aslan has described Saleem as one of “trio of self-proclaimed ex-terrorists … making the rounds of the lecture circuit, charging thousands of dollars for their fantastical tales of life as murderous Muslim extremists.” Aslan explained how scholars and terrorism experts have discredited many of the claims made by Saleem and his anti-Muslim trio:

“(T)hese guys are not ex-terrorists at all but—wait for it—fundamentalist Christians posing as ex-terrorists. Their fervently anti-Islamic message, in which all Muslims are labeled as radicals, is a prelude to a testimony about how accepting Jesus into their hearts and becoming born again saved them from a life of terrorism.”

Sometimes we wonder whether Barton drinks his own Kool-Aid or just hopes his audience does.

Posted in David Barton, Kamal Saleem, TFNEF | 2 Comments

The Week in Quotes (April 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 | 1 Comment

Two Texas Legislators Side with Armed Anti-Government Extremists in Nevada Dispute

That some Texas legislators have an almost knee-jerk reflex when it comes to attacking government in just about every instance is old news. So it’s not surprising that Republican state representatives Debbie Riddle of Tomball and Bill Zedler of Arlington are supporting a lawbreaker and armed, anti-government extremists involved in a cattle-grazing dispute in Nevada.

In a Facebook post today, Riddle calls federal rangers “jack booted thugs” because they are enforcing court orders that a Nevada rancher stop grazing his cattle illegally on federal lands:

The rancher, Mr. Bundy, in Nevada who has drawn a line in the sand (without harming one turtle) is a brave patriot. The Feds have no right to come onto state property where he has had grazing rights for decades, take his cattle, act like “jack booted thugs” & attempt to intimidate. If Obama was as concerned about our border security as he is being a bully with Bundy – then we would all be safer & folks would respect our laws & respect us more as a nation. Mr. President, we here in Texas believe in States Rights & we are standing with the Nevada rancher!! As the say in NH “Live free or die!”

Zedler also criticized federal officials in a Tweet today:

The Bureau of Land Management needs to be defunded. Prime case of bureaucrats abusing power .

Actually, Riddle apparently doesn’t even have her facts straight. The dispute involves federal land, not “state property.” Longtime rancher Cliven Bundy has continued to graze his cattle on protected federal land in Nevada since 1998 despite court orders that he stop. Moreover, he stopped paying fees to graze his cattle on that land in 1993 — essentially stealing from taxpayers. Even Fox News has acknowledged that Bundy is breaking the law.

Armed anti-government “patriots” have converged on the land to support Bundy, forcing federal authorities to suspend efforts to round up the illegally grazing herd. But it appears that Riddle and Zedler think it’s just grand when armed extremists intimidate federal officials who are trying to do their jobs and enforce court orders.

For Riddle, Zedler and too many other irresponsible elected officials who pander to right-wing extremists today, it seems to be always the feds (or state authorities) who are the “jack booted thugs” and “abusing power.” But the real armed thugs who are taking the law into their own hands? Apparently, extremists like them are heroes and patriots.

Posted in Bill Zedler, Debbie Riddle, TFNEF | 5 Comments

The SBOE Approved the Ethnic Studies Proposal. Now What?

After 2,358 of your petition signatures and testimony from dozens of Texans in support, the State Board of Education today voted to make it easier for Texas schools to offer courses in Mexican-American, African-American, Native American and Asian-American studies.

The 12-2 vote means publishers will have a chance to submit to the state instructional materials for those courses next year. Schools choosing to teach the classes would use curriculum standards designed for special local courses. Another conversation at the board’s July meeting will further dictate the rigor of these courses.

For those of you unfamiliar with the party breakdown of the board, 12 votes in favor means the measure had bipartisan support. The two ‘no’ votes came from David Bradley, R-Beaumont, and Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, R-Dallas. Board member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, was at today’s hearing but did not cast a vote.

It’s true, this isn’t the stand-alone, state course advocates wanted — but it’s an important step forward. That’s especially true because four years ago state board members debated whether American heroes like Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Thurgood Marshall should even be included in the state’s social studies curriculum standards.

Right-wing groups opposed any effort to teach courses about the contributions of Mexican-Americans, African-Americans and others to our nation’s history and culture. One group even resorted to race-baiting in opposition to these courses.

But the voices of members in organizations working together — like the League of United Latin American Citizens, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the NAACP, Librotraficante, MAS-Texas, Texas State Teachers Association, Texas American Federation of Teachers and TFN — rose above those who derided the call for a Mexican-American and other ethnic studies courses as exclusionary or “reverse racism.”

What to teach students about our nation’s rich diversity will almost certainly be another point of debate when the state board adopts new social studies textbooks later this year.

But for now, we should all be proud of this accomplishment. And, oh yeah, a big Texas-sized thank you to all of you who were part of this. Now, let’s carry this momentum of achievement forward.

Posted in Mexican-American studies, State Board of Education, TFNEF | Leave a comment

Local Courses for Ethnic Studies Get Thumbs Up from Texas Ed Board

We just sent out the following press statement after the State Board of Education’s vote today on ethnic studies courses in Texas public schools:

The Texas State Board of Education today voted 12-2 to call for publishers to submit instructional materials next year for locally developed elective courses in Mexican-American, African-American, Asian-American and Native American studies. Districts choosing to offer such courses could do so using the state’s Special Topics in Social Studies curriculum standards. The state board took this action in place of adding an elective course on Mexican-American Studies to the official state curriculum. TFN President Kathy Miller had this to say about today’s vote:

“While we would have preferred a state elective course that recognized the substantial way in which Mexican-Americans, African-American, women and others have shaped Texas and our nation, today’s vote represents an important step toward ensuring that more students get a fuller understanding of our history and the diverse cultures that have shaped it. Just four years ago this board was divided over how or even whether students should learn about American heroes like Cesar Chavez, Thurgood Marshall and Dolores Huerta. So we’re encouraged by this progress, especially as we look ahead to the state board’s adoption of social studies textbooks for our public schools later this year.”

Today’s overwhelming vote makes it easier for local school districts to choose to teach ethnic studies courses. And the vote came despite race-baiting complaints by right-wing groups who attacked efforts to teach such courses in Texas schools.

Posted in Mexican-American studies, State Board of Education, TFNEF | 1 Comment

Far-Right Opponents of Ethnic Studies Courses in Texas Turn to Race-Baiting


Far-right activists are furious that the State Board of Education on Wednesday moved to make it easier for Texas public schools to offer elective courses in ethnic studies. Now some of those extremists have launched a racially divisive and deeply offensive campaign to stop the board from implementing that plan.

This image from the Facebook page of Voices Empower, a political consulting firm aligned with tea partyers, calls on board members to vote against a preliminary agreement they struck on Wednesday. If the board votes for final approval of that agreement on Friday, the state will ask publishers to submit instructional materials next year for local courses in Mexican-American, African-American, Native American and Asian-American studies. Schools that choose to offer those courses would do so under the state’s Special Topics in Social Studies curriculum standards.

That doesn’t sit well with the extremists at Voices Empower. (Run by Alice Linahan, Voices Empower helped push last year’s anti-CSCOPE witch hunt that portrayed a popular curriculum tool used in hundreds of Texas schools as Marxist, anti-Christian and pro-Muslim. That campaign fizzled when a review sponsored by the State Board of Education found no evidence for those absurd charges.)

“This is AMERICA,” scream’s the firm’s illustration attacking what it calls “Cultural Studies.” An arrow points toward a white soldier above a call for state board members to “Vote for This Man.” Below are the words, “Do Not Vote for This Man,” with an arrow pointing toward a Hispanic activist. The message is hardly subtle: The white soldier is a real American. Brown folks? Not so much.

On the same Facebook page, Voices Empower insists that ethnic studies courses would be divisive, “emphasizing ethnic/racial differences among students.” But advocates have pointed out repeatedly that such courses would simply give students a fuller accounting of  Mexican-Americans, African-Americans and others in our nation’s history and culture.

In fact, it’s Voices Empower’s shameful race-baiting campaign that is divisive.

Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Native Americans and Asian-Americans are just as American as the white soldier in the firm’s illustration. Many people of color have served their country — America — in uniform, just like him. Many have died doing so. But the contributions they and others like them have made to this country often receive little attention in public school classrooms.

In fact, four years ago state board members debated whether American heroes like Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Thurgood Marshall should even be included in the state’s social studies curriculum standards. Political activists appointed by the board as “expert advisers” argued that Chavez and Marshall either were poor role models for students or weren’t important enough to include in the standards. They remained in the standards, but the board voted to remove Huerta from a third-grade course.

Now the board is taking an important step toward making it easier for public schools to teach courses on how these Americans and others like them have helped shape our state and nation. Right-wing extremists like those at Voices Empower find that threatening. Shame on them.

Posted in Alice Linahan, Mexican-American studies, TFNEF, Voices Empower | 3 Comments