Taking Their Ball and Going Home

There’s nothing equal about how some public officials are responding the U.S. Supreme Court’s freedom to marry ruling from a couple of weeks ago.

Sure, on its face, doing the same thing for everyone sure does sound equal. But in this case we’re talking about public officials who don’t want to do something for anyone, nevermind that the “something” is part of their officials duties and the job you, me and every other taxpayer is paying them to do.

Take, for instance, the Rowan County Clerk in Kentucky. She has decided that, no, she will not be issuing any marriage licenses to anyone if it means she also has to issue them to same-sex couples. She cited her religious views as the reason.

“You can go to our surrounding counties,” this couple was told by a staffer at the Rowan clerk’s office.

We’ve also heard of a couple of justices of the peace in Temple, Texas, who have taken a similar stance and are refusing to marry anyone rather than have to marry two men or two women.

Some politicians want to take the issue even further and make “no marriage licenses for anyone” the law of the land. Most notably, the idea has been floated by Republican presidential contender Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Here in Texas, it’s state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, who’s asking Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session to get government out of the marriage business.

Rep. Simpson writes:

Marriage is a divine institution, defined by God and revealed in nature. Government should recognize it and respect it. Government has no legitimate authority to define marriage and no reason to license it. Why should we allow government to meddle with marriage, to cheapen it and to parcel it out for profit?

One wonders if Rep. Simpson would show the same urgency to get government out of marriage if the Supreme Court had ruled the other way and it was still only heterosexual couples who could legally marry in Texas.

Regardless, this kind of response is a temper tantrum. It’s similar to a playground hissy fit where you take your ball and you go home.

Most of us don’t get to pick and choose which of our job responsibilities we’re willing to do. In this case we have public servants, being paid with taxpayer dollars, who have decided to punish everybody because they want to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples who now have the freedom to marry.

No one is asking public officials to change their religious beliefs or views on marriage. They’re only being asked to do the job they agreed to do when they signed up to do it in the first place.

Posted in David Simpson, LGBT issues, marriage equality, TFNEF | 6 Comments

Checking the Hate Mail Bag

FU_HateMailIt’s been a while since we shared some of the hate mail the Texas Freedom Network gets from folks. Enjoy!

Lots of our hate mail is along these lines:

“Dear Nut Jobs — Leave me alone! You IDIOTS!”

And another:

“Wise up! You can not be a liberal & please God. Get on God’s side not evil Obama”

Some folks like to declare their political beliefs and support for particular political candidates:

“There is NO separation of church and state! Amen. No Bamacare. No Amnesty. Cruz for Prez”

This helpful fellow put the important words in all caps and wanted to make sure we understand about the perish=hell thing.

“REPENT!!! Turn to the Lord JESUS CHRIST and be baptized. Stop supporting the murder of infants and embryos. Start supporting traditional marriage the way GOD created us to be, and stop supporting perversion for which the disobedient will be judged and punished. Again I urge you to REPENT, for JESUS said, ‘unless you REPENT you will all likewise perish!’ (That means you will go to Hell!!!)”

Morality is a recurring theme in our hate mail:

“What is right or wrong has been established by history. So is good & bad. You are pushing an agenda to appeal to the immoral.”

Some folks are proud of their exremism. In a letter addressed to the “Liers” and “Any of the idiots” at TFN:

“I AM A RIGHT-WING EXTREMISTS [sic]. DAMN PROUD OF IT!!”

Some writers worry that TFN staffers simply aren’t grateful:

“You should be thankful that we let you live in our free country. Read your Constitution and thank God you are still free.”

Some have been especially bothered by TFN’s support of equality for LGBT folks. One forwarded us a screed from a Washington-based anti-LGBT group attacking the “Tyranny of Gay Equality,” claiming that “homosexuality and transgenderism are psychological disorders,” and criticizing efforts to protect LGBT people (especially minors) from abusive (and discredited) “ex-gay psychotherapy.” The sender included this with the email:

“To the Texas Freedom Network:  Mental illness isn’t freedom, and a regime of forced lies isn’t freedom, either.”

Another writer is ready to run us out of the state:

“If you want to support gay marriage then move to California or New York. ‘Don’t mess with Texas.’  No one forces you to live here.”

But probably the message that made us all chuckle the most is the one in the accompanying photo. The notepad stationery is pleasant, yes?

Posted in hate mail, TFNEF | 6 Comments

Texas County Clerk Issues Manifesto Declaring Defiance of Supreme Court’s Marriage Ruling

As Americans were celebrating freedom on the nation’s 239th birthday last weekend, a county clerk in West Texas was preparing a manifesto defying the U.S. Supreme Court decision that gay and lesbian couples have the freedom to marry under the U.S. Constitution. Then on Sunday the clerk, Molly Criner of Irion County near San Angelo, posted her manifesto on a listserve for other county clerks. Her screed encourages state officials to disregard the Supreme Court’s ruling:

“[T]he federal Judiciary” has “neither Force nor Will, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm” and the States, for the carrying out of its judgments, and it is high time that the Court is so reminded.”

Criner goes on to claim that “Natural Marriage between one man and one woman remains the law in Texas, regardless of any court decision to the contrary.” She then declares that as county clerk she “shall resist unlawful federal or state court encroachments upon the prerogative of the People of Texas to protect Natural Marriage, and shall only issue marriage licenses consistent with Texas law, so help me God.” (Click here to read Criner’s manifesto.)

In an accompanying email to her fellow county clerks, Criner calls the Supreme Court’s historic ruling “unlawful”:

“As a country, it’s inherent in our very DNA to stand against unlawful seizures of power that violate our God given rights and liberty. The Obergefell decision looks like just such a seizure. It went beyond the judge’s confined duty of interpreting the written Constitution and established precedents and instead redefined marriage in a way they would like it to be. Natural marriage can be recognized by government, but it cannot be redefined without stepping out of the bounds of nature and nature’s God, who was recognized at the founding of our nation as the very source of our liberties.”

She then goes on to declare her rejection of clerks who have decided to uphold the responsibilities of their jobs and accept the Supreme Court’s ruling as the law of the land:

“I must reject this ruling that I believe is lawless. It’s a scary thing to do, but I believe strongly that I have to stand for the Constitution and the rule of law. … I am imploring the Texas Legislature to exercise its authority under the 9th and 10th Amendments and reject this ruling as being without authority.”

(Click here to read Criner’s email to fellow county clerks.)

Liberty Counsel, a far-right and rabidly anti-gay litigation group based in Florida, has offered to serve as pro bono counsel for Criner. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists Liberty Counsel, which has ties to the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, as an anti-LGBT hate group.

Irion’s county clerk isn’t the only local officials trying to defy the Supreme Court. A gay couple in Hood County near Fort Worth filed a lawsuit on Monday to force the county clerk there to issue them a marriage license. The clerk, Katie Lang, finally issued the license after refusing to do so last week. The anti-gay group Liberty Institute, based in Plano north of Dallas, is representing Lang. Austin attorneys Jan Soifer and Austin Kaplan are representing the gay couple and have said they will not withdraw the lawsuit until Lang guarantees that she won’t delay issuing licenses to other same-sex couples. They also want Lang to pay the attorney fees for the couple who had to sue.

It shouldn’t be too surprising that Hood County has been one center of opposition to the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling. Some far-right activists are trying to force the county’s library to remove LGBT-friendly books from its shelves.

Posted in LGBT issues, marriage equality, TFNEF | 11 Comments

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.

continue reading »

Posted in The Week in Quotes | 2 Comments

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 | 25 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