Saturday, January 10, 2015

Local "Religious Liberty" Conference Sponsored by LDS Church with Assistance of Catholic Bishop of Arkansas: Right-Wing Politics Disguised as Religion

Someone I know heard the presentations today at this interfaith program on religious liberty sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Little Rock. He did not attend, but happened to be at the LDS church as the presentations were broadcast over a loudspeaker for anyone in the church to hear while the conference took place. 

The conference program is online at the Facebook page of the LDS church that sponsored the conference. As you'll see, though the event was hosted by one of our local Mormon churches, speaking at the conference were the local Catholic bishop Anthony Taylor, the head of the local Islamic Center Dr. Omar Atiq, the local United Methodist bishop Gary Mueller (he was slated to speak, but my friend tells me he could not attend and sent a spokesman), and a representative of the Family Council Princella Smith.

The Family Council is a political organizing group that seeks to use "family values" issues to drive conservative "values voters" to the polls in Arkansas to vote for Republican candidates. As her Wikipedia entry states, Princella Smith is a "Republican activist" who ran for the state legislature in 2010. She subsequently worked for the Arkansas Secretary of State until she ran afoul of the law  for driving without a license and resigned that position. 

The founder of the Family Council, for which Ms. Smith now works — Jerry Cox — spearheaded a 2008 ballot initiative in Arkansas to ban adoption of children by gay couples (the initiative was, in fact, so broadly written that it banned adoption by any unmarried couple) whose purpose was to bring out right-wing "values voters" to pull the GOP lever in the 2008 elections. The Arkansas Supreme Court subsequently upheld the ruling of a lower court that found this ban on gay adoption unconstitutional, though it was passed by a very large majority of Arkansas voters.

According to my friend who heard the presentations today, they were for the most part dog whistles using coded language about family values and the sanctity of the family to attack marriage equality and families headed by same-sex couples. And isn't it interesting that the Catholic bishop of Little Rock was front and center in this venture, which is clearly about building alliances between right-wing evangelicals (both black and white), Mormons, and Catholics in order to bolster support for a single political party — all in the name of "religious liberty"? (The Islamic community is minuscule in Arkansas, and couldn't have been represented due to its political clout — but, clearly, because it shares the "family values" of the other groups represented.)

Isn't it also interesting that the LDS church is funding this political organizing under the guise of religious conferencing? Especially when the "family values" of the Mormon community, the Catholic community, and evangelicals are worlds apart and based on totally irreconcilable theological ideas. I wonder how widely this kind of political organizing on behalf of the Republican party, with funding by the LDS church and collusion of local Catholic bishops, is going on right now now across the U.S.

I'd be very interested to know. Wouldn't you? People who imagine that the religious right is a waning force in American politics are, I think, wildly deceived. If anything, it has built even more local alliances and strengthened more local constituencies in many parts of the U.S. as marriage equality becomes the norm in one state after another. 

These alliances and constituencies proved their clout in the 2014 elections. They're determined to do the same again in 2016. And conferences like the one that took place in Little Rock today are their means of assuring that they'll have such clout in future elections.

The graphic: a depiction of the religous make-up of the 112th Congress, from the Pew Forum. As Pew notes, the national Congress is more religious than the people it represents, judged by religious affiliation. As Philip Bump points out for Washington Post, the new Congress is 80 percent white, 80 percent male, and 92 percent Christian.

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