Monday, March 3, 2014

The "Religious Liberty" Crusade Against Gay Rights: Making the Connections, Identifying the Main Players

For those seeking information about which particular groups have been pushing the "religious liberty" legislation targeting gay folks in various states in the U.S. at present, Dylan Scott has published a helpful article at Talking Points Memo today. Scott notes that major players in the movement to push anti-gay "religious liberty" legislation are the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the American Religious Freedom Program of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), and Focus on the Family.

As the Southern Poverty Law Center has noted, ADF has a strong, consistent record of "sharp anti-gay bigotry" and is increasingly committed, along with other similar groups in the U.S., to exporting the anti-gay animus of religious-right groups in the U.S. to other countries around the globe. Its senior legal counsel as it pushes that international agenda is Piero Tozzi, a former senior fellow of Austin Ruse's Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. Tozzi has stated that laws protecting LGBT rights "would mean the end of the human species." 

As Right Wing Watch notes, built into the agenda of ADF by all of the founding members of its parent organization Alliance Defense Fund is the strong determination to work "against the civil rights/liberties of gays and lesbians." During the debate about Arizona's anti-gay law prior to Governor Brewer's veto, ADF counsel Joseph La Rue stated that if the law were not enacted, religious people in Arizona would become "second-class citizens."

As I noted recently, according to Fred Clark, EPPC, of which the American Religious Freedom Program is a facet, is "basically George Weigel, Inc." Weigel is a right-wing Catholic theologian with a long history of opposing gay rights. Under his leadership, EPPC took part in the Senate's DOMA hearings in 2011 to demand that the Defense of Marriage Act be retained. EPPC has also filed an amicus brief against the contraception provision of the Affordable Care Act as a violation of religious freedom. The brief argues that private corporations should be viewed as persons when they object to the contraception provision on grounds of conscience.

The American Religious Freedom Program is allied with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, one of the legal groups spearheading the attacks on the Affordable Care Act and the Obama administration. The Becket Fund is defending many of the Catholic groups that have filed suit against the Obama administration to oppose ACA, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, Ave Maria University, EWTN, and Belmont Abbey College.

From its inception, EPPC has been closely associated with powerful American Catholic neoconservatives including Father Richard John Neuhaus, Mary Ann Glendon, and Rick Santorum. Glendon, who was among the group of "Constitutional scholars" who recently pressured Governor Brewer not to veto the Arizona anti-gay bill, is on the advisory board of EPPC's American Religious Freedom Program, as is the infamously anti-gay archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone.

As Right-Wing Watch notes, Focus on the Family is committed to opposing rights for LGBT citizens as "special rights" that are illicitly being demanded by a minority group. It promotes the harmful notion, discredited by all bona fide professional medical and therapeutic organizations, that a homosexual sexual orientation may be changed by reparative therapy, and the organization sponsors the "Love Wins Out" conferences to spread this message about reparative therapy. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that Focus on the Family and the Alliance Defense Fund are among the top dozen anti-gay groups driving a "virtual industry" of anti-gay political movements in the U.S. at present. As SPLC indicates, "No one has spread the anti-gay gospel as widely, or with as much political impact," as has Focus on the Family's Dr. James Dobson. In the battle to pass anti-gay legislation in Arizona, Focus on the Family has been working through an affiliate group called CitizenLink and through the Center for Arizona Policy.

And what's the agenda of these thickly connected groups that have such exceptionally strong ties to  major players that are a part of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops's "religious liberty" crusade against the Obama administration? As Bill Blum notes for Truthdig, the game plan is the following:

Relying on the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United case, Hobby Lobby’s attorneys contended in their suit that despite the clear wording of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act limiting its protections to persons, corporations should also be considered persons under the Act, imbued with the same First Amendment rights as anyone else to the free exercise of religion.

And as he also notes, 

Anyone who doubts the connection between the Hobby Lobby and Elane Photography cases and Arizona’s SB 1062 need only read the literature produced by the Center for Arizona Policy, an anti-abortion “pro-family” organization that lobbied to promote the Arizona bill. 

It's not in the least accidental that the Arizona Catholic bishops supported the anti-gay legislation passed by the Republican-controlled legislature of their state recently. That legislation has all over it the fingerprints of leading Catholic players in the phony "religious liberty" war against the Obama administration--including the USCCB. In the name of defending religious liberty, the U.S. Catholic bishops and other right-wing Catholics are seeking to extend to private corporations the unprecedented "right" to discriminate against targeted minority groups on grounds of "conscience." They and their allies have asserted this "right" in amicus briefs to the Supreme Court attacking the Affordable Care Act.

And they are defending and will continue to defend a similar "right" on the part of private employers to discriminate against LGBT citizens, because they have linked opposition to the human rights of those citizens to opposition to contraception and abortion. And to the Democratic party in general, insofar as it does not toe the line of the USCCB regarding all of these matters . . . . 

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