A coalition of Islamophobes, birthers, and conspiracy theorists led by a prominent supporter of impeaching President Obama will assemble at the Heritage Foundation this afternoon to discuss the September 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
The event, titled "Benghazi: The Difference It Makes Is Accountability!" will be co-hosted by the Benghazi Accountability Coalition. In a post at National Review Online, Andrew McCarthy, a conservative commentator and former federal prosecutor, identifies himself as the chairman of that new "volunteer organization."
McCarthy is the author of a new book that seeks to build "the political case" for President Obama's impeachment. The book includes a draft Articles of Impeachment detailing "The Benghazi Fraud." According to McCarthy, the talking points used by former Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice to discuss the terrorist attacks on Sunday morning political talk shows constituted a deliberate effort "to defraud the American people in connection with matters of great public importance, in violation of [President Obama's] duty to execute the laws faithfully and his fiduciary duty to be truthful in his statements to the American people."
At National Review Online, McCarthy promises that today's forum will "feature some speakers with tremendous insights into the relevant issues about the Benghazi Massacre." James Jay Carafano, Heritage's vice present of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, will participate, lending the organization's imprimatur to the proceedings. Here are some of those notables who will appear alongside him:
From the June 4 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Fox News is witnessing the nasty byproducts of its endless campaign to depict extreme, virulent homophobia as a normal part of mainstream Christianity.
It's long been standard practice at Fox News to conflate anti-gay bigotry with Christianity. Last December, for instance, the network rushed to defend Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson after he compared homosexuality with bestiality and equated gay people with "drunks" and "terrorists," with Megyn Kelly referring to Robertson as "[t]his Christian guy," Sean Hannity describing his comments as "old fashioned traditional Christian sentiment and values," and Fox News commentator Todd Starnes defending Robertson as upholding "the teachings of the Bible."
Meanwhile, Fox has repeatedly touted business owners who refuse service to gay couples, taking up their mantle in regular "Fight for Faith" segments. The network has championed some of the country's most extreme anti-gay hate groups as mainstream Christian organizations. When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declined to attend he city's St. Patrick's Day Parade over its ban on LGBT groups, Fox News attacked him as a "religious bigot." And the network regularly describes even basic legal protections for LGBT people as anti-Christian.
Now, a new anti-gay controversy has once again provided fodder for Fox to depict extreme anti-gay bigotry as grounded in mainstream Christianity. Earlier this month, HGTV cancelled a forthcoming reality show slated to be hosted by brothers Jason and David Benham. The cancellation came after Right Wing Watch unearthed the brothers' history of extreme anti-gay and Islamophobic activism, including condemning homosexuality as "demonic" and "destructive."
Anchor Megyn Kelly responded to HGTV's move by asserting on the May 8 edition of The Kelly File that while "gay rights are more and more protected in this country," the same didn't hold for "Christian beliefs and Christian rights."
During the May 16 edition of Kelly's show, guest host Martha MacCallum invited right-wing radio commentator Dana Loesch and Democratic strategist Jessica Ehrlich to discuss the controversy engulfing the Benham brothers. Perfectly encapsulating the right's bogus homophobia-as-Christianity narrative, Loesch dubbed Ehrlich an "anti-Christian bigot" for deigning to criticize the brothers' extreme anti-gay views:
A "horrendous crime" that "violates every major objective of Islam."
That's how Daisy Khan, founder of the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality described the recent kidnappings of nearly 300 schoolgirls by Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram. Despite similar denunciations of Boko Haram's actions by Muslim religious leaders, activists, organizations, and intellectuals across the world, right-wing media are set on using the kidnappings as a justification for their Islamophobic narratives and their attempt to make Boko Haram the face of Islam.
Boko Haram is a marginalized terrorist organization operating out of Nigeria whose murky ideological goals include eliminating secular education. In recent history their attacks have concentrated on schools, killing Christian and Muslims alike who speak out against them. Before the kidnappings, Boko Haram attacked two mosques in August 2013, murdering more than 65 Muslims.
On May 12, Fox News turned to Aayan Hirsi Ali, the anti-Islam activist often cited to support right-wing media's Islamophobic constructs. Hirsi Ali appeared on The Kelly File with host Megyn Kelly, where she insisted that Islam not be separated from the "outcome, the kidnappings, the violence" of Boko Haram and argued that Muslims need to acknowledge "that there is something wrong in the first place." From The Kelly File:
KELLY: You want to call attention to violence of girls in the Muslim world and then we see this. In the wake of this, we have the first lady who is making a call for attention to these girls, which is good, but she doesn't mention in her radio address the girls are Christian and the captors are these radical Jihadist. Do we need to understand that?
HIRSI ALI: You have to understand that somehow it is derived from Islam unreformed. I think there is a possibility for Islam to be reformed. I think the opportunity is right here, but I think it all begins with acknowledging that there is something wrong in the first place.
Hirsi Ali is well known for her anti-Islam rhetoric, once claiming that Islam was a "cult of death." Her rhetoric has propelled her into the conservative media spotlight which has highlighted her efforts to smear Islam as a religion of violence; for Hirsi Ali and other right-wing outlets, Boko Haram serves as a perfect example to support their seemingly endless Muslim fear mongering.
The Daily Caller used Boko Haram's attacks as a new reason to bash Muslim groups, criticizing a mosque that did not "excommunicate Boko Haram", and suggesting that these Muslim organizations are responsible for Boko Haram's ideology if they do not publically condemn the terrorists. Breitbart made no attempt to veil the site's anti-Muslim views, claiming that Boko Haram's "behavior is absolutely par for the course in Islamic history," and that Islam has a history of "sex slavery, (of both boys and girls), polygamy, sex trafficking, and the brutal subordination and cyclical massacres of religious minorities."
In reality, Boko Haram is a marginalized, radical group that does not represent the tenants of the Islamic faith or the Muslim tradition. The Daily Beast's Dean Obeidallah argued that the group's views are so far removed from the religion that media should "stop referring to the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram as 'Islamic terrorist,' 'Islamists' or anything else involving the word 'Islam.'" Obeidallah cited Muslim leader Imam Shamsi Ali who called Boko Haram's leaders " 'blasphemous' for claiming the Koran sanctions their violence against innocent people since it's not only 'contrary to everything Islam stands for' but also it's 'a crime against God and humanity.'"
Muslim organizations have condemned the group and its actions. Though as Sohaib Soltan explained for Time, it should not be the responsibility of Muslim groups to constantly condemn the actions of terrorists, and that holding all Muslims accountable for "condemning evil at the hand of other Muslims" is built upon a flawed premise because with this expectation comes the "inherent assumption that somehow radical violent extremist cults can legitimately speak for Islam."
As CNN's Arsalan Iftikhar also pointed out, these murders and kidnappings are not supported by the Quran, which Iftikhar says "states quite clearly that 'oppression is worse than murder' and that nobody 'shall force girls to commit prostitution'."
Conservative media have largely ignored these outspoken Muslim scholars in favor of voices like Hirsi Ali's that help them demonize the entire Muslim faith by using the actions of a marginalized terrorist group.
From the May 12 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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Todd Starnes, Fox News' resident culture warrior, wants to reclaim God from an America of gay pride paraders, hipsters, twerkers, and vegetarians. That, at least, is what he sets out to do in his latest tome, God Less America: Real Stories from the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values.
It's a book that's been generously promoted on the Fox News commentator's network. Starnes' publicity tour has taken him to such programs as Fox & Friends, Hannity, The Kelly File, Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight, and the radio show of Fox contributor Laura Ingraham.
During his publicity tour for God Less America, Starnes has homed in on a consistent message: religious, specifically Christian, values are under attack, largely thanks to an all-out assault allegedly led by the Obama administration, aided and abetted by LGBT activists and advocates for secularists and adherents to minority faiths. Obama, Starnes asserts, is at the forefront of a conspiracy "to eradicate the Christian faith" from the public square.
But Starnes' book isn't really about the state of Christianity in the age of Obama. It's primarily about Starnes himself, and the cultural resentments that define his worldview. Portraying himself as a down-home Southerner who loves sweet tea (a fact he reminds readers of no fewer than nine times), Duck Dynasty, guns, and his hardline Southern Baptist faith, beneath Starnes' folksy veneer is a far more venomous culture warrior.
What Starnes repeatedly - if unwittingly - reveals is that he isn't so much afraid of the impending loss of religious liberty as he is fearful that his exclusionary vision of America no longer holds the sway it once did.
What particularly rouses Starnes' ire about the state of contemporary America is that it's led by, as he pointedly notes, "Barack Hussein Obama." Starnes laments throughout the book that Obama's America is no longer the one in which in grew up - a country he depicts as more wholesome and unapologetically Christian, when women knew their place and gay people weren't being as obnoxious with all that equal rights stuff:
I grew up in a much simpler time - when blackberry was a pie and dirty dancing meant somebody forgot to clean out the barn for the square dance. It was a time when father still knew best - when the girls were girls and the men were men. I grew up in a time when a rainbow was a sign of God's promise, not gay rights.
To Starnes, Obama perfectly symbolizes the fading of that America. For one thing, Starnes not-so-subtly hints that the president has an affinity for Islam - referring to Obama as someone who "professes" to be a Christian, twice assailing him for calling the Muslim call to prayer "one of the prettiest sounds on earth at sunset," and suggesting that Obama hasn't secured the release on American pastor detained in Iran because the pastor had left the Islamic faith.
Starnes also lambastes the president for stating that we're "not just a Christian nation," but also a nation of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and secularists. A less paranoid observer might view Obama's remark as an affirmation of the country's religious diversity, but Starnes can't help seeing anti-Christian bias. (Starnes writes that it's "puzzling" that any "follower of Christ" would make such a statement.") Likewise, restrictions on proselytization in the military aren't, say, a sensible response to the harassment of non-Christian believers, but part of a "Christian cleansing" executed by the Obama administration. And just as he did in an appearance on Fox's Hannity to promote the book, Starnes compares officials enforcing the First Amendment's establishment clause to Adolf Hitler. "Hitler was not a big fan of the Baby Jesus," Starnes writes in a chapter titled "Nazis, Communists, and the USA." "Neither were the Communists. And apparently some American employees and schoolteachers share an equal disdain for the little Lord Jesus." Starnes is just saying.
From the May 9 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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From the May 9 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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From the May 9 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Washington Post columnist George Will dedicated his most recent column to bashing citizens uncomfortable with forced participation in Christian prayer before they can petition town officials, characterizing both the Jewish and atheist plaintiff in the Supreme Court's recent decision on the constitutionality of state-sponsored prayer as "flimsy people" with "thin skins."
The suit, Town of Greece v. Galloway, was filed by two residents of Greece -- a small town in upstate New York -- who objected to their town officials' decade-long practice of inviting almost exclusively Christian clergy to deliver at times extremely sectarian prayers before the start of town meetings. On May 6, the Supreme Court's conservative justices held that the Christian prayer regularly invoked at town meetings before residents could engage their local officials in town business did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In the majority's view, the prayers were appropriate because "although most of the prayer givers were Christian, this fact reflected only the predominantly Christian identity of the town's congregations." In their dissent, the liberal justices noted that although "legislative prayers" have been held to be a ceremonial exception to the First Amendment's prohibition on the establishment of religion, the Town of Greece crossed the constitutional line by embedding Christian prayers as the bar citizens must cross before they can engage their representatives.
In his Washington Post column, Will celebrated the majority's reinterpretation of what constitutes permissible "legislative prayers." He also took the opportunity to gratuitously slam the "prickly plaintiffs" for bringing the case at all, falsely pretending the concerns of religious minorities are the same as those of "militantly aggravated secularists."
From Will's May 7 column (emphasis added):
Three decades have passed since the court last ruled on the matter of prayers during government meetings. In 1983, the court held:
"The opening of sessions of legislative and other deliberative public bodies with prayer is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country. From colonial times through the founding of the Republic and ever since, the practice of legislative prayer has coexisted with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom."
Since then, however, many Americans have become more irritable and litigious and less neighborly. Also, there are many more nonbelievers. And the court has made establishment-clause jurisprudence more labyrinthine with nuances such as the "endorsement test": What government behavior touching religion would a reasonable observer see as endorsing -- or disapproving -- a particular religion or religiosity generally?
The majority held that ceremonial prayer -- an encouragement to gravity and sobriety -- is not harmful to the plaintiffs, who felt somehow coerced when present at public prayers, and who said such prayers are necessarily divisive. The court should have told them: If you feel coerced, you are flimsy people, and it is a choice -- an unattractive one -- to feel divided from your neighbors by their affection for brief and mild occasional expressions of religiosity.
Taking offense has become America's national pastime; being theatrically offended supposedly signifies the exquisitely refined moral delicacy of people who feel entitled to pass through life without encountering ideas or practices that annoy them. As the number of nonbelievers grows -- about 20 percent of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, as are one-third of adults under the age of 30 -- so does the itch to litigate believers into submission to secular sensibilities.
Right-wing media have worked themselves into a tizzy over a controversy about a student reading his Bible in a Florida public school, but they aren't telling the whole story.
The CBS affiliate in Miami, FL, reported on May 5 that a fifth-grade boy at a public school in Broward County claimed he was banned from reading his Bible during "free-time reading" in his classroom:
A Broward County boy said he was banned from reading "The Good Book" during free-reading time in school. The boy and his father have hired an attorney, calling this a violation of the boy's Constitutional rights. Meanwhile, the Broward County School District says this is all a big misunderstanding.
The Miami Herald reported that Broward school officials "rejected the accusation" because the student was reading his Bible during a "classroom 'accelerated reading' program," not during a free-reading session. The Herald also noted that the boy's family is being represented by the Liberty Institute, a "conservative religious-rights group" that "targeted Broward County on Monday in an ongoing campaign contending that faith is under attack in America's elementary schools." (Indeed, the Liberty Institute has a "long history of hyperbolic assertions about the impending end of religious freedom.")
A statement from Broward County Public Schools on Monday, May 5, affirmed the county's commitment to religious freedom:
Broward County Public Schools respects and upholds the rights of students to bring personal religious materials to school, including the Bible, and to read these items before school, after school or during any "free reading" time during the school day.
On right-wing media, however, it's a much different story.
Fox News' Fox & Friends discussed the story on May 6, leading with its "Trouble With Schools" chryon. Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that the boy's father had previously been in touch with the school principal about when the boy was allowed to read the Bible in school, which included before and after school, during lunch, and at free time, but that "the teacher didn't like it" when the boy began reading his Bible during "his free time." Doocy continued:
DOOCY: Well the teacher didn't like it, and the kid said, if you have a problem with this, you need to call my dad. Well the dad wasn't there to pick up the phone and instead, the teacher left this embarrassing voicemail.
The Wall Street Journal mischaracterized Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan's dissent in the Greece, New York, public prayer case, accusing Kagan and the other liberal justices who dissented of "working hard to push religion to the sidelines of American public life." In fact, Kagan made clear in her dissent that the town should lose the case because it failed to adhere to religious diversity; as she noted, the town "never sought (except briefly when this suit was filed) to involve, accommodate, or in any way reach out to adherents of non-Christian religions."
On May 5, the Supreme Court ruled in Town of Greece v. Galloway that the prayer given before town meetings did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Kagan (joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor) dissented, arguing that based on the facts of the case, a constitutional line had clearly been crossed -- the town had invited predominantly Christian clergy to the meetings to give explicitly Christian invocations.
As Kagan wrote in her dissent, "the Town of Greece should lose this case" because "the invocations given -- directly to those citizens -- were predominantly sectarian in content." The dissent went on to explain that the prayers before the town meetings in Greece went beyond what the majority opinion called "a benign acknowledgment of religion's role in society." In the dissent's view, it was not the prayer per se that crossed the constitutional line, but the fact that the prayers "repeatedly invoked a single religion's beliefs." Prayers included a discussion of "the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross" and "the plan of redemption that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ."
But the facts didn't seem to matter to the WSJ editorial board, which argued that Kagan's dissent was tantamount to "limit[ing] God in the public square."
From the May 5 editorial:
The High Court had upheld legislative prayer as recently as 1983 in Marsh v. Chambers, so this case was really about whether the Justices were going to restrict that precedent and further limit God in the public square. That's precisely what the four liberal Justices would have done, led by Elena Kagan, who argued in her dissent that even allowing a rabbi or cleric to make a sectarian reference is divisive and constitutes a state endorsement of that religion. Joined by the three other liberals, she said any prayer must be generic and entirely nonsectarian.
The town of Greece used mostly Christian prayers because its citizens are predominantly Christian. Yet when rabbis and clerics of other faiths asked to give the prayer, they were welcome. Even a Wiccan priestess was allowed to issue what we suppose was an anti-prayer. Council members and visitors were under no obligation to pray along and there was no evidence of punishment or even disapproval for anyone who didn't.
While the decision is welcome, the close vote shows that public prayer hangs by a single vote at the High Court. The liberal Justices were more than happy to modify a precedent to further restrict even the most passing public reference to a sectarian God. Religion is in no danger of imposing itself on Americans, but a dominant secular legal culture is still working hard to push religion to the sidelines of American public life.
The WSJ's characterization of Kagan's dissent in Town of Greece missed her point entirely.
From the May 5 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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For years, conservative media figures have attacked marriage equality by citing "religious liberty" concerns, baselessly warning that churches might be forced to perform same-sex weddings against their will. But a new lawsuit in North Carolina challenges the right-wing media's commitment to religious freedom when it's not being used as an excuse for anti-gay discrimination.
On April 28, the United Church of Christ (UCC), a progressive Protestant denomination that supports marriage equality, filed suit in Federal District Court challenging North Carolina's ban on clergy blessings of same-sex unions. Under the state's 2012 same-sex marriage ban, it's a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 45 days in jail, to perform a ceremony for any couple lacking a valid marriage license. The UCC argues that the ban infringes on clergy members' First Amendment right to free exercise of religion:
"We didn't bring this lawsuit to make others conform to our beliefs, but to vindicate the right of all faiths to freely exercise their religious practices," said Donald C. Clark Jr., general counsel of the United Church of Christ.
The lawsuit represents the inverse of a long-standing (and entirely baseless) conservative horror story about marriage equality - that churches will be forced to perform same-sex weddings against their will.
This myth has been perpetuated by conservative media personalities like Fox's Todd Starnes, who in 2012 warned that a Kansas non-discrimination ordinance "would force churches to host gay weddings":
When the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Breitbart News' Ben Shapiro claimed that churches would lose their tax exempt status if they failed to perform same-sex weddings. Fox contributor Erick Erickson has gone so far as to claim "gay marriage and religious freedom are incompatible." And Fox News' longstanding campaign to depict marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws as burdens on religious liberty inspired a rash of so-called "religious freedom" bills across the country earlier this year.
Given social conservatives' self-appointed role as guardians of religious freedom, the North Carolina case would seem ripe for their attention.
But now that religious liberty is being invoked to oppose a gay marriage ban, will right-wing media rush to tout the cause of a pro-equality church?
Conservatives who rushed to defend "religious liberty" legislation like Arizona SB 1062 have so far been silent on the case. The New York Times' Ross Douthat, who penned a column supporting Arizona's bill on religious liberty grounds, has yet to comment on the UCC case on his blog. A TV Eyes search shows that Fox News - which regularly features segments titled "The Fight for Faith" - hasn't taken up the UCC's mantle. The same goes for anti-gay conservatives like Starnes, Shapiro, and Erickson.
While civil marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples would have no bearing on churches' doctrines and practices, laws like North Carolina's actively restrict religious denominations' right to freely exercise their faith. If serving a cake to a same-sex couple constitutes an unconscionable violation of religious liberty, then surely a law telling churches which unions they can and can't bless does. But the right's crusade against LGBT equality has almost nothing to do with genuine, intellectually consistent support for religious liberty, and everything to do with keeping discrimination enshrined in law.
Too often in conservative media, religious liberty becomes a shield to deflect accusations of bigotry, even while justifying blatant anti-LGBT discrimination. UCC's lawsuit, and conservative media's interest in taking it up as a cause célèbre, will test whether the right's interest in religious liberty is anything more than a shallow excuse for homophobia.
Equality Matters searched TV Eyes for the terms "gay," "United Church of Christ," and "North Carolina" for Fox's programming on April 28 and the morning of April 29, 2014.
Photo via Flickr.com user Sarah Cartwright
Fox News' Katie Pavlich said on Twitter that President Obama is anti-Semitic.
Pavlich, who is one of the rotating co-hosts for the new Fox News show Outnumbered, which launched Monday, was reacting to comments Secretary of State John Kerry made about the Middle East peace process. In his remarks, Kerry emphasized the importance of a two-state solution for Israel, "[b]ecause a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens -- or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state."
On Monday night, Pavlich tweeted that "Obama won't fire John Kerry ... because he's anti-Semitic."
Obama won't fire John Kerry for two reasons. 1. doesn't need the donors 2. because he's anti-Semitic-- Katie Pavlich (@KatiePavlich) April 28, 2014
After being asked whether she really intended to label the president as anti-Semitic, Pavlich confirmed that she did: