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  • Meet Anti-LGBTQ Extremism’s Insidious New Leader

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Michael Farris

    The extremist Christian legal giant Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) -- known for spearheading the anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ fight in state legislatures, nationally, and abroad -- just named a new president. Here’s what you need to know about ADF’s new leader, Michael Farris -- an experienced fearmongerer and fundamentalist lawyer who will lead the group's assault on LGBTQ rights.

    What Is The Alliance Defending Freedom?

    ADF is a Christian nonprofit based in Scottsdale, AZ, with a $48 million-a-year budget that works with over 3,100 allied attorneys nationally for the "right of people to freely live out their faith."

    Established as the “Alliance Defense Fund” in 1994, much of ADF's "religious freedom" work has long consisted of anti-LGBTQ activism. As part of the group’s mission “to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries,” over the past two decades, ADF has supported criminalizing same-sex, consensual sexual activities, opposed anti-bullying efforts in public schools, and labeled the hate crime that led to the murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard a “hoax” to advance the "homosexual agenda." 

    Recently, ADF has been behind the national push for so-called “religious freedom” laws (RFRAs) that attempt to legalize anti-LGBTQ discrimination under the guise of “protecting” religious liberty. The group laid the groundwork for these laws by peddling the myth of “Christian persecution” -- the idea that Christians are under attack by the "homosexual agenda." ADF is also leading the nationwide campaign to pass “bathroom bills” -- like North Carolina’s House Bill 2 (HB 2) -- that ban transgender people, including students, from accessing bathroom and locker room facilities consistent with their gender identity.

    ADF has also taken its extremist agenda abroad through ADF International, a project of ADF that's trained “thousands” of lawyers that has, among other things, worked in Jamaica, Belize, and India to support laws that imprison gay people for having sex. They’ve also been actively involved in the U.N. and the Organization of American States in order to advance their anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice agenda.

    Who Is Michael Farris?

    Michael (Mike) Farris is a veteran of the religious right, dating back to his opposition of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and role as the Washington state director of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. In 1983, Farris founded the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a self-described “Christian organization” that aims to defend “the constitutional right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children and to protect family freedoms.” Farris has a long-standing history attacking LGBTQ people and their families, which includes:

    • writing an amicus brief defending criminalization of gay sex in the 2003 Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas;
    • opposing federal hate crimes legislation protecting LGBTQ people in 2009 on the grounds that it would lead to “dangerous” restrictions on religious speech; and,
    • arguing against civil unions in 2004, by saying that “I fail to see the point of all the hard work it is going to take to pass a constitutional amendment if we are going to open the door for civil unions whether they are enacted by legislatures or by tyrannical courts.”

    More recently, Farris been fighting human rights declarations at the U.N. He’s also spoken out against “radical feminist proposals” and “homosexual and transgender ideology” for disrupting the “idea that gender is a distinction made by God.”

    A 2015 investigation by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news organization, profiled HSLDA’s “frightening” and “highly influential” lobbying power, even against basic forms of homeschool regulation. HSLDA has fought against required annual tests and evaluations of home-schooled students’ work, such as a 2009 bill in New Hampshire. The organization has opposed laws that would require criminal background check for parents who want to homeschool children, calling them “draconian.” They also aggressively lobbied against mandatory reporting laws in instances of suspected child abuse. HSLDA advises its members not to tell neighbors or families that they are homeschooling “for fear one of them would call social services.”

    Building on HSLDA’s success, in 2000 Farris founded Patrick Henry College (PHC) partly due to what he described as “a demand from homeschooling parents for a college that promoted courtship culture, in which male students ask female students’ fathers for permission to ‘court’ with marriage in mind.” One out of only a handful of colleges in the U.S. that eschews federal funds in order to avoid complying with government regulations, PHC has an “outsized influence as a training ground for the religious right and a pipeline to conservative jobs in Washington.” During the George W. Bush-era, the school had more White House interns than Georgetown University. In February 2014, New Republic ran a profile of PHC, titled “Sexual Assault at God's Harvard,” about the mishandling of sexual assault cases at the evangelical school. As detailed by reporter Kiera Feldman, the investigation found “the administration treated sexual assault perpetrators with impunity, discouraged women from going to the police, and blamed victims for dressing or behaving immodestly.” In response to a sexual assault report filed by a student, a dean at PHC replied, “If you were telling the truth about this, God would’ve kept you conscious.”

    How Will Farris Lead ADF’s Attacks On LGBTQ Equality?

    Fearmongering was an integral part of HSLDA’s success in cultivating an active and involved membership base. Under Farris’ leadership, ADF will likely ramp up its campaign to convince supporters that any gains in LGBTQ equality will lead to widespread persecution of Christians or an influx of “bathroom predators.”

    Fitting with ADF’s vision of an American legal system rooted in 3rd century Christian theology, Farris has long advocated for a cultural change to shape American politics towards the far religious right. Farris also founded another organization, Generation Joshua, a 7,500 member organization that seeks to train teens to be the “next generation of Christian leaders and citizens.” While ADF already has a vast domestic and international training program to recruit lawyers and law students to provide pro-bono hours for anti-LGBTQ legal work, Farris’ work with K-12 and undergraduate students could lay the groundwork for ADF expanding its training to younger ages.

    In addition to his work training the “next generation” of far right leaders, Farris has already led legal fights on the international front. ADF’s biography of Farris spotlights his international work, both through HSLDA’s international arm and his “successful opposition to various United Nations treaties designed to control American domestic policy.” This “success” includes Farris’ opposition to ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a landmark human rights treaty that all U.N. countries have ratified -- except the United States. ADF already has “special consultative” status at the U.N., which allows ADF lawyers “virtually unfettered access to U.N. missions during key convention and treaty-drafting meetings.” Instead of simply opposing the United States ratifying human rights treaties, Farris will now be in the position to convince other member states to dangerously advance anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice positions.

    * Image courtesy of Sarah Wasko

  • Here Are All The Reasons Media Think Trump Is Not Releasing His Tax Returns

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    After Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump reiterated his plan not to release his tax returns prior to the election due to an IRS audit -- despite the IRS saying he is not precluded from doing so -- media figures questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s excuse, arguing instead that it could be due to his possible business dealings with Russia, paying little to no taxes, and not giving to charity, among other reasons.

  • Will The Media Fall For Paul Ryan’s Sham Poverty Proposals Again?

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    With Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan slated to release a new proposal to “reform” American anti-poverty programs on June 7, media should be aware of his long history of promoting “far-right” and “backward-looking” policies that would enact draconian cuts to vital programs for families in need and actually "exacerbate poverty, inequality, and wage stagnation."

  • An Extensive Guide To The Fact Checks, Debunks, And Criticisms Of Trump’s Various Problematic Policy Proposals

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY & JARED HOLT

    Over the course of the 2016 presidential primary, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has laid forth a series of problematic policy proposals and statements -- ranging from his plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States to his suggestion that the United States default on debt -- that media have warned to be “dangerous,” “fact-free,” “unconstitutional,” “contradictory,” “racist,” and “xenophobic.” Media Matters compiled an extensive list of Trump’s widely panned policy plans thus far along with the debunks and criticism from media figures, experts and fact-checkers that go along with them.

  • Here Are The Big Players In The Inevitable Smear Campaign Against Judge Merrick Garland

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    As President Obama reportedly prepares to announce Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, media should be prepared to hear from several right-wing groups dedicated to opposing the nominee, no matter who it is. These advocacy groups and right-wing media outlets have a history of pushing misleading information and alarmist rhetoric to launch smear campaigns against Obama's highly qualified Supreme Court nominees, using tactics including, but not limited to, spreading offensive rumors about a nominee's personal life, deploying bogus legal arguments or conspiracy theories, and launching wild distortions of every aspect of a nominee's legal career.

  • Economists, Reporters Slam Fox's Neil Cavuto For Implying The Financial Crisis Happened On Obama's Watch

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Economists and veteran journalists slammed Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network anchor and senior vice president Neil Cavuto for framing a question in the January 14 Republican presidential debate in a way that implied President Obama was to blame for the financial crisis he inherited from the Bush administration. American financial markets peaked on October 9-10, 2007 before steadily declining as the economy slipped into recession, more than 16 months before President Obama's inauguration.

  • Media Fall For Paul Ryan's Sham Poverty Forum

    ››› ››› CRISTIANO LIMA

    Media figures have credited House Speaker Paul Ryan with thrusting the supposedly "forgotten" issue of poverty into the 2016 Republican presidential race following his participation in the January 9 presidential forum on poverty, but failed to mention that despite his new rhetoric, Ryan has a long history of promoting harmful policies that would "exacerbate poverty, inequality, and wage stagnation."

  • Will Media Give Other Republicans A Pass On Trump-Like Anti-Muslim Rhetoric?

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Media figures and outlets are strongly condemning Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. But while Trump's rhetoric is extreme, it is not unique -- several other Republican candidates have extreme anti-Muslim rhetoric without receiving such "universal condemnation," as The New Republic noted.

  • The Atlantic Calls Out GOP's "Dangerous" Embrace Of The Gold Standard

    Republican Candidates Push The Gold Standard "To The Dismay Of Most Economists"

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    The Atlantic pushed back against remarks from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other Republican candidates at Fox Business' presidential debate that the United States should bring back the gold standard, noting "economists agree that the gold standard is a bad idea."

    Right-wing media personalities like Glenn Beck and Alex Jones, who have profited greatly from advertisers selling gold and silver, have pushed for a return to the gold standard for years against the opposition of nearly all economists and monetary policy experts. At Fox Business' Republican presidential debate on November 10, Ted Cruz and other GOP presidential candidates once again advocated for reinstituting the gold standard. The New Republic called Cruz's gold standard proposal "particularly reckless," and ThinkProgress noted Cruz's support for a gold-based money supply would leave the "entire economy exposed to catastrophe" after the senator proposed a return to the gold standard during the October 28 presidential debate on CNBC.

    On November 11, The Atlantic addressed many of these critiques, pointing out the volatility a gold standard would create and how the economic consensus is decidedly against returning to this outdated form of monetary policy. The article also noted Cruz's support for gold may be influenced by the millions of dollars gold standard supporter Robert Mercer has donated to super PACs supporting his presidential campaign (emphasis added):

    During Tuesday night's Republican debate a familiar topic resurfaced to the dismay of most economists: the case for the gold standard.

    Senator Ted Cruz criticized the Fed's ability to manipulate monetary policy (a common refrain among gold-standard advocates) saying, "Instead of adjusting monetary policy according to whims and getting it wrong over and over again and causing booms and busts, what the Fed should be doing is ... keeping our money tied to a stable level of gold

    [...]

    These conversations may be less an attempt to actually convince rivals, lawmakers, or voters that the gold standard is sound fiscal policy, and more about displaying commitment to conservative ideals, wooing big donors, and demonstrating a substantial disdain for current monetary policies.

    In general, economists agree that the gold standard is a bad idea. Pegging the dollar to the metal is, in theory, supposed to offer long-term rate stability. But in practice, that hasn't usually worked out. In the short term, linking dollars to gold quantities can produce a currency that's pretty volatile.

    [...]

    The conversations about gold in recent years are perhaps less about the belief that it's actually smart policy and more about condemning and rejecting the power of the government, through the Federal Reserve, to control the printing of money and the setting of interest rates. For some conservatives these powers stand in direct opposition to their preference for small government and their conception of free-market capitalism. Some also see the ability to print money, which can devalue existing dollars, as a form of taxation, another violation of Republican beliefs.

    The gold-standard advocates are not only politicians. They include a small but vocal (and rich) minority of Wall Streeters and hedge funders still angry about the Fed's low-interest rate (read: low yields) put in place during the 2008 crisis and lasting until today. This minority is an influential one, especially when it comes to political campaigns, because of its ability to drum up large sums of money. For example, the hedge-fund manager Robert Mercer, who favors the gold standard, donated millions to four super PACs affiliated with Cruz's campaign.

    [...]

    Pegging money to gold ounces offers no such protection, and in fact could be quite dangerous. While the commodity has long been considered valuable, it isn't immune to declines. The price has fluctuated significantly over the years, and hit a five-year low in July. As Matthew O'Brien noted in a 2012 article in The Atlantic, the ability to print money under a gold standard relies on how much gold can be found at any given time. That could create an economic disaster that has little to do with actual economic trends. With an economy that's just starting to show some signs of life after the recession, that's a problem the country certainly doesn't need.

  • Media Slam Trump For Invoking A Deadly, "Unabashedly Racist" Deportation Program As A Model For His Immigration Plans

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G. & BRENNAN SUEN

    Media outlets slammed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for invoking President Dwight Eisenhower's "inhumane" and "unabashedly racist" deportation program as a blueprint for his own immigration plans, explaining that the program -- derogatorily called "Operation Wetback" -- resulted in dozens of immigrant deaths and used methods described as "indescribable scenes of human misery and tragedy."