You are on page 1of 9


video Click here for audio

[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: Rarely does a week go by on this show that we dont talk about some manifestation of religions encroaching on our secular society. As I take pains to explain on a regular basis, this doesn't come from a hatred of religion, but rather from a profound respect for religion. Something that is as important to countless Americans as their faith must not be corrupted and contaminated in the service of political or even cultural goals. And just as importantly, the essential rights of Americans to worship or not worship as their consciences dictate must be protected. Now, if you ever doubted the relevance, urgency and importance of keeping on this week after week and year after year, your doubts will evaporate after reading a shocking new report from Political Research Associates titled Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights. In it, author Jay Michaelson lays bare the well-organized, well-funded and alarmingly effective campaign to fundamentally redefine the meaning of religious liberty. Michaelson presents case studies, facts and figures. But just as important, he convincingly traces both the technique and the objective back through history, and offers a future that would be unrecognizable to many of us who treasure the Constitutional separation of Church and State. With that, I am very pleased to welcome back to State of Belief Radio Jay Michaelson. Welcome, Jay! [DR. JAY MICHAELSON, GUEST]: A pleasure to be here, Welton. [WG]: Jay, this past week you and I were at the same conference dealing with the subject of redefining religious liberty, here in Washington, DC. And because these kinds of events often are quiet and cerebral, I want you to start by telling us what happened - I mean, it was anything but quiet and just cerebral. What happened? [JM]: Well, you know, I think that's right, and one reason that happened is folks tailor their message to who they think is in the audience. And I think at that conference there were some folks from a relatively conservative point of view

who really kind of tried to play softball with their own positions, and make them out to be much more reasonable than they actually are. And having just completed six months of research on this report that you mentioned, I just wasn't willing to let that happen. And so we were told that the biggest issues around religious liberty are people who just want to speak their mind, you know, like the CEO of Chick-fil-A. But that's not true! You know, the folks who were at that conference from the Beckett Fund - they're representing another company called Hobby Lobby, which doesn't just want to speak its mind, but impose its view on all of its employees and deny them the right to have insurance coverage for their contraception. So I just wasn't willing to be spun in the way that the presenters wanted to spin it, and I think when they were confronted with some of their actual positions, the jig was up. [WG]: Yeah... I mean, truth is a controversial thing. To be honest, it would be valuable to have you just read the entire paper here today, but time doesn't allow for that. So let me ask you just to summarize what you contend in this important report. [JM]: Well, I think a lot of folks - a lot of listeners, I'm sure - really value religious liberty as a central, fundamental constitutional value. And as you said, that's true as much for people of faith as for anyone else. The separation of Church and State was meant, originally, to protect the Church, not the State! To protect the Church from the wilderness of the State. But that term has now become a code word - kind of like "Family values" - and it's been turned from a shield into a sword. So religious liberty and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment is meant to be a shield; it's meant to protect your personal, individual, free exercise of religion. And so many of us - I'm sure, again, many listeners remember the Religious Freedom Restoration Act from a little while ago, I was actually working on the Hill for the person who drafted that law, that was meant and it passed 97 to nothing in the Senate for a reason - because it was meant to protect minority religions and religious practitioners from having their religious practices restricted by the government. It's a shield. But now it's been used as a sword. Now, religious liberty is being used by a small group of very conservative Catholic intellectuals and conservative Evangelical political figures to impose one's own view on others, and discriminate against other people. So, for example, I should be able, as a bully on a high school schoolyard, to quote-unquote "express my disapproval of homosexuality" in the form of bullying a gay teenager. Or in that case of Hobby Lobby which I mentioned, I should be able, as the boss, to simply not cover any forms of health care, such as contraception, that I may deem to be objectionable. This is radically new. This is a change in how we understand religious liberty, and it's kind of playing the victim. It's a shift of who's really doing the discriminating:

who's the victim, and who's the oppressor. I think most of us would say, if there's a bully and a kid being bullied, that the kid being bullied is really the victim. But in this conservative religious liberty rhetoric, it's the bully who's the victim if they're not allowed to express their opinion; it's the wedding photographer who's the victim if she's not allowed to discriminate against gay couples, or potentially against couples of a different faith or a different ethnic group. And that really is worrisome, because for many of us how have fought for religious liberty for decades, we're seeing the very term be co-opted right in front of our eyes. [WG]: Right. Well you go way beyond what I'm afraid many of us get caught up in, oftentimes: the immediate political and social implications of individual attempts to redefine religious freedom. And you discuss - rightly discuss - the historical origins of this strategy, and how it came to be so prevalent today. I think it's very important you talk about that. [JM]: Well, and this is an important part of our history that I think a lot of folks don't know. You know, there's a myth that the so-called "Christian Right," that the political Christian Right, came in response to Roe vs. Wade and in response to their concern over abortion. But actually, as historian Randall Balmer has written about in two books, the Christian Right was born in response to a different case: the Bob Jones University case. And that was a conservative Evangelical college that had a racist admissions policy, and then it was, later, a racist housing policy - kind of segregation - and later, a racist dating policy that Blacks and Whites couldn't date one another. And the IRS took away Bob Jones University's tax exemption - notice they didn't tell them to stop their policy; they didn't stop them from doing what they were doing, but they took away their tax exemption as a result of these extremely offensive and racist policies. And the University fought back, claiming religious liberty, or religious freedom. This same argument that is now being used to fight against women's rights and to fight against Gay rights was used to fight against civil rights in the 1970's and the early 1980's. And Bob Jones University is still, all this time later, 35 years later, still a rallying cry for folks on the Evangelical Right. They still believe that that case, which was decided, eventually, by the Supreme Court in 1983, that that was wrongly decided; that Bob Jones should have still been able to go along with their tax exemption even though they were violating public policy with those policies. So it's an old argument that's been repurposed into a new space. And that's happened - I'll just, one last point on that - you know, the reason that Bob Jones University pled "religious freedom" in the 70's was they had already lost the moral battle about desegregation. This was one of the last bastions of segregation and institutionalized racism in that form. And today we're seeing a very similar thing happen with regard to LGBT rights and LGBT equality. All of the data shows us that reasonable Americans - whether they're conflicted

Christians, or Moderates, or whatever their religious beliefs are - are overwhelmingly now in favor of same-sex marriage and of equal rights for LGBT Americans. And having lost that moral battle on the merits, they're now fighting the same political battle with this new language of "religious liberty." Just like they did with segregation, they're now doing again when it comes to LGBT equality. [WG]: Jay, that is such a thoughtful and insightful review of a whole lot of history, and I couldn't help but think, as you were talking, several years ago I became friends with - or maybe just an acquaintance with - a young man who was working with some of the grandfathers of the Religious right, and he told me he was in the room when a conversation went on between these early leaders. And they said, intentionally, it is time for us to embrace a strategy of convincing American Conservatives that they are victims, and that they are living in a society in which they are persecuted against, and in which they're martyrs. Personally, it makes me sick at my stomach, because it takes a word that has a great history - the word "martyr," a word that has a great history, and is filled with integrity for people who have stood up for the right things and have been hurt by it - and for that to be used as a categorization of the people who are trying to take over this nation in the name of their particular religion makes me sick at my stomach. [JM]: It is absolutely sickening. You know, it was interesting at that conference that we were at just a few days ago, there were people there who were working for real religious liberty around the world. You know, numerically, just how many human beings are being persecuted for their religion, Christians are probably the most persecuted religion in the world. But real persecution! People are being put to death; people are being discriminated against in countries around the world, and there are folks who are forging alliances with conservative Christian organizations and religious liberty advocates and really working on behalf of people who are really the victims of religious discrimination. And to see the same word - religious liberty - used here as a sword instead of a shield, and as this rhetorical club to fight the culture war, is incredibly disturbing because actually, religious liberty is in danger in many countries in the world. And it's this very cynical misuse of the same term that defends people whose lives are at stake to defend people here who simply want to discriminate against other people. [WG]: That's exactly right. Well, let me be specific with a question, and you be as specific as you want to be with the answer: where do you most see this happening? What majorities in the United States do you see identifying themselves as victims, and trying to actually prostitute religious freedom under that kind of disguise? [JM]: Well, that's something... The rhetoric's been going on for a while, that there's a notion there's a war on religion. Phyllis Schlafly wrote a book on the socalled war on religion; our friend Donald Wildmon wrote a book, also calling the

Obama Administration fighting a war on religion. But you know what's disturbing is that it's not just those extremists anymore. At the vice-presidential debate in November, Paul Ryan accused the Obama Administration of waging a war against Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals and Catholic charities. This was not just a fringe moment; this was one of the high-water marks of this religious liberty movement: that a mainstream candidate for vice-president parroted the rhetoric that has been defined by these activists in such a forum as a vice-presidential debate. It was an incredibly disturbing moment. And you know, to give another specific example of why this is so disturbing: it's one thing when you have someone kind of quoting the bible in your face and shouting fundamentalist slogans; you kind of know where they stand. But religious liberty is a value we all share; it's a constitutional value. Stanford University recently accepted a multi-million dollar grant from the Beckett Fund, which is an organization funded by conservative Catholic organizations, including the Knights of Columbus, to establish a Stanford Center for Religious Liberty on the campus of Stanford University. This is absolutely unprecedented, and it shows the degree to which this argument, this strategy, has succeeded in coopting mainstream institutions. The vice-presidential debates, Stanford University - you don't get much more mainstream than that. And you would never see, for example, Stanford University create a pro-life center to rescue the unborn, or some other traditional family values center. This strategy is working where other strategies have failed. [WG]: We have observed the coming together of Evangelicals and the Catholic bishops around the issue of birth control in the HHS debate and mandate; but reading your report, it starts to seem possible that these two groups came together first around strategy - the strategy we're talking about, using religious liberty rhetoric - and only then around a particular issue. Do you think that's possible, or do you just know that's real? [JM]: Well, that's happened. That's a matter of history. You know, we do have go a little further back into history, but it used to be Evangelicals thought that the Catholics... The anti-Catholicism in the Evangelical church was enormous! You know, they were the bitter enemies, and all kinds of horrible things were said about John F. Kennedy, and about the Pope, and about the Catholic Church. All of a sudden, in the 1970's, there was an alliance that was formed. And if you really go back and - there's a writer named Jonathan Dudley who's written really well about this, about the pro-life movement and the notion that life begins at conception. That was a point of Catholic dogma, and Evangelicals never believed it. In fact, they explicitly repudiated it. Until the 1970's, when it became politically expedient to create this alliance between Catholic intellectuals and Evangelical so-called "foot soldiers." And it started, again, with religious liberty around Bob Jones University and around race and segregation; all of a sudden the Evangelical population, which had been against parochial schools

started creating their own schools and started asking for school vouchers and funding of religious institutions. And that goes right up until the present moment, where's there's this cooperation. You know, one of the questions that a skeptic might ask about the report: they might say, "Well, I get it that these are conservative folks, but don't they really believe that their religious liberty is under attack? How do we know that it's really this coordinated campaign?" And to be honest, they do believe. A lot of these folks really do believe that religious liberty is under attack. But you just have to follow the money. So at the religious liberty rallies that were held last year, both in the summer and in the fall, the organizations that turned out the numbers were pro-life organizations. These were not religious liberty organizations; these were the same folks who just want to fight abortion for the same reasons that they've always wanted to fight against abortion and reproductive rights. And they've just found a new strategy by which to do so. And that alliance that was forged in the pro-life movement is that same Catholic-Evangelical alliance that's been so devastatingly effective in getting religious exemptions to guarantees of a woman's right to choose. [WG]: You expose in your book an astonishing amount of material about budgets in the service of this very kind of work. And Jay, I can tell you this is ironic. A lot of our listeners know this, I used to be a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention. It was in the Southern Baptist Convention that I learned religious liberty and the importance of religious freedom for Baptists. It was after the political takeover of the fundamentalists in the Southern Baptist Convention that they decided that they would continue to use religious freedom language, but they would use it in the cause - much as the Roman Catholic bishops do - in the cause of advancing their own religion, believing that religious freedom was for them, but not equally for others. [JM]: Well, that's absolutely right. And you know, what a lot of folks who are doing that, sort of cynically exploiting religious freedom, don't realize is kind of the law of unintended consequences. This is a slippery slope. So if you suppose I'm that CEO of Hobby Lobby, and I don't want to provide contraception coverage to my female employees because they may one day use it to obtain contraception. Well now suppose I'm a member of the Church of Christ, Scientist, and I have a religious objection to health care in general! Does that mean that I shouldn't have to provide any health care coverage to anyone? Or, again, suppose I'm a Muslim, and I want to use the same rationale to say that I shouldn't have to - you know, there's a case of a Muslim taxi driver who didn't want to take drunk passengers in his taxi and wanted to refuse them - once we open Pandora's box and star saying that religious liberty is something that can be used as a sword against third parties, that can infringe on third parties' rights, folks are going to wake up and realize that they've let out a lot more than they

expected if they open that box. [WG]: It seems like we've gone from the free exercise of religion to a free exercise of commerce, all under the guise of religious liberty. You make some really insightful points about widely-publicized cases like the wedding photographer who was sued for not shooting a same-gender wedding. So we're no longer talking about religious freedom as it impacts a person's freedom of conscience or freedom in a house of worship; we're now talking about a debate over the meaning of religious liberty in every area of our life, right? [JM]: Absolutely. You know, there was an op-ed just a few weeks ago called "The Conscience of a Corporation," and that title really says it well. You know, I almost wish, if Mitt Romney's right and corporations are people, and now we're going to allow corporations to have religious consciences so that they don't have to obey the same laws that all the rest of us have to obey, maybe we should take that seriously. Maybe we should force corporations to tithe their income, or to live by the rule of the Gospel, or... It's interesting, a very selective choosing of which religious tenets corporations suddenly have a religious conscience to obey. But you know, I just go back to the idea that we render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and we render unto God what is God's. That seems to me to be a pretty good and time-honored distinction: that when you're operating in the marketplace, you're opening a large business - and by the way, as a legal matter, small businesses, mom-and-pop shops, they're almost always exempted from antidiscrimination law - this is only about bigger businesses. When you're opening a large business, a large corporation, you have to play by certain rules. This is America, and we have an agreement that discrimination is wrong. And even if you think that discrimination is right, by acting in the marketplace, you need to play by the same rules as everyone else. [WG]: Jay, I wish we had a lot more time, because we could go on and on. I think it's important, since we've got to end our interview, tell our listeners how they can get more of this information; how they can see what you're writing, how they can find this report so that the conversation and interest can go on and on off the air. [JM]: Absolutely. If folks just visit the website - that's the Political Research Associates' website - the report's right there on the front page. And you know I think if folks want to learn more about this, the report at last count, I'm looking here, is 48 pages long. So there's a whole lot of data there, and you can just look at the case studies yourself and learn more about this issue so that you understand it personally. So it's [WG]: Jay Michaelson is the author of the new report "Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights, it's just out from Political Research Associates. If you ever wondered how we came to this point regarding the concept of religious liberty, youre going to find some answers in these pages.

Jay Michaelson holds a Ph.D. in Jewish Thought from Hebrew University and a J.D. from Yale Law School, and is the author of God vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality. Jay, you've made an invaluable contribution to our understanding of a process that's come to define our public debate over everything from marriage equality to school bullying and science education, and I can't thank you enough for being with us today to talk about it. If we were looking for just one thing to justify the existence of this radio program, this report would be a fine candidate. Its tragic, but youre not likely to hear a discussion of this issue anywhere else in the media. But you can hear it here at State of Belief, and you can read the report at And Jay, I thank you again for the contributions that you've made to this show and to the lives of our listeners. [JM]: Well, thank you Welton. And what you just said is why this show is so important, so thank you for the work that you're doing, as well. State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America the most religiously diverse country in the world while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes. Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong wrong for America and bad for religion. Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world. Author of more than 20 books, including First Freedom First: A Citizens Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy leads the national non-partisan grassroots and educational

organization Interfaith Alliance and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana. In addition to being a prolific writer, Dr. Gaddy hosts the weekly State of Belief radio program, where he explores the role of religion in the life of the nation by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America, while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes. Dr. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on issues relating to religion and politics. He has appeared on MSNBCs The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball, NBCs Nightly News and Dateline, PBSs Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, C-SPANs Washington Journal, ABCs World News, and CNNs American Morning. Former host of Morally Speaking on NBC affiliate KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Gaddy is a regular contributor to mainstream and religious news outlets. While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Dr. Gaddy emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is a past president of the Alliance of Baptists and has been a 20-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and member of the World Economic Forums Council of 100. Rev. Gaddy currently serves on the White House task force on the reform of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Dr. Gaddy served in many SBC leadership roles including as a member of the conventions Executive Committee from 1980-84 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-77. Dr. Gaddy received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.