Feb 012011

The Religious Right is a powerful force in American politics and society, tipping elections and making themselves one of the most influential voting blocs in the country. Their objectives are worn on their sleeves; their zeal unquestionable. Yet for everything that is known far more remains just out of common knowledge. In this series we will delve into this unknown tracking down more on their most powerful players, money, influence, and how they achieve their goals.

Focus on the Family, one of the many intellectual children of Dr. James Dobson, represents another facet of the Religious Right’s machinery and organization. Unlike their sister group theFamily Research Council Focus on the Family is much less of a lobbying organization and does most of their work outside of DC. While the FRC keeps their headquarters in Washington DC Focus on the Family runs their operations from Colorado Springs, a city dubbed the “Evangelical Vatican” thanks to the high concentration of world-famous megachurches and larger-than-life pastors. This distance from Washington has done little to dent their influence and effectiveness as a major force in the Religious Right. By leaving the heavy lobbying efforts to other organizations Focus on the Family serves as one of the main spearheads of grassroots operations across the country with allies around the world.

Focus on the Family was founded by Dr. James Dobson in 1977 to promote and uphold family values in the United States. Focus on the Family styles itself as less overtly political than other organizations. To cooperate with the Holy Spirit in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible by nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide” is their mission statement. Nowhere do they overtly proclaim support for traditional Republican Party positions instead focusing exclusively on religious slogans and imagery. In spite of recent shakeups in their finances and leadership the organization has kept up their main operations with little disruption: the dissemination of Christian fundamentalist propaganda. To Focus on the Family separation of Church and State exists to protect churches from government coercion, not to establish a secular government. On this ideological foundation they advance laws based on their religious beliefs on many issues including gambling, educational policy, the teaching of intelligent design, gay rights, abortion, and women’s rights.

The main front Focus on the Family engages is traditional marriage. Focus on the Family has consistently and most heavily engaged in the fight against gay marriage by offering their own brand of marriage counseling as the public face of the effort. Their main argument against gay marriage include claims of the downfall of Western civilization as one of the many consequences. To advance their efforts Focus on the Family raises and spends millions of dollars a year for advertising and advocacy campaigns. One of their more direct approaches is the Love Won Out Ministry, a group that claims to “cure” homosexuality. To provide further support they publish a number of studies claiming scientific basis to support their claims. These publications have been denounced by the American Psychological Association and the Royal College of Psychiatrists as unscientific and promoting an atmosphere of hate. The war against gay rights, while a major focus of effort for the organization, is just a part of Focus on the Family’s crusade to reclaim America in the name of the cross.

As part of advancing their objectives Focus on the Family uses their prominent position and network of allies in the Religious Right to rally support for their agenda. One excellent example is the National Day of Prayer Task Force. Officially the Task Force is not affiliated with Focus on the Family in any meaningful fashion. Their main office is in Focus on the Family’s headquarters in Colorado Springs and their current Chairman is Shirley Dobson who assumed the position in 1991. During the Bush Administration the Task Force coordinated the observances thanks toannual presidential proclamations giving them unofficial but clear government support. Non-Christian groups that applied to participate were regularly ignored. In the 2008 Presidential campaign, through their PAC Focus on the Family Action, they spent millions of dollars in support of John McCain’s campaign following the selection of Sarah Palin as Vice Presidential nominee. They bankrolled an extensive mailing campaign predicting doom and gloom if the GOP lost the 2008 election. Focus on the Family does not put all their proverbial eggs in one basket. They have a network of international affiliates in New ZealandAustraliaIndonesiaSingapore,TaiwanIreland, and Africa just to name a few.

Focus on the Family presents another facet to the Religious Right’s political machine. Unlike the Family Research Council they work largely in grassroots efforts eschewing a heavy emphasis on Washington lobbying for a substantial propaganda arm and international reach. While they escaped being labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center Focus on the Family remains a powerful force in the Religious Right. With substantial funding and support Focus on the Family in spite of recent shakeups and setbacks remains on the front lines as a crucial element for Christian fundamentalists in the Culture War.

Also published at Ryan’s Desk

Aug 142010

So I’m aware that I’ve been remiss in my duties here – it’s been well over a month since I posted. The reason for that is kind of my thoughts for this week’s blog. My husband and I had our wedding ceremony on Lughnasadh, and the two months prior ate up all of my free time. I failed to comprehend just how much work goes into planning something like that! I feel like my life hasn’t actually managed to recover yet – work went crazy while I was gone, and my husband and I didn’t have much time to take care of the house during those months, so we’re still recovering from oodles of mess.

My post today is kind of a strange one, I think. Because of my life craziness, I don’t have the time to do a well-researched post, but I want to talk a bit about marriage because of the events in my personal life coinciding with the repeal on Proposition 8. That’s where I’m headed with this post: my thoughts on the institution of marriage. But first, a bit of history for me and my husband.

We decided to get married in May of 2009. We found a beautiful location up in the mountains, close to home, and we put down a deposit. We started making plans and putting down more deposits. And then several months later we realized that we were going to be moving so he could return to finish up his bachelor’s degree. I had always wanted a Lughnasadh wedding. In Ireland, Lughnasadh was the time of year when anything relating to legality was dealt with, and I wanted to say my vows in front of friends, family, and gods on Lughnasadh in honor of that history and tradition.

But we found out that insurance through my husband’s school sucked. It was horrible. So we needed to get him on my insurance several months after open enrollment. Which meant a change of status – and the easiest way was to document marriage. So six months before the wedding we signed our paperwork, I changed my name, and then I had to deal with all the crap from my extended family (“if you’re already married, why have the ceremony?”).

Marriage became split for me, and I had to spend a lot of time thinking about the different aspects of it. The legal bit was very important. But it was only half of the process. The religious side was vital to me, even if our ceremony was only ten minutes long. Standing up there, hearing our officiant invoke our gods, and knowing that we were making our vows before everyone and everything important to us – I can’t express how important that was. As a heathen, the making of an oath is done before friends, family, and gods, and this was the most important oath of my life to date.

Shortly after we got back, I got wind of Prop 8. And I cheered like mad. Then I heard that Mexico City is ordering the entire country to recognize any marriage performed there, hetero- or homo- sexual in nature. And again, I cheered like mad. Iceland has legalized gay marriage, too.

Because what I learned during my marriage fiasco is that marriage is important legally and spiritually. I love the family I was born into, don’t get me wrong, but I want my spouse to be able to make important decisions if I’m incapable of making them. I want him authorizing medical procedures or financial procedures because I have chosen him to trust with those important decisions. Marriage – and love, in my opinion – isn’t bound by gender, nor should it be. It’s about individual people, oathing to take care of each other financially, emotionally, medically, physically, spiritually. And if the state can’t recognize that it’s about the people involved in the relationship, gay or straight, two or three or twenty people, the state is trying to determine for those people what is right and who can take care of you. They’re forcing that decision to be out of the control of the people, and rewarding what they think of as “correct” behavior. And we’re in a much more modern time, where people think for themselves and act for themselves. Let them marry as they will, so long as they uphold the oaths they make to each other.

As a side note, here are the vows my husband and I made to each other:

Do you promise to be a good spouse? Do you promise to display courage, truth, honor, frith, discipline, hospitality, self-reliance, industriousness, and perseverance in your marriage? Do you promise to challenge x and help him grow?

We are one when together
We are one when parted
We share all
We will raise warriors*

*These four lines I can attribute to Karen Traviss. They’re the Mandalorian wedding vows, and we felt the need to incorporate them into our wedding. It was partly honoring the ethics we both hold dear and partly playing on our geekish love of Star Wars.

Jul 092010

Yep. That’s right. The judge who ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional is clearly an uneducated, red-neck, racist intent on bringing back segration.

How did I come to that conclusion? Just read what he wrote in his opinion:
“The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state, and in doing so, offends the Tenth Amendment. For that reason, the statute is invalid,” Judge Tauro wrote in a ruling in a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Martha Coakley.  Yes, that Martha Coakley.

The judge is using a States’ Right argument as the basis for ruling that DOMA is unconstitutional and needs to go. States’ Rights. I know. Everyone knows that when people talk about States Rights that is code for hatin’ the black folk and wanting the Confederacy to rise again. That’s what I’m informed of when I note that as a Conservative, I’m a strong supporter of States Rights (aka Federalism or New Federalism or mockingly called “Tenthers”).

I’ve written the above portion of the post satirically as I’m both very pleased with the ruling yet frustrated by a lack of understanding or appreciation of what being an advocate for States’ Rights means.  Aside:  To read a much better version of satire, or Satyr – mocking criticism of societal conventions – you may want to give this a once over.

Being a Hellenic Pagan, with it’s history of autonomous poleis with varying laws and customs, has only slightly reinforced a favorable view of that philosophy. Not that I’m blind to all the problems such a system of closely allied states can have. After all, we tried it from 1777 to 1789 and had to make some well-reasoned adjustments to how we ran our government and what the roles of local, state, and federal authority would be. Now, if only we could institute formal ostracism for a set period of time for public figues who piss us off or annoy us like they had in Athens.  Wouldn’t that be nice?

Back to States Rights and if it is “code” or “dog-whistle” politics for racist policies.

Yes, some of the people advocating for States Rights really are pushing for a return to segregation. Not many, but there are people who are that bigoted and backward. But States’ Rights no more equals racism than Asatru equals white supremacy. Or Wicca equals evil witches.

The political concept of States Rights and Federalism existed long before the “Southern Strategy” of courting white southern voters longing for a return to segregation by Republicans to gain power in the South after the Civil War ever came into being. (The interesting thing about the Southern Strategy is that it was an attempt by the GOP to break the hold Democrats had over the South since the end of the Civil War.  A hold that was based on state sanctioned and enforced racism by the Democrats.  Which was, in turn, a reaction to the racial equity reforms enacted by Radical Republicans during Reconstruction.)  I could get into a detailed explaination of the meaning and history of Federalism, but can we just say that Federalism is a system of government in which power is divided between Federal, State, and Local governments? That those of us who are Federalists think that, at this time, the Federal government has unconstitutionally usurped too much power by using the 10th admendment and the “Necessary and Proper” clause.

The 10th amendment is possibly the most misused and misinterpreted amendment in the entire constitution. It has been stood on its head to allow the Federal government to sieze authority that should belong to either the States or the People. The 10th amendment was created to reinforce the idea that all powers not specifically granted to the Federal government nor prohibited to the States by the Constitution of the United States are reserved to the States or the people.

The 10th amendment also contains a little something called the “commerce clause” and it is that which the Federal government used for about 60 years (from 1938 to 1995) as a club to forcibly steal power away from the States and from the People while the Supreme Court laid down like a doormat. In all of that time, SCOTUS did not overturn a single federal law or regulation enacted using the commerce clause as a basis to force States into compliance and uniformity. The Federal government argued that if it crosses state lines, they have the authority to regulate it or have legislative power over it. Problem being theysay that everything crosses state lines, therefore States don’t really have authority over much of anything. This greatly weakened the ideal of limited and enumerated powers for the Federal government.

The tide has been turning, a bit, in the courts regarding the interpretation of the 10th amendment. No longer are courts interpreting the amendment as carte blanche justification for federal law enacted with the intent to force states to comply with federal wishes and to conform.

Which gets us back to Judge Tauro’s ruling in saying DOMA is unconstitutional. He used the 10th amendment (and 14th) in his ruling, but instead of using it (as it had been) to strengthen DOMA by saying that the Federal government can force States to comply with DOMA, he used it to argue that the 10th amendment grants each States the authority to decide for itself to DOMA or not to DOMA. That the federal government had no right to force states into outlawing gay marriage if thier citizens wished otherwise.

Now, if we can just get the courts to bring the Comity Clause into play, that would make me even happier. A marriage is a contract that should be treated like any other contract or public record, which means “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.” A gay marriage in Iowa should be legal and recognized in all 50 states.

I have a few odds and ends notes to close with:

1. Don’t get out the champagne just yet. This ruling is not binding on other states.

“This is a decision from a trial judge in the federal court. Unless and until the First Circuit decides to weigh in — and/or the Supreme Court of the United States, it doesn’t have any binding precedent on other states,” David Frank, Senior News Reporter for Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

2. And yet…I am concerned that this ruling could spark a US constitutional amendment similar to how court rulings at the state level spurred 30 states to amend their constitution to limit marriage to one man and one woman.

3. The DOJ may appeal this ruling but that does not mean they agree with DOMA. They may appeal it in an attempt to get it before SCOTUS to have THEM strike it down.

4. And finally, a note to my fellow Conservatives. For decades we have spoken passionately about States’ Rights, Federalism, the 10th amendment, and checking the ever expanding power of the Federal goverment. If that is a true, core belief of ours than we should be thrilled by this ruling no matter how we feel (for or against) about gay marriage. If you aren’t, then yeah, you are the reason why Liberals can tar us with the States’ Rights = Racism meme. I would appreciate it if you would stop posing as a principled Conservative when you are clearly nothing of the sort. Conservatives who oppose the States’ Rights arguement in this case because they support the statute in question are every bit as hypocritical as Liberals who see States’ Rights arguements as code for racism to then applaud the ruling because they oppose DOMA.  But this wouldn’t be the first time Conservatives were hypocrites when it came to championing States’ Rights.

Apr 142010

I’m writing this with a lot of fire, with a tumult of feeling and emotion. I prefer the reasoned, calm approach to situations, but I can’t settle down on this one. Everybody has political issues that get them riled up, and this is one of mine. It’s a shame that I’m so fired up right after Wooly’s nice, rational, well-thought post, too, but I take life as it hits me.

I believe that it is the job of the American government to protect the rights of the individual from anybody who would try to take those rights away. Every person should have the right to live their life as they want so long as they’re not taking away from the rights of others.

So it completely disgusts and sickens me to hear a possible 2012 presidential candidate say that gays and lesbians should not be allowed to adopt because “children are not puppies.” Mike Huckabee also said that homosexual marriage is akin to drug use, polygamy, and incest, and if we legalize gay marriage, why not the other three things?

My not so humble opinion on the matter? Unlike homosexuality, drug use is most often a choice. The individual made the conscious decision to use those drugs. A person doesn’t simply choose their sexuality. So comparing drug use and homosexuality is just completely ridiculous and a flawed argument designed to get a knee-jerk reaction. Incest is, in my opinion, squick. I’m talking consensual incest between two adult persons, here. And genetically speaking, it’s probably not the best idea. But I don’t see anything morally wrong with it and I don’t see anything flawed with the people who want to engage in it. And polyamory (used here in place of polygamy) – well, that I’ve got no problem with.

I really think the purpose of Huckabee’s statements was to elicit an emotional response. And he certainly succeeded. Comparing homosexuality to drug use, polygamy, and incest was really kind of silly to me, but it’s going to get a huge response from those who support gay marriage and those who don’t. Either way, his name is now going to stick with people.

As far as the “kids aren’t puppies” matter….does this mean that Huckabee is simply against adoption in general? I’m willing to bet the answer is no. Again, he’s looking for that emotional response. And guess what? He’s getting it. There isn’t any rationality behind his statement, no logical progression from “gay couple want to be parents” to “gay couples seeking to have children are the same as a couple wanting to have a puppy.”

But for all of the irrationality of Huckabee’s statements, for as mad as I got about what he said, I caught a single sentence that scared me more than a little bit. Mike Huckabee also stated that “not every group’s interests deserve to be accommodated.”

Yikes. I don’t want somebody who believes this in the White House. What makes one group more deserving than another? Who gets to judge that? I hearken back to respect for the individual, personally. I’m rather Objectivist at times: you as an individual deserve respect and the right to live your life as you see fit. Until you go and take away those rights from somebody else. Then you forfeit your rights. That’s the standard I hold to for most situations, because it works as a general rule with few exceptions.

And it certainly sounds like Huckabee’s more than a bit interested in denying rights to people he sees as undeserving. And sadly, in most cases, those “undeserving” are the Other: those not like himself. Pagans fall into that category, and I really think this is a situation we need to be aware of and worry about. What starts with one minority group quickly falls to others.

Mar 112010

I walk in to work every evening and see several motivational posters and signs that are meant to inspire me to work harder and better. One of these signs reads to the effect of “No individual is more or less than the team.” And I glare at this sign and want to rip it down every time I walk past it. I have always preferred Rudyard Kipling’s “The strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”

What Rudyard Kipling conveyed in this statement is the importance of both society and the individual. It’s a sentiment that I strongly agree with, that the two ought to progress hand in hand. Humanity has become an impressive thing, made living conditions for a lot of people absolutely amazing through society and technology. And the countries really thriving right now are those that give the most to the rights of the individual.

Paganism tends toward a belief in individualism and individual rights. We tend to be open-minded and respectful of those different from ourselves and we prefer equality for all. So we tend to get outraged when other people do jerky things to other people, and with good reason, even if we do acknowledge that they often have the right to do these things. Read Duane’s post from yesterday for his take on this.

And we get outraged when a Catholic school denies a child re-entry because the parents are lesbians. I understand the outrage; I share it. I believe in gay rights, I celebrate news such as Mexico City legalizing gay marriage. But once I move past the knee-jerk frustration with this situation, I have to accept that this is a private school expressing its belief.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput posted a response to this situation, and he pointed out that “The main purpose of Catholic schools is religious; in other words, to form students in Catholic faith, Catholic morality and Catholic social values. “ He also stated:

“The Church does not claim that people with a homosexual orientation are “bad,” or that their children are less loved by God. Quite the opposite. But what the Church does teach is that sexual intimacy by anyone outside marriage is wrong; that marriage is a sacramental covenant; and that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman. These beliefs are central to a Catholic understanding of human nature, family and happiness, and the organization of society. The Church cannot change these teachings because, in the faith of Catholics, they are the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

Private Catholic schools were created with the exact intention that Chaput stated: to educate children better in Catholic belief. It only makes sense, then, that a private Catholic school can enforce that those who attend exemplify a Catholic lifestyle. (John Tomasic points out in an interesting article in the Colorado Independent the flaw with defining what a Catholic lifestyle is.)

Every private institution has a mission and a code of conduct, and they choose very carefully the members they admit. It is their right as a private institution. As pagans, I think it’s up to us to defend the rights of these private institutions, even if we don’t agree with them. We may not like what they have to teach, but we don’t have to send our kids there.

Considering what’s going on with Repent Amarillo and the New Apostolic Reformation (both of which I also completely abhor), it’s an incredibly dangerous line we’re treading. Upholding the rights of those we don’t agree with is dangerous for us, because we cannot expect the same behavior from these groups. They’re not content to let us be or to uphold our own rights. And here is where we have to trust our government to grow and be able to uphold the rights of the individual. It’s a scary thing to do, but I most definitely believe that is the job of this government to defend those who cannot defend themselves.

I look forward to the day when humans won’t be having this discussion, when we’ll be more accepting of the LGBT community. But until then, I can’t deny a private institution its right to decide who is allowed to attend, even if I think that reason is utter nonsense.