Sunday, November 20, 2005

NEW TALK TO ACTION WEBSITE ALTERNATE TEMP ADDRESS. We've moved. Here's a temporary link to our new site :

Talk To Action

UPDATE : We are in the process of switching over our this domain name to our new site. Please bear with us. We expect to make the change shortly.

If you are receiving this message, the switchover has not yet occured but you can access the new TALK TO ACTION website via this link :


Talk To Action


TALK TO ACTION new website :

This website will shortly be trannsformed to the new interactive Talk To Action.

If you have received a notice on the pending change, be advised that this is the old site. The new site features a dramatically expanded cast of writers and will allow users to join the sites and post their own writing and comments. The accounts will be free.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Clarkson to Speak at Harvard

If you plan on being in Boston on Sunday, November 27th, you are invited to hear my speech titled, The Dramatic Progress of the Theocratic Right -- What in the World do We Do Now?.

Phillips Brooks House, Harvard Yard, 1:30 PM.

The event, which is free and open to the general public, is sponsored by the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard and by the Humanist Association of Massachusetts.
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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Focus on Your Local Focus on the Family

Anti-gay politics is at the center of American life these days. Some argue that many Republican successes are predicated on the idea of "turning out the base" with this "wedge issue."  While it is not always clear that this tactic is as successful as some say, there is no question that it is taking place. Anti-gay politics is a staple of American life. So, who exactly is behind this?

Well, there are many actors, of course.  But I want to focus on just one, multidimensional player: Focus on the Family headed by Christian radio psycologist James Dobson. And I want to zero in on one aspect in particular -- Focus on the Family political operations in the states.

Several years ago, I wrote a study about state level conservative think tanks and advocacy groups, published by Political Research Associates (pdf file). There were two, related networks started in tandem in the late 1980s. One emphasized the business/libertarian part of public policy, and the other emphasized the policy issues dear to the religious right. The latter, was the network of Family Policy Councils affiliated with James Dobson's Focus on the Family.  The details have changed since I published that study, but the general trajectory remains the same. Most importantly, these groups are at the forefront of antimarriage equality campaigns nationwide, and their role as fronts for Focus on the Family are not widely understood and that Dobson's organization has active, organizational tentacle in 34 states, in addition to his radio program which is available just about everywhere.

For example, the point group in the recently defeated effort to repeal anti-discrimination laws in Maine, was the FOF affiliate, the Christian Civic League of Maine.

In defeat, the Maine FOF group immediately announced that they will now seek to amend the state constitution to ban marriage equality. When they do, they can draw on the experience of many other FOF-led efforts from around the country. For example, the point group in seeking to get an anti-marriage equality measure on the ballot in Massachusetts, is the Massachusetts Family Institute.

Some already existing local groups grafted onto FOF as state level affiliates, and others were started from scratch. And some groups have come and gone. But whatever their genesis, they are joined at the hip with Focus on the Family, just as the Family Research Council serves as the group's de facto political lobby in Washington, DC. The Family Research Council merged with FOF in 1988, but later decoupled in order to give it more flexibility politically without necessarily reflecting on the Focus on the Family. However, the distinction has always been pretty thin. Among other things, James Dobson has remained on the board of directors all these years.

Similarly, although the FOF states that the State Family Councils "have no corporate or financial relationship with each other or with Focus on the Family," this is disingenuous, since an organization must meet certain criteria to become affiliated with Focus on the Family; and must behave in certain ways in order to maintain it's standing. Some groups have been dropped over the years. Even a casual examination of the web sites of these groups will show, they have similar, although not uniform, structures, procedures, and policy agendas. But all are deeply involved in state politics, and thier activities often include voter mobilization and even distribution of voter guides.

There are currently FOF-affiliated state policy councils in 34 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Have you focused on your local Focus on the Family?

[Crossposted at Political Cortex and]
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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Anti-Defamation League Denounces Efforts to "Christianize America"

In recent weeks, several leaders of major American institutions have spoken-out against the Christian Right. First, Rev. John Thomas president of the United Church of Christ, a mainline protestant denomination.

Thomas denounced groups "within and beyond the UCC" that are "intent on disrupting and destroying our life together."

"Groups like the Evangelical Association of Reformed, Christian and Congregational Churches and the Biblical Witness Fellowship are increasingly being exposed even as they are increasingly aggressive," Thomas said. "Their relationship to the right-wing Institute for Religion and Democracy and its long-term agenda of silencing a progressive religious voice while enlisting the church in an unholy alliance with right-wing politics is now longer deniable. United Church of Christ folk like to be 'nice,' to be hospitable. But, to play with a verse of scripture just a bit, we doves innocently entertain these serpents in our midst at our own peril."

Then, up stepped Dr. Hunter Rawlings interim president of Cornell University, who used his state of the university address to rally the univeristy to come to terms with the problem of the "intelligent design" movement, which he described as "a subjective concept.... a religious belief masquerading as a secular idea. It is neither clearly identified as a proposition of faith nor supported by other rationally based arguments."

Rawlings' went on to quote from a letter written by university founder Ezra Cornell in which he warned "that the principal danger, and I say almost the only danger I see in the future to be encountered by the friends of education, and by all lovers of true liberty is that which may arise from sectarian strife. From these halls, sectarianism must be forever excluded, all students must be left free to worship God, as their conscience shall dictate, and all persons of any creed or all creeds must find free and easy access, and a hearty and equal welcome, to the educational facilities possessed by the Cornell University.....".

This week, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, addressing an ADL conference, spoke out against efforts to "Christianize America."

The Isreali newspaper Ha'aretz, reported that the ADL "has in the past spearheaded campaigns against religious preachers and Christian elements deemed unusually extreme. But this is the first all-out media assault by an ADL head on the U.S. Christian establishment."

"Today we face a better financed, more sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized and organized coalition of groups in opposition to our policy positions on church-state separation than ever before," Foxman said. "Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To Christianize America. To save us!" he said.

Foxman proceeded to describe the process and to name names: "Major players include Focus On Family. Alliance Defense Fund, the American Family Association, Family Research Council and more. They and other groups have established new organizations and church-based networks, and built infrastructure throughout the country designed to promote traditional Christian values."

The ADL continued the "media assault" with a press release today stating that the curriculum for teaching the Bible in the public schools being promoted by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, is unacceptable, because it "advocates the acceptance of one faith tradition's interpretation of the Bible over another."

"This wholly inappropriate curriculum blatantly crosses the line by teaching fundamental Protestant doctrine," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "The text relies solely upon the King James Version of the Bible and hews to a fundamentalist reading, especially of New Testament passages. This is the primary flaw in the curriculum – that it advocates the acceptance of one faith tradition's interpretation of the Bible over another."

According to ADL, the King James Version is the least faithful one to the original Biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek.

There are acceptable resources available for teaching the Bible in public schools. For example, the newly published textbook, "The Bible and Its Influence" from the Bible Literacy Project is designed to meet the standards for teaching the Bible in public schools with one semester on the Hebrew Scriptures and one on the New Testament.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that although public schools may not teach religion, they may teach about religion in a secular context. The Bible may be taught in a public school, but only for its historical, cultural or literary value and never in a devotional, celebratory or doctrinal manner, or in such a way that encourages acceptance of the Bible as a religious document. If a school district chooses to teach the Bible in this context, the adopted curriculum must be balanced and pluralistic in nature and the curriculum should not advocate one particular religion, interpretation or translation over another."

(For its part, Focus on the Family, one of the leading Christian right organizations, thinks the curriculum "should be in all public schools," although it promotes creationism, Christian nationalism, and has generated national controvery.)

It is encouraging that more and more important leaders in American public life are rising to meet the urgent challenge of our times: an antidemocratic movement, bent on religious supremacy and creeping theocracy at all levels of government, and in all areas of life. Let's encourage more leaders to follow the lead of Foxman, Rawlings and Thomas.

[Crossposted at Political Cortex]
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Friday, November 04, 2005 GOP & Christian Right "wackos"

Don't miss the must-read article by Michael Scherer at It offers a glimpse into how corrupt insiders play everyone for suckers while obtaining corrupt favors for clients, and whatever it is that favored business interests and campaign contributors want. Here is the money quote, as it were.

Consider one memo highlighted in a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday that [Michael] Scanlon, a former aide to Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Tx., sent the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana to describe his strategy for protecting the tribe's gambling business. In plain terms, Scanlon confessed the source code of recent Republican electoral victories: target religious conservatives, distract everyone else, and then railroad through complex initiatives.

"The wackos get their information through the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the internet and telephone trees," Scanlon wrote in the memo, which was read into the public record at a hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "Simply put, we want to bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them."

To read the whole story, you will need to view a brief ad. Either that, or you can subscribe. Small price to pay for independent media.

[UPDATE] A blogger at Political Cortex has a link to the report in which the "wackos" document appears. It's a very large PDF file, but for those whose computers can handle it, it's available.
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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Jimmy Carter Takes on the Christian Right

"Blurring the line between church and state threatens civil liberties and privacy, says former President Jimmy Carter. That's the case he makes in his new book, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis, which draws on Carter's experiences as a president and a Christian."

The above is a blurb promoting an interview on Fresh Air, with Terry Gross, on the web site of National Public Radio.

In the book he writes:
Nowadays, the Washington scene is completely different, with almost every issue decided on a strictly partisan basis. Probing public debate on key legislative decisions is almost a thing of the past. Basic agreements are made between lobbyists and legislative leaders, often within closed party caucuses where rigid discipline is paramount. Even personal courtesies, which had been especially cherished in the U.S. Senate, are no longer considered to be sacrosanct. This deterioration in harmony, cooperation, and collegiality in the Congress is, at least in part, a result of the rise of fundamentalist tendencies and their religious and political impact.

Fortunately, this degree of rigidity and confrontation has not yet taken hold among the general public.

Carter is right. But it will take some effort to learn how to engage in constructive conversation, and to learn with whom it is worth having such conversations and with whom it is not. I am not going to try to lay out a plan on this short essay. But rather to stake out the ground that it is not only possible, but necessary.

That's why is wrong to write off, as some do, all conservative Christians as beyond all conversation and all reason. I find the routine derisive language used by many against those with whom they disagree on matters of religion to be incompatible with the values of tolerance and equality to which progressives have historically been all about. It borders on religious bigotry -- and all too often falls well over the line.

Jimmy Carter is a conservative Democrat. He is also an evangelical Christian. His faith is an important to his identity. He is also hero of civil and human rights. He supports the separation of church and state. And he opposes the fundamentalist enforcers who have taken over the Southern Baptist Convention. He left the SBC out of principle. He opposes, among other things, their insistence on the subordination of women, and the banning of women from positions of leadership in the denomination.

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst at Political Research Associates, has been a leader among progressives in articulating why the demonization of evangelicals and religious conservatives is politically ineffective at best; stupidly counterproductive at worst.
"Most Christian evangelicals," he wrote at Talk to Action recently, "are not part of the Christian Right. I know from talking with evangelicals and fundamentalists across the country that they are offended by the rhetoric from some liberal and Democratic Party leaders who do not seem to be able to talk about religion without chewing on their foot.

I have this fantasy about kidnapping a busload of liberal inside-the-beltway pundits and driving them to some town in Middle America where they have to learn how to talk to voters who think that going to a church, or synagogue, or mosque or other place of worship is a normal part of life. The pundits won’t be given a ticket back to Dupont Circle until they don’t flinch when someone says words like “faith,” “prayer,” or “blessing.”

I suspect some will have to walk back to the Potomac."

Crossposted at Political Cortex. Check it out for a sense of what the new Scoop-based Talk to Action will be like. The sites will look different, but function very similarly.
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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Is Alito the Dream Candidate of the Religious Right?

DefCon, (the Campaign to Defend the Consitution) thinks so. Here is part of an e-mail they sent around about Sumpreme Court nominee Samuel Alito this morning.

What the religious right wants, the religious right gets.

At least that was message sent yesterday by the Bush Administration in nominating Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

After conservative Christians rallied to oppose Harriet Miers, President Bush caved and withdrew her nomination. In her place, he has nominated a darling of the religious right. According to Jay Sekulow, head of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, on abortion Alito is "just fantastic." Sekulow went on, "you look at school prayer cases.... he has consistently ruled in our position."

Sekulow was not the only religious right leader rushing to support Alito. Within hours, Gary Bauer, Pat Robertson, Phyllis Schlafly, Tony Perkins and James Dobson all rallied to Alito's defense in national media.

Robertson: "I think this is a grand slam home run."

Dobson: "We are extremely pleased."

Schlafly: "Alito has a terribly impressive record."

Bauer: "If Harry Reid's disappointed, I think that's good news for us."

Alito's dedication to the religious right's agenda is no secret. Over the years, he has voted to restrict a woman's right to choose, to support the public display of religious symbols, and to oppose the longstanding "Lemon Test" (for decades the legal standard for upholding the separation of church and state).

As Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins told ABC, "To think that we're going to reverse the liberal activist court without a fight is wrong. There's going to be a fight. There needs to be a fight. We are ready to rumble."
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