Conservative media have rallied behind Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a political activist known for her toxic anti-Islam rhetoric after Brandeis University cancelled plans to grant her an honorary degree. Right-wing media have painted Hirsi Ali as a champion for women's rights, but instead appear to use her views on gender as a rhetorical gateway to attack the religion of Islam and highlight Hirsi Ali's view that Islam is a religion of violence and a "cult of death."
On April 8, Brandeis University announced that it would reverse course in awarding an honorary degree to Hirsi Ali, a visiting fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) known for her critical views of Islam. The New York Times reported that while Brandeis has invited Hirsi Ali to speak, it could not "overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with" its values, labeling her past statements as the reason it revoked the degree.
Since the announcement, conservative media figures have rushed to defend Hirsi Ali, some using her life experience to explain away her Islamophobic comments. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol called the move an "example of a war on women" and argued that the university had "caved to Muslim thugs." Fox News' Sean Hannity said the university's decision was an "example of left-wing appeasement." On April 10, Fox contributor Monica Crowley asked, "Where are the moderate Muslims? Where are people who, like Ali, have left the faith and are willing to courageously speak about it? And yet when somebody does show the guts and gets out there to do it, this is how they're treated?"
But Hirsi Ali is not moderate in her views of Islam -- once referring to the religion as "a destructive nihilistic cult of death" in a 2007 interview with The London Evening Standard. The New York Times reports that Hirsi Ali has also "advocated the closing of Islamic schools in the West and said that 'violence is inherent in Islam' and that 'Islam is the new fascism'." In a 2007 Reason interview, she also called for Islam to be militarily crushed and suggested the Constitution should be amended to permit oppression of U.S. Muslims.
Hirsi Ali has similarly used her position at AEI to push for antagonistic relations between the U.S. and Muslim-majority countries, even criticizing President Obama for not "associating Islam with extremism." In a 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed, How to Win the Clash of Civilizations, Hirsi Ali highlighted her views that Islam "is at war with America" and wrote that Western civilization "needs to be actively defended" against Islam.
Although Hirsi Ali has been an outspoken advocate for women's rights, her narrative that violence and misogyny are inherent to the religion of Islam is problematic, but it is also what has recently propelled her into the conservative media spotlight. Right-wing outlets such as Fox have been notorious for amplifying Islamophobic voices in an effort to spread fear that Muslims are 'taking over,' while pushing the idea that Islam is adverse to Western values.
Conservative media have greatly enabled anti-Islam propaganda, and have had a significant role in propagating the belief that Islam is a violent religion and is therefore something the United States must fight against. On April 9, Fox host Andrea Tantaros exemplified this when she defended Hirsi Ali by arguing "we are" at war with radical Islam because "they are going to kill us, as the Qur'an states according to Bernard Lewis and many other scholars, they're going to kill us, Sean, until we are all Muslims or ruled by Muslims."
Fox and other conservative voices such as Pamela Geller, Zuhdi Jasser, and the National Review use figures like Hirsi Ali to boost their own anti-Islamic positions as legitimate, giving them cover to continue spreading anti-Muslim hate. Conservative media's rush to uphold Hirsi Ali's story is therefore much more a defense of their own Islamophobic narratives than of Hirsi Ali herself.
Violence against women in any form is a serious issue in many societies, and to limit the discussion by portraying it as a problem specific to the Muslim community, while dehumanizing an entire faith, is irresponsible, inimical to the cause of women's rights, and it is Islamophobic.
As Evelyn Alsultany, author of Arabs And Muslims in the Media and associate professor at the University of Michigan, told Media Matters, Hirsi Ali "has not promoted any kind of true understanding of Islam, but has provided justification for the public and the government to perpetuate racism." Alsultanty explains further:
While she has brought attention to oppression that some Muslim women face, she has done so by simplistically blaming Islam. As a result, she has powerfully contributed to naturalizing the idea that Islam in and of itself is the enemy of democracy and civilization. This idea has serious consequences. It has led to Muslims in the West facing a spectrum of experiences, from hostile questions about their faith to hate crimes. It has provided justification for the U.S. to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, that has negatively impacted the lives of Muslim women through war.
Communications director to the Center for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Ibrahim Hooper similarly pointed out that Hirsi Ali's rhetoric hijacks legitimate issues and "demonizes Islam." As Alsultany concludes, "we need to find a way to discuss a serious problem -- violence against women in a way that does not present the problem as exclusive to Muslim women."
Less than two months after national media outlets spotlighted the debate over Arizona's proposed license-to-discriminate measure, CNN and Fox News completely ignored the passage of a similar measure in Mississippi that effectively sanctions the refusal of services to LGBT people.
On April 3, two days after the state legislature sent the bill to his desk, Gov. Phil Bryant (R-MS) signed the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act in a private ceremony attended by anti-gay hate group leader Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (FRC). The law prohibits state actions that "substantially burden a person's right to the exercise of religion." According to legal experts, the law could allow, say, a health care worker to refuse fertility treatment to same-sex couples on the grounds that providing such care constituted a substantial burden on the worker's religion.
Like the Arizona measure, which Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed, the Mississippi law doesn't explicitly mention gay people. And unlike in Arizona, Mississippi lawmakers stripped language pertaining to businesses, conferring protections only on individuals.
But that was good enough for the FRC's Perkins, who lavishly praised the bill as a defense of religious liberty against things like same-sex marriage.
During the debate over Arizona's SB 1062, cable news networks extensively covered the controversy surrounding the measure. CNN ran multiple segments highlighting the anti-gay group behind the measure and grilled supporters of the bill about its impact on gay and lesbian customers. Even Fox News noted that the law might be an example of right-wing overreach, calling it "profoundly unconstitutional" and "potentially dangerous."
But that concern hasn't carried over into coverage of Mississippi's anti-gay law. According to an Equality Matters analysis, CNN and Fox News have both entirely ignored the passage of Mississippi's Religious Freedom Restoration Act:
In his latest paean to Vladimir Putin, Pat Buchanan lauded the Russian president for "planting Russia's flag firmly on the side of traditional Christianity" with his policies against reproductive choice and LGBT rights - evidence, Buchanan suggested, that God is on Putin's side in his showdown with the West.
In his April 4 syndicated column, Buchanan heralded Putin as the global leader of a backlash against "a hedonistic secular and social revolution coming out of the West":
In the new war of beliefs, Putin is saying, it is Russia that is on God's side. The West is Gomorrah.
He is also tapping into the worldwide revulsion of and resistance to the sewage of a hedonistic secular and social revolution coming out of the West.
The West's capitulation to a sexual revolution of easy divorce, rampant promiscuity, pornography, homosexuality, feminism, abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, assisted suicide -- the displacement of Christian values by Hollywood values.
But the war to be waged with the West is not with rockets. It is a cultural, social, moral war where Russia's role, in Putin's words, is to "prevent movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state."
In 2013, the Kremlin imposed a ban on homosexual propaganda, a ban on abortion advertising, a ban on abortions after 12 weeks and a ban on sacrilegious insults to religious believers.
In the new ideological Cold War, whose side is God on now?
Fox News reporter and serial misinformer Todd Starnes failed to disclose that the source for his latest bogus religious liberty horror story is the vice president of sales at the publishing house promoting Starnes' latest book - a book that, conveniently enough, warns of growing "intolerance" against American Christians.
On March 29, Starnes reported that five-year-old Gabriella Perez had been rebuked by a teacher for trying to pray in her Oviedo, FL school lunchroom. The girl recounted the alleged episode in a YouTube video posted by her father, Marcos Perez. Starnes' report featured an original interview with Perez, who told Starnes that he had long had concerns about "issues and agendas we see in the culture war."
But on April 1, the Orlando Sentinel raised doubts about the credibility of Perez's story. According to the Sentinel's report, none of the staff who could have been at the cafeteria at the time of the incident recall witnessing the student being spoken to about prayer. The staff member who allegedly spoke to Gabriella Perez hasn't been identified, and the school has reiterated that it has no policy prohibiting students from praying.
The Sentinel also revealed that Marcos Perez is the vice president of sales at Charisma House, the publisher of Starnes' soon-to-be-published collection of religious liberty horror stories, God Less America: Real Stories from the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values (emphasis added):
School officials have not interviewed Gabriella, who was pulled from the school by her parents the day after the video was posted. The Perezes said they accelerated existing plans to home school her. Her father is vice president of sales at Charisma House, a Lake Mary-based Christian book publisher. The company is currently promoting the book "God Less America: Real Stories from the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values," by Fox News host Todd Starnes. Starnes reported on the lunch prayer controversy for Fox News Radio. Marcos Perez said he did the interview with Starnes because "I'm passionate about the cause." He seemed distressed by any notion of ulterior motives. Using his family to promote a book "would be egregious," he said. "I'm a father first, a VP of sales second."
As Right Wing Watch noted, Perez was recently featured in a press release promoting Starnes' book.
Starnes' report on the alleged incident now includes an editor's note disclosing Perez's employment at the top of the article:
The Washington Times praised the evangelical organization World Vision for reversing its decision to employ Christians in legal same-sex marriages, seizing on the charity's U-turn to denounce "the lavender lobby" for its fight against anti-LGBT discrimination.
On March 24, World Vision - best known for its global sponsor-a-child programs - announced that it would permit gay Christians in legal marriages to work for the charity. After an uproar from Christian conservatives, the charity reversed course two days later, with World Vision president Richard Stearns and board chairman Jim Bere asking for "forgiveness."
In an editorial published on April 1, the Times applauded World Vision's decision to reinstate anti-gay discrimination, contrasting World Vision's decision with other organizations that have succumbed to "the lavender lobby":
World Vision's short-lived reconsideration of belief was not made under pressure. Even the most optimistic homosexual-rights advocate would never expect an organization faithful to the Gospel to ignore the clearly stated words of St. Paul, condemning marital combinations other than husband and wife, e.g., a man and a woman.
The restoration of the status quo ante underscores the biblical admonition that a Christian can be in the world without being of the world, and conforming to it. World Vision's administrators forgot for a moment -- well, for two days -- that they cannot serve both God and mammon.
The pressure to cave to the lavender lobby is increasing, and some organizations have been quick to cave. The brewers of Guinness, Heineken and Samuel Adams beers withdrew their sponsorship of St. Patrick's Day parades in New York City and Boston because organizers wouldn't invite flamboyant activists to flaunt their cause in the march. The Boy Scouts of America rewrote their pledge of morality to allow actively homosexual Scouts to join.
World Vision's example shows that it's never too late to see errors and correct them. World Vision's donors made it clear that turning a blind eye to the charity's religious roots was not acceptable, and that they could no longer contribute to the sponsor-a-child programs.
The Times concluded that thanks to World Vision's flip-flop, "needy children" wouldn't be "collateral damage in the culture wars," ignoring the fact that it was conservative anti-gay groups that chose to politicize World Vision's short-lived decision not to discriminate against gay workers.
The Times has long been engaged in a crusade for anti-LGBT discrimination, displaying little regard for the "collateral damage" such discrimination creates. The Times championed an Arizona bill that would have allowed business owners to refuse to serve gay customers, echoing its earlier attacks on "militant homosexual activists" who insisted on equal treatment from business owners.
Image via Flickr.com user Kellie Parker
New reporting highlights the links between Newsweek's new owners, IBT Media, and an evangelical college that threatens to punish students if they're caught engaging in "homosexual activity."
After a one-year print hiatus, Newsweek is back on newsstands and under the new ownership of IBT Media. In-depth reports in The Guardian and Mother Jones document the extensive ties between IBT and David J. Jang, the leader of an evangelical Christian sect called "the Community" and founder of the Bay Area Olivet University.
Writing for Mother Jones, Ben Dooley revealed that IBT CEO Etienne Uzac and Chief Content Officer Johnathan Davis have cultivated deep ties with Olivet and the Community:
- Olivet and IBT are linked to a web of dozens of churches, nonprofits, and corporations around the world that Jang has founded, influenced, or controlled, with money from Community members and profitable ministries helping to cover the costs of money-losing ministries and Jang's expenses. Money from other Community-affiliated organizations also helped fund IBT's early growth.
- Olivet students in the United States on international student visas say they worked for IBT and other Community media entities, sometimes for as little as $125 a week. Both Olivet and IBT described these positions as internships, and said no-one was allowed to work illegally. Several students I spoke with say they were not told they were interns, and documents from Olivet and the businesses list students as reporters, editors, and salespeople.
- According to the Times, Uzac and Davis "said Jang had no financial stake in IBT or influence on the business." But the pair acknowledged to Mother Jones that Jang has provided "advice" to IBT. And while there's no evidence Jang controlled editorial matters, internal documents show him routinely weighing in on a wide range of business decisions, from personnel and business strategy to typography.
- Jang sees Community-affiliated media organizations, including IBT, as an essential part of his mission to build the kingdom of God on Earth. He has said that media companies affiliated with the Community are part of a new Noah's ark designed to save the world from a biblical flood of information.
There aren't any formal links between the Community and IBT, but in an email unearthed by Dooley, Davis wrote that his ties to Jang's network were "inherently covert."
From the March 24 edition of MSNBC's The Reid Report:
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Newspaper coverage of the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood lawsuits downplayed the possibility that the Supreme Court could expand the concept of corporate personhood when ruling on the cases, which examine whether for-profit businesses can deny employees health insurance coverage for birth control based on the owners' personal religious beliefs. Only 3 out of 24 articles on the case in five major U.S. newspapers mentioned the potential unpopular expansion of corporate rights in the headline or first sentence.
Clinging to persecution fantasies that seem to grow darker each year, conservative voices continue to hype doomsday scenarios in which President Obama is scheming to confiscate firearms, socialize American medicine, silence his critics through brute political force, and wage violent class warfare. Allegedly under siege at every turn as their freedoms are stripped away, conservatives embrace an imagined status as perennial victims.
The result? Wallowing in self-pity and convinced of the dark forces moving against them, conservatives launch attack after attack, insisting they're fighting forces at home akin to Hitler's Nazi storm troops. They complain louder and louder that America has become like Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler when 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
Nazi analogies aren't new and conservatives didn't trademark them. But the cries have become far more frequent during Obama's sixth year in office.
Four years ago, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes accused the management of National Public Radio of having "a kind of Nazi attitude" for firing commentator Juan Williams. Former Fox host Glenn Beck frequently immersed himself in offensive Hitler rhetoric during Obama's first years in office, while the then-burgeoning Tea Party movement did the same. And so did Rush Limbaugh, who obsessed over Obama-Nazi comparisons in 2009: "Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate."
In 2009, the Anti-Defamation League, led by Holocaust survivor Abe Foxman, documented the Tea Party's growing reliance on "Nazi comparisons" as a way to express its anti-Obama rage. Yet today the Nazi claims arrive effortlessly and on a depressingly regular basis as conservatives line up to compare this president, his allies, and this country to one of the worst chapters in civilized history.
The thoughtless rhetoric not only captures how detached Obama's critics have become from reality (not to mention the blanket insensitivity involved), but it also reveals the bizarre view conservatives have of their alleged political strife.
Fox News contributor Dr. Ben Carson recently claimed America is now "very much like Nazi Germany" in that it has a government "using its tools to intimidate the population." Carson defended the insulting comparison by suggesting American conservatives are being targeted and intimidated by the government: "Maybe if I don't say anything, I won't be audited, people won't call me a name."
Audited? Name-calling? Historical note: Those were certainly among the least painful afflictions Jews suffered during the Nazi reign of terror. "I know you're not supposed to say 'Nazi Germany,'" said Carson. "But I don't care about political correctness."
National Review has established itself as a staunch proponent of allowing business owners refuse service to gay and lesbian customers. It's a position that unfortunately aligns with National Review's record of attacking defending discrimination against marginalized groups, including its shameful opposition to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950's.
For months, National Review's staff has worked to invent bogus justifications for anti-gay business discrimination, condemning non-discrimination efforts as a form of government overreach. Long before states like Kansas and Arizona sought to pass laws allowing business to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers, National Review was championing business owners who had been sued for engaging in anti-gay discrimination.
In August, after the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously that photographer Elaine Huguenin violated the state's Human Rights Act by refusing to photograph a same-sex couple's commitment ceremony, National Review joined other right-wing media outlets in their howls of outrage. At National Review Online, NRO contributor and Heritage Foundation fellow Ryan T. Anderson blasted the ruling as a sign that social conservatives had been "driven to the margins of culture," with "religious believers" and "the truth about marriage" under judicial assault.
NRO also took up the mantle of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple. In a one-sided interview published under the headline "Let Him Bake Cake in Freedom," NRO editor-at-large Kathryn Jean Lopez framed Phillips, whom a state judge ruled had violated Colorado's anti-discrimination law, as a victim of anti-Christian persecution. Lopez wondered what the "future of freedom" looked like in a world where businesses couldn't turn away LGBT customers.
Given its support for anti-gay businesses, it was unsurprising that National Review cheered the introduction of several state license-to-discriminate bills this winter.
After USA Today columnist and Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers penned a column denouncing Kansas' bill as an example of "homosexual Jim Crow laws," Anderson took to NRO to defend anti-gay business practices as protected under "freedom of association and freedom of contract." Anderson saw "religious liberty and the rights of conscience," not the rights and dignity of LGBT customers, at stake.
As national attention turned toward Arizona following the demise of the Kansas bill, support for anti-gay segregation measures became National Review's official editorial position. Following the Arizona legislature's passage of S.B. 1062 - which would have protected businesses from being sued for anti-gay discrimination - the National Review's editors published a February 24 editorial urging Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to sign the measure. The "necessary" bill, the editors wrote, simply affirmed the ethos of "live-and-let live."
Responding to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's veto of a measure that would have sanctioned anti-gay business discrimination, The Washington Times' editorial board denounced the "lavender lobby" for asking for tolerance from "the people they despise most, men and women of faith."
In an editorial published on March 5, the Times assailed Brewer's veto as a blow to religious freedom, relying (and not for the first time) on the extremist Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) for comment. The Times' editors argued that the only way a business owner would know a customer's sexual orientation would be if "a customer walks in announcing his sexual proclivities." The editorial also contemplated when a "wedding cake announces its sexual proclivities" (emphasis added):
The governor's veto "enables the foes of faith to more easily suppress the freedom of the people of Arizona," argued Doug Napier, a lawyer with the Alliance Defending Freedom, based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The proposed law was not Christian-specific, as it was often portrayed in the media, and would have, for two examples, protected the right of a Muslim caterer to refuse to arrange a pig roast, or a Jewish photographer (or any other photographer of good will) to decline a commission to photograph a neo-Nazi ceremony.
In saner and less litigious times than these, there never would have been a lawsuit. Bakeries, photographers and florists serve homosexual customers every day. The market is there to serve.
Unless a customer walks in announcing his sexual proclivities, a shopkeeper wouldn't know who's gay, merely cheerful or just having a bad hair day. He knows that he hurts only himself when he turns away a customer.
A wedding cake announces its sexual proclivities only when the baker puts two men or two women on it, and this, to many, mocks authentic marriage. Or maybe putting four hairy legs on a wedding cake just offends a baker's art.
The lavender lobby has a winning streak in the courts, but what homosexuals covet most is not the tolerance of the larger society, but the approval of society, and particularly the approval of the people they despise most, men and women of faith.
Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat depicted business owners who wish to discriminate against gay customers as the real victims in the debate over whether it should be permissible, as a recently vetoed Arizona bill would have authorized, for businesses to deny services to gay people on religious grounds.
In his March 2 column, Douthat conceded the inevitability of marriage equality, contending that once that debate is finished, the question will be whether marriage equality opponents will be able to express their "dissent" by, say, turning gay couples away from their businesses. Even as he urged his fellow Christian conservatives not to "call it persecution" if they're required to treat LGBT people equally, Douthat's entire column attempted to frame the fight for equal treatment as a matter of conservative victimization, rather than fundamental human dignity (emphasis added):
But there's another possibility, in which the oft-invoked analogy between opposition to gay marriage and support for segregation in the 1960s South is pushed to its logical public-policy conclusion. In this scenario, the unwilling photographer or caterer would be treated like the proprietor of a segregated lunch counter, and face fines or lose his business -- which is the intent of recent legal actions against a wedding photographer in New Mexico, a florist in Washington State, and a baker in Colorado.
Meanwhile, pressure would be brought to bear wherever the religious subculture brushed up against state power. Religious-affiliated adoption agencies would be closed if they declined to place children with same-sex couples. (This has happened in Massachusetts and Illinois.) Organizations and businesses that promoted the older definition of marriage would face constant procedural harassment, along the lines suggested by the mayors who battled with Chick-fil-A. And, eventually, religious schools and colleges would receive the same treatment as racist holdouts like Bob Jones University, losing access to public funds and seeing their tax-exempt status revoked.
I am being descriptive here, rather than self-pitying. Christians had plenty of opportunities -- thousands of years' worth -- to treat gay people with real charity, and far too often chose intolerance. (And still do, in many instances and places.) So being marginalized, being sued, losing tax-exempt status -- this will be uncomfortable, but we should keep perspective and remember our sins, and nobody should call it persecution.
But it's still important for the winning side to recognize its power. We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and on the evidence of Arizona, we're not having a negotiation. Instead, all that's left is the timing of the final victory -- and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.
From the March 2 edition of Fox Broadcasting Network's Fox News Sunday.
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Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan pointed to the fight against measures that would allow businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian customers as further evidence of "the politicization of everything," ignoring the fact that conservative media and legislators spearheaded the push to allow individuals and businesses to deny services to the LGBT community.
In a February 27 screed lamenting the decline of "the nation's morale," Noonan launched a wide-ranging attack on "the aggressive left" and its alleged responsibility for sowing the seeds of "national division." Obamacare, the IRS, the EPA, the NSA, and Nancy Pelosi all featured in Noonan's list of terribles, as did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), whom she compared to Vladimir Lenin because Obamacare. Noonan also expressed concern about "the eroding end of the idea that religious scruples and beliefs have a high place" (emphasis added):
We are suffering in great part from the politicization of everything and the spread of government not in a useful way but a destructive one. Everyone wants to help the poor, the old and the sick; the safety net exists because we want it. But voters and taxpayers feel bullied, burdened and jerked around, which again is not new but feels more intense every day. Common sense and native wit tell them America is losing the most vital part of itself in the continuing shift of power from private to public. Rules, regulations, many of them stupid, from all the agencies--local, state, federal--on the building of a house, or the starting of a business. You can only employ so many before the new insurance rules kick in so don't employ too many, don't take a chance! Which means: Don't grow. It takes the utmost commitment to start a school or improve an existing one because you'll come up against the unions, which own the politicians.
It's all part of the malaise, the sclerosis. So is the eroding end of the idea that religious scruples and beliefs have a high place that must culturally and politically be respected. The political-media complex is bravely coming down on florists with unfashionable views. On twitter Thursday the freedom-fighter who tweets as @FriedrichHayek asked: "Can the government compel a Jewish baker to deliver a wedding cake on a Saturday? If not why not." Why not indeed. Because the truly tolerant give each other a little space? On an optimistic note, the Little Sisters of the Poor haven't been put out of business and patiently await their day in court.
While Noonan lamented the implications of a world in which being LGBT isn't sufficient reason for a business owner to deny someone a service, her survey of the "politicization of everything" excluded a look at the role of conservative media outlets like Fox News in crafting the narrative that LGBT equality poses a dire threat to religious freedom - the very narrative that led legislators across the country to begin proposing bills that would make LGBT customers legitimate targets of discrimination.
"This is America!" With that call to jingoism, Fox News legal correspondent Shannon Bream gave voice to a disconcerting push to grant private businesses the right to discriminate.
Bream's moment of candor came after her guest, Bernie Goldberg, cogently explained that business owners operating on Main Street don't get to pick and choose whom they serve and whom they refuse to serve. Bream jumped in:
Why not? Why not? I mean, this is America. We all have freedoms. I mean, why would you want to do business with somebody, no matter what your personal issue was that they had with you, why would you want to force them to do business with you? Why not just go down the street and say, "I'm going to spend my money to somebody who supports me and is kind to me and wants to help me and provide these services for me."
"Corporations are people, my friend," Mitt Romney quipped on the campaign trail in 2012. Increasingly, loud voices on the right are agitating to make sure that corporations and private businesses are seen as religious people who can always discriminate against employees and customers based on their religious beliefs.
Sometime in the next four months, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling determining in part whether corporations can deny their employees benefits based on religious liberty protections.
At issue is a provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring for-profit businesses that offer health insurance to include coverage for contraceptive care. Religious groups, rallying behind the owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores, challenged that provision, arguing that it violated the right of Christian business owners to practice their religion.
In part this is the logical outcome of the push on the right to be more permissive of discrimination in the private sector, which Bream eloquently laid out by shouting "America" and "freedom."
In 2010, Rand Paul came under fire for saying that he objected to laws that prohibited businesses from discriminating. "I think it's bad business to exclude anybody from your restaurant," he said, "but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership." Paul expressed general support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but lamented the fact that it extended to private businesses, a core piece of the legislation. The market, Paul argued, would take care of businesses that chose to discriminate.
While Paul was excoriated for his remarks, they were embraced on the right. Fox Business host John Stossel bragged that he would "go further" than Paul, calling for a partial repeal of the Civil Rights Act and give businesses the right to discriminate:
Because private businesses ought to get to discriminate. And I won't ever go to a place that's racist, and I will tell everybody else not to and I'll speak against them. But it should be their right to be racist.
That hypothesis, that private businesses should have the right to discriminate and be punished by the marketplace, has played out in recent days in the debate over an anti-gay bill in Arizona that would have made it easier for businesses to discriminate against gay customers.
That fight came after months of Fox News pushing anecdotes about Christian business owners under siege by laws the kept them from forcing their religious views onto employees and customers.
"Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, vetoed religious freedom," Rush Limbaugh opined on his radio show. "And, naturally, Democrats and their media allies are cheering. Even some Republicans are praising Arizona. Meanwhile, our founding fathers more than likely are spinning in their graves at about 400 rpm."
The night Brewer vetoed the bill, Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, argued in support of the right for businesses to discriminate on MSNBC's All In: "But in terms of private businesses doing it on their own, I think they should have the freedom and individuals should have the freedom to associate how they want."
It's a point Rand Paul and John Stossel were making in 2010. It's a point that opponents of the Civil Rights Act have been making for 50 years. And it's a chilling reality that it's once again a prominent aspect of public debate.