Fox News correspondent Todd Starnes attacked an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees, accusing the Obama administration of being "hell-bent on forcing Christians to assimilate to the militant LGBT agenda."
On July 21, President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating LGBT employees. The order amends existing non-discrimination executive orders to include sexual orientation and gender identity. As BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner reported, the order "contains no additional religious exemptions ... beyond those already contained in existing executive orders."
Fox's Starnes attacked the executive order in a July 21 post on FoxNews.com, accusing the Obama administration of endangering religious liberty and "bullying religious groups that hold viewpoints it deems inappropriate":
The executive order would prevent Christian and other religious organizations with federal contracts from requiring workers to adhere to the tenets of their religious beliefs. And that includes religious Christian colleges and universities that provide financial aid to students.
"If religious organizations cannot require that their employees conduct themselves in ways consistent with the teachings of their faith - then, essentially, those organizations are unable to operate in accordance with their faith," Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, told me.
"The mask is coming off of the homosexual movement's agenda. They really do not believe in religious liberty. They want forced affirmation of homosexual and transgender conduct to trump every other consideration in the workplace - including religious liberty."
The Obama administration seems hell-bent on forcing Christians to assimilate to the militant LGBT agenda. Resistance is futile.
Starnes' commentary is typical of the Fox News personality, who's made a career acting as the network's mouthpiece for some of the country's most extreme anti-LGBT hate groups. The Family Research Council's (FRC) Sprigg, for example, has called for the exporting of gay people out of the U.S. and endorsed the criminalization of homosexuality. Pastor Robert Jeffress, another critic cited in Starnes' post, is notorious for his extreme comments about LGBT people and Muslims.
Starnes' fear-mongering about the executive order's lack of religious exemptions grossly mischaracterizes the scope of the directive, which merely extends existing non-discrimination protections to include LGBT employees of federal contractors. As the New York Times editorial board recently explained:
This is not a question of religious freedom. It is a question of whether to allow religion to be used as an excuse to discriminate in employment against a particular group of people... [T]he presidential order ... would extend those rules to companies that receive federal contracts in states without those kinds of anti-bias laws, protecting millions more people.
Mr. Obama's resolve is being tested. There is no good reason to give religious employers a special privilege to inflict undeserved pain by, for example, refusing to hire someone to work on a government-backed project just because she happens to be a lesbian, or firing a capable employee who marries someone of the same sex.
Fox News host Greta Van Susteren sharply criticized Fox News correspondent Todd Starnes for "very bad taste" over tweeting petty attacks on the president in response to the deadly crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.
Starnes has tweeted that Obama isn't "interested" in the crash because it doesn't involve "beer or golf," "Russia bracing for a severe hash tag from the Obama Administration," and "Obama won't comment on Malaysian jetliner crash until he's had a chance to read tomorrow's paper."
In a post on her blog headlined, "NOTE TO FNC's TODD STARNES: THIS IS VERY BAD TASTE, 295 PEOPLE DIED," Van Susteren wrote: "I was just sent a Mediaite article with these tweets on it. I don't know Todd Starnes (he works in NYC), but I do know he works at Fox News Channel and so do I. I don't like his tweets. They are very bad taste. This is not the time to be snarky or some pathetic attempt at humor. Let me repeat... 295 people died."
A Texas charity has abandoned a plan to help house child migrants after conservative media outlets used misleading images to suggest displaced children would be living there in luxury conditions. In fact, the same charity operates other no-frills facilities and had planned to convert a hotel in a similar style.
Conservative media have promoted multiple conspiracy theories connected to the humanitarian migration crisis, including the accusation that President Obama "planned" the recent surge of child migrants across the border for political reasons, that migrant children are infecting Americans with rare diseases, and that Obama is allowing violent gang members to cross the border.
Right-wing media personalities took victory laps following the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, in which the Court ruled that closely held corporations cannot be required to provide health coverage for employees that includes contraception if the employer has a religious objection.
Fox News is witnessing the nasty byproducts of its endless campaign to depict extreme, virulent homophobia as a normal part of mainstream Christianity.
It's long been standard practice at Fox News to conflate anti-gay bigotry with Christianity. Last December, for instance, the network rushed to defend Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson after he compared homosexuality with bestiality and equated gay people with "drunks" and "terrorists," with Megyn Kelly referring to Robertson as "[t]his Christian guy," Sean Hannity describing his comments as "old fashioned traditional Christian sentiment and values," and Fox News commentator Todd Starnes defending Robertson as upholding "the teachings of the Bible."
Meanwhile, Fox has repeatedly touted business owners who refuse service to gay couples, taking up their mantle in regular "Fight for Faith" segments. The network has championed some of the country's most extreme anti-gay hate groups as mainstream Christian organizations. When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declined to attend he city's St. Patrick's Day Parade over its ban on LGBT groups, Fox News attacked him as a "religious bigot." And the network regularly describes even basic legal protections for LGBT people as anti-Christian.
Now, a new anti-gay controversy has once again provided fodder for Fox to depict extreme anti-gay bigotry as grounded in mainstream Christianity. Earlier this month, HGTV cancelled a forthcoming reality show slated to be hosted by brothers Jason and David Benham. The cancellation came after Right Wing Watch unearthed the brothers' history of extreme anti-gay and Islamophobic activism, including condemning homosexuality as "demonic" and "destructive."
Anchor Megyn Kelly responded to HGTV's move by asserting on the May 8 edition of The Kelly File that while "gay rights are more and more protected in this country," the same didn't hold for "Christian beliefs and Christian rights."
During the May 16 edition of Kelly's show, guest host Martha MacCallum invited right-wing radio commentator Dana Loesch and Democratic strategist Jessica Ehrlich to discuss the controversy engulfing the Benham brothers. Perfectly encapsulating the right's bogus homophobia-as-Christianity narrative, Loesch dubbed Ehrlich an "anti-Christian bigot" for deigning to criticize the brothers' extreme anti-gay views:
Todd Starnes, Fox News' resident culture warrior, wants to reclaim God from an America of gay pride paraders, hipsters, twerkers, and vegetarians. That, at least, is what he sets out to do in his latest tome, God Less America: Real Stories from the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values.
It's a book that's been generously promoted on the Fox News commentator's network. Starnes' publicity tour has taken him to such programs as Fox & Friends, Hannity, The Kelly File, Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight, and the radio show of Fox contributor Laura Ingraham.
During his publicity tour for God Less America, Starnes has homed in on a consistent message: religious, specifically Christian, values are under attack, largely thanks to an all-out assault allegedly led by the Obama administration, aided and abetted by LGBT activists and advocates for secularists and adherents to minority faiths. Obama, Starnes asserts, is at the forefront of a conspiracy "to eradicate the Christian faith" from the public square.
But Starnes' book isn't really about the state of Christianity in the age of Obama. It's primarily about Starnes himself, and the cultural resentments that define his worldview. Portraying himself as a down-home Southerner who loves sweet tea (a fact he reminds readers of no fewer than nine times), Duck Dynasty, guns, and his hardline Southern Baptist faith, beneath Starnes' folksy veneer is a far more venomous culture warrior.
What Starnes repeatedly - if unwittingly - reveals is that he isn't so much afraid of the impending loss of religious liberty as he is fearful that his exclusionary vision of America no longer holds the sway it once did.
What particularly rouses Starnes' ire about the state of contemporary America is that it's led by, as he pointedly notes, "Barack Hussein Obama." Starnes laments throughout the book that Obama's America is no longer the one in which in grew up - a country he depicts as more wholesome and unapologetically Christian, when women knew their place and gay people weren't being as obnoxious with all that equal rights stuff:
I grew up in a much simpler time - when blackberry was a pie and dirty dancing meant somebody forgot to clean out the barn for the square dance. It was a time when father still knew best - when the girls were girls and the men were men. I grew up in a time when a rainbow was a sign of God's promise, not gay rights.
To Starnes, Obama perfectly symbolizes the fading of that America. For one thing, Starnes not-so-subtly hints that the president has an affinity for Islam - referring to Obama as someone who "professes" to be a Christian, twice assailing him for calling the Muslim call to prayer "one of the prettiest sounds on earth at sunset," and suggesting that Obama hasn't secured the release on American pastor detained in Iran because the pastor had left the Islamic faith.
Starnes also lambastes the president for stating that we're "not just a Christian nation," but also a nation of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and secularists. A less paranoid observer might view Obama's remark as an affirmation of the country's religious diversity, but Starnes can't help seeing anti-Christian bias. (Starnes writes that it's "puzzling" that any "follower of Christ" would make such a statement.") Likewise, restrictions on proselytization in the military aren't, say, a sensible response to the harassment of non-Christian believers, but part of a "Christian cleansing" executed by the Obama administration. And just as he did in an appearance on Fox's Hannity to promote the book, Starnes compares officials enforcing the First Amendment's establishment clause to Adolf Hitler. "Hitler was not a big fan of the Baby Jesus," Starnes writes in a chapter titled "Nazis, Communists, and the USA." "Neither were the Communists. And apparently some American employees and schoolteachers share an equal disdain for the little Lord Jesus." Starnes is just saying.
According to the National PTA, this week was Teacher Appreciation Week. Right-wing media appear to have missed the memo.
The week started on May 5 with radio host Rush Limbaugh stating that those who advocate for greater diversity among teachers were "pushing for racial quotas" and want to return the U.S. to segregation and "go back to the way it was ... before the Civil Rights Act." Limbaugh was responding to a report from the Center for American Progress and the National Education Association which found, according to the Associated Press, that "U.S. teachers are nowhere near as diverse as their students."
On Fox News' Outnumbered the same day, Fox host Tucker Carlson responded to a story about a female teacher who supposedly gave a "lapdance" to a male student, claiming that men understand that getting sexually harassed by a female teacher is the "greatest thing that ever happened." When co-host Harris Faulkner read a viewer comment that "Whether this woman is hot, of course, is still out," Carlson responded, "She's hot enough." On April 28, Carlson told America to "lighten up" on the issue.
On May 6, Fox & Friends took to calling a Florida public school teacher a "Bible Bully" because a fifth-grade boy at a Broward County school claimed his Bible was taken away during free-reading time. Despite a statement from the county affirming its commitment to students' religious freedom and local reporting that the student was reading his Bible during a "classroom 'accelerated reading' program," Fox hosts nonetheless accused the teacher of being a "Bible Bully" and "humiliat[ing]" the student.
Fox & Friends even hosted Fox radio host Todd Starnes later in the program to discuss the Florida story, who made multiple outlandish claims about teachers:
STARNES: We got to start calling this like it is. We either have a bunch of religious bigots teaching our kids or we have a lot of ignorant people who don't understand the law.
STARNES: What if that child had been reading a Quran? I don't think that teacher would have done a single thing.
Breitbart.com blogger Javier Manajarres joined the fun on May 8, claiming the Florida story was indication of a "War on Christ in Florida," outing the teacher as a "registered...wait for it...wait for it...Democrat" and concluding, "Can you imagine if [the teacher] were to have banned a Koran from being read in classroom? All jihad would have broken loose, and she would be canned. The War on Christ is alive and well among the Democrat faithful."
Of course, teacher-bashing rhetoric is nothing new when it comes to conservative media. Limbaugh previously claimed that the idea that teachers contribute to a growing economy is "ignorance." Fox News earlier this year devoted several segments to bashing teachers and teachers unions in a debate over public school space in New York City. And just a few weeks ago, Breitbart Texas launched a transphobic attack on a substitute teacher in Texas who was suspended because of her gender identity, attempting to portray her as mentally disturbed and suggesting that a divorce was what prompted her to become transgender.
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!
Image at top obtained via Flickr user Cybrarian77 with a Creative Commons license.
Right-wing media have worked themselves into a tizzy over a controversy about a student reading his Bible in a Florida public school, but they aren't telling the whole story.
The CBS affiliate in Miami, FL, reported on May 5 that a fifth-grade boy at a public school in Broward County claimed he was banned from reading his Bible during "free-time reading" in his classroom:
A Broward County boy said he was banned from reading "The Good Book" during free-reading time in school. The boy and his father have hired an attorney, calling this a violation of the boy's Constitutional rights. Meanwhile, the Broward County School District says this is all a big misunderstanding.
The Miami Herald reported that Broward school officials "rejected the accusation" because the student was reading his Bible during a "classroom 'accelerated reading' program," not during a free-reading session. The Herald also noted that the boy's family is being represented by the Liberty Institute, a "conservative religious-rights group" that "targeted Broward County on Monday in an ongoing campaign contending that faith is under attack in America's elementary schools." (Indeed, the Liberty Institute has a "long history of hyperbolic assertions about the impending end of religious freedom.")
A statement from Broward County Public Schools on Monday, May 5, affirmed the county's commitment to religious freedom:
Broward County Public Schools respects and upholds the rights of students to bring personal religious materials to school, including the Bible, and to read these items before school, after school or during any "free reading" time during the school day.
On right-wing media, however, it's a much different story.
Fox News' Fox & Friends discussed the story on May 6, leading with its "Trouble With Schools" chryon. Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that the boy's father had previously been in touch with the school principal about when the boy was allowed to read the Bible in school, which included before and after school, during lunch, and at free time, but that "the teacher didn't like it" when the boy began reading his Bible during "his free time." Doocy continued:
DOOCY: Well the teacher didn't like it, and the kid said, if you have a problem with this, you need to call my dad. Well the dad wasn't there to pick up the phone and instead, the teacher left this embarrassing voicemail.
Fox News contributor Ben Carson is slated to be the keynote speaker at the first Gala dinner of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), becoming the latest Fox figure to appear before an extreme anti-gay group.
In a May 6 email to supporters, NOM President Brian Brown wrote that "it's 1972 for marriage," referring to the year before the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a woman's right to an abortion and the growing expectation that the Court will take up marriage equality once again by 2015. To protest the frightening possibility that same-sex couples nationwide will soon enjoy civil equality, NOM will hold its second annual March for Marriage in Washington on June 19. Brown's email touted Carson's appearance - previously flagged by GLAAD's Jeremy Hooper - at NOM's gala that same evening (emphasis original):
It was a crisp winter day in 1973 when the United States Supreme Court issued their horrific decision in Roe v Wade. How much would you sacrifice to go back in time to a few months before that fateful decision, to the Fall of 1972, and mobilize the American people BEFORE the Supreme Court issued that infamous decree?
Just about anything, right? Well, when it comes to marriage, we have that chance!
You see, it's 1972 for marriage. Within the next 12 months, it is very likely that the United States Supreme Court will take up the marriage issue again. Many people have bought in to the lie that the courts redefining marriage is somehow "inevitable." Well, I refuse to believe that, because it's simply not true!
That's why the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is organizing its second annual March for Marriage this summer on June 19th in Washington, DC -- bringing together thousands of marriage activists from all across the country to make sure the elites in our nation's capital hear loud and clear: Marriage matters because every kid deserves a mom and a dad!
One incredibly courageous leader who is standing up for marriage is Doctor Ben Carson, who will be the keynote speaker at NOM's first ever Gala dinner on the evening of the March for Marriage. He said in a speech earlier this year that the "P.C. police" have "tried to shut him up" because he's willing to state his belief publicly that marriage is between a man and a woman.
From the May 5 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
Loading the player reg...
For years, conservative media figures have attacked marriage equality by citing "religious liberty" concerns, baselessly warning that churches might be forced to perform same-sex weddings against their will. But a new lawsuit in North Carolina challenges the right-wing media's commitment to religious freedom when it's not being used as an excuse for anti-gay discrimination.
On April 28, the United Church of Christ (UCC), a progressive Protestant denomination that supports marriage equality, filed suit in Federal District Court challenging North Carolina's ban on clergy blessings of same-sex unions. Under the state's 2012 same-sex marriage ban, it's a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 45 days in jail, to perform a ceremony for any couple lacking a valid marriage license. The UCC argues that the ban infringes on clergy members' First Amendment right to free exercise of religion:
"We didn't bring this lawsuit to make others conform to our beliefs, but to vindicate the right of all faiths to freely exercise their religious practices," said Donald C. Clark Jr., general counsel of the United Church of Christ.
The lawsuit represents the inverse of a long-standing (and entirely baseless) conservative horror story about marriage equality - that churches will be forced to perform same-sex weddings against their will.
This myth has been perpetuated by conservative media personalities like Fox's Todd Starnes, who in 2012 warned that a Kansas non-discrimination ordinance "would force churches to host gay weddings":
When the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Breitbart News' Ben Shapiro claimed that churches would lose their tax exempt status if they failed to perform same-sex weddings. Fox contributor Erick Erickson has gone so far as to claim "gay marriage and religious freedom are incompatible." And Fox News' longstanding campaign to depict marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws as burdens on religious liberty inspired a rash of so-called "religious freedom" bills across the country earlier this year.
Given social conservatives' self-appointed role as guardians of religious freedom, the North Carolina case would seem ripe for their attention.
But now that religious liberty is being invoked to oppose a gay marriage ban, will right-wing media rush to tout the cause of a pro-equality church?
Conservatives who rushed to defend "religious liberty" legislation like Arizona SB 1062 have so far been silent on the case. The New York Times' Ross Douthat, who penned a column supporting Arizona's bill on religious liberty grounds, has yet to comment on the UCC case on his blog. A TV Eyes search shows that Fox News - which regularly features segments titled "The Fight for Faith" - hasn't taken up the UCC's mantle. The same goes for anti-gay conservatives like Starnes, Shapiro, and Erickson.
While civil marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples would have no bearing on churches' doctrines and practices, laws like North Carolina's actively restrict religious denominations' right to freely exercise their faith. If serving a cake to a same-sex couple constitutes an unconscionable violation of religious liberty, then surely a law telling churches which unions they can and can't bless does. But the right's crusade against LGBT equality has almost nothing to do with genuine, intellectually consistent support for religious liberty, and everything to do with keeping discrimination enshrined in law.
Too often in conservative media, religious liberty becomes a shield to deflect accusations of bigotry, even while justifying blatant anti-LGBT discrimination. UCC's lawsuit, and conservative media's interest in taking it up as a cause célèbre, will test whether the right's interest in religious liberty is anything more than a shallow excuse for homophobia.
Equality Matters searched TV Eyes for the terms "gay," "United Church of Christ," and "North Carolina" for Fox's programming on April 28 and the morning of April 29, 2014.
Photo via Flickr.com user Sarah Cartwright
Right-wing media are seizing on the story of a lesbian "throuple" to falsely suggest that legalizing same-sex marriage inevitably leads to the acceptance and legalization of polygamy.
On April 23, the New York Post reported that Doll, Kitten, and Brynn Young, three Massachusetts women in a polyamorous relationship, were expecting their first child after uniting in an August 2013 commitment ceremony. Conservatives pounced on the story as evidence that once the institution of marriage is made available to gay couples, polygamy is a logical consequence.
Fox News' Todd Starnes set the tone for the right-wing reaction to the story with an April 23 Facebook post declaring that "[w]hen you redefine marriage - it's anything goes":
Erick Erickson's RedState.com offered a similar take, with contributor streiff calling polygamy "the logical and foreseeable consequence" of the push for marriage equality, which the post argued made marriage "a means for satisfying the libido." Likewise, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) predicted a rash of similar stories "in the wake of same-sex 'marriage.'"
Writing for First Things, NOM co-founder Robert George asserted that seeing marriage as a "sexual-romantic companionship" rather than a "conjugal bond" formed to produce children left no good reason to oppose "polyamorous sexual ensembles of three or more persons." Similarly, right-wing website LifeSiteNews wondered whether the throuple's story portended "the next marriage redefinition."
After right-wing folk hero Cliven Bundy was caught on camera delivering a racist tirade, Media Matters looks back at the conservative media figures who propelled him into the national spotlight.
Fox figures praised armed supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy as good, patriotic, hard-working Americans, ignoring their threats of violence against Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents and indications that they were willing to put women in children in the line of fire.
Fox News correspondent Todd Starnes defended rancher Cliven Bundy in his lawless stand against the federal government. Referencing federal employees' actions in legally confiscating Bundy's cattle because of unpaid fees and fines, Starnes said: "Don't they still have laws on the books about cattle rustling out in Nevada? ... Back in the day, they used to string folks up for stealing cattle."
Bundy is a Nevada rancher who has for decades refused to pay the federal government the fees required to allow his cattle to graze on public lands. Last year a federal court ruled that Bundy had to remove his cattle or they would be confiscated to pay the roughly $1.2 million in fees and fines he's accumulated. The confiscation began earlier this month, but was halted because the Bureau of Land Management had "serious concerns about the safety of employees and members of the public."
Bundy does not recognize federal authority over the land in question, and he and his armed supporters have repeatedly threatened violence against the federal government. Despite his lawlessness, Bundy has become a cause célèbre for many in the right-wing media.
During an appearance today on the radio program of Republican strategist Alice Stewart, Fox's Todd Starnes championed Bundy as an example of Americans "saying enough is enough" with the federal government.
"We do know that the feds returned some of the cattle that they had taken from the Bundy Ranch. What I find interesting, though, Alice, is don't they still have laws on the books about cattle rustling out in Nevada?" Starnes said. "Back in the day, they used to string folks up for stealing cattle."
Starnes later claimed that the Bundy incident shows that "Americans have really reached a boiling point here" and Americans have finally said, 'You know what? We're not going to stand by and let the Constitution be tramped.'"
He also took the opportunity to link the situation to the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, stating: "Look at all the government firepower that was out there at that ranch. They had more guns there than they did at the consulate in Benghazi ... if only Ambassador [Christopher] Stevens had been a protected tortoise."
Despite his own inflammatory rhetoric, Starnes did caution against the behavior of some Bundy-supporting militia members, saying it's "very disturbing" they were "[s]eeming to taunt the federal agents. And I think that they need to be very careful about that."