Fox News has reported on a number of alleged cases of Christian persecution in the military, relying heavily on the claims of a San Antonio pastor with a history of peddling misinformation about efforts to protect LGBT people.
On September 30, Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes published an article warning that the Air Force is "punishing evangelical Christians" - a right-wing myth he's been peddling unsuccessfully for months.
His article relied largely on statements made by Steve Branson, pastor of Village Parkway Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. According to Branson, persecution of Christian service members is on the rise thanks to the growing acceptance of gays and lesbians in the military:
"There is an atmosphere of intimidation at Lackland Air Force Base," said Steve Branson, the pastor of Village Parkway Baptist Church in San Antonio. "Gay commanders and officers are pushing their agenda on the airmen. There is a culture of fear in the military and it's gone to a new level with the issue of homosexuality."
"The religious persecution is happening," the pastor said. "It's getting bigger every day. Gay and lesbian airmen can talk about their lifestyle, but the rest have to stay completely quiet about what they believe."
Starnes primarily relied on the case of Air Force Sgt. Phillip Monk, who baselessly claims he was reprimanded for opposing marriage equality despite repeated denials by the Air Force, to support this conspiracy theory.
Aside from Monk's story, Starnes' only evidence of a military-wide anti-Christian conspiracy is what Branson claimed to have been told at a private meeting with "at least 80 airmen" at his church:
Branson tells me at least 80 airmen attended a private meeting at the church where he heard them voice their concerns about religious hostilities at the Air Force base. It was a standing-room only crowd.
"They're getting mirandized several times a month - but most of the accusations never stick," Branson tells me. "Branson said he's getting email and letters from military personnel across the country - telling him their stories of religious persecution - and asking for help.
From the September 24 edition of WOAI's San Antonio's First News with Charlie Parker:
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Fox News figures have relentlessly pushed the GOP to defund the Affordable Care Act while ignoring the effect that defunding would have on health care costs, uninsured Americans, and new health care services.
A U.S. airman is facing a formal investigation for allegedly falsely claiming that he was punished for opposing marriage equality - a statement widely promoted by Fox News. Now, Fox News is citing the investigation as further evidence that the military is cracking down on anti-gay Christians.
Hoping to advance the right-wing myth that the military has an anti-Christian bias, Fox News has aggressively touted the case of Air Force Sgt. Phillip Monk. In August, Monk told Fox News that he had been relieved of his duties for vocally opposing marriage equality - a claim that the Air Force flatly denied, saying he was simply at the end of his assignment.
Now, Monk is being investigated for providing false statements about the incident, prompting further outrage from Fox.
During the September 23 edition of America Live, Fox's Shannon Bream - who's made a career of trumpeting bogus religious liberty claims - spoke to hate group leader Tony Perkins about Monk's case. Bream and Perkins framed the investigation as further evidence of anti-Christian bias, asserting that Monk was being punished for advocating for his "First Amendment right":
Social conservatives will descend on Washington, D.C., next month for the Values Voters Summit (VVS), an annual convocation put on by an assemblage of anti-LGBT groups that will prominently feature high-profile right-wing media figures.
Sponsored by organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC) and the American Family Association (AFA) - both Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)-designated hate groups - VVS got its start in 2006. As in the past, this year's gathering promises to feature leading opponents of equality for women and LGBT people. Several confirmed speakers will be familiar faces to consumers of right-wing media:
Among the right-wing media personalities slated to speak at the conference:
Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes is falsely warning that the USDA is bullying Christian organizations that distribute food to low-income individuals into "choos[ing] between Jesus and cheese," ignoring that religious organizations are allowed to provide social services as long as they comply with federal law.
In a September 9 column for FoxNews.com, Starnes said that the USDA threatened to revoke federal financial assistance from the Christian Service Center, a Christian ministry in Florida, unless the group "removed portraits of Christ, the Ten Commandments, a banner that read 'Jesus is Lord' and stop[ped] giving Bibles to the needy." The sensationalist claim is already being repeated by other right-wing media outlets. From FoxNews.com:
For the past 31 years, the Christian ministry has been providing food to the hungry in Lake City, Fla. without any problems. But all that changed when they said a state government worker showed up to negotiate a new contract.
"The (person) told us there was a slight change in the contract," [Christian Service Center Executive Director Kay] Daly told me. "They said we could no longer have religious information where the USDA food is being distributed. They told us we had to take that stuff down."
Daly said it's no secret that the Christian Service Center is a Christian ministry.
"We've got pictures of Christ on more than one wall," she said. "It's very clear we are not social services. We are a Christian ministry."
[T]he Christian Service Center had a choice: choose God or the government cheese.
So in a spirit of Christian love and fellowship, Daly politely told the government what they could do with their cheese.
"We decided to eliminate the USDA food and we're going to trust God to provide," she told me. "If God can multiply fish and loaves for 10,000 people, he can certainly bring in food for our food pantry so we can continue to feed the hungry."
But Starnes is setting up a false choice and one that the ministry is not facing.
Fox Sports fired football analyst Craig James after one appearance on the network, citing homophobic comments James made as a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Texas. Fox Sports' handling of James' remarks differs markedly from how its corporate sibling, Fox News, deals with anti-LGBT commentary from its employees.
During his unsuccessful bid for the Republican Party's Senate nomination in 2012, James called homosexuality "a choice" and stated that gays "are going to have to answer to the Lord for their actions." A Fox Sports spokesman explained the network's decision to sever its ties with James, telling The Dallas Morning News, "We just asked ourselves how Craig's statements would play in our human resources department. He couldn't say those things here."
James' comments got him fired from Fox Sports, but they would have been wholly unremarkable if he was at Fox News, where rabidly anti-LGBT talking heads are regularly given a platform to spout their bigoted views with impunity.
A self-styled "bitter" culture warrior, one of Starnes' trademark specialties is delivering hateful commentary about LGBT people. Besides offering standard right-wing boilerplate language about how marriage equality will inevitably lead to bestiality, Starnes has also called the gay-inclusive, post-Don't Ask Don't Tell military a sign of "the end of days," mocked transgender women as "big burly men in dresses," and defended anti-LGBT discrimination by businesses. After NBA player Jason Collins came out as gay, Starnes tweeted, "The NBA is turning into GLEE."
Starnes has no use for LGBT allies, either. After President Barack Obama condemned Russia's draconian crackdown on gays, Starnes promoted a conspiracy theory that he has long been obsessed with - that perhaps Obama is secretly gay.
While The O'Reilly Factor host received widespread attention following his concession that the LGBT movement has the stronger marriage equality argument, O'Reilly continues to deliver a steady stream of anti-LGBT remarks. In 2012, he warned that pro-LGBT shows like "Glee" would encourage youthful "experimentation" with homosexuality and transgender identities. He has depicted gay rights supporters as protectors of child molesters, called students "fascist[s]" for protesting an anti-gay cleric, advised parents to shame boys who like the color pink, and denounced a new California law protecting transgender students as "anarchy and madness" and "the biggest con in the world."
Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes repeated the discredited myth that the post-Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) military is persecuting Christians, citing the case of an anti-gay airman who castigated his Air Force superiors to the media as evidence.
In a September 6 column for FoxNews.com, Starnes reported that Sgt. Phillip Monk "is now facing a formal investigation" after inaccurately telling Starnes last month that he was relieved of his duties because he told his openly lesbian commander that he opposed same-sex marriage.
Officials at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio said that Monk and his commander had simply "agreed to disagree," adding "the wing commander said there was no punishment" for Monk's comments. Base officials stated that Monk was relieved of his duties because he was at the end of his assignment - not because of his views on LGBT issues. That didn't stop Monk from blasting the Air Force in his August interview with Starnes:
"I was relieved of my position because I don't agree with my commander's position on gay marriage," Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk told Fox News. "We've been told that if you publicly say that homosexuality is wrong, you are in violation of Air Force policy."
"I was essentially fired for not validating my commander's position on having an opinion about homosexual marriage," he said.
Monk said he is brokenhearted over the way the military has treated him.
"The narrative is that you cannot say anything that contradicts Air Force policy."
He said in essence, Christians are trading places with homosexuals.
Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes continued his network's ongoing campaign against a proposed non-discrimination ordinance in San Antonio, relying on a notoriously dishonest anti-LGBT activist to peddle blatant falsehoods about the measure.
On September 5, the San Antonio City Council is expected to vote on a bill that would expand the city's non-discrimination protections to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The measure would:
Right-wing media outlets have spent weeks smearing the measure as an assault on religious liberty and a case of "reverse discrimination." In a September 5 article for Fox News Radio, reporter Todd Starnes peddled a number of blatant, outright falsehoods about the measure, citing Mat Staver, president of the notoriously anti-LGBT group Liberty Counsel.
Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes blasted "militant homosexuals" for opposing businesses that discriminate against gay customers, baselessly attacking anti-discrimination laws as assaults on First Amendment rights.
Willamette Week, an alternative weekly based in Portland, Oregon, reported on September 1 that Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a local bakery that came under fire in February for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, closed its storefront and will instead operate out of an "in home bakery." The move comes after the couple at the center of the controversy filed a complaint against the bakery for violating the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, which prohibits discrimination against LGBT individuals in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
Starnes did not take kindly to the news. In a September 3 column for FoxNews.com, Starnes condemned the "vicious boycott by militant homosexual activists" for "forc[ing]" the business to close its storefront. Even as the bakery owners decried the "sin" of homosexuality and lamented the "LGBT attacks" against their discriminatory business practices, Starnes uncritically noted their assertion that they have "nothing against homosexuals." Starnes then argued that businesses should be allowed to discriminate against gay people, as "God's law" should trump "man's law":
[Co-owner Aaron] Klein tells me he has nothing against homosexuals -- but because of their religious faith, the family simply cannot take part in gay wedding events.
"I believe marriage is between a man and a woman," he said. "I don't want to help somebody celebrate a commitment to a lifetime of sin."
Commissioner Brad Avakian told The Oregonian that he was committed to a fair and thorough investigation to determine whether the bakery discriminated against the lesbians.
"Everybody is entitled to their own beliefs, but that doesn't mean that folks have the right to discriminate," he told the newspaper. "The goal is to rehabilitate. For those who do violate the law, we want them to learn from that experience and have a good, successful business in Oregon."
In other words, Christians who live and work in Oregon must follow man's law instead of God's law. But in a show of benevolence, the state is willing to rehabilitate and reeducate Christian business owners like the Kleins.
Klein said it's becoming clear that Christians do not have the "right to believe what we believe."
In other words, gay rights trump religious rights.
Conservative media outlets denounced the New Mexico Supreme Court's unanimous decision holding that a photography studio violated the state's Human Right Act by refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, casting the ruling as "state-sponsored tyranny" and an affront to free speech and religious liberty.
On August 22, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Elane Huguenin - owner of Elane Photography - had violated the state's Human Rights Act when she refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony in 2006. According to the Associated Press:
Justice Richard Bosson wrote that the business owners "have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different."
"That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us a people," Bosson wrote in an opinion concurring with the court's ruling. "That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship."
Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes suggested President Obama might be secretly gay following statements the president made in support of gay Olympians competing in the 2014 Winter Games.
On August 9, President Obama stated his opposition to Russia's strict anti-gay laws, which could threaten openly gay Olympians and visitors during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. At a press conference, Obama said "nobody's more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and -lesbian legislation that we've been seeing in Russia."
Fox News Radio reporter mocked President Obama for statements he made in support of gay Olympians who might be targeted by Russia's strict anti-gay laws during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
During an August 9 press conference, Obama stated his opposition to Russia's anti-gay laws - including a measure that would criminalize "homosexual propaganda" - saying "nobody's more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and -lesbian legislation that we've been seeing in Russia."
Starnes took to Twitter to mock the president's comments, accusing Obama of discriminating against heterosexual athletes:
He also advanced the bogus right-wing talking point that Obama was prioritizing gay rights over other foreign policy considerations:
Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes, one of the most prominent homophobes in right-wing media, will now also enjoy a platform at The Daily Caller, where he has just been hired as a weekly columnist:
If history is any guide, Starnes will also provide Daily Caller readers with a steady stream of anti-LGBT commentary.
"Ludicrous." That's how San Antonio City Councilman Diego Bernal described the effort by right-wing media outlets - including Fox News - to smear a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance aimed at combating bias against LGBT people.
On July 23, the right-wing website OneNewsNow published an article criticizing an effort by the San Antonio City Council to update its non-discrimination policy to include discrimination against LGBT people.
The updated policy would prohibit the city government and its contractors or vendors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation in employment. In addition, it would also prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in housing and places of public accommodation. It would also allow City Council members to consider a person's history of anti-LGBT bias when making appointments to boards and commissions, stating:
No person shall be appointed to a position if the City Council finds that such person has, prior to such proposed appointment, engaged in discrimination or demonstrated a bias, by word or deed, against any person, group or organization on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age, or disability.
That provision drew the ire of conservatives, who claimed that the ordinance was an attempt to limit Christians' freedom of speech.
Before long, several right-wing media outlets picked up on the controversy, with each new iteration of the story presenting even wilder claims about the ordinance's supposed threat to religious liberty.