This falls in the can't-make-it-up column.
Most of you know that Mitchell Moore of Campbell's Bakery, who is straight, and Eddie Outlaw of William Wallace Salon, who is gay, and others started the amazing "If You're Buying, We're Selling" campaign. They want Mississippi business owners to put stickers in their windows to indicate that they don't discriminate, in response to SB 2681, Mississippi's version of the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act." (See lots of business owners with the icon in their ads in this week's JFP, too.)
So, the religious right is apparently not happy with the international media coverage the campaign is getting -- and from Mississippi, which is supposed to be their wheelhouse, you know. They really didn't like it when Emily Pettus of the AP (the JFP's next-door neighbors) did a story about this that was picked up by many outlets.
In response, they went on a PR tear to take back the messaging. Greg Scott, who tweets at @adfmedia, led the way, tweeting this week in response to the AP story: "Sticker folks protest imaginary law .@AP bows false narrative, RFRA not "vaguely written," no threat to "=treatment" http://bit.ly/QEU2El
Curious, I did some research. Turns out, Scott is the VP for media communications for Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund), a nonprofit group founded in 1994 by extreme-right and vocally anti-gay leaders including James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association. (Interestingly, Mississippi's Judge Charles Pickering is also on the board.)
Not to be outdone, the American Family Association, an alliance co-founder, also blasted the sticker campaign on a Christian "news" site, which is part of the American Family News Network, which is part of the ... American Family Association. "It's not really a buying campaign, but it's a bully campaign," said Buddy Smith, executive vice president of Tupelo-based American Family Association, "and it's being carried out by radical homosexual activists who intend to trample the freedom of Christians to live according to the dictates of scripture."
The Southern Poverty Law Center includes the alliance (and AFA) on its list of a dozen groups that drive the "religious right's anti-gay crusade." On its website, it brags that its "attorneys have successfully defended marriage as the union between one man and one woman in over 40 cases nationwide."
SPLC indicates that the alliance was established in the early 1990s in response to gay-rights battles in the courts—which it clearly believes is the "principal" threat to religious freedom. ADF President Alan Sears and Vice President Craig Osten wrote " The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom," which ties homosexuality to pedophilia and other "disordered sexual behavior."
SPLC states: "The ADF has also mounted legal challenges to gay military service, marriage, adoption and foster-parenting, as well as to domestic partner benefits around the nation. It trains other attorneys 'to battle the radical homosexual legal agenda' in free, week-long National Litigation Academies, whose participants commit to 'provide 450 hours of pro bono legal work on behalf of the Body of Christ.'"
The alliance's members have long been proponents of "religious freedom" laws that would, in turn, squelch the rights of homosexuals to marry, lead Boy Scouts, join the military, etc.
Back to Greg Scott's tweets this week. He wants us to think that Mississippi's "sticker folks" are protesting an "imaginary law" and that AP is pushing a "false narrative" about a law that is not "vaguely written," and is "no threat" to LGBTQ rights. (It turns out that Scott's job is to push alternative narratives on behalf of the alliance, according to a Chicago Tribune article linked from the alliance's website, which said in an article about the alliance's fight against gay marriage in Tennessee: "Greg Scott, an Alliance spokesman, said his group seeks to counter sympathetic ‘micro’ narratives with a ‘macro’ argument.")
In the case of "If You're Buying," Scott's "macro" spin happens to be the same narrative that Gov. Bryant uses, including in the AP story.
But is Scott's narrative accurate?
It turns out that groups that founded Mr. Scott's alliance, including Focus on the Family, make it crystal-clear on their websites what they think "religious freedom" laws will take care of. Read this article by Focus on the Family judicial analyst Bruce Hausknecht, Esq. Most of his examples are exactly about gay rights (and most of the rest about abortion rights). And among that list is this one, which is exactly the example trumpeted in support of "religious freedom" bills around the country, including our SB 2681—that there are bakers out there who don't want to do wedding cakes for same-sex marriages. Hausknecht writes:
"In the past few years, an increased number of owners of bed and breakfast inns, bakeries, photography shops, and florists have all been subjected to state and local government sanctions and prosecution for refusing, for reasons of religious conscience, to furnish goods or services in furtherance of same-sex ceremonies."
So Mr. Scott is trying now to say that SB 2681 is not modeled after the bills his group's founders have pushed now for 30 years? Right. Mr. Hausknecht* also links to a Liberty Institute document of supposed religious-freedom abuses that mentions "homosexual" 67 times, "gay" 10 times, "same-sex" 13 times and "lesbian" 4 times. (That document, by the way, was distributed by Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council that Gov. Phil Bryant invited down from D.C. to his private signing of SB 2681, as well as Kelly Shackelford, head of the Liberty Institute, which said this about the signing of 2681):
"Mississippi’s law largely mirrors the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was sponsored by U.S. Senators Teddy Kennedy and Orin Hatch, passed almost unanimously with broad bipartisan support, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993."
That brings us back to another tweet by Mr. Scott's this week in response to the "If You're Buying" effort and concerns about SB 2681: ".@AP covers absurd anti-relig freedom campaign. MS RFRA = fed. RFRA. 20 yrs since #RFRA NONE of this has happened http://bit.ly/QEU2El."
We all have to watch what they're doing here: Since the scrutiny fell upon SB 2681 as a potential new Jim Crow law, especially toward LGBTQ citizens,i this "it's the same bill that Bill Clinton and Barney Franks supported in the 1990s" has become the excuse among many conservatives.
There is more to the story, though, that even Focus legal analyst Hausknecht discusses, albeit with his spin, in a piece about the RFRA linked to the above "religious freedom" piece. Ironically, like happened with SB 2681, the federal law was presented in an innocent fashion, and it sounded great for politicians of all stripes to jump on board (not the only time President Clinton did that unwisely; see Communications Decency Act).
Later, the federal RFRA was watered down with parts struck down by the courts, but part of it still stands. And it has often been used in cases where people don't want to do something the government requires because it interferes with their religious rights—200 times according to Joe LaRue in the Los Angeles Times. LaRue, by the way, is an attorney with Mr. Scott's Alliance Defending Freedom, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., which helped draft Arizona's "religious freedom" law to give the right to businesses to refuse service based on religious beliefs (thus, the Jim Crow comparison).
It's vital to understand the reason they decided to push for a state law in Arizona and beyond (including Mississippi, which initially tried to adopt a near-identical law to Arizona's version). They wanted to prevent a repeat of a New Mexico law that does not allow a public accommodation to deny a service based on sexual orientation or gender identity. (Federal law already does this based on race and other factors--but not yet for LGBTQ citizens--starting in the 1960s when Jim Crow laws were overturned.)
The specific case that bolstered the fresh round of these "religious freedom" laws was a photography business in New Mexico that denied service for a civil commitment service, violating state law. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the federal RFRA did not block the New Mexico anti-discrimination law. This seems to have worried social conservatives--in walked Mr. Scott's Alliance Defending Freedom and other religious-right groups to [i]preempt[/i] anti-discrimination efforts in other states.
It didn't exactly work out the way they'd hoped. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was pressured by large businesses and industry doing business in Arizona to veto the bill as written. And, here in Mississippi, the original language was toned way down into what the bill's authors now tweet, and our governor says, defensively is the same language as the federal RFRA—which many lawmakers came to regret supporting once right-wing attorneys started trying to use it as an excuse for discrimination.
Back here in Mississippi, we are now stuck with the watered-down version, which is probably better than the original. But why pass it at all? It is clearly designed to block future anti-discrimination legislation and efforts, such as in New Mexico. This is particularly poignant in an era when five cities in Mississippi have now passed pro-LGBTQ resolutions, and a strong LGBTQ civil rights movement is brewing. Will they use the law to try to overturn those resolutions and any other effort to protect LGBTQ rights in Mississippi? Likely.
Secondly, the federal law itself is used to allow Americans to circumvent laws based on religious beliefs as LaRue made clear in the LA Times story. A major goal of the organizations pushing and writing these laws is pointedly to block LGBTQ and abortion rights in the U.S. and to put laws into place to help them do that.
This is what t[he alliance's website says about gay rights][18, which is the only issue discussed on its "Marriage and Family" page]:
"Redefining marriage to include same-sex couples is not the only threat weakening the institution. It is, however, the most prominent and pressing danger to fundamentally altering marriage, as it undermines the good that marriage provides society. Moreover, redefining marriage is at odds with religious freedom as we see more and more that those who believe in marriage are politically, culturally, and legally persecuted for those beliefs. Countless people – from small business owners to Catholic hospitals, school counselors, professors, and students, to chaplains and churches – who will not promote or condone the redefinition of marriage are already under serious legal assault for their faith. ..."
"Together with our allies, Alliance Defending Freedom has worked to strengthen and protect marriage and families for nearly two decades through strategy, training, litigation, and various forms of legal advocacy."
Also, consider the target of this angry and belittling reaction by Mr. Scott -- a group of business owners declaring positively that they do not discriminate. Isn't that a good thing? Why would these groups react in such a way if these state laws are simply a toothless version of the federal RFRA, which already exists? We're expected to believe they're pushing and writing frivolous legislation that won't be used against LGBTQ rights?
Their response is very telling, and we're not stupid, even here in MIssissippi.
Note that SB 2681 is also still exciting enough to the far-right that their leaders, such as Tony Perkins, showed up at the governor's private signing to crow over it being such a great thing.
Of course, it can't make them feel very good when Republican business owners such as Mitchell Moore start a campaign against their diligent efforts to take us back to the past and mistreat our LGBTQ friends, family members, co-workers and customers.
And considering the elected judges we have in Mississippi, many funded by conservatives outside the state, we are all correct to be very concerned at what this alliance and others are trying to do to our citizens here in Mississippi, not to mention our state's reputation and, ultimately, economy.
No matter what Mr. Scott tweets to try to distract us. Stay the course, folks.
*CORRECTOON: The original blog post said that Mr. Scott linked to the Liberty Institute document; instead, it was Mr. Hausknecht, legal analyst of Focus on the Family that co-founded Mr. Scott's group, ADF. I apologize for the error.
Related: My response to the argument that the First Amendment protects discrimination based on religious beliefs.