Friday, January 2, 2009

Research Time

As we all know there are several organizations in the "real world" bent on continuing the exclusion and marginalizing of segments of our society. Organizations like the Institute on Religion and Democracy. James stumbled into another and I have tried to figure out where the group is coming from but have been unable to do so. My curiosity has been aroused. The group is called the Becket Fund (supposedly named after Thomas à Becket) and here is just a little of their cause:

"Religious people and institutions are entitled to participate in public life on an equal basis with everyone else, and should not be excluded for professing their faith."
Now, if you go to The Three Legged Stool, James has referenced an advertisement that ran in the NY Times. (James, can you leave the URL for us?) If you look them up the information is interesting. For example, on the issue of gay marriage they talk about religious freedom and they use some sophisticated language BUT they repeat old saws like to one about Catholic Charities closing down in Boston. They talk about guaranteed religious liberty and defend public school vouchers. This group is very difficult to pin down because of the apparent sophistry but it sounds very much like the IRD. If you have any information (one way of the other) please leave it here. It might appear in another writing -- please leave your retrievable citation.

Thanks, Fred.


klady said...

I don't have any first-hand knowledge myself. Just browsing on their website, I see both defense of people espousing conservative religious views and a commitment to defending free expression of any and all religious views. Their "Board of Advisors" presents an interesting mix of people:

Hon. William P. Barr
Former Attorney General of the United States

Prof. Stephen L. Carter
Yale Law School

His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Chicago

Hon. Orrin G. Hatch
United States Senator (R-Utah)
Prof. Douglas Kmiec
Pepperdine Law School

Prof. Douglas Laycock
University of Michigan Law School

Rev. Richard John Neuhaus
President, Institute of Religion and Public Life

Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Founder and Honorary Chairman, Special Olympics International

Sargent Shriver
Chairman of the Board, Special Olympics International

Dr. Ronald B. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York

John M. Templeton, Jr., M.D.
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Hard to say where they're coming from, but it may be that they are genuinely committed to a content-neutral defense of free exercise of religion. Unfortunately that may include some conduct that others would find contrary to equal rights (i.e. views against gay marriage, abortion rights, etc.). However, that does not necessarily mean that they are motivated by a desire to destroy liberal religious institutions and thought in the way an organization like the I.R.D. does.

It's a bit sketchy in the details, but a good starting point discussion on these legal issues from various perspectives can be found in a panel discussion held at the convention of a truly progressive legal interest group, the American Constitution Society (created to counter organizations like the the conservative Federalist Society). The video is here . The Agee guy in the discussion obviously represents the kind of "free speech" issue alluded to by Rick Warren -- i.e. freedom to discriminate. Lara Schwartz speaks for the Human Rights Campaign HRC)..

Anyway, I've been reading up on this stuff the last few days but can't really comment yet. I found another peculiar hard-to-categorize as right or left (but probably mostly right-wing) legal organization - The Rutherford Institute. They're against government spying but for "free religious speech." Weird mix.

My bias is against the kind of litigation favored by the Becket group, but there's also an ACLU bent to my ideas that favors free expression by anyone. However, the trouble with giving full free reign to religious "views" is when it is "expressed" by extremely well-funded institutions like the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches. Just as with "corporate free speech" adding a lot of money to non-democraticly held power can detract from rather than enhance individual freedom.

Anyway, I'd be curious to see what anyone else comes up with on these Becket folks. I have admired Stephen Carter in the past but am wary of anyone teaming up with Orrin Hatch (as well as some of the others).

klady said...

I meant Aden (not Agee!)

Fred Schwartz said...

klady -
Thanks. Please share whatever you find.

Priscilla said...

Fred, here are some links I've found, from a more left-wing perspective.

It seems that although, like many right-wing organizations, the Becket Fund likes to hide behind the very reasonable sounding "defense of religious liberty" what they really mean is defense of their own particular religious biases (which seem to lean heavily toward traditional/orthodox RC) and the forced application of said biases to non-believers and others who don't share those views through manipulation of the political process and the rule of law.

They certainly are NOT for defending the rights of Christians (or non-Christians) who believe in full LGBTQ inclusion in the life of the church and equality under the law, although they attempt to mask this in their book it seems.

The CEO of the organization equated protesting against churches to terrorism in line with Al Qaeda.

They have also come out in support of the paranoid passengers that had the Muslim family thrown off an airplane last week; they didn't advocate for the Muslims' "religious liberty" in that case.

Wayne Besen, in his counter-ad for Truth Wins Out" in the Salt Lake Tribune gets it about right, I think:
“These anti-gay activists are crying wolf on the Proposition 8 protests, but they actually are a wolf in sheep’s clothing that preaches religious tolerance while practicing the most defamatory form of religious bigotry. We refuse to permit this orchestrated campaign to rewrite history, nor will we allow some of the most notorious Mormon bashers in America to pose as friends of the Latter-day Saints."

Although they have a long history of supporting various religions they most often side with conservative politics and forcing religious expression into the public sphere. It appears that the gay hatred is the deal breaker for them when it comes to religious liberty. It's OK for the Mormons and RC's to pass discriminatory legislation that takes away equal rights but protesting against that kind of politicization of religion is "terroristic".

Not exactly a welcoming bunch, in my view. Thanks for pointing them out!