It's no secret that I'm not a fan of the Religious Right. Through my work at Americans United, I've opposed this movement for 22 years and have written three books challenging the Religious Right's perspective.
I don't believe that everyone who holds Religious Right views is a bad person. But I would be remiss in my duties if I failed to point out that, increasingly, many in the Religious Right are telling big, fat, honking lies. This is a shame, because it makes it impossible to have a civil exchange of views in the public arena.
Representatives from this liars' caucus held a press event yesterday in Washington, D.C. A collection of Religious Right back benchers gathered in front of the U.S. Justice Department to protest a new law that allows federal law enforcement agencies to assist local authorities in investigating hate crimes.
Several Religious Right leaders have asserted that this law infringes on free speech and will lead to pastors being tossed in prison if they so much as say one critical thing about gays.
It's complete nonsense.
The legislation in question, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, targets forms of physical assault motivated by the victim's "actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability." (The bill actually protects religious people alongside gays and lesbians.)
Furthermore, two separate sections in the legislation plainly state that nothing in it is designed to inhibit free speech, freedom of religion or other constitutionally protected rights.
Nevertheless, the gaggle of pastors continued to assert that their rights are being taken away.
"Preachers will soon be targeted for prosecution, and their speech will be monitored," moaned Texas pastor Rick Scarborough.
The pastors got the bright idea to say anti-gay things during the press conference. Their thinking seemed to be that they would immediately be pounced on by the police and hauled off to jail. They could then rally support and challenge the new law in court.
But there was one problem: No one was interested in arresting the pastors. As Dana Milbank of The Washington Post noted, police were at the event to keep the peace but no one was arrested.
"The evangelical activists had been hoping to provoke arrest, because, as organizer Gary Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission put it, 'we'd have standing to challenge the law,'" wrote Milbank. "But their prayers were not answered. Nobody was arrested, which wasn't surprising: To run afoul of the new law, you need to 'plan or prepare for an act of physical violence' or 'incite an imminent act of physical violence.'"
No one's speech was being monitored. As Milbank pointed out, "the few cops in attendance were paying no attention to the speakers, instead talking among themselves and checking their BlackBerrys."
The pastors did get something they might not have bargained for: Gay-rights activists showed up waving signs and, for a time, even took over the microphone to answer questions after the ministers were done speaking.
I suspect what the ministers wanted all along was to create a colorful media circus and get their names in the newspapers. This gang is so low rent it doesn't get much press attention and is willing to do whatever it takes to get a little ink. Sure, Milbank made fun of them – but as long as he spelled their names right, it's OK.
But in the end, what did they accomplish? They proved that pastors can spout all of the anti-gay stuff they want and not get arrested. That's what I've been saying all along, and I appreciate them proving my point.
Thanks a lot, guys!