When an individual doesn’t feel like being absolutely truthful, there are a couple of things he or she can do. One is to simply tell lies. Another, perhaps more common tactic, is to omit certain pieces of information, thus giving the listener an incomplete picture.
The latter tactic was on full display this year during the Religious Right’s “Values Voter Summit” last week, and perhaps no one used it better than a man named Kelly Shackelford.
Shackelford runs a group in Texas called the Liberty Institute. It’s yet another of these Religious Right legal outfits that labors to erode the church-state wall. During his remarks, Shackelford bemoaned the state of religious freedom in America, which means he really bemoaned the fact that aggressive fundamentalist Christians don’t have the right to use the government to shove their religion down your throat at every turn.
Shackelford focused most his remarks on a long-running lawsuit challenging the Mt. Soledad Cross near San Diego. This 43-foot-tall cross sits on government-owned land. Its supporters claim it is a war memorial. Many people feel differently and point out that a symbol of one faith can’t represent all of our veterans, who come from many different religious and philosophical backgrounds.
A cross has been at the site since 1913. When the first one was erected, no one said it was a war memorial. It was clear that the cross was erected for sectarian purposes. In 1952, strong winds knocked down the cross. It was replaced by a larger, more fortified structure, and again no one asserted it was a war memorial. In fact, cross supporters at the time said their goal was “to create a park worthy of this magnificent view, and worthy to be a setting for the symbol of Christianity.”
Remarkably, this case has been bouncing around in the courts for 25 years. Several courts have ruled that the government has no legal right to display this cross, but local, state and federal officials keep coming up with new stunts to save it. Yet through it all, one thing is clear: It was only after the lawsuit was filed that the cross suddenly became a war memorial.
Shackelford included none of this history in his comments. That’s telling.
He also opined that the entire lawsuit was a plot by atheists who oppose the public display of religious symbols. I’m not sure about the theological views of the original plaintiffs. The case has been in court so long that those plaintiffs, who were veterans of the Vietnam War, have died. If you look up the case now, you will see that it is styled Jewish War Veterans of the USA v. Hagel.
Hmmm. It would appear that the main plaintiffs these days are Jewish War Veterans. I wonder why Shackelford omitted that interesting piece of information?
Shackelford showed a slick video of veterans (mostly old folks) gathering at the site of the cross with tears in their eyes. There were plenty of shots of flags waving in the breeze and sunbeams coming up around the cross and all that. It was clearly designed to invoke an emotional reaction.
The video could only leave viewers with the impression that Shackelford’s group is leading the defense of the cross. That’s not quite accurate either. The cross is being defended by government attorneys. Shackelford’s Institute represents a private group that has intervened in the case, as a brief statement at the end of the video admitted. Shackelford is probably not eager to tell his donors that his Institute is working alongside the Obama administration to defend the cross. (Shackelford also boasted that his group is the “largest legal organization in the country” focusing on these issues. That would come as a surprise to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Religious Right legal group with a budget eight times larger than Shackelford’s Institute.)
Shackelford talked repeatedly about how awful it would be if the cross were removed. The veterans would be heart-broken! He made it sound as if the American Civil Liberties Union is standing by with a bale of dynamite waiting to blow up the cross. In fact, a much more likely scenario is that the memorial will be transferred to a private entity and left intact.
For bonus fun, Shackelford also discussed the case of Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk, a conservative Christian who claims he was disciplined after he dared to disagree with his lesbian supervisor over the issue of same-sex marriage. Shackelford never bothered to point out that an internal Air Force investigation found Monk’s claims to be without merit.
Shackelford’s recounting of the travails of Eric Walsh, former director of public health for the city of Pasadena, Calif., also left out key information. According to Shackelford, Walsh was denied a new job in Georgia merely because he spoke of his faith. In fact, Walsh, who had been moonlighting as a pastor, launched crude and vitriolic attacks on gay people and advocated positions (such as opposing condom distribution and even denying the reality of evolution) that could have affected public health policy.
As an attorney, Shackelford surely knows the famous courtroom admonition: You are to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
It’s too bad he didn’t follow that at the Values Voter Summit.