Today marks the start of the 2018 Values Voter Summit (VVS), an annual gathering of the Religious Right. Sponsored by the anti-LGBTQ, anti-reproductive rights, anti-religious diversity Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington, D.C., the event aims to mobilize white evangelical Christians just before the November general election.
I’ll be at VVS today and tomorrow, reporting on the church-state separation issues that come up. I attended the summit for the first time last year, and as I was refreshing my memory on what I wrote about it then, it struck me how much has changed and, at the same time, how much has stayed the same.
Changed: President Donald Trump is not scheduled to speak at VVS this year, which is a surprise considering his habit of pandering to evangelicals and their habit of fawning over him. After all, this is an event frequented by members of his Evangelical Advisory Board, whom he just hosted at the White House last month.
Last year Trump touted the fact that he was the first sitting president to speak at VVS and erroneously declared he’d gutted the Johnson Amendment, curtailed women’s access to birth control and won the War on Christmas. Needless to say, I won’t miss hearing his false, vainglorious remarks. Instead, I’ll be treated to a speech from Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday, who is a frequent speaker at VVS and frequent foe of church-state separation.
Same: Scheduled to speak are representatives of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Religious Right legal group, and others that advocate for laws and policies that would allow religion to be used to discriminate. In addition to an ADF attorney, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop – the Colorado bakery that refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple – is on today’s agenda. Last year ADF was at VVS promoting a wedding video business from Minnesota that also wanted to turn away LGBTQ couples in the name of religion.
Changed: One of the things that really struck with me last year was that attendees, whom I thought would be celebrating the presence of Trump in the White House, instead were voicing anger at the Republican establishment. Steve Bannon, who had just left an advisory position in Trump’s White House, railed against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other so-called “RINOs” – Republicans in Name Only. Bannon also hyped Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, the former “Ten Commandments Judge” who also spoke at VVS. Moore and Bannon were anticipating victory in last December’s special election, unaware that multiple women would soon be coming forward to accuse Moore of inappropriate sexual contact when they were teenagers and he was an adult.
My, how things can change from year to year. Moore, a frequent attendee at VVS, is not on the agenda, nor is Bannon. Conversely, McConnell – the senator at whom a lot of ire was directed last year – is scheduled to speak this morning. Chances are good that he’ll take the opportunity to hype Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee whom McConnell is trying to fast-track through the confirmation process even as Kavanaugh faces a sexual assault allegation. Probably to the dismay of McConnell, Trump and other Republicans supporting Kavanaugh, Moore himself has publicly drawn comparisons between his and Kavanaugh’s similar circumstances.
Same: Given the number of speakers on the agenda who want to weaponize religious freedom to block LGBTQ equality, obstruct women’s reproductive rights and promote the myth that America is a Christian (and especially a non-Muslim) nation, the tone of this year’s VVS won’t be much different from last year’s, or all that came before that. It will be a long two days of listening to speeches from people who aren’t looking for religious freedom, but rather for religious privilege.
But if nothing else, VVS should serve as motivation for me and everyone else who believes in church-state separation. As long as there is a VVS and people who want to undermine religious freedom, there will be an Americans United for Separation of Church and State and like-minded supporters who are determined to protect it.
I’ll be tweeting from Americans United’s Twitter account throughout the VVS – please follow along and keep me company while I listen to the Religious Right’s propaganda!