When Leigh Corfman was 14 years old, she says she had a disturbing encounter with a 32-year-old assistant district attorney named Roy S. Moore.
Corfman said Moore molested her – and she’s not the only woman to step forward with that story. Multiple women have accused Moore of making advances toward them in their teens.
Nancy Wells, Corfman’s mother, told The Washington Post that at the time the incident allegedly happened – 1979 – Moore offered to keep an eye on her daughter while Wells was in a custody hearing in the Etowah County, Ala., courthouse. Wells agreed, and her daughter gave Moore her number. The first time Moore hung out with Corfman alone, he kissed her. The second time, he allegedly touched Corfman’s bra and underwear and “guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.”
“I wanted it over with – I wanted out,” Corfman told The Post. She remembers thinking, “Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over.”
A couple of Corfman’s childhood friends confirmed that she had told them about Moore at the time. The Post also interviewed three other women who accused Moore of similar offenses, although he continues to deny the allegations.
After The Post’s story was published, a fifth woman, Beverly Young Nelson, accused Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was 16. Nelson said Moore attacked her in his car after she’d finished a waitressing shift, adding that Moore allegedly told her that “no one will believe” her story if she reported him.
“I tried fighting him off while yelling at him to stop, but instead of stopping, he began squeezing my neck, attempting to force my head onto his crotch,” Nelson told reporters at a Nov. 13 press conference.
To add to these disturbing allegations of assault, former law-enforcement officials said they were aware that Moore preyed on younger women, but they didn’t take it seriously.
“It was a known fact: Roy Moore liked young girls,” Faye Gary, a retired Gadsden police officer, told The New York Times. “It was treated like a joke. That’s just the way it was.” There were even allegations that Moore was banned from a local mall because of his tendency to “hit on” teenage girls.
Moore, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, is a Religious Right favorite who has always seemed to believe that he is above the law. In 2001, Americans United and other groups successfully sued Moore after he erected a two-ton Ten Commandments display at a judicial building in Montgomery. Moore refused to remove the monument, which led to his ouster from the Alabama Supreme Court.
In 2016, Moore was also indefinitely suspended as a chief justice for insisting that Alabama judges need not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made marriage equality the law of the land nationwide. The Alabama Supreme Court in April 2017 upheld his suspension, and Moore resigned a week later when he announced he was running for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by current Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Moore has also been accused of financial shenanigans. The Post reported that Moore received $180,000 in salary for part-time work from the Foundation for Moral Law, a nonprofit group he had formed with his wife, despite stating that he wasn’t taking a salary from the group. His salary was not reported in the group’s public tax filings, a violation of federal law.
Despite credible allegations against him, Moore’s Religious Right base remained strong. Although Moore lost Alabama’s special election in a surprising Dec. 12 upset, he captured 81 percent of the white evangelical vote. This highlights a continuing trend: The Religious Right has questionable ties with candidates accused of sexual offenses.
“I think what we’re seeing is an extreme politicization of Christianity. It almost does not feel like the evangelical tradition of a generation ago,” Washington University in St. Louis professor Marie Griffith told The Atlantic. “I don’t want to overstate that, of course – there’s plenty that’s still evangelicalism. But it has become so focused on power.”
Griffith said she doesn’t “quite see it as hypocrisy,” but rather, “as a real politicization of the tradition,” which reveals the historical pattern of the Religious Right’s discrediting and dismissing survivors of sexual assault, harassment and molestation when the accusations are against candidates who support their agenda.
“Conservative Christians rallied around Clarence Thomas [an ultraconservative Supreme Court justice, during his confirmation hearings in 1991] and suggested there was nothing believable about Anita Hill’s charges,” Griffith recalls. “But with Paula Jones [who had accused President Bill Clinton of sexual assault] they came to her defense, legally and financially. Even without judging the truth or falsity of either claim, you can see that a political reaction was at work.”
Support for Moore’s candidacy continues to legitimize the “friends with benefits” relationship status between Christian conservatives and the Republican Party.
Many strange excuses have been made for Moore’s alleged predatory actions. Alabama state auditor Jim Zeigler told the Washington Examiner, for example, that “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”
Franklin Graham, the evangelical preacher and son of Billy Graham, said that “many [are] denouncing Roy Moore when they are guilty of doing much worse than what he has been accused of supposedly doing.”
Some of Moore’s supporters resorted to more disturbing victim-blaming.
“I don’t know how much these women are getting paid, but I can only believe they’re getting a healthy sum,” pastor Earl Wise, a Moore supporter from Millbrook, Ala., told The Boston Globe.
Several Religious Right luminaries moved quickly to defend Moore.
Sandy Rios of the American Family Association remarked during a radio show, “Honestly, do you think there’s a person alive on the planet – certainly, I’ll limit it a little bit, I will say any man listening to my voice – that doesn’t have something in his past, in his box of secrets, that he’s ashamed of sexually?”
James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, went further, celebrating Moore’s integrity in a radio ad.
“You know, last November I believe God gave America another chance with the election of Donald J. Trump,” said Dobson in the ad. “But he now needs the presence and leadership of Judge Roy Moore to make America great again. And that’s why I’m asking my friends in Alabama to elect Judge Roy Moore to the United States Senate. Judge Moore is a man of proven character and integrity, and he has served Alabama and this country very, very well.”
How did the Religious Right, a movement normally so quick to judge the sexual behaviors of others, find itself in bed with an alleged pedophile? Part of the answer goes back to the 2016 election, when top Religious Right leaders decided to overlook Trump’s bragging about sexually assaulting women and getting away with it because of his fame.
“You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet,” Trump said on the now notorious “Access Hollywood” video that was leaked in Oct. 2016. “Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.… Grab ’em by the p-ssy. You can do anything.”
Aside from the disturbing contents of the video, 16 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct. Not only did none of this hurt him within the conservative evangelical community, he actually won 81 percent of the white evangelical vote.
“People of faith are voting on issues like who will protect unborn life, defend religious freedom, grow the economy, appoint conservative judges and oppose the Iran nuclear deal.… I think a 10-year-old tape of a private conversation with a TV talk show host ranks pretty low on their hierarchy of concerns,” Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, said after the release of the explosive video.
Reed’s dismissal of Trump’s behavior, one of many from Religious Right leaders in defense of the GOP candidate, highlighted the partisanship of the movement. Even some conservative scholars were taken aback.
“In my ongoing conversations over the past week, I’ve found that even apart from the specific controversy over the allegations against Moore, evangelical women are being confronted – once again – with the poor response by the church to accusations of sexual abuse,” Karen Swallow Prior, a professor of English at Liberty University, told The Post in response to the story about Moore. “Some of them are old enough to have watched conservatives embrace the testimonies of women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault and rape decades ago and are now witnessing a complete reversal toward Moore’s accusers. Likewise, we’ve watched some in the church gleefully say ‘gotcha’ as the [Harvey Weinstein] Hollywood sex abuse scandal has unfolded only to become silent in the present case.”
As Prior points out, religious conservatives’ response to sexual assault appears consistently partisan. Public Religion Research Institute surveys revealed that the percentage of white evangelicals who said they believe that a politician who commits “an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties” rose from 30 percent in 2011 to 72 percent in 2016, hinting at the shift in viewpoints during the Obama and Trump administrations.
This, commentators speculate, is partially due to a trend in modern Christian nationalism.
“The uniting of white nationalists and the religious right, and the rise of Christian nationalism, is premised not only on the false idea that people of color, LGBTQ people and other minorities are exerting too much control, but also very much so on the belief that women – coming forward now and speaking out about sexual assault and demanding equality – must be put in their place,” Michelangelo Signorile, an editor-at-large for the Huffington Post, wrote in a Nov. 20 column.
But some evangelicals are continuing to push back at the association with white Christian nationalist rhetoric. In a widely read Nov. 15 New York Times op-ed titled “Roy Moore and the Sorry State of Evangelical Politics,” William S. Brewbaker III, a University of Alabama law professor, wrote that as an evangelical Republican, he’s “ashamed of Roy Moore and upset that so many people are determined to defend him against sexual assault allegations, no matter what.”
Asserted Brewbaker, “Roy Moore’s success among evangelical voters – like Donald Trump’s – is a consequence of the fact that we evangelicals seem to have conveniently forgotten certain fundamental truths.”
After allegations against Moore surfaced, the Rev. Robert Franklin, a professor of moral leadership at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, told The Chicago Tribune that the Alabama Senate race was a “moral consistency” test for evangelicals.
“Evangelicals are steadily losing their moral authority in the larger public square by intensifying their uncritical loyalty to Donald Trump,” Franklin opined.
New allegations of sexual assault against famous men have also revealed that the Religious Right is not only dismissive of sexual assault allegations against their preferred candidates, but that they’ve actually played a role in concealing assault.
A Washington Post story recently revealed that Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and the Council for National Policy (CNP), had known that a Republican candidate in Ohio allegedly assaulted a teenager but didn’t report it.
In 2015 the CNP, a far-right group that strategizes policies and vets candidates, held a fundraiser for Wesley Goodman, a 31-year-old right-wing evangelical running for the Ohio legislature. After the event, Goodman allegedly took an 18-year-old to his hotel room and while the teen slept, touched him without his consent.
After the teen woke up with his pants unzipped, he reported it to his parents, who contacted Perkins and Bob McEwen, the executive director of the CNP.
“If we endorse these types of individuals, then it would seem our whole weekend together was nothing more than a charade,” the teen’s stepfather wrote to Perkins. Perkins, in turn, responded that the assault would “not be ignored nor swept aside.” McEwen added that “strong action is about to take place.”
But the incident was indeed swept under the rug, and no “strong action” was taken. Rather, Perkins worked behind the scenes to urge Goodman to drop out of the race, without success.
“Going forward so soon, without some distance from your past behavior and a track record of recovery, carries great risk for you and for those who are supporting you,” Perkins wrote Goodman in a Dec. 18, 2015, letter.
Goodman went on to win his seat in 2016, only to resign in November 2017 after being accused of “inappropriate behavior related to his state office” for consensual sex with a different man.
Stories like these have put the spotlight on the Religious Right’s hypocrisy regarding issues of sexual assault.
During the 2017 Values Voter Summit, Moore, reciting from a poem he’d written, asked the crowd, “You think that God’s not angry that our land’s a moral slum? How much longer will it be before His judgment comes?”
But if anything, the Moore fiasco reveals a movement of far-right religious extremists void of values, helping to erect the very “moral slum” they so often try to pin on their opponents.