The “Values Voter Summit” (VVS), an annual Religious Right gathering in Washington, D.C., took place over the weekend. The rhetoric at the confab, which is now in its 10th year, is pretty consistent: speakers preach Christian “persecution,” Islamophobia, homophobia, dissatisfaction with the federal government and religious revivalism to whip about 3,000 attendees into a frenzy.
The Summit, which is sponsored mainly by the Family Research Council, as well as the American Family Association, Liberty Counsel, Liberty Institute, Heritage Foundation and others, is essentially a rally meant to scare far-right evangelical Christians and other religious conservatives into voting for political candidates favored by the Religious Right’s leadership.
Since 2016 is a presidential election year, multiple GOP presidential candidates attended in order to kiss the Religious Right ring, including Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), La. Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).
Although Trump has been leading the national polls for weeks, he got a fairly tepid response from the fundamentalist crowd: in the VVS straw poll, he received just 5 percent of the vote. The poll was won by Cruz for the third-straight year, with 35 percent, while Carson finished second at 18 percent.
Multiple speakers at the Summit complained about the nuclear deal with Iran, as well as the Planned Parenthood “sting videos,” but there was also a great deal of talk about the eroding of “religious liberty” throughout the United States. Of course when this bunch talks about “religious liberty,” they only mean First Amendment rights for Christians. Everyone else is out of luck as far as they’re concerned.
They also railed against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized marriage equality. To most that ruling was a landmark moment for human rights, but to the Religious Right it was an instance of five “unelected judges” forcing secularism on the rest of the country.
Multiple Americans United staffers attended the Summit once again this year, and here is some of what we heard. (Reader discretion is advised.)
* Rubio said that if he is elected president, his religious beliefs will inform his policy decisions: “[A]s a Christian, I am taught from the earliest days of my life that I’m supposed to model Jesus Christ…. And so people better hope that my faith influences the way I govern.”
* Cruz praised Rowan County, Ky., Clerk Kim Davis, because she stood for the far-right’s warped idea of religious liberty. “Just a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Kim in a Kentucky jailhouse…. I told her, I said ‘Kim, thank you.’ I said ‘Kim, you are inspiring millions across this country by standing for your faith.’”
* Carson expressed fear that God is being forced out of public life in America. “What are our values? [O]ne nation, under God. We have to stop allowing the progressives to drive God out of our land. We must be willing to stand up for it. Because as they drive him out, look at the direction we’re going in. It’s a downward spiral.”
* Trump said if he becomes president, he plans to do battle in the so-called “War on Christmas.” That was an ironic proclamation since that “war” mainly plays out on the Fox News Channel, which Trump is famously feuding with right now. “I love Christmas. You go to stores now, you don’t see the word Christmas. It says ‘happy holidays.’ I say, ‘Where’s Christmas…?’ You’re going to see [Merry Christmas] if I get elected.”
* Mark Levin, a conservative radio talk show host popular with the VVS crowd, told the old lie that church-state separation is not in the U.S. Constitution. “Separation of church and state is not in the Declaration, it’s not in the Constitution. It's in a letter that [Thomas] Jefferson wrote.... Jefferson was not at the Constitutional Convention.”
These were just some examples of the frightening (and whacky) claims made by speakers at the VVS last week. Stay tuned, because there is much more to come from AU on this topic including a feature story in the November issue of Church & State magazine.