Romney’s Mild Rebuke to Bryan Fischer, and Fischer’s Ugly Speech

After radio host Bill Bennett rebuked Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress for his comments about Mormonism, Mitt Romney took the stage at the Values Voters Summit, and said, “How about that Bill Bennett?”, adding “he hit it out of the park”–the same words Rick Perry had used yesterday to describe Jeffress’ introduction of him.

(Romney himself was introduced by the American Center for Law and Justice’s Jay Sekulow, whose organization is co-sponsor of an anti-Muslim conference in Nashville next month that is prominently promoted in the exhibit hall next door. Sekulow is one of the original evangelicals to come out for Romney.)

Earlier this week, Joanna Brooks predicted here that Romney would not stand up to the bigotry of American Family Association radio host Bryan Fischer, who has repeatedly engaged in vitriolic anti-Mormon, anti-gay, and anti-Muslim slurs. In his speech, Romney only mildly took on Fischer (emphasis mine):

Almost all Americans live for a purpose greater than ourselves.  Our heritage of religious faith and tolerance has importantly shaped who we have become as a people.  We must continue to welcome faith into the public square and allow it to flourish. Our government should respect religious values, not silence them. We will always pledge our allegiance to a nation under God.

Our values ennoble the citizen, and strengthen the nation. We should remember that decency and civility are values too. One of the speakers who will follow me today, has crossed that line. Poisonous language does not advance our cause. It has never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind. The blessings of faith carry the responsibility of civil and respectful debate.  The task before us is to focus on the conservative beliefs and the values that unite us – let no agenda, narrow our vision or drive us apart.

Romney only got tepid applause for this statement. Fischer followed Romney’s speech with an ugly anti-Muslim, anti-gay, anti-liberal speech. Although he did not mention Mormonism, he did emphasize, repeatedly, that the president of the United States “needs to be a main of sincere, authentic, genuine Chrisitan faith.”

In the rest of his laundry list of presidential prerequisites, Fischer veered from there to discuss the “mythical separation of church and state,” the need for a president to “reject the morally and scientifically bankrupt theory of evolution,” and to believe in “the same Creator” as the founders– the “creator revealed in the pages of the Old and New Testaments.” That led him to an extended anti-Muslim rant, in which, among other things, he asserted, “I believe it’s important that we have a president who understands that Islam is not a religion of peace, but a religion of war and violence and death.” (Tim Murphy has an rundown of Jeffress’ incendiary statements about Islam, including that it promotes pedophilia.)

More Fischer, to the Values Voters audience: “The threat is not radical Islam, but Islam itself. This is not Islamophobia, this is Islamorealism.”

And: “”The more devout a Muslim becomes, the more he becomes a threat to our national security.”

And: “While there might be moderate Muslims, there is no such thing as moderate Islam.”

Another presidential prerequisite, for Fischer: That he must “resist” and “prevent” the “implementation” of “sharia law.” He got a standing ovation for that.

After characterizing homosexuality as a “threat to public health,” Fischer proceeded to excoriate the Occupy Wall Street movement and liberals in general for being “driven by this angry, bitter” greed “for the wealth of productive Americans.”

Fischer’s employer, the American Family Association, is a co-sponsor of the Values Voters Summit. The event’s master of ceremonies, Gil Mertz, in introducing Fischer, said the group was “honored” to have him speak.

UPDATE: People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch has video of Fischer declaring, “we must choose as a nation between homosexuality and liberty, because we cannot have both.” He called “the homosexual agenda” the nation’s greatest short-term threat, while “radical Islam” is its greatest long-term threat.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email