People for the American Way is calling on GOP hopefuls Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Haley Barbour “to publicly tell the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer that the First Amendment applies to all Americans, when they appear on his radio show later today.” Fischer, PFAW adds, “who has a long history of outspoken bigotry and intolerance, wrote a column earlier this week asserting that the First Amendment was meant to protect only Christians.” Steven Benen points out that the trio was not alone in appearing on Fischer’s program; presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann has appeared on it, too.
It’s a bit of wishful thinking by the good people at PFAW, I think, to expect that Republicans would so readily back away from the cornerstone of religious right thinking about what America is. To be more specific: if America is a Christian nation, with a Constitution ordained by God, then anything that might impair such good American Christians from exercising their exceptional Christian Americanism must be contrary to the Constitution and therefore God. In other words, I hold out little hope that Gingrich and Huckabee, especially, take Fischer on in any meaningful way, given their investment in the Christian nation mythology.
Let’s review a few things about Fischer, and about religious right rhetoric about Muslims more generally. As I reported in this piece about Fischer’s employer, the American Family Association, former employees describe an authoritarian and racist environment inside the organization. In the newsroom which runs the AFA’s news service, an employee, without ever being censured by the organization, would call Muslims “raghead scumbag terrorists” and Allah “Satan.” Fischer himself has a long history of bigotry. He has, among other things, “claimed that inbreeding causes Muslims to be stupid and violent; called for the deportation of Muslims and for banning them from military service; claimed that gay sex is ‘domestic terrorism’; called gay adoption a ‘terrible, terrible, inexcusable, inhumane thing to do to children’; and claimed that Hitler and his stormtroopers were all gay.” All of this, and more, has been on display for public consumption for some time. That didn’t stop the Values Voters Summit from bestowing a prestigious award on Fischer’s boss, Don Wildmon, which deemed Wildmon “one of the most effective Christian leaders of our time.” In spite of all this — or probably because of it — none of these Republicans have any compunction from sidling up to the microphone of Fischer’s radio show.
As one of the former AFA employees, Allie Martin, told me last year, speaking of some of his former co-workers, “They have bought into this idea of Americanized Christianity, that tells them God has blessed them, and evidence of that is their stuff and comfort.” Outsiders, or perceived outsiders, threaten that.
While anti-Muslim bigotry has been decried by some in the conservative movement, and there was an effort by some of the organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference this year to vanquish it by banning the notorious Frank Gaffney from the gathering, Islamphobia otherwise reared its ugly head there in so many other permutations that it was hard to walk away thinking that powerbroker Grover Norquist has any power to tame this vicious beast.
Fischer is not the first to claim that Muslims do not have First Amendment rights. As I reported in my piece on the shari’ah conspiracy theory industry, Lt. General William G. “Jerry” Boykin (Ret.) was never censured by the military for a speech he gave in uniform eight years ago in which he stated that Muslims hate America, and that the military is recruiting a “spiritual army” to fight Islam. At the time, the American Family Associations news service, as well as Gaffney and a host of others, came to his defense, with Gaffney telling the AFA that Boykin “clearly put his finger on the truth when he said his God is bigger than the god of Islam.” Boykin more recently told James Dobson that “Islam is not a religion and does not deserve First Amendment protections.”
All this is not a disqualifier, but a badge of honor, one that led Gaffney to appoint Boykin a “Team Leader” for his vast conspiratorial report, “Sharia: The Threat To America.” Who, among other people, praised that report? Michele Bachmann. Who made Gaffney a key source in his film about the threat of radical Islam? Newt Gingrich. Who consistently touts Christian nation mythology and American exceptionalism? Bachmann and Gingrich, and any other Republican who hopes to burst out of the gate in Iowa.
Rep. Allen West (R-FL), who was chosen to give the keynote address at CPAC, has said of Muslims: “We cannot allow them to come into our country and proselytize in their mosques and talk about overthrowing our government, our constitutional democracy, and replace it with shari’ah… it’s sedition.” (emphasis added on the treason charge).
Benen writes, “The fact that Fischer is an unabashed bigot doesn’t seem to matter.” Welcome to the GOP’s Christian nation, to which God gave the First Amendment to protect Christians from satanic intruders.