Mega-Church Pastor Flexes Political Muscle on World AIDS Day

Lindsay Beyerstein

Rick Warren is positioning himself as the powerbroker who can muster support from the religious right for AIDS initiatives, and Obama will need bipartisan allies. The question is what concessions Warren will ask in return.

President George W. Bush was awarded
the first-ever medal of P.E.A.C.E. for his work on HIV/AIDS. Pastor
Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church presented the medal as part of
his Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health.  

The event featured video tributes
to President elect Barack Obama, UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon, musician
and activist Bono, and other mainstream, secular figures in the global
fight against AIDS.  

This is the first-ever P.E.A.C.E.
medal, awarded for excellence in combating what Warren calls the Five
Giants: spiritual emptiness, self-serving leadership, extreme poverty,
pandemic disease, and illiteracy.

The ceremony is part of Warren’s
ongoing bid for bipartisan political credibility on the national and
international stage. Senators Obama and John McCain appeared at another
prominent "civil forum" hosted by Warren during the presidential
campaign.  

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The ceremony itself had a decidedly
secular flavor, but the sponsor is a mega-chuch with outsized missionary
aspirations. The "P" in "P.E.A.C.E." originally
stood for "plant or place a church in every town." The P was
later reassigned to "Promote reconciliation." The old acronym
made more sense. Rick Warren’s goal is to set his churches up around
the world and make each church a source of food, medicine, and education.  

Obama did not attend the awards ceremony,
but he pre-recorded a video address which was shown at the event.  It is a coup for Warren that the President Elect chose to release his
address to the nation on the event of the 20th annual World AIDS Day at
the Saddleback Civil Forum.

In his speech, Obama stressed the importance of partnership between
government, non-governmental organizations, and faith-based
organizations.

"NGOs and faith-based institutions are marshaling the best of the human
spirit to help those affected. And world governments are coming
together to address the humanitarian crisis the pandemic has left in
its wake," Obama said.

For all the mutual good will on display,
Warren’s agenda may well clash with Obama’s plans to reshape American
AIDS policy.  

As a presidential candidate, Obama
laid out a detailed strategy for combating HIV and AIDS in the US and
abroad: Barack
Obama and Joe Biden: Fighting HIV/AIDS Worldwide
.

Obama is committed to reauthorizing
the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief while eliminating the
ideologically-motivated provisos about how recipients can spend the
money.  

Currently, the recipient nations
must pledge to spend at least fifty percent of funds allocated to fight
the sexual transmission of HIV on promoting abstinence until marriage
and marital fidelity, unless they justify why they are promoting condom use.

"The reauthorized PEPFAR bill maintains
an onerous reporting requirement that signals to countries that abstinence-until-marriage
should be the dominant prevention paradigm," explains
William Smith, Vice President for Public Policy at the Sexuality Information
and Education Council of the United States (SEICUS). Smith explained
that recipient nations must file a report to Congress unless they spend
50% of their sexual transmission prevention budget to promote abstinence
and marital fidelity. Countries that
receive funding are desperate for resources and loathe to do anything
the might jeopardize their funding.  

Smith hopes that President
Obama will encourage recipients to tailor their PEPFAR programming to
local needs and "not
some silly formula written and forced into law by right wing zealots
in Congress."

It will take time
to see changes, even with strong leadership from
Obama.

"Even with the
best of education, it will likely take several years to get countries
to the point where their own plans mirror the demands of their epidemics
instead of the Bush Administration’s policy preferences," Smith said.

Obama is a staunch supporter
of comprehensive age-appropriate sex education as a cornerstone of AIDS
prevention. In his AIDS position paper he pledges "to ensure that
best practices – not ideology – to drive funding for HIV/AIDS programs."  

A president, Obama will have the
power to make several key executive decisions that will further his
AIDS agenda. Rewire attempted to contact several key health advisers
on Obama’s transition team, but we had not received a response as
of press time. 

President Obama could start by revoking
the so-called global gag rule, a rule that prevents international development
projects funded through USAID from giving comprehensive family planning
advice, including abortion referrals.  

AIDS activists say the gag rule has had
a chilling effect on HIV prevention programs, even though the gag order
doesn’t cover PEPFAR money. Many prevention projects receive funds
from both sources.  

Even without a change in the law,
Obama could instruct the Office of Global AIDS Coordinator to re-write the
guidelines for recipients of PEPFAR funds encouraging applicants interpret
them more loosely when drawing up their budgets–in effect sending
the signal that science-based AIDS prevention will not jeopardize funding. 

Obama could also ask USAID to revoke
its 2004 policy directive requiring foreign NGOs effectively take a
loyalty oath to oppose prostitution. The current rules require that
receive U.S. global aids funding to have a specific policy against prostitution
and sex trafficking.  

Hillary Clinton’s appointment as
Secretary of State has been hailed as a potential boon to global public
health. USAID is a State Department agency, so Clinton might have considerable
influence when it comes to drafting new policy directives about who
is eligible for AIDS funding.  

USAID also has a policy against funding
for overseas projects involving needle exchanges, which have been shown
to reduce the spread of HIV. Obama’s AIDS plan explicitly supports
needle exchanges as one facet of a comprehensive strategy to prevent
AIDS infections. Sen. Clinton belatedly embraced federal funding for
domestic needle exchanges during the primary campaign, having previously
rejected the idea.  

Obama and Clinton could also work
together to restore funding for the UN Family Planning Agency’s (UNFPA)
work to promote voluntary family planning and HIV prevention in 150
countries. The US is virtually alone in not participating in this effort.
Obama could instruct the State Department to review the law to determine
whether a contribution might be possible as early as 2009. 

The US does not currently contribute
to UNFPA because George W. Bush’s Secretary
of State told Congress

that the so-called Kemp-Kasten amendment prohibits it. The amendment
forbids the US to spend money on coercive family planning programs.
The UNFPA operates in China, which has coercive family planning policies.
This, according to the Bush administration was enough to outlaw funding
for the UNFPA, even though the UNFPA explicitly rejects all forms of
coerced family planning and there is no evidence that the organization
has coerced anyone.  

Sources within the Clinton camp declined
to comment on the specifics of Clinton’s plans for AIDS policy as
secretary of state.  

The recently re-authorized PEPFAR
bill contains a number of provisions that hamper the AIDS agenda that
Obama has laid out.  

In order to change the law, Obama
will need congressional allies. Rep. Diana Degette (D-CO) has pledged
to work with Obama to implement a comprehensive AIDS strategy at home
and abroad.    

"Rep. DeGette supports using a
science-based approach to fighting the epidemic both domestically and
internationally, rather than relying on abstinence-only education, which
has done little to further prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide,"
DeGett spokesman Chris Arend told Rewire.

Obama has also sought the support
of religious social conservatives in congress for his AIDS agenda. In
2006, he and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) set an example by getting AIDS
tests at Warren’s church in Orange County, CA.

Obama is a proponent of faith-based interventions both at home and
abroad. During the presidential campaign he pledged to set aside half a
billion dollars for faith-based social programs.

"The challenges we face today, from putting people back to work to
improving our schools, from saving our planet to combating HIV/AIDS to
ending genocide, are simply too big for government to solve alone. We
need all hands on deck," Obama told a crowd in Zanesville, Ohio in July.

Analysts saw Obama’s promises of faith-based aid as an attempt to woo
religious voters and build goodwill with religious organizations that
would be eligible for federal funds in these public/private
partnerships.

Rick Warren is clearly positioning
himself as the powerbroker who can muster support from the religious
right for AIDS initiatives in the developing world. Obama will need
bipartisan allies in the fight to reform AIDS policy. The question is
what concessions Warren will ask in return.  

A spokesman for Saddleback Church
promised to get back to Rewire with details about the church’s
stance on faith-based AIDS work under PEPFAR, but had not done so as
of press time.

News Law and Policy

GOP Pushes LGBTQ Discrimination on Pulse Shooting Anniversary

Christine Grimaldi

A business or other organization drawing on taxpayer money and acting on those views, for instance, could deny child care, health care, and retirement benefits to an employee with a same-sex spouse without penalty from the federal government.

On the one-month anniversary of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, congressional Republicans pushed legislation that would shield individuals and groups that receive federal funds from penalties for discriminating against LGBTQ people.

A U.S. House of Representatives committee Tuesday debated the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA). Republicans have proposed multiple official and unofficial versions of FADA. All of them share a common purpose: Protect recipients of federal dollars that act on their “religious belief or moral conviction” against same-sex marriage or sex outside of marriage. Conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation have praised FADA for building on broader Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and other so-called religious liberty bills. (The legal website Justia breaks down the similarities and differences between RFRA and FADA.)

A business or other organization drawing on taxpayer money and acting on those views, for instance, could deny child care, health care, and retirement benefits to an employee with a same-sex spouse without penalty from the federal government, Democratic lawmakers opposing the bill said at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. Employers could even refuse to provide time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for an ill same-sex spouse.

That possibility troubled Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. “This is not the kind of dignity and respect that the Supreme Court spoke so eloquently of in the decision granting the freedom to marry nationwide last June,” Obergefell told lawmakers.

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If enacted into law, FADA would also empower those with religious objections to be able to turn away LGBTQ people seeking services such as housing or medical care, experts testified before the committee.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the committee’s ranking member, fellow Democrats, and 80 civil rights and other groups petitioned Republicans to reschedule the FADA hearing, to no avail. More than 3,000 faith and clergy last year leaders voiced their opposition to FADA, he said.

“To say that this hearing is ill-timed is the understatement of the year,” Cummings said as he opened the hearing. That evening, House Democrats and the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus gathered on the capitol steps for a vigil honoring the 49 victims of the Pulse shooting.

Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-IN) introduced the House’s bill (H.R. 2802), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), the identical Senate counterpart (S. 1598). FADA has little to no chance of becoming law this year given President Barack Obama’s increasingly outspoken support for the LGBTQ community, indicating that he would veto any such legislation that somehow managed to advance in the House and Senate. A Mississippi judge recently blocked a similar state law from taking effect.

House Democratic aides provided Rewire with a revised FADA draft that they said Labrador has been circulating since last Friday that goes even further.

Lawmakers and witnesses at the hearing discussed the revised draft, which they said would apply to all businesses—both for-profit and nonprofit. This draft permits discrimination against same-sex and opposite-sex couples except by federal employees acting in the scope of their employment and for-profit federal contractors acting in the scope of a government contract, they added.

David Stacy, the government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, the prominent LGBTQ civil rights group, described these exemptions, and others for hospital visitations and medical decisions, as concessions that don’t mask FADA’s underlying discrimination.

“That all being said, the bill has really significant problems that remain,” he said in an interview.

Columbia School of Law professor Katherine Franke underscored that FADA would go beyond permitting discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and include unmarried parents and heterosexual couples.

“A broad reading of this bill would create a safe harbor from penalties associated with an enormous range of behavior that is otherwise illegal or prohibited by federal law and regulation,” Franke said in her testimony before the committee.

Under FADA, she said, the federal government could not deny Title X funding to a health-care clinic that provides family planning services only to patients that can furnish a marriage license. Nor could the government deny a Violence Against Women Act grant to a domestic violence shelter that required residents to pledge their opposition to marriage equality or extramarital relations, she added.

Schools that accept federal funds could fire teachers suspected of having premarital sex, the Huffington Post reported. NARAL Pro-Choice America highlighted the “legislation that lets your boss fire you for having premarital sex (yes, really)” in a scathing memo sent to reporters.

“Are you a single mother whose landlord doesn’t believe in sex outside of marriage? Under this law, your landlord could refuse to house you,” the memo said. “Do you work at a company where your boss doesn’t believe in premarital sex? Under this law, if your boss found out about your private life, they could fire you.”

Roundups Politics

The House Freedom Fund Bankrolls Some of Congress’ Most Anti-Choice Candidates

Ally Boguhn

With the 2016 election cycle underway, the political action committee seems to be working tirelessly to ensure the House Freedom Caucus maintains a radical anti-choice legacy.

In its short existence, the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) has made a name for itself through endless efforts to push Congress further to the right, particularly when it comes to reproductive health. Now with the 2016 election cycle underway, the caucus’ political action committee, the House Freedom Fund, seems to be working just as tirelessly to ensure the caucus maintains a radical anti-choice legacy.

Since its founding by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) in January 2015, the group of ultra-conservative lawmakers that make up the caucus has ballooned from just nine members to at least 36 members, as of October 2015, who have confirmed their own inclusion—though the group keeps its official roster secret. These numbers may seem small, but they pack a punch in the House, where they have enough votes to block major legislation pushed by other parts of the Republican party.

And now, the group is seeking to add to its ranks in order to wield even more power in Congress.

“The goal is to grow it by, and I think it’s realistic, to grow it by 20 to 30 members,” Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), one of HFC’s founding members, told Politico in April. “All new members.”

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While the caucus itself reportedly does not endorse candidates, its unofficial PAC has already thrown money behind defending the seats of some of the group’s most notoriously anti-choice members, as well as a few new faces.

According to OpenSecrets.org, the Center for Responsive Politics’ campaign finance database, thus far in 2016, the House Freedom Fund has invested in seven congressional candidates currently vying to keep a seat in the House of Representatives: Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA), Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. Scott Desjarlais (R-TN), Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ). The PAC’s website also highlights two candidates hoping to move from their state legislatures to the House: Republican Indiana state senator Jim Banks and Georgia state Senator Mike Crane. The PAC is also backing the Republican candidate for Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, Mary Thomas; and Republican candidate for North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District, Ted Budd.

Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), who won a special election in early June to replace former House speaker John Boehner, also received funding from the PAC. He joined the House Freedom Caucus that same week.

The Republican Party actively works to deny access to virtually all forms of reproductive health care, so it is not surprising that the candidates supported by the House Freedom Fund, whose confirmed members are all members of the GOP, share similarly radical views on reproductive rights and health.

Here are some of the House Freedom Fund’s most alarming candidates:

Rep. Rod Blum

Rep. Blum, a freshman congressman from Iowa, considers his opposition to reproductive choice one of the “cornerstones” of his campaign. “It is unconscionable that government would aid in the taking of innocent life. I strongly oppose any federal funding for abortion and I will vote against any of our tax dollars flowing to groups who perform or advocate abortions on demand,” asserts Blum’s campaign site. The Hyde Amendment already bans most federal funding for abortion care.

Blum spent much of his first year in the House attempting to push through a series of anti-choice bills. The representative co-sponsored the medically unsupported Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would have enacted a federal ban on abortion at or beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy, in January 2015. He signed on as a co-sponsor for the failed Life at Conception Act, a so-called personhood measure that would have granted legal rights to fetuses and zygotes, thus potentially outlawing abortion and many forms of contraception, in March of that year. That July, Blum co-sponsored the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, which would have stripped the reproductive health organization of all federal funding for one year so that Congress could investigate it in the wake of the Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) discredited videos smearing the provider. 

Blum’s co-sponsorship of anti-choice legislation was accompanied by a long series of like-minded votes throughout 2015, such as a January vote in favor of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2015, which, among other things, would have made the Hyde Amendment’s annually renewed ban on most federal funding for abortion care permanent. He also voted to block Washington, D.C.’s Reproductive Health non-discrimination law, and in favor of a measure allowing states to exclude from Medicaid funding any health provider that provided abortions, as well as other anti-choice measures.

Blum’s brief time in Congress has been marked by such extremism that Emily’s List, an organization that works to elect pro-choice women, put Blum on their “On Notice” list in July 2015, signaling their intention to prioritize unseating the Iowa Representative. “In less than five months into the 114th Congress, we have seen Representative Blum lead the crusade to restrict women’s access to healthcare, most notably when he cosponsored a national abortion ban,” explained the organization in a press release on its decision to target Blum. “It’s clear that Congressman Blum is more focused on prioritizing an extreme ideological agenda over enacting policies that benefit more women and families in Iowa’s First Congressional District.”

Rep. Dave Brat

Rep. Dave Brat gained notoriety for his win against incumbent representative and then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014, a victory considered one of “the biggest political upset[s] in recent memory.” Like many of his HFC colleagues, Brat has co-sponsored several pieces of anti-choice legislation, including the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in 2015 and the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, which claimed to “protect” against “governmental discrimination against providers of health services” who refuse to provide abortion care. Brat’s voting record in Congress earned him a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee.

In April of this year, the Virginia representative signed on to a letter with Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other anti-choice legislators, such as House Freedom Fund candidate Rep. Meadows expressing “serious concerns” about the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to update the label of abortion drug mifepristone to bring it in line with scientific research and evidence-based medicine. Though medication abortions are safe and result in complications in fewer than 0.4 percent of patients, the lawmakers nonetheless claimed that the regulation change could be dangerous, noting that the drug was originally approved during the Clinton administration and demanding a list of information about it.

In the wake of the deadly shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility in November, when the alleged shooter parroted the same violent rhetoric about the reproductive health organization popularized by the CMP’s discredited videos, many in Congress called for the panel investigating Planned Parenthood to be disbanded and for lawmakers to distance themselves from the videos. Brat, however, saw no reason the anti-choice violence should affect the conservative crusade to shut down access to reproductive health care. “Principles are principles,” Brat said at the time according to the Huffington Post. “They don’t change on a news cycle.”

Rep. Tim Huelskamp

Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp has been an anti-choice advocate since graduate school, when, according to the biography provided on his website, he was “active in assisting women in crisis pregnancies” while working toward a doctoral degree at American University. His advocacy continued as he made his way to Congress, eventually leading him to become the congressional “Pro-Life Caucus” whip.

Though he has cast plenty of anti-choice votes, the congressman’s most notable moment when it comes to reproductive rights may be a 2012 speech on the House floor, in when he compared abortion to slavery and accused Planned Parenthood and the Obama administration of being racist. “Perhaps the biggest war against our liberties is the war that is being waged against those that are not here today, the unborn,” claimed Huelskamp. “Besides slavery, abortion is the other darkest stain on our nation’s character and this president is looking for every way possible to make abortion more available and more frequent. And he wants you to pay for it. Even if you disagree with it.”

Huelskamp went on to falsely accuse Planned Parenthood of targeting people of color. “I am the adoptive father of four children, each of them either Black, Hispanic, Native American, and I am incensed that this president pays money to an entity that was created for the sole purpose of killing children that look like mine; a racist organization and it continues to target minorities for abortion destruction,” said the congressman. “Shame on this president and shame on that party.”

It wouldn’t be the last time Huelskamp exploited race in order to promote his anti-choice agenda. In 2015, the Kansas Representative lashed out at those who accepted awards from Planned Parenthood, tweeting that they were supporting a “racist” agenda.

Rep. Mark Meadows

Rep. Mark Meadows, who has a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee, co-sponsored anti-choice measures such as the House’s 2015 fetal pain bill, the 2015 Life at Conception Act, and the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2016 (PRENDA). He also once badgered a pregnant doctor testifying during a House committee hearing about the importance of offering maternity coverage through the Affordable Care Act. However, the congressman’s recent vendetta against Planned Parenthood stands out the most.

In July 2015, in the wake of CMP’s deceptively edited videos, Meadows latched onto the discredited films in order to justify defunding Planned Parenthood. “In addition to cutting funding for abortion providers, I strongly urge Congress to investigate the legality of the practices engaged in by Planned Parenthood,” said Meadows at the time.

In September, as Congress faced the looming threat of a possible government shutdown if they didn’t pass a budget bill, Meadows exploited the opportunity to push for Planned Parenthood to be defunded, no matter the cost. With the South Carolina congressman leading the charge, pressure from conservatives to pull funding for the reproductive health-care provider played a role in prompting then-House Speaker John Boehner to resign his position. Meadows was a co-sponsor of the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, which passed in the House as part of a compromise to narrowly escape the shutdown. 

But Meadows’ quest to attack Planned Parenthood didn’t end there. In September, the congressman also participated in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hearing to “examine the use of taxpayer funding” by Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, a sham hearing used by the GOP to repeatedly push misinformation about the organization.

Rep. Scott Desjarlais

Rep. Scott Desjarlais, a medical doctor, is perhaps best known for his attempt to pressure his patient, with whom he was having an affair, into having an abortion when she became pregnant. While the congressman has repeatedly run on his anti-abortion credentials, his divorce papers also revealed he had supported his wife in having two abortions. Politico‘s Chas Sisk labeled DeJarlais  “the biggest hypocrite in Congress.”

Desjarlais made headlines again in 2015 for voting for a later abortion ban. A spokesperson for the Tennessee Republican told the Times Free Press that the vote was in accordance with the congressman’s record:

“Congressman DesJarlais was proud to vote in favor of this legislation,” said his spokesman Robert Jameson, who added that DesJarlais has maintained a “100 percent pro-life voting record” during his five years in Congress and “has always advocated for pro-life values.”

Indiana State Sen. Jim Banks

Indiana state Sen. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City) is one of the few candidates backed by the House Freedom Fund that has yet to win federal office, but his time in the state legislature has given him more than ample opportunity to demonstrate his opposition to reproductive health and rights.

Banks’ campaign website highlights the candidate’s “pro-life” position as a key issue for his race for the House, providing an extensive record of his anti-choice credentials and claiming that he is “running for Congress so that northeast Indiana continues to have a strong voice for innocent lives in Washington, D.C.” That page includes a laundry list of campaign promises, including amending the U.S. Constitution to give a fetus legal human rights, which could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception; banning federal funding for abortion, though such a ban already exists; eliminating federal funding for any organization that performs abortions domestically or abroad; and opposing any change to the Republican platform on abortion.

The state senator’s site goes on to suggest that “it has been far too long since the Supreme Court discovered that women have a ‘right’ to have an abortion,” lamenting that much of the anti-choice movement’s work to shutter access to abortion in state legislatures hasn’t been replicated on a federal level and promising to address the issue if elected.

Included in his anti-choice resumé is a note that both Banks and his wife have been working in the movement to oppose choice since graduating college, when the two joined Focus on the Family, an organization that has spent millions of dollars promoting its extreme agenda, even devoting $2.5 million to run an anti-abortion ad during the 2010 Super Bowl. The two also worked together on the Allen County Right to Life Board of Directors, and Banks’ wife, Amanda, remains the board’s vice president.

But most extreme of all was the legislation Banks spearheaded while in the state legislature, which included several targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) measures. Most recently the state senator sponsored Indiana’s SB 144, a bill that would modify the state’s 20-week abortion ban to outlaw the procedure once a fetal heartbeat could be detected, typically around six weeks’ gestation. In a statement on the bill, Banks claimed the law was needed because it “would protect unborn Hoosiers’ right to life and also includes important women’s health protections.”