Disappointed by Obama’s Rick Warren Pick, But Not Discouraged

Kathryn Kolbert

Rick Warren has never been as far from traditional Religious Right leaders as his carefully cultivated public personality would suggest.

The announcement that Pastor Rick Warren has been chosen to give the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony landed with a thud in my inbox. Many people who know Warren as the affable megachurch pastor and best-selling author may be confused about the anger and disappointment that his selection has generated among progressive activists who worked so hard to help elect Obama. Here’s my explanation; you can find plenty of other voices online.

Warren enjoys a reputation as a bridge-building moderate based on his informal style and his church’s engagement on issues like AIDS in Africa. He took grief from some of his Religious Right colleagues when he invited then-Senator Obama to his church for a conference on AIDS a couple of years ago. And, in August he hosted presidential candidates Obama and McCain at his church.

But Warren has never been as far from traditional Religious Right leaders as his carefully cultivated public personality would suggest. In an email sent before the 2004 election he wrote a Falwell-esque email proclaiming that, for Christian voters, the issues of abortion, marriage for same-sex couples, stem cell research, cloning and euthanasia were "non-negotiable." In fact, he said, they are "not even debatable because God’s word is clear on these issues."

And while some Religious Right leaders were nervous that Warren would give Obama a platform to talk about poverty and the environment at the August event, Warren thrilled them by eschewing those issues entirely in order to emphasize issues like abortion and marriage that worked to McCain’s advantage with the evangelical audience. After the forum, Warren was dismissive of Democratic Party outreach to evangelicals, and to evangelicals who are aligned with Democrats.

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Warren also campaigned for Proposition 8, the initiative that stripped same-sex couples in California of their right under the state constitution to get legally married. But it’s not just his support for Prop. 8 and the dishonest campaign on its behalf that is so galling to equality activists. It’s that Warren has since equated loving same sex couples seeking to get married with incest and pedophilia. And he has repeated one of the Religious Right’s big lies: that somehow allowing marriage equality to stand would have threatened the freedom of preachers like him to say what they thought about homosexuality. That’s not remotely true, but it’s a standard tool of Religious Right leaders trying to resist the public’s increasing support for equality.

In other words, Warren has been divisive and dishonest on the issues of marriage equality and religious freedom. And on other issues important to many Obama supporters, as well. He adamantly opposes a woman’s legal right to abortion and dismisses common-ground efforts to reduce the need for abortion by comparing them to accommodating the Holocaust. He is disrespectful of progressive people of faith, suggesting that they are tools of the Democratic Party or more Marxist than Christian. So much for the values of unity and respect, not to mention the constitutional principle of equality, on which President-elect Obama campaigned.

Why exactly is he being given the high honor of delivering the invocation at one of the most historic ceremonies in American history?

There is no shortage of religious leaders who reflect the values on which President-elect Obama campaigned and who are working to advance the common good. Rev. Joseph Lowery, who has been selected to give the benediction, is a lifelong advocate for justice. There are others like him, and in our increasingly diverse nation, they aren’t all Christian.

Rick Warren gets plenty of attention through his books and media appearances. He doesn’t need or deserve a position of honor at the inauguration of a president who has given hope to so many Americans by rejecting the politics of division and emphasizing his commitment to constitutional values.

I am still excited about the tremendous changes in policy that I expect under an Obama administration. But it’s the job of progressive advocates to hold public officials accountable, and to speak up even when our friends drop the ball. This decision, which will leave a bad taste in the mouth of many passionate supporters of Barack Obama, is one of those times.

News Law and Policy

Texas Court Greenlights Discrimination Against Transgender Students

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The ruling was not a decision on the merits of the Obama administration’s policy, but rather whether it followed the correct procedure in crafting it, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor wrote.

A federal judge in Texas on Sunday issued a preliminary injunction barring the Obama administration from enforcing guidelines designed to protect transgender students from discrimination in schools.

The ruling came in the multi-state lawsuitTexas v. United States, challenging the Obama administration’s guidance to schools that receive federal funding that transgender students must be given access to bathrooms that align with their gender identity rather than their biological sex.

Schools that defy the White House’s guidance would face potential loss of funding or federal lawsuits.

The lawsuit brought by Texas and states including Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, targets various federal memos and statements that served as the foundation for the administration’s position that the Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972 federal ban on sex discrimination encompasses gender identity discrimination. The administration charges that transgender people should be allowed to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

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The administration overstepped its authority in issuing the statement in violation of both the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution, according to the states challenging the guidance.

A nearly identical lawsuit challenging the White House’s policy was filed recently by the state of Nebraska. That lawsuit was joined by Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor wrote that the administration failed to engage in the proper administrative rule making process when directing schools to not discriminate against transgender students in access to restrooms and facilities. The ruling, O’Connor wrote, was not a decision on the merits of the administration’s policy, but rather whether it followed the correct procedure in crafting it.

“This case presents the difficult issue of balancing the protection of students’ rights and that of personal privacy when using school bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and other intimate facilities, while ensuring that no student is unnecessarily marginalized while attending school,” O’Connor said in his ruling. “The resolution of this difficult policy issue is not, however, the subject of this order.”

Sunday’s ruling comes shortly after the Supreme Court put on hold a federal appeals court ruling ordering a Virginia county school board to allow a transgender student access to the restroom that aligned with his gender identity.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Tim Kaine Outlines Plan to ‘Make Housing Fair’

Ally Boguhn

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It's part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Donald Trump made some controversial changes to his campaign staff this week, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted his commitment to better housing policies.

Trump Hires Controversial Conservative Media Figure

Republican presidential nominee Trump made two notable additions to his campaign staff this week, hiring Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as CEO and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.

“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” said Trump in a Wednesday statement announcing the hires. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

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Both have been criticized as being divisive figures.

Conway, for example, previously advised then-client Todd Akin to wait out the backlash after his notorious “legitimate rape” comments, comparing the controversy to “the Waco with David Koresh situation where they’re trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Conway is also “often cited by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations such as the think tank Center for Security Policy and NumbersUSA.”

Under Bannon’s leadership, “mainstream conservative website” Breitbart.com changed “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” suggested the publication’s former editor at large, Ben Shapiro, in a piece for the Washington Post‘s PostEverything. “It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

Speaking with ABC News this week, Kurt Bardella, who also previously worked with Bannon at Breitbart, alleged that Bannon had exhibited “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves” during editorial calls.

“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella.

Trump’s new hire drew heated criticism from the Clinton campaign in a Wednesday press call. “The Breitbart organization has been known to defend white supremacists,” said Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. After pointing to an analysis from the SPLC linking Breitbart to the extremist alt-right movement, Mook listed a number of other controversial positions pushed by the site.

“Breitbart has compared the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust. They’ve also repeatedly used anti-LGBT slurs in their coverage. And finally, like Trump himself, Breitbart and Bannon have frequently trafficked in all sorts of deranged conspiracy theories from touting that President Obama was not born in America to claiming that the Obama Administration was ‘importing more hating Muslims.’”

“It’s clear that [Trump’s] divisive, erratic, and dangerous rhetoric simply represents who he really is,” continued Mook.

Kaine Outlines Plan to “Make Housing Fair”

Clinton’s vice presidential nominee Kaine wrote an essay for CNN late last week explaining how the Clinton-Kaine ticket can “make housing fair” in the United States.

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It’s part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Kaine. “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Kaine shared the story of Lorraine, a young Black woman who had experienced housing discrimination, whom Kaine had represented pro bono just after completing law school.

“This is one issue that shows the essential role government can play in creating a fairer society. Sen. Ed Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, and Sen. Walter Mondale, a white Democrat from Minnesota, came together to draft the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the housing market,” noted Kaine, pointing to the 1968 law.

“Today, more action is still needed. That’s why Hillary Clinton and I have a bold, progressive plan to fight housing inequities across Americaespecially in communities that have been left out or left behind,” Kaine continued.

The Virginia senator outlined some of the key related components of Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” including an initiative to offer $10,000 in down payment assistance to new homebuyers that earn less than the median income in a given area, and plans to “bolster resources to enforce Fair Housing laws and fight housing discrimination in all its forms.”

The need for fair and affordable housing is a pressing issue for people throughout the country.

“It is estimated that each year more than four million acts of [housing] discrimination occur in the rental market alone,” found a 2015 analysis by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

No county in the United States has enough affordable housing to accommodate the needs of those with low incomes, according to a 2015 report released by the Urban Institute. “Since 2000, rents have risen while the number of renters who need low-priced housing has increased,” explained the report. “Nationwide, only 28 adequate and affordable units are available for every 100 renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income.”

What Else We’re Reading

CBS News’ Will Rahn penned a primer explaining Trump campaign CEO Bannon’s relationship to the alt-right.

White supremacists and the alt-right “rejoice[d]” after Trump hired Bannon, reported Betsy Woodruff and Gideon Resnick for the Daily Beast.

Clinton published an essay in Teen Vogue this week encouraging young people to fight for what they care about, learn from those with whom they disagree, and get out the vote.

“In calling for ‘extreme vetting’ of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard—since abandoned—that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs,” explained USA Today.

Trump wants to cut a visa program “his own companies have used … to bring in hundreds of foreign workers, including fashion models for his modeling agency who need exhibit no special skills,” according to a report by the New York Times.

A Koch-backed group “has unleashed an aggressive campaign to kill a ballot measure in South Dakota that would require Koch-affiliated groups and others like them to reveal their donors’ identities.”

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