Sunday, September 20, 2015

"Religious Freedom" Will Be the Talk of the Town at the 2015 Values Voters Summit

One of America's premier Religious Right events is the annual Values Voters Summit, a high-profile conference held in Washington D.C. I've observed past Values Voters Summits, and they provide a great opportunity to take the pulse of the Religious Right and watch Republican candidates woo conservative Christian voters. The annual conference is sponsored by Family Research Council Action, American Family Association Action, American Values, and other prominent Religious Right organizations. The 2015 Values Voters Summit will take place on September 25-27 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington D.C.

"Religious liberty" (that is, the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people while hiding behind religion) will be a prominent theme at this year's Values Voters Summit, judging from the schedule. The conference's narrative, it seems, is that homophobes are persecuted people of faith under fire from the sinister LGBTQ community.

For example, a ticketed breakfast event will include a talk entitled "Whatever the Cost: Religious Freedom Under Fire", delivered by the Benham brothers and Kelvin Cochran. Jason and David Benham are Religious Right darlings who lost a lucrative reality show deal with HGTV over David's anti-gay comments, while Kelvin Cochran is Atlanta's former fire chief who was dismissed after distributing an anti-gay book in his workplace.

A ticketed luncheon will feature a talk entitled "American Cannot Wait", which will focus on a florist who refused to furnish flowers for a same-sex wedding.
"Barronelle Stutzman is the florist in Washington state who politely, but firmly, declined to provide flowers for a wedding between two homosexual men. Her refusal to betray her Lord and her biblical beliefs didn’t come without consequences. The Washington state attorney general and the ACLU filed lawsuits against Mrs. Stutzman.  The judge told the state AG and the homosexuals who filed the lawsuits that they could collect damages and attorney’s fees not only from Stutzman’s business – Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts – but from Stutzman personally. If they prevail, this means they can take everything she owns – her business, home, savings … everything. When the AG approached the 70-year old grandmother with a plea deal – pay a $2,000 penalty, a $1 payment for court costs and fees, and agree not to discriminate in the future – Mrs. Stutzman said: “NO!” Rather, she chose to fight for you and me and everyone who values religious freedom."
Another ticketed breakfast will feature Liberty Institute president Kelly Shackelford delivering a talk entitled "Saving Religious Freedom in Our Military...And Beyond". Shackelford's speech will argue that military personnel are being stripped of their religious liberty by "politically correct officials and activists" in the wake of Obergefell v. Hodges.
"A war is raging inside our military. The men and women who risk their lives to protect our freedom are losing their religious freedom to politically correct officials and activists. If we lose religious liberty in the military, how can it survive elsewhere? Join Liberty Institute president Kelly Shackelford, along with our lawyers and clients, as we discuss current battles and celebrate recent victories for religious freedom in our armed forces, as well as in our schools, churches, ministries, workplaces and throughout our nation. Come hear our clients tell their inspiring real-life stories ... and get equipped to stand for your religious freedom in light of the continuing fallout from the Supreme Court marriage decision."
The Value Voters Summit will fĂȘte several high-profile figures who discriminated against LGBTQ persons, glorifying them as defenders of religious liberty. Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, will receive the Cost of Discipleship Award on the evening of September 25th. Also scheduled to speak at the award ceremony are Aaron and Melissa Klein (bakers who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple) and Casey Davis (another Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples).

"Religious freedom" was a recurring topic on the list of breakout sessions as well. Session titles suggest that conservative Christians have been silenced and legally hounded.
  • The Silencing of Free Speech for Christians in the Media and in Education

  • Are You Ready for the Coming Legal Attack? Is Your Church? Learn How to Be Prepared?

  • The Battlefront in Our Backyards: What Everyday Americans Can Do to Bring Positive Change
The Values Voters Summit is, above all, a political event, and this year's summit will include speeches by multiple Republican candidates. Workshops promoting a persecution narrative alongside political candidate speeches are no accident. I expect the conference's talk of alleged threats to "religious liberty" to energize attendees into voting for right-wing Republican candidates. Illusions of persecution are useful for arousing voters' anger and fear, two emotions that the Religious Right will make good use of as the 2016 election approaches.


  1. For political candidates with no scruples and whose motives are self-serving, their only hope is to manipulate the emotions of the very large demographic of the uninformed and fearful.

    It's terrible but it is the reality. For now.

    1. Agi Tater -- That's all this event really is -- a means of gathering Religious Right supporters together and ensuring their loyalty to the cause. It's crass.


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