IT’S NOT ‘ANTI-CHRISTIAN’…. As if it weren’t enough to endure painfully inane stimulus arguments from the far-right, over the last couple of days we’ve had to deal with fabricated culture-war nonsense, too. Indeed, this story offers a classic case study in the spreading of a right-wing meme.
It started on Tuesday, when the American Center for Law and Justice — a legal group formed by TV preacher Pat Robertson — announced that it had found a provision in the stimulus package that would prohibit colleges that accept stimulus funds “from permitting religious groups and organizations from using” on-campus facilities. As the ACLJ insisted, “Under this provision, student groups would be barred from using facilities for worship or even Bible study if the school accepts the federal stimulus funds.”
Talk of “the anti-Christian provision” in the stimulus package quickly spread. Soon, the Falwell-created Liberty Council was screaming bloody murder. The Traditional Values Coalition argued that Obama was trying to make on-campus religious activities “extinct.” Unsatisfied with the original claim, Liberty Council and the TVC took the original accusation and added new details. As my friend Kyle explained, “It’s like watching a game of Telephone gone horribly awry as one right-wing group unleashes an absurd fabrication and then other right-wing groups pick it up and mangle it further.”
Right-wing blogs soon followed, with unusually nonsensical posts like this one, arguing that the provision in question “is tailor made for the ACLU to shut down more boy scout troops, divinity schools, etc.” Pat Robertson’s news outlet was on the case, too.
And just to make this truly farcical, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who appears to have completely lost his mind, said language in the stimulus package is “an attack on people of faith” and part of a larger Democratic campaign to “purge faith and prayer from the public square.”
As it turns out — surprise, surprise — this entire uproar is based on nothing. The hysteria is based on the religious right’s apparent illiteracy.
“This provision upholds constitutional standards established by the U.S. Supreme Court and in no way affects student groups that meet on public school campuses,” said the Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. […]
“It’s almost a restatement of what the Constitution requires so there’s nothing novel in what the House did in its restriction,” said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel to the ACLU. “For 37 years, the law of the land is that the government can’t pay for buildings that are used for religious purposes.”
The provision in the bill is just the standard legal language, reflecting nearly four decades of law. All of the on-campus religious activities that have been common for a generation will remain completely unchanged as a result of the recovery package. Conservative activists, and at least one member of the United States Senate, apparently got confused trying to read the bill, and got hysterical for no reason.
The far-right can be awfully tiresome at times.
Update: I have a follow-up post on this, including the results of a Senate vote.