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Apr 24 2014

Pentagon to Join in “One Voice United in Prayer” (On Separate Days in Separate Locations, Depending On What Religion You Are)

Next Thursday, May 1, is the National Day of Prayer — that abhorrently unconstitutional congressionally mandated day each year when our government tells us all that we should pray.

Now, the organization that I work for, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), is not trying to completely abolish the National Day of Prayer — not because we approve of it, but simply because the issue of the existence of this infelicitous day just doesn’t fall within the purview of our organization’s mission. What does fall within our purview, however, are any violations of military regulations or any religious discrimination against members of the military that occur because of the National Day of Prayer. And this year we have two such within-our-purview situations happening.

The first of the two is one that we are taking direct action to stop — the planned appearance of uniformed military personnel at Shirley Dobson’s big shindig at the Cannon House Office Building.

Each year, the big National Day of Prayer shindig in Washington, D.C. includes a whole bunch of participation by active duty uniformed military personnel — a military brass quintet, a military color guard, a military vocalist singing the national anthem, a military speaker, and a military chaplain. The problem? Well, there are actually several problems, the first of which is that event is run by the National Day of Prayer Task Force (NDP Task Force), and the NDP Task Force is a non-federal entity (i.e., a private organization), and a slew of military regulations, directives, and instructions strictly prohibit the military from promoting or endorsing, or even appearing to promote or endorse, a non-federal entity. This prohibition applies to all non-federal entities, whether they are religious organizations, other non-profit organizations, or commercial enterprises.

So, last week, MRFF wrote a letter to the Secretary of Defense, copying officials in all individual branches of the military, demanding that this overt display of a military endorsement of the NDP task Force be pulled from the event, citing the prohibition on military endorsement of a non-federal entity as our primary reason. (That letter can be found here.) Usually that’s the end of the story with these things, but not so with Shirley Dobson (wife of Focus on the Family head James Dobson) and her merry band of warriors for Jesus.

Ms. Dobson & Co. decided to to try to circumvent the explicit military regulations on non-federal entities by claiming that it is not her NDP Task Force’s event, but is really run by Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL), and that her Task Force is merely assisting the congressman. Seriously, would anyone who has ever watched one of these big Capitol Hill Jesus jamborees, with their NDP Task Force logos and signs plastering the walls and MS. Dobson clearly running the show believe that this is not an NDP Task Force event? Well, apparently, according to Stars and Stripes and other sources, the U.S. Army officials at the Pentagon have bought it hook, line and shameless sinker, and have said that they are not withdrawing from the event.

Now, as I said, this non-federal entity issue is just one of several problems with having uniformed military personnel participating in Ms. Dobson’s prayer event. We at MRFF just use these particular regulations as the first step because they are usually enough to take care of these things. But, obviously, in this case, these regulations were not enough. Ms. Dobson & Co. are determined to find a way to circumvent these non-federal entity regulation.

Enter Congressman Aderholt.

Any event like this that is held in a building under the control of the United States Congress, such as the Cannon House Office Building, where the NDP Task Force event takes place, requires a sponsor who is a member of the either the Senate or the House of Representatives. In the case of the NDP Task Force’s annual National Day of Prayer Events, this sponsor has, since 2007, been Congressman Aderholt. It is clear, however, from the statements made at previous years’ NDP events by both Ms. Dobson and Congressman Aderholt themselves, that this is the NDP Task Force’s event and that the congressman is merely assisting, and not the other way around as they are now trying to claim in their attempt to circumvent military regulations.

For example, in her introduction of Congressman Aderholt at the NDP Task Force’s 2012 event, Shirley Dobson said, referring to Aderholt:

“He helps us with security, requests the brass quintet, the anthem singer, the color guard. He’s been a most wonderful support to this ministry.”

And at the 2013 event, again in her introduction of Aderholt and again referring to the congressman’s obtaining of military assets for the event, Ms. Dobson said:

“He has been there for us and gone to bat for us.”

Ms. Dobson’s statements can be interpreted in no other way than as her clearly stating in no uncertain terms that it is Congressman Aderholt who is assisting her non-federal entity with their event, and absolutely not the other way around as they are now trying to claim.

Congressman Aderholt’s comments at these prior years’ events just reinforce Ms. Dobson’s clear distinction of whose event this is and who is merely assisting. For example, after being introduced by Ms. Dobson at the 2012 event, Aderholt, referring to himself and his office, said:

“Shirley was mentioning about the fact of what we did to try to help. We’re just honored to have a chance to be of service in some way during this time.”

So, since Ms. Dobson’s organization’s completely specious claim that it is really Congressman Aderholt who is running the event, and the Army officials at the Pentagon are apparently going to play along and accept this farce as an out, we have to use other regulations (including other sections of the same regulations that include the non-federal entity stuff). These other regulations prohibit the military from participating in Ms. Dobson’s “Pharisee Prayer Pageant” (see Matthew 6:5 and Matthew 23:14) regardless of whether the event is being run by Ms. Dobson’s organization or Congressman Aderholt.

Therefore, MRFF just sent a second letter to Secretary of Defense Hagel laying out the other regulations that would prohibit the military’s participation in this event.

We also explained why even the regulations cited in our first letter are not dependent on the technicality of whether it is Ms. Dobson’s Task Force or Congressman Aderholt running the event. You see, those prohibitions on the military’s endorsement of non-federal entities prohibit even the appearance that the military is endorsing the non-federal entity. One DoD directive that we cited describes that appearance of endorsement as “a strong visual appearance of a DoD endorsement of the non-Federal entity, its event, or its goals.”

Another DoD directive that we also cited says the same thing, stating that military community relations activities, which is what events like this fall under, “shall not support, or appear to support, any event that provides a selective benefit to any individual, group, or organization, including any religious or sectarian organization …” (emphasis added)

Now, seriously, would any reasonable observer of an event that is emceed by the head of the NDP Task Force and at which the walls are plastered with the logos and signage of the NDP Task Force not think that this is an NDP Task Force event, or that the military providing, all in uniform, a brass quintet, a vocalist, a color guard, a speaker, and a chaplain doesn’t give “a strong visual appearance of a DoD endorsement of the non-Federal entity, its event, or its goals?” Seriously?

So, does it make one whit of difference whether it’s Shirley Dobson or her congressional cohort Robert Aderholt who is running the show? Absolutely not!

And then, of course, there’s also that pesky religious discrimination issue.

NDP Task Force event coordinators have been required to subscribe to the following statement, agreeing to restrict any participation beyond simply attending an event exclusively to Christians:

“I commit that NDP activities I serve with will be conducted solely by Christians while those with differing beliefs are welcome to attend.”

The NDP Task Force put out an “Official Policy Statement on Participation of ‘Non-Judeo-Christian’ groups in the National Day of Prayer,” which stated:

“The National Day of Prayer Task Force was a creation of the National Prayer Committee for the expressed purpose of organizing and promoting prayer observances conforming to a Judeo-Christian system of values. People with other theological and philosophical views are, of course, free to organize and participate in activities that are consistent with their own beliefs.”

This year, NDP Task Force volunteers are required to fill out an application in which they must “Briefly share [their] testimony of [their] personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Of course, the military’s regulations prohibit, as stated in one that we cited in our letter to Secretary Hagel, that a uniformed military member can’t be a speaker at “[a]n event restricted to any part of the public, based on race, religion, color, national origin, or gender.”

Similarly, the Joint Force Headquarters Capitol Region / Military District of Washington website, on its page for “Requesting Ceremonial Support,” which is what the planned military color guard, brass quintet, and vocalist for the NDP Task Force event would fall under, lists “Support for or during a religious service” under “requests that cannot be accommodated.” I don’t think anyone could possibly argue that this National Day of Prayer event is not a religious service.

And, like the others already mentioned, these rules and regulations would apply to this event regardless of whether it is being run by Shirley Dobson’s Task Force or Congressman Aderholt.

And, last but not least, in addition to the military’s regulations prohibiting military participation in events that discriminate based on religion, the room that the event has been held in in previous years, and is scheduled to be held in again this year, has a rule prohibiting events that discriminate based on religion.

The long-standing “Conditions for use of meeting rooms” unequivocally prohibit the use any meeting rooms under the authority of the various congressional entities by “Organizations practicing discrimination based on race, creed, color, or national origin.” The room in this case, the Caucus Room in the Cannon House Office Building, falls under the authority of the Office of the Speaker of the House, so, just for good measure, we decided to address our letter to both Secretary of Defense Hagel and Speaker John Boehner, informing Mr. Boehner that allowing Shirley Dobson’s — or Congressman Aderholt’s, if you buy the sudden flip-flopping of whose event it is — that allowing this event to be held in the Caucus Room, or any other room under the authority of Congress, violates Congress’s own “Conditions for use of meeting rooms.”

Now, moving on to the other National Day of Prayer situation that MRFF has on its hands — the one to which my headline refers — we’ve gotten quite a few complaints from personnel at the Pentagon this year.

This Pentagon thing definitely falls into the category of facepalm-inducing, how-on-earth-do-they-not-see-the-irony-here? stories.

Each year Shirley Dobson and her merry band of fundamentalist Christian prayer warriors come up with a theme for the National Day of Prayer, and this year’s theme is “One Voice United in Prayer.”

While the Pentagon is not hosting what is an “official” NDP Task Force event (MRFF put a stop to that back in 2010 when we got that year’s NDP Task Force honorary chairman Franklin Graham disinvited from the Pentagon event), they are using the NDP Task Force’s “One Voice United in Prayer” slogan. That’s fine. No regulations violated by simply using the same slogan. However, the powers that be at the Pentagon either have a serious reading comprehension problem or a pretty bizarre notion of what “One Voice United” means.

How are they uniting as “one voice?” Well, by having separate events on separate days in separate locations to split everybody up according to religious beliefs! Kind of defeats the spirit of that “one voice” thing, huh?

The Protestants, except for those Episcopalian types, get the nice big event in the auditorium complete with world-class musical entertainment on the actual May 1 date of the National Day of Prayer. The Catholics get to have their event on the right day, but in the Pentagon’s chapel. Muslims have to wait a day for their event. Then there’s another Protestant gospel service thrown in the middle of all this. The Episcopalians, who are apparently not the same as Protestants have to wait until May 7. And, last but not least, there are the Hindus and Jews, who get to observe the May 1 National Day of Prayer on May 8.

And what does the Pentagon call this One-Voice-anything-but-United schedule? Why, it’s a “Special Pentagon Multi-faith Emphasis for the National Day of Prayer,” of course!

Needless to say, MRFF’s clients at the Pentagon, who come from a variety of religious traditions, are not pleased with this special “multi-faith emphasis.” I think someone needs to tell the Pentagon that “multi-faith” and “separate but unequal” are not exactly synonymous terms.

Apr 10 2014

Two Years Ago Today, the ‘Least Credible History Book in Print’ was Published

This post is an updated version of my post from this same date last year, which, not surprisingly, was titled “One Year Ago Today, the ‘Least Credible History Book in Print’ was Published.”

(I am also once again giving away a free PDF version of one of my books, just like I did last year to mark this anniversary, so be sure to scroll down to the end of this post to get this year’s freebie!)

Two years ago today, on April 10, 2012, a new book hit the shelves — David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson.

Although Barton has been writing “history” books for well over two decades, he was relatively unknown outside of evangelical Christian circles and those of us who fight historical revisionism until a few years ago, when Glenn Beck, by making him his resident “historian” and new BFF, propelled him to Christian nationalist rock star status.

The Jefferson Lies was Barton’s first “history” book to be published by a major publisher — Thomas Nelson, one of the largest American trade publishers and the world’s largest Christian publisher. Barton’s prior books, widely used by Christian schools, homeschoolers, and conservative Christian politicians, were self-published by his own publishing company, WallBuilder Press.

To the disdain of history lovers and real historians, Barton’s Jefferson Lies quickly rose to #11 on Amazon and became a New York Times bestseller.

Barton’s book was, of course, met with immediate criticism and debunkings from the usual suspects (like me) who have been exposing his historical hogwash for years, and in July, it was voted the “Least Credible History Book in Print” by readers of the History News Network. None of this criticism and exposing of the numerous blatant lies in Barton’s book, however, was anything that Barton hadn’t dealt with before from the secularists who seek to destroy America’s Christian heritage.

But something else happened this time. Some evangelical Christians came out against his book, including a group of pastors in Ohio who threatened a boycott of Thomas Nelson, mainly over the book’s whitewashing of the issue of Thomas Jefferson and slavery. (Barton’s book claims, among other things, that although Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves, he was not a racist and considered blacks to be equal to whites.)

On August 1, 2012, the Ohio pastors, who had read an advance copy of the book and had asked to meet with Thomas Nelson before it released, held a press conference announcing their boycott. Eight days later, on August 9, Thomas Nelson pulled The Jefferson Lies, having suddenly “lost confidence in the book’s details.”

Barton and his supporters quickly came up with a number of excuses for Thomas Nelson dumping the book — it was because Christian publisher Thomas Nelson had been bought by secular publisher HarperCollins; it was Thomas Nelson’s own fault because they edited material out of Barton’s manuscript that would have supported his claims; Thomas Nelson abandoned their Christian principles and bowed to political pressure … yada yada yada. A number of conservative evangelical Christian professors who, like the Ohio pastors, had come out against the book were labeled academic elitists who didn’t espouse true Christian values.

In the eyes of his followers, David Barton — the man who is rescuing history from those scary actual historians — was clearly being persecuted for his Christian values.

But Barton’s pal Glenn Beck quickly came to the rescue, saying on the August 16, 2012 episode of his web-based TV show that his publishing company, Mercury Ink, intended to republish the book.

But first Barton had to get rid of the 17,000 copies he had bought back from Thomas Nelson after they pulled the book. The book remained (and still remains) available on Barton’s WallBuilders.com website, and from August to November could still be purchased on Amazon, but only through third party sellers. Then, at the end of November, the book was suddenly listed as “in stock” and available directly from Amazon again. The publisher, however, was not listed as Glenn Beck’s Mercury Ink. It was listed as WallBuilders Press, which, as I said, is Barton’s own publishing company. Was this the new edition that Barton had been promising for months? The one that was going to contain all that material cut by Thomas Nelson that Barton claimed would clear up everything? Well, no. I ordered a copy and it was exactly the same Thomas Nelson edition that I had bought when the book first came out, right down to the typos. Apparently, Barton intended to sell off some of those thousands of copies he still had left on Amazon by deceptively listing the book under a different publisher. (I contacted Amazon and got them to change the publisher back to Thomas Nelson; then Barton got them to change it back to Wallbuilders; then I got them to change it back to Thomas Nelson again. Currently, the book is still being sold on Amazon as a Thomas Nelson book, even though when Thomas Nelson pulled it they recalled the copies that were in bookstores.)

Barton, who vowed almost from the moment that Thomas Nelson pulled the book that a bigger publisher had already picked it up, is now claiming that that bigger publisher is Simon & Schuster. In an article posted on his WallBuilders.com website in February 2013, he stated this in three places, writing: “After Thomas Nelson dropped the book, The Jefferson Lies was subsequently reviewed and then picked up by Simon & Schuster,” “The Jefferson Lies will reach a far larger audience through Simon & Schuster than it would have with the Christian publisher Thomas Nelson,” and that the book “will be released by Simon & Schuster in 2013″

Is this true? Is Simon & Schuster really going to republish a book that was dumped by another publisher for its inaccuracy? Well, this may be one of those stretches of the truth that Barton is so well known for. Glenn Beck did say that his Mercury Ink publishing company intended to republish Barton’s book, and Beck’s company does have some sort of publishing partnership with Simon & Schuster, whose conservative non-fiction imprint, Threshold, publishes Beck’s books. But does Beck’s company republishing Barton’s book mean the same thing as Simon & Schuster republishing it? Or is Barton just exploiting Beck’s connection with Simon & Schuster to make it sound like his book was picked up by that bigger, badder publisher he claimed he had?

(UPDATE: There has been absolutely no indication that Simon & Schuster is publishing a new edition of Barton’s book, as I wrote on the History News Network back in August, on the first anniversary of the book being yanked by Thomas Nelson. In fact, there is no sign of anybody republishing this book, not even Glenn Beck’s Mercury Ink. It’s been nearly twenty months since Barton made his Simon & Schuster claim, and not only has there been no sign of the new edition that he promised would be published in 2013, but he’s still trying to sell off those 17,000 copies of the first edition that he bought back from Thomas Nelson. And yet Barton has not removed his Simon & Schuster claim from his WallBuilders website.)

In the days following the pulling of Barton’s book by Thomas Nelson, Barton’s radio show co-host, Rick Green, issued an open challenge on his blog for anyone to point out any inaccuracies in the book. I, of course, responded to that challenge. Green avoided accepting my acceptance of his challenge by saying that he didn’t have time to respond to all the comments, but, oddly, he did have time to write a whole other post attacking me.

Rick Green’s evasion of addressing the historical inaccuracies in his cohort’s book actually made me even more determined to write a thorough debunking of every single lie in The Jefferson Lies, which has turned into a seven-volume (one for each chapter of the book) project, the first volume of which I put out back in September 2012 (and gave away as a free PDF last year to mark this anniversary), and the second of which I put out in September 2013 (and am giving away as a free PDF now), a tradition that I think I’ll continue every year for as long as Barton’s Jefferson Lies continues to be out there poisoning his mostly unsuspecting followers’ minds with his hsitorical lies.

So, in honor of the second anniversary of the publication of the “Least Credible History Book in Print,” I’ve decided to make the latest volume of my debunking of that masterpiece of historical revisionism (which debunks every stinking lie the book’s fifth chapter) available as a FREE PDF.

Apr 08 2014

The Latest MRFF Hate Mail Reading by MRFF’s “Maven of Mockery,” Rachel

Apr 04 2014

The “Battle of the Billboards” has Begun!

I’ll be updating this later when I get better photos, but here’s the story in a nutshell (accompanied by a crappy photo because it’s the only one I’ve got at the moment).

The so-called “Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition” (a coalition of about two dozen fundamentalist Christian organizations — the FRC, AFA, and a bunch of the other usual suspects) put up this billboard last week near the Air Force Academy, where a battle has been raging over the issue of the words “so help me God” being an official part of the oath taken by cadets:

Billboard has a photo of the four presidents on Mount Rushmore, with the text “Air Force Cadets - Are you free to say so help me God” above the picture of Mount Rushmore, and the text “They did” below the photo of Mount Rushmore, and the website of the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition at the bottom.

 

So, upon finding out that the other side of this historically inaccurate billboard was vacant, I worked up a MRFF version, correcting the historical inaccuracy of the one on the flip side. Here’s MRFF’s billboard, which went up this morning:

MRFF’s billboard looks almost the same as the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition’s billboard. It has a photo of Mount Rushmore, showing George Washington, with a picture of the military officer’s oath signed by Washington, which did not say So help me God. The text on MRFF’s billboard is “Air Force Cadets - Are you free NOT to say so help me God” above the pictures of Mount Rushmore, and Washington’s own oath, and the text “George Washington didn’t in his officer’s oath” below the photos, and MRFF’s website at the bottom.

Mar 19 2014

MRFF Complains About Atheists Proselytizing at Air Force Academy? Surely Pigs are Flying!

Yes, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and its leader Mikey Weinstein are going after the Air Force Academy again.

This morning, MRFF was contacted by seven people at the Academy (four cadets, two faculty members, and one staff member; six of whom Christians) about an announcement made to all cadets in the Mitchell Hall dining facility that today and tomorrow were going to be “Ask an Atheist Days,” and that a table would be set up on the third floor of Fairchild Hall, an academic building.

According to a member of the U.S. Air Force Academy Cadets Freethinkers Club, these “Ask an Atheist Days” are being held in protest of the Academy’s refusal to allow their group to participate in S.P.I.R.E. (Special Programs in Religious Education). S.P.I.R.E. is a long-running program at the Academy, where one night per week is set aside for various religious groups and outside parachurch organizations to hold religious meetings for the cadets.

The Cadets Freethinkers Club has been denied recognition as a S.P.I.R.E. group by the Academy on the grounds that freethinkers are not a religion, and has only been allowed to operate as a club.

A MRFF client who is a member of the Freethinkers Club explained the motivation behind the “Ask an Atheist Days” to Weinstein, saying that since the Academy does not consider them a religious group for the purposes of participating in S.P.I.R.E., then they feel they are are within their rights, as a non-religious club, to set up a table and have their event announced on the same basis as other non-religious clubs would be permitted to do.

MRFF agrees with the Freethinkers Club that their group should be able to participate in S.P.I.R.E., but does not condone the manner in which these cadets chose to protest the Academy’s refusal to recognize them as a S.P.I.R.E. group.

According to Weinstein, allowing an “Ask an Atheist Day” to be announced to a captive audience of cadets in the dining hall and allowing the Freethinkers Club to set up a table in an academic building is no different that allowing an ask a Muslim Day or an ask an Evangelical Christian Day. “They are proselytizing for atheism,” Weinstein said.

No, pigs aren’t flying. Contrary to the constant and deliberate stream of misinformation being spewed by those who claim that MRFF is an atheist organization that only goes after Christians, the reality is that MRFF will take exactly the same steps to stop a violation of the Constitution or military regulations when that violation is being committed by a freethinkers group or by any other group or individual. You just won’t hear about it on Fox News.

Maj. Lonzo Wallace, Executive Officer to Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, has told MRFF that the Academy is allowing the “Ask an Atheist Days” to proceed, despite of the clear violation of regulations in allowing a particular ideology — one that many would say is in fact a religious belief — to be promoted in a completely inappropriate time, place, and manner.

“Religious neutrality means religious neutrality,” said Weinstein. “Whether it’s saying that Jesus is your lord and savior or saying that there is no god makes no difference. Neither is a neutral position, and neither can be promoted by the United States Air Force Academy.”

Mar 07 2014

Liberty Institute’s Kelly Shackelford Spreads “Fear and Misinformation” at Air Force Academy Leadership Symposium

On February 27 and 28, the Air Force Academy held its annual National Character & Leadership Symposium, an event described as “one of the nation’s premier symposia in the field of character and leadership development.” The speakers at this annual symposium include “distinguished scholars, military leaders, corporate executives, world-class athletes, and others.” The attendees are not only Air Force Academy cadets and staff, but also students and faculty from civilian colleges and universities, ROTC detachments, and international delegations.

One of the speakers at this year’s National Character & Leadership Symposium was Kelly Shackelford, the President & CEO of the Liberty Institute, which describes itself as “the largest legal organization dedicated solely to defending and restoring religious liberty in America.”

Shackelford’s Liberty Institute is a member organization of the so-called “Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition,” a coalition formed last year to champion Rep. John Fleming’s anything-but-religious-liberty amendment to the FY14 National Defense Authorization Act. As I’ve previously written, Fleming’s (failed) amendment was not about religious liberty — it was nothing but a sneaky attempt to give permission to anti-gay Christians in the military to freely discriminate against and harass LGB service members in a post-DADT and post-DOMA military under the guise of religious liberty.

Among Shackelford’s cohorts in this “Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition” is none other than retired Army general and all around nutcase Jerry “my god is bigger than their god” Boykin, who recently made national headlines once again when he proclaimed that Jesus would be coming back toting an AR-15 assault rifle.

In addition to making no secret that, to them, this military religious liberty stuff is really all about the God-given right of fundamentalist Christians in the military to bash the gays, the members of the “Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition,” along with their allies in Congress, have also made it no secret that their number one enemy is Mikey Weinstein, the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), with the name Weinstein appearing forty-one times in the ten pages of its much-touted (and extremely fact challenged) report, “A Clear and Present Danger,” and Weinstein’s name even being invoked on the floor of the House of Representatives.

The Liberty Institute’s most widely-covered recent case has been that of Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk, who claimed that he was let go from his position and faced possible court-martial for disagreeing with his openly gay commander about same-sex marriage. The findings of the Air Force’s investigation into Monk’s complaint, however, told a different story. Monk’s removal from his position had nothing to do with his disagreement with his commanding officer. He was not “fired” from this position for his Christian beliefs, as the Liberty Institute and media outlets like Fox News claimed. The investigation found that he was already scheduled to be rotated to another position before any of this even happened. And yet the “Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition” continues to use SMSgt. Monk as their poster boy for their claims of Christian persecution in the military.

So, now that anyone who didn’t know who Kelly Shackelford is has a bit of background information, let’s get to his presentation at the Air Force Academy’s National Character & Leadership Symposium (NCLS).

Several times during his two presentations at the NCLS, Mr. Shackelford said that the greatest “attacker” of religious liberty is “fear and misinformation.” And that it absolutely true, as demonstrated by Mr. Shackelford’s nearly nonstop use of fear and misinformation in his presentations — presentations that were chock full of fear-inducing stories full of misinformation about alleged egregious violations of religious freedom and Christian persecution.

In describing how widespread the persecution of Christians is in America, Mr. Shackelford said:

“It’s an eight-year-old boy who’s told not to — he was caught praying over his meal, lifted out of his cafeteria seat and taken to the principal’s office, told to never do that again all the way to senior citizens who were told that their meals were going to be taken away because they’re federally funded and they were praying over their meals which violated the separation of church and state.”

 

The cases that Mr. Shackelford was referring to here are a couple of oldies-but-goodies — a twenty-year-old tale made famous by Newt Gingrich way back in 1994 about an eight-year-old boy in St. Louis who was supposedly yanked out of his chair in the cafeteria and sent to the principal for praying over his lunch, and a ten-year-old case about a senior citizens center in Balch Springs, TX.

The one about the praying eight-year-old is the now infamous story of a fourth grade student in St. Louis named Raymond Raines, which gained national attention way back in 1994 when Newt Gingrich told it on NBC’s Meet the Press. The story was debunked soon after Gingrich told it, but that, of course, doesn’t stop people like Kelly Shackelford from continuing to use it nearly twenty years later. Some may recall hearing this story when discredited pseudo-historian David Barton appeared on The Daily Show in May 2012. Barton made the story sound even more shocking by making the kid younger, telling Jon Stewart that it was a five-year-old rather than an eight-year-old, but he was talking about the same fictitious incident as Shackelford was at the Air Force Academy.

In reality, Raymond Raines was not disciplined for praying. According to school officials, who investigated the claim by talking to teachers, administrators, and other students, what Raines was actually disciplined for was fighting in the cafeteria. Even the Rev. Earl E. Nance Jr., a Baptist minister who was a member of the St. Louis school board at the time, said he didn’t believe the story, calling the lawsuit filed by The Rutherford Institute “frivolous.”

We’ll get to the one about the senior citizens’ getting their meals taken away for praying over them a little further on, since Mr. Shackelford not only used that one in this part of his presentation, but also as the story he ended his presentation with. But first let’s look at some of the more recent cases used by Mr. Shackelford, starting with an example he used of the horrible persecution of Christians in the military.

In rattling off his litany of cases, Mr. Shackelford said:

“I think of Walter Reed Hospital actually banned Bibles being brought in from family members for wounded soldiers until that was exposed and overturned.”

 

This is just more “fear and misinformation” from Mr. Shackelford. No family member was ever stopped from giving a Bible to a wounded soldier at Walter Reed Hospital. This was just a case of a poorly worded guideline that the right-wing media and organizations like Shackelford’s Liberty Institute got a hold of and turned into a big, headline-grabbing tale of Christian persecution.

Here’s what really happened:

There were complaints from patients who were being harassed by members of the religious groups that were visiting the hospital, so the hospital’s chief of staff, in a memorandum on the hospital’s patient visitation policies, included a guideline intended to protect the right of these wounded service members to be free from the kind of unsolicited and unwelcome proselytization that they were being subjected to. Everybody knew that this guideline was not intended to apply to family members or friends visiting an individual wounded service member whom they personally knew. It was only intended to apply to the strangers from the outside religious groups visiting the hospital whose tactics were being complained about by the patients and their families. As a second memorandum explained:

“The policy in question was established after receiving complaints from Warriors and their families at both Walter Reed Army Medical Center and National Naval Medical Center who were approached by unsolicited faith-based groups visiting the inpatient wards. Patients and families reported that these groups were proselytizing and making disparaging remarks about Warrior’s service, sometimes using threatening and condemning language. According to the patients, some visits were persistent and repeated.”

 

Obviously, this was merely a case of a guideline whose intent wasn’t clearly spelled out, but was nevertheless understood by anyone with half a brain. To the right-wing media and organizations like Shackelford’s Liberty Institute, however, it was red meat for their claims of Christian persecution, and was turned by them into a national news story — one that they’re still using and completely misrepresenting over two years later.

Not at all surprisingly, in the Kelly Shackelford version of the story, as told to the attendees at the Air Force Academy’s National Character and Leadership Symposium, it was the harassers of the wounded service members who were the victims, not the wounded service members in the hospital wards who were being used by these unwanted religious visitors as a captive audience to force their beliefs on.

Mr. Shackelford also included some more recent civilian cases, like the famous “stomp on Jesus” case, saying:

“You probably saw the stomp on Jesus case, with the student down at Florida Atlantic University, who — all the students were told in class to pull out a sheet of paper, to write Jesus in big letters, and then put it on the ground and then stomp on it, and when he wouldn’t do it — he was the only one who wouldn’t — he put his back on his desk — he was not only kicked out of class, but he was suspended and charges were brought against him before that case.”

 

This case was recent enough that many people might remember seeing it in the news. A communications professor did an exercise in his class intended to demonstrate the power of symbols. The professor did not invent this exercise. It’s been around for three decades, and was actually created by a professor at a Catholic college. Just the fact that it comes from a Catholic college alone should cast suspicion on the claim that it is an anti-Christian exercise. The point of the exercise is to show that most of the students won’t step on the piece of paper with the name of Jesus on it, leading to a discussion of why they wouldn’t step on it and the importance of symbols in culture. So, we’re really supposed to believe that this student at Florida Atlantic University was kicked out of the class, suspended, and had charges brought against him just because he wouldn’t step on the piece of paper when the entire point of the exercise relies on the expectation that most students won’t step on the piece of paper?

A current Liberty Institute case that Mr. Shackelford used as another of his examples is the case of a rabbi who Mr. Shackelford claimed was “criminally prosecuted because he held a religious meeting in his home with ten people without getting city approval.”

Really? A rabbi was “criminally prosecuted” just for having ten people at his house for a religious meeting? That sounds completely unbelievable — and it should — because it isn’t true.

First of all, the rabbi in this case was not criminally charged. That’s just the “fear” part of the “fear and misinformation” that Mr. Shackelford added when telling this story at the Air Force Academy. In reality, this is a dispute between neighbors. The homeowner who lives across the street from a house that’s being used as a synagogue rather than a residence is suing the rabbi for violating the neighborhood’s homeowners association covenant, which allows only single family residential use of the homes. And, judging by the yard signs that have been put up in front of other houses on the street, the other homeowners in the neighborhood (who are complaining about things like the people coming to this house/synagogue causing all the dogs in the neighborhood barking at 6:00 a.m. every morning), are with the guy who’s suing the rabbi. The issue is not that the rabbi is merely having a few people over for religious meetings, as Mr. Shackelford very misleadingly claims. The rabbi doesn’t live in this house. It is being used solely as a synagogue, seven days a week, with six different regularly scheduled meetings or services on most days, the first in the early morning beginning as early as 6:00 a.m. and the last beginning at 9:15 p.m., as you can see on the synagogue’s website’s schedule (yeah, this “private home” has a website with a schedule of meetings and services).

But this is the typical tactic of people like Kelly Shackelford when rattling off these cases of alleged religious persecution — exaggerate or totally make up the punishment (the rabbi was “criminally prosecuted”) and minimize what the issue is that’s being complained about to make it sound like a completely outrageous complaint (all the rabbi is doing is having some people in his private home for a little religious meeting).

One of the best examples of Mr. Shackelford’s use of his “fear and misinformation” tactic was his description of an argument used in a particular Supreme Court case:

“Probably the best example I could give you is — I guess it’s now about two years ago — I was sitting in the front row of the Supreme Court [unintelligible] and I heard an argument I never thought I would hear in my life. And this was the group from the solicitor general’s office of the United States. This is the highest group of attorneys in the country, who represent our federal government, the president, and the solicitor general’s office stood up — and this was in the Hosanna-Tabor case — and argued to all nine justices that the federal government had the power, if it so desired, to tell churches and synagogues who their pastors and rabbis could be and that the religion clauses offered no protection from that. I mean, you could literally hear a gasp in the audience when they read this argument. And when the decision came down a month later, that argument was rejected nine to zero In fact, the chief justice referred to this argument as, quote, remarkable. (Laughter) So, yes, that didn’t happen, but it tells you something about how far [unintelligible] that that argument is actually being made in the highest court.”

 

No, the Solicitor General’s office did not claim that the federal government had the right to tell churches who their pastors could be. This was a case of a teacher at a Christian school who was trying to sue the school for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act after being let go because she had been temporarily unable to work because she was diagnosed with narcolepsy. The school claimed that the teacher was not fired due to her disability, but because she threatened to sue the school. The school claimed that bringing a case to a civil court rather than to the church’s synod was against the tenets of their religion. What the Solicitor General’s office was arguing was that it violated the rights of the teacher to be barred from accessing the courts to bring a complaint against the school if that school, religious or not, had violated the law. Where things got sticky was that the school was claiming that the teacher should fall under the “ministerial exception” — the exception that prevents the government from being able to dictate who a church can and can’t have as their clergy members (e.g., a woman can’t sue the Catholic Church for gender discrimination for not letting her be a priest). In the case of this teacher, the school successfully argued that the ministerial exception should apply because the teacher was considered a “called” teacher by the church, and did perform some religious duties in addition to her regular teaching duties. In no way was the Solicitor General’s office making some sort of broad statement that the government had the power to tell churches who their pastors can be, as Mr. Shackelford claimed to elicit some more “fear” in his Air Force Academy presentation.

Mr. Shackelford brought up far too many cases in his presentation to get to all of them here, but there is one more that I want to include — the case mentioned earlier of the senior citizens being told that their federally funded meals were going to be taken away because they were praying over them. I recognized this case immediately when I was listening to the audio obtained by MRFF of Mr. Shackelford’s presentations at the Air Force Academy because it was one of the cases that I recently wrote about for other reasons as part of the appendix to one of my books. (For those who are interested in reading more about the lies and half-truths used to spread the kind of “fear and misinformation” relied upon by Mr. Shackelford and others like him, I’ve made a PDF of the entire appendix from my book, which is fully footnoted, available on my website.)

The reason this particular case was so memorable to me was because it was a case in which Mr. Shackelford was — how shall I put it? — um — not entirely honest with the court.

Now, what do you picture when you read Mr. Shackelford’s description of a group of senior citizens being told that their meals were going to be taken away just because they were praying over them? Do you envision some horrible senior center employee walking up to a table of white-haired seniors who are doing nothing more than saying grace over their meal and ordering them to stop? That would be outrageous, right? Of course it would. But that’s not what happened. This case was not about the seniors simply praying over their own meals.

What was actually going on at this senior center were weekly sermons by a minister and gospel band performances (which Mr. Shackelford did briefly acknowledge when bringing this case up again at the end of his presentation), and the prayer before meals was not merely the seniors praying over their own meals. It was regular organized group prayer with someone appointed to lead the prayers.

In August 2003, three members of this senior center, located in Balch Springs, TX, complained about all of this constant religious activity going on at the city-owned facility. According to one of the three, who made it clear that she was a Christian herself, those who did not want to listen to the sermons and prayers had to leave and go to another part of the center, described as a smaller room with pool tables, in order to avoid this religious activity.

In Mr. Shackelford’s version of the story, it was the government — in this case, four evil city council members — that, for no reason at all except for a hatred of anything religious, stopped these religious activities. Mr. Shackelford just leaves out the pesky detail that the city council members did not just get up one day and say, “Hey, let’s mess with the senior citizens by stopping their religious activities.” The city council was acting on a complaint made by members of the senior center about the religious activities.

Sixteen other senior center members, including the minister who had been giving the weekly sermons, then sued the city, claiming that their First Amendment rights were being violated. They were represented by Kelly Shackelford and another attorney from the Liberty Legal Institute (now known as the Liberty Institute), along with a third attorney who now works for the Liberty Institute.

In the original court complaint, filed in September 2003, the Liberty Institute lawyers also claimed that the city had retaliated against the senior center members by canceling their weekly trips to the grocery store and other outings, firing two employees who supported the members who wanted the religious activities, and refusing to pick up two of the members to bring them to the center because their son had written a letter to the editor of a Dallas newspaper criticizing the city’s policy. The city denied all of these allegations, and they were eventually dismissed.

As for the religious activities, the Liberty Institute won. The senior center, which would be considered a limited public forum (a public building or facility that’s not as completely open to use by the public as a street or a public park would be), was required to be content-neutral, allowing religious speech and activities on the same basis as secular speech and activities. Other types of musical performances and lectures were held at the center, so the gospel band performances and sermons also had to be allowed. This was hardly an unusual decision.

What was unusual, however, was the big contradiction between what the Liberty Institute claimed during the case and what one of its clients in the case later revealed.

While a limited public forum can be used by private citizens for religious activities, the government employees who work there cannot run or participate in these activities. In the motion for an injunction to allow the religious activities at the senior center to resume while the case was ongoing, the Liberty Institute lawyers claimed that no employees of the center had been directing or participating in any of the religious activities, writing:

“The City and its employees do not sponsor or endorse these activities. They are initiated and led by private senior citizens, who are members of the center. … Moreover, the City and its employees did not direct or participate in any of these activities.”

 

If that statement were true, and this had always been the case, then the senior center had never been doing anything wrong at all. But it wasn’t true, as Barney Clark, one of the sixteen senior center members represented by the Liberty Institute, revealed six months later.

In June 2004, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on religious expression, called “Beyond the Pledge of Allegiance: Hostility to Religious Expression in the Public Square.” One of the people to give their testimony at this hearing was none other than Mr. Clark, who, of course, was there to talk about the senior center case.

From Mr. Clark’s testimony:

“But, our Director, Debbie McDaniel, can not be involved with anything to do with religion. She was a member of the gospel band that provided us with music each Monday. As a result of this, her husband, Ted McDaniel, didn’t feel right playing when his wife wasn’t welcomed. Consequently, we don’t have our regular gospel music. Sometimes we are lucky and have some of the band play solo. Mrs. McDaniel has been the director for ten years. When she first started there was a lady, Dorothy Ward, who played gospel music on the piano each Monday. Everyone got up around the piano and sang. Mrs. McDaniel joined in on the singing as she does on all activities involved in the daily running of the center. As the Center Director this is part of her job, whether it is crafts, bingo, exercising, music, etc. As it stands now we would be satisfied if Mrs. McDaniel, our director, could once again join in the gospel music.”

 

So, contrary to what Mr. Shackelford and the other Liberty Institute lawyers claimed during the case, Debra McDaniel, the director of the senior center, absolutely was participating in the religious activities. She was actually a member of the gospel band – and such an important participant in this part of the center’s religious activities that the gospel music ceased to regularly continue without her participation!

The Liberty Institute might have won this case, but it certainly appears that Mr. Shackelford and his colleagues weren’t completely honest with the court while it was going on.

As you can see from the real stories behind the scary sound-bite versions of these cases conveyed by Mr. Shackelford at the Air Force Academy’s National Character & Leadership Symposium, “fear and misinformation” is, as Mr. Shackelford said, the the greatest “attacker” of religious liberty, and there is no better proof of the truth of this statement than Mr. Shackelford himself!

 

Jan 28 2014

The Highly Questionable “Christian Safety Officer”

Photo of Maj. Dowty with caption crossing out Christian fighter pilot and inserting Christian safety officerIn a recent blog post on his “Christian Fighter Pilot” blog, Air Force safety officer Maj. Jonathan C. Dowty (yeah, the Christian “fighter pilot” is actually a safety officer) displayed his crack (as in he must be smoking crack) investigative “skills” in yet another attempt to raise suspicions about the finances of Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF).

I suppose that at this point in his Air Force career, with any prospect of future promotion into the highest ranks looking extremely unlikely, it would make sense for Maj. Dowty to be honing his “journalism” skills for a potential post-military career in the fact-challenged right wing media.

Why do Maj. Dowty’s prospects for a brilliant future in the military look dim? Well, after about six years as a major, he was selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel, but he was not selected to attend Senior Developmental Education at the same time. What does that mean? According to a source who knows about these things:

“When officers are selected for promotion to Lt Col, the top 10% to 15% of selectees are also identified to attend Senior Developmental Education (SDE), which consists of the possibility of going to one of several service war colleges or special fellowships. Virtually ALL of those chosen to attend SDE that attend these schools will be promoted to full colonel a few years down the road and the next generation of general officers are also chosen from this pool. If an officer is NOT chosen to attend SDE, then their chances of making full colonel drop to less than half (depending on the promotion/personnel environment) and their chances of eventually making general officer are virtually zero — they are not ‘players.’”

 

So, rest assured, there is never going to be a General Jonathan “Christian Fighter Pilot” Dowty.

Additionally, Major Dowty was made a safety officer a few years ago, which, from what I’ve been told by reliable source type people I know, is basically a slap in the face for a fighter pilot. He did not get a position at the Air Force Academy, which, according to emails obtained by MRFF through a FOIA request, was what he wanted.

In a 2011 email to an instructor at the Air Force Academy, Maj. Dowty, who was then still in a fighter-pilot-related job, working at the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, wrote:

“Do you have any insight into possible openings for either the test slot or just a line instructor?

“All else being equal I suspect I’ll end up at Eglin barring other possibilities.

“Hope your family is doing well; I’ve got three kids now (who only know Edwards, interestingly). We’ve been enjoying the life here, though moving on will be nice too.”

 

photo of Major Dowty's wife with caption calling her Mrs. Christian safety officerAnd end up at Eglin Air Force Base he did (which is a good thing because we have a contact there who can keep an eye on him). So, Maj. Dowty now does his countless hours of obsessively blogging about Mikey Weinstein from a nice little house he bought at 543 John King Road in nearby Crestview, Florida, where he currently resides with his wife Beth and those three kids of his.

One of Maj. Dowty’s regular activities is to scrutinize MRFF’s tax returns (I guess everybody needs a hobby). He then attempts to make the information on these returns appear highly suspicious via one of his scare-quote-laden blog posts.

The latest of these posts, titled “Mikey Weinstein, the MRFF, and MIBON Consulting,” differs little from his many similar previous posts. The good “Christian Safety Officer” makes his usual accusation that Mikey Weinstein is getting rich off the the donations to MRFF, and implies that there is something suspicious about my employment by MRFF.

Maj. Dowty opens his post by saying:

“Michael “Mikey” Weinstein sometimes tries to make the MRFF — the group he created and runs — seem bigger than just him, citing the number of people associated with his “charity.” However, he quietly admits to the IRS the MRFF has only a single employee — Mikey Weinstein. That admission seems to contradict claims by others, like Chris Rodda, who say they work for the MRFF.”

 

Yes, he is actually implying that I don’t really work for MRFF. And what is the basis of this suspicion-casting assertion? I get paid as a contractor. When I started working for MRFF almost seven years ago, it was to do research for some specific projects and I was hired as a contractor. Those projects led to a permanent job with the foundation, but we just never changed the way I was paid. There is nothing at all wrong with this, of course, but Maj. Dowty somehow manages to make it sound terribly suspicious in his next paragraph:

“Normally, personnel costs are not considered “program expenses” in IRS lingo (program expenses are “those incurred while performing its tax-exempt activities”). However, that seems to be how Weinstein framed payment for Rodda’s services. Rodda once admitted the MRFF “Research” expense line item — about $25,000 — was her annual pay (though she has faded from the MRFF scene in the past year or so).  Presumably, the legal explanation is Weinstein treats her as a kind of independent contractor, rather than technically an employee.  The characterization of the use of that $25K on “research” — or Rodda — is not something a potential donor would know if Chris Rodda hadn’t spoken out of school.”

 

I once “admitted” that I was paid as a contractor? Seriously? And how did this big “admission” come about? Maj. Dowty asserted in one of his many previous MRFF-bashing posts that I didn’t really work for MRFF because I wasn’t listed as an employee on the foundation’s tax return, so I said in a comment on that post that the line item for research on the return was what I was paid. That’s it — my big “admission” — I do research for MRFF and MRFF pays me for it and reports it on its tax returns as research expenses! Stop the presses! We’ve got a scandal!

And I’ve “faded from the MRFF scene in the past year or so?” Really? Someone needs to tell Mikey that so he’ll stop calling me all the time and bugging me to do stuff for MRFF!

But enough about me. Let’s get to the gist of Maj. Dowty’s accusations about MRFF’s tax return. And let’s have some fun with this by comparing what Maj. Dowty claims to be suspicious about MRFF’s tax return to what appears on a recent tax return from the Officers’ Christian Fellowship, an organization to which Maj. Dowty himself belongs.

Maj. Dowty big claim is that that MRFF’s personnel expenses are an excessive percentage of its total expenses compared to what are listed as direct program expenses.

Maj. Dowty has determined that 73% of MRFF’s expenses would be classified as personnel expenses. He arrives at this 73% figure by adding up every expense that he doesn’t consider to be a direct program expense — Mikey’s salary, research (a.k.a. my pay), accounting, support, and consulting.

So, how does Maj. Dowty’s own organization, the Officers’ Christian Fellowship (OCF), fare when you look at their tax return using the suspicion-casting methods of Maj. Dowty.

Well, right off the bat, you’ll see that a whopping 54% of OCF’s total expenses are personnel expenses. According to OCF’s 2012 tax return, their total expenses were $3,992,890, of which $2,139,351 were personnel costs. And $1,600,069, or 75% of all of OCF’s personnel costs (including things like pension plans and other benefits) were listed as “program service expenses,” in the same way that MRFF lists certain personnel costs as “program service expenses.”

Then there are all the other things that the OCF lists as “program service expenses” — the same types of expenses that MRFF and every other non-profit lists. These are a few of OCF’s other expenses listed as “program service expenses”:

Office Expenses: $424,666

Occupancy: $354,450

Depreciation, depletion, amortization: $310,090

Other Service Fees: $67,570

Insurance: $37,453

Investment Management Service Fees: $5,791

 

Yes, that’s over $1,200,000 in operating and other expenses that the OCF lists as “program service expenses,” and that’s not even all of them!

So, what’s our tally for OCF’s personnel and the “program services” expenses listed above? $3,339,371 — over 83% of its total expenses –10% more than MRFF’s similarly listed expenses!

What does the OCF — an organization that Maj. Dowty has belonged to since way back when he was a cadet at the Air Force Academy — spend on its actual “ministry” expenses? A mere $133,417. Yep, according to its tax return, this “ministry” only spends about 3% of its total expenses on its stated charitable function of being a ministry!

So, why isn’t Maj. Dowty questioning the OCF’s highly suspicious expenditures? Inquiring minds want to know!

MRFF has many other questions about Maj. Jonathan “Christian Safety Officer” Dowty, but we’ll get to those in future posts.

Jan 26 2014

Mikey Weinstein on The Young Turks (VIDEO)

Dec 31 2013

History According to Mike Huckabee: How a Book of Political Satire Saved Christmas

I initially started writing this post with the intent of posting it on Christmas, but since we lost the war on Christmas once again this year, I had to do all that stupid Christmas stuff like buying presents and spending time with family and friends and didn’t have time to finish what I was writing. Not wanting to abandon my half-written Christmas post, I decided to finish it anyway and post it as an end of year “Worst of 2013″ piece. So, I hereby give my brand new “Worst Historical Hogwash of the Year” award to Mike Huckabee’s “Learn Our History” video series.

The “Learn Our History” video series is Mike Huckabee’s new vehicle for indoctrinating children. The videos are cartoons in which five kids with a time machine “travel together to learn the truth about the past.” What the quintet of time-travelers — named Addison, Barley, Connor, Dalia, and Simon — learn in their travels to the past is, of course, not the truth, but a history full of Christian nationalist revisionism and right-wing political propaganda.

Back in the summer, I kept seeing ads for this new “history” video series on Facebook and everywhere else where Google kindly lets me know about such things, so I decided to check it out and see how bad it was by ordering the DVD of the free trial episode. What I didn’t realize was that ordering this free trial DVD was like joining one of those record clubs of yore, with a new DVD arriving in the mail every month, and the hassle of returning it being more troublesome than just keeping the damn thing and having it conveniently billed to my debit card. So, I now have a growing collection of “Learn Our History” DVDs sitting in my office, waiting to be endured and debunked.

One of these fine DVDs, received just before Christmas, was, of course, a Christmas episode, titled “Christmas In America.” So, here is my too-late-for-Christmas-but-not-too-late-for-an-end-of-year-worst-of-post debunking of that video.

At the beginning of the video, a mysterious stranger gives the time traveling kids a copy of the book A History of New York by Diedrich Knickerbocker (a.k.a. Washington Irving), and tells them that the book is just the gift they’ll need. We’ll get to more about this book and how it surprisingly (and completely ridiculously) saved Christmas in a few minutes, but first we need to look at the video’s right-wing propaganda and plethora of historical inaccuracies.

After receiving the book from the mysterious stranger, the kids come across a group of sign-wielding people chanting “separate church and state” in protest of the religious holiday display in their town square, which is being guarded by the good Reverend Gallagher.
Image from video of protest against religious holiday display

Addison: “Reverend Gallagher? What’s going on?”

Rev. Gallagher: “The town may be tearing down the Christmas nativity scene.”

Addison: “Tearing it down?”

Dalia: “Why?”

Rev. Gallagher: “See that man there? That’s Jonah Matthews. He lives in Washington, D.C. He came rolling in here this morning with a bunch of his D.C. big-city lawyers and protesters and filed a lawsuit against the town to take down the nativity, and also the menorah, put up by the Jewish people, who use it to celebrate Hanukkah. He claims that because they’re on town land, they violate the separation of church and state. The town’s gonna hold a hearing tomorrow, and I’m not moving until they decide.”

Connor: “What’s he picking on a little town like us for?”

Rev. Gallagher: “Sometimes folks from other places or government think the whole country should just be like them and do what they tell them to do.”

Dalia: “But the nativity scene has been in our town as long as I’ve been alive. It’s part of our life here.”

Barley: “It’s like that guy declaring war on Christmas.”

A cop car with a loudspeaker drives by telling the protesters to disperse, at which point Rev. Gallagher gives the kids their reason to travel back in time to find out the “truth” about history.

Rev. Gallagher: “I think the town will let us keep the displays if we can show them that the holidays are part of our shared American heritage; that they’re inclusive, and consistent with the Judeo-Christian values on which America was born …”

With the Fox News “war on Christmas” notion firmly established, the time-traveling kids set off to prove that Christmas is “consistent with the Judeo-Christian values on which America was born.”

Deciding that “the first Christmas in America is a good place to start,” the time-traveling kids transport themselves to December 25, 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where they find that the Pilgrims weren’t celebrating Christmas, but working like it was any other day.

Governor William Bradford shows up to explain, telling the kids that the reason the Pilgrims didn’t celebrate Christmas was because there is no reference in the Bible to the date of Jesus’ birth.

After their extremely brief encounter with William Bradford, the kids shift the focus to their computer and start talking about Oliver Cromwell and how Christmas was cancelled in England in the 1640s. Why do they jump to England when their mission is to find out about the history of Christmas in America? Because, while not being able to completely omit the fact that the Pilgrims didn’t celebrate Christmas, the Christian nationalist history revisionists always make any mention of this as brief as possible, and then quickly change the subject. Naturally, it’s a bit inconvenient, when claiming that the godless secularists are trying to take away their religious freedom, that the devoutly Christian Pilgrims, who came to America for religious freedom, immediately proceeded to take away the religious freedom of everyone else who settled in their colony — including the freedom to celebrate Christmas.

December 25, 1621 — the Christmas that the time-traveling kids are transported to — was actually the Pilgrims’ second Christmas in America, not their first. Their first Christmas in America was in 1620, the winter they spent anchored in Plymouth Bay living on the Mayflower while building their houses. By Christmas 1621, a second ship, the Fortune, had arrived, bringing supplies and a group of about sixty new settlers. Some of these “newcomers,” who were not Puritans, did want to celebrate Christmas. But when Governor Bradford saw them celebrating and playing games in the street, he put a stop to it, taking away the freedom of the new colonists to celebrate Christmas in the way that they wanted to. That’s what really happened on Christmas 1621 and is, of course, omitted in Huckabee’s “Learn Our History” video.

Also omitted is any other real history about Christmas in New England, such as the celebrating of the holiday being made completely illegal in Massachusetts from 1659 to 1681, and, more importantly, the fact that the founders who were from New England (such as John Adams, who appears later in the video) would not have placed any great significance on Christmas. Although it was no longer illegal to celebrate Christmas in the time of the founders, it wasn’t widely celebrated in New England until well into the 1800s.

At the time of America’s founding, it was business as usual for New Englanders on December 25. The Providence Convention, for example, a convention attended by delegates from all of the New England states to address the issue of wartime inflation and enact laws regulating wages and prices, began on Christmas Day, December 25, 1776, and as late as 1870, public schools in Boston were open on Christmas, with children who were absent on that day being subject to expulsion.

In Huckabee’s video, however, America’s Christmas tradition needs to be turned into an older, more long-standing practice than it really was. It needs to date back to America’s founding era so that the time-traveling kids can use history to make their case at their town’s hearing about Rev. Gallagher’s religious display. So, as the kids leave the 1621 Pilgrims, the dialog is:

Barley: “So what happened when we got together and got our independence from England?”

Simon: “Let’s go find out.”

The kids then transport themselves to Trenton, New Jersey on Christmas Eve in 1776, where Washington’s troops are getting ready to cross the Delaware. (Why the kids transport themselves to Trenton when Washington’s troops were on the other side of the river preparing to cross the river to Trenton is unclear.)

The first thing the kids come across when arriving at Trenton is a bunch of soldiers on their knees being led in prayer by a chaplain.
Image from video of soldiers on their knees praying with chaplain

Simon to the chaplain: “You’re a chaplain? In the Continental Army?”

Chaplain: “Of course. General Washington created the Chaplain Corps himself last July.”

No, George Washington did not personally create the Chaplain Corps. What really happened was that when Washington was appointed commander of the Continental Army in 1775 and went to Massachusetts, he reported back to the Continental Congress on the condition and make-up of the army units that had already been assembled there. At the time of the Revolution, New England was the “Bible belt,” and their army units did have chaplains. Washington had nothing to do with this. The chaplains were already there. The Continental Congress doesn’t appear to have even considered the Continental Army having chaplains until they found out from Washington that the units formed in New England already had them, at which time they added them to the pay schedule. Making George Washington himself personally responsible for starting the Chaplain Corps has become a hugely popular myth promoted by the Christian nationalist history revisionists, but it is simply not true.

George Washington himself, of course, shows up in the video, and one of the time-traveling kids asks him why they are fighting on Christmas, to which Washington replies:

“We are fighting now so that we have the right to celebrate and worship however we want for the rest of our days and our children’s. We are moved by the spirit of God and the liberty he has given us to break free of the shackles of our British oppressors so that each of us, as individuals, can celebrate Christmas or any other holiday as we so desire.”

Yep, in American history according to Mike Huckabee, the Revolutionary War was fought so that American’s could celebrate Christmas! This isn’t only historically ridiculous, but also extremely ironic considering that Christmas celebrations were an English custom that the English had been pushing on the American colonists since the 1600s! The celebration of Christmas being an English custom was actually part of the reason it had been outlawed in Massachusetts!

The truth is that Christmas became even more unpopular in America at the time of the Revolution and the period that followed. Most Americans wanted nothing to do with anything English, and making a big deal out of Christmas was considered very English.

The time traveling kids then transport themselves to Philadelphia, December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under the new Constitution. Here, the video gets even more historically inaccurate.

Barley: “What’s this place?”

Simon: “This is Philadelphia, Barley, and that is the president’s house.”

Dalia: “Where’s the White House?”

Addison: “The White House is being built, Dalia. This is where our first president spent most of his two terms in office, at 6th and Market Streets in Philadelphia.”

So, what’s wrong with this picture?

Well, first of all, the capital in 1789 was New York, not Philadelphia. George Washington would have been living on Cherry Street in New York City on December 25, 1789.

Second, the White House was not being built in 1789. It hadn’t even been decided yet that Washington, D.C. was going to be the permanent capital.

Getting back to our story, George Washington comes to the door (of the house that he didn’t live at) and invites the time-traveling kids inside.

Washington: “Come, join us. We’re having a Christmas party. Martha and I always hold Christmas parties, and always give out gifts to our staff and servants.”

Yes, “servants” — because we don’t call them slaves when they were owned by a great founding father like George Washington.

As for George and Martha Washington always holding Christmas parties, all you have to do is look at Washington’s diaries to see that they really didn’t spend their Christmases differently than any other day — a few guests for dinner, or no visitors at all. (I bet those “servants” didn’t get any Christmas presents either.) There is no indication whatsoever that George Washington was big on celebrating Christmas. In fact, he seems to have worked on quite a few Christmases, as shown by the letters he wrote on December 25 in various years. He did offer the recipients of a few of these letters “the compliments of the season,” (a holiday greeting that would probably make Bill “war on Christmas” O’Reilly’s head explode), but that’s about it.

Washington also didn’t seem to be very full of Christmas spirit as a young colonel serving in the British army during the French and Indian War. His heart-warming Merry Christmas message to his troops, written on December 25, 1755, read: “Any Soldier who shall desert, though he return again, shall be hanged without Mercy.”

Now, getting back once again to the 1789 Christmas party scene in Huckabee’s “Learn Our History” video, the attendees at the party are John and Abigail Adams and Benjamin Franklin (who actually was in Philadelphia at the time, but probably bedridden by this time since this was only a few months before he died).

Image from video of George Washington's 1789 Christmas party
For no apparent reason, the guests at Washington’s historically impossible Christmas party start talking about religious freedom:

Adams: “Our great land is all about the freedom of religion. People can celebrate in any manner they wish.”

Washington: “We all just came from church.”

Connor: “All of you? I thought government and religion were supposed to be separate.”

Washington: “Pardon me?”

So here we have the typical specious equation found in just about every Christian nationalist history book and video: If a founder attended church as an individual, it meant they didn’t think there was any separation between religion and the government.

Although he wasn’t a regular churchgoer during any other part of his life, Washington did attend more regularly while in the public eye as president, so, not surprisingly, he did attend church at St. Paul’s in New York on December 25, 1789.

Benjamin Franklin then proceeds to set the kids straight about this separation of church and state nonsense:

Barley to Franklin: “I don’t understand. Why are Mr. Washington and Mr. Adams so confused when we mentioned the separation of church and state?”

Franklin responds with a Franklin-esque metaphor about bifocals, telling the kids not to look at issues “through the lens of the future,” and saying not to “let future interpreters misdirect our intentions” about the Bill of Rights.

As the kids are leaving Washington’s party at the house in Philadelphia where he didn’t live in 1789, Abigail Adams, who actually would have been in New York at the time, says to them:

“In New York, where the need is greatest, there is not much Christmas spirit. I worry that the spirit of Christmas is dying.”

The kids then travel to New York, arriving in the city in 1812. This is where the Diedrich Knickerbocker (a.k.a. Washington Irving) book given to them by the mysterious stranger at the beginning of the video comes back into the story.

When the kids arrive in New York, they see “missing” posters saying that the Dutch historian Diedrich Knickerbocker is missing.

Washington Irving then shows up as the headless horseman to save the kids from some scary, big-city thugs who want to steal their time-traveling bicycles.

After the thugs are scared off by the headless horseman, Simon asks Washington Irving: “What’s with all the posters and stuff?”

Irving reveals that he is Diedrich Knickerbocker, and that the missing posters are a publicity stunt to sell his History of New York. (Washington Irving actually did pull a publicity stunt in 1809, planting notices in New York newspapers about the fictitious “renowned historian” Diedrich Knickerbocker having disappeared from his hotel, leaving behind only the manuscript of his book, which was being published to pay the missing author’s hotel bill.)

Washington Irving to the kids: “As you can see, the spirit of Christmas is missing in this land, so I’ve put stories of Saint Nicholas in my book, which I wrote under the pen name of Diedrich Knickerbocker, who is, of course, now missing.”

After Irving leaves, the kids talk about his book:

Dalia: “Did the book help bring Christmas spirit to New York?”

Simon: “It was a big success, Dalia, And Washington Irving followed with his Christmas stories in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, about Christmas customs in an English manor.”

So, what’s wrong with this story? Washington Irving did write a book titled A History of New York under the name Diedrich Knickerbocker, and he did pull a publicity stunt to sell it similar to what’s depicted in the video, and Irving’s Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, published a decade later when he was living in England, did include some stories about the Christmas customs in a fictional English manor. So this part of Mike Huckabee’s “history” video seems to be fairly accurate, right? Wrong.

Washington Irving’s A History of New York wasn’t a real history of New York. It was a political satire, using a fictitious version of the Dutch settlement of New York to mock the current state of affairs in “Jeffersonian” America, with one of the book’s characters, a fictional governor of New York named William Kieft, being a caricature of Thomas Jefferson himself.

Irving’s A History of New York did contain a number of references to St. Nicholas, but these references were not put in the book to revive the spirit of Christmas in New York as Irving tells the time-traveling kids. They were part of Irving’s mocking of things like the hypocrisy of the rich making a show of being pious Christians. For example, here is one of the St. Nicholas passages from the book:

“Nor must I omit to record one of the earliest measures of this infant settlement, inasmuch as it shows the piety of our forefathers, and that, like good Christians, they were always ready to serve God, after they had first served themselves. Thus, having quietly settled themselves down, and provided for their own comfort, they bethought themselves of testifying their gratitude to the great and good St. Nicholas, for his protecting care in guiding them to this delectable abode. To this end they built a fair and goodly chapel within the fort, which they consecrated to his name; whereupon he immediately took the town of New Amsterdam under his peculiar patronage, and he has even since been, and I devoutly hope will ever be, the tutelar saint of this excellent city.

“At this early period was instituted that pious ceremony, still religiously observed in all our ancient families of the right breed, of hanging up a stocking in the chimney on St. Nicholas Eve; which stocking is always found in the morning miraculously filled; for the good St. Nicholas has ever been a great giver of gifts, particularly to children.”

Irving’s book also mocked things like the Dutch settlers’ attempts to convert the Indians to Christianity, when the Indians actually lived a much more “Christian” life than the settlers themselves did:

“But the most important branch of civilization, and which has most strenuously been extolled by the zealous and pious fathers of the Roman Church, is the introduction of the Christian faith. It was truly a sight that might well inspire horror, to behold these savages tumbling among the dark mountains of paganism, and guilty of the most horrible ignorance of religion. It is true, they neither stole nor defrauded; they were sober, frugal, continent, and faithful to their word; but though they acted right habitually, it was all in vain, unless they acted so from precept. The new comers, therefore, used every method to induce them to embrace and practice the true religion — except, indeed, that of setting them the example.

“But not withstanding all these complicated labors for their good, such was the unparalleled obstinacy of these stubborn wretches, that they ungratefully refused to acknowledge the strangers as their benefactors, and persisted in disbelieving the doctrines they endeavored to inculcate; most insolently alleging that, from their conduct, the advocates of Christianity did not seem to believe in it themselves.”

Obviously, Washington Irving’s political satire, A History of New York, was not a book of heartwarming tales of Christmas spirit as portrayed in Mike Huckabee’s “Learn Our History” video, and it certainly wouldn’t be a book that would become any child’s favorite Christmas story, which we’ll get back to when we get to the “punch line” at the end of this post. But first, the time-traveling kids have one more stop to make.

The kids are next transported to Washington, D.C. in December 1864, where they find wounded Union soldiers being attended to by Clara Barton and Abraham Lincoln.

Ulysses S. Grant, in his general’s uniform, walks into the make-shift hospital and says: “And if you ask me, it should be a national holiday.”

Simon: “That’s General Ulysses S. Grant, the leader of the Union forces. And after the war he became president and actually made Christmas a federal holiday.”

No, Mr. Huckabee, President Grant did not make Christmas a federal holiday, and it didn’t happen in 1870. But I guess a famous military hero like Grant, who can show up in his general’s uniform saying “if you ask me, it should be a national holiday,” will impress the kiddies more than an appearance by a cartoon Chester A. Arthur, the president under whom Christmas actually was made a holiday for federal employees in 1885.

Christmas being made a federal holiday had absolutely nothing to do with the government recognizing the day out of any sort of Christmas spirit or religious devotion. The reason it eventually became a federal holiday began with the bankers and businessmen of Washington, D.C., who lobbied Congress to make it a legal bank holiday in the District of Columbia.

As of 1870, there were no official federal holidays at all. Individual state legislatures had passed laws making various holidays legal bank holidays within their states, but there were no laws making any holidays legal bank holidays within the District of Columbia. The people in the district, of course, considered certain days to be holidays, which caused problems for bankers and businesses if, for example, a payment was due on one of these days. The bankers wanted Congress (which had the authority to make local laws for the District of Columbia) to pass legislation making four holidays legal banking holidays within the district, putting it into law that any financial transactions or payment due dates that fell on these days would be legally considered to be dated on the day previous to the holiday.

The bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Grant in 1870 did not make Christmas or the three other holidays federal holidays. The Act was titled “An Act making the first day of January, the twenty-fifth day of December, the fourth day of July, and Thanksgiving day, holidays, within the District of Columbia,” and, as its title says, only applied to the District of Columbia. This short, one-section law simply stated that these four days:

“shall be holidays within the District of Columbia, and for all purposes of presenting for payment or acceptance for the maturity and protest, and giving notice of dishonor of bills of exchange, bank checks, and promisory notes or other negotiable or commercial paper, be treated and considered as is the first day of the week, commonly called Sunday, and all notes, drafts, checks, or other commercial or negotiable paper falling due, or maturing on either of said holidays shall be deemed as having matured on the day previous.”

How Christmas and the other holidays ended up becoming federal holidays was that the 1870 law making these days legal holidays for everybody in the District of Columbia meant that they were also holidays for those federal government employees who happened to work within the district. Nothing, however, said that they had to get paid for these holidays. What changed this was that some federal employees in the District of Columbia were getting paid for the holidays, but others weren’t. This led to a grievance being filed a few years later by some District of Columbia federal employees who hadn’t gotten paid for New Year’s Day while other federal employees in the district had gotten paid. The House committee to whom this grievance was referred concluded that all federal employees in the district should be treated equally, and that even though no legislation required that any of them be paid for holidays, if some of them were being paid all of them should be paid.

But this paid holidays decision still only applied to the federal employees working in the District of Columbia. This led to complaints from federal employees in the rest of the country, who naturally considered it unfair that federal employees in the District of Columbia were getting paid for holidays and they weren’t. So, in 1885, Congress passed the following joint resolution, making the four holidays in the 1870 District of Columbia law, plus Washington’s birthday, which had also become a legal holiday in the District of Columbia by then, paid holidays for all per diem federal employees, regardless of where in the country they were working.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the Employees of the Navy Yard, Government Printing Office, Bureau of Printing and Engraving, and all other per diem employees of the Government on duty at Washington, or elsewhere in the United States, shall be allowed the following holidays, to wit: The first day of January, the twenty-second day of February, the fourth day of July, the twenty-fifth day of December, and such days as may be designated by the President as days for national thanksgiving,* and shall receive the same pay as on other days.

(*The reason for the vague “such days as may be designated by the President” language for Thanksgiving was that there was no set day for Thanksgiving at that time. Thanksgiving always being the last Thursday of November had caught on after Abraham Lincoln designated that day for 1863, but there was nothing saying it had to be that day. Another president could decide to make it different day, as Franklin Roosevelt did in 1939, when he moved it to the second to last Thursday to add a week to the Christmas shopping season to boost the economy.)

So, as you can see, the government making Christmas a federal holiday had nothing at all to do with recognizing the day for any religious reason. It was all because a local banking law for the District of Columbia led to it becoming necessary to make the day a paid holiday for all federal employees.

Mike Huckabee’s revisionist “Learn Our History” version of American history, however, repeats the widespread inaccuracy that it was President Grant (the same President Grant who pushed for a constitutional amendment prohibiting the teaching of religion in public schools) who made Christmas a federal holiday in 1870. In the real version of American history, the 1870 act signed by Grant merely made it a legal bank holiday in the District of Columbia. It was the 1885 joint resolution of Congress that made “the twenty-fifth day of December” a federal holiday, doing so without even mentioning the word Christmas. (Bill O’Reilly would certainly have had a field day with that! I can just hear him now calling Chester A. Arthur a pinhead!)

The time-traveling kids now decide that they’ve collected enough historical “facts,” and do a little recap:

Barley: “Hang on. Let me get this right. Christmas helped us win our freedom from England, and the founding fathers used the Bill of Rights to protect it, and then the government made it a federal holiday, and that helped it grow into the awesome holiday it is today?

Simon: “That’s right, Barley.”

Barley: “I think we’ve made our case right there.”

Connor: “Yeah, let’s go save Rev. Gallagher and the manger.”

Armed with their historical (mis)information, the kids transport themselves back to the present day, showing up at the hearing to save Rev. Gallagher’s religious display.

But the “history” the kids come back with doesn’t sway the evil, big-city, secularist troublemaker.

Jonah Matthews: “I will not relent! I will have you all arrested! You know nothing of the history of Christmas in America! It’s nothing like you say!”

Barley: “We got a book here that says you’re wrong, buddy.”

Barley then walks over to Jonah Matthews and shows him the copy of Washington Irving’s A History of New York, which, as I’ve already explained, was not a book of Christmas stories, but a mock history book filled with political satire.

Apparently, Mike Huckabee and his team of history experts, called the “Council of Masters” — seriously, he calls them the Council of Masters — had no idea what this book was, because this is how the story ends:

Jonah Matthews: “I remember this book. I had one just like it as a child, and it’s just that — a children’s book.”

Matthews then opens the book, and inscribed on the first page is a note from his father (apparently the mysterious stranger who gave the kids the book), which reads:

“To my boy Jonah,

“I hope you will always treasure these stories and remember all of our wonderful holidays together.

“Love, Dad”

An overwhelmed Matthews can barely speak.

Matthews: “H-h-how did you …?”

Barley: “Someone special thought we needed to have it. I guess he was right.”

At this point, the evil, big-city secularist Jonah Matthews — apparently overcome with emotion brought on by fond childhood memories of reading a book of nineteenth century political satire — immediately withdraws his complaint about the town’s religious holiday display, and Christmas is saved!

 

(The “Learn Our History” website says: “If you have any questions about the history as we portray it, or believe something is inaccurate, please email us at [email protected] so we can address your concerns,” so I have emailed this article to them. I shall be waiting with bated breath as the new year begins to see how the good folks at Mike Huckabee’s “Learn Our History,” with their Council of Masters, address my concerns.)

Dec 21 2013

The Young Turks on Bill O’Reilly’s “I covered four wars with a pen” (Must See VIDEO!)

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