Freedom Federation enters health care fray
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Aug 31, 2009 at 11:59:04 AM EST
Struggling to find an identity and a larger audience, a number of long-time hard-core Religious Right groups have joined together to launch the Freedom Federation

The summer had barely begun. Worldwide attention was focused on the death of Michael Jackson and the cable news shock troops were on it 24/7. Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, had yet to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Tea Party movement, which showed some signs of life on Tax Day, was fizzling out. "Birthers" - right wing activists convinced that President Obama was not born in the U.S. - were smoldering on the sidelines. The right's assault on Obama's health care proposals was still weeks away.    

With the Christian right grasping at anti-Obama straws, a group of seasoned "culture warriors" filed into the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in late June, to announce the formation of the Freedom Foundation, a new consortium of Christian conservative organizations.  

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld might have called it a meeting of dead-enders. Some might have seen it as a gathering of the bewitched, bothered and bewildered!

Now, nearly two months later, in an attempt to counter President Obama's health care reform outreach to the faith community, the Freedom Federation - touting "Real Hope. Real Change. Real Freedom" at it website -- held another Washington, D.C. press conference to warn legislators not to act precipitously on health care when they return from their August recess.

Freedom Federation will serve as a `stop sign' on health care reform, says Ken Blackwell  

Speaking for the organization, Ken Blackwell, former Ohio Secretary of State and now a senior fellow for family empowerment at the Family Research Council said that the Freedom Federation "will be a stop sign and say, `Let's apply reason and thought and broaden participation.'" Organization spokespersons say that some of their major concerns about health care reform revolves around "taxpayer-supported abortion, rationed health care for the elderly and government control of personal health decisions," USA Today recently reported.

Some Federation spokespersons admit that while there may be some problems with the health care system, basically it works well. Wendy Wright, President of Concerned Women For America took note of the passing of senator Ted Kennedy by pointing out that when he "faced a serious health problem he did not go to England, he did not go to Canada, he did not go to a country that has a government plan. He sought treatment in the country that he believed had the best treatment available, and that is America. That is a lesson that we can take from Ted Kennedy."

While some Religious Right leaders have tried to recalibrate their agendas, long-time Christian Right organizations like Tony Perkins' Family Research Council, the Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Association, Lou Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition, and Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, are firmly rooted in the past. Digging in their heels, they are firmly committed to re-building their movement with the same old anti-abortion and anti-gay agenda. That retro agenda was on full display at the Freedom Federation's inaugural press conference in June.

Dead-enders revival?  

The Freedom Federation was pulled together by Mathew Staver, the head of a conservative legal outfit called Liberty Counsel. Its first press conference included such folks as Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America, Rick Scarborough from Vision America, Gary Bauer of the Campaign for Working Families, Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition, Kenneth Blackwell of the Family Research Council, and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.  Also represented were Exodus International, a group that promises "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ"; Morning Star Ministries, which, according to the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, "recently hosted the Spiritual Warfare Conference"; and Donald Wildmon's American Family Association, the undisputed king of the right-wing boycott.

"This federation is bringing together the different voices, the different faces, that all believe in the same core principles," Wendy Wright pointed out. "The federation begins to give voice [to] folks who represent individual freedom," Kenneth Blackwell noted.

Although Blackwell, who was soundly defeated in the 2006 Ohio's governor's race and who more  recently lost out to Michael Steele as head of the Republican National Committee, maintained that the Freedom Federation has "no allegiance as a federation to either party," Milbank pointed out that "federation politics are no secret." For example, Bauer's Campaign for Working Families is working on a campaign to "stop Obama's socialism"; Lafferty's TVC, Milbank reported, is "trying to stop `Obamunists' from destroying private health care."  

The Federation's founding document, "The Declaration of American Values," calls for: protections for the unborn; "embracing the union of one man and one woman as the sole form of legitimate marriage"; securing parental rights and "control of their children"; "freedom to acknowledge God through our public institutions."  The Federation's founders closed with: "We hereby pledge our Names, our Lives and our Sacred Honor to this Declaration of American Values."  

'The first multi-ethnic transgenerational evangelical Christian federation in history,' claims Samuel Rodriguez

Samuel Rodriguez's claimed that the group "will stand as the first multi-ethnic transgenerational evangelical Christian federation in history." Rodriguez was a signatory to a document titled "Come Let Us Reason Together: A Fresh Look at Shared Cultural Values Between Evangelicals and Progressives," a document aimed at establishing "common ground" between evangelicals and liberal religious leaders. And more recently, he supported the "Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Pregnant Women and Parents Act" -- a bill in support of abortion reduction that was introduced in Congress by Representatives Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) - legislation that has been roundly criticized as being a backdoor funding spigot for Planned Parenthood by the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins.

Speaking about immigration at the initial Freedom Federation press conference, Rodriguez pointed out that "... you'll see coming with the federation not a compromise on core values but a fresh articulation of our biblical worldview."  And although the founding Declaration states that it supports "promoting immigration policies that observe the rule of law and are just, fair, swift, and foster national unity," how that actually plays itself out may be a bitter pill to swallow for several of the attendees who have expressed anti-immigration sentiments.

And Bishop Harry Jackson, the chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, a network of mostly African-American and Hispanic ministries, sees the federation expanding the Religious Right's agenda: "The religious right has really, seemingly, specialized in dealing with a handful of issues and has not engaged in terms of political activism in issues that would be considered social justice issues."

"So the opportunity is for us to be relevant in terms of what's being decided now," he added, pointing to the environment, health care and immigration reform. "All of these issues have a biblical perspective that can unify us." There is no mention of the environment or health care in the founding Declaration.  

Jackson said the federation also hopes to change the "very severe image problem" that politically active Christians have in the culture. He said the federation's multiethnic membership will not only help change public perception but also provide more holistic policy recommendations.

Rodriguez's views on such "common ground" issues as abortion and immigration might get him in hot water with Freedom Federation colleagues. However, his strongly stated opposition to same-sex marriage - he told the Washington Post in early April that "The legalization of gay marriage in Iowa and Vermont should be seen as a declaration of war on traditional values," and he has been a major player in attempting to thwart the New York state legislature from passing supportive same-sex marriage legislation -- might bolster his Federation credibility.    

Although the McCain/Palin campaign tried to squeeze every ounce out of then-candidate Obama's use of the old "lipstick on a pig" metaphor, Ron Luce, the founder of Teen Mania, another Federation participant, appears to think that this is more about re-branding of Christian conservative then re-thinking their agenda. "Our interest is in trying to help shape the communication to the younger generation so they're more willing to embrace what the Bible says and live conservative values from the Scriptures," Luce said.

"The whole point of the federation is groups coming together saying, let us put a new face on and a new amiable stance in what we believe," he added. "Not changing what we believe, but a more amiable approach as well as a more thorough approach. It's not just two issues; we're talking about all kinds of issues and principles from Scriptures that we as believers ought to care about-not associating ourselves with a particular political party. It's about, let's live conservatively in our own personal lives and then let's make our voice known."




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