Religious Freedom Is Being Weaponized

Under the guise of religious freedom, The Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (CPCF) and the Federalist Society are pushing their hardline religious ideology into halls of power.

August 30, 2019

Here's what you need to know

Amidst the theatrics of national politics, it is easy to lose sight of what policies are having an impact. That distinction rests in state legislatures and in the federal judiciary. The Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (CPCF) and the Federalist Society are two religious hardliner groups. They advocate for legislation and judicial nominations and hires. Many of their judges push for policies and legal rulings that are hostile toward American Muslims and other marginalized communities. Organizations like Prager University (PragerU) work to recruit new members into the fold. As the adage says, "all politics is local," these far-right groups are building lasting power at the state and judiciary levels. We must remain engaged if we are to protect our communities against these harms and uphold the vision of an inclusive America.

Here are the details

Last year, Religion Dispatches broke the story of Project Blitz. This state-level campaign is a product of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (CPCF). The CPCF, a coalition of Christian groups, seeks to redefine faith in an exclusionary way. These groups intend to flood statehouses with legislation and shift the religious freedom debate. Through these proposals, comes increased discrimination. They also advocate for anti-LGBTQ policies on adoption and marriage. Under Project Blitz, CPCF frames those who oppose their legislation as “anti-faith.” 

Last week, Steven Menashi was nominated for a judgeship for the 2nd US Circuit Court of appeals. Menashi has a history of misogyny, homophobia and far-right dog whistling. He is just the latest of a historic number of judges appointed to the federal judiciary since 2017. A majority of judges come from the Federalist Society. They use a literalist interpretation of the Constitution to stage a judicial “counterrevolution.” Through these appointments, the Federalist Society has built lasting power. Senators and Representatives are pushing back. Their friend-of-the-court briefs criticize the Federalist Society’s “project” and outsized influence.

"Intensely partisan videos" further the movement. Organizations like Prager University (PragerU), an online video production company, echo alt-right ideology. PragerU creates videos railing against multiculturalism. They offer the CPCF and Federalist Society a stream of indoctrinated young people. According to the LA Times, PragerU has had “more success rallying young people … than many campaign committees.” 

These groups receive funding from the same sources. The Federalist Society raised $20 million in 2017, with $300,000 coming from the Koch brothers. According to the LA Times, PragerU enjoys $23 million in funding, also from the same group of far-right, billionaires. 

In her work, author and scholar Asma Uddin sketches out a well-integrated machine; one working to bring about lasting legislative and legal change. Her book, “When Islam is Not a Religion,” discusses the religious right’s efforts to use religious freedom laws to exclude Muslims and Islam. Two Supreme Court rulings from earlier this year show the problem with bias. Uddin’s other work focuses on Project Blitz and the Federalist Society. Both organizations pose a threat to religious freedom and human rights law. They work in statehouses, courts, and halls of public opinion to advance their goals. Uddin analyzes how these groups argue that “Islam is not a religion.” They use these tactics to take away respect, protection, or dignity from Muslims.

We can protect against these harms and uphold American pluralism by remaining engaged. We must keep in mind where politics is most impactful: at the state and local levels. There, we can uphold the vision of American pluralism. Both as voters and as stewards of an inclusive America. 




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