More Fear-Mongering from the Texas Renewal Project

by Dan Quinn

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (speaking in a recorded message) and his father Rafael warned about religious persecution, homosexual domination of pulpits, and churches forced to hire pedophiles at a gather of about 1,000 pastors and their spouses in Austin this week, according to one of the attendees of the Texas Renewal Project event.

The Texas Renewal Project — launched in 2005 as the Texas Restoration Project — provides free lodging and meals for attendees who come to listen to select politicians and religious-right leaders demand that Christians assert control over American government. (Not just any Christians, mind you. They’re talking about fundamentalist Christians with a particular right-wing political view.) The funding source is unknown, but major campaign donors to then-Gov. Rick Perry paid for the six events in 2005. All of those events featured speeches by Perry in the run-up to his re-election race the next year.

In addition to Abbott and the Cruzes, this week’s event featured former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Huckabee and Ted Cruz are both seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2016. David Barton, the phony historian and head of Texas-based WallBuilders, was among the religious-right leaders who spoke.

You can read the full report from the two-day gathering at Talk to Action here. Some excerpts:

Texas Governor Greg Abbott was the first featured speaker.  He reminded the audience of mostly pastors that there is a rising tide of hostility against religion threatening all of us.  He suggested pastors need to pass out voter guides in the church to help elect better leaders.  To guard against the loss of religious liberty he boasted he was the one as Attorney General who kept the Ten Commandment Monument on the lawn at the state capital. …

[Rafael Cruz] said the Danbury letter, used in history to defend separation of church and state in America, means that the wall is only one way.  That is, the wall of separation was set up to protect the church from government intervention, not vice versa. (First Amendment scholars disagree with his conclusion.) The ex-Communist next told us that in 1962, prayer was banned from public schools. In 1963, the Bible was banned. He said that Homosexual pastors can now come to your church and if you refuse to hire them you will be sued for Civil Rights violation. He next listed what he said were several lies from Democratic candidates. He gave his civics opinion on the American system of government. He proposed the Biblical version of government is local control, not Federal. He went on to state that the majority of pastors hide behind the pulpit scared to death of losing their tax exempt status. …

Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee was the last orator. He boasted he knows the prime Minister of Israel personally. He compared him to Winston Churchill. This friendship helped Mike to better understand the recent treaty with Iran. Huckabee said the Iran deal is phony. It places the world in great harm according to the candidate. He said we finance Iran’s military strength and Iran can then use this military weaponry against us. He noted through this treaty America is under contract to attack Israel instead of Iran in case of an Iranian attack on Israel. Mike noted our nation punished productive people and rewards slackers. We need to scrap the IRS  and the current tax code. He wants to replace this with a flat tax. There will be no income tax in his administration if he is elected. …

One of the underling themes of the meeting was the “what might happen” factor. There was little justification for the warnings. I spoke with religious liberty experts who assured me there wasn’t any push by anyone to force churches to hire gay pastors. Churches did not operate under the same guidelines as a business. [David] Barton stated that if a pedophile wanted to be hired by a church to work with children, the church could be sued if they did not hire him. I asked Barton in the hallway if he really meant this.  He assured me there were already court cases of pedophiles seeking to be hired in churches to work with children.

I spoke with several participants who sat there listening to these things. The ones I spoke to did not find the pedophile story outlandish. As in recent visits to these types of meetings, I have noted a common willingness to believe statements, no matter how outlandish. Barton has stated before that ministers who read from the book of Romans from the pulpit can now be arrested by the Federal Government.

Barton and Rafael Cruz have made similar arguments at earlier gatherings of the Texas Renewal Project. (See here and here, for example.)