Editor’s note: Below are the video and transcript of remarks given by a panel on “Religious Liberty Under Attack” at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s 2018 Restoration Weekend. The event was held Nov. 15th-18th at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida.
Mark Tapson: It’s a big topic. I’m sure they’ll have a lot to say, but we’ll try to leave time for some questions, for some Q&A. First, Tony Perkins. He’s a veteran Marine, former police officer, ordained minister, and a pro‑family and pro-life political leader as a former Louisiana state representative. He is the longest-serving President of the Family Research Council, which I’m sure you’ve heard of, and the other gentleman, I think some of you may have heard of – David Horowitz – founder of the Freedom Center, prolific author, the left’s most feared and hated apostate, and a tireless intellectual warrior for conservatives. Ladies and gentleman, please welcome them both up to the stage.
David, I’m going to start with you, though. You’ve written a book coming out in February, which Chris Ruddy mentioned. Its entitled Dark Agenda – The War to Destroy Christian America. I want to just set the scene if I may with a quote from it. It goes like this, “When the first amendment was adopted in 1791, the principle that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion was plainly understood by every American including law makers and judges. Today the free exercise of religion has ceased to be a guaranteed right in America. Instead, it has become a battlefield.“ So, before we examine how we got to this point, in what ways do we see religious freedom under attack today?
David Horowitz: Well, it’s under attack all over. Let me just give a little background of Chris Ready’s response. He came up with the idea. He said it might be interesting to have an agnostic Jew former radical write about the war against Christians, and I tended to look at it as a pretty much secular person but with a lot of respect for religious people. As a parochial issue, religious freedom is under attack. The attack goes like this, those of you that have been to Washington know there is a Capitol visitor’s center that paid $680‑odd billion dollars to build, and they systematically expunged all of the religious roots of this country from the visitor’s center. They did it to Lincoln’s desk. There is no bible on it. There’s an In God We Trust and they shod it so you can’t see In God We Trust. They gave the country a different, I forget, the motto. It’s really something obscure, anti-religious. You would never know the name of this person. What I discovered in doing the book is that the essence of this country, the core principles that make us Americans, the idea of pluralism, the idea of equality of all people is rooted in the Protestant Reformation. Ninety-eight percent of the people who settled this country and created America were Protestants, believing Protestants, and 1.9 percent were Catholics, and there were a couple of Jews. There are really two core doctrines of the Protestant Reformation. One is the salvation by faith because Christians understand that the source of all our social problems is us, individuals, very important. We are flawed. That’s why we have checks and balances in our government because they understood that the people in government are just the same people causing the problems except they have a lot more power, and so they were more dangerous.
The second doctrine was the priesthood of all believers as the Protestant Reformation was a revolt against the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church was selling indulgences. If you want to get into heaven, you have to go through them. Like, whether you’re going to heaven or hell, you have to go through Atlanta, but the Church was the institution, and there were these governments in Europe that favored one or established a religion and then they persecuted the other religions. So the priesthood of all believers is a revolutionary doctrine, and it is why we have pluralism and why we have this notion of equality. It’s each individual and their creator, and as I point out in the book, especially to my late friend, Christopher Hitchens, who went on a very misguided war against God, this country could only have been created by Protestants. It could not be created by atheists like Christopher because what makes this country this country is the idea that we are endowed by a Creator with certain unalienable rights. If there is no Creator, the government gives the rights and they take them away, so this was a revelation for me that the doctrine of religious freedom in the first amendment is the core of what it means to be American, and our global enemy, which is Islam, is conducting a campaign which Tony can tell you more about because he’s on the committee for international religious freedom. Their goal is to reinstitute the blasphemy laws that outlaw anything but Islam, which is what our forefathers, the Protestants, were escaping in Europe essentially; their form of Christianity was a form of blasphemy. Its relentless.
How many of you are familiar with the baker in Colorado? This is a man, just the kind of attack from what I call vigilante gays. The activist gays are different from Milo, from most gays actually who basically just want to be accepted, and they went after this baker because he was a Christian baker and that he’s very famous. It’s a masterpiece bake shop, and he said when they came in, that they wanted him to make a cake for their gay marriage, and he said I will make you any cake you want but I could no more have a cake that symbolized gay marriage than I could one that was anti-American because it’s against my religious conscience, and they conducted a campaign to destroy his business. It cost him something like $170,000 in legal fees. The Supreme Court finally ruled that their attacks were discriminatory, but he’s still under attack. They go in deliberately, and when they wanted him to make a cake the same, and this was backed 100 percent by the Obama Administration. I picked this because it seemed like a little modest thing. The guy has a bake shop, but it’s a war. That’s the way they fight it.
Tapson: Tony, did you want to add anything to that about the Protestant roots?
Tony Perkins: Yeah, I going to jump in by I didn’t want you to take my mic and that I’d have to take to court and sue you. Actually, I wanted to add to David’s point, because it’s very significant. The last point about the baker because that’s a key part of the Protestant ethic, and Samuel Huntington, former Harvard professor, the late Harvard professor, wrote about that. In terms of Protestants, they saw their work as an extension of their worship. In fact, in the New Testament, it says whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do all onto the glory of God, and they came here to the United States not just for the freedom of worship, which is a term that the Obama Administration used. It’s also a term that is used even by the more progressive Muslim countries, freedom of worship, much different than the freedom of religion.
The freedom of religion is the ability to live your life according to your faith whether it’s in the marketplace, whether it’s in the training of your children. It extends to every aspect of life, and that’s where we see the great conflict right now over religious freedom in the marketplace – the baker at Masterpiece Cake Shop. That’s just one of many cases. In fact there’s a couple of more cases pending before the Supreme Court in similar occupations. There is a bakery out of Oregon. They’ve appealed to the Supreme Court to take their case as well. It is the ability to live and conduct your business according to your faith. Huntington and others have argued that is why America has been so successful is that we didn’t work for work alone, but we work for something greater than ourselves and that’s what makes our economy work. It doesn’t mean that everybody shares that viewpoint, but it is the foundation of America’s ethic that is unique to this country, and that is really what’s at stake. It spills over into our democratic process, our republic. It spills over into the marketplace, into our education system, into our home. All of that is at stake in this debate over religious freedom.
Tapson: David, you mentioned a minute ago about freedom of conscience being, as you put it in the book, “the cornerstone of American pluralism and that it makes possible our diversity and everyone’s equality under the law, our ability to coexist.“ Well, diversity and coexistence – why would the left find any of that objectionable? What is driving the left’s animus against religion?
Horowitz: Heresy. The reason the left hates Christians is because it hates America. Pelagius believed that sin was against human nature, that to commit a sin you have to go against your nature. That basically people were good at heart, and therefore Pelagius believed that the Catholic Church believed that if you were a devout Christian and just followed the morality, the path that Jesus laid out, then we could create heaven on earth. We would solve all human problems, and St. Augustine was the voice of the church and the doctrine of the church was that sin was built into all of us, with references to original sin. The sin of Adam and Eve, which is the sin of pride, which is their arrogance, remember the serpent, who was a Leftist, tells them if you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil–if you know evil, you shall be as God, and this is the Left. The Left is the Pelagiun heresy. The Left believes that people are good and some mystical entity called society is bad, but society is only a reflection of who we are, and so it’s really a counter crypto-religion and that’s why it’s really a fight to the death.
My book concludes with–and I had a discussion with Tony before I didn’t realize it was as different as it was– that the salvation was I see it of our country at this moment was the election of Donald Trump and evangelical Christians were responsible for that.
Perkins: We’re not responsible for everything. Actually, Dave and I were talking about that earlier, and I get this question repeatedly. Two years after the election I still have reporters trying to shame evangelicals for supporting Donald Trump, and my response is: what was the alternative? Hillary Clinton? Give me a break. Most of us were not with Donald Trump in the primary, but when it came down the general election we had a choice between Barack Obama on steroids and in high heels or we had Donald Trump, because Hillary Clinton was just going to accelerate the programs and policies of Barack Obama, and what I have said is that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are responsible for driving evangelicals into the arms of Donald Trump because for 8 years he systematically attacked everything that we believed in and our ability to live according to our faith, and we are two years after the 2016 election, and I make no apologies for supporting Donald Trump and continuing to support him. I think he is the best thing that has happened to this country and has saved this republic.
Horowitz: It was a natural confrontation. Christians understand that we’re all sinners, so there’s a certain latitude in that depending on the degree of your sins, and Obama is a Marxist trader and believes a believer in an earthly redemption carried out by politicians who have enough power that they can put you in gulags when you disagree with them. Obama comes from the same background that I did, but he never left.
Tapson: There was one faith-based website, I can’t remember which one it was, but they had described Obama as America’s most biblically hostile President. Would you say that’s pretty accurate?
Perkins: It was not indifference which we’re accustomed to from political figures. This was outright hostility. I mean going after the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns who care for the least of these, forcing them, I mean it’s nonsensical just on its face, forcing them to provide for contraceptives in their healthcare plan.
Horowitz: They’re all in taking care of very elderly poor people. It’s a heroic story, the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Perkins: And the Jack Phillips, the cake bakers, the florist, the coaches, the list goes on, and what’s happened is Barack Obama opened the door of outright hostility. I’ll give just kind of an example. Prior to Barack Obama’s election, and I’ve been at FRC for 15 years and I do a lot of media, television, anyone want to venture what network I was on the most prior to Barack Obama’s election? I was actually hardly ever on Fox. I was on MSNBC more than any of network, followed by CNN, followed by Fox. I haven’t been on MSNBC in 8 years because they don’t want to have a conversation. Barack Obama, they came out of the closet as the opposition party to America and to conservatism with the election of Barack Obama, and we see that continuing with Donald Trump as President. The media is no longer objective reporters. They are the opposition party in America and they are out front about that, and what he has done is basically waved the flag to every leftist group in America to attack, and at the center of that attack, the crosshairs are on Orthodox religious expression and now we see coming up actually before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed to take a case which is a very significant case. They’ll be hearing this term. It’s the Bladensburg cross case. Some of you may have heard of that. It’s in Bladensburg, Maryland. It’s called the peace cross. It’s been there for 94 years. It’s a World War I monument. It’s a 40‑foot tall cross.
The significance of this case is if the lower court ruling prevails and this cross has to be taken down because it’s on city property or county property, this would mean the crosses in Arlington and every other memorial would have to be eventually because of the precedent setting nature of this case could be and most probably would be torn down. Now, what’s behind this? Well, we see the exclusion. We’ve seen this progression of the exclusion of religion from the public square. You may have seen a couple of weeks ago after the shooting in California in Thousand Oaks where again people said we’re praying for the victims, which is a compassionate and a normal response. It doesn’t stop there but you pray. Well, the media outright mocking Christians for prayers, that’s all designed to silence the religious voice in America. Monuments are a reminder. In fact in the Old Testament, were you see these monuments that were erected after significant events whether it was the crossing of the Jordan or other events, those were for subsequent generations so that they would look back and remember what was this about. They’re systematically seeking to tear those down because they have already eradicated the teaching of that in our schools, so now any reflection of our past in that Christian heritage that we have as a nation will also be removed. It’s a very significant case. First Liberty Institute is the one handling the case, and arguments will probably be sometime this spring with a decision in the summer.
Horowitz: In wiping out of religious presence began with the prayer and the schools’ decisions in the 60s, and one of things I did in my book was to look at the people who were responsible for driving prayer out of the schools and the most significant figure was somebody you might know they had name, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, was a lunatic. What you may not know is right before she launched this campaign to drive religion out of the schools, she went to Europe with her family to defect to the Soviet Union. This was in the middle of the Cold War. She referred to America as a gulag run by New York Jewish bankers. That’s who Madalyn Murray O’Hair was. And I hate it when people call them liberals because liberals, except for the man we’re going to honor tonight, Alan Dershowitz, that’s the only liberal. Liberals are vindictive bigots, is what they are, but I can’t remember if it was 6 or 9. The vote was even 7 to 2 or 8 to 1 in her favor. The Supreme Court is the most dangerous branch of government. It’s completely undemocratic. I mean these are all appointees. None of them are elected. They have lifetime jobs. In taking it the Supreme Court does, it’s such a weapon for the left. It means that tiny minority, like anybody who would think that Madalyn Murray O’Hair should be listened to, can change the fundamental law of the land. Of course, there is a series of religious right. Religious people tended until 1973 to stay out of politics. Religious right was created by the Roe v. Wade decision, which was another atrocity that the court put through. They invent rights that aren’t in the constitution and they assert them and then this whatever it is 7 or 8 people decide for a country of 200 or 300 million without going through legislative debate. I mean we have courts. We have legislatures. We have state legislatures. There are ways to adjudicate these issues and make compromises. This was the design of the Founders. In my view, I’d be happy if the Supreme Court were just stripped of all its review power.
Tapson: The left continually uses this phrase “wall of separation between church and state” to bludgeon religious freedom. Can you talk about that supposed wall?
Perkins: Well, it’s a phrase taken from a private letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to a group of Baptists, and Baptists are always discontent. I’m a Baptist. They were a minority at the time. Actually they happen to be the majority religion now in terms of the Protestant largest denomination. At the time they were the smallest, and they were contacted that they were going to be forced to fund the competition down the street and that the government would lean on them, and Thomas Jefferson said no. There’s a wall of separation between the state reaching into the business of the Church. We’ve reversed that now and where they used that to say that the Church cannot reach into and influence state, and so it’s often misapplied but it is used almost as Silly Putty and it’s stretched to when pastors speak out that they’re violating the separation of church and state, but they can’t. They’re not the state, but it deals more with the establishment clause more accurately stated of the government established in a religion and that’s really what’s at heart in this case I just mentioned. Is a monument recognizing the sacrifice of veterans, is that an over entanglement by the government in establishing a religion? I don’t see how a monument which for nearly 100 years has stood, and no one’s ever said a word about it. Now all of a sudden it’s a violation of the establishment clause of the constitution.
This goes back to the court that David was talking about, and if you look at every significant case that involves religion, these issues have not been dealt with by a legislative body, whether it goes back to 1962 and ‘63, prayer and bible in the school, whether it was abortion, whether it was the ten commandments coming out of the classrooms or coming out of the courtrooms or in the most recent decision on the redefinition of marriage. These are moral issues, spiritual issues that were not dealt with by the congress or legislative body. In fact, the opposite. The American people very clearly spoke out on the issue of marriage but yet the court circumvented our process of how we arrive at consensus and mandated and imposed a verdict on the American people by one vote and that’s why in part it was part of 2016 election with that vacancy on the court. It brought it forward not as a theoretical issue but a very practical and real issue and it was a number one issue for evangelicals in their voting for Donald Trump and Mike Pence was the Supreme Court, and I believe we saw it from the left’s perspective in the Kavanaugh hearings. I was there. Unbelievable. In fact, when he was at the court being sworn in, they literally were clawing at the door of the Supreme Court.
Horowitz: These are dangerous, dangerous people.
Perkins: It should show us what’s at stake. They know what’s at stake. It is their ability to impose their world view on America. The court is the only way they can do that.
Audience Question: I’m wondering if you believe that the Muslim God, Allah, is the same as the Christian God and plays the same role as the Creator that we were just recognizing as the essence of this country that gives us these rights and how you would feel and whether you want to see Muslim symbols of their religion in all of the public places as well, 40 feet high, etc.?
Horowitz: I don’t presume to know who God is. I can’t answer the first part of your question, but according to the Prophet Muhammad, the Muslim god wants to see all Jews exterminated in so many words and has an attitude towards all other religions which is imperialistic and wants to suppress them, and they’ve killed in the name of Allah half a million Christians and Yazidis in the last decade, so no. I don’t think it’s quite the same thing. When Islam undergoes a reformation and treats women as human beings and when it renounces its imperialistic designs on the rest of the world, yeah, then it would be the same thing.
Perkins: As a Christian, I do not believe that. I believe that as Jesus said, that I am the way, the truth, and the light. No man comes to the Father but by me. That is not the beliefs of the Islamic faith. I believe in religious freedom and as a Christian I’m not afraid to stand and debate the tenants of the Christian faith with anyone else of any other, and that’s what is unique about America is that we can have people come to the forefront but what has not allowed us to fully express our faith in this country is that there has been a handicap placed on Christians, whether it’s been through court decisions or whether it’s been through this political correctness imposed on our schools where we feel like we have to give advantage to minority religions. I think they have every right to practice their faith in this country, and if they can win over a majority of Americans to believe the way they do, then….
Horowitz: God help us.
Perkins: Exactly, but I do not think that we should arbitrarily limit the freedoms of people just because of the faith that they have. I believe that America even in the marketplace of ideas it works for faith too, because I feel firmly in the Christian faith as we have seen that it produces the best results, that if we have the ability to proclaim that faith and debate the merits of that faith we will prevail.
Tapson: Thank you Tony Perkins. Thank you David Horowitz. Thank you, everybody.