Secretive National Prayer Breakfast Group, "The Family" Linked to Hobby Lobby Case
As I introduce my new Center Against Religious Extremism report Hobby Lobby Case Linked To Secretive National Prayer Breakfast Group, "The Family"),
In 2010 on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show, author Jeff Sharlet publicly accused "The Family", which hosts the National Prayer Breakfast, of being directly responsible for the notorious Uganda Anti Homosexuality Bill, signed into law in early 2014. As this Center Against Religious Extremism (CARE) special report demonstrates, The Family is also tightly linked, through its affiliate The Gathering, to the controversial Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case which gave broad new religious freedom rights to private corporations.
Last September, three generations of the Green family - owners of the Hobby Lobby craft store chain and central plaintiffs in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Case - attended The Gathering 2013 along with a Christian nonprofit that played a supporting "air traffic control" role in the Hobby Lobby case and also litigated Conestoga Woods v. Sebelius. Also present at The Gathering 2013 was the National Christian Foundation, which has funded the law nonprofits that litigated both the Conestoga and Hobby Lobby cases.
Because gay rights was the initial analytic vantage point from which I began studying "The Gathering", this new CARE report of mine is packed with with material on The Gathering as a central hub of evangelical anti-LGBTQ activism. But this concerns far more than gay rights. As I describe in my report,"[The Gathering is] a community of quietly but deeply radical billionaire Christian patrons helping bankroll a mounting global onslaught against LGBT rights, who have led attacks on public schools and unions and heavily fund creationism and global warming denialism".
The Gathering is now trying to re-brand itself - with two NYT op-ed writers scheduled to speak at The Gathering 2014. But funding of the culture wars by The Gathering foundations has, over the last decade, actually increased quite dramatically (see CARE report, The Gathering: The Religious Right's Cash Cow), and the Alliance Defending Freedom - which has participated in the World Congress of Families and worked with Russian legislators pushing anti-gay legislation - gave a presentation at The Gathering 2013.
On other politics of The Gathering - one interesting fact which says a lot is that the Winter 2005 issue of The Gathering's quarterly newsletter featured an op-ed from a Christian Reconstructionist pastor who argued that disobedient and morally incorrigible children should be executed, per Leviticus 20:9. The pastor argued that Jesus held that position. The Gathering has extensive ideological and organizational links to the Christian Reconstructionism movement.
The largest foundation which attends The Gathering - the National Christian Foundation - gave out roughly $670 million in grants in 2013 and is now ranked the 12th biggest nonprofit foundation in America that raises money from private sources, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. NCF funding of anti-gay organizations and ministries, active from Uganda to Russia, is so extensive that I've taken to describing the NCF as the most prolific funder of anti-gay activism in the United States. One of my ongoing CARE projects has been the creation of a growing mini-encyclopedia just to catalog and describe all the anti-gay causes that the the National Christian Foundation bankrolls. ( see: The National Christian Foundation Anti-LGBT Funding Encyclopedia.)
I'd post the whole report here, but it's a bit too long. Some other useful bits:"The community represented at this annual event - whose membership and foundations give upwards of one billion dollars a year in grants - serves as the financial wing of The Family and represents the main private funding stream bankrolling the ongoing culture wars (see Twocare.org special report, The Gathering: The Religious Right's Cash Cow), including the mounting international onslaught on LGBT rights and the legal campaign against Obamacare."
Last year, from September 12-15, 2013 at the plush Phoenician Hotel in Scottsdale - a Versailles of the desert which bills itself as "Arizona's premier luxury resort destination", leading American evangelicals on the hard religious and political right, members of multimillionaire and billionaire clans - including owners of the Hobby Lobby chain - who represent some of the world's biggest fortunes gathered, socialized, dined and, as they do every year at The Gathering, laid plans for the slow motion religious, cultural, legal, and governmental re-engineering of, and Christian supremacist hegemony over, America and the world.
The Gathering community includes many of the richest family dynasties on the Christian right. In any given year at the Gathering one might find members and representatives of the billionaire Green, Coors, DeVos, Prince, Friess, Maclellan, DeMoss, and Ahmanson families, as well as heads of the Templeton foundation and the gargantuan National Christian Foundation, now the 12th biggest charitable foundation in America that raises money from private sources according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
The NCF is one of the biggest single funders of The Fellowship Foundation and the Wilberforce Foundation, The Family's two key nonprofits (see footnote.) NCF funding of these two nonprofits, from 2001-2012, topped $5.4 million dollars.
Giving their testimony of faith at the inaugural speech of The Gathering 2013 - inside the lavish air-conditioned hotel ensconced by The Phoenician's water park and 27-hole golf course sustained by extravagant irrigation amidst the red crumbling hills of drought-plagued Arizona - were Mart and Tyler Green of the Green Family, whose patriarch Hobby Lobby founder David Green has been identified by Forbes magazine as the "Biblical Billionaire Backing The Evangelical Movement", the biggest funder of evangelical causes in America.
Enthused Mart Green, "We enjoy having three generations here at The Gathering." His family's credo, he explained, was: "Love God intimately, live extravagant generosity." Green spoke about his ongoing project to facilitate the translation of the Bible into developing world languages; his son Tyler talked of the burden of wealth - the need to give wisely.
It was not the first time Greens had addressed The Gathering - in 2008, Mart Green briefed The Gathering community on his family's $70 million-plus bailout of financially troubled Oral Roberts University. But there was nothing in Mart and Tyler Green's brief, almost perfunctory 20-minute testimony to explain what pressing reason might have led three generations of Greens to make the nearly 1,000 mile multi-generational pilgrimage from their Oklahoma City area homes to Scottsdale, near Phoenix, Arizona, to attend The Gathering 2013.
But suspiciously close at hand were the Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Conestoga Woods v. Sebelius cases destined to soon be merged into the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case in which, in a momentous and highly controversial June 30, 2014 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the contraceptive mandate that had been added to the Affordable Care Act by the Department of Health and Human Services and held that private corporations such as Hobby Lobby can have religious freedom rights.
Joining the Greens at The Gathering 2013 was Alan Sears, president of the biggest Christian law nonprofit in America, the Alliance Defending Freedom, which was then litigating a whopping 19 out of the 40-odd lawsuits - including the Conestoga Woods v. Sebelius case - filed in Federal district courts across the country that sought to exempt private for-profit corporations from reproductive health care mandates in the Affordable Care Act.
The choice to hold The Gathering 2013 in Scottsdale is quite suggestive of the major role the ADF played in the event - Scottsdale, Arizona happens to be the headquarters of the massive Alliance Defending Freedom. And it was not the first time The Gathering has been held in the Arizona location. In 2006, as legal battles over same-sex marriage were breaking out across the nation, The Gathering was also held in Scottsdale.
Then in 2009 - as the pivotal Hollingsworth v. Perry case challenging the constitutionality of California's anti-same sex marriage ballet amendment Proposition 8 was underway, with Alliance Defense Fund lawyers litigating in favor of Prop 8 - The Gathering was again held in Scottsdale, though the official program of the conference made no mention of an ADF briefing. Hollingsworth v. Perry was one of the ADf's rare defeats; the law nonprofit boasts that it has won 80% of its cases.
[Note: The Gathering members, and Gathering-funded nonprofits and their board members represented an astonishing 7 out of the top 12 contributors who funded the 2008 pro-Proposition 8 campaign. Howard Ahmanson, Jr.'s Fieldstead & Co. gave $1,395,000; John ("Jack") Templeton, head of the John Templeton Foundation, gave $1,100,000; the National Organization for Marriage gave $1,041,134.80; Focus On the Family chipped in $539,643.66; the American Family Association contributed $500,000; Elsa Prince-Broekhuizen, mother of Erik Prince and Betsy DeVos, and who has served on the boards of several NCF and The Gathering-funded nonprofits including Focus On The Family, Focus On The Family Action, and the Council For National Policy, gave $450,000; Concerned Women for America kicked in $409,000.]
During a special ADF briefing at The Gathering 2006, ADF President Sears - who is co-author of the 2003 anti-gay book "The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing The Principle Threat To Religious Freedom Today", which accuses the LGBT rights movement of having "followed a strategy akin to what Hitler used in the 1920s and 1930s to take over Germany" (page 27) - painted for his Gathering audience a bleak portrait of the dark days prior to the launch of the ADF in 1994: "Hillary Health Care was on its way... Much of country's religious heritage had been decimated..."