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First They Came for Rush and Lou Dobbs

The Catholic Bishops relearn the lesson of Pastor Niemöller and the totalitarian mindset. Will the UCC?

By 2.14.12

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"….in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside." -- John F. Kennedy, America's First Catholic President, in his Inaugural Address

First they came for Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs.

And the Catholic bishops did not speak out.

Now they are coming for the Catholic bishops.

Who will speak out now?

Not, alas, the United Church of Christ.

Let's go back into recent history -- 2009 to be exact.

It was a story that involved the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a blatant, full-on attack on the right of free speech and a free press -- the First Amendment. As I wrote here, here, here, here, here, and here three years ago, the Catholic bishops had managed to get their denomination involved in the leadership of a group calling themselves So We Might See.

What was So We Might See? It was presented by one of its prime sponsors, the United Church of Christ (alas my own denomination, of which more in a bit) as a group of the lofty like-minded religious simply concerned with violence in the media. Specifically, seven major denominations were involved. They were listed by the group as the United Church of Christ, U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Islamic Society of North America, United Methodist Communications, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and "several other faith groups."

In fact, under the guise of stamping out "hate speech," this instantly emerged as an effort -- partially funded by a $40,000 grant from the George Soros funded Media Democracy Fund -- to intimidate conservatives in the media through the Federal Communications Commission, when not getting them off the air completely. It turned out then-FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, previously a longtime Senate Democratic staffer, had even traveled to New York to meet privately on September 30, 2009, with the members of So We Might See before delivering a speech to an event sponsored by the liberal leadership of the UCC. A mere 16 days later the UCC had a petition going, in the name of So We Might See and its seven denominational members, which was to be sent to the Federal Communications Commission. It was a petition that featured one name and one name only.

Guesses please? Anyone? Anyone?

Very good! Yes! It was Rush Limbaugh, of course.

So We Might See went about this task by presenting to the FCC -- mind you this was after a closed door meeting between the group and a left-leaning FCC Commissioner -- with a Petition for Inquiry into Hate Speech in the Media and Request to update report on The Role of Telecommunications in Hate Crimes which you can find here. In which they preposterously accused Rush of being responsible for the beating of two Mexican men by four American teenagers. Why? Because he opposed illegal immigration in a broadcast.

Literature accompanying all of this went on to specifically call for getting Lou Dobbs off of television, (the "Drop Dobbs" campaign) as well as Glenn Beck, while targeting Bill O'Reilly and Michael Savage by name. It took little imagination to understand that there was an implied threat to other TV and radio conservatives like Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Fox News as well.

There was a considerable blowback from outraged Rush listeners and fans of the others when the news of my investigation, replete with links to original sources, appeared here in The American Spectator. The blowback hit the sponsors -- the coalition of seven major religious denominations -- like a tornado. The effort as presented effectively collapsed.

The Methodists withdrew from the campaign the day the first column was published. Crisply issuing a statement that said: "United Methodist Communications is not a sponsor of this coalition at this point. Our name was inadvertently added to the sponsorship list in error. It has now been removed."

Others retreated. And this is where this current imbroglio between the Catholic Church and the leftists inside and outside the Obama Administration over contraception and more gets interesting.

Yesterday, our friends at Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller reported a remarkable story that adds even further detail to what I had discovered in 2009 in terms of ties between the American Soros-funded left wing and the drive to fire or intimidate conservative media figures. In that instance using religious denominations, the Catholic Bishops and the United Church of Christ included, to help them. Carlson and reporters Vince Coglianese, Alex Pappas and Will Rahn paint a remarkably detailed story of just how far the effort to get conservatives off the air has gone.

Some fifty people, says the Daily Caller, were specifically assigned to get Don Imus off the air. Imus was not in the sights of So We Might See in 2009, having already returned to the air after his earlier controversy that Media Matters apparently helped to fan.

But their big next television target was Lou Dobbs, then at CNN. As it happened, as a result of my investigation into So We Might See and the use of religious institutions in the "Drop Dobbs" campaign, I appeared on what turned out to be Lou Dobbs last CNN show (seen here). To my astonishment, minutes before I walked into the studio, Lou Dobbs announced he was quitting. While I said to him on the show minutes later that the So We Might See connection to the "Drop Dobbs" campaign had now vanished from the site, still, Dobbs was leaving CNN (and is now happily at Fox, where ratings dwarf CNN). What I did not know that night was that Media Matters had been, as we now know from the Daily Caller, orchestrating the "Drop Dobbs" campaign. Which means that both the Catholic Bishops and the United Church of Christ had voluntarily linked themselves through their participation in So We Might See to what the Caller calls a "sophisticated campaign" to fire Lou Dobbs. The Caller quotes one Media Matters staffer as saying "flatly" that "We got him (Dobbs) fired."

One of the retreating denominations from the anti-Rush So We Might See petition was the Catholic Church. Specifically, this retreat was led by the Catholic group listed as a participant in So We Might See: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. After an inquiry from a disquieted Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, the Bishops went public and said they were misrepresented by So We Might See. Contrary to the impression created by So We Might See, the Bishops said to their angry parishioners they had never consented to sign a petition targeting anyone by name. In fact, the Catholic News Service ran a story even picturing Rush Limbaugh along with the chairman of the FCC when they reported on the Bishops had in fact a statement of their own. A statement which in some way or another would make clear that the Bishops and the larger Catholic Church "are certainly not participating in any campaign to censor any news organization, program or commentator."

On the surface?

All to the good.

The real problem here? The very serious problem that has now come back to bite the Catholic Bishops big time?

The good bishops, while doing the right thing, still seemed to exhibit a curious indifference to protecting the First Amendment. They shied away from an explicit, uncompromising defense of the First Amendment and the free speech and free press rights of Rush Limbaugh.

(Note: By coincidence -- perhaps known as great minds think alike -- as I was completing this article yesterday lo and behold Mr. Limbaugh himself directed his audience to this piece at Peter Robinson's site Ricochet. The article in question is by Paul Rahe, a Catholic who teaches history at Hillsdale College. It essentially makes the point -- in spectacular detail -- that thanks to the leadership of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin what the Catholic Church is now having directed at them by the Obama administration is their own fault. Having decades ago signed on to the far left's concept of "social justice" and helping set up an endlessly powerful state, they themselves are now its victims. Writes Rahe:

I would submit that the bishops, nuns, and priests now screaming bloody murder have gotten what they asked for…. They welcomed Obamacare.

Doubtless, it is exactly the mindset of the Catholic bishops as described by Paul Rahe that was at work in what I discovered about the Catholic Bishops in 2009. Now so vividly illustrated by the shrieks of fury from the bishops today. In 2009, to please the left, the bishops said through a statement:

USCCB shares So We Might See's general commitments to improving access to broadband among the under-served; to reducing violence in all media; and to reducing the excess of advertising in children's programming.

Then came the hedge, a hedge of precisely the kind Mr. Rahe is speaking now: 

But USCCB does not join in every action of the group, as in the case of this petition.

Why? Because:

In any event, we are certainly not participating in any campaign to censor any news organization, program or commentator.

Now. Do you see a rousing defense of Rush Limbaugh's First Amendment rights there? How about the First Amendment rights of Lou Dobbs? How about the First Amendment rights of any of the others mentioned?

No. You don't.

Well let's see what happens when the target of the American left shifts slightly.

Let's first see the exact text of the First Amendment. It reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It is, in fact, the second section that protects Rush, Lou Dobbs and everyone else in America, be they private citizen or press, and specifically the press. The opening -- "Congress shall make no law" -- is then applied to the second section of "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."

When it came time to stand up in stout defense of this constitutional right of the First Amendment, the Catholic Bishops appeared to hedge.

But now? Now?

This time the attack on the First Amendment is not on the second part. It isn't about the First Amendment rights of Rush or Lou Dobbs or their media brethren. No, this time, the attack is on those who are protected by the very first line in the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"

POW! This attack from the left -- the Obamacare contraception/abortion controversy -- is about an attack on religious liberty and quite specifically the Catholic Church itself. The church that is represented by -- yes -- the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Do the bishops hedge now? Not a prayer.

Here's the headline in USA Today:

Bishops to Obama: No contraception compromise

And what did the good bishops say about this attack on that first line in the First Amendment? It was, they said of the Obama contraception plan -- the policy engineered by a leftist president and his leftist bureaucrats -- "an unprecedented attack on religious liberty."

There was no hedging this time. Not a shimmy. Why? Because this time it wasn't Rush… or Lou Dobbs. It was them. It was the bishops' own constitutionally protected Catholic faith that was under assault. No longer were the bishops coming forward with that hesitant "yes we kinda-sorta-love-freedom-of-the-press-and-free-speech" thing anymore.

Now… now… the Catholic bishops' remarks weren't qualified like this:

"In any event, we are certainly not participating in any campaign to censor any news organization, program or commentator."

No. Now the Catholic bishops were downright certain what was happening. They blistered the Obama administration leftists by saying that this was

 "an unprecedented attack on religious liberty."

Religious liberty is at stake. The Catholic Bishops have it exactly right. But this is decidedly not an isolated instance of the left trying to use government to gut the very heart of the First Amendment protections. With the So We Might See petition seeking to intimidate Rush Limbaugh it was the FCC. This time, the target is the Catholic Church, the Department of Health and Human Services that is the tool of choice. And as the Daily Caller is reporting -- behind the scenes Media Matters was at work zeroing in on Don Imus, Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck.

Here's a new question. Did the Catholic bishops and the United Church of Christ understand in the matter of So We Might See's connection to these firing campaigns that they were being manipulated by Media Matters? Were there staffers in either church or those of the other denominations actually working behind the scenes with Media Matters?

If so, the scandal the Daily Caller has uncovered is expanding in an unexpected direction -- to churches.

What the Catholic Bishops are learning the hard way is the connection between the first line of the First Amendment -- and the second. Quite literally, what began with that petition to intimidate Rush and all of the threats to "Drop Dobbs" has now got the bishops' faith in its government sights. 

The first time may be seen by some as a singular episode. The second time begins to bring a pattern into focus. The Wall Street Journal's inimitable Dorothy Rabinowitz has caught the pattern exactly, when she appeared on the Journal's weekend television show hosted by Paul Gigot. Said Rabinowitz:

Now, I tell you, it's more than Washington. This is really a view of the administration that is an exceptional clear picture. You know, the totalitarian mindset comes in many forms. You could see it. Everything leading up to this moment, in the past few weeks: "Look, we're not doing what you think we're doing."

And again, this, in his own fashion, is what the Catholic Mr. Rahe was illustrating in detail yesterday.

HERE'S WHAT IS PARTICULARLY disturbing to me about this pattern of attacks on the First Amendment.

What church has played a leadership role in both events -- the So We Might See episode and the current controversy over religious liberty?

That's right -- my own United Church of Christ. A denomination literally famous for its historic devotion to religious liberty (the Pilgrims) and free speech (the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, whose driving force was the Congregational minister Thomas Hooker, is considered the first written constitution in America and a model for the later US Constitution).

And just as the Catholic Mr. Rahe has noted with the Catholic Church's obsession over "social justice" -- and Mr. Limbaugh himself noted yesterday when he mentioned that he had been raised a Methodist and that now the Methodists are doing this, so too has "social justice" become the driving force behind the leadership of the UCC. It was the UCC that was the driving force behind So We Might See and the assault on the free press and free speech sections of the First Amendment. Now, in a recently released statement, this time the UCC is siding with the Obama-led attack on -- stunningly -- religious liberty.

UCC General Minister and President Geoffrey Black signed his name to this statement, which is reprinted below along with a link (found here) to the 22 other signatories:

The statement reads: 

We stand with President Obama and Secretary Sebelius in their decision to reaffirm the importance of contraceptive services as essential preventive care for women under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and to assure access under the law to American women, regardless of religious affiliation. We respect individuals' moral agency to make decisions about their sexuality and reproductive health without governmental interference or legal restrictions. We do not believe that specific religious doctrine belongs in health care reform -- as we value our nation's commitment to church-state separation. We believe that women and men have the right to decide whether or not to apply the principles of their faith to family planning decisions, and to do so they must have access to services. The Administration was correct in requiring institutions that do not have purely sectarian goals to offer comprehensive preventive health care. Our leaders have the responsibility to safeguard individual religious liberty and to help improve the health of women, their children, and families. Hospitals and universities across the religious spectrum have an obligation to assure that individuals' conscience and decisions are respected and that their students and employees have access to this basic health care service. We invite other religious leaders to speak out with us for universal coverage of contraception.

To borrow from that old Lone Ranger and Tonto joke, my polite message back to my own denomination leader Geoffrey Black is: "What's this 'we' Kemosabe Black?"

Unlike the hierarchal, top-down nature of the Catholic Church, the UCC is run from the bottom up. Which is what disturbs about seeing Geoffrey Black's name on this statement. The fact is the members of the United Church of Christ were never asked their opinion about this issue. Period.

Say again to those in the mainstream media picking up on this statement, the members of the UCC -- and in the UCC only the members run the church -- the members of the UCC were never -- not once -- consulted about this hotly controversial issue. (I could add, this question -- the question of one-time UCC member Barack Obama's responsibility for having Jeremiah Wright as his pastor for 20 years was never addressed, perhaps because no one wanted to pay attention to the fact that in the UCC the members of each individual church hire their own minister. Which means that Obama had the authority to get Wright fired but somehow… ahhh well. I digress!)

Combined, the So We Might See free speech episode -- added to this assault on religious liberty -- begins to raise serious if not chilling concerns about a distinct pattern of behavior as exhibited by the national leadership of the United Church of Christ.

Specifically a pattern of attacks on the Bill of Rights. An acquiescence in, when not a direct encouragement of, a deliberate effort to strip cherished constitutional protections from those with whom liberals in the Cleveland, Ohio church headquarters disagree.

You might say this is the United Church of Christ version of exactly the problem Paul Rahe is describing over in the Catholic Church.

I say this with regret, having just finished six years serving as the president of my own Pennsylvania UCC church as well as a term on the board of the UCC's Penn Central Conference Board of Directors.

In particular I regret that this second attack on the First Amendment -- religious liberty now, free speech before that -- is occurring in the term of our national General Minister and President, the Rev. Black. I have met Rev. Black. While we disagree on matters political, he is a wonderful man of character and great good humor fully devoted to our old and venerable faith. The United Church of Christ is the modern descendant of the Pilgrims -- those whose very presence not to mention the later creation of America itself came about because of a quest for free speech and religious liberty.

But it can only be a matter of time for the UCC before it too stumbles into some version of precisely the trap that has now ensnared the Catholic Bishops. Certainly it is well within the realm of possibility that some future administration might point to UCC liberal activists as purveyors of "hate speech" for example -- using precisely the rationale So We Might See used against Rush Limbaugh.

In fact, during the So We Might See episode, as was noted here, a shot was fired at the home of Lou Dobbs while this "Drop Dobbs" business was going on. I raised the question then as to whether the UCC had now made itself subject to its own hate speech standards. If they were opposing Lou Dobbs, and a shot was fired -- were they not responsible? It was, in its own fashion, a stark example of just the kind of dangerous game is being played when one signs a church on not to the word of God but the principles of Saul Alinsky. The UCC then, like the Catholic bishops now, was perilously close to being hoist on its own petard.

What we appear to have here is this:

When the idea was to use the government to intimidate Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs and others, the Catholic Church didn't quite get the game. And hence refused a stalwart, take no prisoners defense of either and the principle of free speech and free press these attacks by So We Might See represented.

Now, the target is the Catholic Church itself, and suddenly, the bishops get the game. They may be beginning to understand what happens when a church dallies to intimately in the corridors of government power. If it finds itself drawn into the Media Matters end of this scandal, there will be a big problem for the bishops as well as the UCC.

Perhaps the best wisdom on this subject comes from America's first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. It was JFK who, in his inaugural address, wisely observed of developing nations who cozied up to the Soviet Union and Communism:

We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom -- and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

The Catholic bishops, good souls that they are, foolishly sought to ride the back of the tiger.

Now, they are perilously close to ending up inside.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.