Religious Liberty?

Remember when Hillary Clinton outraged the Chattering Classes with statements like  “basket of deplorables,” and accusations of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

According to Wikipedia, the phrase “vast right-wing conspiracy” preceded Clinton’s 1998 use. It was listed as a conspiracy theory in a 1995 memo by political opposition researchers. Wild conspiracy theories are everywhere you look these days–mostly but not exclusively  on the political Right (are Jewish Space lasers the grandchildren of the Elders of Zion?). When Clinton leveled the accusation, the blowback was both overwhelming and understandable.

But a recent data breach at the shadowy Liberty Counsel suggests she may have been on to something.

LIBERTY COUNSEL, an evangelical Christian nonprofit that provided a brief cited by the Supreme Court in its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, has been hacked, revealing a 25-gigabyte internal database that contains nearly seven years’ worth of donor records. The hacker, who identifies with the Anonymous movement, released the data on the hacktivist site Enlace Hacktivista, and the transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets is providing it to journalists who request access.

“Noticing a worrying trend of far-right and anti-abortion activists aligning themselves with the evangelical Christian movement, hiding their funding sources behind laws that allow church ministries to keep their donations secret,” the hacker wrote in a press release, “we decided to bring about some much-needed radical transparency.”

In addition to fighting abortion, Liberty Counsel — a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group — has focused its legal efforts on challenging LGBTQ+ rights and vaccine mandates in the name of religious freedom. Because it is registered with the IRS as an “association of churches,” Liberty Counsel is not required to file a public tax return, meaning that its finances are largely shielded from the scrutiny applied to other tax-exempt organizations.

The disclosures showed that “nonprofit organizations” controlled by Liberty Counsel not only encouraged supporters to vote for Trump –in violation of IRS rules that prohibit such endorsements– they also documented the ways in which Liberty Counsel has deployed  disinformation about election integrity and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Are you wondering why I titled this blog post  “Religious Liberty”? As the linked Intercept article goes on to explain, the legal privileging of (some) religion has not only facilitated the lack of transparency illustrated by the breach, but has served to conceal a theocratic political movement within a cloak of faux piety.

Liberty Counsel’s virulently anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and efforts to legalize discrimination in the name of religious freedom led the Southern Poverty Law Center to designate it as a hate group. “The organizations on our hate group list vilify others because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity — this includes Liberty Counsel and their vilification of LGBTQ+ people,” said Rachel Carroll Rivas, interim deputy director of research for the SPLC’s Intelligence Project.

Some examples: Liberty Counsel represented Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple. The day after the January 6th insurrection, its president sent an email to supporters stating that “our research and legal staff have been deeply engaged in stopping the steal of our 2020 elections.” (The email and a later blog post insisted that Trump could remain in power if God intervened: “We know God can intervene and turn what looks like a hopeless cause into a miraculous victory!” (Evidently, God was uninterested…)

During the pandemic, Liberty Counsel successfully sued  LSU’s School of Dentistry and Loyola University, requiring them to abandon their vaccine mandates on religious freedom grounds. The organization is currently suing the U.S. government over the military’s vaccine mandate. (God evidently wants people infected..)

If these activities were limited to a single organization, it would be troubling enough, but the breach disclosed a network of similarly fanatic entities, and campaigns that stretched the definition of “religion” to the breaking point.

While Liberty Counsel is best known for legal battles over abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, the hacked data shows more than $1.6 million in donations resulting from petition and fax campaigns built around dubious claims about the pandemic and election integrity…

The largest petition included in the data set, launched on the eve of Biden’s inauguration, makes no mention of religion: It warns of “giant pharmaceutical companies in partnership with government officials sweeping harmful and even deadly COVID-19 vaccine reactions under the rug” and demands that politicians oppose unspecified efforts “to make COVID shots mandatory, to require a Vaccine Passport or to electronically track and trace my movements.”

I don’t know how “vast” Liberty Council’s conspiratorial network is, but I do know the  Religion Clauses of the First Amendment weren’t intended to shield partisan political activity from legal scrutiny.

We can protect genuine religious liberty without enabling political fundraising  by hate groups.


  1. Prof K closed with
    “We can protect genuine religious liberty without enabling political fundraising by hate groups.”
    I sure hope we can but with the current low level of government functioning, it is not likely any time soon. We can expect NO help from the Supreme Court.

  2. Correct, James. Controlling the courts is paramount for corruption, and it runs rampant in local courts to the SCOTUS.

    We are watching on display with Trump, who is being used by the oligarchy to make the Democratic Party seem like a viable option. He should have been destroyed a decade ago, but he never goes down.

    The dark money network of the right-wing also should have gone down years ago, but the same funders of this network control the courts. The same groups got the politicians to destroy the government regulators like the IRS.

    We have Evangelical churches holding political rallies and funneling monies to political candidates. As Sheila pointed out, this violates the IRS clauses for churches and most nonprofits. What have been their negative consequences?


    How about stripping them of their tax-exempt status? First, they need to start paying PILOT fees to help pay for government services while the IRS investigates their actions.

    The problem is the Democratic Party needs the Republican Party and vice versa. They both need all the funding they can muster. It’s called collusion. If elected officials won’t take action, then who can?

  3. I saw no reason for Hillary Clinton to be forced to apologize for her term “basket full of deplorables” except I found “basket full…” to be a bit childish. They proved themselves to be an entire political party of deplorable representatives of government and Americans in general. Republican states were already enacting laws against civil and human rights based on their personal religious beliefs, probably why they found Pence so readily acceptable to run with Trump. Claiming “God” was leading them to victory but never blaming “God” who did NOT “stop the steal” to help them. They were cherry picking God’s action or inaction, for or against their issue or candidate of the day using deplorable means to their end. Which hasn’t yet ended. They have formed a religious conspiracy knowing they would sucker in those voters whose beliefs were that God was active over all in our lives so must be in Trump’s White Nationalist party and God is always right.

    “We can protect genuine religious liberty without enabling political fundraising by hate groups.”

    But we can’t seem to protect ourselves FROM their religious liberty.

  4. The extent of this insanity is demonstrated by a Texas judge (where else?), who just held that mandating insurance companies to cover early treatment for HIV violates religious freedom. Really. Here’s the link:,A%20Texas%20judge%20rules%20coverage%20of%20anti%2DHIV%20medicine%20violates,freedom%20of%20some%20Christian%20employers.

  5. Stephen – the Texas decision is much worse than you think. It wasn’t against treatment – it was against prevention. Specifically, against the idea that the ACA could mandate preventative treatment. In this case, nonminimally limited to PrEP for HIV prevention. However, there is reasonable concern that it could be applied to all preventative care via the ACA. Because preventative care violates religious rights apparently. Also, apparently, only gay men get HIV so PrEP “encourages a homosexual lifestyle”. (The complainant not the judge statement, but the judge did rule that he agreed with the violations of religion argument, so he must agree )Yikes .

    Thanks Texas.

  6. This is illegal. Law enforcement should be taking action. The Americans United for the Separation of Church and State should take action.

  7. I hope the recently approved additional IRS funding will create the manpower to go after wealthy and corporate tax cheats and to also enforce nonprofit’s violations of the tax code. Personally, I would like to see every one of the fake nonprofits immediately switched to having their incomes taxed and that includes churches.

  8. Once again, religion, or its perversion by right-wing droolers, comes to the rescue of sanity, decency and progress.

    So, why does it/they exist? Do the weakest of minds need that kind of radical nonsense to feel whole? If yes, it explains how empty their minds (and souls) are. THAT is what the basket is holding.

    Yes. Tax churches who advocate political agendas. Then this sort of covertly funded idiocy will stop.

  9. Again, folks, yet another “wing” of the Right/White/Christian “ecosystem” – it ain’t just a “conspiracy”, it is grass roots organized action backed up with money. Where is anything similar facing them on the battlefield of the democracy war ? Nada…

  10. I only know of one religion that prohibits (sort of) medical care and that is Christian Science. They don’t fight vaccine mandates for schoolchildren, or the flu vaccine, and I didn’t read any bylines quoting that church regarding Covid 19 vaccines, nor does it seem that anti-vaxxers have rushed to join that church. It would be the fastest growing church in the world if they did.

    So all of those right wingers citing their strongly held religious beliefs are apparently lying? You bet they are. Tax their churches. Now, to throw conservatives a bone, that just might put an end to deficit spending.

  11. “Tourism” has been added to ecosystem. From a letter in today’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

    I learned this year on a guided group border tour, speaking with border patrol agents, deputy sheriffs and land owners in the Rio Grande Valley sector, that cartels collect from human smugglers (the guys who stuff dozens of innocent migrants into deathtrap vans, rape women and girl migrants, freely maim and kill the vulnerable) as well as dictate when and where to bring migrants through, distracting Border Patrol from the more lucrative operation — smuggling of fentanyl, meth and heroin.

    Folks this is a genuine “enterprise”. They are anti-democracy hedge funds.

  12. THIS IS BELIEVE; That church sanctuary facilities should remain tax exempt, but all commercial facilities, income earning investments, Realestate and land holdings along with any and all moneys in excess of those required to maintaining of building primary sanctuary facilities should be disclosed and taxed appropriately .

  13. JoAnn alludes to the choice of Pence as Trump’s Vice President as evidence of religion’s intrusion into civil authority. I think that’s true but it also served another purpose, to wit: With a barbarian at the top of the ticket Republicans felt that they needed a Goodie Two Shoes to counter balance his libertine instincts in order to bring in the vote of Baptists and others who might otherwise be repelled by both his personal and business conduct. Presto! Pence, the Pius!

    Had Trump been unable to continue in office via death or removal or the 25th we would have had a President Pence with whom to contend, and with his divided loyalty between his version of God and his constitutional responsibilities I’m not so sure (and this is blasphemy to some) that a continuation of Trump’s reign would not have been preferable – until the next election.

  14. Nancy hit on one answer. Extra funding for the IRS will eventually get the manpower to effectively investigate complaints about religious organizations politicking.

    Defunding the tax police has been a pretty effective Republican policy in many ways.

  15. This is all I have time for…

    1. Hillary was right.

    2. Watch “The Family” on Netflix.
    Here’s the description and trailer:
    The documentary mini-series follows Jeff Sharlet’s books “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” and “C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy”.

  16. Dan – love your idealism, BUT, as soon as the GOP wins in both ’22 and ’24, the IRS will be under their control…they have already stated this is a goal.

  17. Interesting how you want to focus on “religious” organizations. If you really want to expose corruption, watch: MY SON HUNTER

  18. Hmm. All of this antipathy toward religiosity from Democrats. Very interesting. Yet,the most recent speech from Biden carried the meme “A battle for the soul of the country”. Moreover, The Red and The Black setting was a bit dramatic. A set Kim Jong un would most definitely use.

    When did Biden become an evangelist? Since when do we elect presidents to battle souls?

    Not only do I feel cheated, I feel we’ve entered the twilight zone. Even the president is using evangelical language.

  19. Those who claim to “know” their god-thing’s intent are woefully out of touch with anything but fairy tales!
    The IRS needs a unit dedicated to sniffing out the slime hiding behind opportunistic/fake “church” entities.
    Like Libertarianism, “Religious Liberty” is simply a cover for “I will take the liberty to do whatever the hell
    ever I want, screw you!”

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