Defend Black Christians’ Civil Rights Now

Former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran (public domain photo via FEMA)
Former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran (public domain photo via FEMA)

In the latest version of the Strange New Respect award, Rick Perry is earning plaudits from the left for his speech on race. Buzzfeed called it “remarkable” and MSNBC called it “interesting”:

“For too long, we Republicans have been content to lose the black vote because we found we didn’t need it to win. But when we gave up trying to win the support of African Americans, we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln, as the party of equal opportunity for all,” Perry said. “It’s time for us once again to reclaim our heritage as the only party in our country founded on the principle of freedom for African Americans.”

From MSNBC’s point of view, conservatism is founded on racial animus and dog whistles thereto, but reporter Steve Benen does raise the key question:

Outreach is great, but what exactly are Republican candidates and officials prepared to say to black voters?

Outreach to Hispanic voters failed in 2012, because the Romney campaign had promised donors that no money would be spent on advertising or outreach on social issues.  Running one a one-legged stool means surrendering the fight for a goodly portion of America’s diverse ethnic voters, especially the new Americans.

But the Democrats’ new insistently aggressive posture towards religion opens up a new opportunity to speak directly to African-Americans not only on their values, but on their interests.

Because in a uncertain economy, it turns out that a disproportionate share of Americans losing their livelihoods because of their religious views (especially on marriage) are Black evangelicals.

Kelvin Cochran is an American success story of whom we all should be proud.  The Atlanta fire chief had pulled himself out of poverty with grit, determination, and a Bible-believing mamma when he was fired for publishing a book for his Bible study class that contained a few sentences reflecting traditional Christian teaching on sexual purity:

“Since God made sex for procreation, he only intended it to be between a man and a women.”

“When a man’s eyes lack spiritual discipline it will lead him to lust for women, lust for other men, covetousness, idolatry and all kind of desires.”

“The seventeen works of the flesh described in Galatians 5:19–21 are: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envying, drunkenness, and reveling. Uncleanness is the opposite of purity; including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, and all other forms of sexual perversion.”

Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling was court martialed for posting a small Bible verse on her computer work station. No, not even THAT Bible verse.  It said merely, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”

The first deaf diversity officer of Gallaudet University Angela McGaskill was disciplined for merely signing a petition putting gay marriage to the voters when a petition was circulated at her church.

From the official Black civil rights establishment there has been not peep or a murmur about Black churchgoers rights to work and express their views freely.

It is a huge opportunity, but to take advantage of it will require a leader who offers more than mere words while pouring all his or her political capital into a corporate economic agenda.  It will require offering practical and concrete legal protections along with a commitment to fight for the rights of Black churchgoers and all other Americans.

The First Amendment Defense Act will help prevent religious believers who work for the federal government from meeting Kelvin Cochran’s fate.  Will the Democrats support it?

Because right now African-American churchgoers rights are being sacrificed to white liberalism’s preoccupation with the concerns and interests of wealthy, white gay men.

I do not think it is an accident that so many of the new civil rights victims are Black. The strong religious convictions are propelling many to face the fire rather than submit. They are not just victims; they are heroes to look up to and emulate. But they have not received the attention they deserve from defenders of religious rights.

Ultimately, conservative candidates should make the case for protecting Black churchgoing Americans not because it will win them votes, but because it is the right thing to do.

Only if they really believe it, will they spend the moral and political capital that may persuade some Black evangelicals that they must insist that Democrats and Republicans hear their voice through the power of the ballot box.

Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at American Principles in Action.