If recent events have taught us anything, it’s that the Religious Right is never so enamored with enforcing the law as they are when they think they’ve caught Planned Parenthood breaking it — and never so over upholding law and order as when they find out their efforts to bring Planned Parenthood down were fraught with law-breaking.
I’m talking, of course, of the infamous (and highly misleading) Planned Parenthood “sting” videos that spawned a wave of investigations and efforts to defund the organization. The cries of criminal activity all came to naught, as both congressional hearings and a dozen individual state inquiries have failed to turn up evidence that Planned Parenthood broke the law. But it was worse for anti-abortion activists than utter failure.
As it happened, in setting up their attempted “sting,” anti-abortion activists with the “Center for Medical Progress” broke the law — a point that came to light when yet another investigation turned up evidence that felonies had been committed — not by Planned Parenthood, the focus of the Texas Grand Jury inquiry, but by the activists themselves, whose pretense to be medical representatives included tampering with government records and trying to convince clinics to sell them human tissue.
Planned Parenthood’s Dawn Laugens broke down the various unethical and illegal behaviors in which the two activists engaged:
[David] Daleiden, working in concert with other well-known anti-abortion extremists including Troy Newman of Operation Rescue, who has documented ties to violence, spent nearly three years creating a fake company, creating fake identities (including fake government IDs), obtaining a credit card using a fake name and information, trespassing onto private property and illegally recording conversations without consent with the express goal of finding a way to attack Planned Parenthood and the health care services we provide. When he was not able to find wrongdoing, he manufactured it.
In Houston, Daleiden and his co-conspirator, Sandra Merritt, who also faces a felony charge, stand accused of using their fake identities to gain access to a Planned Parenthood health center. With secret video equipment they attempted to entrap staff into doing something improper or illegal — even offering our staff at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast $1,600 to buy fetal tissue, an offer health center staff rejected. In the end, for all his effort, as the grand jury has now affirmed, he never found a shred of evidence that Houston Planned Parenthood staff did anything wrong.
But all this lying and law breaking doesn’t faze the Jesus crowd anymore than the fact that Planned Parenthood didn’t actually break the law gives them pause. On the contrary, as they see it, Daleiden and Merritt are simply Martyrs for Truthiness. Indeed, the application of the law to law-breaking Christian activists is actually evidence of persecution.
After the news broke, more than 110,000 people signed a petition to ignore the crimes committed by the anti-abortion activists while continuing a search for the elusive evidence of Planned Parenthood wrongdoing. Conservative website Townhall referred to it as “madness.” Proving that irony is lost on some, Republican Congresswoman Diane Black whined that Planned Parenthood was able to “escape consequences,” but that the indictment was “politically motivated”:
“It is a sad day in America when those who harvest the body parts of aborted babies escape consequences for their actions, while the courageous truth-tellers who expose their misdeeds are handed down a politically motivated indictment instead. Just days after tens of thousands of pro-life Americans participated in the March for Life to urge legal protection for the unborn, this senseless decision is a grim reminder of the work yet to be done. I am profoundly disappointed in this miscarriage of justice but it will not deter our efforts in Congress to hold Planned Parenthood accountable”
This week, Christianity Today published thoughts on the topic from Jim Daly, president and CEO of the Christian conservative group Focus on the Family. And like so many others, he believes attempts to hold religious conservatives accountable for breaking the law amounts to persecution, and a failure to punish Planned Parenthood for not breaking the law is also persecution:
Daleiden’s misdemeanor charge of attempting to purchase of human tissue seems to beg the question: why aren’t the alleged sellers being held to account?
This is a breathtaking example of government hypocrisy. The situation facing CMP is evidence of the upside-down understanding of right and wrong in our culture. How else can we explain it when we are provided seemingly irrefutable proof of heinous crimes being committed against the most vulnerable among us, and rather than investigating the wrongdoers, we attack the messenger?
The explanation is simple, really.
First, Planned Parenthood wasn’t selling the tissue. Second, Planned Parenthood donates tissue for medical research, which is legal. Daleiden wanted to acquire fetal tissue for his own personal reasons, under the pretext of research. That’s not legal.
Really, this isn’t difficult.
Furthermore, the “seemingly irrefutable proof of heinous crimes” was misleading propaganda. Not even highly motivated investigations, driven by anti-abortion zealots, could find Planned Parenthood guilty of anything. So, frankly, Mr. Daly, this isn’t much of a sticking point either: you were simply suckered by your side’s propaganda.
Finally, Daly is either grossly misinformed or grossly misrepresenting the facts. Planned Parenthood was thoroughly investigated, many times over. As I’ve already covered, there’s been no shortage of these fruitless political exercises. More to the point, though, the grand jury that indicted these “messengers” did investigate Planned Parenthood — and, like so many others, found no evidence of criminal behavior. Unlike what it found for Daleiden and Merritt. So not only was the message phony, but the messengers are accused of breaking the law. Surely laws apply to Christian Conservatives, too, right?
Not so in Daly’s book, it seems. He argues that the activists should receive a Get Out of Jail Free card because they were “citizen journalists” exposing “criminal activity.” Never mind that, again, they didn’t actually expose anything criminal.
And never mind that real journalists don’t begin an investigation with the conclusion already set in stone.
Daly supports his argument with some bad comparisons:
For instance, in an effort to expose racial discrimination with regard to housing and hiring practices, civil rights agencies have often hired undercover “testers” to pose as job or housing applicants. Identities are therefore falsified with an eye toward bringing to justice those who are breaking the law.
There’s a world of difference between posing as a renter or a job applicant and posing as a representative of a medical research organization. There’s a world of difference between filling out a job application and trying to convince a clinic to transfer or sell you fetal tissue. One of those things is mundane and legal, and the other is tightly controlled and, in all but a handful of regulated instances, illegal.
As for the use of forged IDs specifically, this may well be something that “minors around the country are regularly treated with a proverbial slap on the wrist” – except that Texas law takes into account the intended use of those forged IDs:
Normally, the use of a fake ID would not result in felony charges, but Texas state law raises the crime to a felony if someone uses a fake government document with the intent to defraud or harm another.
So the underage kid trying to get into a bar? Not as serious as the person who wants to trick Planned Parenthood into selling him fetal tissue.
But Daly doesn’t seem eager to let reality get in the way of a nice persecution story. Because, naturally, this isn’t about the two specific people indicted; this is a symptom of the larger persecution American Christians face:
It’s a chilling use of state and federal power to impede the investigation. And for millions of Americans who are determined to live according to our deeply held beliefs and to speak out, in many cases the price tag for doing so is becoming increasingly steep.
Conservative Christians like Daly seem to think that the law simply does not apply to those who share their views. Like the idea of “lying for Jesus,” “law-breaking for Jesus” should exempt them from any penalty. Because those laws were broken in support of the Greater Good. (Amen!)
The bizarreness of this outlook is only compounded, though, when they simultaneously throw out terms like “criminal” against those they disagree with… while arguing that breaking the law is okay. For them.