Originally posted at Talk to Action
A small group of conservative Catholics has produced an election-year YouTube video that has gone viral. The dark, somber three-minute production recites the Church hierarchy's culture war grievances against the Obama administration - and all but promises that Catholics who vote for Obama will pay in the next life.
But there may be more going on here than using Catholic damnation anxiety as a tool to roll back marriage equality and reproductive rights. The video may also be part of a wider effort to eradicate public education.
I first saw "Test of Fire: Election 2012" when a family member emailed me the link and said the video was "put out by the Catholic Church." It is actually issued by an ostensibly independent group, Catholics Called To Witness, it presents itself as distinctly Catholic.
At the outset we see a lordly older blacksmith hammering out election-year issues such as "jobs," "taxes" and "energy."
But some issues, we are told, "are non-negotiable." This list include "life" which is followed by a quote by Pope Benedict defining life as from conception to natural death; then "marriage" - calling for the institution to be "reinforced, not redefined"; and "freedom" which apparently needs no explanation.
The video raises the eternal stakes following a picture of Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, placed over a quote about providing birth control coverage for employees of religious institutions. Over a slow-tempo, pounding orchestral piece (punctuated by Gregorian-style background vocals), we see the key visual warning: "YOUR VOTE WILL AFFECT THE FUTURE - AND BE RECORDED IN ETERNITY.
The message that Catholic Obama voters will burn in Hell is unsubtly reinforced by a visual showing the blacksmith staring in judgment while flames leap from his forge fire.
"Catholics Called To Witness" is the project of two upper-middle class couples from South Florida. Interestingly, the group's secretary/treasurer serves as the Florida State Coordinator for ParentalRights.org., whose board includes a number of movement conservatives, notably anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist.
But leadership of ParentalRights.org is dominated by leaders of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HDSLA). The board president is Michael Farris - a movement conservative and founder of HSLDA. The board also includes J. Michael Smith, the current HSLDA president. ParentalRights.org's treasurer, Steve Oberlander, is the HLDSA's current CFO -- and has previously served in the same capacity for Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. As Oberlander's bio explains: "Steve Oberlander is Chief Financial Officer of ParentalRights.org, Home School Legal Defense Association, and Home School Foundation." The HSLDA web site (scroll down to the bottom of the page) describes ParentalRights.org as a "related organization."
Indeed, it seems most accurate to call ParentalRights.org either a project of or a front for HSLSDA.
All this suggests that the video may be much much more than the work of a few zealous Catholic conservatives. It is more likely part of a widely coordinated conservative Republican message machine.
The video was produced by Creative Lab, LLC a politically well-connected South Florida company. Its web site reveals that Creative Lab has been deeply active in movement conservatism. Its clients include Tea Party Republican Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) and The Family Research Council-sponsoredValues Voters Summit, USA. Another page on their web site boasts of being "named to the "Republican Dream Team" in the Web Design category."
Beyond that, a theme is emerging in the conservative press that the Obama administration is waging some sort of anti-Catholic campaign that is alienating these voters. To that end, Ross Douthat and Michael Gerson have been pushing this meme. At the same time, conservative online publications such as Powerline and WND have been pushing the CCTW video.
Again we turn our attention to Creative Lab LLC and the parental rights theme that runs through much of their work, and which CCTW defines as "non-negotiable":
"The protection of the right of parents to educate their children" -- is a curious cause for a group of Catholic orthodox types to champion. There is nothing in Church teachings that make this a priority on par with any other social justice teaching. On the CCTW page entitled "Other Issues" there is no content. Furthermore, traditional Catholic approaches to economic issues such as distributive justice are nowhere to be found on the site. It is odd for a Catholic group to place parental rights under the banner of religious freedom. However, it may be a useful way to perpetuate the myth that the current president is hostile to Catholicism.