The Values Voter Summit that took place Oct. 11–13 was something of a homecoming for right-wing leaders.
For the progressives who gathered to protest, it was something of a fright fest.
“This event is put on by hate groups with really scary ideas about American values and no respect for equality and justice,” said Joshua Alcorn of Baltimore, who demonstrated outside the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 11, the first day of the three-day summit and the 11th day of the partial federal government shutdown.
“I would have hoped our elected officials would have had something better to do than to be here, stoking the fires,” said demonstrator Shawnee McMurphree of Washington.
The summit theme was “Standing for Faith, Family and Opportunity for All” and, in keeping with tradition, the event featured a straw poll for the next presidential election. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, won the poll with 42 percent of the vote. Ben Carson and Rick Santorum followed with 13 percent each.
Before the summit speeches began, the right-wing Liberty Counsel legal defense group hosted the Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition breakfast.
Opening day ceremonies featured Cruz and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky. The first day also featured “The Future of Marriage” panel led by Tony Perkins, of the ultra-right Family Research Council, and Brian Brown, of the National Organization for Marriage.
Paul described a “war on Christianity” that U.S. foreign policy must address and Rubio said, “We can’t stop talking about the importance of our values and our culture. We can’t stop talking about them because the moral well-being of our people is directly linked to their economic well-being.”
Cruz told those gathered that the nation is on the edge of a cliff —— he was heckled during the speech, leading right-wing media to speculate operatives for President Barack Obama had infiltrated the event.
The Oct. 11 schedule did require some adjustment for speakers who did not attend, including U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who sent a video message explaining that as chair of the House budget committee “things are a little busy up here on Capitol Hill these days.”
In the message, he told conservative activists that he too is a “values voter” and what sets “us apart is our beliefs.” Ryan said those beliefs include rethinking “government’s role in our lives” and that includes ending the Affordable Care Act.
Many speakers, with the shutdown imposed and a deadline to act on the debt ceiling approaching, focused on money issues on the mainstage, but outside the spotlight there was plenty of focus on marriage, abortion and the other hot-button issues that drove the so-called “values voters” to D.C.
Throughout the event there were breakfast gatherings, worship sessions, banquets, luncheons, book-signings, workshops, receptions and speeches, including by U.S. Reps. Jim Bridenstine, Louie Gohmert, Jim Jordan and Steve Scalis, as well as Fox personalities Allen West, Mike Huckabee, Todd Starnes and others.
Program topics included “What is Marriage … Really?” “Getting America Back to Great,” “The Erosion of Religious Liberties in the Public Square,” “Responding to the Tough Questions on Marriage, Religious Liberty and More,” “The Hispanic Community: Messaging and Mobilizing,” “Values and Obamacare,” “Standing up to the Assaults on our Faith,” “Is it too Late to Reclaim America?” “The War on Football: Saving America’s Game” and “Challenging Tyranny.”
In the days before the summit, civil rights activists launched a campaign aimed at persuading scheduled speakers to skip the summit. FRC has a history of demonizing gays, portraying gays as sick, evil, incestuous, violent and perverted threats to the nation.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, Human Rights Campaign, NAACP, National Council of La Raza, GLAAD, People for the American Way Foundation and Faithful America all called on lawmakers to skip the summit.
“Elected officials shouldn’t lend the prestige of their office to hate groups that have a long history of telling incendiary lies about the LGBT community and spreading other forms of bigotry,” said a statement from the SPLC.
A letter signed by representatives from civil rights group that went to Ryan and others said, “Last year, RNC chairman Reince Priebus said that ‘people in this country, no matter straight or gay, deserve dignity and respect.’ The question before you today, therefore, is where the party of Lincoln stands in 2013 on vilifying the LGBT community. You can help answer that question by saying no to bigotry and declining the invitation to speak at the Values Voter Summit.”