Category Archives: Religion

Our Little Gift to the Catholic Church

Suresh Garimella’s neutron bomb approach to the humanities notwithstanding, sometimes a professor of religion comes in very handy. Take Friday, March 3 for example. On that day, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on S.16, a bill that would require clergy to report cases of child abuse and neglect even if they learned of such crimes in confidence while acting as a spiritual advisor. Like, say, a Catholic priest hearing confession, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Lined up to testify were not one, not two, but three Catholics, including Bishop Christopher Coyne of the Diocese of Burlington. You can guess what they had to say: Removing the confessional exemption would force priests to choose between state law and canon law. It would infringe on Catholics’ First Amendment right to free expression of religion.

After all of that, the committee heard from Tom Borchert, chair of the Department of Religion at the University of Vermont. And boy, did his testimony make my ears perk up.

The two big takeaways: First, the “spiritual advisor” exemption describes one and only one religious practice: Catholic confession. Second, the law as currently written creates a First Amendment issue on its own.

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And Everybody Said “Amen”

This is the arena-rock wannabe stage presentation of the Ignite Church, the conservative Evangelical church in Williston that’s a key player in efforts to build a right-wing Christian movement in Vermont. No crosses, no evidence of religion at all, just a big attention-grabbing display with slick lighting, a band, and a dudebro minister preaching the Word.

Ignite is the hub of conservative Evangelicalism in Chittenden County. It hosted far-right poster boy Charlie Kirk’s 2021 appearance in Burlington. It sponsored a talk by Eric Metaxas, a prominent Evangelical who believes the 2020 election was stolen and getting the Covid-19 vaccine is a bad idea. Last January, Ignite hosted an event called “Faith, Hope, Health COVID Summit,” which featured a number of Covid denialists. This coming Sunday, they’ll welcome Christian “influencer” Lily Kate, an associate of Kirk’s in his Turning Point USA organization. She’ll be talking about “reclaiming Biblical masculinity and femininity.” In a brief video promo on the big screen, she talked of how “Christian circles have been bought out by radical feminism.”

Now, I have no idea who Lily Kate is, but she’s a celebrity in the shadow world of Evangelical culture. I say “shadow world” because it’s pretty much invisible outside the conservative Christian orbit.

But we need to be aware of this world because it wields a tremendous amount of weight in conservative circles. And it’s not content with saving souls — tit wants to remake America in its image.

Not all Evangelicals are in this camp. There are many thoughtful Evangelicals who think the Christian flirtation with fringe politics is not just a bad idea, it’s actively counter to the essence of the faith. But the fringies have the numbers and they’re causing the trouble.

To get an idea of what Ignite is peddling, I watched its almost two-hour service from Sunday, November 13, archived on YouTube. What I saw was an attempt to bring all the bells and whistles of the 21st Century megachurch movement to the Burlington suburbs. The service consisted almost entirely of contemporary, middle-of-the-road worship music and the constant presence of senior pastor Todd Callahan. The cameras never showed more than a sliver of the seating area, so it was hard to gauge how big the room is and how many people were in attendance.

November 13, you may remember, was the first Sunday after Election Day, which was a huge disappointment for the Christian right generally and in Vermont especially. They did, after all, get mollywhopped on the reproductive rights amendment, and most of their candidates were losers. (Ignite staffer Rohan St. Marthe finished in last place in his bid for state Senate.)

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Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Win, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss

Congratulations to Jarrod Sammis, newly elected member of the Vermont House in the Rutland-3 district…

… and the only one on my long list of far-right Republican candidates who didn’t lose.

For those keeping score, and you bet I am, that’s one win and 23 losses. Which kinda explains my previous post about how the Vermont Republican Party has led itself, with supreme confidence, deep into the political wilderness with no idea what to do next except Keep Striding Forward!

That 1-23 record wasn’t the only bad news for Team Extreme. They also lost a bunch of races featuring far-right candidates I never got around to covering. Remember that 16 of the 21 Republican Senate candidates were extremists? Well, 12 of them lost. They may have picked up one seat at best. In the House, where the Republican ticket had 42 in irregular earth orbit, 35 of them lost. And that included three incumbent representatives who won’t be coming back: Vicky Strong, Sally Achey, and VTGOP Vice Chair Samantha Lefebvre.

Instead of bulking up their ranks and possibly upending caucus leadership, the extremists actually lost ground. It was a thorough rebuke for ultraconservatism in Vermont.

But let’s start with their only bright spot, the guy with a YouTube channel full of inflammatory videos that revealed an unhealthy fascination with guns and a probably-controlled desire to train them on socialists and communists. The channel he quickly deleted when it became public knowledge, claiming he did so to [checks notes] protect his family’s privacy. Sammis eked out a two-point win in reliably conservative territory. Bully for him.

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Stealth Conservatives: Who’s the Stealthiest One of All?

Ohh, there he is again, Smilin’ Phil just having a grand old time with another stealth conservative. Starting to be a pattern.

Except in this case, not only did the governor pose for a photo, he met with the candidate “to discuss campaign strategies.”

The gentleman on the right, photographically and ideologically, is Rob North, Republican candidate for House in the Addison-3 district currently represented by Democrats Matt Birong and DIane Lanpher.

North is thought to be the VTGOP’s best hope of avoiding a complete shutout in Addison County, and you can tell he listened to the governor because his campaign is swaddled in a thick protective coating of performative moderation. Also, for some reason, North has virtually no online footprint. He’s got a completely anodyne campaign Facebook page, but no personal social media accounts at all.

Unfortunately, there are cracks in the façade. He went and opened his yap at a candidates’ forum and showed himself to be an opponent of climate action, a free-market absolutist, and possessor of some rather… unique… views on water pollution. Also, North sent Birong and Lanpher a couple of rabidly anti-abortion emails last winter, before he became a candidate. Also also, North is an active member of a far-right evangelical denomination that bars women from church leadership, prohibits divorce, and believes the Earth is 6,000 years old.

But first, his campaign website. You know how Republicans like to run on “restoring balance” to the Statehouse? Well, North’s website is “”. He’s all about the balance. In an odd way it makes sense; he’s far right enough to cancel out a couple dozen Democrats.

This is where we’re at. Phil Scott would rather have a misogynistic Young Earth climate denier in the House than deal with a Democratic supermajority.

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Stealth Conservatives: Welcome to Dog Whistle Farm

This is Allison Duquette, farmer, personal trainer, candidate for Vermont House in the Chittenden-25 district, and ardent deployer of dog whistles.

Duquette goes to great lengths to present herself as a fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republican. Trouble is, she’s just not very good at it. Her brand of dog whistle is so poorly constructed it can actually be heard by human ears.

Chittenden-25 includes Westford and an eastern chunk of Milton. Duquette’s Democratic opponent is Julia Andrews. This is a newly-reapportioned district; Westford used to be in Chittenden 8-3 and has been represented by the very conservative Bob Bancroft.

Duquette and Andrews appeared at an online candidate forum in late September, which can be viewed on Lake Champlain Access Television. Her answers usually started off acceptably moderate before veering right off the cliff. Details to come, but first a note about her Facebook page.

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Republican Stealth Candidates: Chickens, Maple Syrup and Kombucha

Meet Rebecca and Tom Pitre. They make maple syrup and keep chickens. She plays guitar. She ferments her own kombucha. She’s a certified riding instructor, using horses as therapy animals.

She has also said some very nasty things about Drag Queen Story Hour on social media.

Which matters because Rebecca Pitre is a Republican slash Libertarian candidate for Vermont House in the Lamoille-3 district, which includes Cambridge and Waterville. In her campaign, she presents herself as an everyday sort who just has some sincere concerns about the health of rural Vermont. In service of this deception, she seems to have scrubbed her past social media activity; her only extant Twitter account is a campaign-related one that only recently went live and has [checks notes] 13 followers.

Unfortunately for her, a community member dug up her five-year-old drag queen comments, and Aaron Calvin of the Morrisville-based News & Citizen has done a thorough job of reporting the controversy. In his story, Pitre makes a strenuous effort to weasel out of her self-inflicted corner — but she makes it clear that she still believes 100% in her past statements.

This story is why, my friends, I keep hammering on the duty of political reporters to dig beneath the surface when writing candidate profiles. In a time when Republican candidates are trying to disguise their extremism, who else is going to pull off the masks?

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Hey, Lenore Broughton Has Found Another Rathole to Throw Her Money Into

Well, doesn’t that look impressive. A new “Institute” focused on the idea of Human Flourishing, a well-established principle in the humanities — and also in evangelical Christianity. Classically restrained logo and font. You might assume this is a broad-based serious enterprise… until you explore its website further.

Upon which you discover that (a) there’s not a heck of a lot of substance, just a few minimal pages with big pictures and not much text, and (b) the Institute’s two top officers are former VTGOP chair Deb Billado and Vermont’s Favorite Archconservative Moneybags, Lenore Broughton.

I’ll give you one guess who’s writing the checks for this outfit.

The Vermont Institute for Human Flourishing joins the likes of True North Reports and the late unlamented Vermonters First on the roster of no-hope organizations Broughton has funded in lieu of doing anything that might actually have an impact.

Well, to be fair, it’s too early to make that call on VIHF. It hasn’t had time to fail. Yet.

A brief explanation of “human flourishing.” In the social sciences slash humanities, it’s an interdisciplinary study of how best to help people reach their full potential. (Harvard has a Human Flourishing Program.) In evangelical Christian circles, it means channelling sexuality into traditional male/female marriage and battling deviant practices like homosexuality, extramarital sex, and pornography.

I think we know which camp the Vermont Institute is a member of.

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Edifice Complex

I’ve gotten some blowback from people I respect about my comment that the Statehouse is just a pile of bricks. I understand their point of view, but I don’t share it. Here’s a bit of exposition that I’m sure won’t change anyone’s mind.

There’s a saying in National Football League circles: “Protect the Shield.” The NFL logo is a blue shield with white stars and a white football, and “NFL” in big red letters. The saying is invoked when there’s some threat to the league’s reputation (don’t laugh), but I’ve always thought it was completely backwards. Because a shield, by definition, is the thing that protects, not the thing that needs protection. It’s as if you had a bulletproof vest and did everything you could to keep it in mint condition.

I see this all over the place, the conflation of symbol with substance. Many a Trumpy Republican carries a pocket Constitution, but it’s more a fetish than a guidebook. They don’t mind trashing our principles when convenient, but they carry their pocket Constitutions like, well, NFL shields. Same with their obligatory flag lapel pin.

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Hate Comes to the Capitol Plaza

Oh looky, the anti-critical race theory fanatics gathered last night at Montpelier’s Capitol Plaza Hotel! CRT, a purely academic construct understood by few — and by no one who’s taken it up as the latest cudgel in the culture wars — is apparently a front for Marxist indoctrination! Who knew???

This ignorance extravaganza was promoted by Vermont Grassroots, whose tag line is “Empowering Parents and Teachers.” Well, that’s the friendly mask on this angry face; the full motto is “Empowering Parents and Teachers By Exposing Marxism.” The rest of the two-day event was held at the Ignite Church in WIlliston, a notable outpost of far-right Christianity. Or, more accurately, a radical worldview masquerading as Christianity. It’s the kind of thing that’d have Jesus rolling in his grave if he was still there.

(Funny that they put a Montpelier event in the middle of a Williston soiree. I seem to recall that Ignite had a spot of trouble with a Burlington hotel canceling in the face of controversy. Did they have to go all the way to Montpelier to find a willing caterer?)

Vermont Grassroots was the organization behind the series of low-budget, local-talent-only meetings organized around the state last summer by Gregory Thayer, Rutland ideologue and Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Apparently the group’s budget has increased because now they’re bringing in outside speakers.

Sadly, it’s too late to organize a protest in Montpelier. It’s not too late to let the Capitol Plaza know how you feel about profiting off hatred. However, there will be other opportunities for protest throughout the summer. Vermont Grassroots has planned a series of events designed to fan the flames of manufactured outrage.

And before anyone goes all First Amendment on me, just stop. These jackasses have every right to express their views. And the rest of us have every right to express our views about their views.

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Apparently the Larner College Insists On Doing This Dumb, Politically Damaging Thing

Well, after quite a bit of back-and-forth and a false alarm along the way, it now seems that UVM’s Larner College of Medicine will stand by its baffling decision to grant continuing education credits to medical professionals who attend a conference organized by the Vermont Right to Life Committee.

No, seriously. Stop laughing. Medical education credits for a political organization with no expertise in medicine, and that peddles junk science to support its agenda. That’s hunky-dory according to Vermont’s one and only medical school.

I wrote about this landmark of stupidiousness last Friday. Shortly after my post went live, Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale tweeted that Larner was reversing the decision. I amended my post to reflect the news. But Friday came and went, as did the weekend and Monday, and there was still no official word from Larner.

It’s now apparent that news of Larner’s reversal was, well, fake news.

Here’s what we know so far.

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