Jay Michaelson, contributing editor to the Jewish Daily Forward, is rolling out a report titled “Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights.” In it he makes the conspiracy-minded claim that groups like the Becket Fund are part of a “Roman Catholic campaign that is at least 150 years old to create . . . a separate religious magisterium beyond the rule of law.”
But facts have gotten in the way of Michaelson’s publicity push. In a piece at the Jewish Daily Forward, Michaelson refers to the Becket Fund as “an arch right-wing advocacy organization funded by the Catholic Church.”
Michaelson’s claim, if true, would be big news. Imagine: the Roman Catholic Church, squeezed by declining tithes and mounting sexual abuse payouts, nonetheless chooses to fund an outside legal defense fund.
So I asked Jeffrey Gasser of the Becket Fund’s communications office if Michaelson was right.
“The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has never received any funding from the Catholic Church,” Gasser said.
Nor could they easily have done so; the Catholic Church is not a monolithic body capable of doling out funding but rather a large network of financially distinct entities.
The Forward has yet to issue a correction, but a companion piece Michaelson wrote for the Daily Beast already has a significant correction of what was apparently a fabricated quotation:
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article contained a quote from the Orthodox Union’s executive director of public policy, Nathan Diament, regarding same-sex marriage. The authenticity of the quote could not be verified. We have removed the quote and apologize for the error.
The main error has been fixed, but the piece still wrongly refers to the Ethics and Public Policy Center as the “Ethics and Public Policy Institute.”
Errors large and small extend into Michaelson’s 30,000-word report, which contains misspellings of names of significant actors in his drama (a “Nathan Diamant” makes an appearance) as well as more serious exaggerations typical of the conspiratorial mind.
The Becket Fund’s “entire leadership and funder base is made up of conservative Roman Catholics” writes Michaelson, a mere paragraph before writing that “the Becket Fund’s lead donors are the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the John M. Templeton Foundation.”
The Templeton Foundation, officially non-confessional, was founded and is led by Presbyterians. Of course, noting that fact would get in the way of Michaelson’s attempt to dismiss broadly shared religious liberty concerns as a Roman Catholic conspiracy.