1. Florida Politics

PolitiFact: PAC's newspaper ad filled with falsehoods

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Published Sep. 27, 2012

A full-page newspaper ad running in swing states purports to reveal "the true agenda of Barack Hussein Obama." It says he will:

• "Force Christian organizations to pay for abortions."

• "Force Christian schools to hire non-Christian teachers."

• "Force courts to accept Islamic Sharia Law in domestic disputes."

• "Force local authorities to allow Occupy protesters to live in parks."

There are 11 points in all, punctuated by "Say NO to Barack Hussein Obama's vision for America on Election Day."

It's from a political action committee that operates under the name "Government is Not God," or GING-PAC. The group says the ad has run in 19 newspapers in Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania.

Compared with other outside spending groups, GING-PAC is a relatively small player. It started in 1994 and has spent less than $100,000 in most elections, supporting Republicans such as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Missouri Rep. Todd Akin.

The group's latest ad found its largest audience when it ran in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Sunday. The Herald-Tribune, citing policy, would not disclose the ad's cost.

The claims riled some voters in Sarasota, including Kindra Muntz, an activist organizing a protest in front of the newspaper's offices today.

"It's an insult to people's intelligence, really. . . . It steps on just about everyone and drags them into somebody's hate agenda," Muntz said.

On Wednesday, the Herald-Tribune apologized in a note to readers, stating that the ad did not meet the newspaper's "standards for fairness and accuracy."

Here at PolitiFact, we wondered if the ad's claims had any merit. We contacted GING-PAC and asked for evidence. William J. Murray, GING-PAC's chairman, said the group didn't need evidence because it was making predictions.

"If a politician is willing to walk you halfway to hell, it is likely that he will walk you the rest of the way there," Murray said via email.

The ad's claims are not couched as predictions, however, but as representations of Obama's actual policies and proposals. We've fact-checked many of the points by comparing them with Obama's previous positions, his proposals for a second term and his public comments.

"Force police agencies to allow Muslim brotherhood to select staff."

We found nothing in Obama's stated policies or positions to support this claim. Still, we ran it by Phil Lynn, director of the National Law Enforcement Policy Center, a division of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He said he had never heard of the claim and most states and local agencies have boards that control hiring and firing decisions.

"Trying to force this on local jurisdictions would be irregular and out of place," Lynn said. "I would think many states would balk at it."

Such an idea is not only unconstitutional, it's also ridiculous, said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida.

"It just doesn't make any sense," Simon said. "It's incoherent that a police agency would give an outside group the power to pick its own staff."

We found no evidence that Obama has ever mentioned anything like this. We rate this statement Pants on Fire.

"Force doctors to assist homosexuals in buying surrogate babies."

Experts who follow issues involving same-sex couples and parenthood were perplexed by this one. "We have no idea what this claim is based on," said Eleanor Nicoll, public affairs manager for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Plus, buying babies is illegal. We rate this Pants on Fire.

"Force States to pay the college tuition of illegal immigrants' children."

This claim conflates several issues related to immigration. To begin with, children of illegal immigrants born in the United States are citizens. A federal court recently overturned a Florida law that denied in-state tuition to the citizen children of illegal immigrants who are Florida residents. Immigration experts said the federal government couldn't force states to pay college tuition for immigrants — or for any other students, for that matter. We rate this claim False.

"Force all states to permit same-sex 'marriages.' "

The ad's basis is the president's opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law that defines marriage as between a man and woman.

Is opposing the law the same thing as wanting to force all states to permit same-sex marriages? Not according to Obama. "I continue to believe that this is an issue that is gonna be worked out at the local level, because historically, this has not been a federal issue," he said in a May interview, adding, "I think it is a mistake to try to make what has traditionally been a state issue into a national issue."

Even if Obama changed his mind, he would have to introduce legislation in Congress to require states to recognize gay marriages. And even if that passed, it would likely be unconstitutional, according to Dale Carpenter, a civil rights professor at the University of Minnesota. "The court has explicitly said that family law is a matter for states to decide," he said. We rate the ad's claim False.

"Force Christian organizations to pay for abortions."

Under the 2010 health care law, Christian organizations won't be "forced" to hand over money for abortion procedures performed at clinics by doctors. But the law does expand coverage requirements for preventive care. And preventive care, as defined by the Obama administration, includes birth control, emergency contraceptives and sterilization — and some people equate those services with abortion.

The administration created an exemption for religious organizations by requiring insurance companies to pay for those services. But antiabortion groups say the exemption is just a shell game.

That controversy is real, but the ad's claim creates a misleading impression. We rate this Mostly False.

"Force Christian schools to hire non-Christian teachers."

The only basis for this claim is a 2012 Supreme Court decision involving a teacher who said she lost her job in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. She sued to get her job at a private Christian school back. The federal government supported her case, but the court unanimously ruled against her on First Amendment grounds.

Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission did address the proper balance between the government and religious institutions in personnel decisions at schools. But even participants in the case say it had nothing to do with ordering schools to hire people. We rate this claim False.

"Force courts to accept Islamic Sharia Law in domestic disputes."

There have been isolated instances when U.S. courts have used sharia law. But we couldn't find any instances of the Obama administration supporting that.

On top of that, the notion would violate the separation of powers, said Glenn Hendrix, an Atlanta-based lawyer and past chair of the American Bar Association's section on International Law. Hendrix said there's no substance to the ad's claim.

"Even if the administration were somehow pushing sharia law — and of course it's not — the executive branch cannot force courts to accept any particular law," Hendrix said.

We rate the statement Pants on Fire.

"Force local authorities to allow Occupy protesters to live in parks."

Occupy Wall Street is a loosely organized movement that draws attention to income inequality. In 2011, it set up camp in New York City's Zuccotti Park and then spread to other cities.

Protesters have a First Amendment right to peaceably assemble, but local governments are generally allowed to enforce time and place restrictions on those gatherings. A 1984 Supreme Court opinion said governments may outlaw sleeping in parks, even during protests.

We couldn't find any evidence that Obama or his administration opposed existing law on this point. Also, a president can't overturn a Supreme Court decision anyway. We rate this claim Pants on Fire.

Obama is "the only President in history who has deliberately removed the words 'endowed by their Creator' when referring to our Declaration of Independence, not once, but several times."

The ad ends with a tagline accusing Obama of taking some godless liberties with the language in the Declaration of Independence. And indeed, we did find video of him paraphrasing that famous line, leaving out the "creator." Several conservative websites appear to be tracking his omissions.

But there's also video evidence of him saying those words — the blog of the liberal group People for the American Way even put together a compilation video of Obama reciting the "endowed by their creator" language. And the site dug up examples of other presidents paraphrasing the Declaration and omitting the "creator." Which presidents, you ask? Calvin Coolidge, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.

We rate this False.

Times staff writers Bill Adair, Jon Greenberg, Louis Jacobson, Molly Moorhead and Katie Sanders contributed to this report.