The Obama administration, in what's been called an egregious slap in the face to the Vatican, has moved to shut down the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See -- a free-standing facility -- and relocate offices onto the grounds of the larger American Embassy in Italy.
Breitbart aggressively pushed the story, as did other far-right outlets, which subtly changed the story from "moving" the embassy to "shutting it down." Soon after, Fox Nation's top story said President Obama intends to "close" the embassy to the Holy See.
It wasn't long before prominent Republican officials, taking their cues from right-wing reports, started expressing outrage. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), for example, called the news a "slap in the face" to the nation's Roman Catholics. Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R), ostensibly one of his party's less-ridiculous voices, suggested the Obama administration is "closing" the embassy as "retribution" for the Vatican's "opposition" to the Affordable Care Act. The National Republican Senatorial Committee even launched a petition drive to protest the move, calling it "the latest anti-religion pursuit" of the Obama administration and a decision that "weakens America's position as a global leader."
All of this is completely bonkers. It's tempting to think there's a limit on the amount of nonsense Republican officials expect far-right activists to believe, but the party keeps finding new ways to push the envelope.
First, no one is closing the embassy. It's moving to a new location -- closer to the Vatican -- that will save American taxpayers money and improve security for U.S. diplomats and staff.
Second, despite the Republican apoplexy, the Vatican doesn't mind the move and hasn't complained at all. Indeed, other countries have made similar moves in Rome without incident.
Third, plans for the move began under the Bush/Cheney administration, making the incessant Republican whining that much stranger.
Asked to defend his party's transparent and demonstrable falsehoods, Brad Dayspring, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told CNN that the party is pushing back against the move because it will be "perceived" by "many" Catholics as offensive.
But that perception will only exist if Americans believe the lies Republicans are repeating about this manufactured controversy.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* A federal judge ruled this week that an IRS exemption that "allows clergy to shield a portion of their salary from federal income taxes" is unconstitutional. According to the Religion News Service report, the housing exemption currently applies to "an estimated 44,000 ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and others" (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
* Pope Francis caused a considerable stir this week when he condemned "trickle-down" economic policies in stark terms. The Roman Catholic leader called rampant capitalism "a new tyranny," adding, "Such an economy kills."
* Southern Baptist leader Richard Land argued in print this week that "the best option" for unmarried mothers is giving up their kids for adoption. "A single mother who keeps her baby is quite often denying that baby the father that God wants for that baby, and every baby, to have," Land argued.
* And the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer told his followers this week that the Constitution allows U.S. officials to "make Islam illegal" and "prohibit the building of mosques." In case anyone's curious, that's the exact opposite of reality.