Embattled Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis was no doubt the guest of honor at this year’s Values Voter Summit, with the hosting Family Research Council awarding her a “Cost of Discipleship Award.” Mat Staver, chairman of the Liberty Counsel, which legally represents her, praised her courage and claimed that 100,000 people had attended a prayer rally to support her in Peru.
Staver posted the following image at the summit to support his claim:
CREDIT: Family Research Council VVS Live Stream/Screenshot
The image seems to have first been tweeted the day before the summit by Matt Barber, also formerly of the Liberty Counsel, who claimed, “Christians in Peru had a prayer rally for #KimDavis & American Christians. over 100K showed up. Amazing!” Staver posted the image a second time on Sunday, claiming that Peruvian Congressman Julio Rosas was responsible for organizing it.
There is not a single news story about a prayer rally taking place in Peru for Kim Davis. There is not a single post on Rosas’ Twitter or Facebook about such a rally, though he did send one tweet of support for Staver’s defense of Davis. And the image is almost certainly from a prayer rally known as “Jesús Te Ama Y Te Cambia” (“Jesus Loves You And Changes You”), which did take place in Peru — over five days in May, 2014.
Internet sleuths, including Twitter user @DCHomos, quickly identified the stadium as the Estadio Universidad Nacional Mayor San Marcos at the National University of San Marcos. Then, a number of videos seemed to quickly confirm that the image shared by Staver and Barber was from the 2014 convention organized by the pentecostal Movimiento Misionero Mundial (Worldwide Missionary Movement).
This video, taken from one of the evening events of the convention, seems to clearly identify the pink banner visible in the photo as one bearing the name of the event:
CREDIT: YouTube/Bethel Televisión Screenshot
Another video, shot by a convention attendee, clearly shows many identifiable features from the photo, including the array of orange porta potties, the dark grey media tent in the center aisle, the yellow security vests and red usher vests, the sound system scaffolding around the outside track, the distinct white chairs, and at 1:27, the exact same pink banner propped up in the front row:
It may well be true, as Barber claimed in his tweets, that attendees of Jesús Te Ama Y Te Cambia prayed for American Christians writ large, but at that point in time, nobody knew who Kim Davis was. The event almost certainly didn’t happen over the past few months, and did not happen specifically to support Davis.
Monday afternoon, the Liberty Counsel posted a press release defending the legitimacy of the photo. The group insists that Congressman Rosas "was involved in announcing the prayer gathering" and has confirmed on multiple occasions that it did, in fact, take place on September 13. Attempting to justify the nonexistence of the rally on the Internet, the Liberty Counsel explains, "While meetings of 70,000 to 100,000 Christians in a soccer stadium may shock people in the United States, they are much more common in Peru. Oftentimes such gatherings do not appear on traditional media any more than the weekly church services in the United States appear on television."
But this release actually undermines Liberty Counsel's own claims. "The only mistake in the announcement at the Values Voter Summit," it reads, "was that Staver said the picture was taken in Lima, Peru, when the actual photograph was of a different soccer stadium in northern Peru on September 13, 2015."
It's very clear that the shared photo is at the Estadio Universidad Nacional Mayor San Marcos, not some random unidentified stadium elsewhere. Even the water tower in the background matches the stadium shown in the videos of the "Jesús Te Ama Y Te Cambia" convention (at 1:08 in the above video). And contrary to Staver's new claims, that stadium is in Lima, Peru.
Liberty Counsel provided no new evidence that such a rally took place for Kim Davis — no additional photos or videos and no links to announcements or coverage. If anything, the claim is even less believable than before.
Liberty Counsel has since issued a redacted version of the same press release. It now omits some of the timetable previously provided, the Liberty Counsel's many apparent connections with Peru, and most importantly the claim about the location of the photo.
For the record, here is the FULL press release originally posted Monday afternoon by the Liberty Counsel:
Washington, DC – Last Friday prior to Kim Davis being presented with the “Cost of Discipleship” award by Tony Perkins at the Values Voter Summit, Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, showed a picture of thousands of people in Peru who gathered to pray for the Rowan County Clerk jailed for her religious beliefs. One constant critic has questioned whether the event occurred.
Julio Rosas, a member of the Peruvian Congress, met personally with Mat Staver and Kim Davis the day prior to the award, explained the prayer meeting, and presented the photograph. Congressman Rosas was involved in announcing the prayer gathering. This past Saturday Congressman Rosas again confirmed the event, and this morning he again reaffirmed the prayer meeting.
On September 6, the day prior to Labor Day while Kim Davis was in jail, Congressman Rosas was part of the call for the prayer meeting that occurred the following Sunday, September 13, the day prior to Kim’s return to work on September 14. Congressman Rosas left for the U.S. on September 10 to attend meetings in Washington, D.C., so he was not at the event. Until today when he returned to Peru in the early hours of the morning, he was in constant meetings. He is currently in session at the Peruvian Congress.
As noted above, Congressman Rosas flew to the U.S. on September 10. His media advisor, Reynaldo Aragon, a former CNN journalist, called Congressman Rosas on September 14, the day after the prayer meeting, to inform him that the prayer meeting had occurred and sent him a photograph of the event. Prayer meetings were held throughout Peru for Kim Davis and persecuted Christians around the world. The only mistake in the announcement at the Values Voter Summit was that Staver said the picture was taken in Lima, Peru, when the actual photograph was of a different soccer stadium in northern Peru on September 13, 2015. Many churches canceled their Sunday services to attend the prayer meeting in the soccer stadium.
Mat Staver was already known in Peru, as he spoke to Congress in November 2013, and that speech was broadcast on national Peruvian television. Staver also met with many other high-ranking government officials and actually attended a Christian event held in Lima, Peru, in which Staver was acknowledged to the large Christian gathering. That meeting was also broadcast on Bethel TV.
While meetings of 70,000 to 100,000 Christians in a soccer stadium may shock people in the United States, they are much more common in Peru. Oftentimes such gatherings do not appear on traditional media any more than the weekly church services in the United States appear on television.
Not only did people gather to pray in Peru on September 13, but Liberty Counsel has received reports of churches in other parts of the world gathering to pray for Kim Davis. For example, a church in Lagos, Nigeria, participated in fasting and prayer for Kim Davis.
“People underestimate the worldwide support expressed by Christians for Kim Davis. The conflict of her faith with a governmental policy on the matter of marriage has universal interest, because this conflict is not just in the United States. The matter of religious liberty is a human right that resonates with people around the world,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel.
Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.
Liberty Counsel's reference to a church in Lagos, Nigeria praying for Kim Davis likely refers to a post shared on the Free Kim Davis NOW Facebook page describing such a service held at Light of God and Prophetic Ministry. That church, which does not identify any physical location, has only existed on Facebook since April and currently has 66 likes.
Unsatisfied with the mysterious origins of the photo shared by Liberty Counsel, Twitter user @DCHomos continued digging. He found it. It was posted on Facebook on May 25, 2014. As all of the other evidence indicates, it was from the prayer rally that happened well over a year before Kim Davis was on the radar. In fact, the image was posted on the Facebook account for the very organization that organized that event. Congressman Julio Rosas may have confirmed it was a rally for Davis, but it wasn't, and so the Liberty Counsel and Matt Barber were wrong every time they defended its legitimacy.
Matt Barber, who spent the day defending the authenticity of the photo and criticizing ThinkProgress on Twitter, admitted Monday evening that he was wrong. In an update to a post on his very conservative site — still titled "Yes, 100,000 Peruvian Christians Did Hold a Prayer Rally for Kim Davis" — Barber added:
(Editors note: Think Progress has updated its blog and linked to a Facebook post date stamped May 25, 2014, which, at the very least, calls into question the origin of the photograph given to Liberty Counsel by Congressman Rosas. BarbWire will continue to seek answers as to where this photograph first originated and why, apparently, someone within Congressman Rosas’ office (or elsewhere) represented to the congressman that it was a photograph of a prayer rally held in Peru for Kim Davis when, as it now seems, such was not the case. To the extent that we at BarbWire appear to have received inaccurate information, and, further, to the extent that Zack Ford and Think Progress appear to have been correct about the questionable nature of this photograph, it seems that they were right and we were wrong. We will update our readers as we receive further explanation.” ~ Matt Barber)
Barber also apologized on Twitter.