April 2001 People & Events

'Far Right' May Demand Voucher Pilot Bill, Says Whip Tom DeLay

The "far right" wing of the Republican majority in Congress may demand action on voucher subsidies for religious schools before agreeing to support other provisions in President George W. Bush's education package, says House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

In a recent interview with The Washington Times, DeLay noted that activists on "the far right" are "a little worried" about Bush's education proposal, which would increase spending and require states to step up student testing. Although the proposal contains a voucher provision, some conservatives fear the administration will not push it.

"They are sort of 'trust but verify,'" DeLay said. "If we can do something [on vouchers], we won't lose as many conservatives a first step, for instance. A pilot program, that's the way to do it. Instead of dropping vouchers, you work on a compromise on vouchers that will get you 218 votes."

Education Secretary Rod Paige has also moved recently to mollify GOP concerns over the administration's commitment to vouchers. Some voucher boosters were alarmed after Sen. James Jeffords (R-Vt.) left vouchers out of an education package that was pushed in the Senate in early March.

Paige said the voucher concept could be promoted through charter schools instead. "We've already said it's OK to take state dollars and buy educational services from private entrepreneurs, which most charter schools are," he told The Washington Times. "So if we want to deal with the voucher issue, then we'd have to call that a group voucher. In other words, take the money from the state, give it to a school and let them go find a child. We call it a charter."

Bush and members of his administration are well aware that the term "voucher" has negative connotations to many voters. Recently they have been talking about using different phrases for the concept. In the interview with The Times, Paige talked about "portability" the idea of allowing students to take a per capita allocation of funding and use it to pay for tuition at charter schools or private institutions.

The Senate is scheduled to deliberate the full Bush education package this month or in early May. Members of the House, meanwhile, plan to introduce an education bill in early April that contains a voucher provision, although that word will probably not appear in the measure.

Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told The Times last month that the bill would feature the "portability" concept and would allow students in public schools deemed "failing" to take federal funding under the Title I program and use it to pay for tuition at private institutions.

House Democrats said they are open to using the bill to foster public school choice, but they draw the line at vouchers. Asked about the "portability" concept, Danny Weiss, a spokesman for Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said, "Democrats oppose use of public-school funds for private schools. That is a voucher."

Black Staffers Sue Christian Coalition Over Alleged Racial Bias

Ten African-American employees at the Christian Coalition's Washington, D.C., office have filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing the organization of racial discrimination.

The complaint alleges that Coalition Executive Director Roberta Combs excluded black employees from staff prayer meetings and an inaugural dinner the group sponsored when George W. Bush became president. It also charges that the Coalition extended health care benefits to white employees but not blacks and maintains that black employees were forced to eat lunch in a segregated dining area.

According to the Lee v. Christian Coalition lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington Feb. 23, the workers, most of whom did data entry for the Coalition, were told they could not enter the Coalition offices through the front door. Instead, they were ordered to enter through the back door but were not given key cards to open it and thus had to pound on the door every day to get in.

The suit maintains that Combs said she did not want the black staffers entering through the front door because they would wear out an Oriental rug in the reception area and because she did not want visitors to see employees from the data entry department milling about in that area. It also asserts that she complained about the employees being "talkative and wast[ing] too much time in the kitchen."

The court filing says black employees were denied use of a break room that has a television, refrigerator and microwave oven and were instead forced to use a "segregated break area, consisting of tables shoved against the wall of the remittance/data entry room." It alleges that the Coalition failed to pay the employees the minimum wage.

A week and a half after the lawsuit was lodged, a separate legal action was brought by a white employee who says he was fired after he refused to eavesdrop on the black employees who had complained about working conditions. Trent Barton, a lobbyist for the Coalition, said he sympathizes with the African-American employees and told the St. Petersburg Times, "I believe they have a lot of factual information on their side."

In his lawsuit, Barton charges that Tracy Ammons, a consultant to the Coalition who is Combs' son-in-law, asked him on Feb. 22 to spy on the black employees. Barton asserts that he was fired after he refused.

Barton filed his legal case, Martin v. Christian Coalition, along with two former black Coalition employees, Rhonda Martin and Samantha Henson. Henson said Combs "became uncomfortable" when she and another black employee joined in employee prayer meetings. Henson said she stopped attending the prayer meetings and shortly thereafter African-American employees stopped receiving notification of the gatherings.

The Times reported that on Feb. 27 Combs prepared a memo denying that the Coalition had refused to allow black employees to enter through the front door. That same day they were issued card keys. Combs later released a statement repudiating the allegations raised in the lawsuits.

"This pro-family organization, one of the most effective in the nation, is committed to fighting religious bigotry and defending expressions of faith in the public square," said the Coalition, "and we view any act of discrimination as morally reprehensible."

The lawsuits are the latest in a string of problems for the Coalition. The group, founded with much fanfare in 1990 by TV preacher Pat Robertson, has fallen on hard times. It is in debt and seems to be losing its political influence in the Republican Party.

On March 14 The Washington Times ran a front-page article headlined, "Christian, but no longer a powerful Coalition." The piece quoted several former Coalition staffers who said the group was not prominent during the November election. The story also noted that the Coalition is left with just a handful of active state chapters and that the top staffers have all left.

"I get no sense that Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition is any more than marginally effective," said Ken Hill, former chief operating officer for the group. "My personal take is that time has passed them by, organizationally."

Marshall Wittman, another former official at the group, told The Times he would be "shocked if there were not a significant falloff in the Christian Coalition's grassroots organizing and 'get out the vote' ability. The state organizations seemed to be shell of what they once were."

'White Rose' Activists Preach Violence Against Abortion Clinics, Gays

Members of the most extreme faction of the anti-abortion movement met recently for a conference and banquet in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., openly celebrating activists who blow up abortion clinics and applauding proposals to execute gay people.

Supporters of the militant Army of God met Jan. 21 at a hotel in Bowie, Md., for a conference and the fifth "White Rose Banquet." During the event, numerous speakers called for violence against abortion clinics, approved of murdering abortion providers and made jokes about killing homosexuals. A report about the gathering appeared in The Independent Weekly, published in Durham, N.C.

At the banquet, the Rev. Michael Bray, pastor of Reformation Lutheran Church in Bowie, accepted an award naming him a "chaplain" in the Army of God, a shadowy group of anti-abortion militants. The award came with an added gift: a gasoline can said to have been used in an arson attack on an abortion clinic.

Donald Spitz, head of Pro-Life Virginia, presented the can to Bray and read a label on it titled "Instructions for Use," which said, "One: In the dead of night, quietly break basement window. Two: Empty contents through hole. Three: Light match and apply to fluid. Four: Run like the wind."

Bray began bombing abortion clinics in 1984 and served a six-year prison term for his activities. Upon release in 1994, Bray wrote a book, A Time To Kill, which attempts to offer a theological justification for using force against abortion providers.

Also speaking was the Rev. Matt Trewhella of Mercy Seat Christian Church in Milwaukee and leader of a group called Missionaries to the Pre-Born. Trewhella told the crowd, "Hate is good. God loves and God also hates."

According to The Independent Weekly, Trewhella went on to tell a story about how several of his nine children were offended to hear other kids swearing at a McDonald's restaurant. One of his young sons told the swearing children to stop, but they refused, saying they would swear all they wanted. Trewhella's child then remarked, "Oh yeah? We're from Mercy Seat Christian Church, and if you do we'll hunt you down and shoot you." He then went outside to the car and returned with several toy guns.

Observed Trewhella, "Obviously I need to do a little catechizing and instructing with my son about proper evangelistic tactics. But you have to appreciate the spirit there, the love for justice, the love for God. That's what I mean, make fighters out of them....It's kind of nice to see that attitude."

A third speaker, Chuck Spingola, talked mostly about how much he hates gay people. "Not only do they not hide their sodomy in the closet in shame, they want to push it on you and in your schools," he said. "They want to make sissies out of your little boys, just like them. And they do it with the blessing of the government. Now, these people are vile folks....If you deal with these people long enough, you understand the wisdom of God when he says they should be put to death."

Continued Spingola, "My wife used to say, 'Honey, do you believe all homosexuals should be put to death?' I said, 'No, dear, you get about a half a dozen of the activists, you kill them, and the rest of them will go back in the closet.'"

During the banquet, anti-abortion activists who have served time in prison were given awards called "The Order of the White Rose." (The term "White Rose" refers to an underground anti-Nazi organization that challenged Hitler's regime in 1940s Germany.) Among the awardees this year was Dennis Malvasi, who spent six years in prison for bombing four abortion clinics in New York.

"My favorite [saying] is, 'Violence never solves anything,'" Malvasi told the attendees. "Of course it does. It solves all kinds of problems. And good and just men have used it as a tool throughout history."

In other news about religion and politics:

Rousas John Rushdoony, the dean of the "Christian Reconstructionist" movement, died on Feb. 8. He was 84.

Rushdoony, the author of dozens of books, advocated scrapping democracy and adopting a legal system based on the legal code of the Old Testament. He called for the death penalty for numerous offenses, including abortion, homosexuality, adultery, "unchastity" and cursing a parent. Despite the severity of his ideas, Rushdoony was a significant influence on many Religious Right leaders.

Rushdoony founded and ran the Chalcedon Institute in Vallecito, Calif. For more information about Reconstructionism, see "Thy Kingdom Come," September 1988 Church & State.

Drunk driving charges against Houston-area Religious Right activist Dr. Steven Hotze have been dropped. Local prosecutor Lyn McClellan told the Houston Chronicle that the police officer who arrested Hotze has been indicted on charges of tampering with government documents. Although the case against Officer Michael R. Adams is unrelated to Hotze's arrest, Adams cannot testify in court until the matter is resolved.

Hotze was arrested Oct. 26 at 1:30 a.m. after Adams spotted his car weaving across the center line of the road. Hotze refused to take a breath test and failed a field sobriety test, although he has denied he was drunk at the time.

McClellan said the charges against Hotze could be refiled later and denied that his political prominence has anything to do with them being dropped. "To everybody running around saying the DA's office is playing favorites, let me quote from Paul Harvey and tell them to wait for 'the rest of the story,'" McClellan said.

Senate Chaplain Seeks 'Stairway To Heaven' In Capitol Building

U.S. Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie has proposed posting a series of religious paintings and images along a stairway leading to his third-floor office in the U.S. Capitol, a project some have dubbed the "stairway to Heaven."

Ogilvie first floated the idea last September but it was only recently disclosed in an article in The Wall Street Journal. In a formal proposal to the Senate, Ogilvie suggested raising $30,000 from private sources to hang pictures depicting "major themes in America's religious history" along the wall beside the 43 stone steps that lead to his opulent third-story office.

Reported the newspaper, "African-American churches and Jewish settlements were included in the proposal, but the exhibit would be a largely white Christian display, built around a 'back-lighted replica' of a stained-glass depiction of the first prayer in Congress."

In his proposal, Ogilvie asserted that the Founding Fathers believed in the separation of church and state but added, "They did not believe in the separation of God and State."

Ogilvie sent the proposal to the Senate Rules Committee leadership but now says he doubts it will come to fruition. Still, The Journal noted that Ogilvie has a knack for raising private funds to pay for public projects. Shortly after he took office in 1995, Ogilvie persuaded the Senate to create a revolving fund to accept private donations to underwrite religious projects coming out of his office.

According to The Journal, more than $52,000 has been donated to the fund from Dunamis Christian Ministries, an evangelical group based in Hollywood. Ogilvie said he uses some of the money to pay for Bible study lunches and to buy copies of his own books for free distribution in the Senate. (Ogilvie, a former TV preacher, has written more than 40 books.)

Ogilvie defended the fund, pointing out that it is private money. "I would never do that if it were budgeted funds from the Senate," he said. "Because it is additional funds given for the work of the chaplaincy, I feel different about that."

Ogilvie said that even though money from the fund is often used to buy his own books, he will not accept royalties from his publisher for those sales. The Journal reported that Ogilvie received $632 in royalties from one of his publishers recently for books bought with fund money, but Ogilvie called that a mistake and said he would reimburse the fund.

Ralph Reed Seeks To Lead Georgia State Republicans

Former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed hopes to become the next head of the Republican Party of Georgia.

The 39-year-old Reed ran TV preacher Pat Robertson's political group for seven years before resigning in 1997 to form Century Strategies, a political consulting firm based in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked as an advisor to George W. Bush's presidential campaign.

On Jan. 22 Reed sent e-mail messages to supporters throughout Georgia announcing his intention to seek the chairmanship of the state GOP. He told The New York Times, "I want to help lead the party to majority status in Georgia."

A few days later, Reed kicked off his campaign by attending a rally of far-right groups at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs. During his speech, Reed made no direct references to his run, instead spending his time attacking ex-President Bill Clinton. He later distributed campaign literature.

Sharing the stage with Reed was Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch, an organization that spent eight years harassing Clinton and his wife. Even though Clinton is out of office, Klayman told the crowd he will not let up, remarking, "We will bring the Clintons to justice. We will put them in jail, hopefully in the same cell."

Reed denies he plans to use the party chairmanship as a stepping-stone to elective office. "My focus is on electing other people and making sure their campaigns are well funded," he told The Times.

In other news about the Religious Right:

The Family Research Council has launched a new arm that will be more political in focus. American Renewal, as a 501(c)(4) organization, will be able to engage in lobbying full time, as opposed to FRC, which has a tax status that limits the amount of lobbying it can do. Gifts to 501(c)(4) groups are not tax deductible.

N.D. Lawmakers Approve School Prayer Bill

The North Dakota House of Representatives has approved a bill that would promote prayer in public schools.

By a vote of 53-44 in February, the state House said yes to a measure that would allow teachers or students to lead a prayer at the beginning of the school day. Critics say the measure is unconstitutional because it opens the door to teacher-led or coercive prayers in class, a practice the Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down.

The state attorney general's office has warned lawmakers that the measure would be difficult to defend in court.

The bill is now pending before the North Dakota Senate. At the same time, a measure allowing posting of the Ten Commandments has passed the state Senate and is awaiting action in the House.