June 1999 People & Events

Citizens For Excellence In Education Claims Financial Woes

Citizens for Excellence in Education, a once formidable Religious Right group that vowed to take control of America's public schools, is having serious financial difficulties, according to its president.

Dr. Robert Simonds, who founded CEE in 1983, wrote in an April fund-raising letter that donations to the group have dropped off sharply since he endorsed "Rescue 2010," a drive to encourage all fundamentalist Christians to remove their children from public schools by the year 2010.

"CEE is almost totally shackled because of the 50% drop in giving since we added rescuing our children from public schools to our agenda," wrote Simonds. "If you think, beloved, we can do this alone -- it is over! We are dropping thousands of names monthly from our mailings because of no support. It costs us $.50 per letter that goes out. Please help our helpless 20,000,000 church children and their beautiful Christian church parents. How can we abandon them to the Phillistines [sic]? God help us, if we do."

Continued Simonds, "CEE is hanging on financially. Our task is huge. We cannot print our materials or mail them because of our six-month funding slump. Our Education Newsline, which should have been mailed with this letter, is being delayed for lack of printing funds. We must get help fast....We are not crying wolf, beloved. We must have help -- and soon. Please PRAY for these children depending upon us at CEE. We are your arm of ministry -- but we are partners and cannot succeed alone."

Simonds' group, based in Costa Mesa, Calif., sends out monthly letters viciously attacking public schools and accusing them of promoting various lurid schemes. In the April letter, he asserts that children are being drugged in school and that they are frequently preyed upon by pedophiles. "As homosexual/lesbianism spreads among teachers, so does pedophilia," he writes.

CEE started with ambitious goals. In 1984 the group mailed a fund-raising letter outlining "our Lord's plans to bring public education back under the control of the Christian community."

Continued the letter, "There are 15,700 school districts in America. When we get an active Christian parents' committee in operation in all districts, we can take complete control of all local school boards. This would allow us to determine all local policy; select good textbooks; good curriculum programs; superintendents and principals. Our time has come!"

Robertson Tries To Censor Negative Stories In Scottish Newspapers

Angry over reporting about his extreme statements and unusual views, TV preacher Pat Robertson has hired lawyers in Scotland to threaten newspapers with libel suits if they continue their aggressive coverage of him.

Robertson became the focus of controversy in Scotland recently after he announced a deal to provide telephone banking services with the Bank of Scotland. The bank, a venerable institution in Scotland, has been deluged with protests by Scots who resent the partnership with a man of Robertson's ilk. Some groups have even cancelled their accounts with the bank or staged protests at bank branches.

Opponents of the deal have used the World Wide Web to research Robertson (including visiting Americans United's website at www.au.org) and have uncovered the TV preacher's extreme quotes from the past. Many of these have found their way into the Scottish press, which has infuriated Robertson.

In April a Glasgow legal firm sent a note marked "Not for Publication" to The Scotsman, a large daily in Edinburgh, instructing the newspaper to refrain from referring to Robertson as an extremist, a bigot, a racist or an anti-Semite. These claims, said the law firm, are "untrue, inaccurate and in some instances defamatory."

Peter Watson, an attorney with the Glasgow firm, wrote that Robertson does not believe that gays are Satanists, that Presbyterians represent the spirit of the Antichrist and that Muslims and Hindus are inferior to Christians. However, The Scotsman cited several examples from Robertson's "700 Club" and other sources that seem to contradict Watson's claims.

For example, on March 7, 1990, Robertson told his viewers, "Many of those people involved with Adolf Hitler were Satanists. Many of them were homosexuals. The two things seem to go together." On January 14, 1991, he remarked, "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that and the other thing. Nonsense! I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist." And on January 7, 1991, he called Hinduism "devil worship, ultimately."

In late April Robert McNeal, a reporter for The Scotsman, interviewed AU Assistant Director of Communications Robert Boston about Robertson. Boston, author of The Most Dangerous Man in America?: Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition, noted that the TV preacher has a long track record of making extreme statements and then trying to deny he said them or asserting they have been taken out of context.

"The evidence is clear," Boston said. "There is no context in which to make these statements that would have been favorable. The context was bad enough."

In other news about the Religious Right:

- Gov. George W. Bush of Texas is trying to woo Pat Robertson into his presidential camp. Bush, the GOP front- runner, told The New York Times in April that he recently had "a very frank discussion" with Robertson during which the candidate talked about "my heart, what my beliefs are."

Asked if he wants Robertson's endorsement, Bush replied, "I want everybody to support me."

- A state judge in Oklahoma has dismissed a libel lawsuit brought against the state affiliate of the Christian Coalition by a state legislator who says his views were misrepresented on a voter guide. Sen. Dave Herbert, a Midwest City Democrat, said the Coalition accused him of supporting decriminalizing sodomy and bestiality, giving minors access to pornography on the World Wide Web and favoring abortion on demand last November.

Oklahoma County District Judge Karl Gray ruled that the statements on the guide were opinion and thus protected political speech. Under libel law, public officials must prove that false statements made about them were done with malice, a standard the judge said Herbert had not met. The judge did not rule on the issue of whether or not the CC guide was accurate. (Herbert v. Oklahoma Christian Coalition)

- The Maine Christian Coalition's director has been fined $250 for violating campaign financing laws.

Maine's Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices said Paul Volle failed to register his company, Management Research and Development Association, as a political action committee. Volle used the firm to distribute an anti-gay tabloid newspaper to households in South Portland in an effort to block a proposed gay rights ordinance last October. The Commission determined that the purpose of the paper was not to educate but to influence the outcome of an election.

Volle told the Portland Press Herald that he paid the fine "under protest."

- Operation Rescue, the militant anti-abortion group founded by Randall Terry, has changed its name and adopted a new focus. According to spokeswoman Eileen Schopf, the group will now be known as Operation Save America. While it will continue to work against abortion, it will also oppose homosexuality, child pornography and teen sex. The group will also advocate Christian worship in public schools.

"We do want to save this country, not just the unborn," Schopf was quoted as saying in The National Catholic Reporter. "We want to show our love for this country and our desire to return to the moral grounds this country was founded on."

The group's anti-abortion protests in Buffalo this spring were a flop, with only about 200 protestors taking part.

Prayer Day Task Force Excludes Non-Christians

Mormons, Muslims and other religious minorities were not welcome to participate in National Day of Prayer events sponsored by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, materials from the group suggest.

The Task Force, a group affiliated with religious broadcaster James Dobson and other Religious Right leaders, sent out an information packet this year that says every NDP volunteer must be "a Christian who has a personal relationship with Christ."

A statement on increasing church participation by Illinois NDP Coordinator Claudia Dunne included in the packet reads, "[W]e are looking forward to assembling the BODY OF CHRIST so we are covered as to why we haven't invited Mormons, Muslims, etc....[W]e want everyone to come to the NDP events, but the only people who get to the microphone are those we know have a personal relationship with Christ."

Although the Task Force, based at Dobson's Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs, is a private group, its events dominate the observances of the National Day of Prayer and it often seeks quasi-official status.

The National Day of Prayer was formally approved by Congress in 1952, and in 1988 it was permanently set by Congress as the first Thursday of each May. An NDP event was held May 6 in the U.S. House of Representatives' Cannon Office Building with participation by Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie, U.S. Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.) and other public officials.

Among them was Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the nation's "drug czar," who announced that the federal government will work with religious groups to promote "faith-based initiatives" to combat drug abuse.

Also speaking was Alabama Judge Roy Moore, who achieved national notoriety in 1997 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments plaque from his courtroom wall and opening jury sessions with Christian prayers. During his remarks, Moore called for official prayer in public schools.

Americans United charged that the National Day of Prayer has been hijacked by Religious Right organizations that are using it to promote their religious political agenda. Task Force materials distributed this year distorted Supreme Court decisions and gave a false impression of U.S. history.

The NDP Task Force often schedules its events at government buildings and seeks endorsements and participation by governors, mayors and other elected officials, thus giving the events the appearance of official sponsorship. Governors in 46 states issued proclamations this year, as did President Bill Clinton.

Kansas Town Removes Ten Commandments After AU Lawsuit

The City Commission of Manhattan, Kan., has voted 3-2 to remove a Ten Commandments monolith from the front lawn of city hall rather than face an Americans United-sponsored lawsuit.

More than 350 town residents attended the April 27 meeting, many of whom urged the Commission to keep the Decalogue display. But at the end of the evening, the Commission, acting on a proposal by member Bruce Snead, approved a plan to return the four-foot-high granite monument to the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which donated the display to the city in 1958. The monument was removed the next day.

About 75 city residents lined up to address the commission on the matter. Although many spoke in favor of keeping the monument, not all agreed. Angela Hubler, one of seven residents who agreed to serve as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said she is a Christian but added, "I don't think it's necessary to reject the Constitution to be a good Christian. We do not live in a theocracy, thank God."

Another speaker, Lilly Sanders added, "Jesus' kingdom was not built by force. It was built by love."

Although the commission has removed the monument, the controversy is not completely over. Americans United, which brought the legal challenge with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, has asked the federal court to issue an order stipulating that the display was unconstitutional, so that the monument or one like it cannot be erected again in the future.

The commission, meanwhile, has voted 3-2 to accept free legal help from the American Center for Law and Justice, a legal group founded by TV preacher Pat Robertson, as final negotiations in the case continue.

Minnesota Governor Skips Prayer Day, Supports Separation

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura (Reform Party) has declined to issue a proclamation calling for National Day of Prayer activities in the state.

In explaining his actions, Ventura said, "I believe in the separation of church and state. We all have our own religious beliefs. There are people out there who are atheists, who don't believe at all....They are citizens of Minnesota, and I have to respect that."

Ventura did sign a certificate of recognition of the event. His spokesman John Wodele said, "It is more of a personal recognition. There is a differentiation between a proclamation and a certificate of recognition."

That wasn't good enough for the state's Religious Right. The Minnesota Family Council criticized Ventura, noting he had signed a proclamation on Feb. 15 marking "Rolling Stones Day."

Said Tom Prichard, the group's president, "I would think the governor at the very least would give equal recognition to a day of prayer as he gave to Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones."

Amway Chief Bankrolls Michigan Drive For Religious School Aid

Richard DeVos, president of Amway Corp., has pledged millions to an effort to repeal a section of the Michigan Constitution that bars taxpayer aid to private religious schools.

DeVos hopes to mobilize a group of business, civic and religious leaders behind the effort and is busy lining up support. The drive will be coordinated by the Mackinac Center, a right-wing think tank.

The immediate target of the DeVos-funded effort is Article 8, Section 2 of the Michigan Constitution. Approved by the voters in 1970, the provision specifically forbids government to subsidize sectarian schools "directly or indirectly."

The DeVos proposal would do more than simply remove the provision from the constitution. It would also set up a full-blown voucher plan in the state, with vouchers worth $3,000 required in districts identified as "at risk." It would also allow voters in other communities to decide if they want vouchers.

Voucher backers last attempted to remove the constitutional provision through a ballot referendum in 1978 but were rebuffed at the polls by the voters, 74 percent to 26 percent. DeVos and his allies expect to pour millions into the new effort, which will appear on the 2000 ballot.

"It's a major victory for us," Larry Reed, Mackinac Center president, told the Midland Daily News. "[DeVos is] the guy who can both give and get substantial amounts of money. He doesn't do anything he doesn't put his heart and wallet into."

Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida has joined the crusade, saying, "A strong private educational program in the city is indispensable for creating a great public school system. It's a healthy dose of competition that brings out the best." Maida estimated that with vouchers, Detroit Catholic schools would double their enrollment.

DeVos and his backers must collect more than 300,000 signatures to place the measure on the ballot. Once that is done, they expect to spend at least $5 million touting the plan.

Voucher boosters claim that tax aid to religious schools will increase student performance. No objective study of existing voucher plans has shown this to be true. Meanwhile, two new reports indicate what really does spark student achievement -- and it isn't vouchers.

In a recently concluded study that ran more than a decade in Tennessee, researchers concluded that smaller class sizes increase educational performance. Students in classes with 13 to 17 students, the researchers found, got higher grades and were more likely to go to college than students in bigger classes.

The comprehensive study was conducted by Project STAR, which examined the academic performance of more than 11,000 students since 1986.

A second study, this one conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Education Trust, surveyed 366 elementary and secondary schools in 21 states that serve largely poor populations but whose students score above average on test scores. The Trust concluded that higher education standards, teacher accountability and continuing education for teachers, parental involvement and more individual instruction are the keys to success.

In other news about religious school aid:

- New York's highest court has once again declared a special public school district for Hasidic Jews unconstitutional. The May 11 ruling by the State Court of Appeals marked the tenth time state and federal courts have ruled on the matter.

New York lawmakers first created the special district in 1989 to serve handicapped children in the Hasidic enclave of Kiryas Joel. After that effort was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1994, legislators passed a new law, which was subsequently struck down by the New York Court of Appeals in 1996. Despite the latest ruling, the mayor of the village said he plans to ask the legislature to pass yet another law.

- The Chittenden, Vt., school board has reversed a policy favoring vouchers. After elections changed the composition of the board, members voted 2-1 March 15 to end an effort to pay for tuition at private religious schools.

Chittenden does not have its own high school and pays to send students to non-sectarian private schools. In 1996 the board agreed to include religious high schools as well, a proposal that was blocked by state officials. Board members subsequently filed suit and hired the Institute for Justice, a Washington pro-voucher group. A state court ruled against the board, and an appeal is pending before the Vermont Supreme Court.

Clergy 'Counselors' Expelled From Texas Public Schools

A program in the Beaumont, Texas, public schools that allowed clergy to counsel students on virtues and morality has been declared unconstitutional.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on April 16 struck down the so-called "clergy in schools" program, citing the separation of church and state.

Under the rules of the program, which did not require parental consent for student participation, clergy were supposedly forbidden to discuss abortion, sex or religion with students or to pray with them. Instead, they were expected to limit their discussions to "moral and civic" issues. But the court record showed that proselytism did sometimes occur.

The appellate court ruled that the program clearly promoted religion. "The creation of a special program that recruits only clergymen to render volunteer counseling makes a clear statement that it favors religion over non-religion," said the court.

The court also found that the program was not truly voluntary, since opting out was not a viable option for many peer-conscious students.

Officials at the school were disappointed, but the parents of seven children who challenged the program insisted that the clergy sessions violated parental rights.

Americans United agreed. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed before the appeals court, AU attorneys argued that the Beaumont program showed insensitivity toward minority religions and was a clear instance of government promotion of religion. (Doe v. Beaumont Independent School District)

In other news about religion in public schools:

- A public high school in Washington state does not have to provide funding to a student-run Bible club, a federal court has ruled. U.S. District Judge Franklin Burgess said officials at Spanaway Lake High School acted appropriately by denying funds to the World Changers, a club formed by student Tausha Prince. Officials have given the club meeting space and the right to use bulletin boards but drew the line at funding. Prince's case was handled by TV preacher Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice, which plans to appeal.

- A Sacramento basketball coach who came under fire for praying with team members has resigned. Officials at Grant High School ordered Tony Lowden, boys basketball coach, to stop leading prayer sessions with players after Americans United protested. Lowden resigned last month, saying he was under too much pressure. Aside from the prayer flap, Lowden had been criticized by some parents for his coaching style and player rotation decisions.

Right-Wing Think Tanks Get Billion In Backing, New Report Finds

Conservative foundations and big business have funded right-wing think tanks to the tune of $1 billion in the 1990s, a new report says.

The study, "$1 Billion For Ideas: Conservative Think Tanks In The 1990s," issued recently by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in Washington, D.C., examined the 20 largest right-wing think tanks according to budget size.

"Partial data from 1997 indicates that spending by center-right and far-right think tanks continues to grow rapidly, suggesting that the 1990s has been a period of continued institution-building by political conservatives," reads the report. "Overall spending by these institutions between 1990 and 2000 is likely to top $1 billion."

Many of the organizations on the top 20 list support religious school vouchers, "charitable choice" welfare schemes or other proposals that would violate church-state separation.

"A decade ago," observes the report, "market-based approaches to education reform were discussed only at the margins of mainstream political debate. Today, they are central to that debate, and conservative think tanks during the 1990s have played a key role in achieving this transformation of the education agenda....Much of this work has been devoted to making the case for vouchers, linking this issue with broader arguments about the superiority of market mechanisms over public institutions."

The best-funded right-wing group is the Heritage Foundation, with an annual budget of $28.7 million. Religious Right leader Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Research and Education Foundation is fifth with a budget of $11.5 million, and the Family Research Council is sixth with a budget of $10.2 million.

Also making the list were a number of smaller pro-voucher groups, such as the Reason Foundation, Empower America, the Cato Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Virtually all of these organizations receive funding from a small number of right-wing foundations, the report notes. These include foundations controlled by billionaire publisher Richard Mellon Scaife as well as the Bradley Foundation, the Olin Foundation, the Koch Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation and the J.M. Foundation.

The report also notes that corporate support of right-wing groups is becoming increasingly common. In 1996, for example, the pro-voucher Cato Institute received money from more than 100 corporations, including Exxon, Bell Atlantic, Microsoft, Phillip Morris, Citicorp, Netscape, R.J. Reynolds and General Motors.

"In terms of resources, there is every indication that the funding stream that currently supports the conservative policy infrastructure will continue to grow," concludes the report. The 42-page report was written by David Callahan, a fellow at the Century Foundation. Individual copies are $25. For information on ordering, contact the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy at 2001 S Street, N.W., Suite 620, Washington, D.C. 20009. Website: www.ncrp.org.

Religious Right Candidate Defeated In Colorado Springs

A far-right candidate with a long history of anti-gay activism has lost his bid to become the mayor of Colorado Springs, the backyard of radio broadcaster James Dobson's Focus on the Family and a host of other Religious Right groups.

Will Perkins, the founder of Colorado for Family Values, was defeated by incumbent Mary Lou Makepeace by nearly 10,000 votes on April 6. Perkins authored Colorado's anti-gay Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment that was approved by the voters but ultimately struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In addition, an incumbent city council member who was aligned with the Religious Right lost his seat. Dawson Hubert finished fifth in a race for four open council seats. Hubert had opposed a plan to rename a highway bypass in honor of Martin Luther King and twice tried to change the city's Zero Tolerance for Discrimination resolution, which says that Colorado Springs denounces "discrimination of a racial, ethnic, sexual or religious nature."

Observed Richard Conway of Citizens Project, a local pro-tolerance group, "Following last November's national elections, Gary Bauer, head of the Family Research Council, a Focus on the Family spin-off, and Christian Coalition head Randy Tate claimed many right-wing candidates lost because they were not clear enough on the 'pro-family' agenda and therefore failed to excite the conservative Christian voters, who stayed home. However, local candidates Hubert and Perkins are well known for their right-wing views. Their defeats at the polls were not due to their constituents staying home, but to the fact that the majority of Colorado Springs' residents want to live in a community that upholds the traditional American values of diversity, pluralism and separation of church and state."

Gay bashing may not be as popular with conservative Christians as some Religious Right leaders seem to think. A public opinion poll released in May by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Foundation found that 70 percent of fundamentalist Christians thought it should be illegal to fire people from their jobs just because they are gay. Sixty-four percent also said they would consider voting for gay candidates for office based on the candidates' stands on the issues.

Meanwhile, Colorado for Family Values is struggling to come up with a new message. In April the organization put together a 1999 strategic plan, copies of which were obtained by Citizens Project and the news media. To deflect charges of "homophobia," group supporters plan to start calling themselves "homoseptic," meaning they are "free from the evil influence of homosexual behavior."