Dana Milbank writes in a column in today’s Washington Post, “Hateful speech on hate groups,” that the Southern Poverty Law Center “should stop listing a mainstream Christian advocacy group alongside neo-Nazis and Klansmen.” He’s talking about the Family Research Council, which he describes as “a mainstream conservative think tank founded by James Dobson and run for many years by Gary Bauer” which “advocates for a full range of conservative Christian positions, on issues from stem cells to euthanasia.” Going further, Milbank says it’s “reckless” for groups like SPLC to designate FRC as a “hate group.”
While reading all of this, I couldn’t help but wonder why a “mainstream conservative think tank” would defend a bill in Uganda that would put gays and lesbians in prison for life and put them to death for “serial” offenses, among other things. If Milbank had done his homework before writing his column, he would’ve been wondering this same thing.
The reality is that FRC is not a “mainstream conservative think tank.” That’s why FRC is one of only a handful of the many, many groups that oppose equality for gays and lesbians to be designated a “hate group” by SPLC. There’s a big difference between being conservative and being an extremist, but many in the media are missing the distinction. Kyle and Peter have already written about FRC’s history of extremism and SPLC’s criteria (here and here), but I’d like to focus on one particularly outrageous example here.
Back in June of 2010, FRC president Tony Perkins praised the infamous “kill the gays” bill in Uganda, referring to it as an effort to “uphold moral conduct that protects others and in particular the most vulnerable.” The bill that Perkins defended called for life in prison for having sex, even once, with a member of the same sex, or touching someone of the same sex with the intention of having sex.
The bill went further, calling for the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.” To be clear, Perkins defended a bill that called for people to be put to death for the following (among other things):
having sex with someone of the same sex multiple times (a “serial” offender)
having sex with someone of the same sex who is your employee, student, or otherwise under your authority
having sex with someone of the same sex who is under the age of 18 (regardless of the age difference, e.g. a 19-year-old and a 17-year-old)
having sex with someone of the same sex that you got drunk
having sex with someone of the same sex who’s blind or deaf
having sex with someone of the same sex if you’re HIV+, even if you use protection and the virus is not transmitted
You can read the text of the bill here. I’m not exaggerating one bit.
When President Obama criticized the bill, Perkins devoted his weekly radio alert to attacking him over it, citing Obama’s “preoccupation with defending homosexuality.” He went on to mischaracterize the bill, claiming that it only called for the death penalty in instances like “intentionally spreading HIV/AIDS,” and was notably silent on life imprisonment for a single homosexual “act.”
FRC was eventually caught lobbying Congress on a resolution to denounce the “kill the gays” bill. They took pains to say they did not support the bill or the death penalty and were merely lobbying Congress to make the resolution “more factually accurate regarding the content of the Uganda bill, and to remove sweeping and inaccurate assertions that homosexual conduct is internationally recognized as a fundamental human right.”
Ok, so FRC didn’t support the “kill the gays” bill. Instead, FRC’s president devoted his weekly commentary to defending and praising the “kill the gays” bill and attacking President Obama for criticizing it. And FRC lobbied Congress to make sure that the “kill the gays” bill wouldn’t be mischaracterized.
At the recent National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama took the podium calling for greater civility in Washington, which in my opinion is a laudable goal. However, his comments quickly turned to his preoccupation with defending homosexuality.
The President criticized Ugandan leaders for considering enhance penalties for crimes related to homosexuality. The press has widely mischaracterized the law which calls for the death penalty, not for homosexual behavior which is already a crime, but for acts such as intentionally spreading HIV/AIDS, or preying upon vulnerable individuals such as children, which has been a problem in Uganda for years because the large number of orphans.
The President said that “We may disagree about gay marriage, “but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are.” Mr. President as long as you characterize efforts to uphold moral conduct that protects others and in particular the most vulnerable, as attacking people, civility will continue to evade us.
(1) A person commits the offence of homosexuality if-
(a) he penetrates the anus or mouth of another person of the same sex with his penis or any other sexual contraption;
(b) he or she uses any object or sexual contraption to penetrate or stimulate sexual organ of a person of the same sex;
(c) he or she touches another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.
(2) A person who commits an offence under this section shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.
3. Aggravated homosexuality.
(1) A person commits the offense of aggravated homosexuality where the
(a) person against whom the offence is committed is below the age of 18 years;
(b) offender is a person living with HIV;
(c) offender is a parent or guardian of the person against whom the offence is committed;
(d) offender is a person in authority over the person against whom the offence is committed;
(e) victim of the offence is a person with disability;
(f) offender is a serial offender, or
(g) offender applies, administers or causes to be used by any man or woman any drug, matter or thing with intent to stupefy overpower him or her so as to there by enable any person to have unlawful carnal connection with any person of the same sex,
(2) A person who commits the offence of aggravated homosexuality shall be liable on conviction to suffer death.
(3) Where a person is charged with the offence under this section, that person shall undergo a medical examination to ascertain his or her HIV status.
[UPDATED: I've added a response from Invisible Children at the end of this post. The group says it "has never and will never have a relationship with Martin Ssempa."]
A video posted five years ago by a student group at Grove City College – a small evangelical school in Pennsylvania – raises questions about whether Invisible Children, the organization behind the viral juggernaut Kony 2012, has worked with notorious Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa.
Ssempa, a longtime anti-gay activist, is the chairman of the National Taskforce against Homosexuality in Uganda and a major proponent of legislation that calls for the execution of gays and lesbians who are found “guilty” of having homosexual sex. He regularly shows graphic gay porn during his presentations and seems obsessed with outrageous fetishes, typically of the scatological variety, that he claims are common practice among gay men. In addition to bashing gays, Ssempa is a major proponent of restricting access to condoms and fighting the AIDS epidemic with abstinence education – which has had disastrous consequences.
According to the video posted by Grove City students, a “team of people” from Invisible Children came to their campus in February of 2005 and showed them a video about child soldiers in Uganda. The students were energized by the film and wanted to help, but they weren’t sure how.
Then “The Vision” for their project arrived, according to the students:
Student 1: A guy named Martin Ssempa came our way, who is a Ugandan-born world leader in the AIDS activism and abstinence education. He came to Grove City College and spoke to us and gave us the plan to send this shipment of “love” over to Uganda.
Student 2: Martin Ssempa is an amazing man. He just shared a lot about his vision for healing in Africa, particularly in his country.
The students created a group called Project Okello to work on behalf of Invisible Children at Grove City. They went on to collect an impressive amount of clothing, blankets, medical supplies, and more and sent it off to Uganda through Invisible Children.
The students’ fundraising efforts were heartfelt and generous and undoubtedly helped individuals in Uganda. I applaud them for that.
But it’s extremely troubling that Ssempa and Invisible Children appeared to be coordinating their efforts. The best case scenario is that Ssempa and Invisible Children happened to cross paths at a single college and unwittingly reinforced one anothers’ efforts. A much more disturbing scenario would be if Invisible Children actually works, or has worked, directly with Ssempa.
No matter how well-intentioned one’s efforts are, there’s no place for American charities to work with someone who seeks the death penalty for gays and lesbians and would block the use of condoms to prevent AIDS. Invisible Children should clarify what relationship, if any, they have or have had with Ssempa.
On March 20, 2012, Invisible Children sent us the following response:
Invisible Children has never and will never have a relationship with Martin Ssempa. This specific video, from 2005, highlights a self-organized group of students that appears to have wanted to support Invisible Children. Invisible Children visited Grove City College, but not until 2006 – the year IC began its road tour program - and certainly not due to any connection with Martin Ssempa. Invisible Children fully supports gay rights in the United States and around the world, and has spoken out for years against acts of violence on members of the LGBT community in Uganda. Hate in any form is counterproductive to our mission.