Ralph G. Neas, who led the powerful Leadership Conference on Civil Rights for 14 years, today took over the helm of People For the American Way and PFAW Foundation as the new President of both entities. Neas, who has been working with the organizations part-time since being tapped by both Boards of Directors in October, has an aggressive program for expanding their impact inside Washington, D.C. and around the country.
"Ralph Neas has the energy, experience and dynamism to take PFAW and PFAW Foundation into the next century. No one is better at building bipartisan coalitions or energizing the grassroots. Indeed, during his tenure at LCCR, every major civil rights law was strengthened," said Carole Shields, co-chair of PFAW Foundation’s Board of Directors. Shields led PFAW and PFAW Foundation as president from 1996 to 1999.
"For 20 years, PFAW has helped lead the most successful national campaigns in the areas of civil rights and civil liberties. PFAW Foundation is the nation’s preeminent organization for researching and monitoring the radical Religious Right. I’m excited about leading these organizations and working with other national and state groups, especially at a time when the stakes are so high for people who care about these issues," said Neas.
Neas cautioned that the next decade, and particularly the coming election cycle, pose a great danger to the freedoms that Americans enjoy and the civil rights that have been won in recent times. "We face the very real possibility that the Radical Right, far from receding in power as some had hoped, may control all three branches of government in January 2001. The majority of Americans most likely do not realize that we are precariously close to a federal system with few, if any, checks and balances," said Neas.
Neas said that he plans to build upon and expand PFAW and PFAW Foundation’s work in improving public education, defending free expression and religious freedom, protecting the independence of the judiciary and other core democratic institutions, and promoting civil rights and equal opportunity.
"A top priority for PFAW Foundation will be continuing to strengthen the public schools, where 90 percent of our children are educated, and opposing attempts to drain public money into private and religious schools through vouchers and other means. Voucher schemes – which some presidential candidates have made the centerpiece of their education programs – will leave the neediest children behind," said Neas who has a three-month-old daughter with his wife Katy Beh Neas. PFAW Foundation is currently involved in litigation challenging vouchers in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. Together with the national NAACP, PFAW Foundation is also selecting major cities to have "Partners in Public Education" events this year to mobilize parents, teachers and clergy in support of public education and in opposition to vouchers.
Neas pledged to increase PFAW’s work to ensure the independence of the federal judiciary, including its project to expose the Republican-controlled Congress’ slowdown of judicial appointments, which has had a disproportionate impact on women and minority nominees. "There is no question that a primary goal of the Radical Right for the past two decades has been to pack the federal judiciary with judges who will pass their litmus test," said Neas, who is well-known for his work in leading the national coalition that blocked Robert Bork’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Neas predicted that first amendment freedoms will come under increased attack on Capitol Hill this year. "One inevitable consequence of the elections will be an especially rancorous congressional session. The Republican leadership is likely to bring up repeated floor votes that are close to the hearts of Religious Right activists to help them mobilize their voter base for November," said Neas. As a result, PFAW’s public policy and field departments are ready for more battles over such issues as the Istook prayer-in-schools amendment, proposals to hang the Ten Commandments in schools and public spaces, and the flag desecration amendment.
Civil rights will continue to be a core mission for PFAW, Neas said. "We are going to continue to combat bigotry and divisiveness and make sure that America lives up to its promise of equal opportunity," said Neas. Neas said PFAW will push for floor votes in Congress on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the hate crimes bill and will oppose all efforts to undermine fundamental civil rights laws. Neas added that the campaign to hand-deliver copies of the "Hostile Climate" report on anti-gay activity to state legislators was underway.
PFAW and PFAW Foundation have a combined annual operating budget of more than $10 million. PFAW and PFAW Foundation have regional offices in California, Florida, New York and Illinois and a staff of 73.