Religious Right Spearheads Effort to Repeal
WASHINGTON – Twenty-four years after singer Anita Bryant led a right-wing crusade to repeal anti-discrimination protections for gay men and lesbians in Miami-Dade County, Fla., the Religious Right is actively supporting yet another drive to eliminate basic civil rights protections for gays in Florida’s largest county. The next step of the fight begins Friday, April 20, at a hearing in state circuit court. The court will examine whether anti-gay activists have met legal requirements to force a referendum on whether to repeal the 1998 amendment to the county’s Human Rights Ordinance that protects gays.
Last week, the Miami law firm of Sale & Kuehne and its co-counsel filed a brief with the court to defend the right of the group SAVE (Safeguarding American Values for Everyone) Dade to participate in the case. Sale & Kuehne attorneys Benedict P. Kuehne and Susan Dmitrovsky are representing SAVE Dade, along with attorneys Elliot M. Mincberg and Judith E. Schaeffer of People For the American Way, and attorneys Alicia Hancock Apfel, Joseph S. Geller and Peggy Fisher. Take Back Miami-Dade, the group trying to repeal legal protections for gays, has asked the court to prohibit SAVE Dade from participating in the case.
“It’s no surprise that the same people who want to prevent gay Floridians from participating as full citizens in our society are trying to prevent an organization that opposes anti-gay discrimination from participating in this hearing,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way.
SAVE Dade’s preliminary review of the petition forms submitted by Take Back uncovered numerous irregularities and non-compliance with the laws governing the petition process. These include duplicate signatures and improper notary certifications. In addition, a handwriting expert has reported to SAVE Dade that some signatures were forged. The Miami Herald recently reported that five voters signed a Take Back petition sheet on October 17, 2000—then signed again, together, on another petition the very next month.
In December, after a preliminary review of Take Back’s petitions, the County Supervisor of Elections concluded that there were so many invalid signatures that it was necessary to review all of the signatures submitted in order to determine whether there were enough valid signatures to place the repeal question on the ballot.
National Religious Right Groups Driving Repeal Effort
The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel recently described Take Back as “a political action committee made up of the Christian Coalition” and other lesser-known Religious Right groups. In addition, the American Family Association’s (AFA) Center for Law and Policy is co-counsel to Take Back in the case being heard in state circuit court. AFA frequently urges its members to protest television programs with gay characters or storylines that it deems “immoral”—in past years, targeted shows have included: “NYPD Blue,” “Cheers,” “Northern Exposure,” and ABC’s “Nightline.” In an April 2000 letter to members, AFA criticized the gay rights movement, declaring that “civilization itself depends on the ability to discriminate” against certain groups of people.
Papers filed in the case by Take Back also strongly suggest that the group is receiving financial support for the lawsuit from the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). AFA’s leader, Rev. Donald Wildmon, is a founder of ADF, a national organization based in Scottsdale, Ariz. ADF’s president is Alan E. Sears. In a recent web site message to supporters (www.adfpray.org/ADF_Vision.htm), Sears blasts “opponents of the Gospel” who, he claims, have amassed “an Everest-sized mountain of legal precedents against religious freedom.” Sears reports that ADF has trained the first 200 of a planned 930 lawyers who will fight for right-wing court victories on gay rights, school prayer and other issues. (NOTE: Detailed fact sheets on both AFA and ADF are attached.)
The amendment to the county’s Human Rights Ordinance that Take Back wants to repeal was passed by the Miami-Dade County Commission in 1998. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment, public accommodations, and financing. Anita Bryant led a successful effort to repeal an earlier gay rights amendment through a 1977 referendum.
American Family Association
The American Family Association (AFA) was founded in 1977 and is led by Rev. Don Wildmon, a fundamentalist preacher. The group is based in Tupelo, Miss., and claims 500,000 members nationwide. One of the AFA’s primary concerns is society’s treatment of gays. According to the group’s action alerts and its Web site (www.afa.net), gays are bent on subverting American values, which the AFA argues are grounded in Christianity.
“American Family Association believes the homosexual rights movement is a progressive outgrowth of the sexual revolution of the past forty years and given momentum will undermine the God-ordained definition of marriage and family, which is the foundation of all societies,” states an AFA action alert from April 2000. “In the end, civilization itself depends on the ability to discriminate by distinguishing between right and wrong.”
In 1999, the AFA produced a video about the “Homosexual Agenda in Public Schools.” Wildmon claimed the AFA video exposed the “powerful pro-homosexual propaganda” that has been thrust upon the nation’s children. “The battle in this country between those holding to traditional morality and those espousing hedonism has reached a fever pitch, manifested in no clearer terms than the ideological conflict over homosexuality,” reads a March 1999 AFA action alert about the group’s video. “Homosexual advocates have realized that their greatest potential for changing America’s mind about the gay lifestyle lies in changing the seed for tomorrow’s crop.”
The group also continues to urge a boycott of Disney Corporation and its subsidiaries. The AFA has lambasted Disney’s decision to extend company benefits to domestic partners of gay employees. In addition, the AFA has criticized numerous Disney films and television shows, claiming they glorify violence, anti-Christian themes, incest, sex, and recreational drug use. The AFA declares one of its “primary reasons” for advocating the boycott is “Disney’s open-armed welcome of the annual ‘Gay Days’ celebration, held each June” at Disney’s theme park in Florida.
“As long as Disney continues to use income from their theme parks to promote the homosexual agenda, a boycott – including even good products – is the only way to impact the company,” an April 2001 press release states. “Otherwise, the assault on the family will continue and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.”
The AFA, including its affiliate, the Florida Family Association, are among the leading religious groups attempting to repeal sexual orientation from Miami-Dade County’s Human Rights Ordinance. Wildmon argues that gays have never been victims of discrimination.
“The premise of the homosexual agenda rights movement is based on the fallacy that they are victims of discrimination by being denied certain civil rights: the right to legally marry, the right to lead a Boy Scout troop, the right to have access to partner health benefits, the right to be adoptive and foster parents,” Wildmon said in a April 2000 press release.
This fact sheet was produced by People For the American Way Foundation
Alliance Defense Fund
The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) was founded in 1994 by some of the nation’s leading fundamentalists, including Rev. Don Wildmon, president of the American Family Association. The founders also include James Dobson, leader of Focus on the Family, D. James Kennedy, pastor of Coral Ridge Ministries, an international evangelical media ministry, and Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.
The ADF, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., was formed primarily to confront the American Civil Liberties Union and “other radical groups” in court battles, according to the group’s web site. Like many evangelical groups, the ADF believes that Christianity in America is under attack by gays and others who urge civil rights protections on their behalf. The ADF equally argues that society is run amuck with secularists intent on muzzling the voices of evangelicals.
The ADF counters the ACLU and others with lawsuits against an array of civil rights protections of gays. According to the ADF’s Web site (www.alliancedefensefund.org, the group is merely trying to “protect family values.”
“God has defined the family as one man married to one woman, their children, and those related to them by blood, adoption, or marriage,” the ADF states. “This has been both the legal and traditional understanding of a family – literally – for millenia. Sadly, many radical groups in the U.S. are attempting to twist the law to change the definition of the family to include same-sex ‘marriage’ and even polygamy.”
According to an April 2000 fundraising letter, the ADF claims it has funded nearly “100 lower court victories” on behalf of fundamentalist values. The Alliance Defense Fund also set up shortly after its founding a “National Litigation Academy” to train “an army of pro-religious attorneys.”
The ADF was the primary funding source behind a lawsuit brought by a group of evangelical students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The students argued that they had a constitutional right to a refund from the university of a part of their student fees that supported student groups advancing agendas in conflict with their religious beliefs. The ADF’s web site states that students nationwide should challenge their universities’ mandatory student fee systems to “eliminate millions of dollars from those who oppose biblical values, religious freedom and the spread of the gospel.”
An ADF letter supporting the students’ lawsuit argued that student fee systems “fund groups that advocate radical feminism, abortion, and homosexuality. You can quickly see that these groups promote values and take actions contradictory to Christian beliefs.”
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth, that student fees could be used to fund diverse student groups. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion concluded that the university’s fees supported its mission “to facilitate a wide range of speech.”
This fact sheet was produced by People For the American Way Foundation