March 1999 People & Events

Jerry Falwell Launches Attack On 'Teletubby'

TV preacher Jerry Falwell has found a new target for his righteous indignation: a purple, chubby "Teletubby" named Tinky Winky.

Tinky Winky is one of four stars on the popular PBS children's television show "Teletubbies." On the program, Tinky Winky cavorts in the placid Teletubbyland of rolling green hills and bright sunshine with his friends Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po, speaking baby language, singing and dancing and sharing hugs with his fellow Teletubbies.

Falwell's beef with Tinky Winky was outlined in the February issue of his tabloid newspaper, National Liberty Journal. An unsigned article in the paper, headlined "Parents Alert...Tinky Winky Comes Out Of The Closet," warns parents that Tinky Winky "has been the subject of debate since the series premiered in England in 1997. The character, whose voice is obviously that of a boy, has been found carrying a red purse in many episodes and has become a favorite character among gay groups worldwide."

Continued the article, "Now, further evidence that the creators of the series intend for Tinky Winky to be a gay role model have [sic] surfaced. He is purple -- the gay pride color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle -- the gay pride symbol....These subtle depictions are no doubt intentional and parents are warned to be alert to these elements of the series."

"Teletubbies" began airing in the United States last April and quickly became a PBS favorite with ratings rivaling those of Barney, the famous purple dinosaur. The Teletubbies, portrayed by actors in colorful, over-sized costumes, take their name from television screens built into their stomachs.

A spokesman for Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Company, which licenses "Teletubbies" in the United States, told the Associated Press that Falwell's charges are silly. Tinky Winky's purse, Steve Rice said, is actually a magic bag.

"The fact that he carries a magic bag doesn't make him gay," Rice said. "It's a children's show, folks. To think we would be putting sexual innuendo in a children's show is kind of outlandish."

Falwell, added Rice, is attacking "something sweet and innocent. To out a Teletubby in a preschool show is kind of sad on his part. I really find it absurd and kind of offensive."

Falwell's stance created a news media uproar, with negative coverage of the Lynchburg, Va., televangelist appearing across the country. Cartoonists and commentators, including "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien, lampooned the Falwell crusade.

On the ABC News website, visitors were encouraged to vote on the question: "Is Tinky Winky gay, or is Jerry Falwell crazy?" By a 84.7-15.2 percent margin, respondents overwhelmingly endorsed the latter proposition.

Falwell's remarks about Tinky Winky came to national attention after Americans United staffers spotted them in the National Liberty Journal and circulated the information to the media.

In a Feb. 3 press release, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said Falwell needs to lighten up. "Who's Falwell going to out next, Winnie the Pooh?" asked Lynn. "Or maybe Barney; he's purple, you know."

Continued Lynn, "If Falwell and his fundamentalist friends had their way, there'd be nothing on the tube but TV preachers and the Weather Channel. I'd rather watch the 'Teletubbies' than televangelists."

Gay journalist Andrew Sullivan said Falwell had not gone far enough in outing children's characters. "Clearly, Bugs Bunny is gay," he told The Washington Post. "Just the other night he was dressed in drag and seducing Elmer Fudd. When Pinocchio goes to Boys' Town, he is clearly in a gay leather bar. And Batman and Robin, what's going on there?"

Spare The Rock, Spoil The Child Says Reconstructionist

Stoning "disobedient" teenagers to death is required by the Old Testament, and Christian Reconstructionists should not be ashamed to defend the practice, a Pennsylvania pastor has asserted.

The Rev. William Einwechter, vice-moderator of the Association of Free Reformed Churches, gave the biblical rationale for executing rebellious teenagers in the Reconstructionist journal Chalcedon Report last January. In his article, "Stoning Disobedient Children," Einwechter, of Mercersburg, Pa., cites Deuteronomy 21:18-21, which says that a man should take a stubborn and rebellious son before the elders of the city to be stoned to death if the youngster will not change his ways.

Reconstructionists, also known as "theonomists," are the most radical fringe of the Religious Right. They advocate a strict theocracy in the United States where the Old Testament's legal code would be the law of the land, and a number of offenses -- including blasphemy, adultery, witchcraft and spreading false religions -- would merit the death penalty. (See "Thy Kingdom Come," September 1988 Church & State.)

Although their numbers are small, Reconstructionists have had a disproportionate influence on the Religious Right, often providing the theological grounding for fundamentalist political action.

Einwechter says stoning is limited to more mature children -- "middle teens or older" -- and is to be used only after other methods of discipline have failed. He said execution is not to be used against young children who commit minor offenses such as talking back or refusing to do chores, but rather for "a grown son (and by extension to a daughter as well) who, for whatever reason, has rebelled against the authority of his parents and will not profit from any of their discipline nor obey their voice in any thing."

Such rebellion, Einwechter writes, is so serious that "God considers it such a dangerous evil that it must be extinguished by death at the hands of the civil magistrate."

Einwechter goes on to argue that incorrigible behavior by a youngster, if left unchecked, leads to the death of law and family order. "Therefore," he writes, "the execution of the rebel in view is just, merciful and preventive. Just, in that the transgressor deserves to die; merciful, in that his quick death prevents the destruction of the family, society, and others; preventive, in that it strikes fear in the heart of other would-be rebels and restrains them from taking a similar ruinous course."

Concludes Einwechter, "Theonomists must not be embarrassed by the law of Deuteronomy 21:18-21, nor should they be chagrined when others try to use it to discredit the case laws of the Old Testament. Properly understood, it displays the wisdom and mercy of God in restraining wickedness so that the righteous might flourish in peace. It is those who reject this case law that should be embarrassed, for they have cast reproach on God and his law, cast aside the testimony of Christ, and substituted their own imaginations for the blessed word of God."

Einwechter is vice president of the National Reform Association, a group based in Pittsburgh, Pa. The once-influential organization was founded in the middle of the 19th century to add a "Christian nation" amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In recent years, Reconstructionists have taken control.

Religious Landlords Can Reject Sinful Renters, Appeals Court Rules

Landlords with religious objections may refuse to rent to unmarried couples, even if state law bans such discrimination, a federal appellate court has ruled.

The 2-1 decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals conflicts with rulings handed down by the California and Alaska supreme courts. It was hailed by Religious Right groups, which called it a victory for religious freedom.

"[The ruling] will do a lot for those of faith that have been classified as second-class citizens," said the Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition. "This will make it fair that Christians must not adhere to a secular culture."

But others disagreed, arguing that the ruling will make it easy for landlords to force their religious beliefs onto others. Americans United and other civil liberties groups also argued that renting apartments is a commercial practice, not a religious activity, and as such may be subjected to state regulation.

The case was brought by Kevin Thomas and Joyce Baker, two Anchorage, Alaska, landlords who refused to rent to unmarried couples. The two challenged state and municipal laws in Alaska that forbid landlords from making inquiries into potential tenants' marital status.

A federal court earlier sided with Thomas and Baker, and on Jan. 14 the appeals court agreed. Writing for the majority, Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain ruled that a state's desire to end discrimination against unmarried couples was not a sufficient cause to trump a religious freedom claim.

Dissenting Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wrote that the majority had established a dangerous precedent that landlords could use to deny housing to "divorced individuals, interracial couples, victims of domestic abuse seeking shelter or single men or women living together simply because they cannot afford to do otherwise, in spite of state and local laws forbidding such discrimination."

On Jan. 28 the attorneys general of California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Hawaii filed a brief asking the entire 9th Circuit to rehear the Thomas v. Anchorage Equal Rights Commission case.

Wal-Mart Front Group Hopes Private Vouchers Lead To Public Ones

An Arkansas foundation that has been paying private school tuition for poor children around the country hopes its project will spur taxpayer-financed voucher laws in the states.

The Children's Education Opportunity America Foundation (CEO America), founded with money from the family that heads the Wal-Mart discount store empire, has been paying private school tuition in certain areas of the country for several years now. In February the program was taken nationwide.

Believing that public support is shifting to their side, Fritz Steiger, president of CEO America, told the Little Rock Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in January that the group will work more on building public support for vouchers and less on directly paying for private school costs. Steiger said he hopes his group's high-profile campaign to promote privately funded vouchers leads to more bills in state legislatures.

CEO America officials are currently on a public relations tour promoting their ideas. Laudatory stories about the effort have appeared on popular daytime talk show host Oprah Winfrey's show as well as on ABC's "Good Morning, America."

From its office near the national headquarters of Wal-Mart in Bentonville, Ark., CEO America currently funds private voucher plans in several states. The organization recently launched a slick magazine, Children First, which promotes vouchers. Steiger told the Little Rock newspaper that he hopes the magazine and the group's P.R. campaign will lead people to pressure lawmakers to pass voucher bills. CEO America, he added, will also begin working with people at the grassroots who want to lobby legislators to implement vouchers.

Vouchers, Steiger asserted, are no different than the G.I. Bill or Head Start. "What's the difference?" he said. "That's our argument."

CEO America is headed by John Walton of National City, Calif., heir to the Wal-Mart fortune. It was founded in 1994 with $2 million from the Walton Family Foundation. Walton has a long history of activism in favor of private education and gave financial backing to a California group called Taxpayers for Education that sought to expand charter schools there.

Walton also has a financial stake in privatizing education. He founded the School Futures Research Foundation, a non-profit organization in San Diego that has established five charter schools in California and hopes to open 20 to 30 more within two years. He also founded a private school called Harborside in downtown San Diego.

Texas Gov. Bush Pushes Voucher Plan
In Annual Address

Texas Gov. George W. Bush called for voucher aid to religious and other private schools during his annual State of the State Address last January, setting the stage for what may be a protracted battle in the state legislature.

Bush's comments are the strongest pro-voucher remarks he has made to date. Although he did not go into details during the Jan. 27 address, Bush called for a pilot voucher plan to gain a foothold for the idea in Texas.

Bush and Lt. Gov. Rick Perry have stacked the Senate Education Committee with pro-voucher lawmakers, including committee chair Teel Bivens from Amarillo. Bivens has since filed his own voucher bill, which would establish pilot projects in Dallas, Houston, El Paso, Austin and San Antonio. Political observers in Texas say Bivens has the votes to pass the measure out of committee.

Three voucher bills have also been introduced in the Texas House of Representatives. However, Speaker Pete Laney remains opposed to the idea.

Bush, a Republican who was easily reelected last November, is currently toying with the idea of running for president in 2000.

In other news about vouchers:

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has proposed a voucher experiment limited to one district in the city. Giuliani, a Republican, says the plan will create competition that will force public schools to improve.

The proposal represents a shift in thinking for Giuliani. In 1995 he told members of a teachers' union that voucher would be "a terrible mistake" because they would divert money away from public schools. But the following year he flirted with the idea of using public funds to send children from overcrowded public schools to Catholic schools after Cardinal John J. O'Connor made the proposal.

Giuliani insists vouchers will not violate church-state separation since, under his plan, participating private schools will not be permitted to require students to participate in religious activities.

That point bothered Catholic school officials. Catherine T. Hickey, superintendent of Catholic schools for the New York Archdiocese, told Catholic New York that Catholic schools would like to take part in a voucher plan but that all children who attend parochial schools must attend religious classes. "We would not excuse any child," she said.

Nebraska state Senator Ardyce Bohlke has introduced a voucher bill that would require participating private schools to adopt policies similar to those found at public schools. The proposal would offer vouchers worth $3,000 to $5,000 for low- and middle-income families.

Private schools that want to take part in the program would have to accept all students who apply, comply with state accreditation standards, adopt anti-discrimination policies and cease requiring any student to take part in religious activities.

"All this is saying is, 'Here's what the public schools are required to do, therefore, if you want to use vouchers, you will have to fall under the very same guidelines,'" Bohlke told the Lincoln Journal Star. "The public schools are very able to compete as long as they can do it on a level playing field."

Jim Cunningham, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said Catholic schools want vouchers but not necessarily regulations, especially the requirement to accept all who apply and ending mandatory religious instruction.

A tuition tax credit proposal has also been introduced in Nebraska's unicameral legislature. Americans United continues to monitor and oppose voucher legislation, tuition tax credit/deduction proposals and other religious school aid bills in several other states, including Arizona, California, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Virginia and Washington.

Arizona Court Upholds Tax Credit Scheme
To Aid Private Schools

By a narrow 3-2 vote, the Arizona Supreme Court has upheld a complicated scheme designed to funnel public resources into the coffers of religious and other private schools.

Under the 1997 law, taxpayers can take a tax credit of up to $500 for money donated to organizations that subsidize private school tuition. Critics, including Americans United, had branded the measure a backdoor attempt to give government aid to religious schools.

Arizona public schools stand to lose up to $60 million annually in funding due to the credit. Nevertheless, Chief Justice Thomas A. Zlaket wrote for the majority that the plan does not violate the separation of church and state.

Zlaket wrote that the framers of Arizona's constitution never "intended to divorce completely any hint of religion from all conceivably state-related functions, nor would such a goal be realistically attainable in today's world."

Dissenting Justice Stanley G. Feldman sharply disagreed, writing that the credits are "uncontrolled, government-reimbursed grants to private, primarily religious institutions" that destroy "any pretense of separation of church and state."

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn was also critical of the ruling. "Unfortunately, the court majority chose to advance the far right's goal of gradually defunding public education," Lynn said. "Americans had better realize they can't count on the courts on this issue. They must make sure that their legislators don't pass misguided schemes like this one."

But Lynn pointed out that the decision, while troubling, breaks little new legal ground. "It's important to note that this was not a voucher case," he said. "Other state courts have reached different conclusions about the constitutionality of more direct forms of aid to religious schools."

Arizona's Republican governor, Jane D. Hull, praised the Kotterman v. Killian decision, as did several conservative members of the state legislature. Many of them have admitted they came up with the plan because they did not believe they could get a full-blown voucher plan through the legislature.

Roman Catholic officials were also pleased. Bob Heslinga, administrator of the tuition support program of the Tucson Diocese, told Catholic News Service, "In this diocese, we have bona fide schools that are fully credentialed. Why must parents be penalized for choosing one of those schools for their children?"

Heslinga said the diocese has already set up a separate 501 (c)(3) organization to receive tuition gifts and promised to "go forward 100 percent with this."

TV Preacher Kennedy Seeks To
Impeach Judge In Prayer Case

TV preacher D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries has launched an effort to impeach a federal judge who ordered an Alabama public school to stop sponsoring prayer and other religious activities.

Kennedy, based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., wants Congress to remove U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent of Alabama from office. In March of 1997 DeMent, ruling on a case brought by Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, ordered public education officials in the DeKalb County school system to stop sponsoring prayer at school assemblies, football games, in classrooms and other venues.

DeMent noted that the abuses in the DeKalb system were serious and ordered that monitors periodically visit the school to make certain his order was followed. But in his ruling, DeMent was careful to strike down only instances of school-sponsored religious activity, and his decision contains a lengthy passage affirming the rights of students to pray voluntarily on their own time.

Nevertheless, the decision in the Chandler v. James case infuriated Religious Right groups and created an uproar in Alabama, where ex-governor Fob James (R) pledge open defiance and quickly had state attorneys file an appeal.

A spokesman for Kennedy, a right-wing Presbyterian whose mega-church has nearly 10,000 members, told the Associated Press the TV preacher is looking for a sponsor in Congress who will introduce the articles of impeachment.

"A member has expressed an interest," said John Aman, a ministry spokesman.

Coral Ridge has also been sending petitions to Congress demanding DeMent's ouster. Kennedy claims to have collected 57,500 signatures on petitions so far.

Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution states that "civil officers of the United States," which includes federal judges, can be removed from office only for "conviction of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors" but not simply because interest groups don't like their rulings. Kennedy's effort, therefore, is seen as a publicity stunt and not a serious threat.

Kennedy is not the only right-wing figure to advocate impeaching judges, however. In 1997 House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) tried to launch a movement in favor of impeaching "activist" federal judges, but found little interest among his colleagues.

Kennedy is sponsoring a two-day conference titled "Reclaiming America for Christ" in Ft. Lauderdale Feb. 26-27.

'Power For Living' Group Has Ties
To Religious Right

Many Americans have probably seen ads on television, in magazines or on city transit systems recently for a free book called Power For Living. What they may not know, however, is that a Religious Right-oriented foundation is behind the campaign.

The book giveaway is being sponsored by the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation, a group that has been based in West Palm Beach, Fla., since 1996. The foundation, with assets of $450 million, distributes its largess generously to Religious Right and other evangelical Christian causes.

One major recipient of DeMoss money is the American Center for Law and Justice, TV preacher Pat Robertson's legal group, which received $1.6 million in 1997. GOPAC, a political action committee formed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), received $70,000 in 1993. And the National Coalition for the Protection of Families and Children, an anti-pornography group based in Cincinnati, received $2 million in 1996 and nearly $400,000 in 1997. Several anti-abortion groups have also received DeMoss money.

The foundation is chaired by Nancy DeMoss, who named it in memory of her deceased husband. Arthur DeMoss, an insurance executive and born-again Christian, made his fortune through the National Liberty Corp. of Valley Forge, Pa., which sold insurance policies through television ads hosted by Art Linkletter.

Arthur DeMoss died in 1979, leaving a fortune of $359 million behind. $200 million was used to start the National Liberty Foundation, later renamed the Arthus S. DeMoss Foundation.

The Palm Beach Post reported in January that the DeMoss Foundation is unusual in that so much of its money goes to right-wing political groups. At least one organization the group funds is very extreme: the Plymouth Rock Foundation, a Christian Reconstructionist-aligned group that seeks to impose "biblical law" on America.

But the television ads promoting Power for Living that have been airing all over the country contain no hint of right-wing politics. Shot by the same company that produced Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" political ad campaign, the ads flash an 800 number for viewers who want to request a free copy of the evangelistic volume.

Power For Living was written in 1983 by the late Jamie Buckingham, who also co-wrote Pat Robertson's autobiography Shout It From The Housetops. The book was published by the DeMoss Foundation, and the version currently being offered is said to be an updated fourth edition.

In Palm Beach, Nancy DeMoss frequently hosts lavish black-tie parties that attract the region's wealthy and powerful. Alcohol is strictly forbidden at the events, and the speaker is usually a prominent figure who pitches fundamentalist Christianity.

The events are planned for DeMoss by Executive Ministries, an arm of the DeMoss Foundation. The ministry's mission statement says that it exists to "change the world by reaching people of influence who can use their positions in turn to affect other influential people, business postures and trends, world views, politics, culture, law, medical fields, education, media, arts, literature, etc."

Pa. School Reverses 'Austin 3:16' T-Shirt Ban
After AU Complaint

Officials with the Lancaster, Pa., public schools have agreed to reverse a ban on T-shirts featuring professional wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin after intervention by Americans United.

Administrators at Wickersham Elementary School had banned the T-shirts last year after some fundamentalist Christian students complained that they were offensive. The shirts feature the phrase "Austin 3:16," a takeoff on the "John 3:16" signs that evangelical Christians frequently wave around in professional sports arenas. (John 3:16 refers to a famous passage from the New Testament, which states, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.")

AU Litigation Counsel Ayesha Khan wrote to the school last December after parent Cat Walters complained about the policy. According to Walters, at least two children, one of them her third-grade son, were told to either remove the T-shirts or wear them inside out.

"School started with a bang this year when my son was dragged into the office and given a lecture on why Austin 3:16 is offensive to the Christian children in school," Walters wrote in Progressive Voices, the newsletter of the Alliance for Tolerance and Freedom. "He was then forced to turn his 3:16 T-shirt inside out for the remainder of the day. My third grader is a very warm-hearted little boy who is not raised in the Christian faith but was very upset that he had hurt someone's feelings, although he had no idea how he had done that. He was just wearing the T-shirt slogan of his favorite wrestler."

Walters wrote that she could not understand what the fuss was about, since the T-shirt was not obscene and did not contain graphic images.

In her letter to Lancaster school officials, Khan cited Supreme Court precedent in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, a 1969 case in which the high court held that students have the right to express their opinions through armbands and clothing unless doing so would disrupt classwork or invade others' rights.

"There is no evidence that the 'Austin 3:16' T-shirt disrupted classwork or created substantial disorder," Khan wrote.

On Jan. 14 attorneys for the school district replied. While the attorneys insisted that they believe the school's policy is constitutional, they said school officials have decided they will no longer tell students they cannot wear "Austin 3:16" apparel.

Missouri Governor's Commutation Comment Questioned By AU

Americans United has raised questions about Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan's commutation of the death sentence of a convicted murderer based solely on a personal appeal for clemency from Pope John Paul II.

Americans United takes no stand on the death penalty. But AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said it is inappropriate and unfair for government officials to make life-and-death decisions solely on the basis of a request from one religious leader.

The pope made the appeal during his visit to St. Louis in late January. During a meeting with Carnahan, John Paul urged him to grant clemency to Darrell J. Mease, who was scheduled to be executed the following month.

Mease was convicted in 1988 of killing Lloyd J. Lawrence, his former partner in a drug-manufacturing operation. He also killed Lawrence's wife, Frankie, and their 19-year-old disabled grandson, William. According to police reports, Mease lay in wait for the three as they were driving all-terrain vehicles in a rural area and killed all of them with a shotgun.

Mease, who is not Catholic, had originally been scheduled for execution on Jan. 27, during the pope's visit, but the state supreme court changed the date to Feb. 10. Although the court gave no motive for its action, the move was widely interpreted as an effort to avoid having an execution in Missouri while the pope, an outspoken opponent of capital punishment, was in the state.

Carnahan, a Democrat and a Baptist, has approved 26 executions since taking office in 1993. He issued a statement saying he still supports the death penalty but that he had been swayed by the papal appeal.

"In reaching this decision," Carnahan said, "I took into account the extraordinary circumstances of the pope's request and the historical significance of the papal visit to St. Louis and the state of Missouri. I continue to support capital punishment, but after careful consideration of his direct and personal appeal and because of a deep and abiding respect for the pontiff and all he represents, I decided last night to grant his request."

In a Feb. 2 letter to Carnahan, Lynn reminded the governor of the constitutional separation of church and state. "This sends an inappropriate message of official governmental deference to the religious authority vested in the pope," Lynn wrote. "It is important that decisions involving the criminal justice system, including the fate of convicted criminals, not be based exclusively on the strength of a single religious leader's influence."

Lynn also said Carnahan's action raised issues of fairness. "The next person facing execution in Missouri will not likely enjoy the benefit of having his or her case come up for final review during a papal visit," wrote Lynn. "Will he or she, therefore, be executed, consistent with your articulated belief in the use of this power? What will you do if the leader of a smaller religious denomination seeks clemency for a death-row prisoner?"