Minnesota’s Home-Grown Christian Right

Andy Birkey

The Minnesota Family Council maintains a great deal of influence in Minnesota politics, especially among Republicans, but just who is the Council and where did they come from?

At the end of the 2008 Minnesota legislative session, the Omnibus
Education Policy bill was held up because of a controversial measure
that would have ensured comprehensive sex education in Minnesota
schools. Sen Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, was leading the charge to get
the measure past the desk of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, but Pawlenty told her
he wouldn’t budge
unless unless the Minnesota Family Council approved the measure. They
didn’t, and it didn’t pass. After eight years of trying and with huge
popular support from the electorate, advocates of sex education were
blocked again by the Minnesota Family Council.

The Minnesota Family Council maintains a great deal of influence in
Minnesota politics, especially among Republicans, but just who is the
Council and where did they come from? Here’s a backgrounder on one of
Minnesota’s most prominent religious right groups.

History

The Council was launched in 1982 as the Berean League, a group of
fundamentalist Christian organizations that opposed efforts by mainline
Minnesota churches to repeal Minnesota’s sodomy laws. Those laws made
consensual anal or oral sex between two adults a crime: one year
imprisonment and a $3000 fine. While the law applied in theory to all
adults, its selective enforcement made it a de facto tool for
prosecuting homosexuals, a tactic that many churches found unjust.

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The Berean League succeeded in blocking repeal efforts, although the
Minnesota Supreme Court ruled those laws unconstitutional in 2001.

In the late 1980s, the Berean League launched the Clean Up Project, an
anti-pornography protest group. The Project’s protest angered baseball
fans in 1987 when their picketing caused the cancellation of an
appearance by Oakland A’s sluggers Mark McGwire and Terry Steinbach at
Shinders in downtown Minneapolis.

The group also pushed for legislation to ban certain pornographic
videos, a move that led adult video retailers to threaten to hire
private investigators to dig into the protesters’ lives.

in order to align itself with two other prominent religious right
organizations, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and Gary Bauer’s
Family Research Council, the Berean League changed its name to the
Minnesota Family Council in 1992.

With the name change came an increased emphasis on legal challenges to
equality for gay and lesbian Minnesotans. In 1994, the group filed a
lawsuit to end the city of Minneapolis’s practice of extending domestic
partner benefits to its employees. By prevailing in that case, the
Family Council helped to prevent any local unit of government in
Minnesota from offering benefits to unmarried couples.

MFC’s creation of the Northstar Legal Center for The Family and
Constitutional Rights in 1996 enhanced the group’s ability to mount
legal challenges. Northstar was party to a 1998 lawsuit to prevent the
use of student fees for liberal causes, including gay and lesbian
student groups. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme
Court, which unanimously ruled against Northstar and its partners in
the suit.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the Council has made same-sex marriage
its signature issue. In the late 1990s, the group was instrumental in
getting the Defense of Marriage Act passed. By the early 2000s, the
Council was working hard to beef up the act with a Defense of Marriage
Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. Despite several attempts, the
amendment has yet to make it on the ballot. The group blamed former
Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson for the loss, and took credit for his defeat in his 2006 election.

Republican Party Ties

The Family Council not only works closely with Republicans; members of its small staff have worked for the Republicans.

MFC president Tom Prichard (pictured) used to be a researcher for the
Independent-Republicans (now Republican Party of Minnesota) and worked
for former Iowa Republican Sen. Roger Jepsen. Prichard’s father was a
Republican party activist in Iowa. Prichard joined the Council in 1990,
and was instrumental in aligning the Council with Focus on the Family
and the Family Research Council.

Darrell McKigney, the Council’s legislative director throughout the
1990s, was also the press spokesman for former congressional Reps. Vin
Weber and Rod Grams.

Jim Hansen currently works as pastor church network director for MFC.
Previously he was candidate services coordinator for the Republican
Party of Minnesota, working on behalf of candidates for governor,
auditor and secretary of state. Hansen was later rewarded with a
position as deputy secretary of state under Mary Kiffmeyer.

Barb Anderson holds a coordinator position with the Council and has
been active in opposing comprehensive sex education and promoting an
abstinence-only until marriage classroom curriculum in Minnesota’s
public schools. Anderson is also major donor
to Republican candidates, having given almost $83,000 since 2000. She
has contributed $26,500 in 2008 alone, including $10,000 to the
Republican National Congressional Committee and maxed-out individual
contributions to candidates Brian Davis, Erik Paulsen and Sen. Norm
Coleman.

Finances

In the 1990s, the group pulled in an average of $600,000 a year. In
2007, the Council took in $513,458. Prichard’s compensation is about
$77,000 and chief executive officer John Helmberger makes about $83,000
for his work at the Council.

MFC on the issues

Same-sex marriage:
"The reality is that gay activists aren’t seeking equal access to
marriage. They can already marry; it just must be to a person of the
opposite sex." Tom Prichard, Star Tribune, July 2005.

Anti-bullying programs:
"Today we are in a cultural war over two views of sexuality: our
Judeo-Christian sexual ethic of monogamous heterosexual marriage and
the ‘gay’ ethic of sexual license. The battleground is the classroom
and it is the children who will be the greatest casualties if we do not
respond." Abby Ludvigson, Director of Education, Oct. 2004.

"Under the guise of safety and diversity, these activists are
introducing children as young as first grade to sexual lifestyles that
are unhealthy and dangerous. These kids are encouraged to accept and
celebrate perversity even before they have an understanding of normal
sexuality." Barb Anderson, Volunteer Coordinator, "Rescuing our kids from the gay agenda."

Medical marijuana:
“All one has to do is look at the bill to see that it authorizes the
establishment of businesses on Main Street to dispense marijuana, in
addition to allowing 18 year olds to grow upwards of 60 to 300 of
pounds of marijuana. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize what
they’re up to.” Tom Prichard, Feb. 2007.

Laurie (Mrs. Norm) Coleman’s lingerie modeling:
"It’s disappointing. It sends the wrong message to young girls. She’s
in a position of influence, being married to a public figure. Whether
one likes it or not, there’s a degree of responsibility that goes with
it." Tom Prichard, Aug. 2004.

Transgender rights in the workplace:
"We are hearing reports that crossdressing men are using the women’s
restroom in other places as well. This is illegal in Minneapolis and
the police should enforce the law. Parents should be able to send their
daughters into a restroom without wondering if some transgender or
crossdressing man is in there." Tom Prichard, Oct. 1999.

News Politics

Former Klan Leader on Senate Run: My Views Are Now the ‘GOP Mainstream’

Teddy Wilson

David Duke has been a fervent support of the Trump campaign, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

David Duke, convicted felon, white supremacist, and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, announced Friday that he will run for U.S. Senate in Louisiana, Roll Call reported.

Duke said that after a “great outpouring of overwhelming support,” he will campaign for the open Senate seat vacated by former Republican Sen. David Vitter, who lost a bid for Louisiana governor in a runoff election.

Duke’s announcement comes the day after Donald Trump accepted the GOP nomination in the midst of growing tensions over race relations across the country. Trump has been criticized during the campaign for his rhetoric, which, his critics say, mainstreams white nationalism and provokes anxiety and fear among students of color.

His statements about crime and immigration, particularly about immigrants from Mexico and predominantly Muslim countries, have been interpreted by outlets such as the New York Times as speaking to some white supporters’ “deeper and more elaborate bigotry.”

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Duke said in his campaign announcement that he was the first candidate to promote the policy of “America first,” echoing a line from Trump’s nomination acceptance speech on Thursday night.

“The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents, is that our plan will put America First,” Trump said Thursday night. “As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America First, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect.”

Duke said his platform has become “the GOP mainstream” and claimed credit for propelling Republicans to control of Congress in 2010. He said he is “overjoyed to see Donald Trump … embrace most of the issues I’ve championed for years.”

Trump in February declined to disavow the support of a white supremacist group and Duke, saying he knew “nothing about David Duke” and knew “nothing about white supremacists.” He later clarified that he rejected their support, and blamed his initial failure to disavow Duke on a “bad earpiece.”

Trump’s candidacy has also brought to light brought many incidents of anti-Semitism, much of which has been directed at journalists and commentators covering the presidential campaign.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro wrote in the National Review that Trump’s nomination has “drawn anti-Semites from the woodwork,” and that the Republican nominee has been willing to “channel the support of anti-Semites to his own ends.”

Duke took to Twitter after Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday to express his support for the Republican nominee’s vision for America.

“Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders!, Fair Trade! Couldn’t have said it better!” Duke tweeted.

Duke has been a fervent Trump supporter, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

Duke was elected to the Louisiana house in 1989, serving one term. Duke was the Republican nominee for governor in 1991, and was defeated by Democrat Edwin Edwards.

Duke, who plead guilty in 2002 to mail fraud and tax fraud, has served a year in federal prison.

Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”