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.


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


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.

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