On a dismal, rainy afternoon, over tea and Pepsi and a plate of fries at the Bob Evans restaurant in Cannonsburg, Kentucky, Bill Scaggs, a retired government and public-relations executive of ARMCO Steel, told me why he thinks that homosexuality is the greatest threat to America. “AIDS kills,” was his circa 1984 answer, “and the most common way to pass that on of course is from homosexual contact.” His voice cracking with indignation, Scaggs added that he refuses to use the word gay. “It’s homosexual, or worse,” he says. “Gay is in our Kentucky song! They took it away and trampled on it. We want it back.”
Scaggs is a board member of Defenders Voice, a local organization formed two years ago by a group of ministers and their followers who fought the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at Boyd County High School, just up the road from where we sat. Located on a stretch of state highway dotted with churches, dollar stores, payday lenders, and a drive-through cigarette store, the high school had become a place where anti-gay harassment had become an everyday occurrence.
Most of the time, student organizers of the Boyd County GSA said, the basis for the harassment was religious. One of the organizers, Libby Fugett, said that “most of the people at school, even the younger people, who would call us names at school, they would cuss at us; they would say, You f’ing fag, you’re going to hell. . . . They just think it’s excusable because their religion backs it up. And that was a really big part of it. It’s okay for them to sin against us because we’re sinners.”
Leading the charge against the GSA were ministers, led by the Rev. Tim York, who said they “believe the Bible to be the word of God; we believe that homosexuality is a sin.” (In 2004, York, who is now the pastor of a church in Nashville, ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Kentucky Senate on an anti-gay-marriage platform, with backing from the state and national Republican parties.) York and his followers exerted such intense pressure on school officials that it influenced their decision on the GSA, ultimately forcing the students to sue the school system in order have the GSA recognized.
To settle the case, the school district agreed to conduct mandatory anti-harassment training for all students. Although the training consisted of just a one-hour video once a year, York was intent on preventing students from seeing what he considered “indoctrination [into the] homosexual lifestyle . . . indoctrination to tear down the Christian view that homosexuality is wrong. It is reverse discrimination, is what it is.” The minister-led group circulated opt-out forms in an effort to exempt students from watching the video, but the forms were not legally binding. York, his followers, and some parents wanted to exempt Christian students, legally, from watching the court-ordered anti-harassment video. To vindicate what he believed to be their legal rights, York knew exactly where to turn for help: the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF).
THE O’REILLY FACTOR
If Bill O’Reilly had a hero other than himself, it would be ADF and its courtroom crusaders lined up to fight the ACLU, Nickelodeon’s homosexual agenda, and heathens who are hell-bent on censoring the words “Merry Christmas.” ADF’s president, Alan Sears, a former Reagan administration prosecutor who, according to the ADF’s website, “God uniquely prepared” for his lead role in the organization, admits to being inspired by the right-wing commentator O’Reilly—hardly known for his jurisprudential acuity—to write portions of his book, The ACLU vs. America.
In the first chapter, Sears maintains that “from the very start, the ACLU wanted to destroy from within the America our founders intended.” As proof of the ACLU’s supposed anti-American, anti-Christian agenda, Sears fingers ACLU founder Roger Baldwin as an “agnostic and socialist who demonstrated Communist leanings”; Baldwin was moreover a friend of birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, whom Sears calls a “eugenicist who . . . establish[ed] the early link between the ACLU and abortionists.” Before the reader has turned even ten pages, Sears has established that only ADF’s godly legal services can save the country from the havoc the ACLU has wreaked on its justice system and culture.
While the ACLU gained its reputation by winning cases, ADF’s reputation—and fund-raising spigot—preceded its first court case. Created just 13 years ago with the support of such Christian Right powerhouses as James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, and Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, it is today the nation’s leading Christian Right legal organization. Through its National Litigation Academy, ADF has trained more than 900 lawyers, who commit themselves to performing 450 hours of pro bono legal work “on behalf of the body of Christ.” It doles out millions of dollars a year to other Christian Right organizations—many of which are already well endowed—to cover attorneys’ fees and costs.
- Discrimination is present, the Court reasoned, if the school funded secular clubs but not religious ones.