San Francisco Chronicle, September 12, 1998
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SONOMA COUNTY: 59-Year Veteran Ousted From Boy Scouts

A Petaluma troop leader has been dismissed from the Boy Scouts of America after accusations that he involved a young scout in a fight against the group's ban on gays.

Dave Rice, a 59-year scouting veteran, was expelled "for inappropriate use of his leadership position" as assistant scoutmaster of Troop 74, said Gregg Shields, national scout spokesman.

Rice was accused of involving Steven Cozza, 13, in "a campaign to further (Rice's) own personal and social agenda," Shields said.

Early this year, Cozza called on scouting to end discrimination against gays. He pledged to continue a nationwide petition drive, which he said Thursday has collected 23,500 signatures, after the state Supreme Court said in March that the Boy Scouts had the right to exclude gays and atheists.

Rice said he "absolutely did not" encourage Cozza to join Scouting For All -- an organization Rice started in 1993 to combat the gay ban.

Rice also said the teenager and his father, also a scoutmaster, asked him for help in running the anti-gay-ban group. Scout leaders said neither the local troop nor the council, which represents 6,400 scouts from Petaluma to the Oregon border, had called for Rice's removal.

Church and State, September 1998 (A publication of AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE) THE SIN STRATEGY: Religious Right, Republican Allies Hope Congressional Sermonizing On Homosexuality, Other 'Moral' Issues Will Pay Off At The Polls By Joseph L. Conn

Is homosexuality a sin?

Conservative commentator Armstrong Williams asked Trent Lott that question in a June 15 interview on Williams' nationally syndicated cable television show.

Lott's answer was blunt. "Yes, it is," he replied, adding that "in America right now there's an element that want to make that alternative lifestyle acceptable." He then proceeded to compare homosexuality to alcoholism, kleptomania and sex addiction.

Had Lott been a pastor, theologian or moral philosopher, his answer might have been viewed as just another volley in the bitter denominational debates over homosexuality. But because Lott is majority leader -- the top Republican -- of the U.S. Senate, the answer poured gasoline on an already smoldering issue, fanning it into a political firestorm.

Many observers think Lott's remarks and a flurry of bills in Congress dealing with emotion-laden moral and social issues are the direct result of the Religious Right's pact with Republican congressional leaders.

Thanks to an agreement with key GOP figures on Capitol Hill earlier this year, important items on the Religious Right wish-list have come to the House floor regularly during recent weeks.

The scheduling springs directly from a May 8 summit in which Focus on the Family's James Dobson, the Family Research Council's Gary Bauer, the Christian Coalition's Randy Tate and allied Religious Right commanders extracted major concessions from Speaker Newt Gingrich and other GOP leaders. During that closed-door meeting, Gingrich agreed to set up a formal congressional relationship to advance Religious Right goals.

House Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) announced that a Values Action Team (VAT), headed by U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), would meet weekly with religious conservatives to coordinate political action. That system is now in place.

According to 'World,' an evangelical newsmagazine, a recent VAT meeting featured Pitts moving through a list of legislative issues, assigning lobbying tasks and hearing progress reports.

"On each issue," the magazine reported, "the 20 or so family groups in the room were recruited to complete specific tasks in the coming week, ranging from press conferences to phone calls to sending out letters and hundreds of thousands of postcards to grass-roots members.

"Social conservatives are unanimous in their praise of the VAT concept,"World said. "It gives activists a chance to set the agenda on issues that are important to them, and it guarantees that a vote will be 'whipped' once it reaches the floor, since the whip's office was in on the planning from the very start."

Once bills get to the House floor, however, the system has produced decidedly mixed results. A coalition between Democrats and moderate Republicans has scuttled Religious Right advances on many fronts.

Religious Right wins in the House include:

* Approval of a District of Columbia budget bill that funds religious school vouchers and bans adoption by gay couples (a measure President Bill Clinton has publicly threatened to veto),

* Override of Clinton's veto of the so-called "partial birth" abortion bill, and

* Cutoff of federal aid to San Francisco, where the city government requires contractors to offer employee benefits to gay couples.

But the list of Religious Right defeats far overshadow the victories.

The House has:

* Rejected U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook's so-called "Religious Freedom Amendment," a constitutional amendment that would have effectively erased church-state separation from the Bill of Rights,

* Approved funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Religious Right's most hated federal agency,

* Mandated coverage of contraceptives in federal workers' insurance programs,

* Defeated an amendment to the Shays-Meehan campaign reform bill by Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) that would have protected "issue advocacy" such as the Christian Coalition voter guides, and

* Failed to erase President Bill Clinton's May 28 executive order adding gays to the list of groups that may not be discriminated against in federal employment.

The lopsided defeat (252-176) on the Clinton executive order was especially bitter and embarrassing for the Religious Right, which had made the issue a top priority. Dobson's Focus on the Family was particularly militant, charging in early June that the Clinton order mandated "affirmative action" for gays (it didn't) and blasting members of Congress for failing to respond publicly to Clinton's antidiscrimination order.

Less than two weeks after the Dobson criticism, Lott gave his assessment of homosexuality on Williams' show. Lott's remarks were quickly seconded by House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R- Texas) who said "the Bible is very clear on this" and cited biblical verses to bolster the theological gambit.

Dobson and Bauer effusively praised Lott and Armey for their sermonizing. Said Dobson, "We applaud their boldness in the face of great personal risk." The Christian Coalition's Tate also sent a letter to Lott commending him for "taking a strong stand for biblical truth and morality."

Soon afterward, an array of Religious Right groups joined forces to publish full-page advertisements in national newspapers thanking Lott and others (such as football player Reggie White) for calling homosexuality a sin. The ads argued that homosexuality is learned behavior that can be healed through religious conversion and counseling.

Ad sponsors included Bauer's Family Research Council (FRC), TV preacher Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, religious broadcaster D. James Kennedy's Center for Reclaiming America and Coral Ridge Ministries, Donald Wildmon's American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Liberty Counsel, National Legal Foundation, Christian Family Network, Colorado for Family Values, Citizens for Community Values, Family First, Americans for Truth about homosexuality, Kerusso Ministries and Alliance for Traditional Marriage- Hawaii.

The FRC's Robert Knight told the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, "This is the Normandy landing in the larger cultural war. We're basically not going to take it anymore."

Many pundits and religious leaders found the reckless politicization of sensitive theological matters disturbing. Observed columnist Carl Rowan, "One thing I am sure of: We face calamity as a nation if our Congress is ever dominated by the passions of members who push their special interpretations of what the bible says."

Observed the Rev. Meg Riley of Equal Partners in Faith, "This ad campaign is wrong in its information and its approach. Groups like the Family Research Council seek to divide Americans, promote discrimination and give religious cover to political forces that seek to deny the basic rights of millions of citizens." (Riley is a minister at All Souls' Church in Washington, D.C., and a member of the Americans United National Advisory Council.)

Some prominent GOP activists were troubled about the possible political fallout. Former Christian Coatition Executive Director Ralph Reed, now an Atlanta-based political consultant, warned that the Republican Party had "tripped over their own shoelaces and found itself on the defensive."

Appearing July 25 on Fox News Channel's "Beltway Boys," House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he would rather not discuss the issue. "I don't think it helps to have public leaders engaged in that kind of dialogue," he observed. He noted that "leaders of the social-conservative movement have a different duty than does the speaker of the House."

Gingrich may have seen recent polls that suggest many Americans, including lots of moderate voters in swing congressional districts, are uncomfortable with politicians embarking on a moral crusade.

A Republican Leadership Council survey released July 27 found broad opposition to legislating morality. Fifty-eight percent of those polled were against "the federal government passing legislation in support of a specific moral agenda." That figure included 55 percent of Republicans, 59 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents.

The survey studied voters in 77 congressional districts where the Republican candidate won or lost in 1996 by 10 points or less. It discovered that Americans who list moral issues as a top concern are already planning to cast their ballots for the GOP, but other voters say that would be unlikely to support a Republican if moral concerns such as abortion and pornography overwhelm economics or education. The Kieran Mahoney & Associates poll also uncovered some surprising statistics. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans were against setting a litmus test requiring all GOP candidates to oppose so-called "partial birth abortion" before they can receive party support. Sixty-one percent of registered Republicans opposed "excluding homosexuals from leadership positions in the Republican Party because they are gay." Only 27 percent favored such a move.

Figures such as these may explain the surprisingly large House vote against Rep. Joel Hefley's measure attempting to block the Clinton gay rights directive. Sixty-three Republicans joined 188 Democrats Aug. 5 to scuttle the Hefley proposal.

The anti-gay effort in the House was also damaged by a lack of enthusiasm from Gingrich. "The House leadership maintained a low profile on the Hefley amendment," The Washington Post reported, "and refrained from lobbying members on how to vote on the question. In several meetings [Aug. 4], Gingrich told Republicans he wanted to end this year's session on a theme of tax-cutting so they would not be tarred for attacking gay rights and abortion rights."

The House vote -- and Gingrich's noncommittal stance -- are certain to irritate Dobson, Bauer and other Religious Right hardliners who expect abject fealty from their GOP allies in Congress. But Republican team players like Robertson are taking it all in stride.

Robertson, chairman of the Christian Coalition, knows that win or lose, simply gaining floor action -- and national media publicity -- on abortion, homosexuality, arts funding and similar issues energizes evangelical voters and gives his group useful material for its slanted voter guides.

In an Aug. 14 interview on CNN's "Evans & Novak," Robertson brushed aside concerns about the defeat of the Hefley amendment, saying there would be no "punitive action" based on the vote. Asked if the gay rights issue was "raw meat" intended to spur the Republican Party base to the polls, he chuckled and replied, "In part, it's true .... You know how it is. There are always some hot-button issues that bring out activists, and this I would say is one of them."

Robertson reminded his CNN interviewers that he met with Gingrich a few months ago and chided the House Republican leader for failing to rally the troops in advance of the November elections.

"I am your friend," the TV preacher said he told Gingrich. "I am your supporter. But please, get moving on these issues. We have a great grassroots movement we have to energize. And if you folks continue to make nice with Clinton and there's no differentiation, how can we get people to the polls?"

Robertson said the conversation got results. "I wasn't disappointed," he said, "because he took my advice. Somebody said in an article, 'Shortly after that meeting it was like Newt was on Viagra.' He went to work."


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