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Following are right-wing initiatives (legislation, House or Senate Bills or Resolutions, local grassroots actions or events) in Pennsylvania that were assaults on values essential to democracy, and that conflict with PAD's mission and policies.
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L October 2001: With only one dissenting vote, that of Philadelphia Representative Babette Josephs, our State House of Representatives recently passed legislation that would require each student to pledge allegiance to our flag at the beginning of each school day, and to participate in a moment of "silent prayer or meditation." The bill, House Bill 592, permits students to opt out of pledging allegiance, but demands that all take part in the silent prayer or meditation. According to the proposal "the silent prayer or meditation . . . is not intended to be, and shall not be conducted as, a religious service or exercise, but shall be considered as an opportunity for silent prayer or meditation on a religious theme by those who are so disposed, or a moment of silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day."
* Statutes requiring a moment of silence without religious connotations have been upheld by our Supreme Court. A similar law from the State of Virginia was very recently allowed to stand by the Court. That law, however, does not require that the moment be considered an opportunity for prayer or meditation "on a religious theme." The Virginia statute clearly states that the Commonwealth is not to pressure students to "engage in, or to refrain from, religious observation on school grounds." It further states that the "pupil may, in the exercise of his or her individual choice, mediate, pray, or engage in any other silent activity."
It is clear that those who amended HB 592 to include a moment of silence did so with the goal of promoting mandated prayer in our public schools. Its prime sponsors are not interested in giving students time to simply reflect on the activities of the day. At this time, its fate in the Senate is not clear. The Senate leadership has indicated that if it is considered at all, it will receive careful study before passage.
L 2000: Hate Crimes Bill 553 has not yet passed in 2000. This bill seeks to add the phrase "real or perceived sexual orientation to the Hate Crimes Statute of PA.*
* The Statewide PA Rights Coalition (SPARC) has been lobbying on this bill very hard.
L 2000: Rep. Allan Egolf (R-Juniata County), along with 52 sponsors, introduced the Child Internet Protection Act (H.B. 2324), which would require public schools and libraries to install filtering software on their computers which blocks material that is "obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors." Schools and libraries would also be required to adopt "acceptable-use" policies. In addition to the categories noted above, schools may block material that "pervasively indecent or vulgar or which is not reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns." Adult library patrons may petition library officials (and, ultimately, a judge) for unfiltered access to the Internet for "bona fide research or other lawful purpose." Schools and libraries that fail to comply would be denied state funding. The bill passed in the House on November 14, 2000 and was referred to the Senate, where no action has been taken.*
*As can be seen, the bill proposes potentially broad restrictions on school children's access to information. It also requires libraries to restrict adults' access to the Internet to material that is appropriate for children. Although adults may petition for unfiltered Internet access, the process is inconvenient, embarrassing, and not certain to be successful. Research with Internet filtering software shows that no filter can reliably distinguish between obscene and non-obscene material, and most existing programs block a wide variety of socially useful information that is not obscene. The bill is probably moot, since the U.S. Congress has passed the Children's Internet Protection Act, which also mandates Internet filtering in schools and public libraries, as part of the 2001 budget bill. The ACLU has stated its intention to challenge the constitutionality of that Act.
L 2000: A decision by the Pennsylvania Superior Court on November 18, 2000 prohibited gays and lesbians from adopting their partner's children.* This decision will likely be appealed to the PA Supreme Court.
* There is no Constitutional grounds for rejecting gays or lesbians as appropriate adoptive parents nor is there any data documenting that gays or lesbians are more or less good parents than heterosexual parents.
L 2000: House Resolution No. 631 proposes to designate Thanksgiving week of November 19- the 25th as a "Christian Holiday."* This resolution had 49 sponsors and was referred to Committee on Nov. 15. 2000. In 1997, a similar resolution, HR 249, died in Committee.
* This House Resolution is objectionable on several grounds. First, it is in conflict with the church/state separation clause of the First Amendment. Second, for many Americans of European background, the politically correct historical understanding about Thanksgiving is that it is the quintessential holiday of thanks that also celebrates the tolerance between the Puritans and Wampanoags, two peoples with different religious traditions and of different color, who broke bread together. However, third, for many Native Americans, while Thanksgiving places emphasis on the brief span of respect between the first nations and the European newcomers, the long history of subsequent violence and discrimination suffered by Native People is nowhere represented. As a result, Thanksgiving is instead recognized by many as a Day of Mourning. Regardless of your perspective, making this a Christian holiday is offensive. Members of PAD voiced their objection to HR631.
L 2000: Sen. Melissa Hart (R-Allegheny County), with 19 sponsors, introduced Senate Bill 262, making it a crime to send a "sexually explicit"* advertisement via the Internet, unless the message contains the warning "ADV-ADULT" on the subject line. Violators will be penalized with a fine of $100-$500 per message and/or up to 90 days in jail for the first offense, $500-$1,000 per message and/or up to one year in jail for subsequent offenses. The bill passed both the Senate and the House and was signed by Governor Ridge on June 13, 2000.
*Substituting the words "sexually explicit" for the original "obscene" makes the bill applicable to a broader and less well-defined set of messages. Critics ridiculed the bill by noting that the "ADV-ADULT" label will help kids to identify ads for websites they really want to visit. The bill is likely to be ineffective since most pornography ads originate outside Pennsylvania, and the courts have struck down state laws which attempt to regulate interstate commerce on the Internet. Political pundits suggested that the real purpose of the bill was favorable publicity for Melissa Hart, who ran (successfully) for the U.S. House of Representatives.
L 1990's: Throughout the 1990's, efforts have been made to have sexual minorities added as a protected class to the Ethnic Intimidation Act. These have been ignored or stalled in House committees.*
* The religious right's objections to same-sex marriages of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders (GLBT), to hate crime protection for GLBTs, to equal access legislation, and to including GLBTs in domestic partnership benefits is now well documented. These objections to GLBTs as equal citizens are based on false assumptions about homosexuals that are essential for sustaining fundamentalists' religious positions. The religious fundamentalists cite the Biblical injunction against homosexuality as justification for discriminating against gays while, at the same time, ignoring many other Biblical proscriptions that are not convenient, such as the Biblical approval to sell your own daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7), and to own slaves (Leviticus 25:44), or the Biblical directive to kill those who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2).
The claim that gay marriages would destroy the institution of marriage is ridiculous if one considers the high divorce rate of marriages among heterosexuals. Even among those who describe themselves as Christian fundamentalists, 30% divorce and "87% [of the 30%] did so after they converted to Christ," according to Sara Diamond's synopsis of the 1996 Barna Report. (Diamond, p. 123) In addition, the adamant objection by religious conservatives to gay marriage is in conflict with democratic values of freedom, equal protection under the law, equal opportunity, and separation of church and state.
The objection to including gays in the class protected by hate crime laws because gays can change their sexual orientation while African-Americans can't control their color is not a reasonable analogy. First, race is as much a social construct as it is one defined by color; not all African-Americans are black. Second, hate crime protection based on national origin is no more obvious than is sexual orientation to the casual observer. Third, despite efforts by the religious right wing to discount the immutability of an individual's sexual orientation, the scientific evidence indicates that biology is a significant factor determining sexual orientation. (VeVay and Hamer, p. 44) Homosexuals make up about the same percentage of each population in the world. This suggests that the effects of family environment or cultural conditioning are not significant factors in sexual orientation because families and cultures differ so much worldwide. Despite this evidence, the anti-gay campaign called the "Ex-Gay Movement" asserts that gays could become straight if they would only accept Christ as their savior. "The ex-gay movement provides political cover for a significant new phase in the Christian Right's long-running anti-gay campaign. For more than two decades, a coalition of ‘family values' organizations have used anti-homosexual propaganda to organize and mobilize conservative Christian constituents, recruit new followers, and raise money." (Riley, p. 1)
And finally, whether a person decides or discovers that he or she is homosexual is no one else's business.
L 2000: The draft Standards for Teaching Science issued by the Pennsylvania Depart of Education in July 2000 contained language in sections 3.3.10D and 3.3.12D which opened the door to allow creationism and so-called "scientific-creationism" to be taught in the public schools. During the comment phase of the review process for these draft standards PAD recommended that sections 3.3.10D and 3.3.12D be deleted.
L 1999: In the summer, the legislature introduced a bill to deny domestic-partner benefits to gay and lesbian faculty of state-funded universities. The bill did not pass at the time. However, in November, the legislature passed House Bill 115, which contains the same provisions, and Gov. Ridge signed it, without public hearing and literally in the dead of night. This legislation prevents local municipalities from enforcing ordinances requiring other employers to provide domestic partnership benefits* to same-sex couples.
* Statewide PA Rights Coalition, PAD, and others protested House Bill 115, but with no advance notice our protests were too late.
L September-October 1999: The Pennsylvania House and Senate rejected a proposal by the Philadelphia Bar Association for a death penalty moratorium.*
*The moratorium was rejected despite the mounting evidence from DNA findings that the death penalty kills innocent people. More damning is the overwhelming evidence that racism is a major factor in determining who gets executed. For this perspective we need to look at national statistics and other relevant studies. "As of June 1998, only six... white men had been executed in the United States for killing black victims. In the same 1976 - 1998 period, 115 black men were executed for killing white victims. ... In Georgia, prosecutors, who were all white, sought the death penalty in 70 percent of cases involving black defendants and white victims, but only 19 percent of cases involving white defendants and black victims. ... Blacks make up 12 percent of the population, but fill half the nation's jail and prison cells. The per capita incarceration rate among blacks is seven times higher than among whites. ... In 1992, the United States Public Health Service estimated, based on self-report surveys, that 76 percent of illicit drug users were white, 14 percent black, 8 percent Hispanic – figures which roughly match each group's share of the general population. Yet African-Americans make up 35 percent of all sentences for drug offenses. ..."From 1986 to 1991, the number of white drug offenders incarcerated in state prisons increased by 110 percent, but the number of black drug offenders increased by 465 percent." (Cole, p. 132-144)
"Gov. Ridge is the first Governor in modern American history to direct more than 100 death warrants at African-American defendants. Pennsylvania now has 227 people on death row, the fourth largest number in the United States. ... Gov. Ridge has signed a record-breaking 178 death warrants, more than five times the total number signed by all of his predecessors combined," in the last 30 years. (Angell) Lloyd Stires, PAD Advisor, has been actively working to end the death penalty.
L July 1999: Thirty-eight Pennsylvania legislators sponsored House Bill 1726 to "request that school districts begin each day with prayer or readings from spiritual documents such as the Bible, the Torah and the Koran or a short period of meditation."*
* This House Bill violates Pennsylvania's constitution and the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. PAD, in cooperation with many groups, has protested House Bill 1726, and so far it has not been passed.
L 1999: Pennsylvania appropriated state funding to supplement federal funds designated for "abstinence only" sex education. This program requires that students be taught that sex outside of marriage is emotionally, psychologically and physically harmful, and prohibits any mention of birth control or referral to agencies which provide contraception.*
* Apparently, the Commonwealth has adopted the "medical" policy that unmarried people should never have sex because it is bad for their health. In addition, the "abstinence only" approach to sex education does not address the health-related issues of teens who are already sexually active or those who are being sexually molested by family members or others. Nor does it deal with the struggle experienced by teens who are questioning their sexual orientation.
Furthermore, "only three studies of school-based abstinence-only programs have been published in the professional literature. These studies did not find any impact of such programs on adolescents' initiation of intercourse. ... No available evidence supports the effectiveness of having young people sign pledges that they will not engage in intercourse until marriage. Nearly two-thirds of teenagers think teaching ‘Just Say No' is an ineffective deterrent to teenage sexual activity," according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. (SIECUS)
Hence, most qualified sex educators regard the abstinence-only program as unethical. In spite of these professional opinions, Commonwealth grants have largely been awarded to agencies with a bias toward promoting abstinence as the only acceptable means for preventing unwanted pregnancy.
L 1999: Gov. Tom Ridge (R) promoted vouchers aimed at defunding public schools in favor of tax support for private, religious schools.*
* Ridge's argument in support of vouchers, according to PAD Advisor Jeff Gonzalez, used apples and oranges comparisons of SAT scores that misrepresented the comparative performance of Pennsylvania's public schools. (Gonzalez) The vigorous campaign against vouchers by the Pennsylvania School Reform Network, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and PAD members defeated this effort in 1999. Gov. Tom Ridge (R) says he will introduce a proposal for vouchers again.
G 1999: "There were fourteen challenges to school library books in 1999," according to Carrie Gardner, Chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association. "Unlike in the past, right-wing people are asking that every book written by an author be pulled, not just one or two titles. Pennsylvania is always in the top five states that experience intellectual freedom challenges regarding library resources."
G 1999 (from 1996 to the present): Pennsylvania Attorney General Michael Fisher (R) has taken no action in the infamous Casa Nova Restaurant confrontation in Somerset County. Violent religious-right picketers threatened the owner, screaming, "God Almighty hates sodomites," and otherwise verbally harassed customers day after day for three years to prevent the owner from conducting normal business because she served gay customers. Local police, sympathetic to the picketers, took automobile licence numbers of those supporting the owners of the Casa Nova Restaurant, got home addresses, and turned these over to the picketers, who wrote threatening letters. As of 2000, the owner of Casa Nova is closing the restaurant because of the harassment and the lack of action by the attorney general and by local police that should have protected her right to conduct a legitimate business.*
* PAD Board Member Steve Hersh worked long and hard to help Casa Nova Restaurant to get the police protection and legal assistance they need.
V 1998: Some specific instances of hate activity and its consequences included a rally in Pottsville on September 26, of "about 26 American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan." ... "Swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti were scrawled on two synagogues" on October 20 in Levittown and Bristol. "A Klan flier was left at a biracial women's residence" on October 24 in Lewiston. "A white man, Eddie Knight, was sentenced to two to four years in prison for the racially motivated beating of a black flagman" on October 28. "Steven Daly, 39, was sentenced to two years' probation for assaulting two black teenagers and yelling racial slurs," in Norristown on November 5. On November 8, "A swastika was spray-painted on a monument honoring black soldiers," in Valley Forge. In Philadelphia on November 13, Sean McNamee, 27, and Robert Smalley, 27, were sentenced to prison for "participating in a mob attack on a black man." On November 14, "Two swastikas were spray-painted on a synaguogue" in York. On December 19, "Two synagogues were vandalized" in Sharon.(Intelligence Report, The Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, AL, Winter 1999, p. 58.)
L 1998: Twenty-six members of the Pennsylvania House offered House Resolution 417 in support of the Istook Amendment in Congress (House Resolution 78), which was aimed at gutting the establishment clause of the First Amendment.*
* House Resolution 417 mistakenly implied that the First Amendment means,"no barriers shall be erected against the practice of any religion." This interpretation is not sensible on its face. After all, there are over 1,600 different religions and sects in the United States, and many of these have conflicting religious beliefs. Consider it this way: just as a person has a right to swing her fists, that right stops where another's nose begins. An individual's right to religious expression is similarly limited so that we all can practice our religion. That's common sense – particularly in the public square. And it's this common sense that the U.S. Supreme Court has supported and that was ignored by the sponsors of House Resolution 417. The resolution died in committee as a result of objections from PAD, the PA Jewish Coalition, and others.
G 1998: The Delco School Board voted to use public tax dollars to pay for vouchers in the school district that would have funneled money to religious private schools and away from public schools.*
* Fortunately, this vote was overturned by the Court in 1999. But in every election cycle there are right-wing efforts to take over local school boards.
G 1997: In November, members of PAD and the Bradford County Alliance for Democracy (BCAFD) became aware that the Athletes in Action (AIA) group of the Christian Campus Crusade for Christ were scheduled to present their "anti-drug" program at regularly scheduled school assemblies in the Bradford County school districts of Towanda, Athens, and Northeast Bradford. AIA's official brochure states that AIA's purpose is "to challenge people to get to know God personally through a relationship with Jesus Christ." After alerting the school administrators in all schools about AIA's bait-and-switch tactics, which included offering an anti-drug program packaged in a religious evangelical message, the Towanda School District cancelled the program because such programs violate the Pennsylvania and U.S. Constitutions. But AIA was permitted to conduct its program, including its evangelical appeal, in the Athens and Northeast School Districts during assemblies held during the school day.*
* School administrators and the school board members of Athens School District ignored repeated verbal and written requests by the Bradford County Alliance for Democracy to pass a resolution committing themselves to act in accord with constitutional law.
L 1997: A group of Pennsylvania legislators proposed House Resolution 249 to make Thanksgiving week a "Christian Heritage Week."*
* Thanksgiving is the quintessential holiday of thanks that also celebrates the tolerance between the Puritans and Wampanoags, two peoples with different religious traditions and of different color, who broke bread together. Protests by PAD, other progressives, and the interfaith community blocked this resolution. This bill was opposed by many religious groups including the Interfaith Alliance, whose mission states: "The purpose of The Interfaith Alliance is to promote the positive and healing role of religion in public life. ..."
G 1997: Right-wing members controlling the Elizabethtown School Board in Lancaster County passed a resolution defining a traditional family as one man and one women with natural or adopted children. This marginalized the single parents, blended families, and same-sex couples who considered themselves a family.*
* This resolution created a furor in the community, with citizens protesting the school board's mean-spirited, gratuitous action. Progressive leaders such as Laura Montgomery-Rutt, then a PAD board member and now a PAD advisor, worked hard to turn this situation around. In the next election, right-wing school board members were defeated.
G 1997: "Attempts by Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to provide domestic partner benefits to same-sex partners of city employees ran into opposition from both a conservative city council president and the city's religious leaders. ... The Archdiocese of Philadelphia immediately voiced its strong opposition to domestic partner benefits. ‘We remain opposed and disappointed that this issue continues to be revisited despite our well-known opposition.' The archdiocese asked Catholic parishioners to call and write council members and said it would ‘remind our constituents how their council members voted on these issues.' The Council passed the bills nevertheless." (People for the American Way, Hostile Climate 1995: A State by State Report on Anti-gay Activity, Washington D.C.: People for the American Way, 1998, p. 41.)
L 1997: House Bill 1010, the Student and Family Privacy and Protection Act, a Parental Rights Bill, proposed to create "safeguards for students and their families in connection with the release of records and information, ...and the providing of health care services." It stated that "no Social Security number may be used as a personal identifier for a student record," and provided guidelines for informed consent for health care services and examinations and for obtaining any personal information regarding a student's "personal values, attitudes, opinions or beliefs." If adopted, the bill would have given parents veto control over school counseling for their child, including a child whom a parent was abusing or sexually molesting.
G 1997: In Brownsville, "a parent requested that the book, Understanding Sexual Identity – A Book for Gay and Lesbian Teens and Their Friends, be removed from the library. ... According to the school district's press release, a book review committee unanimously agreed to keep the book on the library shelves."(People for the American Way, Hostile Climate 1995: A State by State Report on Anti-gay Activity, Washington D.C.: People for the American Way, 1998, p. 41.)
V 1997: In the spring, the local branch of the Boyertown Ku Klux Klan stepped up its recruiting efforts at the main intersection in Boyertown. Typically, 14 or 15 robed and hooded Klansmen appeared each month to hand out their hate-filled literature.*
In response, the Boyertown Area Unity Coalition (BAUC) initiated a local version of "Project Lemonade" to counter the Klan's presence. Making "lemonade out of lemons," BAUC members collected pledges from citizens for every minute the Klan was on the corner. The BAUC donated the $11,000 collected to groups that oppose bigotry and intolerance, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP, and the Anti-Defamation League. In turn, the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center donated dozens of books, many of them written for children and young adults, to the library. Only one KKK member has appeared in town since then. Louise Doskow, PAD Board Member, is a member of BAUC.
L 1997: The Crimes Against the Unborn bill was passed. It established the crime of murder and manslaughter of an unborn fetus, thereby giving a fetus the status of a person for the purposes of criminal charges. The bill specifically exempts elective abortion from its scope.*
* Opponents of this bill believe it is a back-door effort to lay the legal foundation for overturning Roe v. Wade.
V 1997: Some specific instances of hate activities directed at blacks, or the consequences of such acts,* in just four months included the following: "The letters KKK were scratched into a black man's car" in Pittsburgh on May 12. "Shane Doyle, 23, was sentenced to four months in prison," on May 13 "for helping burn a cross at an interracial couple's residence." "A cross was burned at the residence of a white woman involved in an interracial relationship" in Claysville on August 1. "Klan literature was inserted into newspapers sent to residents" of Lancaster on July 28. "Members of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, led by Edward Foster, held a rally" in Greensburg on August 16.(Intelligence Report, The Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, AL, Fall 1997, pp. 26-27.)
Violent hate crimes, as reported here, certainly get the attention of white Americans. They appall and frighten most people. But simple listings of these incidents does not nearly convey the extent of racism in our country. More revealing indicators are survey results like those of Alan Wolfe. When in 1998 he asked for responses to the statement that "Middle-class people who live in the suburbs can do an awful lot more to help people in the inner city who live in poverty," 73% of middle-class Americans agreed. However, only 18% agreed that, "My suburb ought to work much harder at becoming more racially integrated than it is at present." (Wolfe, p. 184, 190)
"Race matters," as Cornel West has said in the title of his book. (West) "Color is the first contact between blacks and whites. It comes as the initial introduction, before a handshake or a word, before a name, an accent, an idea, a place in the hierarchy of class, or a glimpse of personality. It is the announcement, the label, the badge, the indelible symbol that triggers white assumptions about a black person's intelligence, morality, reliability, and skill. From across a room or across a street, from a magazine page or a television screen, it is this most superficial attribute that suggests the most profound qualities."(Shipler, p. 231)
V 1996-1997: There was a 42% increase in "tension and hate activity" in Pennsylvania and a 57% increase in reports involving "organized hate groups."(Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force, Discrimination and Violence Against Lesbian Women and Gay Men in Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia: Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force, 1996, pg 5) Many of these crimes were perpetrated by young white males. It is this population that is being targeted for recruiting by the KKK, Aryan Nations, and skinheads. As of August 1997, there were 39 White Supremacist Groups in Pennsylvania.(Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Activities and Locations of 39 White Supremacist Groups in 66 Pennsylvania Communities, July 1, 1995-June 30, 1997, Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, 1997). Most of the victims of hate crimes are African-Americans, Jews, and, increasingly, sexual minorities.
V 1996: In April, the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the Adolf Hitler Free Corps spoke on the steps of the Allegheny County Court House in Pittsburgh.
On the same day, a "Celebration of Unity" rally was held in another part of downtown Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission Executive Director Homer C. Floyd spoke about "Stop the Hate." He told the crowd of over 2,000, "Your job is to speak up and say, ‘Not around me. Not in my school. Not in my workplace. Not in my town.' Your job is to understand that hate is an act of fear and weakness. Your job is to be people of courage."(Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, p. 25-26)
G 1996: According to a survey of gays and lesbians in Philadelphia, 76% of lesbians and 89% of gays experienced verbal abuse during their lifetime, and 49% and 61% respectively had experienced it in the previous 12 months.(Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force, Discrimination and Violence Against Lesbian Women and Gay Men in Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia: Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force, 1996, Table 6A)
L 1996: The Defense of Marriage Act was adopted. It defined marriage as the joining of two people of opposite sexes. The purpose of this act is to prevent gays, lesbians, transgender or bisexual people from marrying and to deny them the legal and economic benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married people in Pennsylvania.*
* Organizations working against this were the League of Gay and Lesbian voters, the Liberty City Democratic Club, and others.
L 1996: The Hate Crimes Bill was introduced a fifth time as Senate Bill 701. It passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously. It passed the first and second readings on the Senate floor. Although it was scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor, it was pulled 20 minutes before it was to be voted upon, apparently because of opposition from the right and because it got caught up in the controversy of The Defense of Marriage Act.
G 1996: In August, a couple was married in Bradford County by the local district justice, who used the opportunity to invoke a Christian prayer, a clear violation of his oath of office to uphold the Pennsylvania Constitution, in front of the hundred or so guests. This prayer was neither asked for nor welcomed by the couple being married.*
*With the permission of the newly married couple, members of the Bradford County Alliance for Democracy (BCAFD) later visited with the district justice in his office and expressed their disapproval of his violation of his oath of office. After he strongly asserted that he would repeat the violation, the BCAFD wrote to the president judge, who apparently advised the district justice to stop.
G 1996: The McKean County's private provider for foster-child placement "selects foster parents based on their ‘attending church regularly' and ‘leading a Christian lifestyle' and requires that children attend the church of their foster parents. ... A 17 year-old foster child ...was being forced to attend her foster family's church – which is not the Methodist faith to which she subscribed."*(American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Annual Report 1995-96, Philadelphia: American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, 1996).
* The ACLU of PA objected, and the child was permitted to attend the church of her choice.
G 1996: The right wing in Lancaster County protested to the County Commissioners when the Pink Triangle organization presented a display in the window of the Lancaster Public Library that celebrated famous gay and lesbian authors in literature. The library was forced to move the display into a back room, and it has allowed no one since then to use the library window for book displays.
G 1995: "Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former member of the Black Panther Party, was a radio journalist prior to being convicted in the 1981 shooting death of a Philadelphia police officer. In February, 1995, Abu-Jamal's book, Live from Death Row, was published. The book is critical of the Pennsylvania prison system and the conditions on death row. Shortly after its publication, prison officials placed Mumia Abu-Jamal in solitary confinement and banned his access to the press. The right of a prisoner to communicate with the outside world is essential not only for prisoners, but for the general public as well."*(The Civil Liberties Record, The Newsletter of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union, Fall 1995).
The ACLU of PA filed a friend of the court brief supporting free speech rights of death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal.
L 1995: Several members of the House jointly introduced House Bill 881, which would have made three changes in the state's obscenity laws. (1) The "contemporary community standard" by which a work is determined to be obscene or not would have been determined at the county rather than the state level. (2) The word "educational" would have been deleted from the list of social values which protect a work from obscenity charges. (3) The penalty for violating the state's obscenity laws would have been increased by changing the offense from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony, carrying a maximum penalty of 7 years in prison. The bill passed the House, 115-77, but died in the Senate. It was reintroduced in 1997 as House Bill 739.*
* "Shifting from a statewide to a county standard," notes Dr. Lloyd Stires, "would have resulted in a greater number of obscenity prosecutions, wasting law enforcement and judicial resources that might be better spent on more serious crimes. The bill would have led to a confusing patchwork of contradictory standards across the state. Since mass media producers prefer to distribute materials that are legal in all communities, the practical effect of such a law would have been to force the media to adopt the standards of the most conservative counties in the state. Deleting the word "educational" from the list of redeeming social values would have endangered the teaching and research activities of high school and college educators, and the professional activities of clinical psychologists, counselors, and sex therapists."
G 1995: "Residents of Erie complained about the inclusion of a lesbian, gay, and bisexual community float in the city's bicentennial parade." The float was vandalized the night before the parade but rebuilt with community help and was included in the parade.(People for the American Way, Hostile Climate 1995: A State by State Report on Anti-gay Activity, Washington D.C.: People for the American Way, 1995, p. 93.)
G 1995: York Council Candidate Doudrick "favored suspending York's law..." prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians, arguing that "they were more likely to be pedophiles." He lost the election.(People for the American Way, Hostile Climate 1995: A State by State Report on Anti-gay Activity, Washington D.C.: People for the American Way, 1995, p. 93.)
L 1995: Rep. Kathrynann Durham (R-Delaware County) introduced House Bill 940, which would have defined a second degree misdemeanor known as "public indecency." The bill prohibited nudity, sexual intercourse, and caressing the clothed body of another person in any public place, including all businesses and commercial establishments, profit or nonprofit, open to the public. The bill has been reintroduced in subsequent sessions.*
"While the bill was ostensibly directed at adult businesses featuring topless or nude dancing," according to Dr. Lloyd Stires, "it would have threatened a number of harmless activities such as mothers breast feeding their babies in public, nudity, including nude modeling, organized nudist camps, and informal skinny-dipping. Although the bill exempted plays having ‘serious artistic merit,' it is possible that theatrical productions would have been subjected to harassment."
L 1995: The Hate Crimes Bill was introduced a fourth time as Senate Bill 701. A companion bill was introduced, Senate Bill 702, which authorizes the collection of statistics on hate crimes by the state police. This bill was introduced at the request of the PA State Police. These bills were also introduced as House Bill 903 and House Bill 904. They failed again for lack of legislative support.*
*These bills were supported by the League of Gay and Lesbian Voters.
G 1995: In Philadelphia, a sign on the Old Ship of Zion Church read, "All are Welcome"; but a second sign stated that only those who have tested negative for HIV would be welcome. According to Bishop Nathan Giddings, people with AIDs "suffer from a plague," and gays are not welcome at his church "because they have abandoned the way of the Lord."(People for the American Way, Hostile Climate 1995: A State by State Report on Anti-gay Activity, Washington D.C.: People for the American Way, 1995, p. 93.)
L 1995: A House subcommittee on House Resolution 37 was formed and chaired by Representative Sam Rohrer (R) to investigate whether Pennsylvania's schools were obtaining money from the federal government to be used for diagnosing and treating students with mental health, behavioral, and emotional problems.*
This investigation of an appropriate and legal use of public funds by public schools was an abuse of power by Rep. Rohrer in his effort to undermine the reputation of public schools by implying that they were functioning illegally. As part of this harassing investigation, Chairman Rohrer spent $25,000 of state funds to pay a Kentucky lawyer who admitted he had never even set foot in any school in Pennsylvania as part of his so-called investigation. (Morning Call)
L 1995: House Bill 2105, the Pennsylvania Education Restoration Act, was one of a series of so-called "Parental Rights" bills introduced into the legislature. This bill would have returned power over curriculum, methods of instruction, and collection of information to parents. Introduced by State Rep. Sam Rohrer (R), it prohibited the use of performance-based assessments which were associated with Outcomes-Based Education (OBE), and student portfolios and stated that no "state ... or local ... educational agency, intermediate unit, or school [could] subject a student to any behavioral, mental, or emotional screening without the prior written consent of a parent." Parents could thus have filed suit against any of these agencies for damages, and students could have "opted out" of any aspect of education that conflicted with their parents' beliefs, such as textbook materials, health and sex education classes, or information about AIDS.*(Louise Doskow, Freedom to Learn Network, April 2000)
*If passed, this bill had the potential to create chaos in public schools by allowing fundamentalists to take exception to most aspects of public school education. House Resolution 2105 failed in committee after strong efforts by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and theFreedom to Learn Network, both represented on PAD's board, and by others concerned about the future of the public schools.
L 1995: In Gov. Tom Ridge's 1995 Special Legislative Session on Crime, House Bill 1 amended Pennsylvania law to require the governor to automatically sign death warrants at various stages of the death penalty appeal process, even if the defendant is in the midst of litigating his or her appeals. The governor also retains the power to issue a death warrant at his discretion."("Death Warrant Fact Sheet", Philadelphia, PA: Defender Association of Philadelphia, undated)
G 1994: According the Pennsylvania ACLU, "School administrators at Hemfield Area High School confiscated the first issue of an independent student newspaper intended to address controversial topics that were avoided by the official school paper. ... The city of Philadelphia canceled a concert by rap artist Tupac Shakur. The mayor's chief of staff declared that the music was not "consistent with the family-based entertainment that the city wants to provide. ... The Marple Newtown School board temporarily removed a picture book from schools in the district after a parent objected to it on ‘religious' grounds. ... Villanova University canceled a scheduled talk at which representatives of Planned Parenthood were to speak in response to another campus speaker who had charged Planned Parenthood with racism and genocide." (The Civil Liberties Record, The Newsletter of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union; Fall 1994, p.3)
L 1994: Rep. T. J. Rooney (D-Lehigh County) introduced House Bill 2982, which would have made it a crime to sell "prerecorded audio material" containing a Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) parental advisory sticker to anyone under 18. The seller would have been penalized with a $25 fine for the first offense, $100 for subsequent offenses. The buyer would have been required to do 25 hours of community service in a rape crisis clinic for the first offense, 100 hours for subsequent offenses.*
*"The bill would have converted the RIAA's voluntary system of self-censorship into state censorship having the force of law," according to Dr. Lloyd Stires, Professor of Psychology at Indiana University, Pennsylvania. It would have imposed time-consuming burdens on record sellers, requiring them to check the I.D.'s of all record buyers under 30 – the majority of their customers. Had the bill passed, it is likely that most retailers would have refused to sell records with a parental advisory sticker. The penalty assumed that there was a connection between listening to popular music and rape. No such connection has been demonstrated." "Furthermore," said Jane Moeller, Executive Director of the Abuse & Rape Crisis Center and a Board member of PA Coalition Against Rape and the PA Coalition Against Domestic Violence, "State funding for rape crisis centers is limited to serving victims and is not to be used to treat offenders, and local centers would not compromise victims' confidentiality or their counseling by housing untrained, law-breaking offenders in the offices of crisis centers."
G 1994: A number of ministers in Chester and Delaware Counties encouraged their parishioners to call for banning books by Toni Morrison. The Bluest Eye and other works were challenged in more than eight school districts because the books contained what some readers felt was pornographic and sexual content and objectionable language. Two school districts pulled the books off their shelves according to Carrie Gardner, Chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee, School Librarians Association.
V 1994: "A white mob in Hanover, Pennsylvania, tried to run an interracial youth camp out of town using violence and ethnic intimidation. The town's officials did little to stop the mob and instead arrested the victims of the racist mayhem," according to the Pennsylvania ACLU.("ACLU Represents Race Riot Victims," The Civil Liberties Record, The Newsletter of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union; Fall 1994, p. 5.)
L 1993: The Hate Crimes Bill was introduced again as Senate Bill 1218. Hearings were held in 1994, but again it failed for lack of support.*
Senate Bill 1218 was supported by the League of Gay and Lesbian Voters.
L 1992: The Advance Medical Directive law was passed, which prevents medical staff from respecting the medical directive of a women who is pregnant until such time as her pregnancy is ended. This law treats pregnant women as an exception to the rights other Pennsylvanians have to direct their own end-of-life medical care through advance medical directives.
L 1992: In February, Gov. Robert Casey (D) proposed funding for "programs which provide alternatives to abortion," also referred to as "phony clinics" because they do not fully inform women about their health and reproductive choices. The National Right to Life Committee had this initiative on its legislative agenda since 1989. Pennsylvania now has an elaborate network of these government-funded centers. Furthermore, these centers use extensive advertising to promote their anti-abortion position using taxpayers' money. Under Gov. Tom Ridge (R), this funding has continued and increased.
L 1991: Anti-public education extremists in Pennsylvania formed the Pennsylvania Coalition for Academic Excellence (PCAE). They protested against Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) proposals put forth by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. These right-wing activists mounted efforts to block OBE at the local level by trying to take over local school boards. They campaigned under the guise of "taxpayer" groups and used scare tactics aimed at elderly persons who live on fixed incomes.*
* Throughout Pennsylvania in the 1990s, right-wing activists tried and often succeeded in gaining control of local school boards using their now infamous "stealth tactics." PAD Board Member Louise Doskow, and the Freedom to Learn Network that she chairs, have led citizen education efforts to alert and educate local voters about right-wing stealth candidates and about how to run successful school board campaigns.
L 1991: The Hate Crimes Bill was again introduced as House Bill 1350*, but failed.
* House Bill 1350 was supported by League of Gay and Lesbian Voters, the Justice Campaign, and an ad hoc committee in Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania.
L 1990: The Hate Crimes Bill, House Bill 1655, would have added a provision for sexual orientation to the existing Commonwealth hate crimes laws, which are set out in the Ethnic Intimidation Act.* House Bill 1655 successfully passed out of committee and went to the House floor, where it failed, gathering only 81 votes.
* This legislation was supported by The Pride of Philadelphia Election Committee, the League of Gay and Lesbian Voters, and the Justice Campaign.
L 1989: The Abortion Control Act of 1989 was introduced by Rep. Stephen Freind. At the behest of the National Right to Life Committee, this bill contained provisions that they felt would give the Supreme Court the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade.A The bill included a ban on abortions for the purpose of selecting the sex of a child, a ban on any abortion after 24 weeks gestation, and a ban on fetal tissue research. Other provisions required that women seeking abortions be forced to listen to a state-scripted lecture about alternatives to abortion and then wait 24 hours before having the abortion. Parents of minors were also required to hear the lecture and then wait 24 hours before giving consent for their child's abortion.B The state was required to prepare a booklet on fetal development including color photographs and written in three languages – English, Spanish, and Vietnamese, as well as a directory of agencies which offer to help women who are carrying their pregnancies to term. This bill was passed and signed by Gov. Robert Casey.
The Abortion Control Act of 1989 was challenged by pro-choice advocates, who sought and received permission to include it in their already-pending legal challenge to the Abortion Control Act of 1988, in the case known as Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA v. Casey. The Supreme Court handed down its decision in this case in June 1992, upholding all provisions except that requiring a married woman to notify her husband of her intent to seek an abortion.C Following another court action, the provisions were implemented in March of 1994. These provisions made it more difficult for Pennsylvania women to get abortions.D Nevertheless, anti-choice supporters were disappointed that the Court reaffirmed the Roe compromise struck in 1972.
A - The Abortion Control Act and similar initiatives aimed at blocking a woman's free choice and intended to overturn Roe v. Wade raise several questions. First, has this legislation been effective in reducing abortions? It has not. By way of background, the botched back-alley abortions that butchered women came to an end when abortion was legalized by Roe v.Wade. Abortion is now three times safer for a woman than having a baby. It has been known for years that those countries with the most restrictive abortion laws have the highest abortion rates, and those countries with the most progressive sex education programs and availability of contraception have the lowest abortion rates. It is sex education and the effective use of contraceptives that reduce abortion, not anti-abortion laws. According to the Guttmacher Institute Report of June 1999, there was a 31% decline in abortions between 1986 and 1996 in the United States due to the declining birth rate among teens (-16% in Pennsylvania)(Donovan, p. 6) and the lower pregnancy rate among sexually active teens, whose sexual activity rate had not changed much during that period. This group of sexually active teens experienced a 16.2% decline in pregnancies.(Saul, p. 6) It has been the increased use of effective contraception among sexually active teens that has lowered the rate of pregnancy among teens and, as a result, the number of abortions. In conclusion, it is clear that the sex education, family planning, and medical health provided to women by Planned Parenthood and similar agencies have been responsible for reducing abortion, not anti-abortion legislation like the Abortion Control Act. The strategy of restricting abortion is not achieving the stated goal.
Secondly, do the moral claims of the anti-choice advocates stand up to thoughtful reflection? They do not. The charge that abortion is immoral is usually defended by claiming abortion violates religious beliefs, such as the sanctity of life or religious laws. However, there is no Biblical injunction against abortion. The Bible treats human life as starting at first breath (Genesis 2:7). This leaves Christian fundamentalists with the unique notion that we all are "born in sin," that only the unborn are without sin. Hence, it is only the unborn zygote or fetus that is sinless, whence comes the code language of killing the "innocent" baby. If you listen to the fundamentalists' protest, it would seem to be worse to abort a two-celled zygote than to execute a criminal or send men into war to kill or be killed. In short, the religious concept of the sanctity of life does not include all human life for many believers, but only some life – even though all human life is viewed as God's creation. And He or nature causes 50% to 60% of all fertilized eggs, the conceptions – which presumably have souls – to miscarry, to naturally abort. However, with all this concern about the unborn "innocent," a miscarried zygote is not accorded the religious rites of a child that died, so the sanctity of life of a zygote is not treated in the same way as the sanctity of life of someone who was born and then died.
The theological reasoning of the anti-abortion folks can be very confusing. Although their outrage is often sincere, their sincerity does not mean they are morally right. In fact, their anger is experienced by those who disagree with them to be a backlash against women who have broken sexual and religious taboos; women who have taken control of their sexual lives, claimed the freedom to make a moral decision – the hallmark of all humanity, and, in the process, challenged the fundamentalist belief that women should be subservient to men. Challenging the control of the establishment always causes thunder, if not real lightening. Finally, legislation such as the Abortion Control Act reduces the health choices of poor women more than others. Restrictions on abortion can have catastrophic impact on the life of women who are least able to fend for themselves and whose very lives may be at risk. That is a moral issue.
Few women welcome an unintended pregnancy, but over 50% of all pregnancies are unplanned. No woman wants an induced abortion, and all people of good will hope there will come a day when abortions are not needed. However, until then, the anti-abortion advocates need to audit their moral justifications before they start judging others; their strategies and tactics are failures, their moral reasoning is confused, and they are hurting people in the pursuit of their agenda. return to text
B - Many judges report that this judicial bypass places them in a "Catch-22" situation. If they rule that the minor is too immature to make the decision about terminating the pregnancy, they are in effect saying she is mature enough to be a parent. This contradiction only makes sense if the real agenda for the restriction is to control women. return to text
C - This provision would have put an especially unfair control on many women. (1) It is almost impossible for a woman to prove she was made pregnant during a rape by her husband. This provision ignored the solid research that has documented the high rate of battering during pregnancy and the effect of the "battered woman's syndrome" on a woman's capacity to defend herself or her children. (2) Although up to 20% of women are battered during pregnancy, according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, it is extremely difficult for a woman in a particular situation to convince authorities that she has good "reason to believe" her husband will hurt her. (3) If she is required to report "spousal sexual assault," she may have to report her abuses to unsympathetic police who historically have felt wife abuse was a "domestic matter." (4) In addition, reporting spousal sexual assault to the authorities entails getting enmeshed in the legal system, necessitating that she spend money she may not have on lawyers. (5) Being humiliated by newspapers that feed off the police blotters and use her name in news stories further puts her safety at risk. (6) Meanwhile, time is passing, reducing the time left for an abortion – which is exactly what the right wing had in mind when they proposed this provision. return to text
D - As a result of this decision, the number of abortion providers in Pennsylvania declined by 25% between 1992 and 1996, according to National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League of Pennsylvania (NARAL-PA). Despite the bumper sticker mentality that "Abortion is not health care," an abortion can mean the difference between living and dying for a woman. The reduction of abortion providers reduced the options of health care for the rural poor in particular. return to text
Introduction for First Time Visitors
The purposes of this section are to document the scope and frequency of right-wing* initiatives in Pennsylvania, to explain the negative impact of particular initiatives to our democratic values, and to be an historical archive for those who are doing research on the right-wing.
Incidents are listed in chronological order with the most recent presented first. Bolding is provided simply to facilitate skimming. Citations and a definition of "right-wing" are at the bottom of this page.
This list will be updated as events dictate. If you know of instances or initiatives that are not recorded in the following list, please send us a brief written report of the incident and provide the documentation or references to documentation that we can use to verify the facts.
Legend: Not all the incidents or initiatives presented in this section represent the same level of threat to our democratic values. In order to differentiate among them, the following paragraph symbols are used.
L = The State Legislative Threats: These have a greater potential for systemic impact on democratic values than other initiatives or efforts. Although these conflict with PAD's mission and policies, they are initiated using legitimate legislative procedures.
G = Grassroot Right-wing* Initiatives: Local, right-wing grassroots efforts are for the most part conducted legally while undermining in practice the democratic norms in a community. Some of these activities may include language that is protected by the First Amendment's clause on free speech but which are intolerant and hence weaken the essential democratic value of tolerance.
V = Violent Right* Threats or Actions: These are activities which are violent or which threaten violence by groups which have earned a reputation for violence such as the KKK, militia groups and Skin Heads. These activities pose a real threat to life and limb and, therefore, are at minimum potentially illegal if not illegal in fact. These threats are deplored by all law-respecting people regardless of whether they consider themselves conservative, right-wing, religious-right, or progressive.
*Definitions of right-wing: (1) The common denominator of right-wing organizations in the United States includes a political activism coupled with a fundamentalist religious perspective on social and cultural issues. In the U.S., the extreme right wing advocates theocracy and rejects democracy. The violent right includes the KKK, Christian Identity, and many militia groups that are jingoistically nationalistic. There is a fine line between the extreme right and the violent right because some leaders in the Christian Coalition and other extreme right organizations have claimed that it is going to take violence to purge the sinful from this earth. The secular right generally advocates libertarian capitalism and a strong national defense. The right wing is nonpartisan. The Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and the Reform Party, with Pat Buchanan as its year 2000 candidate, have right-wing members. (2) The political religious right is "primarily a white, middle-class movement; the policies it advocates benefit the white middle and upper classes. It manipulates working-class people by providing scapegoats for their frustrations and appealing to their fears. It is much more complex than a simple conspiracy, though much of its success can be traced to the fact that the leaders of its many sectors make a point of conspiring together. It is not a populist movement, though it promotes an anti-elite message, which has the effect of masking its anti-working class agenda." (Hardisty, Jean. Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers. Boston: Beacon Press, 1999, p. 7)
return to beginning of Right-Wing Watch list
Angell, Samuel J. B., of the Defenders Association of Philadelphia. Letter to author, January 21, 2000.
Cole, David. No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System. New York: The New Press, 1999.
Diamond, Sara. Not by Politics Alone: The Enduring Influence of the Christian Right. New York: The Guilford Press, 1998.
Donovan, Patricia. "Why are Teen Pregnancy and Birthrates Declining?" The Guttmacher Report Vol.1, no. 5 (October 1999).
Gonzalez, Jeffery, A Celebration of Public Education. Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Alliance for Democracy, forthcoming.
Moeller, Clark, It's a Matter of Values, Pennsylvania Alliance for Democracy, 2000. Note: the list in Right-Wing Watch from 1989 - 1999 was adapted from this publication, pages 8 - 21
Morning Call (Allentown, PA), 22 February 1996.
Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Annual Report 1996-1997. Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, 1997.
Saul, Rebekah. "Teen Pregnancy" Progress Meets Politics," The Guttmacher Report vol. 2, no. 3 (June 1999).
Riley, Rev. Meg, Urvashi Vaid, and Jean Hardisty. Challenging the Ex-Gay Movement. Washington, DC and Somerville, MA: Political Research Associates of Somerville, MA; The Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force of Washington D.C.; and Equal Partners in Faith of Washington D.C., 1998.
Shipler, David K. A Country of Strangers: Black and White in America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States) at www.noah.cuny.edu/sexuality/siecus/fact2html1#Abstinence-Only Programs Not Proven Effective. Studies presented: Christopher and Roosa, "An Evaluation of Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program: Is 'Just Say NO' enough?" Family Relations 39 (1990); Roosa and Christopher, "Evaluation of an Abstinence-only Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program: A Replication," Family Relations 39 (1990); Jorgensen, Potts, and Camp, "Project Taking Charge: Six-month Follow-up of a Pregnancy Prevention Program for Early Adolescents," Family Relations 42 (1993).
VeVay, Simon, and Dean H. Hamer. "Evidence for a Biological Influence in Male Homosexuality," Scientific American (May 1994).
West, Cornel. Race Matters. New York: Vintage Books, 1993.
Wolfe, Alan . ONE Nation, After All. New York: Viking, 1998.