Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality
June 18: UPDATE: Michele Bachmann was “glitter bombed” by a gay-rights activist. During the glittering the activist shouted at Bachmann “you can run but you can’t hide” as a reference to Bradlee Dean’s ministry and her longstanding support of it. See the video of the glittering here.
Kittie Weston-Knauer served as administrator for Scavo Alternative High School in Des Moines, Iowa until 2007. Just before the 2005 school year, Bradlee Dean’s You Can Run But You Cannot Hide (YCR) school program contacted her to offer its services: bring in a hard-rocking band, connect with the kids about self esteem, how to make wise choices in life and get them pumped up for the new year.
Dean, a former drug addict, is a minister of dubious ordination playing out a hard rock God fantasy with his band Junkyard Prophets from their home base near Minneapolis. He runs a church, a right-wing talk radio show The Sons of Liberty and recently debuted a self-congratulatory documentary called My War – The Testimony of Bradlee Dean.
If you are unfamiliar with Dean the best primer on him and his ministry is the My War trailer on the YCR website. Dean voice-overs his story – he’s misunderstood, he’s been kicked out of schools for teaching students everywhere “the truth”. Dean questioning over and over again “why me?” why would he have be the one to save an entire generation of kids?
A story akin to that of the martyrs, but in My War we are treated to a video montage of Jesus, the founding fathers, clips of Dean appearing on Fox News and rippling American flags under a screeching guitar solo of The National Anthem.
“It was more than disgusting, it was truly horrifying”
Dean’s escapades have been well documented over the years – taking public funds for performances that outraged parents at Minnesota and Arkansas schools. His anti-gay, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim ministry chronicled up through Dean’s controversial prayer given on the floor of the Minnesota legislature last month.
Kittie didn’t know Dean and YCR were Christian evangelists – the group’s slick collateral material didn’t mention it. There was no My War trailer she could watch to ward her off and most of the reports of Dean’s questionable tactics hadn’t yet been written. She said it was a essentially a snow job – that Dean’s group “sold themselves as something they weren’t.” Scavo, along with the Minnesota and Arkansas schools referenced above count three schools making this claim.
YCR started off its Scavo event with a rock music performance as it has done in every other school. Things were going okay through that – the kids having a good time listening to the music – though it was too loud for Kittie personally. It was the breakout sessions afterward that disturbed her. But mostly it disturbed the kids.
The kids of Scavo Alternative High School aren’t trust fund babies or prep schoolers. They are pregnant teens, troubled and homeless kids, and potential dropouts – all generally at risk – and all deserving of a fighting chance. Kittie spoke of the teens taking parenting classes, sexually abused youth, children from violent and broken homes that made up her student body. She told me about Scavo’s success stories of which she was rightfully proud.
During the breakout sessions, smaller groups of kids were sorted out for a more personal interaction with a member of Dean’s YCR team. From those groups a child was singled out and brought in front of the class. Then, YCR facilitators proceed to put “dots” physically on the child to represent a “curse” or a “pox”. As the dots were being placed on the student the YCR instructor announced each pox: teen pregnancy, pre-marital sex, not being a true Christian, homosexuality, STDs….
Kittie said the students – and faculty – were quite upset. She said of Dean’s program, “It was more than disgusting, it was horrifying.” After our conversation, she sent me an email about the true impact Dean’s ministry had on her kids.
“There were many students who spoke to me about being made to feel “less than”. This included gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender youth; students who had served time in juvenile facilities as well as prison; homeless youth (as if it was their fault); run-a-ways (she [facilitator] certainly did not know their circumstances); and sexually active students.”
The day after the assembly, Weston-Knauer pulled her staff and students together to apologize. ”I took full responsibility for not having done my homework” on Dean and YCR. With a small, overworked staff at an alternative high school, Weston-Knauer can be forgiven for taking Dean and his staff at their word.
Government’s Christian Welfare Programs
I have done investigations into the federal funding of anti-gay Christian organizations through President Bush’s faith based initiatives. I get how these things work. Typically, millions in government funds go directly to an organization to be used to either train staff or build capacity to execute specific programs. These organizations – including Dean’s YCR ministries are 501(c)3 (non-profit) organizations therefore they are tax exempt. And although YCR gets no direct federal funding, they get your tax money nonetheless.
According to YCR ministries 2009 tax return the group took in over $18,000 via school assemblies. From a 2008 tax return, they claimed to perform at 5 schools but do not indicate associated income. Dean’s own cost estimate of each assembly is between three and five thousand dollars (although they offer a sliding scale – Scavo only paid $315 for its assembly). Using the lower price as a guide that would make YCR’s 2008 school assembly revenue $15,000. Further investigation into these returns are necessary to determine how much income came from school district public funds versus private funds.
There are laws governing the use of public money and what non-profits can and cannot do. There are regulations against proselytizing in public schools as well as against using public funds to do it. Whether or not YCR has violated those rules will be up to the lawyers – if any choose to investigate.
I couldn’t access all of YCR’s tax returns and some of them were missing pertinent information so I decided to take Dean at his word when calculating the group’s possible school assembly income. Dean says in his My War trailer that he has performed at over 331 schools. I applied the extra cheap Scavo price of only $315* as the charge to each of those 331 schools. That rock-bottom per assembly price still comes out to over $104,000 of potential public funds paid to Dean and conceivably used to power his hate-filled ministry.
But maybe it’s just half of that – or even just one quarter? Unfortunately the likelihood is that it is much, much more. But even if it Bradlee Dean’s ministry got only $10 of government money – our money - that is ten bucks too much.
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