The Family Leader, Bob Vander Plaats, federal funding and right questions for religious politicians

(Since I wrote this post last week it was revealed that Newt Gingrich dumped a ton of money into the Iowa Family Policy Center/The Family Leader effort to oust the Iowa Supreme Court Justices last year.  Makes complete sense doesn’t it?)

Photo of BVP from The NYT

A story  – The Road to the White House is Paved With Pizza – ran in the Sunday New York Times Magazine about Iowa political leader Bob Vander Plaats.  Vander Plaats heads the conservative Christian political group The Family Leader making stops throughout the state – at home grown Iowa pizza franchises “The Pizza Ranch” – rallying evangelical voters horrified by gay marriage to get to the polls come next year.

These events wouldn’t be as interesting if Iowa didn’t hold the first Republican caucuses in the country – rightly or wrongly setting the stage for the presidential election – and the Family Leader hadn’t successfully positioned itself as a prospective conservative candidate’s best friend in the Hawkeye State.

This from the Times:

That organization, The FAMiLY LEADER (they’ve consigned the “I” to lowercase to emphasize the individual’s submission before God), involves a PAC, a nonprofit and, more recently, a Presidential Lecture Series that introduces potential presidential candidates to three audiences, in three Iowa cities, over the course of a day. Tim Pawlenty was the first lecturer this year, Ron Paul the second. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are scheduled to speak as well.

As Vander Plaats whisks candidates throughout the state, he will be teaching them how to talk to caucus goers. He has spent his entire life in Iowa. He knows that the Iowans to whom he is speaking are conversant in certain regional stereotypes (Dutch-Americans like himself are cheap and churchgoing), that most of them consider gay marriage objectionable and that they find the politicization of Western- themed pizza buffets unremarkable. There are 69 Pizza Ranches* in the state, and Vander Plaats will have spoken at most of them by the end of March.

Today at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines The Family Leader (TFL) – will be holding a rally against same sex marriage.  At 11:30 ish the group and its supporters will mount the steps and claim they and countless Iowans have the right to vote on another human being’s civil rights.  They will likely be carrying signs bearing the name of their Prop-8 like campaign “LUV Iowa” – Let Us Vote – to define via the Iowa Constitution marriage being between one man and one woman. If this rally is anything like the rally I attended last fall organized by TFL (then known as the Iowa Family Policy Center – IFPC) on the steps of the Iowa Supreme Court, it will feel more like a religious revival and less like a political rally with a chorus of “amens” from a faithful crowd.

The religious are entitled to air their concerns and opinions as well as their political beliefs in the public square.  They just as much as anyone have a right to participate in our democracy.  They live here too.  It is when a radical religious group takes political center stage that more moderate voices should start asking them questions – specifically about their religious beliefs.  Based on the line-up (see notes for list) of controversial religious political leaders speaking today in Des Moines – moderate Iowan’s need to start asking questions about the exclusivity of the Iowa Leader’s Christian world view.

Damon Linker’s book “The Religious Test” boils down nicely the reasons why in our civil society it is imperative to question the beliefs of our political leaders.  I don’t subscribe to all the claims Linker makes in his book but it was an interesting and though provoking read.  The book advocates questioning the religious and irreligious alike listing “Six Political Commandments” to be applied to “Believers and Atheists in Public Office.”  Although I think there is a broad spectrum of agnostics and the undecided between believers and Atheists, it seems a helpful start in thinking about how to question our elected officials:

1.  Grant to others the religious freedom granted you

2.  Place no authority above the Constitution

3.  Honor worldly knowledge

4.  Do not assume to know God’s Providence

5.  Do not covet sexual consensus

6.  Do not preach intolerance in the name of freethinking

Of course if any of these proposals sound impossible to you – my guess is the milieu I spend time researching will have trouble with number two – any questioning of a person’s beliefs would be akin to persecution (caveat being unless you are a Muslim). That is just the load of Holy Horseshit we as a country must overcome.  If you put yourself into the race for public office, or are awarded federal funding, you absolutely must expect your religious beliefs – no matter what creed – to be questioned by fellow Americans who as an electorate and as taxpayers have a right to know about.

I write almost solely about the role that religious groups play in local and national politics – more importantly when those groups have direct influence on public policy and have received government grants.  I have written about the IFPC for over a year, first about the unbelievable fact the group had received over $3 million in federal funding to run marriage mentoring programs.

Unbelievable because IFPC now Family Leader was the loudest and most influential voice against same sex marriage via their PAC headquartered in the same office as it’s federally funded marriage program.  And then there was the offensive ongoing statements about homosexuals.  My personal favorite – for blatant homophobia and exposition of Photoshop skills – is the IFPC/TFL allegation that homosexuality is more dangerous than second hand smoke.  A claim supported on their website by featuring openly gay Representative Barney Frank like so:

But that is just flashy showmanship.  IFPC/Family Leader’s ridiculous blog post is nothing – a sophomoric prank – compared to their political influence within the Iowa Statehouse and now, nationally shuttling Michele Bachman, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich (and more!) around Iowa.

Vander Plaats, with copious funding from the American Family Association, lead the movement to oust three Iowa Supreme Court Justices last fall:

The Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC), which recently changed its name to The Family Leader*, is the most vocal and political anti-gay organization in Iowa.  As a federally fundedchapter of the Family Research Council (FRC), IFPC railed against gay marriage leading up to the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision granting marriage equality for same sex couples.  They started the “LUV Iowa” (Let Us Vote) Campaign to bring a Proposition 8-like ballot initiative to the state.  They sent lobbyists to the state capital and held ‘pro-family’ rallies.

Then, in a momentum-building coup, IFPC president Chuck Hurley, a former Iowa legislator, and Bob Vender Plaats, 2008 Mike Huckabee Iowa campaign chair and three-time gubernatorial candidate, led a state-wide campaign to oust three Iowa Supreme Court Justices who voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.  The campaign was financed by FRC Action, the National Organization for Marriage and most directly by the American Family Association, dubbed a hate group by The Southern Poverty Law Center.  In the end, Iowa voted to remove the so-called “activist judges.” Chuck Hurley told the press that they “did God’s will.”

Since that victory, The Family Leader’s political power has grown and will by design continue to grow in the run-up to next year’s general election.  The organization has positioned itself as the gatekeeper for the 2012 first-in-the-nation Republican caucus by hosting presidential speaking events throughout Iowa.  These “educational” events bring presidential hopefuls and right wing luminaries such as tea party siren Michelle Bachman, and Rick Santorum, a well-known anti-gay (former) politician who posited the legalization of gay sex would lead to “man on dog” relationships, to speak in high school auditoriums and college union halls around the state.   Even the comparatively more mainstream Ron Paul recently accepted The Family Leader’s invitation to speak.  Newt Gingrich is jumping on board as well.

(from a piece I wrote for The Revealer)

Notes, etc.

**LUV Iowa/Family Leader Anti-same sex marriage rally line-up:

Pastor Cary Gordon:  Led pulpit initiative to oust Iowa Supreme Court Justices after same-sex marriage ruling.  Sent letters to pastors throughout the state drawing analogies between “secular fundamentalists” and “Hitler.”  American’s United filed complaint demanding IRS investigate Gordon’s Church

Judge Roy Moore: Former Alabama Supreme Court Justice removed from office for NOT removing a display of the 10 commandments from the Alabama Judicial Building.  Moore successfully leveraged that act of martyrdom for a career in professional right-wingery.  Moore also played a role in the ouster of three Iowa Supreme Court Justices last fall – coordinated by The Iowa Family Policy Center and numerous out of state right wing groups – like American Family Association, Family Research Council, National Organization for Marriage, Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition, etc.

This from press release just issued by Interfaith Alliance of Iowa:

“Roy Moore has no respect for the Constitution, the judicial branch, or the people of his own state, let alone Iowa,” Connie Ryan Terrell, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa stated. “Moore was chosen to uphold the U.S and Alabama Constitutions and serve all the people of the state. Instead, he chose to snub both and the court and was removed from his position in the process. He is not a judge and he has no right to use that honorable title.”

Ryan Terrell went on to say, “HJR6 and SJR8 are solely about stripping away basic rights from some Iowa families and turning those families into second class citizens. Why is that type of divisive legislation good for Iowa?”

Rev. Keith Ratliff:

Ratliff’s approach echoes the Old Testament: God has spoken, and His laws are etched in stone. ‘It’s in God’s word,’ Ratliff said. ‘We feel this ends the discussion.’ Hurley’s tone is more New Testament. He speaks of the same-sex marriage debate in parables. He makes analogies relating the issue to the big picture of human salvation, framing the debate not around what two people do in their bedroom but around our culture’s descent into a moral abyss. Their views often are expressed in sound bites that seem full of hate. But Hurley and Ratliff insist their argument has nothing to do with hate and everything to do with speaking the truth in love.

Read more:

Of course these two will be joined by Bob Vander Plaats and IFPC/Family Leader’s Chuck Hurley.

*Pizza Ranch: The Pizza Ranch restaurants were founded in Iowa.  This is from their “mission/vision” page:

Our Vision To glorify God by positively impacting the world we live in.

The Pizza Ranch in my hometown went out of business a while back.  The storefront it used to occupy is now home to a Church.


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