Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality
UPDATE: Forgot to mention one of the most egregious statements made by Dean to the Dunkerton school. According to Superintendent Stanton, Dean’s group told the crowd that gay men “on average” die when they are “42 years old.” Yep, that’s what they said.
Bradlee Dean and his Junkyard Prophets are back selling their anti-gay right wing Christian revisionist snake oil in Iowa schools. Using a typical bait and switch, Dean – an anti-gay evangelist from Minnesota – and his 501c3 “ministry” promise schools a rock concert full of positive messaging and an effective anti-drug and alcohol program brought to your school. But of course something different happens when he gets through the door.
This from KWWL in Iowa:
An Eastern Iowa superintendent is doing major damage control after an unexpected message in a school assembly. The band Junkyard Prophet and a group known as You Can Run But You Cannot Hide was invited to speak at Dunkerton High School Thursday morning. Administrators thought the group was speaking about provocative lyrics in music and making good choices. But then, the subject matter turned to potentially offensive opinions on homosexuality and abortion.
“We work hard to teach tolerance in our classrooms,” Superintendent Jim Stanton told students at a second assembly Thursday afternoon.
The afternoon gathering was not originally part of the superintendent’s plans Thursday, but proved necessary after the first one went awry. “I thought it was going to be a fun three hour assembly and I’d get out of some classes,” remarked seventh grade student Adam Manahl.
Students say the assembly started well. The band played some great music and most students agreed with their message. “They were a rock band, and they talked about music that had bad influences on kids,” said high school junior Kenzley Ricklefs. But then things took an unexpected turn. The group switched their message from music, to negative opinions about the gay, lesbian, and transgendered community. “They started talking about homosexuality, and that’s when I really got offended,” Manahl said. “I got a little emotional. I wanted to walk out. But I’m like — keep your calm, listen to what they have to say.” Then they split into smaller groups — girls, boys, and teachers. The guys got a lesson in the constitution and Christianity.
Okay – there are a ton of things wrong here. Anti-gay hate messages, teaching Christianity in schools. But I always like to point out that Dean got around $1500 dollars – taxpayer dollars – from the Dunkerton school. “That is the number [$1500] that sticks in my head,” Superintendent Stanton told me in a phone call this morning.
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.
Stanton wants that money back. “They misrepresented themselves,” Stanton told me. He also said he would be warning the other Superintendents in the school’s “Two Rivers” conference. “We have over 66 schools in our conference and I am going to let all of them know that Dean is coming around.”
But Dean is well-known to the gay rights community. He is notorious for his traveling roadshow. He does quick hits, as with Dunkerton, contacting schools as they are “just passing through” the area. Promising an amazing show that would typically cost a school about $5000 for the low, low price of $1500 – or less.
A quick google search of Dean and the Junkyard Prophets would have yielded the Dunkerton administration a host of information that hopefully would have kept the group out of their school. But, as I spoke with Stanton I heard echos of other interviews I conducted in the past with other overwrought school administrators.
Schools are desperate to bring assemblies and other outside programs into their schools. So, when the Junkyard Prophets flyer came across someone’s desk, it seemed like an easy fit.
“We assured parents that what the Junkyard Prophets said is not in alignment with Dunkerton schools – we promote diversity and tolerance,” he went on to point out a tragic consequence of Dean coming to Dunkerton, “With their message of intolerance against gays – they just made our job as a school that much harder.”
This is my previous post about another Iowa school that had to do immediate damage control after Dean and his group came through from last year:
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 to 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 atMinnesota and Arkansas schools. His anti-gay, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim ministry chronicled up through Dean’s controversial prayergiven 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 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
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.
Notes, links, etc: