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Pleasant Hill holds hateful words

BY MICHAEL DALE-STEIN | APRIL 21, 2010 7:30 AM

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Forty-one years ago, the historic Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District Supreme Court case solidified Iowa’s legal significance, establishing a national precedence for freedom of expression. One year ago the Varnum v. Brien ruling, which legalized same-sex marriage, was a win for equality.

But the narrow-mindedness of one special-interest group is destroying Iowa’s progressive reputation from the inside out.

Approximately six miles from Des Moines, where the Tinker case originated, sits the little town of Pleasant Hill. And Pleasant Hill is home to the Iowa Family Policy Center, a powerful Christian organization that consistently lambastes this state’s progressivism. Every month since April 2009, when the Supreme Court granted same-sex couples their deserved right to marry, the group has come closer and closer to crossing the hate-speech boundary.

The center — a nonprofit group that preaches “family values” — is famous for, well, not much other than hateful rhetoric. Still, I can tell its shepherds tend to the needs of their constituents; the center’s website promotes Exodus International, a vital resource for lost souls hoping to overcome homosexuality. Is former Pastor Ted Haggard a member?

But despite their radical right-wing status, several media reports indicate the center obtained more than $3 million in federal grants between 2004 and 2009. According to a 2007 tax return statement, $558,337 of the center’s $1.1 million in claimed revenue were from federal grants. Two auxiliaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — the Administration for Children and Families’ Compassion Capital Fund and the U.S. Healthy Marriage Demonstration Fund — are responsible for granting a large portion of the funds. The group’s representatives have insisted that government grants are used to fund Marriage Matters, a marriage-counseling initiative.

Perhaps even more shocking than the millions received in federal funds are the people who actually defend the center. Somehow, the organization has garnered support from politicians, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and one of Iowa’s Republican gubernatorial candidates, Bob Vander Plaats.

How can anybody back the center? Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for unrestricted freedom of speech. Our freedom as Americans stem directly from the limitless amalgamation of belief systems and opinions protected under the Bill of Rights. Therefore, I fully acknowledge the center’s right to publicize its beliefs (and even encourage it when I’m in the mood for some comedic relief).

But I guess living in Iowa City, a quaint town filled with politically apathetic college students and progressive long-term residents, has circumscribed my understanding of Iowa’s political sentiments. I only encounter such bigotry when ultra-fundamentalists perennially invade the Pentacrest. Sometimes I forget that not all Iowans — and Americans, for that matter — share my youthful vigor for social liberalism.

Just check out one of the group’s press releases from March, which claimed the Iowa Supreme Court’s unwillingness to overturn Varnum v. Brien will lead to a dramatic rise in the state’s HIV and syphilis rates.

“Homosexual activity is certainly more dangerous for the individuals who engage in it than is smoking,” Iowa Family Policy Center President Chuck Hurley said in the statement.

Heaven forbid if you’re a homosexual smoker.


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