(CNSNews.com) - A civil rights organization that has spent the last 25 years monitoring "hate groups" and "extremists" such as the Ku Klux Klan now has a new target -- the religious right -- which the group claims is conducting a "holy war" against homosexuals.
In the current issue of its quarterly magazine "Intelligence Report," the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) contends that "religious leaders have engaged in 30 years of name-calling and bogus 'science' in their attack on gays. But only now is their crusade reaching biblical proportions."
In response, the spokesman for one pro-family group said it's the SPLC that is guilty of "engaging in hate speech." Another conservative said his group wears the criticism from the SPLC as a "badge of honor."
Along with an article on "Curious Cures" for homosexuality and a feature on the myth that homosexuals helped mastermind the Holocaust, the SPLC's latest Intelligence Report contains a timeline of the "anti-gay movement" from Anita Bryant's efforts to repeal a "gay rights" ordinance in Florida in 1977 to the present.
In an editorial, SPLC spokesman Mark Potok asserted that "the religiously based crusade against homosexuals in America" reached a turning point in 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas decision struck down state anti-sodomy laws.
Since then, the Christian right has increased fund raising and poured millions of dollars into TV, newspaper and radio ads, including during last year's successful campaign to pass constitutional amendments in 13 states to define marriage as between one man and one woman. More such measures are set to go before voters in November of 2006.
Potok in his editorial also charged that leaders of the religious right were guilty of using "bully-boy tactics" such as "cruel name-calling." The contention of many Christians, that they hate the sin but love the sinner, is "a hard one to swallow," according to Potok. "When perpetrators of hate crimes against gays use identical words to describe their victims, you have to wonder where it began," he states.
Under the heading, "A Mighty Army," the SPLC's Intelligence Report lists "a dozen of today's most influential anti-gay groups" that it claims "help drive the religious right's anti-gay crusade." The list includes the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family.
"Fundamentalist Christians have every right to their views of religion," Potok states. "But when they use that right to launch vicious personal attacks on an entire group based on characteristics that most scientists see as immutable, they poison the political debate and subject the objects of their scorn to the very real possibility of violence and even death.
"And that can only damage a healthy democratic society," Potok adds.
According to its website, the Southern Poverty Law Center "was founded in 1971 as a small civil rights law firm." Today, the Montgomery, Ala.-based organization "is internationally known for its tolerance education programs, its legal victories against white supremacists and its tracking of hate groups."
'Badge of honor'
Cybercast News Service contacted representatives of several organizations on the SPLC's list, and most agreed with Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, that "the company looks pretty good to me from here.
"I would use different terminology" than the center does, he said, "but to the extent that we oppose the homosexual social and political agenda and were named by this group, we wear it as a badge of honor." Hear MP3 Audio Clip
Wildmon stated that the list represents "the pro-family movement in America today" and added that the AFA "joins those groups in standing up for traditional marriage and traditional family values."
Robert Knight, director of the Culture & Family Institute for Concerned Women for America (CWA), accused the SPLC of "engaging in hate speech" against people they disagree with because they're "less concerned with poverty than in advancing a radical left-wing agenda on all fronts.
"They seek to discredit groups like CWA precisely because our message is resonating with the public," he said, "so they have to smear us, put words in our mouths and liken us to the Klan and Nazis to direct attention away from the fact that their radical agenda is being exposed and repudiated by the American people."
Melissa Fryrear, gender issues analyst for Focus on the Family, took a different view of her organization's inclusion on the SPLC's list.
"The real issue is what we're for," Fryrear said, "and we're for marriage being what it's been for 6,000 years -- a man and a woman for a lifetime and not being redefined by judicial activists."
Fryrear also disagreed with the contention that homosexuality is an immutable characteristic. "I'm a former homosexual," she noted. "There are tens of thousands of men and women who have overcome homosexuality, who know first-hand that it's not an immutable characteristic, so it cannot be equated to race or gender."
Knight from CWA conceded that the SPLC will probably benefit from taking on the religious right. "They're vilifying pro-family groups in order to energize their base of washed-up hippies and tree-hugging environmental extremists," he added. Hear MP3 Audio Clip
Several calls to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center seeking comment for this article were not returned by press time.
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