Election '98 and Church-State Separation
A fundamentalist church held a political rally during its Sunday service for Senate candidate Mark Neumann before the November elections. Following a professionally produced video calling for the restoration of America's greatness and a skit on American history, Neumann read Bible passages and made a speech reiterating the themes presented in the video. (News & Views 9/1/98) In a similar situation, Republican Congressional candidate Mark Green spoke from the pulpit at a Green Bay church. After the speech, church ministers laid their hands on Green, blessed him, and encouraged him to be strong through election day. (Press Gazette 11/4/98)
Censorship in the Schools
A number of attempts at censorship have occured in Wisconsin schools in recent months.
In the Kettle Moraine School District, school board member Gary Vose asked for the removal of Rolling Stone magazine from the library because of its alleged "pornographic" content. The board is currently considering removing librarians as the final decision-makers on what can be offered at libraries. (Milw. Journal Sentinel 10/6/98)
The American Civil Liberties Union has threatened to go to court over the Barron Area School District's decision to ban four books that deal with homosexuality. District Administrator Vita Sherry says she removed the booksbecause of "vulgarity," not because they depicted alternative lifestyles. (Milw. Journal Sentinel 10/7/98)
In Wisconsin Rapids, two teachers sought the removal of a textbook used to teach the Bill of Rights, complaining that the book contains violence and explicit sexual details. The school board has voted against discontinuing use of the book. (Associated Press 11/24/98)
A high school sophomore in Winter says she was told by the supervisor of an after-school computer lab that she only could look up Christian-based religions. The student claims that she was ordered to log off Internet sites on earth religion, witchcraft, magic, and book lists on goddesses. School officials have denied the charge but acknowledge that they are considering an Internet policy that says users "shall not access and use controversial materials." (Wisconsin State Journal 5/15/98)
A federal court has let stand a ruling that forbids the University of Wisconsin in Madison from making students pay fees to support student organizations whose political views they oppose. The ruling was in response to a case brought by three Christian students who objected to funding groups such as the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Campus Center. John Grabel, President of the UW System's United Council, says the ruling "will have a chilling effect on free speech and the free expression of ideas." (Milw. Journal Sentinel 10/29/98)
Also in the Schools . . .
Pro-Life Wisconsin has launched a letter-writing campaign to protest embryo research at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. According to the anti-abortion group's newsletter, the days-old embryos, donated by couples undergoing fertility treatments, are used in studies on stem cell development. The newsletter urges readers to write the university and state legislators to oppose the killing of these "preborn babies." (Banner 12/98)
The Marquette Tribune, a student newspaper at Marqueete University in Milwaukee, recently ran an ad which offered $250,000 to anyone who could arrange a debate challenging the veracity of the Holocaust. The ad, which was paid for by the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust, resulted in an apology from the newspaper and a sensitivity training session by the university. The ad also ran in the Advance Titan at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. (Milw. Journal Sentinel 10/10/98)
Kewaskum school board member Mary Andera is calling for the Ten Commandments to be posted in all district classrooms. Citing the rise in juvenile crime and teenage pregnancy, Andera says that posting the Commandments will provide moral guidelines for students. "We have adopted a religion of secularism in our society," Andera says. "If we live by these rules, everything else will take care of itself." (Milw. Journal Sentinel 12/1/98) Andera also criticized a high school world history book for having longer sections on Buddha and Confucius than on Jesus. (Wisconsin State Journal 7/17/98)
Faith-Based Crime Prevention
Raises Question of Church-State Separation
A Wisconsin legislative special committee is studying the possibility of using taxpayer dollars to fund faith-based crime prevention programs. Committee members are examining programs such as Faith Works International, a government-funded program in New York which uses a combination of counseling, training, and evangelism to cut recidivism rates for drug-abusers and ex-offenders.
Critics charge that this is an attempt by the Religious Right to gain government money for proselytizing. Participants are steeped in Bible studies and told that Jesus will change their lives. However, committee chair Scott Jensen says that the Wisconsin program will not set out to convert participants to a particular religion. The committee plans to complete its recommendation this spring. (Journal Sentinel 1/21/99)
Marriage Savers Movement Comes to Wisconsin
Waukesha County will begin distributing a pamphlet with tips for healthy marriages to couples seeking marriage licenses. The pamphlet is the brainchild of Supervisor Sandra Janisch who is a supporter of the Marriage Savers movement begun by conservative columnist Mike McManus. Under McManus' covenant marriage program, clergy promise not to marry couples unless they undergo counseling, have at least six months of courtship, and agree to follow-up counseling after the wedding.
The program, which is intended to cut divorce rates, is being used in Fond du Lac and Eau Claire. In addition, Rep. Carol Owens (R-Oshkosh) has introduced a covenant marriage bill in the state Legislature. Owens says the bill would create a covenant marriage for those "who want to waive some of the escape clauses that our no-fault law has in it." (Journal Sentinel 1/29/99)
Neumann Campaign Specialists Advise Supreme Court Challenger
The political operatives of failed senatorial candidate Mark Neumann are running the campaign of Green Bay attorney Sharren Rose in her challenge to Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson. Neumann campaign manager R.J. Johnson is guiding Rose's campaign, and William Eisner and Associates, the group which created Neumann's negative TV and radio commercials, will handle her advertising. (Shepherd Express 1/14/99)
U.S. Taxpayer Party Candidate Sued for Tax Fraud
The Justice Department is suing Grafton resident Robert Raymond, along with UW law student Robert Bernhoft, for selling a program which encouraged taxpayers not to file federal income tax returns and to file false amended returns to recover taxes previously paid. The suit also alleges that the men made statements disputing the constitutionality of internal revenue laws. Raymond is a former senatorial candidate for the U.S. Taxpayers Party, a third party which advocates public policy based on Biblical laws. (Journal Sentinel 1/18/99)
In the Schools . . .
- The Kettle Moraine School Board has voted to keep Rolling Stone behind the high school library counter. The new policy is in response to an attempt by a board member to have the magazine banned for its "pornographic" content. (Journal Sentinel 2/6/99)
- Two books will be returned to the Barron High School Library after the ACLU sued over their removal. The school board banned "The Drowning of Stephan Jones" and "Baby Be-Bop" due to their homosexual themes. (Journal Sentinel 3/2/99)
Gunman's Hate Group Has Wisconsin Ties
The gunman suspected of racially motivated shootings in Indiana and Illinois over the Fourth of July weekend belonged to a whire supremacist group with affiliations in Wisconsin. The World Church of the Creator, which teaches that Jews and non-whites are subhuman "mud people," has chapters in Franklin, New Berlin and Milwaukee. (Wausau Daily Herald, 5/11/98) Members of the group also have been ticketed for distributing hate literature in Cudahy. (Milw. Journal Sentinel, 7/21/98)
Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, a group adherent, committed suicide after killing two and wounding nine in a series of shootings tageting Jews, blacks and Asians. World Church leader Matthew F. Hale disavows responsibility for the attacks. His troops, he said, are simply out there spreading their message, trying to persuade other white folks to stand up for their race and leave the "subhumans" to wither. (7/7/99)
State Representative Accused of Using Personal Wealth
to Scare Off Challengers
State Rep. Tom Sykora has been accused of pumping his own money into his campaign fundto scare off possible opponents in the last election. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign says Sykora, who raised $37,000 and spent $21,370, put $100,500 into his campaign and then repaid himself after winning re-election. Gail Shea, director of the non-partisan group, says she wonders how many possible candidates were run off by Sykora's large war chest. "There may have been many people thinking of challenging him. He wasn't making any interest on the money, so why was it there?" (Milw. Journal Sentinel 5/9/99) Sykora, a Republican from Chippewa Falls, is also on the board of directors of the Wisconsin Christian Coalition. (Wis. Christian Coalition News Update 2/98)
In the Schools
- Anti-gay activist Ron Greer has sent a letter to 3,000 Verona households accusing the school district of encouraging students to "accept and affirm dangerous sexual behavior." Greer, a former Second Congressional District candidate and Madison fire fighter who was fired for anti-gay campaigning on the job, objects to a student group that supports people of all sexual orientations. "Countless children will unnecessarily suffer physically, emotionall, and some will even die as a result of this deception," Greer's letter says. He also urges parents to question tax money being spent for such purposes. School administrators say that parentsare outraged by the letter which has actually bolstered support for gay students. (Capitol Times 5/20/99)
- At a recent meeting to discuss security in schools following the Littleton, CO shootings, Mukwonago School Board member Kathleen Hudis suggested that returning prayer to public schools may be part of the answer. According to Hurdis, since society "has taken prayer out of school, and God out of school," it has been "on a slippery slope" leading to problems. (Mukwonago Chief 5/5/99)
- The Littleton tragedy has prompted a group of parents in the Deerfield Schhol District to petition for a change in the high school mascot, a horned demon carrying a pitchfork. "Shortly after the shooting, I read many articles in the media about influences on our children," said Debra McCusky, who is leading the effort. "We don't know subconsciously what that is doing to a child who is represented by a demon." Assistant Superintendent of Schools Barb Noll says the demon has been a symbol for the school for at least 50 years. (Milw. Journal Sentinel 5/7/99)
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Anti-Union Group Joins Green Bay Couple
in Dispute Over Union Dues
A national anti-labor group has filed a complaint in the U. S. Court of Appeals seeking resolution of a dispute by Sherry and David Pirlott, Green Bay, against the Teamsters for using part of their union dues for political purposes.
The National Right To Work Foundation, the legal arm of a group which lobbies for anti-union laws, is using the case to test a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which requires a union to rebate members upon request for the portion of their dues spent on non-bargaining activities. Since this issue is already adequately addressed under federal law, Chris Roth, a spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, called the suit an attempt to derail union organizing and silence the voice of workers in politics. (Capital Times 6/4/99)
Wisconsin Right to Work, the group's state chapter previously known as Wisconsin Alliance for Jobs, is headed by Mike Maxwell, a former aide to Republican State Sen. Robert Welch. (Milw. Journal 1/27/95) Maxwell was also campaign manager for Ron Greer, the Madison firefighter (fired for his anti-gay activities) who ran for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District. (Capital Times 8/19/98) Maxwell credits his organization with several recent anti-labor initiatives in the State Legislature. (Wis. Right to Work 8/23/99)
U.S. Taxpayers Party Candidate to Head Anti-Abortion Group
Pro-Life Wisconsin has announced that Dave Ostendorf will replace Mary Matuska as state director of the anti-abortion group. (Banner 8/99) Ostendorf was an unsuccessful State Assembly candidate in 1996 and 1994 on the U.S. Taxpayers Party ticket. The Virginia-based third party has a platform which calls for the elimination of most non-military functions of the federal government. The party also opposes labor unions and featured a speaker from the National Right to Work Committee at its 1996 national convention. (In These Times 9/2/96)
School Board Members Create Controversy
Over Phonics in Muskego
How to teach reading is a topic of debate in many Wisconsin school districts. Although phonics is used along with other approaches in most schools, some want it taught intensively and systematically, to the exclusion of other methods. (Journal Sentinel 6/3/98) This has become a rallying cry for right-wing groups such as Wisconsin-based PRESS (Parents Raising Educational Standards in Schools), which hopes to reverse many of the educational reforms of recent decades. (11/13/95)
The controversy is dividing school districts like Muskego. Three school board members, all members of PRESS (Muskego Sun 3/27/97; 2/11/99), recently lost a bid to implement an intensive phonics program this fall. Area residents Jane Drake, Patty Gemoll, and Kathy Anderson had spent years calling for more phonics in Muskego schools. When Gemoll and Anderson joined Drake on the board in April, the three scrambled to push through a program without input from parents, teachers or administrators. The proposal was defeated when board president Charles Damaske switched sides and voted to delay implementation of the new reading curriculum. Drake, however, vowed to continue the fight. "I think they'd like to throw this phonics program out the window and never look at it again...," Drake said. "But I'm going to hang in there. I've been bitten so often, I'm immune." (Journal Sentinel 8/6/99)
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