Wisconsin Center for Pluralism
Spring, 2002 Report

CONTENTS
Federal Judge Vetoes State Funding of "Faith Works"
Cross Burning in Dane County Still Unsolved
Feminist Play Greeted with Protests, Vandalism
Report Says Milwaukee Voucher Schools Were Overpaid by $28 Million
Supreme Court to Rule Soon in Cleveland Voucher Case
Edison Schools Faulted for Management, Performance
Major Fines Levied for Violations in 1997 State Supreme Court Race
Political Operative's Tactics Earn Fines, Condemnation
Constitution Party: Return U.S. to "Biblical Premises"
2001 Year in Review: Briefs from Across the Badger State
National Briefs

EDITOR: Jamakaya, Executive Director, Wisconsin Center for Pluralism


Federal Judge Vetoes State Funding of "Faith Works"

On January 8, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb ordered Wisconsin to stop its funding of the religiously-based social service program called "Faith Works." She ruled that the state funding "constitutes unrestricted, direct funding of an organization that engages in religious indoctrination," violating First Amendment guarantees of the separation of church and state. The suit challenging the funding was filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison.

The Faith Works program in Milwaukee offers drug and alcohol counseling, emphasizing Christian teachings in its treatment model. It provides Bible study, chapel services and daily prayer time. The program has received almost $1 million from the discretionary portion of federal welfare funds (TANF - Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) that flow to the states. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson approved the funding and President Bush visited the Faith Works program, endorsing it as an example of his "faith-based initiative."

Judge Crabb noted that Faith Works did not exist before it obtained government funds and concluded that "the Faith Works program indoctrinates its participants in religion, primarily through its counselors. Religion is so integral to the Faith Works program that it is not possible to isolate it from the program as a whole."

Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State called the ruling "a major blow to President Bush's faith-based initiative." Gov. Scott McCallum said that he supports the program as well as an appeal of the ruling.

--- NY Times, Freethought Today, AUSCS release

Return to Contents


Cross Burning in Dane County Still Unsolved

The Dane County Sheriff's Department has not been able to find those responsible for a cross-burning directly across the street from the home of an African American family on County Road P in the town of Dane. The incident occurred in the early morning hours of December 21. A passing motorist saw the 4-5 foot tall cross burning in a ditch and reported it to authorities. Kris Bridgemon, a friend of the Ronnell Hunter family, was home alone at the time of the incident. "I never thought I'd see something like that," he told the Wisconsin State Journal. "There's some real ignorant people out there."

--- Wisconsin State Journal


Feminist Play Greeted with Protests, Vandalism

In February, two Fox Valley area productions of Eve Ensler's play "The Vagina Monologues" were met with phone calls of protest and the defacing of posters.

Susan Rabideau, director of the play at UW-Fox Valley, received calls objecting to the play, which is based on the testimonies of real women about their bodies, sexuality and life experiences. One caller suggested that female genital mutilation was a way to keep women in their place. At Lawrence University, posters were defaced with messages like "Don't go see this. You're going to go to hell." Said Director Kass Kuehl: "It's ridiculous. Going to a liberal arts college you don't expect things like that."

--- Appleton Post Crescent

Return to Contents


EDUCATION REPORT

Report Says Milwaukee Voucher Schools
Were Overpaid by $28 Million

A report issued by People for the American Way in February reveals that Wisconsin taxpayers have been overcharged by nearly $28 million to pay for Milwaukee's private school voucher program for the two-year period of 1998-2000. The full report, "A Painful Price: How the Milwaukee Voucher Surcharge Undercuts Wisconsin's Education Priorities," is available on the PFAW's web site at www.pfaw.org.

PFAW found that more than 75% of the 91 private and religious schools that obtained state funds received payments that exceeded their per-pupil tuition. For instance, a parent sending her child to the Urban Day School would have been charged $1,000 for the 1999-2000 school year, but the state of Wisconsin paid the private school $5,080 per student. Voucher payments to Messmer, a Catholic high school, were $2,106 higher per student than the tuition the school normally charged.

PFAW suggests that the $28 million, if invested in existing public schools, could have covered shortfalls in the areas of special education, school construction and alternative programs. PFAW notes that the $28 million surcharge represents 46% of the total cost of the voucher program itself during that two-year period. This year's total of overpayments is expected to reach $25 million.

--- People for the American Way release


Supreme Court to Rule in Cleveland Voucher Case

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in February in the Cleveland school voucher case. The justices are set to rule by late June on the constitutionality of allowing public funds to support church-run schools. A federal appeals court had previously ruled against Cleveland's program as a violation of the First Amendment's religious establishment prohibition.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum and Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist submitted pro-voucher friend-of-the-court briefs. In 1998, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Milwaukee's voucher program. A key supporter was Justice John Wilcox, who later became embroiled in a probe of irregularities in his 1997 election campaign. See related story.

--- New York Times, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


Edison Schools Faulted for Management, Performance

In 2001, the San Francisco School Board set a deadline for improved performance by Edison Schools, the national, for-profit company that manages the district's only charter school.

Following complaints by parents, the board conducted an investigation into the Edison Charter Academy. The probe uncovered misleading test scores, discrimination against black students, poor financial record-keeping, the transfer of special education students to other schools, and the conversion of a free after-school program into a program that costs $200 per month.

Meanwhile, in Flint, Michigan, the Garfield Edison Partnership School, operated by Edison Schools since the 1996-97 school year, has continually lost ground on state test scores for fourth grade reading and math in comparison to the public school district as a whole. This is despite Edison claims that greater discipline, drills and rote instruction will raise student achievement.

--- Associated Press, New York Times

Return to Contents


Major Fines Levied in 1997 State Supreme Court Race

Illegal Contributions Came from Voucher Supporters
Months Before Justice Wilcox Cast Deciding Vote

Last March, the Wisconsin Elections Board fined Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox, his campaign manager and the founder of a group called Citizens for Voter Participation a total of $60,000 for finance violations in the 1997 campaign that won Wilcox a full ten year term on the state's high court.

The three year investigation revealed that about $200,000 from proponents of private voucher schools was illegally obtained and funneled through Citizens for Voter Participation. The board also charged that Wilcox, campaign manager Mark Block, and the "Voters" group (founded by Wisconsin Christian Coalition leader Brent Pickens just weeks before the election) had submitted false campaign finance reports.

The campaign scandal stirred considerable outrage because only a year later, Wilcox cast the deciding vote in the 1998 court decision upholding the constitutionality of Milwaukee's school voucher program, the program that gives millions of taxpayer dollars to private and religious schools. In contrast to Wilcox, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley recused herself from the voucher case after acknowledging that a teacher's union had legally donated $24,000 to her campaign.

The fines, issued in a settlement, are the largest ever levied by the Elections Board. "We now have a Supreme Court justice who has essentially pled no contest to the biggest campaign finance corruption case in the history of the Elections Board," board member David Halbrooks told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

--- Wisconsin State Journal, Milw. Journal Sentinel,
Milwaukee Magazine ("Dirty Hands," Feb. 2001)

Return to Contents


Political Operative's Tactics Earn Fines, Condemnation

Political consultant Todd Rongstad, whose tactics and campaign ads have been called "vile" and "extremely cruel," paid a fine of $5,500 in 2001 for failing to file campaign finance reports on time in the November, 2000 election. Rongstad led a group called Project Vote Informed which sponsored attack ads against several Democrats running in key races for the State Assembly. The Republican Party of Wisconsin was the primary funder of Rongstad's group, donating $145,000.

In one ad, Rongstad charged that Rep. Sarah Waukau failed to sponsor anti-drug legislation while a 15-year-old boy died after sniffing butane in the Waukau family car. The tragedy with the boy did occur, but although Waukau had not sponsored the anti-drug laws, she had indeed voted for them. Waukau lost the race.

In another ad, Rongstad superimposed the head of Rep. Lee Meyerhofer near that of a man who appeared to be attacking a woman. "There's no excuse for domestic abuse," said the ad, "so Meyerhofer has to go." A photo of Meyerhofer standing with police officers outside their squad car implied he was arrested, but the photo was actually one of police endorsing Meyerhofer taken from his own campaign literature. Meyerhofer's wife had applied for a restraining order against him, but the couple reconciled and the request was dismissed. He was never charged with any crime and won re-election.

Rongstad is a former Republican legislative staffer, and some reporters found it suspicious that information about Meyerhofer's alleged domestic abuse was identical to that distributed to the media earlier by staff members of Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen. Such direct coordination between ostensibly independent groups and candidates or agents of candidates could violate state election laws. Rongstad insisted that the information about Meyerhofer was sent to him anonymously. Jensen has since called Rongstad's tactics "scurrilous."

--- Capital Times, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


Constitution Party: Return U.S. to "Biblical Premises"

The Constitution Party of Wisconsin is the new name of the former Taxpayer's Party. Although the goals of limited government and abolition of the IRS might seem attractive, a closer look reveals this platform:

To "restore American Jurisprudence to its Biblical premises" and "appoint only judges who acknowledge the legal personhood of the unborn child;"
To terminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, AIDS education, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Legal Services Corporation;
To close the U.S. Department of Education and terminate the federal role in education;
To "end Federal interference with imposition of the death penalty."

- Constitution Party web site

Return to Contents


2001 YEAR IN REVIEW:
Briefs From Across the Badger State

Post - 9/11 Hate Crimes Reported to Police

RACINE and MADISON . . . At least two alleged hate crimes were committed in Wisconsin in the weeks after 9/11.

In October in Racine, a 49-year-old man was charged with disorderly conduct as a hate crime for allegedly threatening the Indian owner of a convenience store.

In November in Madison, a 21-year-old man was charged with disorderly conduct and criminal damage to property as a hate crime for breaking the window of a State Street bar because he saw two men inside who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent.

Although these incidents were apparently the acts of individuals, almost a dozen small KKK, neo-Nazi and racist skinhead groups are active in localities around the state.

--- Wisconsin State Journal, Southern Poverty Law Center

PFLAG Billboard Defaced

PEWAUKEE . . . A billboard along Highway 16 sponsored by Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays was defaced by vandals in July. The image below shows the pre-attack billboard.

The message "Our gay children enrich all our lives" was changed to read: "Strait children enrich all our lives." (Mispelling is that of the vandals.) The PFLAG name and number were also scratched out. The billboard was part of a public awareness campaign by Milwaukee PFLAG.

--- Wisconsin IN Step

Black, Hispanic Students Harassed at Neenah High

NEENAH . . . Racial harassment of minority students at Neenah High School boiled over last fall with some African American students threatening to transfer to other area schools for their safety and well-being. A group of white students called "The Rednecks" incited anger by dis-playing Confederate flags. Student Taya Mann, who was subjected to racial slurs, said: "We are just sick of it."

Principal Mark Duerwaechter issued a policy forbidding the display of the Confederate flag and tried to bring leaders of the groups together to work out their differences. A group called Students and Teachers Advocating Neenah Diversity (STAND) was established to help resolve the ongoing problems.

--- Appleton Post-Crescent

Rep. Huebsch Uses Anti-Gay Slur Against Colleague

MADISON . . . When state legislators debated the merits of a resolution supporting the Boy Scouts of America (in spite of its exclusion of gays), one representative let loose with an anti-gay slur.

On February 13, Rep. Mike Huebsch (R-Salem) sent an e-mail attacking critics of the proposal: "How come they only cry civility when they're trying to defend an indefensible position? Where was the civility when the Queer from the 9th rushed the podium in 1995?"

The reference was to Rep. Tim Carpenter (D-Milw.) who represents the 9th district. When news of the slur leaked to the press, Huebsch apologized, calling the remark "a foolish act -- in the heat of passion."

--- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin IN Step

"Unlicensed" Church Confab Draws Fringe Preachers

MILWAUKEE . . . A veritable "Who's Who" of the far fringes of the Religious Right gathered at the Zoofari Center in Milwaukee April 16-17 at the "National Unlicensed Church Conference." The event was sponsored by Heal Our Land Ministries and Mercy Seat Christian Church, the latter run by anti-abortion crusader Matt Trewhella, a leader of Missionaries to the Pre-Born.

The conference featured Trewhella speaking on "Social Security: Contrary to God's Way," and Ralph Ovadal of Wisconsin Christians United on "Are Marriage Licenses Biblical?" Peter Kershaw, billed as an expert on "unlicensing clergy and churches" spoke about churches dissolving all ties or obligations to state rules or organs. Gerard Sutek of SWAT Team Ministries spoke of his experiences "Occupying for Righteousness," and Kent Hovind, a leading evangelist of the "creation science" movement, tackled "Zoning Out Christianity."

The Mercy Seat web site says that nearly 200 people attended.

--- conference brochure

High School Will Continue Teaching Evolution

CHETEK . . . A committee made up of Chetek High School Principal Ed Harris and eight teachers decided last summer to continue teaching evolution in the school's biology classes. Chetek is located in Barron County.

Evolution became an issue when a small group of parents filed a petition demanding that "creationism" be included in the course. Harris said evolution will continue to be taught as a scientific theory and teachers will allow all students to discuss differing views.

"This argument has been going on for hundreds of years," said School Superintendent Al Brown. "And I don't know if we're going to solve it right here in Chetek."

--- Eau Claire Leader-Telegram

Fred Phelps Raises Funds for GLSEN

MADISON . . . When Madisonians learned that the notoriously homophobic Nebraska "preacher" Fred Phelps was coming to town last Spring, they organized a pledge campaign called "Every Minute Counts" in which people donated a certain amount of money for every minute that Phelps demonstrated in the city. Organizers raised an astonishing $7,000 in pledges which was donated to local organizations like the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). The same tactic was used during Milwaukee's PrideFest celebration in June and netted some substantial funds for organizations there.

--- Wisconsin IN Step

Return to Contents


NATIONAL BRIEFS

Millions More Sought for Abstinence-Only Programs

WASHINGTON, DC . . . President Bush has recommended a 33% increase in federal funding for abstinence-only sex education programs despite the lack of scientific evidence that the approach is effective in reducing sexual activity among youth and unmarried individuals. The abstinence-only movement has been promoted aggressively by religious and social conservatives. Funds allocated for 2003 would rise to $135 million.

Federal guidelines require abstinence-only programs to teach that "sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects" and that "a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity." Educators are forbidden to speak about condoms or any other forms of birth control at all.

Rep. James C. Greenwood (R-Penn.) calls the increased funding "dangerous" and is sponsoring an alternative bill, endorsed by public health leaders, that seeks $100 million for programs that teach both abstinence and contraception.

In Wisconsin, a major recipient of federal dollars for abstinence is WAIT, Wisconsin Abstinence Initiative Team. WAIT sponsored a conference in Milwaukee last October. Aimed at teens, it was called "Developing Healthy Relationships."

--- New York Times

Aryan Nations Compound
Soon to be Human Rights Center

HAYDEN LAKE, IDAHO . . . The swastikas are gone as are the barracks, the guns, and the 30-foot high guard tower. The 20-acre property lost by the Aryan Nations after a $6.3 million civil judgment against them will soon be converted into a "peace park." North Idaho College intends to create exhibits and host events focusing on tolerance and human rights issues at the former site of the white supremacist headquarters.

"This is all about taking an awful negative and completely turning it around," Hayden Lake resident Everett Fees told the New York Times. "Instead of being known as a place for Nazi skinhead psychos, now we're going to be known as an international human rights community."

--- New York Times

Return to Contents

To the Center for Pluralism Home Page



NEED A SPEAKER FOR YOUR EVENT?

Does your group want to learn more about the Radical Right?
Call the Wisconsin Center for Pluralism's Speakers Bureau.
Phone: (414) 272-9984 ~ E-mail: [email protected]