Religious Leadership Roundtable

American Family Association

The American Family Association (AFA) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that promotes conservative Christian values. It was founded in 1977 by Rev. Donald Wildmon as the National Federation for Decency and is headquartered in Tupelo, Mississippi. Donald Wildmon serves as AFA chairman; his son, Tim Wildmon, is AFA president.

The AFA defines itself as "a Christian organization promoting the biblical ethic of decency in American society with primary emphasis on TV and other media It pursues its views and other issues through a number of activism efforts, including boycotts, "action alert" e-mails, publications on the AFA's web sites or in the AFA Journal, broadcasts on American Family Radio, and lobbying. The legal efforts previously promoted by the AFA Center for Law and Policy were eliminated in 2007. Chief among its efforts were the recognition of Christmas in seasonal print advertisements; the criminalization of homosexuality; lobbying against same-sex marriage, and in opposition of equal-rights and hate-crime legislation that would include sexual orientation and gender identity under categories already protected and advocating censorship of print and electronic media.

The organization has an annual budget of roughly US$14 million and owns 180 American Family Radio stations in 28 states.

Activism

The AFA has a long history of activism by organizing its members in boycotts and letter-writing campaigns aimed at promoting socially conservative values in the United States. The AFA has promoted boycotts of a large number of television shows, movies, and businesses that have promoted what the group considers indecency, obscenity, or homosexuality. In addition to promoting activism via mail to AFA members, 3.4 million subscribers receive AFA "Action Alerts" via e-mail.

Boycotts

The AFA has boycotted multiple organizations for various reasons, most often relating to Christmas controversies, pornography, support of pro-choice activism, and support of LGBT activism, including same-sex partner employee benefits. These organizations include: 7-Eleven, Abercrombie & Fitch, American Airlines, American Girl, Blockbuster Video, Burger King, Calvin Klein, Carl's Jr., Clorox, Crest, Ford, Kmart, Kraft Foods, S. C. Johnson & Son, Movie Gallery, Microsoft, MTV, Mary Kay, NutriSystem, Old Navy, IKEA, Sears, Pampers, Procter & Gamble, Target, Tide, and Walt Disney Company.

In 1986, 7-Eleven stopped selling Playboy and Penthouse magazines after a two-year boycott by the AFA.

In 1989, the AFA boycotted WaldenBooks in an attempt to persuade the company to stop selling Playboy and Penthouse magazines. As a result, WaldenBooks launched an advertisement campaign against censorship, asserting First Amendment rights. WaldenBooks, American Booksellers Association, the Council for Periodical Distributors Association, the International Periodical Distributors Association, and Duvall Bibb Services launched a lawsuit against the AFA in October 1989, under the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and the Florida State RICO Acts, which protect an organization’s right to conduct business without harassment or threats.

During the summer of 1993, the AFA purchased full-page ads in such periodicals as The New York Times, USA Today, and Los Angeles Times denouncing the sexual and violent content of the upcoming ABC police drama NYPD Blue. It also urged ABC affiliates not to broadcast the program and citizens to boycott sponsors of Blue. About a quarter of the 225 existing ABC stations followed suit, but such affiliates were mostly in rural areas of the US. The AFA campaign increased hype for the show in larger American media markets, and Blue became one of the most popular shows of the 1993-1994 television season. In 1996, the AFA launched a boycott against Walt Disney Company when the company began giving benefits to same-sex employees in domestic partnerships. The AFA has claimed that Michael Eisner, the CEO of The Disney Company, "was involved in a media group that actively promoted the homosexual agenda" and was pushing the "gay agenda." The AFA ended the unsuccessful nine-year boycott in spring 2005 after Eisner left the company. Tim Wildmon stated "We feel after nine years of boycotting Disney we have made our point.

In 2003, the AFA, with the American Decency Association, Focus on the Family, and Citizens for Community Values, lobbied and boycotted Abercrombie & Fitch, calling on it to stop using pornography in its quarterly catalog. In December 2003, Abercrombie & Fitch announced it would not produce any pornographic images or sexually-themed articles after the release of its 2003 Christmas catalog.

In 2005, the AFA boycotted the company American Girl, seller of dolls and accessories, because the company supported the charity Girls, Inc., which they considered problematic because Girls, Inc. financially supported groups they felt supported the gay and pro-choice "agendas".

In spring 2005, the AFA launched a boycott of Ford for advertising in gay magazines, donating to gay-rights organizations, and sponsoring gay pride celebrations. The boycott ended in March 2008.

In 2006, the AFA urged its members to condemn Sears for running commercials on Logo, an LGBT cable channel.

On Independence Day 2008, the AFA announced a boycott of McDonald's, which had a director on the board of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

On August 25, 2008, the AFA announced their boycott of Hallmark Cards for their decision to start selling same-sex wedding cards.

Legal activism

On October 19, 1998, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, led by Leslie Katz, wrote a letter to the AFA in response to an advertisement placed in the San Francisco Chronicle by the AFA regarding homosexuality and Christianity. The letter stated:

Supervisor Leslie Katz denounces your rhetoric against gays, lesbians and transgendered people. What happened to Matthew Shepard is in part due to the message being espoused by your groups that gays and lesbians are not worthy of the most basic equal rights and treatment. It is not an exaggeration to say that there is a direct correlation between these acts of discrimination, such as when gays and lesbians are called sinful and when major religious organizations say they can change if they tried, and the horrible crimes committed against gays and lesbians.

During the same time, the City and County of San Francisco passed two resolutions. Resolution No. 234-99 “calls for the Religious Right to take accountability for the impact of their long-standing rhetoric denouncing gays and lesbians, which leads to a climate of mistrust and discrimination that can open the door to horrible crimes such as those committed against Mr. Gaither.” and Resolution No. 873-98 was specifically directed at "anti-gay" television advertisements. AFA unsuccessfully challenged these actions as violating the Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment in American Family Association v. City and County of San Francisco.

In March 2004, the AFA filed suit in an attempt to prevent the city of Seattle, Washington from recognizing same-sex marriages.

The AFA Center for Law and Policy was closed in 2007.

Political activism

The AFA has repeatedly lobbied Congress to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. For example, in 2000, the AFA issued a press release condemning the NEA's funding of One of the Guys, a controversial book by Robert Clark Young described by a senior AFA official as "scatological." The complaint from the AFA was that the book included sexually explicit material, in particular, a description of a young woman extracting razor blades from her vagina during a performance in a sex club. In a Washington Post editorial in response to the complaint, Young stated, "I find it strange that an organization that claims to uphold family values and to oppose the federal funding of obscenity is not protesting the part of the military budget that goes to support pederasty in the Far East.

On November 28, 2006, following the election of Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, the AFA released an "Action Alert." The Action Alert, entitled "A first for America...The Koran replaces the Bible at swearing-in oath: What book will America base it's values on, the Bible or the Koran?", requested subscribers write their Congressional representatives and urge them to create a "law making the Bible the book used in the swearing-in ceremony of representatives and senators.

On July 13, 2007, the first Hindu prayers were conducted in the U.S. Senate. Rajan Zed, director of interfaith relations at a Hindu temple, read the prayer at the invitation of Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who defended his invitation based on the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi. AFA sent out an "Action Alert" to its members to e-mail, write letters, or call their Senators to oppose the Hindu prayer, stating it is "seeking the invocation of a non-monotheistic god.

Published media

The AFA Journal reviews and categorizes the content of prime-time television shows. The categories include profanity, sex, violence, homosexuality, substance abuse, "anti-Christian" content, or "political correctness." The categorization is accompanied by short descriptions of the content of the episode under review. The review also lists the advertisers of each show and invites readers to contact the advertisers or television networks to express concern over program content.

On April 16, 2007, following the Virginia Tech Massacre, the AFA released a video in which "God" tells a student that students were killed in schools because God isn't allowed in schools anymore. The video claims that the shootings at Virginia Tech, Columbine, and many other locations, are the result of, among other things, decreased discipline in schools; no prayer in schools; sex out of wedlock; rampant violence in TV, movies, and music; and abortions.

Homosexuality

The AFA expresses public concern over what it refers to as the "homosexual agenda." They claim that the Bible "declares that homosexuality is unnatural and sinful." The AFA actively lobbies against the social acceptance of homosexual behavior. The AFA also actively promotes the idea that homosexuality is a choice and sexual orientation can be changed through religious teachings in "ex-gay ministries."

In response to statement of the principles by the AFA regarding the AFA's stance on homosexuality, which stated, "We oppose the efforts of the gay movement to force its agenda in education, government, business and the workplace through law, public policy and the media," About.com editor Austin Cline stated, "The AFA's opposition here is quite reminiscent of the oppostion mounted by groups like the KKK, another good Christian organization, to civil rights for blacks. They, too, fought the concept of accepting blacks living and working with whites as being 'normal.'"

In 1996, responding to a complaint from an AFA member who was participating in an AFA campaign targeting gay journalists, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram transferred a gay editor out of a job that occasionally required him to work with schoolchildren. The AFA targeted the editor due to cartoon strips he created, which were published in homosexual magazines. The paper apparently acted on the AFA's unsubstantiated statement that the editor was "preoccupied with the subjects of pedophilia and incest.

In 2000, Vice president Tim Wildmon spoke out against gay-straight alliance clubs in schools, stating, "We view these kinds of clubs as an advancement of the homosexual cause.

In 2004, the AFA raised concerns about the movie Shark Tale because the group believed the movie was designed to promote the acceptance of gay rights by children.

On the October 11, 2005, AFA broadcast, Tim Wildmon agreed with a caller that cable networks like Animal Planet and HGTV featured "evidence of homosexuality and lesbian people" and added that "you have to watch out for children's programs today as well because they'll slip it in there as well.

In 2007, the AFA spoke out against IKEA for featuring homosexual families in their television ads.

In June 2008, the AFA protested a Heinz television advertisement, shown in the United Kingdom, which showed two men kissing, which Heinz then withdrew.

In July 2008, the AFA announced a boycott of McDonald's, which had a director on the board of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

Inter-group coordination

The AFA's founder, Don Wildmon, was "instrumental" in initially setting up the Arlington Group, a networking vehicle for social conservatives focusing on gay marriage.

Criticism and controversy

Homosexuality

Southern Poverty Law Center has stated one of AFA's goals is to "help drive the religious right's anti-gay crusade. Organizations, such as Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, Southern Voice, People for the American Way, The Advocate, CNET, Edmunds American Humanist Association, AfterEllen.com, 365 gay, and QSanAntonio.com have labeled the AFA as an "anti-gay" organization. The Washington Times have stated the AFA's web site is "anti-gay."

In 1998, the popular Internet filtering software CyberPatrol blocked the AFA's web site, classifying it under the category "intolerance," defined as "pictures or text advocating prejudice or discrimination against any race, color, national origin, religion, disability or handicap, gender or sexual orientation..." AFA spokesman Steve Ensley told reporters, "Basically we're being blocked for free speech." CyberPatrol cited quotes from the AFA for meeting its intolerance criteria, which included: "Indifference or neutrality toward the homosexual rights movement will result in society's destruction by allowing civil order to be redefined and by plummeting ourselves, our children, and grandchildren into an age of godlessness"; "A national 'Coming Out of Homosexuality' provides us a means whereby to dispel the lies of the homosexual rights crowd who say they are born that way and cannot change"; and "We want to outlaw public homosexuality...We believe homosexuality is immoral and leads ultimately to personal and social decay."

In 1998, multiple organization voiced criticism of a series of AFA sponsored full-page newspaper advertisements that promoted religious ministries involved in the ex-gay movement. In response to the advertisements, the Religious Leadership Roundtable said the ads employed "language of violence and hatred to denounce other people." IntegrityUSA criticized the ads, calling them "evil" disregarding Christian teachings about the "dignity of every human being." DignityUSA also criticized the advertisements, which they said were "misleading and destructive.

Equality Mississippi, a statewide LGBT civil rights organization, has voiced opposition and criticism towards the AFA's activism regarding homosexuality.

In August 2000, Equality Mississippi called for an investigation of the AFA and its director Donald Wildmon by federal authorities after the AFA sent out emails and letters calling for the arrest of openly gay Arizona Republican United States House of Representatives member Jim Kolbe. The AFA said that because Kolbe is gay, he was violating an Arizona law that banned sodomy. Equality Mississippi felt that the AFA's action were constituting and encouraging violence towards the gay community.

In August 2001, Equality Mississippi voiced opposition towards the AFA for their boycott against the Girl Scouts of America (GSA). The AFA boycott of the GSA was because the GSA does not ban lesbian scouts or lesbian scout leaders. Equality Mississippi felt that the AFA's actions were in response to gay rights organizations across the country calling for a ban against the Boy Scouts of America for its still-ongoing ban on gay scouts and gay scout leaders.

In 2005, Equality Mississippi publicly spoke out against the AFA for the use of copyrighted images on the AFA web site in its boycott against Kraft Foods for being a sponsor of the 2005 Gay Games in Chicago. The photographs, which were used without permission, were owned by and retrieved from ChrisGeary.com. Equality Mississippi encouraged ChrisGeary.com to file suit against the AFA and offered to support the suit. As of January 2008, the images are still on AFA's web site.

Homophobia terminology

The American Family Association and other conservative Christian groups actively campaign against anti-homophobia laws on the grounds of freedom of speech and the right to religious expression. The campaign against "political correctness" attempts to redefine homophobia as a narrow condition which does not include religious objections to homosexuality. The gay rights movement rejects this definition in favor of defining homophobia as akin to racism or sexism. The American Family Association, along with other organizations on the Christian right, object to having their comments about homosexuality included in this definition.

Personnel

Individuals in the media industry have criticized Donald Wildmon, the founder of AFA. Gene Mater, Senior Vice President of CBS Television, has stated, "We look upon Wildmon's efforts as the greatest frontal assault on intellectual freedom this country has ever faced" and Brandon Tartikoff, former NBC Entertainment President, stated that Wildmon's boycott campaign was "the first step toward a police state.

AFA California leader Scott Lively is a co-author of The Pink Swastika which claims that many leaders in the German Nazi regime, including Hitler himself, were homosexual. As a member of the Oregon Citizens Alliance, Lively was ordered to pay $20,000 to a lesbian photojournalist he attacked in a Portland area church, and he has since co-founded an anti-gay group called Watchmen on the Walls, which has been implicated in violence against homosexuals in California.

Anti-Semitism

Donald Wildmon has been denounced by major Jewish organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Congress. Media Matters has stated the AFA Journal "has long served as a platform for anti-Semitic theories and innuendo." In AFA publications and in interviews, Wildmon has stated that he blames Jews for "profane" television programming, stating that the television industry is controlled by Jews and that they push an anti-family agenda through television programs featuring "immoral" behavior.

Wildmon has stated that he believes obscene content on television and in movies is a result of the media being controlled by Jews, who intentionally place anti-Christian messages and activities into their programming to undermine Christianity. Wildmon further characterizes Jews as more supportive of homosexuals than "average" Americans.

Media Matters claimed an article in the March 2005 issue of AFA's Journal insinuated that raising children as Jews would lead to criminal lifestyles, and that it required a conversion to Christianity in order to make them productive members of society. The Journal also sells The McGuffey Readers, a series of children's books aimed at promoting Christianity to children, and which also claim that Jews are "superstitious" and have been rejected by God for being unfaithful to him.

AIDS

Speaking in defense of Mike Huckabee's comments on the handling of AIDS patients, the head of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania said Huckabee was right that AIDS patients should have been quarantined.

Operations

AFA Journal, a monthly publication with a circulation of 180,000 containing news, features, columns, and interviews. In addition to the publication, AFA Journal articles are made available online.

American Family Radio (AFR), a network of approximately 200 AFA-owned radio stations broadcasting Christian-oriented programming.

OneNewsNow.com , the AFA news division web site, provides audio newscasts and a daily digest of news articles, AP stories, and opinion columns. Formerly AgapePress and the news division of American Family Radio.

Center for Law and Policy, the legal and political arm of the AFA, specialized in First Amendment cases. The Center for Law and Policy lobbied legislative bodies, drafts legislation, and filed religious-discrimination lawsuits on behalf of individuals. The Center was shut down in 2007.

References

See also

External links

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