The American Family Association (AFA) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that promotes conservative Christian values such as opposition to same-sex marriage, to pornography, and to abortion, as well as other public policy goals such as deregulation of the oil industry and lobbying against the Employee Free Choice Act. It was founded in 1977 by Rev. Donald Wildmon as the National Federation for Decency and is headquartered in Tupelo, Mississippi.
Why they are bad…
On August 10, 2010, Bryan Fischer, AFA’s director of Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy, posted on his blog that “Permits should not be granted to build even one more mosque in the United States of America, let alone the monstrosity planned for Ground Zero. This is for one simple reason: each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the overthrow of the American government.” This was in response to a 1991 memorandum circulated by the Muslim Brotherhood where they call for “grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house,” as well as the ongoing debate about building a mosque and Islamic community center near Ground Zero in Manhattan. Fischer continued: “Because of this subversive ideology, Muslims cannot claim religious freedom protections under the First Amendment.” Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. You dont get to pick and choose which religions fall under this category.
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.”
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.”
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 1998, multiple organizations 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.”
In July 2000, the AFA sent out emails and letters calling for openly gay Arizona Republican United States House of Representatives member Jim Kolbe to be barred from speaking at the Republican National Convention. The AFA also said that Kolbe should be arrested when he returned to his home state, as because Kolbe is gay, he was violating an Arizona law that banned sodomy. Equality Mississippi, a statewide LGBT civil rights organization which has voiced opposition and criticism towards the AFA’s activism regarding homosexuality, felt that AFA’s action was constituting and encouraging violence towards the gay community.
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 2006 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 March 2009, the images were still on AFA’s web site.
The American Family Association has objected to having their comments on homosexuality described as homophobia and akin to racism or sexism, saying that their beliefs are based in religion.
Former 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 gay. He has since co-founded Watchmen on the Walls.
In May 2010, Bryan Fischer, the AFA’s director of Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy, wrote a blog post on the AFA website detailing allegations that Adolf Hitler was a homosexual, and concluding that gay people in the military caused the Holocaust: “Nazi Germany became the horror that it was because it rejected both Christianity and its clear teaching about human sexuality. These are mistakes no sane culture should ever make again.”
In June 2008, AFA’s news website, OneNewsNow – which had begun replacing all instances of “gay” with “homosexual” in re-posted Associated Press articles – changed an AP profile of Olympic sprinter Tyson Gay, rendering his name as “Tyson Homosexual”. OneNewsNow similarly altered the name of basketball player Rudy Gay, naming him “Rudy Homosexual”.\ The gay rights website GoodAsYou.org, which “has long chronicled the AFA’s practice of changing AP copy to suit its conservative agenda”, spotted the errors. Tyson Gay was upset with the mistake.
Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), in a 2005 report, stated that the AFA, along with other groups, engaged in hate speech to “help drive the religious right’s anti-gay crusade.” Mark Potok of the SPLC determined that the turning point was 2003’s Lawrence v. Texas, in which the Supreme Court struck down Texas’s anti-sodomy laws. After that, the Christian right spent millions on advertisements, and on pastor briefings organized by activists such as born-again Christian David Lane. Lane helped AFA put constitutional opposite-sex marriage amendments on the ballots of 13 states.
In November 2010, the SPLC changed their listing of AFA from a group that used hate speech to the more serious one of being designated a hate group. Potok said that the AFA’s “propagation of known falsehoods and demonizing propaganda” was the basis for the change.
The AFA was greatly displeased with the designation as a hate group, calling the list “slanderous”. In response to the SPLC’s announcement, some members of the Christian right “call[ed] on Congress to cut off their funding.” J. Matt Barber of The Washington Times said that the SPLC was “marginalizing” themselves by giving the AFA the same hate group designation shared by the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis. Tony Perkins, the president of Family Research Council (FRC) – an organization also named a hate group – asked the SPLC to strike the new designation, but they held their position. In reaction, the FRC and the AFA joined with other “pro-family” organizations targeted by the SPLC to establish a new website, an online petition called “Start Debating/Stop Hating” to counter the SPLC, and they took out full page ads in two Washington D.C. newspapers, defending their work “to protect and promote natural marriage and the family.” The advertisement stated the “undersigned stand in solidarity” with the organizations designated as hate groups, and that they “support the vigorous but responsible exercise of the First Amendment rights of free speech and religious liberty that are the birthright of all Americans.” House Speaker-Designate John Boehner and the governors of Louisiana, Minnesota and Virginia were among those signing the statement. The SPLC addressed the new website statement; Potok was quoted by David Weigel of Slate magazine as saying, “the SPLC’s listings of these groups is based on their propagation of known falsehoods – claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities – and repeated, groundless name-calling.” The American Independent News Network (AINN) noted that the AFA had recently denounced Supreme Court justice Elena Kagan as a lesbian unfit for office – AINN stated that “she’s not” a lesbian – and that Fischer said Hitler’s savage and brutal methods were only possible because he and most of his stormtroopers were gay. Jillian Rayfield of Talking Points Memo noted the irony in the website calling the SPLC a “radical Left” group “spreading hateful rhetoric” yet elsewhere declaring that the debates of the Christian right “can and must remain civil – but they must never be suppressed through personal assaults that aim only to malign an opponent’s character.”
Despite the designation, conservative Republicans considering running for president have courted the AFA. Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour, and Mike Huckabee appeared on Fischer’s radio show in March 2011; each were politicians seeking support to win the Republican Party presidential primary in 2012.