March 10, 2009 PrideDEPOT.com
On February 20, the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee turned its back on equality in a 2 to 5, voice vote by saying no to printing the Idaho Human Rights Act Amendment (IHRAA). They killed the bill in committee and silenced any opportunity for public debate on the proposed legislation. The forces of intolerance made certain that the bill would not get printed, distributed or entered into the public record just as if it never existed.
The IHRAA legislation would have added the “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the already protected classes of people such as race, religion, and national origin in areas of employment, education and public accommodation. The wording also included a religious exemption for legitimate churches and faith organizations that felt threatened if their religious beliefs were not inclusive of LGBT people in their memberships or employment.
When it came down to making a decision, the Senate State Affairs Committee listened mainly to the words of Bryan Fischer, executive director of the Idaho Values Alliance, whose letter was delivered to the committee just before the hearing.
Before examining the letter in detail, it is important to examine the author’s background.
Who is Bryan Fischer and what is the Idaho Values Alliance?
The Idaho Values Alliance (IVA) filed their letter of incorporation on November 21, 2005 to acquire federal income tax exemption, shortly after Fischer left the now defunct Community Church of the Valley, which he reportedly founded and served as pastor.
Fischer, who is often referred to as “Reverend” by local media, is a man without a congregation. He is a gifted spokesman for his cause and frequently boasts on his website about any and all media coverage he manages to acquire. This czar of Idaho family values knows how to work reporters like a seasoned, media-trained politician.
Local reporters run to Fischer or quickly respond to his political news releases for his latest talking points on how religious conservatives are being persecuted by liberals. Reporters frequently give Fischer a free pass and seldom, if ever, ask him any difficult questions about where he gets his latest statistics or examples of how homosexuals are destroying America. The man just delivers his propaganda to the Idaho media who act more like hired public relations staffers than journalists.
Fischer’s Idaho organization is affiliated with the “American Family Association,” a far right religious fringe group that whole heartedly subscribes to an extremist philosophy that says, “God has communicated absolute truth to man through the Bible, and that all men everywhere at all times are subject to the authority of God’s Word. Therefore, a culture based on Biblical truth best serves the well-being of our country, in accordance with the vision of our founding fathers.”
This seemingly Taliban-style of governing goes unquestioned by reporters and elected officials.
What also goes unquestioned is how Fischer’s IVA operates. Unlike most non-profits, IVA does not have a board of directors that governs the tax exempt organization. Instead Fischer’s so-called “Alliance” consists of only his wife, and a daughter who does not reside in Idaho. But it is Bryan Fischer who clearly runs the operation.
IVA’s marketing slogan is, “Making Idaho the Friendliest Place to Raise a Family,” except of course if you happen to be one of the 40,000 to 200,000 LGBT Idahoans, or one of their children, dependents, or other family members.
Fischer will avail himself of every convenient opportunity to get ink or TV face time to talk about the threat of homosexuals, liberals, and anyone else who does not subscribe to his narrow ideology. Yet, he will define himself as a “Christian” and even a “Reverend” while masking his real agenda beyond a thin veneer of “ËœFamily Values.’ What the media and politicians fail to do is question why Fischer, this “Christian,” never speaks out for Idaho’s poor, sick, disenfranchised, or hungry. Fischer’s track record of getting a free pass for not doing the kind of grassroots activism that his Redeemer, Jesus Christ did is amazing. The man has more media savvy than the reporters who assist him in promoting his agenda.
At times Fischer sounds more like Karl Rove than Jesus Christ, and the politicians and the media seem to eat it up.
Fishers Letter to the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee
Fischer rarely attributes his outrageous claims to creditable or verifiable sources, and he is never called on the carpet by reporters. Since the Idaho media isn’t interested and elected officials fear his clout, PrideDEPOT.com did some digging in an attempt to separate fact from fiction when it comes to Fischer’s propaganda war.
Fischer may consider himself an advocate for his ideology, but his methods mirror that of a snake oil salesman than a man of faith. Fischer crafts language that is deliberately misleading and intentionally designed to vilify LGBT people.
“Dear Members of the Senate Affairs Committee,” Fischer writes.
“One fundamental and yet little-recognized problem with legislation that grants special workplace protections based on either sexual orientation or gender identity is that such laws are quickly used to harass, intimidate, and punish businesses and organizations which adhere to time-honored values regarding human sexuality.
Theses laws represent a serious threat to fundamental constitutional rights of freedom of association, speech and religion.”
Fischer begins by twisting the facts to make him and other religious extremists out to be victims of gay, lesbian and transgender people seeking equality under the law and simple fairness. He co-opts the language of civil rights to reinforce his status as a victim by characterizing LGBT citizens as un-American by inferring that somehow their equality invalidates his “fundamental constitutional rights.”
This is a lie that has gone unchallenged!
Fischer’s modus operandi is to make extreme statements without substantiating them, and he does so with the skill of a polished propagandist who is never asked any difficult questions by reporters or elected officials.
One simple and obvious question Fischer should be asked is, how would protecting LGBT citizens on the job or permitting them visitation rights for their partner in the hospital violate his “fundamental constitutional rights” When Fischer gets a free pass, this gives the green light to conservative talk show hosts and politicians to vilify a large segment of Idaho’s public and their allies.
Fischer can not legitimately answer such questions without resorting to misrepresenting statements, verbal bullying and outright fear mongering. In classic Fischer style, he tells senators, “Theses laws represent a serious threat to fundamental constitutional rights of freedom of association, speech and religion” and would be “used to harass, intimidate and punish businesses and organizations.”
These are half truths, craftily twisted words and lies by omission. Yet, they are part of Fischer’s bag of tricks.
Judge for yourself.
“Here is just a partial list of examples,” Fisher says.
1. “Catholic Charities of Boston ended its work of finding homes for hard-to-place adoptive children because Massachusetts’ “sexual orientation” law required them to place children in homosexual households.”
First of all, this statement is crafted in such a way to imply the law forces placement of all children in gay homes. Secondly, Fischer conveniently leaves out the fact that Catholic Charities of Boston had already been quietly processing a very small number of gay adoptions. In reality, only 13 of a total of 720 adoptions were to same-sex households. It was Catholic Charities who chose to cease ALL adoption services rather than comply with the law as they had been doing for years or seek a religious exemption. This regrettable decision was made in spite of the 42-member board of director’s unanimous vote to continue adoptions services to same-sex households.
The Idaho Amendment would have given comfort and legal cover with a religious exemption, but that truth was lost in Fischer’s propaganda spin cycle. His argument has no bearing on Idaho because situations like this would not happen.
Given the reaction presented by Fischer, one might wonder if he even read the Amendment that he lead to defeat. If he did read it, then he is just pretending the religious exemption does not exist. Either way, it this kind of dishonesty should not go unchallenged.
2. “The Cradle of Liberty Boy Scouts of Philadelphia were evicted from a building they had occupied since 1928 because the organization refuses to allow homosexuals to serve as Scoutmasters, even though the Supreme Court has upheld the Scouts’ constitutional right to do so.”
The real story here is the Boy Scouts rented the historic building from the city for $1 per year. The estimated fair market rental value was about $200,000. The city of Philadelphia did not believe that taxpayers should be subsidizing an organization that discriminates. It should also be noted that the Boy Scouts also discriminate against people with differing political views and atheists.
What Fischer’s propaganda intentionally omits is the fact that the Boy Scouts were offered a fair market value lease to stay in the building or, change their discriminatory policy and keep the building at a $1 per year rate. They choose not pay fair market value or change their policy. They opted for their right to discriminate based on their ideology and they vacated the city owned property.
3. “Elaine Huegenin, a wedding photographer in New Mexico, was fined $6,700 for politely declining to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony, even though lesbian unions have no legal status in the state.”
It was determined by the by New Mexico Human Rights Bureau that the photographer violated the state public accommodation law. A knowledgeable Idaho public policy expert indicated that this would likely be treated differently under Idaho’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Vanessa Willock did not ask for damages, she only sought for the state’s discrimination ruling be upheld and that she be reimbursement for her attorney’s fees of $6,637.93. Ultimately the court remanded the case back to the State Human Rights Bureau. In typical Fischer style, he over inflated the issue and omitted facts in the case to suit his agenda, knowing full well he would not be challenged by the media or public officials.
4. “The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association was ruled guilty just last month of violating the state’s discrimination law for declining to rent space to a lesbian couple for a civil union ceremony.”
Fischer deliberately leaves out important facts in this story “The Division on Civil Rights ruled that the Camp Meetings Association was not entitled to an exemption to New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination because use of the property was both commercial and publicly advertised, and because the Camp Meeting Association agreed to make the pavilion available for public use in order to obtain a state tax break. The Ocean Grove Camp Meetings Association’s tax-exempt status was revoked in 2007 because of its discriminatory practices.” – ACLU 12/29/09
The application for property tax exemption that Ocean View filed clearly states (7:35-2), “The property must be maintained and operated for the benefit of the public and be open for public use on an equal basis.” Ocean Grove agreed to fair and equal access to the pavilion to get substantial tax breaks then did not fulfill their end of the agreement. Not quite harassment or intimidation, more like violating a free will agreement for a significant tax exemption and violating state law. But to Fischer, the other side of the story doesn’t matter and he is counting on the media and elected officials not to call him on it.
5. “An Appleton, Wisconsin nightclub has been sued for sexual orientation discrimination for refusing to admit a transgendered man because he insisted on using the bathroom of his choice. The man is biologically male but dresses as a woman.”
Fischer’s personal attacks are geared on dehumanizing this person. By referring to her as a man, Fischer plays on the fears of others. Sierra Broussard is a human being who identifies as, and presents herself to the world as, a woman. Broussard, who is also part African-American, not only claims she was denied entrance to the club because of her transgender status, but also because her race was a factor. Fischer omitted part of the story that included the claim of racism.
6. “Tim Bono of Arlington, Virginia was ordered to make copies of films advocating the homosexual agenda or else pay for someone else to do so.”
This is a classic Fischer tactic – or more bluntly put, an outright lie by omission. A simple Google search revealed the case was dismissed almost three years ago on June 8, 2006, to be exact. It was dismissed on the grounds that although discrimination against individuals is prohibited, content is not protected. Fischer’s “victim” WON!
Fischer’s claim of, “films advocating the homosexual agenda” came from 68 year-old Lilli Vincenz, and they were on 16mm reels, not a format that just anyone can easily convert. The films were of 1968 and 1970 gay rights protests in Philadelphia and New York, the very footage regularly used by PBS in documentaries of the early gay rights struggles in America.
7. “Starfish Creative Invitations, a Seattle printer, was required to apologize for refusing to print “wedding” invitations for two homosexuals and was required to pledge that he would never again make such a refusal.”
First of all, Fischer has the gender of his “victim” wrong – go figure! SHE, not “he” admitted to violating the city’s non-discrimination law and had to apologize. There were no fines or judgments. In the end, Starfish Creative Invitations was told they must abide by the same set of rules as other businesses in Seattle. But in this case, Fischer again is suggesting “special rights” for this business to circumvent the law. According to Fischer’s standard, apologizing for violating the law is an unnecessarily harsh punishment.
8. “The Ann Arbor City Council banned employee payroll deduction donations to the United Way because the United Way supports local Boy Scout troops.”
Although this is basically a true statement, Fischer is cherry picking the facts to make this situation seem as unfair as possible simply to suit his propaganda. The City of Ann Arbor made the decision not to provide payroll deductions to the local United Way because employees, who wanted to, could not opt out of supporting the Boy Scouts when donating to the general “community fund.”
Unlike funds directed to a specific charity, the community funds are divided among a group of charities at the discretion of the United Way chapter. The city requested the Boy Scouts be moved from the community fund to a separate fund of their own just as was done to suit those who did not want to contribute to Planned Parenthood. The United Way would not create a separate fund for the Boy Scouts, leaving them under the community fund.
Had the city opted out of United Way because an LGBT organization was under the community fund, Fisher would most likely have been first to praise the city of Ann Arbor and condemn the United Way for supporting the homosexual agenda. Politically speaking, Fischer likes having it both ways.
9. “In Chicago, county officials have barred the Salvation Army from bidding on contracts to serve the poor because the Salvation Army does not allow homosexuals to serve as clergy.”
This issue could not be confirmed or denied. But knowing Fischer’s track record for “selecting the truth,” we suspect there is more to this story than Fischer’s side of it. Although we tried to navigate the endless Chicago bureaucracy for the real scoop, we’re going to call on the news media and others with the resources to dig this one out.
We deliberately ignored the last three “examples” in Fischer’s letter because they are not from the United States. He included foreign examples simply to pad his ideological resume and to bamboozle the press and the politicians. The last time PrideDEPOT.com checked, we were subjected to the laws of the United States.
News Media Responsibility
Fischer is so skilled at getting media attention that he doesn’t hesitate to boast about it on his non-profit political website. Unfortunately, reporters who flock to his impromptu press conferences or bogus stand-ups are no match for this master of verbal manipulation.
Reporters simply do not ask Fischer any difficult questions. They simply want his rightwing quote so that they can file away the story as somehow being “balanced.”
Fischer’s “facts” and “statistics” go unchallenged. Not one reporter has ever asked this man where he gets his information or how it is directly relevant to the issues at hand. The media has yet to figure out that they are being used by Fischer to provide him with a platform to spew his ideological rants.
This “family values” Christian is never asked why the majority of his website posts involve anti-gay rants, while ignoring the poor, sick, and hungry. He will take advantage of every opportunity to promote his non-profit political organization while selling himself. It is a journalist’s responsibility to do the leg work and tell the full story, not just Fischer’s version of it. But the Idaho media fails to take a critical eye of one of their chosen rightwing sources, they simply repeat his message.
One significant example that Fischer and his Idaho Values Alliance of one, are not representative of the majority of Idahoans is the 19th Annual Boise State University, Public Policy Survey for 2008 (pages 18 & 36) that says 63% of Idahoans believe it should be illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in employment.
Even Idaho Public Television missed the mark in its coverage of the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee vote on the Idaho Human Rights Act Amendment. They interviewed a tearful Sen. Nichole LeFavour who explained the unfairness of the committee’s action, but rather than interview one of the senators who actually voted against the amendment, they gave face time to Bryan Fischer.
By failing to get a comment from an elected official, the news media is basically promoting Fischer to the status of de facto spokesman of the Idaho Republican Party. Has Fischer become Idaho GOP’s answer to Rush Limbaugh? Fischer had no official vote on the committee, yet he was on camera speaking as if he represented the committee.
IPTV also neglected to give viewers a sense of the number of people supporting the amendment and filled the room, spilling over into the hallways. Viewers were left with the impression that only LeFavour was in support of the amendment
Fischer is a savvy media trained propagandist and few reporters seem willing or able to know their news source. No reporters seem to examine the IVA website where Fischer ramps up the vitriol, in a manner that would not play well on camera.
The Idaho news media is failing to defend the public’s right to know about one of their main sources of rightwing hate speech. Fischer is never asked why he is less concerned about doing the work of Jesus by caring for the disadvantaged and increasingly obsessed over homosexuals.
The news media needs to do a little homework on Bryan Fischer. Here is a small recommended reading list that comes directly from the IVA website. You will notice that unlike many other websites, Fischer does not provide a place for readers to make comments or question him. PrideDEPOT.com is calling on reporters and editors to take a closer look at this self-proclaimed czar of “family values.”