Anti-Gay Christian Group Uses Deception to Raise Funds — Again

The anti-gay Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) once again is turning to a highly valued traditional device to raise funds: fear and falsehoods.

The Christian Seniors Association (CSA), a front group of the TVC, recently sent out a fundraising letter claiming that the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) of 2009, which added sexual orientation to the classes protected by federal hate crime legislation, "makes the Bible illegal 'Hate Literature.'" The letter further claims that "under this law, criticism of homosexuality is deemed discrimination — just like racism," and ultimately, the intent of the law is to "outlaw Christianity."

Scary stuff. Except that none of it is true.

The HCPA, signed into law by President Obama on Oct. 28, 2009, applies to deliberate acts (or attempted acts) of bodily injury or death through the use of "fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device" because of an actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Contrary to the CSA's claims, the law does not apply to constitutionally protected speech, which includes religious beliefs. The HCPA, in its effort to address the concerns of religious leaders, couldn't have stated it more clearly: "Nothing ... in the law shall be construed to prohibit any constitutionally protected speech - including the exercise of religion protected by the first amendment." The HCPA actually protects religion and religious speech, and includes religion as a protected status - a far cry from the CSA's fear-mongering assertions.

But the TVC, designated as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of its dissemination of false, demonizing propaganda, continues to peddle these and other falsehoods.

In fact, the CSA — which bills itself as "America's Christian alternative to the far-Left AARP" (the former American Association of Retired Persons, a 40 million-member organization that now uses its acronym alone) — has a history of fundraising letters that prey on unfounded fears and, in some cases, even mimic government documents. In 2006, the CSA mailed out bogus "U.S. Taxpayer Census" forms. The packet included a survey about Social Security and dark warnings about politicians raiding the program for personal gain. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the mailing did not explicitly point out that money donated to the CSA would go directly to the TVC.

Jim Lafferty, the executive director of CSA, explained to the Chronicle in 2006 that with only 40,000 members, the organization couldn't independently support its lobbying activities. He claimed that yes, all money sent to the CSA went to the TVC, but that the groups have "separate accounts." When Lafferty was questioned by the Chronicle about whether the CSA could have been a little clearer about the financial relationship between the TVC and the CSA, he replied that it was clear to people who read the CSA newsletters and other letters.

Lafferty is married to Andrea Lafferty, the current executive director of TVC. She is the daughter of Lou Sheldon, the TVC's founder.

The website Right Wing Watch in January 2008 noted another CSA fundraising attempt through the sneaky "Taxpayer Census Form," which many seniors took to be an official government document. Also, in April 2010, the CSA sent out a survey with a letter to raise donations to fight the AARP and President Obama's "socialist" agenda. The blog Firedoglake noted that the letter also claimed Obama was going to create millions of new voters by legalizing undocumented immigrants.

Far-right Christian fundamentalist groups have made the claim that gay rights legislation would lead to persecution of Christians a mainstay of their propaganda arsenal in recent years. In 2007, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLECHPA), a precursor of the HCPA that never became law, was opposed by the American Family Association and Janet Folger's Faith2Action, who claimed it would criminalize preaching and Sunday school lessons against homosexuality. That bill, as with the HCPA, had specific language stating that its provisions would not apply to constitutionally protected speech.