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Recruiting the next generation: how conservative groups influence and enlist young people.

IN AUGUST, HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF YOUNG Catholics will gather in Cologne, Germany, to celebrate World Youth Day. This year, the festival provides the first chance for Pope Benedict XVI to influence an enormous group of young Catholics. It also creates an opportunity for conservative groups to recruit a new coterie of antichoice activists. Attendance at the events during the festival does not, however, denote a blind adherence to church teachings. In fact, if previous years are anything to go by, the young Catholics who attend are, like the majority of other Catholics, more than happy to take an independent stance on which teachings they agree with.

Conscience thought this would be an opportune moment to take a brief look at some of the conservative organizations that seek to attract and recruit young activists--Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Some of these operate at World Youth Day, others don't. But they all share the goal of attacking women's rights and freedoms the world over.

World Youth

Alliance (WYA)

847A Second Ave., #502

New York, NY 10017, USA

23A Rue Belliard, Box6

B-1040 Brussels, BELGIUM

The World Youth Alliance (WYA) is an anti-reproductive rights group founded in 1999 during meetings of the United Nations for the five-year review of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD+5).

Openly frustrated at the visible successes of the Youth Coalition (an international coalition of young people, aged 15 to 29, created during the ICPD+S to support and sustain young people's efforts to advance their sexual and reproductive health and rights), the group was developed to assist the antireproductive rights lobby at the UN and elsewhere with its aim to curtail reproductive freedom for women and adolescents around the world.

The WYA claims to be a "global coalition of young people and youth organizations committed to promoting the dignity of the person at the international level and building solidarity among youth from developed and developing countries." It is, however, very coy about releasing any certifiable membership figures.

At various times, spokespersons have said that it has one million members or "represents" one million youth, and a 2004 press memo claimed 1.5 million members. In Europe alone, former WYA-Europe president Gudrun Lang said that in two years some 800,000 young people had joined. However, even cursory investigations show this claim to be unlikely. For example, a WYA-sponsored pan-European bike ride, Europe4Family, in August/September 2004 attracted fewer than 100 participants. The WYA'S income from membership dues also gets in the way of such hyperbole. In both Canada and the US, the WYA'S charitable tax filings reveal absolutely no income from membership dues.

President and co-founder Anna Halpine was an intern for the antichoice former Member of the European Parliament, Dana Rosemary Scallon, who is listed as a "European Patron." Halpine previously led the Canadian antichoice group, Campaign Life Coalition. Scallon, who like many of those associated with the WYA, can hardly be described as "youth" (she was born in 1950). She gained a reputation as one of the more conservative members of the European Parliament during her brief tenure there. In fact, partly due to her ultraconservative stance on issues related to reproductive health, between 2002 and 2004 she lost her seat in the European Parliament, failed to be elected to the Irish parliament, and did not even garner enough support to contest the 2004 Irish presidential election.

The other WYA co-founder, Diana Kilarjian, was an employee of the anti-family planning group Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute and was closely connected to the antichoice and anti-Semitic Human Life International.

Others involved in the WYA include Austin Ruse (born 1956) and Rocco Buttiglione PhD (born 1948). Ruse is president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute and somebody who has been outspoken about his willingness to disrupt the workings of the United Nations. Buttiglione has a long track record of supporting extreme positions on HIV/AIDS, women's rights, immigrants' rights, homosexual rights and reproductive rights. Buttiglione gained notoriety recently when he failed to secure a place on the European Commission as EU Commissioner for Freedom, Security and Justice after many Members of the European Parliament were outraged at comments he made about homosexuality at a hearing on his candidacy. At his European Parliament hearing, Buttiglione stated that, "The family exists in order to allow women to have children and to have the protection of a male who takes care of them. This is the traditional vision of marriage that I defend." Later, when asked about homosexual rights, he said, "All are free to call me a bigot and intolerant, but I very freely define homosexual behavior as an indicator of moral disorder."

Youth Defense YD

60A Capel Street

Dublin I, Ireland

Formed in 1992 in Ireland, Youth Defence (YD) is a militant minority that employs offensive tactics to get its message across. YD has a branch in Northern Ireland known as Precious Life and its Mother and Child Campaign was established for those "youth" who were growing older. The group organizes street sessions, road shows, activist conferences and school projects. It claims to have over 5,000 members. It appears that the vast majority of these members are inactive.

YD members have faced legal action on several occasions as a direct result of its fundamentalist views and shock tactics. Recently, the group distributed some 50,000 homophobic leaflets in an effort to campaign against legal recognition for same-sex couples. In 2003, YD members disrupted speeches supporting a change in Ireland's abortion laws, invading a meeting yelling personal abuse while carrying photographs of blood-covered fetuses. It also displays these posters outside the homes of individual advocates and employees at prochoice organizations, which has lead to further legal action. In 2000, several schools threatened legal action against its Northern Irish offshoot Precious Life, which was handing out graphic leaflets to students.

The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) has criticized the group's tactics and materials. In 1999, IFPA charged YD with contempt of court when its members violated a restraining order that was issued after the organization forcibly entered the facility to harass and intimidate staff and others inside. The year before, members of YD were arrested and convicted when a picket at Dublin's Adelaide Hospital turned into a mini-riot.

YD has been criticized by politicians for adopting the militant tactics of American antichoice activists. The US antichoice anarchist Joe Scheidler, who is affiliated with the extremist antichoice group, Prolife Action League, has a close relationship with YD which uses his book, Closed! 99 Ways to Stop Abortion as a guide for its activities. It has also been alleged that YD receives funding from Scheidler's organization and other antiabortion groups in the United States. YD also recruited US extremist Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, to speak at its conference in 2000.

The group faced more criticism when it was discovered that Justin Barrett, its public relations officer, had links with groups of Italian and German neo-Nazis. Barrett was apparently an honorary guest at a National Democratic Party rally in the Bavarian city of Passau during which a former Nazi SS officer was given a standing ovation.

Silver Ring Thing

530 Moon Clinton Rd.

Moon Twp., PA 15108, USA

Founded by an ordained Minister, Denny Pattyn, the Silver Ring Thing (SRT) aims to "saturate the United States with a generation of young people who have taken a vow of sexual abstinence until marriage and put on the silver ring." (Ceci Connolly, "ACLU sues HHS over abstinence aid," Washington Post, May 17, 2005) The organization subjects teens to a three-hour abstinence-only, faith-based program that does not teach about any safe-sex options.

SRT claims that approximately 30,000 teens have signed its pledge to abstain from sex until marriage. When students sign the pledge, they pay $15 for a silver ring, which is inscribed with a verse from 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4, which reads, "God wants you to be holy, so you should keep clear of all sexual sin. Then each of you will control your body and live in holiness and honor." Additionally, pledgers receive the SRT Bible which has the same pledge inscribed on the first page.

While SRT'S program teaches about abstinence, some charge that it merely uses this as a means to convert teens to Christianity. The group's April 2004 newsletter (which has been removed from its website and is now 'under construction' following the ACLU lawsuit detailed below) stated that the group's aim "is to call our world to Christ." The newsletter also asks, "Who would have ever thought we would see the day when promoting sexual abstinence among students would become an opportunity to communicate the Good News of the Gospel?"

In the past three years, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has provided more than $1,000,000 dollars of taxpayer money to the group, in possible violation of the First Amendment, which prevents federal funds from being used for religious purposes. While the group claims that the money was used appropriately, there is little that indicates there were many opportunities for those not wishing to hear a religious message.

As a result of the obvious religious content and evangelism, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a suit against the United States Department of Health and Human Services for providing federal funding to a group which clearly promotes religion. SRT, its website, and its program are laden with proselytizing and biblical references telling people that those who do not believe will go to hell.

The group has faced much criticism for its tactics in the US and abroad. When SRT took its show on the road to England and Scotland, the motives of the group were questioned by many media outlets--especially relating to the wisdom of teens being encouraged to join a program that does not work. It also failed to attract many recruits, with the majority of attendees at its events not willing to take the pledge. A study released by Columbia University reveals 88 percent of teens who take pledges, such as SRTS, will have sex before marriage and are 1/3 less likely to use contraception when they do. Pledgers had a similar rate of sexually transmitted disease as those who had not taken an abstinence vow. (See, for example, Peter Bearman and Hannah Brukner, "After the Promise: The SRT consequences of Adolescent Virginity Pledges," Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 36 (April 2005): 271-278.)

In response to this, Denny Pattyn, SRT'S director stated, "My own daughter, my 16-year-old daughter, tells me she's going to be sexually active. I would not tell her to use a condom. I don't think it'll protect her." (CBS News' 60 Minutes, "Taking the Pledge," May 20, 2005)

Rock for Life (RFL)

PO Box 1350

Stafford, VA 22555, USA

Rock for life (RFL) is a division of the American Life League (ALL) that focuses its efforts on young people. By all accounts, it is a small group that exists mainly as a trendy front for ALE'S conservative, anti-family planning, antiabortion message. RFL was founded by Bryan Kemper, who is now the director of Stand True, another antiabortion organization. Kemper advocates an abstinence-only approach to sexuality education in schools and believes that contraception is equivalent to abortion. The group claims that MTV and popular artists who speak out in favor of abortion and reproductive rights manipulate and deceive young people, but unlike its prochoice counterparts, has no major stars associated with it.

RFL hosts concerts, organizes booths at festivals and provides literature to students characterized by Planned Parenthood and others as "misinformation" and "antichoice propaganda." RFL members protest outside Planned Parenthood clinics, and arrange "Walk for Life" and other concerts and seminars.

While there are no membership numbers available, those wishing to take part in RFL activities sign a pledge online or at one of the group's events. Members pledge to support abortion bans, abstinence, fasting, the Human Life Amendment, natural family planning within marriage and parental notification laws.

On April 26, 2005, RFL held a "National Pro-Life T-Shirt Day." The shirts, which read, "Abortion Is Homicide," "Abortion Is Mean" and other similar messages caused controversy among students in classrooms and with school officials. Several students across the country were asked to change their attire as a result. In an attempt to justify its offensiveness, RFL appealed to rulings on free speech. However, the group's appeals to the Constitution and court rulings are, of course, opportunistic. Its attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade and ignore other cases such as Griswold v. Connecticut prove that its support of the Constitution is evident only when it suits Rock for Life.

Franciscan University of Steubenville

1235 University Blvd.

Steubenville, OH 43952, USA

Franciscan University of Steubenville (FUS) was founded in 1946 by the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular and achieved university status in 1980. In 2004 the enrollment of graduate and undergraduate students was 2,374. EUS boasts that it is strictly committed to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Catholic church.

Beginning in 1976, FUS has held a summer youth conference which this year attracted a record 30,000 young people. During these events, attendees are exposed to various right-wing religious speakers and many then travel to World Youth Day. The conference is a major recruiting opportunity for the university, as this is generally a future student's first exposure to the campus.

As with all colleges and universities, FUS plays host to a variety of student organizations. However, while there are groups such as College Republicans and Students for Life--which protests outside of local abortion clinics every Saturday--there are no groups on its approved list that would allow a student to express a prochoice view or even to be a Democrat.

The university makes no effort to hide its antichoice agenda. It organizes several conferences each year and has brought in right-wing speakers, including the Prolife Actions League's Joe Scheidler, who was convicted of racketeering for his ongoing protests outside abortion clinics in a case that went all the way to the US Supreme Court. According to its website, at these conferences attendees "will learn to find the abortion industry's weak spots from people who have been there, examine how ministry to former abortionists can unlock the secret of how to end abortion, and discuss how to apply the biblical mandate in Ephesians 5:11--to 'expose' the deeds of darkness in the pro-life movement." Another visitor is Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-Fam) who told students to "start a study group on the pope's new letter on homosexual unions.... Take what you've learned from school into your jobs, your neighborhoods. Or come join us for training, and we'll put you on the floor with UN delegates." In addition to this, Opus Dei operates near campus.

FUS appears to be the only university to offer a minor degree in "Human Life Studies" and the radical antiabortion group Human Life International made a donation to a "Human Life International Chair" that provides a faculty position to teach only "prolife and pro-family issues." Reminders of such views permeate the campus. These are visible at the Memorial for Life and Tomb for the Unborn on the school grounds. Memorial services and speeches are held at these markers each year.

The leadership at Franciscan University also points to the staunch antiabortion stance of the university. In 1989, university president Father Michael Scanlan and local Bishop Albert Ottenwelier were arrested for illegally blockading the Mahoning Women's Center in Youngstown, Ohio. Board member Alan Keyes is known for his strong stance in opposition to abortion and homosexuality. However, Keyes's support for "family values" only goes so far. According to the Washington Post in February this year, when his own daughter came out as a lesbian he and his wife Jocelyn, "threw her out of their house, refused to pay her college tuition and stopped speaking to her."

Opus Dei

330 Riverside Drive

New York, NY 10025 USA

Viale Bruno Buozzi 73

00197 Rome ITALY

Opus Dei (work of God) was founded in 1928 by Josemaria Escriva. The Vatican later declared the group a "personal prelature" of the Catholic church, meaning that it does not report to local bishops as other orders do, but directly to the Vatican, where it wields considerable power. The former and current popes' spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, is a member. It is an extremely wealthy organization, having recently built a 17-storey headquarters on Lexington Avenue in New York City and, according to critic Robert Hutchinson, author of Their Kingdom Come, may even at one stage had the money to rescue a bankrupt Vatican.

Opus Dei has more than 85,000 members worldwide. In the US, Opus Dei operates at least 64 residences in 17 cities for approximately 3,000 members. However, these numbers are estimates by Opus Dei as it does not disclose membership lists to the public and its supporters, financial or otherwise, are not included in the count.

In the United States and around the world, Opus Dei has set up houses near many major universities and also operates various schools and educational programs for young people. In the US, there are active groups of Opus Dei near the following major college or university campuses: Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, MIT, Brown, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Notre Dame, University of California at Berkley and at Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston College, St. Louis, Rice, American and Marquette.

Opus Dei is generally not active in campus ministry at these schools, nor is it usually an officially affiliated organization. Rather, Opus Dei members gain access to the student population by infiltrating events held by campus ministries or parishes and recruiting "friends" to join the movement. These efforts to attract new members have led to conflict with campus ministries and students who do not want to be a part of the organization. Additionally, Opus Dei has been accused of extending its influence by donating financial resources to other campus programs or by having Opus Dei priests or members join boards of various other organizations.

Opus Dei's power and influence has not prevented it from coming under severe scrutiny for its recruitment methods. In fact, such is the concern that has arisen that the Opus Dei Awareness Network was started in 1991 to provide help for families and others affected by Opus Dei. Its website explains how potential recruits are wooed and then their lives controlled once they come under the control of Opus Dei. As one student explained recently, "They love-bomb you. They call it fishing. I call it a dance of seduction," a student at Harvard University told the Harvard Crimson regarding his experience with Opus Dei recruitment. Another student at Harvard reported that there is "hate under the covers" that revealed itself when he told an Opus Dei priest that he was gay. The priest told him he should "pray to God to make me like girls" and that he was a "moral abomination and intrinsically disordered." (Elizabeth Green, "Opening the Doors of Opus Dei," Harvard Crimson Online, April 10, 2005) Student reports on Opus Dei recruitment techniques and practices have led to criticism by campus ministries and the dismissal of priests at Princeton and Harvard Universities. ODAN was started after a student at Boston College, Tammy DiNicola, joined Opus Dei and almost completely stopped all contact with her parents in the process.

As ODAN reports on its website, Opus Dei members are expected to donate their entire salaries to the organization, their ingoing and outgoing mail is read, there is a banned list of books, that includes any books on evolution and relating to other religions, and perhaps most controversially, members are expected to "practice corporal mortification such as the use of a cilice (a spiked chain worn around the thigh), flagellation, and sleeping on the floor or on boards."

ALLIE HIGGINS is a researcher working at Catholics for a Free Choice.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Catholics for a Free Choice
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Author:Higgins, Allie
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2005
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