Born in reaction to a 1980s movement to repeal antiquated sodomy laws, the Minnesota Family Council has made itself into a key player at the Capitol.
At the end of the 2008 Minnesota legislative session, the Omnibus Education Policy bill was held up because of a controversial measure that would have ensured comprehensive sex education in Minnesota schools. Sen Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, was leading the charge to get the measure past the desk of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, but Pawlenty told her he wouldn’t budge unless unless the Minnesota Family Council approved the measure. They didn’t, and it didn’t pass. After eight years of trying and with huge popular support from the electorate, advocates of sex education were blocked again by the Minnesota Family Council.
The Minnesota Family Council maintains a great deal of influence in Minnesota politics, especially among Republicans, but just who is the Council and where did they come from? Here’s a backgrounder on one of Minnesota’s most prominent religious right groups.
The Council was launched in 1982 as the Berean League, a group of fundamentalist Christian organizations that opposed efforts by mainline Minnesota churches to repeal Minnesota’s sodomy laws. Those laws made consensual anal or oral sex between two adults a crime: one year imprisonment and a $3000 fine. While the law applied in theory to all adults, its selective enforcement made it a de facto tool for prosecuting homosexuals, a tactic that many churches found unjust.
The Berean League succeeded in blocking repeal efforts, although the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled those laws unconstitutional in 2001.
In the late 1980s, the Berean League launched the Clean Up Project, an anti-pornography protest group. The Project’s protest angered baseball fans in 1987 when their picketing caused the cancellation of an appearance by Oakland A’s sluggers Mark McGwire and Terry Steinbach at Shinders in downtown Minneapolis.
The group also pushed for legislation to ban certain pornographic videos, a move that led adult video retailers to threaten to hire private investigators to dig into the protesters’ lives.
in order to align itself with two other prominent religious right organizations, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and Gary Bauer’s Family Research Council, the Berean League changed its name to the Minnesota Family Council in 1992.
With the name change came an increased emphasis on legal challenges to equality for gay and lesbian Minnesotans. In 1994, the group filed a lawsuit to end the city of Minneapolis’s practice of extending domestic partner benefits to its employees. By prevailing in that case, the Family Council helped to prevent any local unit of government in Minnesota from offering benefits to unmarried couples.
MFC’s creation of the Northstar Legal Center for The Family and Constitutional Rights in 1996 enhanced the group’s ability to mount legal challenges. Northstar was party to a 1998 lawsuit to prevent the use of student fees for liberal causes, including gay and lesbian student groups. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled against Northstar and its partners in the suit.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the Council has made same-sex marriage its signature issue. In the late 1990s, the group was instrumental in getting the Defense of Marriage Act passed. By the early 2000s, the Council was working hard to beef up the act with a Defense of Marriage Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. Despite several attempts, the amendment has yet to make it on the ballot. The group blamed former Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson for the loss, and took credit for his defeat in his 2006 election.
Republican Party Ties
The Family Council not only works closely with Republicans; members of its small staff have worked for the Republicans.
MFC president Tom Prichard used to be a researcher for the Independent-Republicans (now Republican Party of Minnesota) and worked for former Iowa Republican Sen. Roger Jepsen. Prichard’s father was a Republican party activist in Iowa. Prichard joined the Council in 1990, and was instrumental in aligning the Council with Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.
Darrell McKigney, the Council’s legislative director throughout the 1990s, was also the press spokesman for former congressional Reps. Vin Weber and Rod Grams.
Jim Hansen currently works as pastor church network director for MFC. Previously he was candidate services coordinator for the Republican Party of Minnesota, working on behalf of candidates for governor, auditor and secretary of state. Hansen was later rewarded with a position as deputy secretary of state under Mary Kiffmeyer.
Barb Anderson holds a coordinator position with the Council and has been active in opposing comprehensive sex education and promoting an abstinence-only until marriage classroom curriculum in Minnesota’s public schools. Anderson is also major donor to Republican candidates, having given almost $83,000 since 2000. She has contributed $26,500 in 2008 alone, including $10,000 to the Republican National Congressional Committee and maxed-out individual contributions to candidates Brian Davis, Erik Paulsen and Sen. Norm Coleman.
In the 1990s, the group pulled in an average of $600,000 a year. In 2007, the Council took in $513,458. Prichard’s compensation is about $77,000 and chief executive officer John Helmberger makes about $83,000 for his work at the Council.
MFC on the issues
“The reality is that gay activists aren’t seeking equal access to marriage. They can already marry; it just must be to a person of the opposite sex.” Tom Prichard, Star Tribune, July 2005.
“Today we are in a cultural war over two views of sexuality: our Judeo-Christian sexual ethic of monogamous heterosexual marriage and the ‘gay’ ethic of sexual license. The battleground is the classroom and it is the children who will be the greatest casualties if we do not respond.” Abby Ludvigson, Director of Education, Oct. 2004.
“Under the guise of safety and diversity, these activists are introducing children as young as first grade to sexual lifestyles that are unhealthy and dangerous. These kids are encouraged to accept and celebrate perversity even before they have an understanding of normal sexuality.” Barb Anderson, Volunteer Coordinator, “Rescuing our kids from the gay agenda.”
“All one has to do is look at the bill to see that it authorizes the establishment of businesses on Main Street to dispense marijuana, in addition to allowing 18 year olds to grow upwards of 60 to 300 of pounds of marijuana. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize what they’re up to.” Tom Prichard, Feb. 2007.
Laurie (Mrs. Norm) Coleman’s lingerie modeling:
“It’s disappointing. It sends the wrong message to young girls. She’s in a position of influence, being married to a public figure. Whether one likes it or not, there’s a degree of responsibility that goes with it.” Tom Prichard, Aug. 2004.
Transgender rights in the workplace:
“We are hearing reports that crossdressing men are using the women’s restroom in other places as well. This is illegal in Minneapolis and the police should enforce the law. Parents should be able to send their daughters into a restroom without wondering if some transgender or crossdressing man is in there.” Tom Prichard, Oct. 1999.