Communists Oppose (and Distort) Academic Bill of Rights · 21 September 2005

Filed under: Press Coverage


By Joe Yannielli--Young Communist League--09/22/05

A very good friend of mine voted for Bush last November. It shocked me then and it continues to bother me now. She was a student, just like me, working multiple jobs to cover the ever-rising costs of tuition, rent, and food. Couldn't she see how the Bush Administration's cuts to funding for higher education and the illegal Iraq war, diverting funds from books to bombs, have endangered the lives of young people everywhere? Couldn't she see the record budget deficit, the corruption and selfishness of the millionaire war hawks, and the attacks on basic civil liberties? It seemed so clear to me; but somewhere along the way, my friend had focused on other things.

Like most people who voted for Bush against all prevailing evidence, my friend's reasons were complex. But in my attempt to understand her decision, I did come across one potentially important - and rather disturbing - factor. A few years ago, my friend had joined a popular non-denominational Christian group called Campus Crusade for Christ.

For the most part, as far as I can tell, the members of Crusade chapters (sometimes named "Agape Christian Fellowship") are affable, decent human beings with a genuine dedication to their religious beliefs. On a hunch, though, I decided to investigate the national Crusade association and discovered a highly organized, well-funded, and carefully targeted campaign to mobilize young Americans around an ultra-conservative agenda.

From a quick glance at the Crusade web site (campuscrusadeforchrist.com), it is difficult to tell that the organization has any political content whatsoever. I was told that the group is based on something called "traditional, orthodox Christian beliefs" and that it has a lot to do with "spiritual growth" and "a personal relationship with Jesus." This seemed innocuous enough. From other sources, however, I learned that Crusade was born at the height of the Cold War and later reinvigorated during the Sixties as a way to subvert radical student activism and anti-war protests. Its founder and guiding force, the late Bill Bright, launched the group as a kind of counter-revolutionary offensive. According to one scholar, Crusade's "organizational strategy intended to mimic (and defeat) Bright's conception of how communists organize": one member reaches out to two friends until they have joined, at which point they contact two friends of their own, and so on.

Bright, a close friend of Ronald Reagan, built Crusade's "revolutionary cells" with the help of silver tycoon Nelson Bunker Hunt, a leader of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society. Bright also secured big business endowments from the Coors (Brewing Co.) Foundation and the Arthur DeMoss Foundation, which funds a variety of right-wing causes including anti-abortion campaigns, Newt Gingrich's political committee, and even Christian extremists who seek to impose "Biblical law" on American society. According to a recent report, thanks to this partisan funding, Crusade "has worldwide revenues totaling more than $300 million, and employs over 14,000 full-time and more than 160,000 volunteer staff," making it possibly "the largest grossing ministry" in the US. Over the past ten years alone, Crusade has grown from about 300 to almost 1,300 campus ministries and membership has more than doubled.

Unlike most student groups, Crusade has a centralized national office in Florida and its local chapters are maintained by full-time staff. Within the Crusade superstructure there is an informational network entitled Leadership University (leaderu.com) - and this is where the group's covert political agenda finally becomes apparent. One of the site's lead articles warns in apocalyptic terms that homosexuals are causing the "trivialization and gutting of marriage" and that "Western culture as we know it" is in mortal danger. Indeed, the site contains over 300 articles attacking gays and lesbians. Another popular subject is "Academic Freedom." One article posted on the site, entitled "Indoctrination 101" and written by an anonymous English professor at an unknown university, complains of the "radical trend" among students on campus, "America-bashing," and the especially spooky threat of something called "Porno-Marxism."

Despite its underlying political agenda, however, Crusade is one of the more subtle right-leaning groups on American campuses today. There are no specific political requirements to join a chapter--religious rhetoric and personal salvation always come first--and cultural conservatism is only tacitly encouraged. Other recent attempts to inject right-wing politics into student culture have been far more aggressive. Groups like Students for Academic Freedom (studentsforacademicfreedom.org), led by ultra-right zealot David Horowitz, insist that American schools are swarming with doctrinaire liberals and "extremists" and that patriotic conservatives are being systematically oppressed and silenced on campus. Under the guise of "academic freedom" and a "balanced" curriculum, these conservatives seek to impose their ideology in the classroom while accusing "liberal" professors of the same thing. Horowitz's dubiously labeled "Academic Bill of Rights" has actually made headway in a number of states and has set the stage for politicians to determine the criteria for the hiring and firing of professors and the content of courses.

The highly publicized drive for "academic freedom" is mostly concerned with purging progressive educators and strengthening the Right and has little to do with the actual free exchange of ideas. "It's time for a new McCarthyism," conservative ideologue Ann Coulter recently announced. Republicans at Santa Rosa Junior College in California took this message to heart when they posted copies of a McCarthy-era state law on the doors of ten faculty members. The statute, still on the books, announced that "No teacher shall advocate or teach communism" and prohibited all teaching "for the purpose of undermining patriotism for, and the belief in, the government of the United States and of this state."

Since the '50s and '60s, when groups like Campus Crusade were organized, ruling class leaders, multimillionaires, right-wing pundits, and other elites have targeted young people in order to build a consensus for what is essentially a very narrow and self-serving ideology-- and they are very good at it. A recent sociological study published by Political Research Associates (PRA) out of Boston found that conservative student groups tend to be part of a national, centralized structure, well-funded, and built across a range of issues. By contrast, progressive groups tend to be locally based, understaffed, and fragmented, with many single issue groups that do not communicate with each other. Each year millions of dollars are pumped into developing the Campus Right through conferences, internships, leadership development, publications, and speakers. According to a recent New York Times article, the conservative Heritage Foundation alone pours $570,000 into its paid summer internship program, while progressive think tanks must rely on unpaid student volunteers.

The deck is certainly stacked. But it is easy to overlook the historic advances being made. The environmental movement, the Justice for Janitors campaign, the peace and immigrant rights movements and many others are solidly rooted in progressive student activism and continue to grow thanks to record levels of student protest across the country. Students are fighting back against efforts to regulate free speech on campus. The recent witchhunt at Columbia University has mobilized scores of students and professors, many for the first time. At Santa Rosa, the McCarthyite threats have been taken down in response to popular pressure and the College Republicans were soundly defeated in the latest student body elections. Students across the country are also mobilizing against Horowitz's "Bill of Rights." Groups like CampusProgress.org are circulating information and tactics that students can use to defeat the Right, including detailed primers called "know your right-wing speakers." In addition to grants and leadership training, CampusProgress also offers help with bringing speakers to campus and starting publications.

The best defense is a good offense. And building a grassroots-oriented student group is a powerful antidote to the ultra-Right's efforts to silence progressive voices. Because of its focus on broad-based coalitions and its ability to draw people together across a wide spectrum of issues, the growth of the Young Communist League will be crucial for preventing the Right's "new McCarthyism." Progressive groups must unite around a clear organizational mission - something conservative activists realized long ago. But we cannot do it alone. Studies show that the majority of students today consider themselves neither conservative nor progressive. Both sides have ignored this "centrist" population - but they must be mobilized. We need to build strong YCL clubs in our areas to organize and educate young people around issues that impact them everyday - for example, cuts in student aid and the rising cost of education. We need to maintain a high profile and work with other progressive youth groups to build coalitions that involve the "center." Our friends should not have to get their political education from groups like Campus Crusade for Christ.

Joe Yannielli is a peace activist and a recent graduate of Wesleyan University. He loves Jesus, and America too.

For information about the sources used in this article, please contact the author through ycl@yclusa.org