It took a cross-burning at an interracial couple's home 10 years ago to rally Kitsap County residents against hate crimes in their midst. Enraged with the bigotry that terrorized their community, local protesters created the Kitsap County Council on Human Rights, a citizen board charged with addressing area prejudice.
Fast-forward to the fall of 1998, when bigots burned a cross in the front yard of a gay couple's Port Orchard home. Though it mirrored the incident that brought about the council, the human rights watchdog was too entangled in its own politics to take any action at all.
Just weeks ago, a Pennsylvania woman sought refuge in Silverdale, saying she was fleeing the Ku Klux Klan; but she refused to enlist the council's help because of its "tarnished reputation."
Critics say the catalyst of the council's metamorphosis from antihate to disrepute lies principally in the hands of one man and his followers: Jim Craswell, four-year council member and son of failed Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen Craswell.
In 1998, the soft-spoken Craswell started a quiet campaign to organize the religious right against the very council he sits on. Sending out newsletters called "Religious Freedom Alerts," Craswell takes the position that critiquing faith-based politics amounts to denigrating religious views.
In particular, Craswell focuses on the council's alliance with the Coalition for Human Dignity, a group that tracks racist hate groups and threats to democracy.
In his March 16 Religious Freedom Alert, Craswell wrote, "While I personally support the freedom of any organization to advocate their views in a free society, I disapprove of the consistent and methodical denigration of the faith community through tactics I call 'Blur and Slur'—linking faith groups such as [James Dobson's Focus on the Family, the proabstinence and creationist Family Research Council, the prolife Human Life International] with racists, thugs and murderers and other hate crime activity."
But Robert Crawford, a research analyst with CHD, said the mainstream religious right has quite a bit in common with extremist groups, including a faith-based opposition to homosexuality. The Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family "are certainly more mainstream, as having more impact on institutions. They don't tend to share the same rhetoric and call to violence as Fred Phelps [the pastor who picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was beaten and left to freeze to death in Wyoming]. What they share is the same commitment to taking away basic civil rights of gay men and women."
Craswell disagrees that the common commitment reflects political advocacy. Indeed, if you ask Craswell if he supports antihomosexual political movements, he'll tell you those movements do not exist. "I have not seen pressing evidence that as a class of people, [homosexuals] are shut out politically," Craswell observes. "The church takes a stand against divorce. Is there an antidivorce movement? No. The church takes a stand against lying. Is there an antilying movement? No."
"I think that's ridiculous," Crawford responds. "When a group takes a political position of wanting to overturn aspects of civil rights, then everyone has a responsibility to hold them accountable."
The difference between Craswell's examples of ordinary evangelical beliefs and the Christian Coalition or Focus on the Family lies in political advocacy, Crawford says. "The church, unlike the movement, is not trying to make state policy."
Craswell's supporters do not recognize the political advocacy distinction and plead with the council to see Christians as reasonable folk. "We're not bigoted homophobics because we disagree with the lifestyle," Poulsbo resident Margie Crowell implored the council at the July meeting.
Crowell is not alone: Craswell claims 30 percent of the Kitsap faith community pledged their support for the Religious Freedom Alert campaign. Buoyed by its success and indignant about the perceived county antifaith bias, Craswell's supporters continue to fight against gay rights in Kitsap. Some even demand the North Kitsap School District ban homosexuals from teaching positions.
As for the Council on Human Rights, its ability to address Kitsap hate crimes against homosexuals has diminished, if not disappeared entirely. At their May youth rally, an event known for its uncompromisingly gay-positive message, homosexuality was shut out completely from the workshops and speaker topics (replaced with much more mundane topics, like "R鳵m頰ower"). When asked about harassment against homosexual high school students at the rally, council chair Tamra Ingwaldson deferred to other community groups, saying, "The council isn't really equipped to answer that." Later she said the council does not have any initiatives or projects on the table that address harassment of homosexuals.
When asked if he was aware of the allegations that the Religious Freedom Alert campaign has stalled the council, Craswell says, "We could have gotten closure on this, but the problem does not go away because they put their heads in the sand. This is the price our community is paying for crossing the line. They knew the cost."