Saturday, November 10, 2007

Christian Identity Congregation Struggles To Get Permission To Use The McClelland Arts Center In Longview, Washington For Meetinghouse

A local congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian, a Christian Identity group, has asked to rent the city-owned McClelland Arts Center in Longview, WA on December 9th to hold an organizational meeting. This has triggered a bitter controversy within the community. Full story published November 9th, 2007 in the Longview Daily News. The Daily News solicits public comments to the story; registration not required.

And the controversy manifested itself in a full-scale argument which broke out among Longview City Council members Thursday (November 8th) over whether to allow this church, considered a white-supremacist church, to use the Arts Center. Mayor Dennis Weber (pictured above left), who is leading the charge against the church, claims the church chose the Arts Center because it's adjacent to Victoria Freeman Park. Fueling the controversy further is the fact that the area is mostly populated by blacks.

Victoria Freeman was a pioneer in the black community best known for integrating Longview's public schools in 1924. In past years, racist fliers and graffiti have appeared in the park on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Juneteenth, a celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Three recent incidents, which occurred in March 2005, August 2006, and October 2006, are reported on the Vanguard News Network.

Police Chief Alex Perez said the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian has ties to the Aryan Nations, a international white supremacist, Neo-Nazi group that advocates racial purity, among other things. Longview Police are investigating the group, Perez said.

The church has filled out an application to use the building, City Manager Bob Gregory said.

Weber said although normally the city doesn't take an organization's beliefs into consideration, in this case he wanted to form a task force that would clearly tell the group "that they're not really welcome, they don't represent this community at all". Weber further stated, "It's something we need to do and ought to do quickly so there is no confusion about what we in Longview stand for in terms of equal rights".

The council adopted an ordinance in 1996 stating it's the civic duty of every citizen to protect the rights and safety of everyone in the community, and attacks and threats on minority and disabled populations are prohibited, Weber said. The council could spearhead a task force under that ordinance, he said.

Councilman Kurt Anagnostou, an attorney, vehemently objected. Forming a task force to prevent a particular group from renting the building was unconstitutional, he said, pointing out that the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian hasn't made any racial threats. "If an organization wants to hold a meeting in one of our public buildings that we allow other groups to hold meetings in, we have to allow them to do that," Anagnostou said. "If a Jewish group wanted to rent space, would the city say no?", he asked.

"I suppose, Kurt, if you're anti-Semitic, that might be an option," Weber snapped.

When Weber asked if anyone on the council was willing to join a task force, no one responded. Weber turned to Councilman Andy Busack and asked if he was interested. Busack replied that he was "very interested, but timewise ..." it wouldn't work out. Councilwoman Ramona Leber volunteered to join, although she will keep her council seat just two more months after losing Tuesday's general election to Chuck Wallace.

During a break in the meeting, Weber said, "We'll continue pressing it. ... My experience has been, you don't ignore it. It's like confronting bullies". He hopes other community members volunteer for the task force to keep a white-supremacist church from coming to Longview. "It can't just be two of us," he said.

Longview, Washington, population 34,660, is located along Interstate 5 approximately 50 miles north of Portland, OR and 25 miles west of Mt. St. Helens. It is 87.2 percent White, 5.8 percent Hispanic, and only 0.7 percent Black.

Commentary: It appears that the mayor, Dennis Weber, has exposed himself as a fanatic, so much so that virtually no one wants to join him in his "anti-racist crusade". His attitude towards Christian Identity borders on the paranoiac.

Kudos to Councilman Kurt Anagnostou for his fair-mindedness and vigorous defense of constitutionality. Most impressive is the fact that he "vehemently" disagreed. This implied he's has disputes with the mayor in the past.

Being that the McClelland Arts Center is a public facility, this means it must be equally accessible to all public groups which agree to the conditions of use. To allow other religious groups to use it and not the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian would constitute unlawful discrimination and be an expression of religious bigotry. Considering that Mitt Romney's membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is still questioned by fundamentalist fanatics who consider Mormonism to be "non-Christian", there is enough religious bigotry in America as it is. Denying this Christian Identity group the opportunity to use the Arts Center would merely fuel this bigotry.

And there's no evidence that either the Longview city authorities or the media did any serious homework on Christian Identity. If they had, they would know that there are two primary Christian Identity denominations; Aryan Nations and Kingdom Identity (there are also two primary theologies, single and dual-seedline, but that won't be discussed here). The split occurred after the death of founder Dr. Wesley Swift in 1970.

The Aryan Nations branch organized under the leadership of Pastor Richard Butler, and is the more controversial and familiar brand. The SPLC used the civil justice system to steal their Hayden Lake, ID compound in 2000.

The Kingdom Identity branch, headquartered in Harrison, AR, has remained faithful to Dr. Swift's vision. Following Dr. Swift’s death in 1970, his widow Lorraine Swift faithfully carried on the Church of Jesus Christ–Christian until turning his ministry over to Kingdom Identity Ministries in 2002.

While media reports of Aryan Nations people living in Longview make it more likely that this congregation may be part of Aryan Nations rather than Kingdom Identity, it should make no difference legally. The city should rent the McClelland Arts Center to them nonetheless.

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