The Anti-Gay, Anti-Choice Politics of The Knights of Columbus
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Dec 30, 2013 at 05:08:06 PM EST
While Pope Francis is getting most of the media attention related to all things Catholic, a Catholic lay organization that has been around for more than 130 years is starting to be the object of some well-deserved scrutiny.

The Knights of Columbus, the largest Catholic lay organization in the world, is well known for its charitable work. There's a good chance that somewhere in America on just about any weekend, the Knights of Columbus is holding an event to raise money to help the poor, feed the hungry, provide disaster relief, and support families in need. Its bake sales and pancake suppers are events that many communities eagerly look forward to and support wholeheartedly.

Unbeknownst to many cookie or pancake enthusiasts, however, is the reality that a portion of the money - read that, millions of dollars -- raised by the Knights is being poured into anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage campaigns.

That is a side of the Knight of Columbus that is rarely reported on. According to a new report by Catholics for Choice, "The order has pushed a conservative agenda ranging from the highly specific--a complaint against highschoolers reading Catcher in the Rye--to systemic opposition to reproductive choice and marriage equality through sizable donations to programs run by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other conservative organizations."

"The Knights of Columbus: Crusaders for Discrimination" pointed out that the organization "uses its manpower and money to push for legislation that does not match the beliefs of many Catholics or the
 will of the electorate. The Knights continue to wage a decades-long battle against abortion legislation, but what stands out now is the scale of its political expenditures--more than $10 million since 2004--and this does not include funds from the thousands of local fraternity councils and assemblies. The Knights' funding of anti-same-sex marriage campaigns goes towards a cause that is rejected by most Catholics--polling data reflects a stronger support for same-sex marriage among Catholics than any other Christian faith group, or the American population as a whole."

Between 2004-2012, the Knights of Columbus -- a fraternal benefit society which is a 501(c)(8) tax-exempt not-for-profit entity -- funded a who's who of the American right, with donations going to such anti-choice and anti-gay organizations as the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the National Organization for Marriage, the Proposition 8 Legal Defense Fund, Americans United for Life, the Federalist Society, the Susan B. Anthony List, the Human Life Foundation. (According to the IRS, "political activity is not considered a fraternal activity," but fraternal orders "may engage in some political activities, including intervention in political campaigns on behalf of, or in opposition to, candidates for public office, without jeopardizing its exempt status.")

The Knights were founded as a mutual benefit society in 1882, in New Haven, Connecticut, by Fr. Michael McGivney, who along with a group of laymen, wanted "to provide financial support to widows and their families," when attitudes toward Catholics were bigoted and discriminatory. From those humble beginnings, the Knights has grown into an organization of more than 1.8 million members in 15,000 councils, with nearly 200 councils on college campuses.

"Crusaders for Discrimination" points out that "The first major charity project undertaken by the organization was the creation of 'Huts' to provide free food and supplies to American and Canadian soldiers during World War I. As anti-Catholicism began to fade 
after the 1920s, the Knights became increasingly devoted to social justice, both through charity and advocacy."

The organization "continued push for social justice could be seen in their distribution and promotion of Pope Pius XI's social encyclicals, which called for a living wage for workers and credit unions while emphasizing the responsibilities of employers and landowners."

According to the Catholics for Choice report, things began to shift dramatically after Virgil Dechant, became Supreme Knight: "Dechant felt a need to 'strengthen' the relationship between the order and the hierarchy, according to US Catholic, which reported that 'in the United States and in Canada, this renewal of loyalty and fidelity has taken the form of periodic grants 
... for support of the bishops' pro-life programs." Dechant said, "I feel we need to become more politically active on moral issues.... We've got to make our clout be felt as Catholics first of all."

By the early 1990s, the Knights were campaigning against the Freedom of Choice Act, "which would have prevented states from restricting abortion rights," selling 50,000 shares of Disney stock because it was "'highly insulted' by the film Priest about a gay Catholic priest struggling with celibacy," and grappling over whether to invite such pro-choice politicians like Bill Clinton to their functions.

Catholics for Choice's report maintains that the organization's "politics can currently be mapped across ... four sectors--anti-choice activities; anti-marriage equality activities; public policy and policymakers; and dissent within the order."

The Knights have a long history of opposition to reproductive rights. In 1987, after the organization set up an office in Washington, D.C., to monitor legislative initiatives, it gave a $3 million grant "to 
the US bishops to fund a nationwide campaign against abortion," a campaign that was run by Hill 
& Knowlton, a major public relations firm, and the Wirthlin Group, a polling company. The campaign "was billed as a public information campaign."

After Dechant retired, the reigns were taken by Carl Anderson, "an aide to the controversial Sen. Jesse Helms from 1976 to 1981," who had "worked as a special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and as acting director of the White House Office of Public Liaison during the Reagan administration." The Knights have supported crisis pregnancy centers, encouraged so-called sidewalk counseling and prayer vigils aimed at women going to abortion clinics, and "take[s] exception to most, but not all, forms of contraception."

A 2012 report by a coalition of four Catholic organizations-- Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families and New Ways Ministry-- titled "The Strong Right Arm of the Bishops: The Knights of Columbus and Anti-Marriage Equality Funding,"  "focused attention on what had been a little-known phenomenon--the huge sums the fraternal order was funneling into anti-marriage equality campaigns in several states, sometimes in its own name, sometimes under the aegis of other entities such as the National Organization for Marriage."

The report notes that "In 2006, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson summarized the Knights' view of same-sex marriage as being antithetical to all that is right and
true in the world--as he saw it: 'If homosexual 'marriage' is not wrong, then nothing is wrong.... We will never accept the destruction of the institution of marriage.'" The Knights has subsequently donated more than $7 million to anti-same-sex marriage ballot initiatives across the country. It contributed $1.153 million to, which promoted California's anti-marriage equality Proposition 8 in 2008, and later another $500,000 to the Proposition 8 Legal Defense Fund.

The Knights of Columbus was founded as a mutual aid society to combat bigotry and discrimination against Catholics. Now, more than one-hundred thirty years after its founding, it has devolved into an organization which uses such catchphrases as "life and family" or "marriage and family," and has such a narrow view of family that it has planted itself in the forefront of discrimination and bigotry.

My father was a member of the K of C when I was a kid, but I know he won't touch them with a ten foot pole now. I wish they would confine themselves to charitable endeavors, campaigning against same-sex marriage is not a charitable endeavor. I remember seeing Virgil Dechant speak at University of Dallas after the K of C had gone down the political rabbit hole.

by khughes1963 on Mon Dec 30, 2013 at 07:51:16 PM EST

You can bet, the Knights are also affiliated with the Center for Arizona Progress initiative we now know as SB 1062.  Once again, funding discriminatory policy development aimed at citizens of the United States.  Until reading this, I was not familiar with the 'origins' of this organization, which only generates further how sad it is, this push for discrimination out of animus.  

Many have been aware of the Cash Flowing from this organization for quite a few years.  Myself included.  It's information which falls on deaf ears for the most part, except for those of us who are already engaged in conversations about matters of social justice.  

This organization has done a great deal in supporting efforts harmful to citizens, both on safe and affordable access to women's health care and LGBT civil, equal, human rights.  They are currently very aligned with a number of US based Archbishops and Bishops, aggressively inserting themselves and their cash into politics determined to kill Marriage Equality whenever, wherever they can.  They are also linked with and tied to efforts we are now watching unfold in Africa - and not just the new Laws in Uganda.  

The Knights of Columbus have become a Stand for Discrimination, undermining the tenants of life in the USA.  A complete lack of respect for our Nations separation of Church and State and for the Civil Rights of those they've chosen unworthy of legal protections based, inferior citizens.  Oddly, of course, it being the 'Catholic' who was the inferior citizen, which as I now know, what drove the creation of the Knights.  

Each day, every single day, organizations like this manage to hold back our progress as a Nation, is a day we've lost - what we all deserve as we live, full recognition as citizens, humans living on our shared planet, for our brief time here.  Our Nation is needed as an example of Full Equality in order to more effectively impact damage done by US Religious figures and their exported hateful dogma and rhetoric.  

The Knights of Columbus are determined we NOT become such a beacon of light for others, no society should grow to know and understand their LGBT citizens, other than to jail them.

by RexTIII on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 07:04:42 PM EST

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