When Concerned Women for America meet, they usually pray together in members' homes. In fact, they claim that more than half a million members, mostly evangelical Christians, are praying nationwide for legislators to support their conservative agenda, which includes amendments to the U.S. Constitution banning abortion and allowing voluntary prayer in public schools; opposition to an equal rights amendment, comparable-worth legislation and laws protecting homosexuals, and strict enforcement of laws against pornography, alcohol and substance abuse.
But Sunday, the Orange County branch of the Washington-based CWA held an activist symposium for about 100 men and women at the Marriott Hotel in Newport Beach to offer ammunition in the fight against what they consider three specific threats to family life: "global education" (a teaching approach that stresses a view of the world as "interdependent"); sex education in public schools including school-based health clinics; and child pornography.
"Evil abounds because good men do nothing," said Norma DeRossett of Newport Beach, the area coordinator for CWA. "We know there are issues that seek to destroy the family unit. If we know what they are, I believe that people will take action."
In addition to overseeing 2,500 prayer-action chapters, national CWA pays a legal staff of six full-time attorneys and is now training volunteer lobbyists to make monthly calls on each of the 535 legislators in Washington, said Jane Chastain, a former television reporter who moderated the Orange County symposium. Half of that volunteer force is now in the field, said Chastain, who sits on CWA's national board.
"Our goal is that when one of our volunteer lobbyists calls on a representative in Washington and our goals and objectives are ignored, that our lobbyist in Washington picks up the phone to the home district and talks to our correspondent and the next day we have 100,000 letters on his desk."
CWA lobbyists in every state capital also communicate with the Washington lobbyists, DeRossett said.
Members of CWA, started seven years ago by Beverly LaHaye, an El Cajon pastor's wife, see themselves as a popular alternative to the National Organization for Women.
To applause, Chastain told the gathering that CWA's membership of 540,000 is three times that of NOW. On the other hand, NOW's membership of 150,000 represents documented, paying members while CWA's does not, said a NOW spokesperson.
"We're the organization that likes men," Chastain added, smiling. "We have over 70,000 male members." She also pointed out that members do not believe all women should be homemakers.
Patti Headland-Wauson, North Orange County NOW chapter coordinator, called "absurd, ironic and ludicrous" CWA's charges that NOW members are anti-family. "NOW has been in the forefront not only to protect women's rights to abortion and reproductive freedom but in the forefront to save social programs that help all women," Headland-Wauson said. "We never see these groups that accuse us all the time (in that area). It's frustrating. They project an image of us as murderers or anti-family, and actually we're fighting the hardest in all areas for women's rights. . . ."
Speaker Robert Simonds, president of the Costa Mesa-based Citizens for Excellence in Education, told the group that "God's plan has always been" that parents educate their children at home. "It's really unfortunate the situation has evolved in our country where that's very difficult to do," said Simonds, who is also founder of the National Assn. of Christian Educators, also based in Costa Mesa.
Simonds denounced public education as "atheistic, secular humanism" and said that it has produced an "immoral and cultic curriculum." He said his organization is investigating "witchcraft" in the Irvine Unified School District, referring to a textbook that uses stories about witches to teach spelling.
"We don't have enough time to spend on basic academics anymore in public education because we now have supplementary curricula introduced that takes up 49% of the time in education class. That's not good, that's bad."
He decried the teaching of "values clarification" and "global education" that, he said, emphasize grays rather than the blacks and whites of right and wrong. He called global education "wicked" and "anti-God."