Dark Agenda

This morning, I noticed an AP press release with the headline, “Bush replaces outspoken civil rights chair.” A Carter appointee, the outgoing chair, Mary Frances Berry, and the vice chair, Cruz Reynoso, are engaged in a dispute with the administration over when they began their sex-year terms, and hence, when their terms officially end.

Berry balked at leaving now, arguing through a spokesman that she and vice chairman Cruz Reynoso, who also is being replaced, have terms that run until midnight Jan. 21, 2005. The White House maintained that their six-year terms expired Sunday and that Berry and Reynoso had been replaced.
This seemed just another incident of the rude and arrogant behavior of the Bush administration, which is, sadly, hardly newsworthy. I was curious, however, about their successors:

Bush intends to designate [Gerald A. Reynolds, former assistant secretary for the office of civil rights in the Education Department] the commission chairman, succeeding Berry, and to name Abigail Thernstrom, already a commission member, as vice chairperson. […] Bush also replaced the commission's staff director, Les Jin, with Kenneth Marcus of Virginia.
One of the most troubling commonalities among these three is found on their resumes: Reynolds has served as the Assistant Secretary of Education for the Office of Civil Rights, Thernstrom sits on the Massachusetts State Board of Education, a “predominantly white group opposed to heroic efforts to overcome de facto public school segregation,” and Marcus has served as head of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. If the Bush administration has recognized that the greatest impediment to their social conservatism is an increasingly liberal youth, their decision to combat this momentum seems to be to attack the growth at its roots. Clearly, trying to reintroduce religion to the classroom is the most obvious part of this strategy. It may very well yet turn out to be nothing more than a red herring, serving to distract from a more subversive element of their plan. This otherwise covert tactic, however, is neatly exposed when the shared interests and histories of these appointees are examined; we face the systematic unraveling of civil liberties throughout our educational system.

The Department of Education has its own Office of Civil Rights; though upon review of some of the recent activities at the DOE (see the profile of Marcus, below), it becomes evident that the DOE’s scope may not be as quickly or as easily expanded, as the administration might have hoped, to enact the civil rights rollbacks they seek. Instead, they have brought to the Civil Rights Commission members whose backgrounds in education will keep the focus where they need it most: on the future, in our schools. The Civil Rights Commission will soon become a tool of the administration used to infiltrate the very institutions where progressive initiatives have ensured the steady march of progress toward equality. Much like the administration’s environmental policies bearing euphemistic names like the Clear Skies Initiative, the resumes of the presumed appointees to the Civil Rights Commission read like a collective screed on how best to undermine civil rights.

Gerald A Reynolds

Gerald A. Reynolds is “a staunch opponent of affirmative action and has worked for organizations that have criticized government-mandated advantages for minorities and women.” In 2001, his appointment as Assistant Secretary of Education for the Office of Civil Rights was vehemently opposed by Ted Kennedy, who cited “serious concerns about Gerald Reynolds as the nominee.”

''Many civil rights groups and education groups have raised questions about his serious lack of education policy experience, as well as his views on affirmative action,'' Kennedy said.
Kennedy was not alone in his objections to Reynolds’ appointment. Marcia Greenberger, founder and co-president of the National Women's Law Center, a non-profit advocacy organization, sent a letter outlining her concerns to Kennedy, and cited Reynolds’ “very dogged opposition to affirmative action” as “problematic for women and girls in education.” The ADA Watch Action Fund also issued a press release documenting their consternation with Reynolds’ history:

"Putting Gerald Reynolds in charge of civil rights enforcement would be like having the fox guard the chicken coop," said Jim Ward, director of ADA Watch Action Fund. […] Ward said that many in the disability community are concerned that Reynolds' hostility towards federal civil rights laws will weaken enforcement of several federal laws that apply directly to students with disabilities.
The Institute for Democracy Studies’ press release outlined Reynolds’ dubious credentials, with their own concerns:
Reynolds first earned his ultraconservative credentials as a legal analyst for the Center for Equal Opportunity, a think tank that opposes affirmative action and diversity policies. He has been active in the Civil Rights Practice Group of the Federalist Society, and in 1997-98 he served as president and legal counsel to the Center for New Black Leadership, where he continued to serve as a member of the board. Three of the Center's leaders--Gerald Reynolds, Brian Jones, and Peter Kirsanow--have all been selected by the Bush administration for high-level posts dealing with civil rights and diversity issues.

Writing in the Washington Times in 1997, Reynolds criticized the "civil rights industry" and called affirmative action "a corrupt system of preferences, set-asides and quotas."

"With this latest appointment," warned [IDS President Alfred F. Ross], "every woman, every person of color, and every concerned citizen has been put on notice that this administration is looking to turn back the clock on civil rights--an agenda that IDS has meticulously documented in its newest study."

Abigail Thernstrom

The disturbing trend of partisan hackery continues with potential vice chair appointee Abigail Thernstrom. Thernstrom, whose book authored with her husband can be found glowingly reviewed at conservative think void Townhall.com, was profiled in a detailed and disturbing article by The Prospect’s Adam Shatz. The picture drawn of Thernstrom by the piece evokes a brutal truth about the kind of person and the kind of politics favored by this administration—ideological, incompetent, and convinced they are right.
[W]hen the Thernstroms' publisher asked [economist Glenn Loury] to blurb America in Black and White, he agreed, even though he hadn't read it. Shortly thereafter, however, The Atlantic Monthly asked him to review the book. Loury called Abigail to ask whether she'd mind if he did the review instead of the blurb. After speaking with her publisher, who told her that "it's much better to have Glenn's review in the Atlantic," she encouraged him to take the assignment.

Loury's review was quietly devastating. […] “A great many adherents of the civil rights vision remain at large among us, and the authors seem determined to ferret them out and prove them wrong."

Loury cited econometric studies showing there was almost no evidence for the Thernstroms' assertion that "black crime" was a cause of black poverty. Loury also assailed the Thernstroms' argument that Afrocentrism and underqualified black teachers were to blame for the low performance of K-12 black students. Afrocentrism, he noted, remains a fringe phenomenon in education, while three-quarters of public school teachers are white.

Most damaging of all, Loury showed that the Thernstroms carelessly misread their own data in places. Attempting to expose as a liberal shibboleth the idea that the war on drugs had increased the incarceration rate among African-American males, the Thernstroms wrote: "African Americans are a bit less likely to be arrested for drug offenses than they are for most other crimes." But the table they referred to, Loury pointed out, "shows no such thing. It provides the per capita arrest rates of blacks relative to the population as a whole, for various offenses, allowing one to see, for example, that in 1995 a randomly chosen black person was 2.9 times as likely to be arrested for a drug offense and 4.3 times as likely to be arrested for murder as a randomly chosen person from the general population. But this does not mean that in absolute terms fewer blacks were arrested for drug offenses than for murder. Indeed, just the opposite is true."

As a matter of courtesy, Loury e-mailed the review to the Thernstroms before it went to press. "Their response was pure vitriol. They said it was morally reprehensible and intellectually dishonest, and they refused to speak to me," Loury says. "I had no sense I was going to end our friendship by writing this review." A few months later, William F. Buckley, Jr., and John Newhouse hosted a dinner in New York and invited Loury. When the Thernstroms learned that Loury would be among the guests, they boycotted the event. "The Thernstroms' reaction to Glenn's review showed that they have become as politically correct in their responses as the left is," Orlando Patterson says. "They brook no criticism."
Discredited research, reflecting a revolting racism and a desire to demonize those most in need of protection against civil rights abuses, is, however, not reason enough for the Bush administration to question the viability of making this woman second-in-command at the Civil Rights Commission. Surely this sends a particular chill down the spines of every black American. It should give goosebumps to each of us who cares about continuing the forward momentum of every equal rights movement in the nation.

Kenneth Marcus

Like his fellow proposed appointees, Kenneth Marcus, seems to have found himself at the receiving end of questions and criticisms regarding his civil rights-related positions. When the Bush administration proposed regulations giving public school districts the freedom to create same-sex classes and schools, a move that was challenged by women’s and civil rights groups,
[s]upporters and critics alike said the proposed changes represented a major reinterpretation of antidiscrimination laws, some 50 years after the Supreme Court discredited racial segregation in "separate but equal" schools as inherently unequal, and 30 years after Title IX extended the concept to sex.


"We are not advocating single-sex schools and we are not advocating single-sex classrooms," said Kenneth Marcus, who oversees the Office for Civil Rights in the federal Education Department. "We understand that co-ed remains the norm. We are simply trying to ensure that educators have flexibility to provide more options."

The new regulations drew immediate fire from some women's and civil liberties groups, who said they were in violation of Title IX, the landmark law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools.
Marcus has also aligned himself with Bush and Education Secretary Ron Paige on the issue of finding “race-neutral ways to achieve diversity” in college and university admissions:
Kenneth L. Marcus, the Education Department's acting civil rights chief, said the report is intended to help schools achieve diversity in constructive ways "without falling back upon illegal quotas," following the Supreme Court's decision last year in the University of Michigan affirmative action case.
He has, however, made special assurances regarding the protection of white, male Christian students. In a letter to his associates at the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, dated September 13, 2004, he wrote:
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education (the Department) ensures compliance by recipients of the Department’s financial assistance with federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sex, disability, or age, or in the access of certain patriotic organizations to school facilities. Other agencies, including the United States Department of Justice, ensure compliance with federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion. The Department of Justice recently reaffirmed its commitment to enforce civil rights laws protecting students perceived to be of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent from religious and national origin discrimination in a letter to state boards of education. This Department issued Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools on February 7, 2003 (http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/religionandschools/ prayer_guidance.html). Although OCR’s jurisdiction does not extend to religious discrimination, OCR does aggressively enforce Title VI, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or national origin, and Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. In OCR’s experience, some cases of religious discrimination may also involve racial, ethnic or sex discrimination.
If it sounds suspiciously like Marcus is seeking to find a way to incorporate religion-in-school issues under the umbrella of responsibility of the Department of Education, that’s because he is.
OCR has also recently investigated allegations of race and sex discrimination against white, male Christian students. In one unfortunate incident, a white male undergraduate student was harassed by a professor for expressing conservative Christian views in a classroom discussion regarding homosexuality. […] No OCR policy should be construed to permit, much less to require, any form of religious discrimination or any encroachment upon the free exercise of religion. While OCR lacks jurisdiction to prohibit discrimination against students based on religion per se, OCR will aggressively prosecute harassment of religious students who are targeted on the basis of race or gender, as well as racial or gender harassment of students who are targeted on the basis of religion.
Marcus’ has also seen fit to ensure the ideological interests of the Bush administration are extended in favor of the Boy Scouts. In a Christian Science Monitor article (rather oddly) titled Wider Opening for Boy Scouts, the Bush administration was reported as ordering public schools, some of which were attempting to abolish their ties to the anti-gay and anti-atheist organization, to “keep their doors open to the Boy Scouts of America.”
In response to the threat of campus lockouts, Congress in 2001 voted to cut federal funding from any school that banned the Boy Scouts or any similar group from "open forum" access.


[O]nly a "handful" of cases have come up under the existing regulations, says Kenneth Marcus, head of civil rights at the Department of Education.

Schools can still choose to close their properties to the Boy Scouts - or the Little League, Girl Scouts, or other designated "patriotic youth" organizations - as long as they treat other groups the same way. Mr. Marcus says schools can still choose to not sponsor scout troops.

So why add more regulations to the books three years after the initial rule went into effect? "What we're doing now is proposing to the public the specific details of how we intend to enforce it," says Marcus.


Considering the timing of the announcement about the policy change - including a press conference at an Arkansas elementary school featuring the state's governor - some critics see political considerations at work.

"Politics is politics, and it probably has something to do with the campaign and all that," says Scott Cozza, president of the Scouting for All organization, which supports opening the Boy Scouts to gays. "It's a disgrace that our public schools are forced by our current administration and the federal government to support an organization that discriminates against its own citizens."
So these, then, are the new faces of the Civil Rights Commission. I have little confidence that the assault on the pluralism in our schools for which liberals have worked so long to achieve will cede with the office under control of these zealots. Combined with the insistence on abstinence-only sex education programs and the constant attacks on science in the classroom, I truly fear for America’s youth. And I wonder: are we liberals paying enough attention to what our children are learning subconsciously about civil rights as we are to what they are being taught about evolution?

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