Ernest Istook

Istook wasted no time after getting his law degree before jumping into the political arena. At the age of 27, only about a year out of law school, he was already the director of the Oklahoma Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and assistant legal counsel to then-Governor David Boren. In 1982, Istook ran for city councilmember of Warr Acres, a suburb of Oklahoma City. After four years, he ran for and was elected to the Okalahoma state legislature where he served for six years before getting elected to the House of Representatives in November 1992. In about 16 years, he went from new law school graduate to Congressional representative.

Istook toes the line of the radical religious right's agenda: he staunchly supports a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, he wants to make English the official language of the US, he wants taxpayers to support Christian ideology by allowing the display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings and keeping the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, he supports mandating time for voluntary prayer in public schools, he supports the Boy Scouts exclusion of gays, he supports vouchers for education (ie, using tax dollars to send kids to religious schools), he's opposed to affirmative action and he supports abstinence only sex education teaching. With respect to the latter, on his own webpage it says, "Instead of having your tax dollars undercut your family's values, we are now reinforcing what we teach our kids at home and in church." My guess is that he fails to see the irony: instead of using taxpayer dollars to teach facts and expand knowledge, he's now using taxpayer dollars to reinforce Christian teachings. It should be noted here that if the radical religious right agenda succeeds, Istook may very well be one of its first victims since he is a Mormon. Among many fundamentalists, Mormons are not considered Christians.

Istook connection to the radical right is evident if one looks at his associations. During 2003, Istook took two "educational" retreats sponsored by the Heritage Foundation. He was one of the members of the Emergency Committee to Defeat Al Gore and the Emergency Committee to Stop Hillary Rodham Clinton— along with Edwin Meese III, who is also a top policy expert at the Heritage Foundation. Istook's wife Judy is on the board of the Susan B. Anthony List, a fervent anti-choice group.

But Istook's "claim to fame" as it were is the "Religious Freedom Amendment". The text of the amendment, which was originally introduced in 1995 and reintroduced in both 1997 and 2000, reads as follows:

"To secure the people's right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience: The people's right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage or traditions on public property, including schools, shall not be infringed. The government shall not require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity, initiate or designate school prayers, discriminate against religion, or deny equal access to a benefit on account of religion."

Seventy-one words that would have gutted the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Istook's introduction of the amendment in 1997 drew strong praise from Ralph Reed, at the time the director of the Christian Coalition. Istook's amendment was a precursor to what we now know as "faith-based initiatives", which Bush signed into being via executive order on January 29, 2001, just days after his inauguration. One of the primary sponsors of the Senate bill that supported Bush's faith-based initiative order was Rick Santorum, another pocketed politician of the radical religious right. When the bill was reintroduced in September 2000, the Interfaith Alliance issued a statement condemning the amendment as nothing more than a political ploy designed to "manipulate religion for political gain" by helping " the religious right find a hot-button issue that will mobilize and energize its dwindling base." Given the current political climate, there's reason to believe that the Istook Amendment will once again appear on the floor of Congress for a vote. It is to be hope that once again, it will be defeated.

A reader from Oklahoma alerted me to another chapter of Ernest Istook's life that isn't much publicized. The Mormon Alliance is an organization that is attempting to bring to light the many cases of sexual and spiritual abuse within the Mormon Church. One case in particular is both heart-breaking and eye-opening to read: that of Jack McCallister and his family. To briefly summarize, Mr. McCallister was sexually abused by the bishop of his stake (similar to a Catholic diocese.) Thirty years later, Mr. McCallister's son was also sexually abused by a bishop of the church (although it wasn't the same man in both cases.) When the McCallisters demanded justice be done, they were ex-communicated from the church, which essentially denies the abuse ever took place. The McCallister's appealed to Senator Istook for assistance but were refused because the Senator, a practicing Mormon, indicated that the image of the church would be tainted by further investigation. On November 20, 2004, while Congress was mulling an omnibus spending bill in order to keep the government functioning, some Democrats noted a disturbing "addition" that had not gone through committee: two of them, actually. The first, according to the New York Times would "bar federal, state and local agencies from withholding taxpayer money from health care providers that refuse to provide or pay for abortions or refuse to offer abortion counseling or referrals. Current federal law, aimed at protecting Roman Catholic doctors, provides such 'conscience protection' to doctors who do not want to undergo abortion training. The new language would expand that protection to all health care providers, including hospitals, doctors, clinics and insurers." [Author's note: The link above is to a reprint of the original NY Times article, which has been archived and is viewable for a price.] But it is the second "addition" that is another reminder of just how anti-American this agenda is. The language of the second "addition" reads:

"Hereinafter, notwithstanding any other provision of law governing the disclosure of income tax returns or return information, upon written request of the Chairman of the House or Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service shall allow agents designated by such Chairman access to Internal Revenue Service facilities and any tax returns or return information contained therein."

Now, in plain and simple language, that means that the two Chairmen of the appropriations committees and the commissioner of the IRS, or anyone they gave written permission to do so (which could be anyone from a private detective to a campaign worker to the enemy of someone who ticked them off) could disregard the privacy protections of the US Constitution and access your income tax returns and do whatever they wanted with that information. Like maybe publish it in the newspaper. Or show it to your ex-spouse. Now, you may be wondering why I'm putting this here. Well, according to a CNN article, the request to add that little provision came from none other than Ernest Istook, who, by the way, is chairman of one of the House Appropriations subcommittees. The wording might be construed as vague enough to include the chairpersons of subcommittees as well.

As citizens, we're fortunate someone caught this little add-on before it was adopted into law. But one has to wonder how many others have snuck through. One has to wonder why a politician would want to pass such a provision when it clearly violates constitutional law. Why, when the actions of these elected officials goes so against the grain of the American ideals, do so many people still vote for them? For an answer to that, please read my thoughts on the subject.

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Click on any of the links below to read more articles about Ernest Istook.
Chronology of the Istook Amendment Chronology of the Istook Amendment
Synopsis: A chronology of the people involved and actions taken with regard to the Istook amendment. Rather dry reading but good documentation.
The First Istook Amendment The First Istook Amendment
Synopsis: An article on the Religious Tolerance site regarding the first proposal by Istook and several others to subvert the First Amendment.
Later Editions of the Istook Amendment Later Editions of the Istook Amendment
Synopsis: This is an article on the later versions of the Istook amendment, also on the Religious Tolerance site.
Istook's Stand on the Issues Istook's Stand on the Issues
Synopsis: Find out where Istook stands on the issues facing our nation today by seeing how he has voted in the past.
What's Wrong with Pledge and Prayer What's Wrong with Pledge and Prayer
Synopsis: An article on an amendment proposed by Istook called "Pledge and Prayer Amendment" that would "guarantee" American's the right to acknowledge God wherever they chose on public property, including schools. More doublespeak and deceptive packaging from the RRR.

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