There's a new player in town. Well, not just "in town"--everywhere people have access to the World Wide Web. But it did start in Indiana.
The new organization is the American Values Alliance. Its web page states the organizational mission thusly: "The American Values Alliance is a nonpartisan citizen's alliance promoting civil discourse, respect for evidence, and fair play as true American values." An earlier statement, sent to prospective "founding members" and too expansive to serve as a mission statement, stated the purpose of the new organization in the following terms
"We have come together to affirm what we believe are genuine American values--beginning with the core values of liberty, equality and human dignity that inform the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.
We believe that:
* Equal treatment and fair play for all citizens is a basic American value.
* Respect for the rule of law, and an insistence that the government is not above that law, is a time-honored American value.
* Respect for the equal rights of others, whether we agree with them or not, is a basic American value.
* Open minds, respect for dissenting voices, respect for our human capacity to reason, and public deliberations based upon evidence, reason and civility are foundational American values.
* Civil liberties and inclusion are profoundly American values.
These are moral as well as civic beliefs, and they have made America great. These principles have made our country a beacon of liberty and an example to be emulated. When we abandon them, we lose America.
At times like these, we must come together to protect the great American experiment, to remind our fellow citizens that even in dark times, America has meant hope rather than fear. America's great strengths have been tolerance, goodwill and generosity of spirit, the refusal to divide our country into "we" and "they" in pursuit of political or other advantage. We will not sit by and lose that America to fear and prejudice, or to the politics of division."
Nearly a year after that initial letter went out, the Articles of Incorporation have been filed and other organizational paperwork completed. The mission has been clarified, and the web site designed. And finally, by the end of this month, the organization will have gone "live" with a website containing resources, analyses, constitutional principles, and--most important in a world where people are often too busy to attend meetings--blogs and message boards through which the organization will primarily conduct its business. It hopes to enlist members from throughout the country to monitor their local political and media figures and to respond when they use "wedge" issues, or conduct debate or introduce legislation that is inconsistent with basic American values. The organization has already responded to two such issues in Indiana, first defending an Indianapolis prosecutor's addition of sexual orientation to his office non-discrimination policy against angry (and predictable) attacks from the far right, and again after a federal judge ruled that the Indiana legislature could no longer open sessions with explicitly Christian, exclusionary prayers.
This is precisely the sort of civic organization that is most valuable to the gay community. The Executive Director, who lives in southern Indiana, has a Ph.D. in Religious Studies, and the AVA Board includes lawyers, clergy and a faculty member at Christian Theological Seminary, among others. It has the potential to be an important voice for reason in our increasingly angry and polarized country, and it deserves your support.
I hope everyone who reads this column will visit the website once it is "live," (I'll post a notice here when that happens) have a look, decide to join, and then tell everyone you know to do likewise.