The Bush Theocracy

President Bush’s appointment of his new chief domestic-policy adviser, Claude Allen — a notorious homophobe, a ferocious enemy of abortion and an opponent of safe-sex education who for years has been one of the AIDS community’s principal enemies — is a huge victory for the social reactionaries of the Christian right.

Allen, who was named to his new position in the White House last week, had previously been a top aide at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). He was placed there by Karl Rove as a watchdog on then–HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, who had an exaggerated reputation as a "moderate" and who wasn’t entirely trusted by Rove to carry out — by administrative order — the social agenda of the Christian right, a key part of Rove’s successful plan to mobilize millions of Christer voters for Bush’s re-election.

Known as Rove’s enforcer, Allen wielded a heavy, censorious and punitive hand at HHS. In November 2001, Thompson loyally toed the Rove-Bush line when he put Allen in charge of supervising HHS’s audit of HIV-prevention spending. Allen led an HHS witch-hunt that investigated all of the AIDS service organizations (ASOs) receiving any federal funding (like New York City’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis) whose staff members had disrupted Tommy Thompson’s speech to the 14th Annual International AIDS Conference in Barcelona; they were there to protest Bush’s lethal do-nothingism about the AIDS pandemic. These audits were designed to intimidate ASOs into abandoning AIDS advocacy. A number of ASOs, like San Francisco’s Stop AIDS Project and half a dozen other California AIDS-fighting groups, were ultimately purged from receiving U.S. funding by the Allen-led witch-hunt because Allen didn’t like their science-based sex-education programs. Allen ordered Advocates for Youth, the leading national coalition for safe-sex ed, audited half a dozen times.

Also in this issue

To read about the confirmation hearings of Alberto Gonzales, President Bush's choice to be the Attorney General , click here.

To read about President Bush's appointment of Mike Chertoff to head the Department of Homeland Security, click here.

Moreover, Allen was the driving force to replace science-based sex ed with the failed policy of teaching that only abstinence prevents AIDS. A black conservative and religious primitive, Allen helped bludgeon the Centers for Disease Control, which reports to HHS, into purging safe-sex materials from its Web sites and into adopting mandatory new rules requiring AIDS-fighting groups to teach that condoms don’t work in preventing the spread of AIDS, as I reported in the L.A. Weekly last year ("Condom Wars," June 25–July 1). When a federal judge found that a federally funded Louisiana abstinence program "illegally handed out Bibles, staged anti-abortion prayer rallies outside women’s clinics and had students perform Bible-based skits," Allen refused to have the program audited, while continuing his repeated audit persecutions of effective AIDS-fighting groups teaching condom use.

Allen also enforced his abstinence-only line when he was commissioner of Health and Human Services for Virginia under right-wing GOP Governor Jim Gilmore. There, too, he bent public health priorities to the religious right’s agenda, and led a state-sponsored anti–safe sex crusade that he cooked up with a kooky abstinence-only Christer outfit called the Institute for Youth Development, which also claims that condoms don’t work to prevent AIDS and teaches children to fear, rather than understand, sex. As Allen said then of condom use, "It’s like telling your child, ‘Don’t use the car,’ but then leaving the keys in the Lamborghini and saying, ‘But if you do, buckle up.’"

Allen’s history as a gay-baiter goes back to his days as a top aide to the notorious homophobe Senator Jesse Helms. In 1984, Allen accused Helms’ Democratic challenger, then-Governor James Hunt, of having links to "queers," "radical feminists," socialists and unions (Hunt was, in fact, a Bible-quoting right-wing Dem.) And Allen forged his odious reputation as a black capo for the racist right when he continued working for Helms despite the senator’s militant opposition to making Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday.

Notorious for his anti-abortion stance, at HHS Allen helped use its regulatory powers to turn Title 10 of the Public Services Act — which Bush père had championed — away from family planning and the promotion of condom use and into an abstinence-only program. In his Virginia years, Allen’s Christian-right extremism led him to endanger the health of children. Then Allen worked to defeat legislation that provided health insurance for children of the working poor, largely because the program covered abortion services for rape and incest victims under the age of 18. "When the law was ultimately enacted, Allen was faulted for not enrolling children quickly enough, and admitted that ‘abortion was the sticking point’ delaying the enrollment of children," as People for the American Way (and civil rights groups like the NAACP) pointed out last fall when they successfully opposed Bush’s nomination of Allen for a federal judgeship. "In this episode, Allen proved himself to be so adamantly opposed to reproductive rights that he found it preferable for poor children to go without health coverage than to risk an underage sexual-abuse victim having access to state-funded abortion services."

The appointment of Allen as domestic-policy czar is further evidence of the aggressive new push for the Christian right’s social agenda in Bush’s second term. In the first term, $1.7 billion was handed out in patronage disguised as "faith-based initiatives." Now, the Washington Post reported on January 4, the White House is launching a major new offensive (with Allen, in his new post, in charge) to persuade states to use an additional $50 billion in federal moneys to subsidize "faith-based" programs — money that has been shorn of church-state separation restrictions by a Bush executive order, without the approval of Congress. This amounts to a religious tax on the American people. Half a dozen Democratic governors have already joined in capitulating to the religious right’s agenda by appointing coordinators of "faith-based" services. At the same time, The New York Times reported on January 9 that the White House has prepared new legislation putting stringent caps on a whole host of federal benefit programs — from Medicare to prescription drug benefits — meaning that many poor Americans will be forced to rely on the states for help. And, when the new "faith-based" offensive succeeds, in many states they’ll only be able to get that help from religious-sponsored institutions funded by the states with federal moneys.

Welcome to the American theocracy — of which Claude Allen is the newest public face.

Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at

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