Religious-right organizations, including the American Family Association and Focus on the Family, launched a media frenzy last week when they criticized a pro-tolerance video starring SpongeBob and numerous other children’s TV cartoon characters.

From CNN:

"A short step beneath the surface reveals that one of the differences being celebrated is homosexuality," wrote Ed Vitagliano in an article for the American Family Association….

"Their inclusion of the reference to ‘sexual identity" within their ‘tolerance pledge’ is not only unnecessary, but it crosses a moral line," James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, said in a statement released Thursday.

Confronted by the expected media uproar over his remarks, Dobson postured as if to set the media straight — but may have conveyed a bit of paranoia instead:

But while the video is harmless on its own, I believe the agenda behind it is sinister. My brief comments at the FRC gathering were intended to express concern not about SpongeBob or Big Bird or any of their other cartoon friends, but about the way in which those childhood symbols are apparently being hijacked to promote an agenda that involves teaching homosexual propaganda to children.

But it appears that the cartoon characters were neither exploited nor hijacked by the foundation; they were used with permission to promote a form of tolerance that is conveyed regularly in their respective TV programs.

Dobson persisted:

…the We Are Family Foundation — the organization that sponsored the video featuring SpongeBob and the other characters was, until this flap occurred, making available a variety of explicitly pro-homosexual materials on its Web site.

But Dobson’s "evidence" was benign: Of the numerous groups that support the foundation, some — Dobson claims — are gay-equality organizations. Dobson quotes lesson plans and handouts — none of which "promote" homosexuality. The quoted materials promote the ability of people who disagree about sexuality to navigate their differences with respect.

Dobson claimed that all these quoted materials were removed last week from the foundation web site, but a year-old copy of the site at does not seem to feature these materials, either.

Dobson attempted to reassure his readers about his own intentions:

Every individual is entitled to respect and human dignity, including those with whom we disagree strongly.

But Dobson, by this point, had criticized pro-tolerance materials, calling them pro-homosexual, and he had accused pro-tolerance Americans of "hijacking" cartoon characters already known for their tolerance. Dobson then proceeded to launch what one media target called a "spam" campaign. That e-mail campaign is hosted here by Focus on the Family.

Was it fair for MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann to call that spam? You decide: Unlike a conventional protest mailing, many of Dobson’s messages were blank; others contained little more than Focus’ instructions for the sender to type a personalized message; and the messages were sent unsolicited to Olbermann’s private office e-mail account, not his public feedback address.

Olbermann, who identifies himself as a man of faith, alleges:

  • a barrage of blank, misspelled, and form-letter messages from Focus on the Family to Olbermann’s private e-mail address, and
  • exaggerations and misstatements by Focus on the Family editor Gary Schneeberger.

Largely unnoticed during the media frenzy were some far-fetched allegations by exgay AFA activist Stephen Bennett. When he leapt to the defense of Dobson, according to, Bennett asserted that both the Jewish Anti-Defamation League and the anti-racist Southern Poverty Law Center‘s web site "promote a very strong pro-homosexual worldview." A longer, less controversial commentary by Bennett is available at WorldNetDaily.

Allow me to summarize:

The point that both Dobson and Stephen Bennett make — sloppily, perhaps — is that cartoon creators are using their characters in a bait-and-switch effort to lure children toward tolerant, live-and-let-live viewpoints. (Which is exactly what creators of wholesome family cartoons should do, in my opinion.)

Yet Dr. Dobson is playing the same bait-and-switch.

His innocuous daily radio program on wholesome and practical family living is heard by millions on major commercial radio stations across America. What is the purpose of the free radio program? Quite simply, one might argue, it is to bait-and-switch listeners into subscribing to Focus’ print and electronic services, which promote Dobson’s culture-war campaigns against causes — and people — whom he declares to be immoral.

Worthwhile commentaries by others:

Dobson’s crusade sends a message the media don’t get
By Eric Deggans, St. Petersburg Times

SpongeBob goes to church
United Church of Christ

That Colored Fella notes a few issues that aren’t covered by TV pundits eager to fuel religious-right media circuses.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars fisks Olbermann’s fisking of Dobson and Schneeberger

Jesus taught tolerance (Matthew 22:36-40)
Chuck Currie, United Church of Christ

Stony Point, N.Y., middle schoolers rally behind SpongeBob

"What [Dobson] objects to is tolerance of gay people, or teaching children that gay people deserve respect."
Andrew Sullivan

Choosing SpongeBob over bitterness
Kurt Granzow

(Thanks to SharonB for the Stephen Bennett WND link.)

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