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Black pastor, Obama critic linked to right-wing conservatives

By Freddie Allen
Washington Correspondent NNPA

WASHINGTON — Rev. William Owens, a Black minister who has launched a national campaign against President Obama because of his support of same-sex marriage, portrays himself as head of an independent grassroots organization when, in fact, he is being bankrolled by right-wing groups and maintains strong ties to Republican politicians, it has been disclosed.

The Memphis-based Coalition of African American Pastors, USA (CAAP) describes itself on its Web site as “a grassroots movement of African American Christians who believe in traditional family values such as supporting the role of religion in American public life, protecting the lives of the unborn and defending the sacred institution of marriage.” It claims that it “is not affiliated with any political party or religious denomination.”

However, People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, and USA Today has disclosed several close ties between Owens and conservatives.

Owens launched a national campaign in May calling on African Americans not to vote for Obama because of his support of gay marriage. The group claims to have the support of 3,700 Black ministers, a figure that has not been verified.

Although Owens claims to be acting independently, Frank Cannon, head of the American Principles Project, a conservative group opposed to same-sex marriage, acknowledged to USA Today that its political action fund is paying Shirley & Banister, a public relations firm, to assist CAAP.

In addition, Owens’ group has received loans from the conservative Family Research Council and Mississippi Tea Party activist Ed Holliday, according to documents filed with the IRS.

Rev. Timothy McDonald III, senior pastor of the Atlanta-based First Iconium Baptist Church and president of the African American Ministers in Action of People for the American Way, said Owens’ organizations have “no relevance, no constituency and no credibility.”

Earlier this year, Owens was named African American liaison for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a group that has endorsed Republican Mitt Romney.

According to tax documents, NOM donated more than $35,733 to Education for All, a nonprofit run by Deborah Owens, the wife of William Owens. The group, which claims to promote education reforms in low-income neighborhoods, also lists Rev. Owens as a contact person on press releases for the organization in 2011.

The memo, titled “National Strategy For Winning The Marriage Battle,” came to light after NOM lost a lawsuit in Maine over campaign donor violations during the 2009 state elections.

A section of memo under the heading, “Not a Civil Rights Project,” stated: “The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and Blacks — two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots.”

The confidential internal memo suggested “pushing a marriage amendment in Washington, D.C.; find attractive, young, Black Democrats to challenge white gay marriage advocates electorally.”

Civil rights leaders were stunned.

“It’s one of the most cynical things I’ve ever heard of or ever seen spelled out in this way,” said Julian Bond, chairman emeritus of NAACP on CNN. “The idea that these people are just pawns that can be played with. The Black people who oppose gay marriage, the Black people who support gay marriage can be moved around like pieces on a chessboard. It’s scary.”

Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement: “This memo only reveals the limits of a cynical agenda. The truth is that no group, no matter how well-funded, can drive an artificial wedge between our communities. People of color understand what it is like to be the target of discrimination. No public relations strategy will make us forget that.”

In 2008, Owens endorsed Republican contender Mike Huckabee for president. He also endorsed Ken Blackwell, the Republican candidate for governor in Ohio.

Despite strong criticism of him, Owens has not backed away from his anti-Obama campaign, comparing President Obama at one news conference to Judas, drawing a correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia and equating the granting rights to members of the LGBT community to granting civil rights to men who have sex with animals.

NOM plans include setting aside $1 million to target Blacks with ad buys and robo-calls.

Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African American Religious Affairs for People for the American Way, said it would be hard for NOM’s strategy to work without the entire Black community subscribing to Owens’ views. When Owens tells people not to vote, he’s basically suppressing the Black vote, she said.

In a July interview on Fox News, Owens said thousands of Blacks have told him they will stay home on Nov. 6 rather than vote for Obama.

“I believe that Rev. Owens has done an injustice to African Americans and African American clergy by limiting them, basically insulting their intelligence that there’s only one thing we need to be concerned about,” Malachi said.

Owens obviously disagrees.

“The president is in the White House because of the Civil Rights Movement and I was a leader in that movement and I didn’t march one inch, one foot or one yard for a man to marry a man and a woman to marry a woman,” Owens said at a press conference in August at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Noted civil rights leaders active in Nashville at the time Owens claims he served do not remember him.

Mother Jones reported that civil rights icon Rev. C.T. Vivian didn’t remember Owens participating. Nor did Rev. James Lawson, a key leader in Nashville, and nor did John Lewis, a student leader in the Nashville sit-in movement and now a U.S. congressman.

“William Owens is operating outside of the transparency and the openness of Martin Luther King, Jr.” Lawson told Mother Jones. “If he was in Nashville during part of the time I was there, he was not paying attention to my teachings. My teachings were not about practicing social or cultural discrimination against anybody.”

As groups such as NOM attempt to use Owens as a “wedge” in the Black community, many doubt the strategy will work.

“(Blacks) are just as concerned about the economy, we’re just as concerned about jobs, we’re just as concerned about national security,” said Leslie Watson Malachi of People for the American Way. “When we look at a candidate who is running for public office, we look at the totality of where that candidate stands.”

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