WASHINGTON – Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) canceled his hosting of a symposium by The Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society at the Senate's Dirksen building last Friday after hearing complaints from gay and pro-gay rights groups.
The symposium, "Family Policy Lessons from Other Lands: What Should America Learn?" was supposed to take place Nov. 15 at the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Rooms in the building are commonly reserved for groups to hold similar events. A senator must host the events to reserve a room.
The Howard Center is based in Rockford, Ill., so the organization asked its home state senator, Kirk, to host the event. The senator agreed. A number of gay rights groups called the senators office, though, demanding that he revoke the invitation. The day before the event, Kirk revoked the group's invitation.
The Howard Center was still able to hold the event. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) agreed to provide a room in one of the House buildings. One of the speakers, though, was late due to the confusion over the room change.
Concerned Women for America called Kirk's office to find out why the invitation was canceled. A staffer answered, "Sen. Kirk doesn't affiliate with groups that discriminate."
Dr. Allan Carlson, president of The Howard Center, opened the event by noting the incident and complained about the groups seeking to silence the symposium.
"A great fear seems to be descending on what has been called the world's greatest deliberative body," he said. "In the domain of the Senate, it appears, ideas are being suppressed, debate is being shut off, blinds are being closed."
Carlson also noted that his academic training is in modern European history, and recent events such as that one reminded him of the rise of fascism in the 20th century.
"The parallel I see here is what happened in Italy, Germany and other lands in the 1920's and 1930's, as fascism began to impose its fear-driven grip on debate, on conversation and on policy-making," he said.
Another one of the speakers, Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, sarcastically joked that he wanted to "congratulate Human Rights Campaign and the LGBT folks for winning the book burning award for this year in blocking us from meeting ... and the co-recipient is, of course, Senator Kirk."
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, senior fellow of Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute, was also a speaker at the event. In a Tuesday press release, she complained that Kirk was responsive to a small but vocal group that wanted to silence dissenting views.
"Does Sen. Kirk really want to appear to be a political puppet in the hands of a small group of radical LGBT activists who want to silence all dissent and demand that those with religious convictions be denied free speech and religious liberty rights - and, within the halls of the 'freest nation in the world's' capitol buildings?
"All too often when the LGBT activists say jump, public officials like Sen. Kirk immediately jump. Sen. Kirk represents all the people of Illinois, and all the people of Illinois have a right to the use of Capitol Hill facilities, as well as the right to express their views. It is not the Senator's house, nor is it the sole province of LGBT radicals. Scholarly interaction and intellectual discussion are respected traditions in America. Actions like Sen. Kirk's threaten free speech and religious liberty; indeed, such decisions undermine basic human rights."
Concerned Women for America's nearly 10,000 Illinois members have been calling Kirk's office all week to complain.