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the Body Politic
Vol. 4, No. 5 - May 1994, Page 3
Copyright © 1994, 1997 by the Body Politic Inc.

Did Operation Rescue Flower From Branch Ministries? -- Part I

by Anne Bower

Since the late 1980s, Operation Rescue has slunk across the nation harassing and terrorizing women and their health care providers. Many questions have been raised about Operation Rescue and its founder, Randall Terry. Where did he come from? How did this begin? Where does the money come from? After months of document research, the Body Politic magazine has uncovered associations between Randall Terry, Branch Ministries, Inc., the Church at Pierce Creek, and its Pastor, Daniel J. Little, and a florist shop. These associations may shed some light on the "flowering" of Operation Rescue.

Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue (as he never tires of reminding everyone), loves the limelight. Over the past half dozen years he has been interviewed by nearly everyone, except Barbara Walters. Much of this media investigation has attempted to get a handle on Mr. Terry -- who he is, and the genesis of Operation Rescue.

The story about the teen rebel who loved the rock group Kiss, dropped out of school and eventually found Jesus, has been told. After finding God, Mr. Terry enrolled in Elim Bible Institute, graduating in 1981. He chose not to be an ordained minister. Soon after, he married Cindy Dean from Owego, NY, and after trying his hand at numerous jobs, made his way to Binghamton, NY. By 1983 he was working as a lay-minister in the Church at Pierce Creek, Daniel J. Little, Pastor.

For a few years, Mr. Terry tried his hand at various jobs, including selling tires and automobiles, but with little success. Fortunately, the first free-standing abortion clinic opened in Binghamton, wife Cindy began protesting, Mr. Terry found his calling, and Operation Rescue was born. What influences and associations attended this birth?

Seeds Are Planted

Document research suggests the roots of this story, go back as far as 1966, when a Mr. P. incorporated a florist business in Vestal, NY -- which is a pleasant suburb of Binghamton. Three years later, Mr. P. took a mortgage on a piece of property on Front St. in Vestal, just down the road from his retail florist business. Included on the deed of the Vestal property, was his grown daughter, Judith, and son-in- law, Daniel J. Little, currently, Pastor of the Church at Pierce Creek. (It was this church that sponsored the USA Today advertisement claiming that voting for Bill Clinton was a "sin against God".) Eventually the Vestal property would become the site of the Littles' wholesale florist business.

By 1975, Mr. P. gave the Littles the Front St. property. They now had their own little flower shop.

Seeds Sprout

In January 1981, Mr. P., son-in-law Daniel and a Mr. H., filed a Certificate of Incorporation for Branch Ministries, Inc., a religious not-for-profit, "organized to conduct religious worship, religious education, charitable activities, and having the power to distribute to organizations that qualify as exempt under the U.S. tax code." The principle office of Branch Ministries was listed as the residence of Daniel and Judith Little. The Little's house had sprouted a little non-profit.

Two years after the incorporation of Branch Ministries, Randall Terry was working as lay-minister at Pastor Little's church. Three months after Mr. Terry became associated with the Church at Pierce Creek, Pastor Little's church deeded land to Branch Ministries. Seventeen months later, in Oct 1984, Branch Ministries used that land to secure a $62,000 loan from a local bank, giving them a tidy sum of operating capital.

Shoots Form

Fall of 1984 found Randall Terry with a small cadre of disciples, faithfully stalking Southern Tier Women's Services (STWS) each week. Some of those original followers were from Pastor Little's congregation. In November of 1984, Mr. Terry broke into the waiting room at STWS, frightening patients and roughing up one of the nurses. When the police arrived, they showed a casual attitude to the incident, prompting STWS to call a meeting of the local pro-choice community asking for escorts. The community responded.

The time between Fall 1984 and 1985 was busy for Mr. Terry and Branch Ministries. Project Life, a division of Branch Ministries, sprouted, possibly as a result of the Terrys' activism. In the beginning, the prime focus of Project Life was the operation of the Crisis Pregnancy Center, an anti-abortion counseling office operating two blocks away from STWS. (Ten years later, the CPC is still at the same location.)

In the beginning, Project Life enjoyed the support of the local right- to-life community. Women who chose to continue their pregnancy after going to the CPC were helped with clothes and food, often donated by right-to-life adherents. Mr. Terry was kept busy heading up Project Life while engaged in "sidewalk counseling" and organizing other actions, such as picketing of a local hospital which performed abortions.

On January 6, 1986, Mr. Terry's activism took a more militant turn. STWS was invaded. Mr. Terry and a few of his followers broke into STWS in the morning before patients arrived and chained themselves to the plumbing in one of the procedure rooms. The modus operandi for Operation Rescue had been established.

The next month, the February issue of the Project Life newsletter contained an article by Mr. Terry about his "sit-in". This issue also featured an article by Daniel Little, identified as Pastor of the Church at Pierce Creek and President of Branch Ministries. The article was entitled Higher Laws: A Christian Perspective On Civil Disobedience. With this treatise, Mr. Terry's pastor had penned what might be seen as the moral and religious justification for Operation Rescue's eventual actions. (It should be noted that the Project Life newsletter had a non-profit mailing permit stating that Project Life is a "division" of Branch Ministries with a mailing address that would eventually be used by Operation Rescue to solicit donations. Operation Rescue was never incorporated as a not-for-profit.)

That same February newsletter also reported on a visit to Binghamton by Chicago activist Joseph Scheidler, head of the Pro-Life Action League and author of Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion, the bible of direct action. There is every reason to suspect that from these associations of the Catholic and Fundamentalist activists, Operation Rescue sprouted -- conceived as it were, by the Trinity of Randall Terry, Daniel Little, and Joseph Scheidler. From Branch Ministries, the not-for-profit religious corporation, had come Project Life, the Crisis Pregnancy Center, and possibly, Operation Rescue.

Not content with all this activism, Pastor Little and Branch Ministries were attempting to launch yet another project -- the House of Life. This was to be a home for unwed mothers run by Mr. Terry who was listed in the local paper as a Director of Branch Ministries. (That project was aborted by the zoning board in Kirkwood, NY, who refused to grant permission for the project.) The House of Life was stillborn.

The next month, perhaps in a fit of pique over denial of their appeal for the House of Life, the Church at Pierce Creek took out their first newspaper ad--this one in the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin. It was a full page spread titled, A Declaration of Support from The Church at Pierce Creek which basically re-stated Pastor Little's position that men are directed by God to obey Higher Laws. The ad read in part,

Our Supreme Court has made a fatal error in their now infamous Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. History vividly attests that those who allow such crime, and/or those who take part in such crimes, do not go unpunished. Men and nations reap what they sow.

There are higher laws than men; laws by which all men are governed whether they know it or not; whether they like it or not

This ad contained the actual signatures of many members of the church, including Randy and Cindy Terry, and some of his earliest clinic disciples: a woman who just recently cashed a Terry donation check, the man who would give the Terrys a mortgage on their first home, (see Cindy Terry: Real Estate Queen in this issue), the bank employee who loaned him $7,000 for his used car dealership and another friend, also an investor in used cars. Obviously, Pastor Little and his congregation were providing a wide range of support for all the Terry ventures.

Next month we explore more adventures of Randall Terry, Pastor Little, Branch Ministries and the Little Shop of Flowers.

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