One of The Freedom Writer's new features is our Activist Profile. Each month we will profile individuals who, at great sacrifice, promote the democratic ideals of diversity, dissent and debate. If you know someone worthy of attention out on the front lines, please write and tell us. For our first profile, we are pleased to present Julie Schollenberger and , the founders and directors of the Institute for the Study of the Religious Right (ISRR).
Julie Schollenberger, 38, a Los Angeles native, attended Roman Catholic schools, has a master's degree in communications disorders, and a law degree from UCLA. Formerly a speech pathologist, Julie currently practices health care law.
In 1989, Operation Rescue (OR) turned its guns, so to speak, on Los Angeles. Julie became a coordinator of the Clinic Defense Alliance of Los Angeles, a project of the Feminist Majority Foundation. For a full year, she and many others defended clinics on a monthly basis. After the first year, the assault let up a bit.
In an effort to learn more about Operation Rescue, Julie attended OR rallies. It became increasingly clear that OR's agenda included much more than outlawing abortion. "Listening to the sermons of OR leaders was a real eye-opener," Julie said.
She realized that research was needed to focus broader attention on the whole Religious Right movement. After three years of clinic defense, Julie would decide that she had done all she could for clinic defense, and that her skills could be better utilized elsewhere.
One night, after giving a talk, Julie was approached by . Paula, 39, explained that, as a former fundamentalist Christian, she understood the mindset of the Religious Right. Also, her partner, Lisa, worked for Planned Parenthood, an organization she strongly supported.
Paula became a born again Christian in 1971 through the Jesus People movement while in high school in Pennsylvania. Soon she found herself being "discipled" in Bob Mumford's "shepherding movement."
Later, Paula attended Messiah College, in Grantham, Pennsylvania, just outside of Harrisburg. Attending a Christian school with solid roots in social justice caused Paula to see that fundamentalism is only part of the big picture — all Christians weren't wild-eyed Bible thumpers.
Eventually, Paula tired of "trying to pray every day, and of feeling guilty about everything." In a gradual process, she broke away from Christianity. "It was rough," she said, but is glad she did it.
After meeting Julie, Paula was willing to do anything she could to help. The two devised a plan to infiltrate Operation Rescue. Paula, knowing the mindset and the language, was a natural. With a good cover story, she began attending OR mustering sites and joined OR caravans going to clinics they were attempting to shut down.
"It took almost a year before they invited me to a core group meeting," she said. After becoming fully accepted, Paula stayed with OR for two-and-a-half years. In 1992, she traveled with OR to Houston. For two weeks she was part of OR's videography team.
All the time Paula was with OR she secretly kept in touch with Julie. On a regular basis she related OR's plans and strategies, so the defense team could stay ahead of OR. She also produced personality profiles of OR leaders.
"Had we not had Paula infiltrating OR, they would have been active here much longer," Julie said. "Our victories demoralized OR time after time. We couldn't have done it without Paula."
"Well, it was really a team effort," Paula interjected.
In 1992, Julie and Paula began planning a long term effort to challenge the Radical Religious Right. In 1993, they incorporated the Institute for the Study of the Religious Right as a non-profit, 501(c)(3) educational and research organization. Educating the activist community and the media is a primary purpose of ISRR.
One of the problems Julie and Paula see comes not from the Radical Right, but from the progressive funding community on the left. "What we do is so behind the scenes," Julie said, "It isn't sexy in the media." They contend that funders "are typically excited about something that gets a great deal of media exposure, but behind the scenes research is critical for activism."
Because first hand sources are so important for good research about the Religious Right, ISRR collects a vast amount of original material from groups they monitor. Besides being on many mailing lists, they take great effort in attending Religious Right conferences and meetings all over the United States.
Over the past year, ISRR and the Institute for First Amendment Studies have formed a close working relationship. The two groups work together on special projects.
Currently, ISRR is working with progressive and multicultural groups in Southern California in order to build a cohesive community. This endeavor has brought ISRR in contact with a number of religious groups. "The religious left should be organized as effectively as the Religious Right," Julie said.
"One problem is," according to Julie, "that we don't`have a Martin Luther King today. No one has that charisma, or is making that sacrifice."
One of the objectives of ISRR is to provide the level of long-term information which the progressive community has got to have for defeating the Religious Right's agenda. "We are laying the ground work that will be necessary for many, many years," Julie said. "To keep up the fight we have to emulate the Religious Right's endurance."
While Julie and Paula are convinced that the historical pendulum will eventually shift back, they hope it doesn't swing too far to the right first. "We have to step in before it goes too far right," Paula said.
ISRR receives some funding from progressive foundations, individual donors, and membership fees. ISRR members receive a subscription to The Freedom Writer under the group membership plan.
Julie and Paula believe that those who want to counter the Radical Religious Right should tie into organizations that are doing this kind of work already. "Don't reinvent the wheel," Julie commented, "join good groups and help them."
"And don't try to start a group as a way to make money!" she quipped.