Traditional family values are under assault from many sides, a crowd at Havre's Town Square was warned Friday night.
But if people who support traditional values fight vigorously but with civility, they will succeed, said Jeff Laszloffy, the president of the Montana Family Foundation, a group that works closely with national lobbyist Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family.
The Helena-based Family Foundation lobbies the state Legislature. Laszloffy was speaker pro-tem of the state House when Republicans dominated the legislature.
Laszloffy, addressing a crowd sitting on lawn chairs and sipping on root beer floats, warned against the "homosexual agenda," court rulings in favor of assisted suicide, the proposed Helena sex education program and the effort to bar Christian prayers at Montana State University-Northern's graduation.
Laszloffy was especially concerned about the "homosexual agenda," which he said has been embraced by the Montana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU recently filed suit to guarantee same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, short of marriage. An amendment to the Montana constitution, passed by voters in 2004, prohibits gay marriage.
But if the courts rule in favor of the ACLU in this case, the next step will be a lawsuit demanding same-sex marriages, Laszloffy warned.
Despite his strong disagreements with the ACLU on gay rights and other issues, he said it was important that civil dialogue take place. He said he and the president of the Montana ACLU frequently have dinner together, seeking to find common ground.
"Do you know what we agree with the ACLU on?" he said. "Absolutely nothing. But we continue to talk."
He recalled that during the 2004 campaign, he and the ACLU held debates around the state. The last one was held in the liberal bastion of Missoula at University of Montana Law School and was sponsored by the ACLU.
"I didn"t feel a lot of love in that room," he said, laughing.
He said that at the end of the debate, a lesbian came up to him and said "I don't agree with a single thing you said, but thank you for not hating us."
"We must not hate them," he said.
He was critical of the Helena school board, which is proposing a sex education program he said would be harmful for children.
The program, he said, will begin in kindergarten and by first grade will be teaching "the homosexual agenda."
"By fifth grade, they will be teaching things that I could not talk about on Fox News," he said.
The sex education program was discussed in closed-door school board meetings for two years in violation of Montana's Open Meetings Law, he said.
He said he talked to educational experts in New York City and San Francisco who were appalled at the proposals.
"What are you doing in Helena, Montana?" he said they asked.
Helena parents have shown up at school board meetings en masse to protest the plan, and four of the nine school board members now oppose the proposal.
He said supporters of the sex education program have unsuccessfully pressured the state legislature for the last two sessions.
"Now they are going to go district to district," he said.
He told the crowd to call Havre school board members to make sure they are not considering a similar proposal.
The Family Foundation does not endorse candidates, though it does offer rating for lawmakers, based on their support for "family values" Laszloffy said.
Republicans generally rate better than Democrats on the list. Rep.Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, who was at Friday's session, has a 100 percent rating, while House Speaker Bob Bergren, D-Havre, got a 0 percent rating. State Sen, Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, got an 83 rating for his voting record.
Friday's session was billed as nonpartisan, but Rowlie Hutton, a Republican who is challenging Bergren for a state Senate seat, hosted the session, and Kris Hansen, a Republican who is seeking a state House seat, introduced Laszloffy, a longtime friend.
Laszloffy asked the audience to give Pastor Tim Zerger a round of applause for reciting a prayer at MSU-N's graduation that evoked the ire of professors who sought the ACLU's help.
Because the community rallied behind Zerger, the ACLU backed down, he said.