The West Michigan religious right organization known as the American Decency Association (ADA) has launched a campaign targeting Michigan malls–including RiverTown Crossings in Grandville–according to research conducted by Media Mouse. The Fremont, Michigan-based ADA has undertaken a campaign targeting Victoria’s Secret for what it terms “indecency at the local mall” arguing that the retail chain’s window displays, in-store advertisements, and television advertisements are a “threat” to “public decency.” While the campaign does mention that Victoria’s Secret contributes to “the sexual objectification of women,” the organization is not interested in presenting a critique of Victoria’s Secret that explains how, under a system of patriarchy, the store promotes the objectification of women and contributes to the promotion of unrealistic body standards. Instead, the organization–which defines itself as deeply grounded in Christianity–targets the store for selling lingerie in “an inappropriate and immoral manner” and argues that it consequently contributes to “the desensitization of moral sensibilities.” In focusing on a “morality” critique, the American Decency Association whose mission describes its goal as educating the public about “matters of decency” and coordinating activities designed to “advance public morality consistent with biblical Christianity” is presenting a common argument on the religious right that all things sexual are “dirty.” Organizations at the national level conduct similar activities and even in West Michigan the ADA is not unique, sharing similar goals with the Dove Foundation and the Michigan Decency Action Council, two Christian organizations working to “safeguard” “morality” by campaigning against media that does not reflect what they believe is the proper Christian worldview. Like many religious right organizations, the ADA has received funding from the Holland-based Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation.
However, far from being focused only at the local level, the American Decency Association has mobilized religious right supporters around the United States and has conducted several high profile campaigns. Some of these campaigns, including those targeting Howard Stern and Abercrombie & Fitch, have received widespread media attention at the national level. The group’s primary tactic is organizing boycotts and urging members and supporters to contact specific entities or decision-makers with power in a specific campaign. As such, the group organizes letter-writing campaigns targeting the Federal Communications Commission, corporations, advertisers, and other such entity depending on the specifics of a campaign. The group holds a firm belief in the strength of boycotting by religious right Christians, and as of December 2006 has ongoing boycotts against Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret, Movie Gallery, Family Video, Walt Disney (for “allowing homosexual celebrations in its theme parks” and producing shows such as Desperate Housewives), and Yum Brands. While promoting Christian activism, the ADA also promotes a narrow biblical view, reflected by its prominently advertised partner service called American Family Online (afo.net). According to marketing materials afo.net provides “a Christian Internet filter” to protect Christians while online, the filter blocks a considerable amount of content beyond spam and spyware, including information on same-sex relationships, “antigovernment groups,” “anarchy,” “criminal skills,” “gothic/cult” lifestyles, gambling, alcohol, and drug use.
The organization is clearly positioned on the religious right, listing a number of religious right organizations including the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, and Concerned Women for America, as “ministry friends,” all of which in varying capacities promote the anti-gay and patriarchal views prominent within the religious right. Additionally, the American Decency Association frequently works with other religious right media monitoring entities including Morality in Media and the Parents Television Council. The organization’s founder–Bill Johnson–has been recognized by prominent religious right evangelical D. James Kennedy for his role in religious activism, winning an award from Kennedy’s Center for Reclaiming America for the ADA’s work in fighting indecency on the radio. Like many on the religious right, the ADA promotes the idea that Christian values are under attack from secularism, declaring in a November 2005 edition of American Decency Update that “our culture has become increasingly secular. The gospel is trampled under foot” while “people turned our [their] backs on god.” The organization uses churches as a base from which to organize and build campaigns, with the group publishing a special “bulletin insert” called American Decency Update to be inserted in church bulletins in order to encourage “Christian activism.” In addition to promoting the group’s campaigns, it also has run articles opposing abortion, bemoaning the alleged “de-gendering” of the word god, and describing the fight to preserve Christian values as “mortal combat.” Bill Johnson has described the fight for public morality as “Jesus vs. Satan.”