The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, formed by auto parts manufacturer Edgar Prince and his wife Elsa Prince (now Elsa Prince-Broekhuizen), is a major financial backer of the religious right in West Michigan and at the national level. While locally the Ada, Michigan based DeVos family and their foundations are more well-known, the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation has been bankrolling the religious right for years. Formed with money from Edgar Prince’s Holland, Michigan based company Prince Automotive, the Foundation has supported a variety of religious right entities according to a review of grant data performed by Media Mouse for the years 2003 to 2005, as well as research Media Mouse has done into the Foundation’s giving over the past decade. In the corporate media, the Prince family’s philanthropy has primarily been described as being civic-minded and targeted towards the improvement of the Holland community, despite the fact that a thorough examination of the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation’s grants show that the family has also used a considerable portion of its money to support its ideological and political goals.
The Foundation was formed by Edgar and his wife Elsa, both of whom have been major involved in the religious right in an organizing capacity beyond just giving money. Edgar Prince was heavily involved in the Family Research Council and was a board member of the organization at the time of his death in 1995. Edgar Prince and his family’s foundation played an important role in the formation of the organization, with the Prince family providing much of the seed money needed to start the organization in 1988 and later serving as a founding board member when the organization became independent of Focus on the Family in 1992. Elsa Prince is currently on the board of the organization, and because of the large amount of money given to the organization by the Prince family, the Family Research Council runs its mail order operations out of a building in Holland. When Edgar Prince died in 1995, he was eulogized by Gary Bauer, who praised Prince’s Christian ethic and his dedication to the religious right movement. The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation has also been a major supporter of Focus on the Family, supporting the organization with a $5 million contribution to the organization’s “Welcome Center” at its headquarters while also giving it ongoing support over the years. Elsa Prince is on the board of Focus on the Family and Edgar and Elsa have both served as leaders in the Council for National Policy, a secretive organization linking religious right organizers and financial benefactors for the purpose of coordinating activity. Elsa also serves as a trustee at Grand Rapids’ Calvin College and in 2004 was the top individual contributor to the anti-gay marriage initiative in Michigan.
The family’s children–Emilie, Betsy, Eileen, and Erik–have are also active in the religious right, with all of them joining their mother as directors of the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation. Of the children, Betsy and Erik have been particularly active in the religious right, with Betsy Prince marrying Dick DeVos and financially supporting the religious right through their Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation and becoming nationally known activist in the Republican Party and within the religious right, while Erik Prince formed the private mercenary army Blackwater with the assistance of his family’s fortune and political connections. Elsa Prince also remarried in 2000, marrying Ren Broekhuizen, a retired pastor at Holland’s Ridge Point Community Church. Broekhuizen has his own roots in the religious right and has served on the board of the Grand Rapids, Michigan based Acton Institute and as a trustee at the Russian-American Christian University.
When reviewing the grants awarded by the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, one sees a foundation that has given to a wide array of organizations making up the religious right and has supported the multi-faceted approach used by the religious right. That organizing approach has consisted of grassroots organizing, political action, legal action, and support for evangelical ministries. The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, as mentioned earlier, has been a major supporter of the Family Research Council. In 2003 and 2004, the Foundation gave the Family Research Council a little over a million dollars. The Family Research Council has become one of the leading religious right organizations, and has been active in organizing against gay rights and gay marriage and has promoted state-sponsored prayer, vouchers for religious schools, and abstinence -only education. Between 2003 and 2005, the Foundation also gave a little over a million dollars to Focus on the Family, another major organization in the anti-gay movement and the religious right. Michigan’s Focus on the Family affiliate, the Michigan Family Forum, received $50,000 from the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation from 2004 to 2005, while their daughter, Emilie Wierda, sat on the board. The foundation gave $5,000 in 2005 to the California Family Council, a religious right organization in California working to “protect and foster Judeo-Christian principles in California’s laws” as an associate organization with Focus on the Family. The California Family Council’s three “foundation pillars” include opposition to abortion rights through the “protection of the unborn,” opposition to gay marriage through its “plan for marriage” that sees marriage between a man and a woman as the “building block of a stable society,” and the “authority of parents” to allow parents to raise children according to their worldview. Support for the anti-gay movement was also given through $25,000 in contributions to the Free Congress Federation, a major organization in the New Right of the 1970s and a leader in the development of using anti-gay initiatives as a tool to build political power and infrastructure. The Focus on the Family-linked National Day of Prayer Taskforce, headed by James Dobson’s wife Shirley, received $60,000 from the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation from 2003 to 2005. The Foundation has also supported organizations that have promoted a patriarchal view of women and marriage, including the Promise Keepers who received $55,000 from 2003 to 2005, Concerned Women of America who received $3,000, and the Eagle Forum, while the media monitoring Media Research Center received $1,000 in 2005.
The Foundation has also supported the local and Michigan religious right. Aside from the previously mentioned Michigan Family Forum, the Foundation has supported Grand Rapids’ Dove Foundation which works to promote “family-friendly” Christian entertainment with $35,000 and the similar American Decency Association that has organized at the state and national level to oppose “indecency” in popular culture. The Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute, a think-tank seeking a religious justification for free-market capitalism, received over $300,000 from the Foundation. Compass Arts, an organization that trains film students by having them produce advertisements for Christian organizations–including anti-abortion organizations–received $10,000 in 2004. Gospel Communications International, an evangelical organization on which Edgar Prince was a former board member, received $1.25 million from 2003 to 2005. Life International, an anti-abortion organization based in Grand Rapids but organizing to stop abortion outside of the United States, received $30,000. Grand Rapids’ Education Freedom Foundation, on whose board Edgar and Elsa Prince’s daughter Betsy DeVos serves, received over $200,000.
In addition to supporting the organizations detailed above, many of which provide the grassroots and organizing arm of the religious right, the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation funds organizations that work to train the leaders of the grassroots religious right. The Foundation has given $15,000 to the Leadership Institute, an organization that has trained more than 40,000 youth in the past twenty years to become effective organizers and activists. A similar organization in Michigan, the Student Statesmanship Institute, received $3,000. The Foundation gave $20,000 to Campus Crusade for Christ, an organization that has a presence on over a thousand different college campuses around the world where it defends “family values” and attacks “secular humanism.” The organization advocates a Christian government and openly organizes to “Christianize America.” Another evangelical campus organization, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has received $95,000 from the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation.
While the aforementioned organizations oppose abortion, the Foundation has also given to organizations that organize specifically to oppose abortion. Right to Life Michigan’s Educational Foundation received $40,000, while the National Right to Life Committee received $3,000. Organizations offering services to pregnant women from a Christian and anti-abortion perspective have also been funded. The Pregnancy Resource Center in Grand Rapids has received $35,000 and a similar organization in Lansing, Pregnancy Services of Greater Lansing, received $10,000. The Holland-based Lakeshore Pregnancy Center received $25,000 from the Foundation. Studies have shown that such centers often place ideology and theology above medical science, with a study by Representative Henry Waxman showing that 87% of the centers studied provided false or misleading information about abortion.
The Foundation has also provided support to the legal arm of the religious right, which has been using the courts to challenge the separation of state for the past thirty-five years. In addition to working to break down the barriers separating church and state, the religious right’s legal apparatus has defended the gains of the movement in the courts. The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation gave $105,000 to the Alliance Defense Fund, one of the major organizations taking on this role in the religious right. The Alliance Defense Fund works in three major areas–“guarding the sanctity of human life,” “the protection of family values,” and “defending religious freedom.” In practical terms, this has meant attacking abortion rights through the courts and defending anti-abortion protestors, working to prevent same-sex marriage, and filing lawsuits to prevent the removal of religious symbols from government buildings. The Foundation has also provided $75,000 to the Rutherford Institute, an organization that has sought to advance the religious right’s ideology through the courts. The Rutherford Institute has been associated with the Christian Reconstructionist movement, which has sought to replace the law and government with principles from the Bible. Judicial Watch, a right-wing legal organization most well-known for filing a barrage of lawsuits against President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, received $1,000 from the Foundation. The American Civil Rights Union, an organization that started as a conservative counter to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), received $500. In addition to having its own legal agenda, the American Civil Rights Union acts as a “watchdog” of the ACLU and regularly issues updates on what it calls “ACLU Outrages.” The Edgar and Elsa Prince also provided a nominal amount of money to the National Right to Work Foundation, an organization that files lawsuits to protect workers’ “right” not to join unions. Perhaps not surprisingly, much of its funding comes from foundations operated by wealthy businessmen.
Educational entities, ranging from colleges to Christian schools, have been heavily funded by the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation. The Calvin Theological Seminary, where Elsa Prince is a trustee and where her current husband Ren Broekhuizen is an alumnus, received $800,000. The Russian-American Christian University, where Broekhuizen is a trustee, received more than $1.3 million from the Foundation. Hope College, where the Prince’s daughter Emilie Wierda has been a trustee, received $1.25 million from the Foundation. Christian schools have also been extensively supported by the Foundation, with Holland Christian Schools receiving $202,500, Ada Christian School receiving $255,000, and Potter’s House in Grand Rapids receiving $359,500. Christian schools around the country have been supported by the Foundation, most notably Rehoboth Christian School in New Mexico, which has received $550,000 from the Foundation.
In addition to the organizations detailed above, the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation has also provided considerable support to evangelical Christian organizations seeking to spread Christianity around the world. Beyond the $1.25 million given to Gospel Communications International on whose board Edgar Prince was a member, the Foundation has given over $2.5 million to the Haggai Institute on whose board Emilie Wierda sits. The Foundation has supported a range of missionary organizations around the world, all of which are detailed in Media Mouse’s list of grants awarded by the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation. The Foundation has also supported evangelical organizations working within the United States prison system, including Watergate felon Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries ($130,000) and the Grand Rapids-based Crossroads Bible Institute ($20,000).
Perhaps most surprising of all, the Foundation has supported a variety of organizations concerned with United States foreign policy or the military. The Livonia, Michigan-based Center for Military Readiness received $5,000 from the group from 2004 to 2005. It advocates for a “stronger” military, responding to what it sees as an attack on the military by radical feminists and gay rights activists. Its board contains many prominent conservatives and religious right activists including David Horowitz, Linda Chavez, Beverly Lahaye, and Phyllis Schafly. The Foundation also supported the Citizens United Foundation with a $2,500 grant in 2003. The Citizens United Foundation supports a United States withdrawal from the United Nations and a rejection of the International Criminal Court, arguing that they are inconsistent with “the traditional American values of limited government, freedom of enterprise, strong families, and national sovereignty and security.” Oliver North’s Freedom Alliance, an entity that “supports” the military also received $1,500. The Foundation gave $15,000 to the Institute for World Politics a graduate school in Washington DC offering training in “statecraft” by examining diplomacy, military strategy, the formation of opinion, and other such topics taught by former government officials from the Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, and other such agencies as well as private institutions such as the American Enterprise Institute. Like the American Enterprise Institute, the Institute for World Politics promotes a foreign policy in line with that of the Bush administration–a policy that has functioned to help Blackwater–run by Edgar and Elsa Prince’s son Erik–earn government contracts and to increase the family’s fortune. Additionally, the Foundation has funded International Aid in Spring Lake ($75,000), a Christian relief organization that in the 1980s was connected to the support of paramilitaries in Central America.