Focus on the Family announced major layoffs to its
Colorado Springs-based ministry and media empire yesterday, totaling 202 jobs cut companywide. The cutbacks
come just weeks after the group pumped more than half a million dollars
into the successful effort to pass a gay-marriage ban in California. Initial reports bring the total number of remaining employees to around 950.
Critics are holding up the layoffs, which come just two months after
the organization’s last round of dismissals, as a sad commentary on the
true priorities of the ministry.
"If I were their membership I would be appalled," said Mark Lewis, a
longtime Colorado Springs activist who helped organize a Proposition 8
protest in Colorado Springs on Saturday. "That [Focus on the Family]
would spend any money on anything that’s obviously going to get blocked
in the courts is just sad. [Prop. 8] is guaranteed to lose, in the long
run it doesn’t have a chance – it’s just a waste of money."
In all, Focus pumped $539,000 in cash and another $83,000 worth of
non-monetary support into the measure to overturn a California Supreme
Court ruling that allowed gays and lesbians to marry in that state. The
group was the seventh-largest donor to the effort in the country. The
cash contributions are equal to the salaries of 19 Coloradans earning
the 2008 per capita income of $29,133.
In addition Elsa Prince, the auto parts heiress
and longtime funder of conservative social causes who sits on the Focus
on the Family board, contributed another $450,000 to Prop. 8.
"They should do more with their half-million dollars than spending
it to collect signatures to take the rights away from a class of
people," said Fred Karger, the founder of the anti-Prop 8 group Californians Against Hate. "I think it’s wrong and it’s hurtful to so many Americans."
In addition to promoting socially conservative issues such
opposition to abortion and gay rights, and supporting abstinence-only
education, the evangelical Christian ministry is a purveyor of
Christian books, CDs and DVDs. Two months ago, citing Wal-Mart and
online retailers as having cut into its product market, Focus announced that 46 employees would be laid off
from its distribution department. Late Friday, Focus spokesman Gary
Schneeberger confirmed that more layoffs are in store, but said the
ministry will not release details until Monday afternoon. Schneeberger
hinted that some programs may be eliminated entirely, but declined to
"We’re going to need to talk to our own family first," he said. "We need to respect the people who are affected."
Schneeberger also refused to discuss the funding priorities that
Focus made this fall, including pumping money and in-kind contributions
into Proposition 8.
This is the third year that Focus has laid off employees due to
budget cuts. In its heyday, the ministry, which relocated to Colorado
Springs from Arcadia, Calif., in 1991, employed more than 1,500 people.
Many of those employees worked in mailroom and line assembly jobs,
processing so much incoming and outgoing correspondences that the U.S.
Postal Service gave Focus its own ZIP code.
In September 2005, nearly 80 employees were reassigned
or laid off in an effort to trim millions of dollars from its 2006
budget. In addition, 83 open positions were not filled in the layoff,
which included eliminating some of the ministry’s programs. At the
time, Focus employed 1,342 full-time employees.
"To the extent that we can place them within the ministry, we will
try to do that," said then-spokesman Paul Hetrick. "Most of them will
not be able to be placed."
In September 2007, amid a reported $8 million in budget shortfalls, Focus on the Family laid off another 30 employees;
15 more were reassigned within the company. Most of the layoffs were
from Focus’ constituent response services department (i.e. the
At the time, Schneeberger, who had replaced Hetrick, said that
giving was actually up by $1 million during the fiscal year. However, a
very "aggressive" budget goal of $150 million did not materialize.
In a statement issued this September, marking the end of the ministry’s fiscal year, Chief Operating Officer Glenn Williams weighed in on the additional layoffs of 46 people.
"It is certainly heartbreaking that in this case fulfilling that
duty means having to say goodbye to some members of our Focus family,
but industry realities really leave us no alternative," he note in his
statement. "We are accountable to our donors to spend their money in
the most cost-effective and productive manner possible."
But Lewis, the Colorado Springs activist, wonders whether the
families who donate to the nonprofit ministry, realize where their
funds really end up.
"Seriously, I would imagine their supporters have got to be asking
the question about whether their church is really practicing their
For Lewis, who is straight, the issue boils down to the significance
of targeting a class of citizens for exclusion, at the expense of the
families that the ministry could be helping – in this case their own
Lewis likened Proposition 8 to Colorado’s Amendment 2, the 1992
anti-gay measure that was designed to prohibit gays and lesbians from
seeking legal protections. Colorado voters approved the measure, which
was marketed by proponents, including Focus on the Family, as an effort
to prohibit gays and lesbians from seeking "special rights." The U.S.
Supreme Court stuck down the measure as unconstitutional four years
"You can’t make homosexuals second class citizens – we’ve learned
that already," Lewis said. "People will look back on this and see how
absurd it is."
Days before this year’s election, Focus founder James Dobson
appeared at a closing rally at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego to rally
the anti-gay troops.
Karger of Californians Against Hate, termed the rally a "big bust."
Organizers promised that more than 70,000 supporters would show up; the
final tally was close to 10,000, he said.
Yet three days later, California voters approved the measure with 52
percent of the vote. While the measure will certainly head back to
court, California has become the 31st state in the country to pass
measures that define marriage as being between a man and woman only. In
all, Proposition 8 has proven to be the most expensive social issue in
the country, with more than $73 million pumped into the cause from both
sides. One of the larger contributors to the anti-Prop. 8 efforts was
Colorado gay philanthropist Tim Gill, who contributed $720,000 to
oppose the measure.
"I’m very disturbed by organizations from out of state like Focus on
the Family," Karger said. "They came in early to make sure the measure
got on ballot; they’ve got muscle and they are out to hurt a lot of
people and destroy a lot of lives."