Freedom Writer - September 1995
_Julie_Schollenberger_and_Paula_PileckiInstitute for the Study of
the Religious Right_
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 Paula Pilecki, 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 Pilecki.
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
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
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.
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