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Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2006 07:23 pm

Holy hyperbole, Family Man!

Psychologist sues Springfield and becomes conservative-Christian cause

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I work for a newspaper that has a circulation of 30,000. I have three co-workers on the editorial side, two so young, I could be their mother. Our “newsroom” is a basement. The “view” from my window is the backside of a Dumpster.

I’m not bewailing these conditions. The kids I work with are supercool, our underground cubicles blissfully quiet. But these humble surroundings make it difficult to fathom that I have anything remotely approaching the kind of power conservative Christian pundit Peter LaBarbera ascribes to me.

“I think you started a new McCarthyism!” he says, the moment we connect on the telephone.

He’s referring to the first column I wrote for Illinois Times — a 750-word missive about Dr. Michael Campion. Campion is the psychologist whose Champaign-based firm — Campion, Barrow & Associates — screened all of Springfield’s police and firefighter candidates for the past 15 years.

In my column [“Partial disclosure” Aug. 19, 2004], I revealed that Campion was on the board of directors for the Illinois Family Institute, a conservative evangelical Christian organization that opposes abortion, stem-cell research, gay marriage, “deviant sex,” gambling — you get the drift. When I contacted Campion back in 2004 to ask him why he never mentioned the IFI on his curriculum vitae — the credentials he presents to municipalities considering whether to hire him to help choose cops and firefighters — he wasn’t happy to hear that I planned to publicize his Christian connection. He has refused to talk to me or other reporters ever since.

Instead, he lets activists such as LaBarbera (former executive director of the IFI) crusade on his behalf, appearing on Christian-radio broadcasts, posting online bulletins, and bantering with reporters.

Last week the IFI published an article on the Christian Newswire claiming that Campion had been “fired” by the city of Springfield after a “liberal newspaper” (that’s us) reported his ties to the IFI. In that paragraph alone, Christian Newswire offered its readers two mistakes for the price of one. Not only did it misquote me as describing IFI as “anti-choice and anti-gay” (it’s actually anti-a-lot-of-other-things, too), but it mischaracterized the conclusion of Campion’s professional association with our city. Springfield didn’t fire the psychologist; CBA’s contract simply expired, and the City Council didn’t vote to renew it.

The main point of the Christian Newswire piece, however, was to blame the city of Springfield for Campion’s recent travails in Minnesota, where Campion was beginning to do psychological evaluations for the Minneapolis Police Department. A newsweekly called City Pages (LaBarbera would probably describe it as a “liberal rag”) published a story about a man who flunked Campion’s psych evaluation — a man who already had 16 years of law-enforcement experience with agencies in Fairfax County, Va., and Washington, D.C.

The City Pages article emphasized that MPD was trying to increase minority hiring, and the mysteriously disqualified candidate was black.

That story rang a bell with me. The reason I had gotten curious about Campion years ago was because he had flunked the candidate who was ranked No. 3 after the Springfield Fire Department’s 2001 written exam. That No. 3 candidate was also African-American. Why does that matter? It matters because out of 215 SFD firefighters, only two — two! — are black.

Just out of curiosity, I asked LaBarbera how many African-Americans have ever served on the IFI board. “I believe there has been one,” he says, though he can’t recall for sure. “We’d love to have an African-American board member, though! Please don’t make this a racial thing.”

OK, I won’t. Let’s move on to the revelation that brought CBA under scrutiny in Minneapolis: a 1977 essay Campion co-authored espousing the view that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice and describing a Christian method for “curing” gays. When that document was unearthed by a member of the city’s Police Community Relations Council, MPD put Campion’s psychological-testing work on hold.

As Christian Newswire describes it, Campion was “suspended (and then cleared)” and “re-suspended” in an act of “blatant anti-Christian discrimination.”

MPD Lt. Greg Reinhardt told me Campion had never had a contract with his department and had tested candidates only on an as-needed basis. Minneapolis’s new interim police chief decided to revamp the selection process, and Reinhardt says Campion can reapply for the gig just as soon as the MPD issues a request for proposals.

“We want to make sure that we have qualified candidates and a fair, equitable, and accountable process,” Reinhardt says.

Meanwhile, Campion and his firm have filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the city of Springfield, claiming not only that CBA lost its contract here because of Campion’s religious views but also that “stigmatizing statements” Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards and Ward 2 Ald. Frank McNeil made to Illinois Times cost CBA the Minneapolis job.

It could be fun to see this case proceed to trial. I want to watch Campion’s lawyers try to prove that Edwards and McNeil are anti-family, anti-Christian, pro-homosexual activists. Yeah, sure they are — just like I’m the new Joe McCarthy.

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.

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