James Dobson All Wet after Run-In with SpongeBob Squarepants

Church & State, March 2005 | Go to article overview

James Dobson All Wet after Run-In with SpongeBob Squarepants


A certain animated sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea and wears square pants is creating quite a headache for James Dobson of Focus on the Family (FOF).

The Religious Right leader's troubles with the popular star of Cartoon Network began in late January when Dobson, speaking at an inaugural banquet hosted by the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., asked a seemingly innocuous question: "Does anyone here know SpongeBob?"

Dobson had a bone to pick with the clueless yellow sponge: As first reported in The New York Times, the religious broadcaster lit into the cartoon sponge for being a dupe of the gay-rights movement and appearing in what he called a "pro-homosexual" video.

"We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids," a spokesman for Dobson said. "It is a classic bait and switch."

The video in question was produced by a group called We Are Family Foundation. The video is a remake of the 1979 hit song "We Are Family" and features appearances by SpongeBob as well as other children's characters, including Barney, Winnie the Pooh, Bob the Builder, the Rugrats and 100 others. The foundation was set up by songwriter Nile Rodgers after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to promote the nation's healing process. The video is being made available to public and private schools nationwide this month.

Although the video makes no mention of it, the foundation web site gives children the option of taking a "tolerance pledge" expressing their willingness to avoid all forms of prejudice. The pledge included sexual identity as a form of bias to be avoided, which was enough to set Dobson off.

The tolerance pledge in question was drafted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization. It states, "Tolerance is a personal decision that comes from a belief that every person is a treasure. I believe that America's diversity is its strength. I also recognize that ignorance, insensitivity and bigotry can turn that diversity into a source of prejudice and discrimination. To help keep diversity a wellspring of strength and make America a better place for all, I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own."

Dobson's singling out of SpongeBob generated headlines nationally, and he found himself on the receiving end of a good deal of ridicule. Notoriously thin skinned, Dobson ordered his followers to bombard offending journalists with emails expressing their displeasure.

In an attempt to backpedal from Dobson's extreme comments, FOF issued a statement rephrasing its position.

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