Don't mess with Texas

Culture | The state board of education divests itself of Disney, but will other state agencies follow Texas' lead?

Issue: "Beyond bread and circuses," Aug. 15, 1998

Many individuals and organizations are boycotting the company that had been America's symbol of family values. Here's a look behind the thinking of one group that last month dumped its Disney stock, the Texas State Board of Education:

Jack Christie, chairman of the Texas State Board of Education and the father of three children, has made six visits to Disneyland or Disney World. But after watching a 45-minute videotape from the American Family Association, titled Dumping Disney: How Texas is Bankrolling the Disney Empire, he's a fan no more-at least not of one Disney subsidiary. And what he saw led him to recommend successfully a total divestiture of $43 million in Disney stock by the state agency that manages investments of school funds.

When Mr. Christie received the video, he inserted it into his home VCR and watched as AFA-Texas Director Wyatt Roberts sat behind a desk to introduce clips from nine movies-all from Miramax Films, a Disney-owned movie production firm-and explain the state's role in funding them. Mr. Roberts warned the viewer of the movies' graphic nature and advised that if children were present, the video should be stopped until the children could be placed in another room.

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From that intro, the screen faded to black before beginning its journey through clips from movies such as Chasing Amy (lesbian themes, foul language); Reservoir Dogs (multiple uses of obscenities, severed ears); Priest (homosexual priest, graphic sex); Pulp Fiction (glorification of criminal violence, drugs, quoting of Scripture during violent acts); and Trainspotting (graphic sex, drugs).

Mr. Roberts appeared at the end of a clip from Sirens (anti-Christian messages, lesbian fantasies in church) to suggest the action of stock divestiture. However, Mr. Christie never saw that part of the video. He was so "mentally nauseated" after just a few minutes by scenes of mutilations and graphic sex, with degrading language throughout, that he ejected the video from his VCR and stuffed it in the trash can: "I didn't want to take a chance that my children might see it."

Not a person who normally engages in boycotts or protests, Mr. Christie came to the conclusion-as he had concerning divesting of tobacco stock two years earlier-that if an industry or company fell into social disrepute, it was better to sell its stock before the value dropped. He also noted, "I don't want to be the moral compass [for the state's investments], but I do have to vote my conscience for the lives of four million children." Other board members agreed, and on July 9 the Republican majority voted 8-4 along party lines to sell off the stock.

Southern Baptist Convention leaders who got the boycott ball rolling last year are hoping that other state agencies will follow the Texas example by establishing and following investment guidelines that take into account ethical standards.

The SBC's Annuity Board-which along with the SBC church pension fund and the cooperative program exists to support the retirement and emergency needs of SBC pastors, staff, and widows-provided an example of how to do this when it sold its Disney holdings even before the June, 1997 boycott recommendation.

The board, with equity holdings in over 700 companies, has guidelines that forbid investing in companies "known" to produce or promote tobacco, alcohol, gambling, pornography, or abortion. Disney holdings were not automatically disallowed by those guidelines, so the SBC internal investment committee and the 11-member trustee investment committee had to become involved.

Committee members decided that a boycott fit within the rules of not investing "in any company whose product, service or activity is publicly recognized as being incompatible with moral and ethical standards." They will deal with other companies that produce objectionable materials on a case-by-case basis.

No other SBC boards have officially taken individual action against Disney, but they have not had to: They don't own any Disney stock. The spotlight is now on private and state educational agencies that do.


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