John Stoos, a key advisor in the gubernatorial campaign of Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock, has a dream:
“I dream of the day when a strong Christian majority is elected to a city council somewhere in America. This council could then pass a resolution declaring that abortion is now illegal in their city,” Stoos wrote this year in a conservative religious journal.
“Of course, the city attorney would quickly tell them that they cannot do this, at which point he should be fired and a good pro-life attorney should be hired to replace him,” he continued. “Next up would be the police chief, who would likely say he could not enforce such a law. Again, the council should accept his letter of resignation and hire someone who would ... “
Over the past two decades, Stoos has been an activist on issues from abortion to gun control to the primacy of the English language in the United States. Many of his views are reflected in essays in the Chalcedon Report, published by a conservative religious organization in Calaveras County. The group envisions a society in which biblical law is the law of the land.
McClintock, who employs Stoos as his deputy campaign manager and until recently paid him $93,720 a year as his top legislative analyst, said in an interview last week that he was unaware of Stoos’ writings.
“I completely disagree,” McClintock said, with Stoos’ vision of the anti-abortion city council and “completely reject” the idea that the nation’s modern laws should be biblical.
“I was not aware that he was writing for this journal and I’m upset to find that out,” McClintock said Friday in an interview at the Sacramento airport, between campaign appearances. “That disturbs me greatly.”
John Feliz, McClintock’s campaign manager, said he had been aware of Stoos’ religious views for years but had no information that McClintock knew of them.
Stoos said he has not discussed his religious views with McClintock, adding: “He didn’t hire me as his pastor. He hired me as his political advisor.”
In an essay published in the Chalcedon Report in the summer of 2002, Stoos wrote: “Before you commit your time and talent to particular candidates, you should ask them some basic questions.” Among the questions is whether the candidate “understand[s] the biblical principles upon which our nation was founded,” and whether he or she subscribes to “serious magazines or journals like the Chalcedon Report.”
McClintock said Stoos has not asked him such questions. “I don’t discuss theology with anyone on my staff,” said the senator. McClintock added that he is not among the publication’s roughly 5,000 subscribers.
Rob Boston, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called Stoos’ social vision “the antithesis of the separation of church and state. It’s like a Christian version of the Taliban,” he said.
Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law professor at USC, defended Stoos’ right to express such opinions, but found his views troubling in someone with influence in state government.
“He encourages the open disobedience of the U.S. Constitution,” Chemerinsky said. “It’s the equivalent of the Southern governors who said they wouldn’t enforce school desegregation and would fire anyone in government who tried to carry out the Supreme Court’s mandate.”
McClintock said Stoos’ work in his state Senate office focused on fiscal issues, such as the effort to overturn the state’s car tax and to reform the workers’ compensation system. He has not worked on social issues that might more readily conflict with his religious views, McClintock said.
Nonetheless, McClintock said, “I’m very concerned that he’s continued those writings since he joined my staff ... and I’ll have a talk with him about that.”
Stoos said Monday that the rigors of the campaign have not allowed time for such a discussion.
Over the years, Stoos’ expression of his beliefs has caused him problems.
In 1989, Stoos and four other people were sued by the operators of a Sacramento abortion clinic for allegedly blocking the clinic’s entrance and harassing patients. After a protracted legal battle, a judge ordered Stoos and the others to pay nearly $100,000 in attorneys’ fees incurred by the clinic. As a result, Stoos filed for personal bankruptcy, listing that debt among many he could not pay.
Stoos said he repaid many of the debts later. He did not pay the attorneys’ fees, he said Monday, because he did not agree with the judge’s order.
In 1995, Stoos was quoted in a Northern California newspaper as saying that Jews “would not have total acceptance” in the Christian-based society he envisioned, and that though they would nevertheless be tolerated, they “would feel more at home” in Israel. The remarks, the Contra Costa Times reported, were made during a Berkeley panel discussion on religion and politics. Stoos participated as a representative of the Christian Coalition, a conservative group founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson.
Stoos maintains that he was quoted out of context, and that the Contra Costa Times later retracted the article and apologized to him in writing. Stoos declined to comment further.
In fact, the newspaper did clarify that the article did not mean to imply that Stoos was anti-Semitic or had made anti-Semitic remarks, and apologized for any misunderstanding the article might have caused. The clarification made no mention of Stoos being misquoted.
San Francisco attorney Martin Kassman, who was on the panel with Stoos and represented the American Civil Liberties Union, said there was no mistaking Stoos’ message that day.
“He was clearly expressing his opinion that Jews are not equal to Christians as he defines Christianity in the United States ... that we are a lesser breed of U.S. citizen,” Kassman recalled in a recent interview. He said he immediately challenged Stoos’ comments.
Ann Swidler, then an associate professor of sociology at UC Berkeley and the panel’s third member, said she did not recall precisely what Stoos said but was left with the impression that he “got a raw deal.”
Swidler, who is Jewish, said her recollection was that Stoos argued that because America was a Christian country it was a tolerant country. “He said something to the effect of, ‘That’s why we’re so tolerant of everyone, including Jews,’ ” she said.
“It was patronizing. It was politically incorrect and, I think, philosophically naive,” said Swidler, now a full professor. But “did I think the guy said something reprehensible? The answer is I didn’t.”
Following his remarks, Stoos was asked to resign from an advisory board affiliated with the Christian Coalition, and did so. Ralph Reed Jr., then the coalition’s executive director, called Stoos’ remarks “outrageous and totally unacceptable” in a letter to the head of the Anti-Defamation League.
Stoos also resigned as executive director of Gun Owners of California. He did so, he told The Times, because he did not want the controversy to tarnish the reputation of the group.
Kassman said his concerns about Stoos were renewed when he saw his name in recent newspaper articles that quoted him on behalf of McClintock.
“It is very troubling that a major candidate for governor of California has a senior advisor who subscribes to the views Mr. Stoos subscribes to,” Kassman said. “As a Jew who lives in California, I’d be very worried if we had a governor who ... had a senior advisor who believes that.”
Asked about the comments attributed to Stoos in the 1995 Contra Costa Times report, McClintock responded: “If that’s what he said, that’s an absolutely outrageous and unacceptable comment.”
Two years later, when Stoos was poised to go to work for McClintock, Republican Assembly members Gary Miller and Curt Pringle tried to dissuade McClintock from hiring him, citing his comments at the Berkeley forum and other issues.
“We believed he was divisive -- and we were conservatives,” said Miller, now a member of Congress from Orange County.
McClintock said in an interview last week that he subsequently had a long conversation with Stoos, and Stoos assured him that he had been misquoted and that the newspaper article had been retracted. McClintock said he took Stoos at his word.
Since that time, Stoos has written regularly for the Chalcedon Report.
In the January 2003 issue, he addressed the “homosexual agenda” in America. “If these sinners who desperately need the great gift of salvation in Jesus Christ can do so much in the power of the flesh to defend practices that the general public finds repulsive,” Stoos wrote, “then what should we as Christians be doing to advance the kingdom of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit?
“The critical question,” he continued, “is whether we as Christians are prepared to show the same resolve and discipline and do the kind of hard work that the homosexuals have done over the past fifteen years promoting their ungodly agenda. Lord willing, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can!”
In the April 2003 issue, Stoos wrote that “Christians are the only people who can restore the proper biblical understanding of government to our modern system.”
Stoos’ writings and comments are laced with provocative references to those he sees as adversaries. Rival politicians, he says in an essay playing off J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” are “our own modern evil power lords.”
Planned Parenthood employees are “baby killers” from an “abortion industry” bent on maintaining access to their “profitable little clients.”
The AIDS epidemic, he said, occurred because man repealed biblical anti-homosexual sex laws in the 1970s. “The proof is in the pudding,” he was quoted as saying in a 1998 interview.
Times staff writer Dan Morain in Sacramento and special correspondent Carol Pogash in Berkeley contributed to this report.