WASHINGTON -- On the heels of electoral victories to ban same-sex marriage, some influential conservative Christian groups are turning their attention to a new target: the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.
"Does anybody here know SpongeBob?" Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, asked the guests Tuesday night at a black-tie dinner for members of Congress and political allies to celebrate the election results.
In many circles, SpongeBob needs no introduction. He is popular among children and grown-ups as well who watch him cavorting under the sea on the Nickelodeon cartoon program that bears his name. In addition, he has become a well-known camp figure among gay men, perhaps because he holds hands with his animated sidekick Patrick and likes to watch the imaginary television show "The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy."
Now, Dobson said, SpongeBob's creators had enlisted him in a "pro- homosexual video," in which he appeared alongside other children's television characters like Barney, Blue's Clues, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Jimmy Neutron, among many others. The makers of the video, he said, planned to mail it to thousands of elementary schools later this spring to promote a "tolerance pledge" that includes tolerance for differences of "sexual identity. " He urged his allies to stand together to stop it as part of a "spiritual battle" for the country.
The video's creator, Nile Rodgers, who wrote the disco hit "We Are Family, " says Dobson's objection stemmed from a misunderstanding. Rodgers said he founded the We Are Family Foundation after the Sept. 11 attacks to create a music video featuring 100 well-known cartoon characters -- of many species - - dancing to his song in order to teach children about multiculturalism.
The video has appeared on Nickelodeon and other television networks, and nothing in it or its accompanying materials refers to sexual identity. The "tolerance pledge" is not mentioned on the video and is available only on the group's Web site.
Rodgers suggested that Dobson and the American Family Association, the conservative Christian group that first sounded the alarm, might have been confused because of an unrelated Web site belonging to another group called "We Are Family." That site is owned by a Charleston, S.C., gay youth support group.
Paul Batura, assistant to Dobson at Focus on the Family, said Wednesday the group stood by its charges.
"We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids," he said. "It is a classic bait and switch."
© 2005 San Francisco Chronicle