Columbus, Ohio (11/7/08) — Officers with Mennonite Economic Development Associates (“MEDA”) told Bruce Leichty that the permission of Good Information Advocates to exhibit and sell materials had been revoked, and forcibly removed the exhibit, on 11/5/08 barely two hours after he set it up.
Leichty says he was was told by officers Jon Unger Brandt, Bob Kroeker and assistant Carol Eby-Good that they had received complaints that people were offended by his display, but that he was not told what materials were offensive. Leichty was also told that it wouldn’t make any difference if he removed certain materials; his permission to exhibit any materials had been revoked. Chief executive officer Howard Good, president Allan Sauder and chairman Mel Sternjholm confirmed the decision in a subsequent meeting.
MEDA has long had annual conventions at which Mennonite business and professional people mingle, dialogue, hear speakers and attend seminars and tours. Leichty says that he decided to take a Good Information Advocates table to MEDA when MEDA offered business owners the opportunity to rent exhibit tables (for $300), stating that selling was permitted. No content restrictions were imposed.
Among the materials offered free and for sale by GIA were the following (“none of these organizations or individuals whose work I was offering were aware of or should be deemed responsible for the views of all the others,” notes Leichty. “In certain instances their views sharply differ”).
- Books and DVD’s produced by Ernst Zundel and Ingrid Zundel (Ernst is imprisoned in Germany for his speech, and Ingrid remains in Tennessee) (www.zundelsite.org);
- Books and newsletters produced by Gary Kah, with the Indiana-based Christian ministry, Hope for the World;
- Books and newsletters by Michael Hoffman of Idaho, including the 2008 book, Judaism Discovered (www.revisionisthistory.org);
- The book, Remember Us, and DVD “Through the Red Gate,” produced by Ruth Dirksen of Vancouver, BC (www.throughtheredgate.com);
- The three-volume set subtitled “Growing Up in an Amish-Jewish Cult,” by Patricia Hochstetler of Indiana (www.amishjewishcult.com).
“I had determined to display these materials because in each case I know the individuals or know friends or associates of theirs,” said Leichty. “I think each of them has good information to offer–indeed they are offering information critical to a broad understanding of what is going on in the world and the church at present, and about the traps that can ensnare us.”
Leichty made the following statement at the MEDA members’ meeting held Saturday morning, 11/7/08, and would have completed the statement as noted below had he not been cut off.
“I have been told that my statement of concern would not be read even if I submitted it, and therefore I respectfully assert my right as a member to address the membership directly. I am Bruce Leichty, a MEDA member and attorney and advocate from California.
“I came to Columbus, Ohio from California in order to be an exhibitor and to sell books, DVD’s and newsletters under my business Good Information Advocates. But I never got the chance. MEDA officers revoked my authorization to exhibit based on the fact that some of you complained to them — not to me — that you were offended by something I was offering for sale. At one point in the subsequent conversation MEDA’s president even told me, `we don’t want you here.’ Overshadowed in that conversation was the fact that I am a member of MEDA just like all of you at this meeting, and that I paid $330 to be an exhibitor and I would not come from California to Columbus had I not had that opportunity. MEDA officers resorted to the excuse that I had misled them about my exhibit, which was and is false. There were no questions to me about the content of my exhibit, nor should there have been.
“I was not asking for the floor at this convention, because I know that the mission of MEDA is not necessarily coincidental with my own interests. I was simply exercising my right as a business owner and operator to offer published materials. I sought to dialogue with those interested. Why, in God’s name, are some materials, some words, so threatening that MEDA officers carried away my table and put my property into boxes and told me I was not welcome? What has happened to the Mennonite church that it has spawned leaders who feel they have to be thought police and enforce conformity in the marketplace of ideas? Mennonites, of all people!!?? Why in 2008 are words more offensive to Christians than serving alcohol at late-night music events geared to young people?
“Why were those offended not told to come dialogue with me directly, in the spirit of Matthew 18?
“We live in a time of global economic crisis.
[At this point the statement was interrupted by someone from the floor, protesting the time being taken. The moderator noted that I would be given 30 seconds more, and I thanked him.]
“We live in a time of global economic crisis. That economic crisis is related to spiritual and political and cultural breakdown. For decades our political leaders and media have fed us information that was not true, and that created an illusion. The materials I offered were thought-provoking narrative and opinion about events of the last century and about current events. Most unfortunately, a number of the writer-entrepreneurs whose material was entrusted to me are women. They have stories and opinions that do not match up with the mainstream, but they are Mennonites or come out of the Mennonite tradition. I am sorry for their sakes, but also for your sakes, that their voices have been suppressed.
[Here I was cut off. I noted that those at the meeting could read the rest of my statement at this website.]
“MEDA has many important and worthwhile projects, but let us take care not to miss the forest for the trees. I hope MEDA will reevaluate its policies and practices controlling the flow of opinions and information to its members, and that in the future offense will not be taken so easily at someone seeking to serve the truth-telling cause of Christ.”
Time permitting, a further report will follow.