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Acton University: Arguably worse than hundreds of neo-Nazis coming to Grand Rapids

June 12, 2019

Next week, from June 18 – 21, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, will hold its annual conference, in what is called Acton University.

The four day gathering will bring over a thousand people to Grand Rapids, people who will be presenting the 110 classes and those who have come to learn. Acton University costs a mere $800 for the registration, plus travel and lodging for the four days, which should give you an indication of the kind of people who will have access to such a gathering.

The 110 courses that people can chose from are primarily centered around a theological justification of capitalism, but there are also numerous courses that argue the benefits of small government, an end to state run welfare systems, education policy and how the private sector can save society from the evils of socialism. 

The title of this article suggests that those who will be attending Acton University next week are arguably more dangerous than neo-Nazis coming to Grand Rapids. What follows is why I think this is the case.

  • It is important to recognize that the Acton Institute is primarily a Think Tank that is part of a larger network of organization on the far right that are committed to change public policy that fits within their ideological framework. The Acton Institute is part of the State Policy Network is a nation entity which coordinates efforts around the county to influence state policy and works in tandem with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
  • The Acton Institute has been the recipient of millions from the DeVos and Prince families. There have been several members of the DeVos family that have sat on the Acton Board of Directors (currently Rick DeVos) and Else Prince Broekhuizen is currently a board member.
  • Now that we have established their funding base and the national networks that they are part of, it is important to acknowledge that the Acton Institute is a staunch defender of capitalism. This means they support the accumulation of wealth by a hand full of mostly rich white men, while billions around the world, meaning mostly people of color, live in poverty are displaced and face hunger and malnutrition on a daily basis. In fact, the founder of the Acton Institute, Rev. Robert Sirico, at their 2017 annual dinner was quoted as saying, “We don’t have the right to condemn the rich. We don’t believe in class struggle and class warfare. We believe in class encounter. Where the rich save the poor and the poor save the rich.” In other words, Sirico believes that the capitalist class are the ones that “save” poor people, specifically through charity. We also know that under the economic system of capitalism, black and brown communities in the US disproportionately experience poverty at higher rates than white people do.
  • The Acton Institute, through many of the people who write for them, defends the politics of Islamophobia
  • The Acton Institute has been a staunch defender of the privatization of education and Charter Schools
  • The Acton Institute has received money from Exxon/Mobil to deny the existence of climate change, which is causing species extinction and significant human suffering.
  • The Acton Institute defends the current violence being perpetrated against the immigrant community, both in a story from 2017 and 2018.

This is just a sampling of the kinds of policies that the Acton Institute endorses, policies that fit within the framework of Neo-liberal Capitalism. Now, I think that whenever neo-Nazis come to Grand Rapids, they should be protested and confronted. However, the Acton Institute promotes and influences public policy that directly harms more people than neo-Nazis. We can and should oppose those who have Nazi tattoos, but we should also oppose those who wear suits or those that sport a religious collar from hosting an event that will sure have a negatively broader impact on people in this community and throughout the world.

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