Standing on the Premises of God: The Christian Right's Fight to Redefine America's Public Schools

Standing on the Premises of God: The Christian Right's Fight to Redefine America's Public Schools

Standing on the Premises of God: The Christian Right's Fight to Redefine America's Public Schools

Standing on the Premises of God: The Christian Right's Fight to Redefine America's Public Schools


The Christian Right is arguably the most significant social movement in the United States today. In recent years, these religious conservatives have loudly protested a public education system they believe no longer represents their interests or values.

Educators often dismiss critiques based on religious values as irrational or flimsy, failing to appreciate the coherence of these criticisms from the Christian Right's own perspective. While the Christian Right has become ever more sophisticated in its lobbying and powerful in its influence, educators and parents find themselves lacking the background knowledge necessary to respond effectively to its efforts.

Standing on the Premises of God speaks directly to this dilemma, explaining current incarnations of the Christian Right, its leadership, its intellectual and theological foundations, and its tactics, so that those interested in the debates over education will be better prepared to engage them constructively.

Taking the novel approach of framing the Christian Right as a revitalization movement, Detwiler shows how it seeks to effect cultural transformation in order to bring public education-and our society more generally-in line with its worldview. His theoretical model provides insights into why education is so pivotal to the Christian Right and also assesses the religious viability of the Christian Right as a social movement.


In 1997, a conservative California Republican gubernatorial candidate named Al Checci called for mandatory competency testing for teachers every five years. Citing the “appalling” fact that only 310 teachers had been fired or dismissed in the state in 1995, Checci remarked, “Only a handful of the 250,000 teachers in the entire state of California lost their jobs for incompetence. Common sense tells us that this is patently ridiculous.” At the same time Checci was trying to make a political issue of teacher incompetence in California, South Carolina activist Ray Moore was warning parents on the other side of the continent about the dangers of the public schools. Promoting a program named Exodus 2000, Moore called on Christian parents to negate the corrupting influences of the public schools by withdrawing their children.

Twenty years ago, teachers were among America’s most respected professionals and the nation’s public school system was the envy of the world. By the late 1990s, however, they no longer enjoy the same degree of respect from the public. Teachers are accused of widespread incompetence. Schools are blamed for destroying the moral fabric of our society. What has happened to public education in those twenty years to provoke so much dissatisfaction? Why have once-marginalized voices come to occupy a central place in the formation of public discourse about education? How did Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and Phyllis Schlafly emerge as more trustworthy spokespersons about public education, in the view of millions of Americans, than the nation’s secretary of education?

The combined factors for this reversal of the general public’s perception of education are complex. One of the most important ingredients is the growth in social and political influence that conservative Christians have enjoyed during the last two decades. Led by a loose-knit network of Christian Right organizations, religious conservatives have raised their voices in protest against a public education system that they believe no longer represents their interest or values. the education establishment . . .

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