Magazine article The Christian Century

Coalition's Size Challenged

Magazine article The Christian Century

Coalition's Size Challenged

Article excerpt

HOW BIG is the Christian Coalition, the conservative public-policy advocacy group that has become a major player in the nation's political arena? The coalition, founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, claims 1.8 million "members and supporters," up from 1.7 million at the time of its Road to Victory conference in Washington in September.

But one of the group's chief adversaries, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has charged that the 1.8 million tally is "deliberately deceptive." The coalition is much smaller, with only 300,000 "members," and that number is dwindling, Americans United asserted. Mike Russell, the coalition's spokesman, defended his group's figures and called the charge by Americans United "ludicrous."

Americans United, a Washington-based group that promotes strict separation of church and state, has long opposed the coalition on such issues as school prayer and the proper role of religion in public life. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, acknowledged the coalition's prominence on the U.S. political scene but said the group has exaggerated its strength to boost its influence.

"Nobody is saying they don't have clout," Lynn said. "But they want every reporter and politician to believe that they can count on 1.8 million members, and that is deliberately deceptive. It calls into question many other claims about the level of their support." Most, but not all, Christian Coalition literature speaks of "members and supporters" rather than just "members." However, a recent mailing by the Catholic Alliance, a division of the coalition, referred to the group's "1.7 million members."

Lynn based his accusation on figures the coalition filed with the U.S. Postal Service detailing the circulation of its magazine, the Christian American. According to the filing, the magazine had a paid circulation of 310,296 in September 1995, down from a reported 353,703 in September 1994. The magazine is sent to those who contribute $15 a year or more to the Christian Coalition.

But Russell contended that the coalition's data on members and supporters go far beyond the magazine circulation figures. "We have a data base of 1.8 million people," he said, describing how the group counts members. "That includes an active donor list of those who have contributed [money] over the last three or four months, those who have contributed [money] in the last year, and an activist file. …

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