The Religious Right and American Freedom: Fundamentalist Christian Forces Seek 'Dominion' over the Lives of All Americans, and They Just Might Be near the Political Clout to Pull It Off
Boston, Rob, Church & State
Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson flew into Washington, D.C., last month with twin goals: attend a meeting of the secretive Council for National Policy and issue a new round of orders to top Republican leaders.
With November elections fast approaching, Dobson is eager to make sure the Republican leadership does all it can to satisfy social conservatives. What GOP leaders in Congress have done so far--subjecting Supreme Court appointments to a right-wing litmus test, steadily eroding legal abortion, allocating billions in tax money to religious groups, curbing comprehensive sex education in public institutions, intervening in personal end-of-life decisions in the Terri Schiavo case and laboring to make samesex marriage unconstitutional--is apparently not enough. Dobson has more items on his wish list.
In a series of meetings with top Republican leaders, Dobson made it clear that he expects action now. Otherwise, as he remarked on Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" May 1, "I think there's going to be some trouble down the road if they don't get on the ball."
The Republican leadership, facing an increasingly unfavorable political outlook, moved quickly to placate Dobson. The New York Times reported that he met with a list of GOP leaders, among them Karl Rove, top aide to President George W. Bush: U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, Senate majority leader; Speaker of the House Dennis Hasten and U.S. Rep. John A. Boehner, House majority leader.
This is the extent of Dobson's power: Religious conservatives enjoy great influence over the federal courts, and their social agenda is being implemented item by item. But it is never enough. Dobson growls, and the top leaders of American politics rush to assure him that all is well. The incident is also a good example of the influence the Religious Right holds in the Republican Party, and thus the larger political system, today.
As Dobson's outburst makes clear, Religious Right groups have a specific set of goals for American life. They speak openly of "taking back" America, of asserting control over the lives of every single citizen. They have an agenda, and they want action on it.
None of this is a secret. Religious Right organizations brag about what they hope to achieve on their Web sites and in their publications. They hold national meetings and conventions to plot strategy. Their leaders issue marching orders to millions of American followers over radio, television and the Internet.
Yet many Americans remain unaware of the scope of the power, money and aspirations of the Religious Right--or how radical its goals are. More than 25 years have passed since a band of conservative strategists convinced the Rev. Jerry Falwell to lead the Moral Majority, and the movement is today at the apex of its political power.
The reign of Bush, the first president truly wedded to the Religious Right's agenda, has focused new attention on the movement. This special issue of Church & State takes a look at the goals of the Religious Right, its structure and its major players.
Americans United has monitored the Religious Right since the movement's genesis with the rise of Falwell in 1979. AU staffers read Religious Right publications and monitor group Web sites, radio and television broadcasts as well as other media. AU staff members also frequently attend Religious Right gatherings to get an insider's view of the movement. This approach gives AU a unique perspective that few outsiders can match.
The information AU has compiled provides a compelling counterpoint to claims of a "war on Christians" in American society. According to AU's analysis, the nation's top ten Religious Right groups are hardly persecuted. They raked in nearly half a billion dollars collectively. (Some organizational budget figures are from 2004, and some are from 2005. The collective total is $447,368,625.) These groups are well organized, well funded and have specific policy goals. …