Three Years after Being Pronounced 'Dead' by Many Pundits, Fundamentalist Political Groups Are Riding High in Washington and Many State Legislatures

By Boston, Rob | Church & State, May 2011 | Go to article overview

Three Years after Being Pronounced 'Dead' by Many Pundits, Fundamentalist Political Groups Are Riding High in Washington and Many State Legislatures


Boston, Rob, Church & State


In late February, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner (R-Ohio) flew to Nashville to address a gathering of the National Religious Broadcasters, a group of mostly far-right television and radio personalities. While there, he took some time to chat with a reporter for TV preacher Pat Robertson's "700 Club."

Boehner assured Robertson's viewers that their concerns are his concerns - and he urged them to be patient. Reflecting on a recent House vote to cut off tax funding of family planning and health programs for women, Boehner asserted, "I met with a lot of religious leaders earlier today to talk about the strategy, and I think it's important that we understand that what we want to do here is win the war, not just win a battle. And there will be an opportunity some time in order to win the big war, and we're looking for that opportunity."

What exactly does winning the "big war" mean? For many in the Religious Right, several "culture war" issues are at stake, including banning abortion, denying civil rights to gay Americans, injecting religion into public education and obtaining governmental support for religious schools and other ministries.

Under Boehner's leadership, a new flock of legislators who poured into Congress in January in the wake of November's elections is intent on winning this war. You might say they're busy unleashing a new crusade - although sometimes under the radar. Social issues, which very few voters identified as a chief concern during the elections, are suddenly all the rage again.

And the Religious Right is back in the driver's seat.

It's not exactly what Americans thought they were getting. In November, polls showed great uneasiness over a high unemployment rate and a shaky economic outlook. Bolstered by legions of Tea Party activists who exploited fears over these issues, conservatives swept to victory in November, capturing not only the House of Representatives but many governorships and state legislatures as well.

Since then, changes in economic policy remain at a stalemate. The federal government limps along, funded by a series of temporary funding measures. "Culture war" issues, though, are enjoying a resurgence.

Interestingly, Religious Right groups are increasingly adopting Tea Party-style rhetoric about budget deficits as they push a familiar social agenda. A fight over tax funding for Planned Parenthood, which receives about $300 million a year to provide health services (such as cancer screenings) and family planning for the poor, was framed as a cost-saving measure.

In fact, ending funding of Planned Parenthood has been a long-sought Religious Right goal. Even though federal law states that none of the money the group receives can be used to provide abortions, Planned Parenthood has long been in the Religious Right's crosshairs. The drive to de-fund it was led by U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a staunch Religious Right ally.

Religious Right groups are so adamant on the issue that they have demanded that House Republicans shut down the federal government by refusing to vote for a budget if the Senate refuses to go along with the Planned Parenthood funding cutoff.

"If that's the case, then shut it down," the Rev. Frank Pavone, a Roman Catholic priest who heads Priests for Life, told Lifesitenews.com.

Weeks later, similar budgetary arguments were made when the House voted to end funding for National Public Radio (NPR). But again, NPR and PBS have long been Religious Right targets. For years, right-wing religious groups have attacked NPR for its alleged "liberal bias."

(In an 11th-hour budget deal that was struck April 8, funding for Planned Parenthood was retained and NPR funding was restored. But voucher subsidies to religious schools in Washington, D.C., were added to the measure, as well as a provision barring D.C. from using its own money to pay for abortions for poor women. …

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