Benen, Steve, Church & State
Hoping To Resurrect His Political Power And Elect Republicans To Office, TV Preacher Jerry Falwell Rolls Out A Legally Dubious Voter Project For The 2000 Elections
TV preacher and Religious Right leader Jerry Falwell has had a hard time maintaining credibility and political influence in recent years.
His Moral Majority once served as a catalyst for the Religious Right political movement. But since the group's closing over a decade ago, Falwell has been better known to most Americans as the distributor who peddled scurrilous anti-Clinton videos, the religious leader who believes the Antichrist is a Jewish man living in the world today and the television critic who warned parents about Tinky Winky, the allegedly gay Teletubby. Even within the Religious Right, where he was once among the movement's most important leaders, Falwell has been eclipsed by figures such as Pat Robertson and James Dobson.
Falwell, however, has a plan to change all that, one that not only gives the TV preacher a chance to increase his own power, but a scheme he believes will help propel Republican George W. Bush into the White House.
The project is called "People of Faith 2000." Through the new initiative, Falwell claims he will register 10 million religious conservatives to vote who have never participated in an election before. Falwell has projected a budget of $18.6 million for the crusade.
At an April 14 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Falwell announced that the project is "a seven-month, non-partisan campaign" designed to mobilize millions of religious voters. "It is the intention of People of Faith 2000," Falwell observed, "to awaken large numbers of those discouraged and frustrated believers to the urgency of stepping forward this year, and participating in what may be the most important congressional and presidential election in modern times."
Specifically, Falwell intends to send 28 million direct-mail packages with voter registration materials--and a fund-raising pitch--to pastors and church members nationwide. By taking advantage of the streamlining of the voter registration process made possible under 1993's federal "motor voter" law, Falwell intends to collect "pledge cards" and help register those who wish to take part in the process.
Falwell said this project is necessary because of the misguided direction he believes the nation has been taking.
"[O]ver the last 35 years, the leftwing elite has been engaged in a campaign to purge traditional Judeo-Christian values from public life in America," Falwell said in promotional materials on the project's website. "And the deafening silence of America's pulpits and religious leaders has helped this unconstitutional effort to enjoy much success. The time has come to awaken from our slumber and take a bold stand before all our constitutional rights are all stripped away. People with deeply-held spiritual values and beliefs should not be treated as `second-class' citizens."
At his press conference, Falwell insisted that People of Faith 2000 is not a separate organization, but rather "a spiritual and political movement of millions of people of faith." As he explained it, the effort is a project of his new tax-exempt organization, the Liberty Alliance Institute, a spin-off of his tax-exempt Jerry Falwell Ministries.
The project has already been endorsed by many activists who share Falwell's agenda. People of Faith 2000's National Advisory Council includes Dr. Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Convention: Janet Parshall, talk-show host and chief spokesperson for the Family Research Council; author and Religious Right godfather Tim LaHaye; Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, a Religious Right legal group; conservative talk-show host Armstrong Williams; Lutheran pastor Laurence L. White of Houston; Michael Johnston, president of Kerusso Ministries, a group that offers homosexuals "a way out" of the "gay lifestyle;" and Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a right-wing activist and regular speaker at the Christian Coalition's "Road to Victory" Conference. …