Lobbying in the Shadows: Religious Interest Groups in the Legislative Process

By Robinson, Zoë | Emory Law Journal, March 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Lobbying in the Shadows: Religious Interest Groups in the Legislative Process


Robinson, Zoë, Emory Law Journal


INTRODUCTION

It has become par for the course among both politicians and commentators that religion does, and should, have a place in the federal legislative process. Legislators, executive officials, and other public figures publically proclaim the need-and their desire-to "work with religious groups" to enact legislation that responds to the needs of religious adherents in the community.1 Within the scholarly community, research on religious groups-that is, the study of the place and benefits of religious groups in political life- overwhelmingly advocates for inclusion of religious viewpoints.2 Indeed, the idea that religious groups should have a role in the political process has intuitive value. By including religious groups in politics and in the shaping of federal legislation on the front end,3 we might be reassured that the religious liberty of Americans is being taken into consideration.4 Recent Supreme Court decisions in both Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC5 and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.,6 reflect a judicial consensus of the appropriateness and value of religious involvement in public life.7

Yet, within the legal community debates about religion-state interactions rarely consider how this relationship functions. Despite increasing interest in the role of religious institutions in politics and society more broadly,8 there is scant study of the structure and operation of religious interest groups.9 This Article begins to fill this gap. It outlines how religious involvement in the political process has been operationalized through the overlooked institutions of "religious interest groups"-associations of either denominational houses of worship or collectives of individuals organized to advance a distinct religious viewpoint.10 This Article then examines the implications of religious interest groups for the principal justifications of religious participation in the political process: religious liberty and democratic participation.11 In undertaking an accounting of both benefits and costs of religious involvement in politics via religious interest groups, this Article complicates the general support for religious participation in the political process. It turns out that advancement of the religious voice through religious lobbyists imposes both benefits and costs on religious liberty and democracy.12

In advancing this claim, this Article is exploring a subject that is largely unrecognized by legal scholars, who have failed to consider the place and role of religious interest groups in the legislative process.13 This lacuna in the literature is surprising given the longstanding and entrenched role of religious interest groups in the federal legislative process. Indeed, it is impossible to accurately describe the religion-state relationship without an appreciation for religious lobbyists. These groups, ranging from well-known church lobbies like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to less-known coalitions and specialist single-issue groups like the Christian Coalition,14 are now pivotal players in policy developments and lawmaking.15 In highlighting religious interest groups' activities and features, this Article attempts to draw religious interest groups out from the shadows of the legislative process and reveal that the specialized nature of religious-interest-group lobbying has effects on the goals of religious liberty and democracy that merit scholarly attention.

Specifically, this Article claims that the facilitation of religious involvement in politics through the medium of religious interest groups imposes serious costs on the principal goals of religious participation in the political process: religious liberty and democratic participation. It is regularly claimed that religious participation in the legislative process is essential to achievement of these two goals.16 Indeed, a prevailing theme of contemporary law and religion scholarship cites the need for protection of religious liberty from undue burdens as a key driver for religious voices in politics. …

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