Religion in Society

Religious Right in 2009 is Less Pious, More Partisan

| by AUSCS

Religious Right leaders and activists will meet in Washington, D.C., at the end of the week for their first major gathering since President Barack Obama took office. These fundamentalist forces have an ambitious – and highly partisan – political agenda that ultimately seeks to merge religion and government.

The “Values Voter Summit,” sponsored by the Family Research Council (FRC), the Heritage Foundation and an array of Religious Right groups, comes at a time when the Religious Right is determined to defeat the Obama administration’s health-care reform proposal and boost the GOP’s congressional numbers in 2010. (The Summit takes place Sept. 18-19 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.)

Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, “The Religious Right’s immediate objectives are defeating the Obama health-care proposals and electing more of their friends to public office. Their long-term goal, however, is a nation where their religious beliefs are the law of the land.

“This is a fundamentalist political operation thinly disguised in ‘family values’ garb,” continued Lynn, who is a leading critic of the movement. “Religious Right leaders want to ban all abortions, deny gay people basic civil rights and undercut church-state separation wherever they can.”

Last year, some Religious Right leaders made vague threats about bolting the GOP if the party did not kowtow to them. According to Americans United, this was all a bluff. Considerable evidence shows that the FRC and allied Religious Right groups remain a faithful bloc within the GOP.

Consider the following:

  • FRC Action PAC has issued a “hit list” of 11 House members it has targeted for defeat and five Senate races it wants to affect in 2010. FRC Action PAC, the Family Research Council’s political action committee, not surprisingly, has targeted only incumbents or other candidates who are Democrats. In addition, the PAC lists three House members and one senator it vows to keep in office. All are Republicans.
  • The Values Voter Summit features a GOP presidential “beauty pageant” for 2012. Confirmed speakers include Minnesota Gov. Tom Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has been invited to speak, as has Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. All are likely 2012 contenders. The FRC has announced it will hold a straw poll among attendees featuring “ten possible presidential candidates” – all of whom are Republicans.
  • Top congressional Republicans have been invited to speak at the Summit. House Minority Leader John Boehner will speak as will Minority Whip Eric Cantor. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is also on the program. (On Sept. 10, Boehner took part in an FRC webcast assailing Obama’s health-care reform.)

In short, nothing has changed for the Religious Right. It remains glued at the hip to the Republican Party and wields considerable influence over the party’s policy goals. This rank partisanship will be on full display during the Summit.

Summit Sponsors: Who’s Behind This Meeting?

The Values Voter Summit is sponsored chiefly by Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council (FRC) and its more overtly political arm FRC Action. Both groups are spin-offs of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, the nation’s largest Religious Right ministry.

Although the FRC is legally separate from Focus on the Family (FOF), the organizations share certain public policy goals. These include an end to legal abortion, opposing same-sex marriage and other advances in civil rights for gays and a rollback of court decisions upholding church-state separation.

This year, several other organizations are co-sponsoring the Summit. They include the American Family Association, Focus on the Family Action, American Values and the Heritage Foundation.

The Heritage Foundation’s first-time involvement is significant. The organization has been known mainly for emphasizing low taxes, reduced spending on social services, minimal government regulation and aggressive foreign policy, not engaging in the “culture war.” It is considered one of Washington’s most influential right-wing think tanks, and its decision to link arms with Religious Right groups could herald the beginning of a new partnership that will significantly boost the power and strength of the theocratic right.

Summit Strength: What Is The Status Of The Religious Right?

Summit sponsors bring considerable money and grassroots troops to the political table.

The most recent available Internal Revenue Service filings show the budgets of Summit sponsors to be:

Family Research Council: $14,646,344 (2008)
FRC Action: $2,075,183 (2008)
Focus on the Family Action: $10,544,226 (2007)
American Family Association: $22,547,087 (2007)
Heritage Foundation: $65,765,247 (2007)
American Values: $1,335,990 (2007)

In addition, Focus on the Family, while not a direct sponsor of the event, will obviously have considerable influence over it, given the close relationship between FOF and FRC. (FOF President Jim Daly is speaking at the event.) Although FOF’s income has taken some hits in recent months, its budget in 2007 was a staggering $145,194,701.

Health-Care Springboard: Re-energizing The Base

Right-wing populism has been on the upswing since a series of congressional “town hall” meetings was taken over by angry protestors opposed to Obama’s health care reform plan, and Religious Right groups have adeptly tapped into this.

As The Washington Post noted recently, Religious Right groups have been mobilizing conservative church members nationwide to oppose health-care reform. The issue is considered to be a springboard to reenergize evangelicals politically.

Research by Americans United bears this out. Don Wildmon’s American Family Association, the FRC and other groups have issued a steady stream of e-mail bulletins attacking the health-care plan. These groups have worked to inflame the situation by circulating false information about health care reform, such as asserting that it will lead to tax-funded abortions, ration medical care or force senior citizens before “death panels” that will decide their fate.

Summit Response: Comment From Americans United

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has tracked the Religious Right since that movement’s rise. Our staff members have attended every Values Voter Summit and have provided in-depth reporting. Read more here and here.