Voters want Congress to focus on fixing the economy, but Religious Right groups are sure to demand that attention be paid to their divisive agenda, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Exit polls show that more than 60 percent of voters cited the economy as their top concern in yesterday's voting. The figure was even higher in states hard hit by the financial setbacks.
But the changes in Congress, says Americans United, will empower Religious Right leaders who will insist on action on controversial social issues.
"Voters sent a strong message that they want Congress to focus on fixing the economy," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, "but the election results may inflict collateral damage on the Constitution. I think the Religious Right will seize this opportunity to advance its agenda in Congress."
Lynn said he expects the Religious Right to push for religious school vouchers, publicly funded "faith-based" hiring bias, creationism in the public schools, laws allowing electioneering by churches, "Christian nation" resolutions and other measures that undercut church-state separation.
Lynn noted that likely House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor have long records of working with the Religious Right on a wide variety of social issues.
"Americans did not vote to stoke the fires of the culture war," said Lynn, "but they may have done so inadvertently."
Lynn noted that many candidates who openly attacked church-state separation were defeated.
Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, Delaware House candidate Glen Urquhart and Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle all lost. (Colorado Senate candidate Ken Buck was trailing in his race, but a vote count was still under way.)
Lynn noted, however, that the Religious Right remains a potent political force in some situations. In Iowa, for example, a concentrated campaign by the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and their allies resulted in the ousting of three state Supreme Court justices who voted in favor of civil marriage rights for same-sex couples.
"Church-state separation is going to be under sustained fire for the next two years in Congress and in many state legislatures," said Lynn. "Religious Right leaders are re-energized by the election results, and they are going to want action. Those of us who believe in individual freedom and equality are going to have our hands full."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.