Religious right

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The "Religious Right" (known to some as the "religious wrong") are a voting block comprising American conservative Christian voters. While the term is often used interchangeably with "the evangelical vote," many of these voters are actually Roman Catholic and not all evangelical Protestants vote with the religious right.[1]

The religious right helped propel George W. Bush to victory in the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns, and fears that Bush might lose the support of the religious right hung over his administration.

Beyond its support for Bush, the religious right continues to play an important role in the Republican Party. Many Republican politicians, such as former Senator Rick Santorum, have explicitly identified themselves as religious conservatives. Indeed, it could be argued that the modern Republican Party is at heart a coalition between religious and business conservatives, in roughly equal parts.

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[edit] Background and recent events

The religious right is, to a large extent, a reaction to several different Supreme Court decisions regarding the right to privacy and the separation of church and state. Two stand out in particular:

  1. The Court’s extending the right to privacy to include abortion in Roe v. Wade. Before Roe v. Wade, the religious groups that now form the religious right were often liberal on abortion. [2]
  2. The banning of school-mandated prayer in Engel v. Vitale.

These two issues, along with the issue of government posting of the Ten Commandments, have come back to the courts repeatedly, with mixed results: adding a few restrictions to abortion, a complete absence of sponsored prayer in schools, and taking down all new Ten Commandments monuments. This has led to a certain amount of hostility to the judiciary among many in the religious right. This can be seen in events like "Justice Sunday" and its sequel, where federal judges were denounced as anti-Christian.

Particularly notable is the case of Judge Roy Moore of Alabama. After a few failed bids for a judgeship, he was appointed to a local judicial position in 1992. He began every court session with a prayer and placed a small plaque of the Ten Commandments in the courtroom. In 1994, the ACLU threatened to sue, until they saw that the issue was increasing Moore’s popularity across Alabama. They did eventually sue, but the case was thrown out “on a technicality.” In 1999, he entered as a long-shot candidate for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, with the backing of the Christian Family Association. With the publicity of his former suit, he beat a sitting justice for the position.

On July 1st, 2001, Moore used his power as Chief Justice to install a three-ton monument to the Ten Commandments in the lobby of his courtroom. Shortly thereafter, a lawsuit was brought to remove it. Though thirty-four justices ruled against Moore, and not a single one for him, he has become more popular in Alabama than ever. The rest of the Alabama Supreme Court had him removed from the Court, and because of his new-found popularity, he ran for Governor of Alabama in 2010. He came in fourth place. He again ran for the Chief Justice position and won the election in January 2013. If all goes well for him, he will remain Chief Justice until 2018.

As we can see from this case, because of several judicial losses, Roy Moore and the religious right seem to be in a position to capture the supreme post in Alabama. Some were even saying he could run for President in 2008 (he didn't). The religious right seems to have learned to turn defeats into greater victories, both in terms of organizational strength and electoral victories. This is one reason why, as a political strategy, the Republicans do not actually want to overturn Roe v. Wade - legalized abortion is a tremendous vote-getter and rallying point.

[edit] Social movement or collection of interest groups?

It is difficult to study this phenomenon because it is difficult to determine what constitutes the “religious right,” and whether it is a social movement or a collection of interest groups. Most material does not address this question; however, Catherine Lugg’s “The Christian Right: A Cultivated Collection of Interest Groups” does. Her discussion of why “The Christian Right” does not totally belong to either category is particularly compelling and useful. She argues that “social movements” are made up of people kept outside of the political process, whereas the religious right is made up of people who are full citizens, and are in fact courted into the political process from the beginning. At the same time, they engage in behaviors which are more similar to that of a social movement than interest groups, which are famous for being non-disruptive. The religious right has a long history of disruptive demonstrations, at abortion clinics and Republican meetings. She says that, in the end, the best way to describe the religious right is as a “cultivated collection of interest groups,” that occasionally compete with each other, but generally collaborate. It is important to note that while Clifton often refers to the religious right as a social movement, he agrees that it is more useful to study it in terms of a group of related interest groups.

These attributes are not at all disputed by other writers. One even refers to how the Christian right has been brought into the Republican Party and supplies the Republican Party with leadership and mass support. This does not stop the other research from referring to it as a social movement, but they never define what they mean by “social movement.”[citation needed] For the purposes of this research, and because of the exactitude of this approach, the religious right will be viewed as a collection of interest groups, though acknowledging that it bears many similarities to a social movement, and that it may be part of a larger “evangelical movement” that has started receiving some amount of attention.

Beyond this, however, none of the pieces address which interest groups make up the religious right.[citation needed] However, they can be defined by two important criteria. One is that these groups have an explicit connection to conservative religion or “religious values.” The second, more important condition is that these groups promote government intervention to enforce or legitimize these values. This is usually done by lobbying for anti-abortion legislation, the posting of religious documents in public, and lobbying against pro-“gay rights” legislation.

[edit] Power of the religious right

Overall analysis of the political power of the Christian right organizations are hard to find. Even analysis of particular facets or organizations are difficult to come by. The few works collected here have all taken different facets of the religious right, either different strategies used by them or different areas of policy of importance, and studied those. In the end, they show a slightly contradictory image, one of both power on some levels, and complete powerlessness on others. In particular, Lugg and Clifton found areas of Christian right strength, while Wald and Corey (and to a lesser extent Clifton again) found areas of Christian right weakness.

Lugg’s work is useful for showing one area where the Christian right has long had most of its victories: education. Lugg’s conclusion is that the Christian right has great influence in this field, and even their judicial losses turn into “minor moral victories” and have helped train activists for bigger fights. This helps lend some credence to the subject of this study.

These victories all come in from lobbying local leaders, in this case school boards, to change curricula. This particular study is a case study of one county’s decision to include a class on the Bible as history, using a curriculum and text developed by a Christian right organization, the National Council on Bible Curriculum in the Public Schools. The school board had a majority of members who belonged to the Christian Coalition. When the ACLU sued, Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice gave representation to the school board. A compromise was reached by the judge, but in the end the school board ended up having to give up more than the outraged parents. Overall, though, the Christian right won a victory, because the “Bible as history” courses were soon adopted in 67 other school districts in Florida. This shows that they are much more successful with strategies involving grassroots organizing, and less so with legal strategies.

This is, overall, consistent with the findings of Romancing the GOP: Assessing the Strategies Used by the Christian Coalition to Influence the Republican Party by Brett M. Clifton. He sees three possible means by which the Christian Coalition could influence the Republican Party, and he seeks to find out how well they do so. His research is devoted to policy expertise (which corresponds to an informational strategy), financial clout and electoral mobilization (which both correspond to the “grassroots” strategy). To test strength in a given area, he surveyed local Republican Party heads and Christian Coalition heads, and did some in-depth interviews. These surveys and interviews focused both on overall influence, and influence based on his three areas. His findings are that, because of both expertise and mobilization, the Christian Coalition has clout within the Republican Party, but that their fundraising is less important.

Somewhat disagreeing with this assessment are the findings of Kenneth Wald and Jeffrey Corey, who have found that the policy expertise quality is not so influential when Christian right activists are put into a place to actually create policy. This is a case study, where several Christian right activists were put onto the 1997-98 Florida Constitutional Revision Committee. He found that, despite the fact that they made up roughly one-fourth of the delegates, they experienced the least satisfaction and had the most of their recommendations rejected. (The commission was made up of, roughly, half Democrats and half Republicans, with the Republicans split in half between moderates and Christian Right activists.)

These studies are all very useful for helping show where the Christian right is strong. It seems pretty obvious that it is most strong in the mobilization and in fielding local candidates (for example, school boards), and not so strong at making policy decisions. However, none of these works studied changes in strength over time, nor are any of the methods applicable to studying it. Moreover, other than Clifton’s study, none of these were very rigorous. They are also, again excluding Clifton’s study, very focused in space and scope. If we are seeking a broader picture of the religious right, these studies contribute very little.

[edit] Theology

Most members of the religious right proudly self-identify as evangelical Christians, though most aren't actual fundamentalists. Although of many different denominations, their main theological priorities seem to be: keeping gay marriage illegal; restricting the rights of gays and lesbians; removing comprehensive sex education and the teaching of evolution from public schools; getting creationism, school-sponsored prayer and abstinence-only sex education into those schools; also overturning Roe v. Wade and outlawing abortion (some want it banned under all circumstances, while others are willing to make exceptions for rape, incest, and the mother's health). For some odd reason, they are also anti-environmentalist and anti-immigration (though Bush himself and some religious right leaders like Richard Land aren't). Caring for the poor, sick and homeless is rarely mentioned.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

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