June 2002 People & Events

Religious Right More Powerful In State GOP Affiliates, Study Says

A new survey of Republican Party state affiliates shows that the Religious Right is an increasingly powerful force at the grassroots level.

The study appears in the February edition of Campaigns & Elections magazine. It was conducted by Kimberly H. Conger, a graduate teaching assistant at the Department of Political Science, Ohio State University, and John C. Green, a professor of political science at the University of Akron and a longtime researcher of the Religious Right.

Conger and Green surveyed the Religious Right's influence in the Republican Party in all 50 states and the District of Columbia by interviewing 395 political activists, journalists and academics. Categorizing the Religious Right's influence as "weak," "moderate" or "strong," the two found that the Religious Right holds a strong position in 18 state GOP affiliates, a moderate position in 26 and a weak position in seven.

The Religious Right was strongest in Southern states.

"In 2000, Alabama, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia were perceived to be in the strong category, unchanged from 1994," Conger and Green wrote. "In addition, Kentucky remained in the moderate category.... The states of Arkansas and Mississippi shifted from the moderate to strong category, and the state of Tennessee moved from weak to strong a pattern that also held for West Virginia, a culturally conservative Border state."

The two found that four Southern states Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina shifted from strong to moderate. In the Midwest, Iowa and Minnesota remained in the strong category, while Missouri and South Dakota moved from weak to strong; Michigan moved from moderate to strong and Illinois and North Dakota moved from weak to moderate.

In the West, Alaska, Idaho and Oregon remained in the strong category, and Nevada and Utah were labeled moderate. Colorado moved from weak to strong, Montana from moderate to strong and New Mexico and Wyoming went from weak to moderate.

The Religious Right, Conger and Green report, lost ground in four Western states: California, Arizona, Hawaii and Washington.

The Religious Right has always been weak in the Northeast, and Conger and Green's survey found few changes in this region. In six Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states (and the District of Columbia), the Religious Right's sway over the GOP is considered weak: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Delaware, Maine, Maryland and Pennsylvania were listed in the moderate category. The only change in the Northeast was New Hampshire, which shifted from weak to moderate.

Summing up, Conger and Green wrote, "On balance, the perceived influence of Christian conservatives in state Republican parties has expanded since 1994, with gains in 15 states and declines in eight.... In this sense, the Christian right has been 'spreading out' across the states, especially in the South, Midwest and West. Thus, Christian conservatives have become a staple of politics nearly everywhere."

Conger and Green also conclude, "[T]he influence of Christian conservatives within the GOP has made them less visible, distinctive and independent, but it has also made them a critical component of the Republican coalition."

Robertson Race Horses Scratched After Critics Charge Hypocrisy

TV preacher and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson has agreed to end his involvement in horse racing after a barrage of negative reaction to a New York Times report about his fondness for the sport.

Robertson owns several thoroughbreds and recently purchased a horse he named Mr. Pat, which he had hoped would some day race in the Kentucky Derby. Robertson now says he will disband his racing stable by November.

"I don't bet and I don't gamble," Robertson told The Times. "I just enjoy watching horses running and performing."

Robertson's Coalition, which he officially stepped away from last year, has long opposed legalized gambling, and Robertson himself has opposed other forms of gambling in some states. In Alabama he appeared in television commercials to oppose a bill that would have permitted video gambling at dog tracks. He has also backed a ban on some forms of Internet gambling but said he would exempt horse racing.

"I wish horse racing was not supported by gambling," Robertson told The Times. "They call it the sport of kings. People from King Solomon on have been raising and racing horses. The people I see at the track, they don't seem to love horses. They're looking at The Racing Forum and are trying to make money betting. I like to look at them as performers and to study their bloodlines. That's what I find interesting."

Martin Marty, a professor of the history of modern Christianity at the University of Chicago, was not persuaded by Robertson's attempt to justify his actions.

"The notion of an evangelical entering horse racing and gambling, well, he can pretend all he wants that he's in it for the beauty of the sport, but you can't look at it that way or buy your way out of it by saying that," Marty observed. "The whole culture of horse racing involves gambling, and all the money comes from people trying to hit it big gambling. This is like saying you're investing in a bordello but aren't in favor of prostitution."

Robertson took a hard line toward gambling in his 1984 book Answers to 200 of Life's Most Probing Questions. "Pervasive gambling teaches people that fame, success, and fortune are available without work or struggle," Robertson wrote. "A roll of the dice, a turn of a card, the spin of a wheel, the run of a horse, the drawing of a lottery number are held out as the way to riches. The virtues of industry, thrift, careful investment, and patience are all undermined by this vice. In their place come human greed, lust, avarice, sloth, and a live-for-the-moment mentality."

On May 8 more than 200 religious leaders, including many Religious Right activists, placed a full-page advertisement in Washington, D.C.'s Roll Call newspaper, urging President George W. Bush to curb the spread of legalized gambling. Robertson was noticeably absent from the list of signers.

A few weeks after the April 22 Times story ran, Robertson announced that he was ending his involvement in horse racing. On his website, www.patrobertson.com, Robertson said he had received about 200 letters from supporters disagreeing with his involvement in racing.

He sent each a letter that read in part, "I am sorry that my fondness for the performance of equine athletes has caused you an offense; therefore, for your sake and the sake of others like you, I have set in motion the necessary plans to dispose of all of my thoroughbred racing and breeding stock between now and the breeding sale in Kentucky in November."

In other news about the Religious Right:

 Religious Right author Chuck Colson is under fire for using ghost-written material in his books and columns. The evangelical magazine World reported in April that Colson, in a Christianity Today column, blasted historian Stephen Ambrose, who has been accused of plagiarism.

Ironically, that same Colson column was in fact written by someone else ghost writer Anne Morse, although her name appeared nowhere on it. Colson later admitted that his books, columns and other materials are produced by teams of writers. Colson defended his practice, saying he gives credit to the other writers when he feels he should.

 The president of Bob Jones University wants people to stop using the term "fundamentalist," saying it has become too closely identified with terrorism. Bob Jones III, president of the ultra-conservative school, based in Greenville, S.C., wrote a column recently asserting, "Fundamentalist evokes fear, suspicion and other repulsive connotations in its current usage." Jones recommended using the term "preservationist" instead.

Bush Challenges Senate To Pass 'Faith-Based' Legislative Package

President George W. Bush and congressional Republicans are continuing pressure on the Senate to secure passage of the "faith-based" initiative before the November elections.

Speaking at the First African Methodist Episcopal Renaissance Center in Los Angeles April 29, Bush called for passage of the measure, remarking, "I don't want government to be the church, and I don't want the church to be the government. But government should not fear faith and faith-based programs. I know what faith can mean in somebody's life. That's why I remind people I'm just a humble sinner who sought redemption."

The next day, Bush spoke in San Jose, mentioning similar themes. "In overcoming poverty and dependence, we must also promote the work of charities and community groups and faith-based institutions," Bush said. "These organizations, such as shelters for battered women or mentoring programs for fatherless children or drug treatment centers, inspire hope in a way that government never can. Often, they inspire life-changing faith in a way that government never should."

Continued Bush, "Our government should view the good Americans that work in faith-based charities as partners, not rivals. We must provide new incentives for charitable giving and, when it comes to providing federal resources to effective programs, we should not discriminate against private and religious groups."

A few weeks later Bush raised the issue again while addressing the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. Speaking of the need to pass the initiative, Bush told the crowd, "We know how important faith can be, and we know that faith without works, without action, is dead. True faith is never isolated from the rest of life. It proves itself through actions and sacrifice, through acts of kindness and caring for those in need."

Bush frequently lapsed into snippets of Spanish during his remarks, and at one point told the gathering, "Prayer reminds us that a great people must be humble before God, searching for wisdom, constantly searching for wisdom from the almighty Dios."

The "faith-based" initiative currently under consideration is called the Charity, Aid, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act of 2002 (S. 1924). Sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), the bill is a radically scaled-down version of the proposal Bush originally sought.

Bush wanted to find a way to steer tax money directly to religious groups without requiring them to omit religious activity from their programs or stop discriminating on the basis of religion when hiring staff. The House of Representatives did pass a measure like that (H.R. 7), but it has gone nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

In the interest of getting something passed, Bush has backed the more modest Senate bill, which focuses mostly on altering the tax code to spur more charitable giving.

Americans United still has concerns about some features of the bill. Specifically, AU opposes Title III, which allows religious groups to receive government grants even though they may post unlimited amounts of religious icons and scriptures and impose religious qualifications on their boards of directors.

On May 2, voucher advocate Michael S. Joyce co-sponsored a rally on Capitol Hill designed to give the CARE Act a boost. Speakers included Santorum, Lieberman, Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and Ron Carroll of the Boy Scouts of America.

Joyce is president and founder of a group called Americans for Community and Faith-Centered Enterprise, which he formed to lobby for the faith-based initiative. The event had the feel of a religious service, with performances from a Christian school children's choir and remarks from the Rev. Danny DeLeon, pastor of Templo Calvario in Santa Ana, Calif.

That same day, a group of congressional opponents held a press conference to express their concerns about the bill.

"People are killing each other today in places where government is mixed with religion," said U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas). "Do we really want to do this?"

FOF's Dobson Calls On Parents To Leave Public Schools

Radio broadcaster and "Christian psychologist" James C. Dobson, founder of the large and influential Religious Right group Focus on the Family, recently called on parents to pull their children out of public schools.

The move was seen as significant because while Dobson has been sharply critical of public education for years and has advocated government funding of private religious schools and home schooling, he has always stopped short of advocating a total pull-out from public schools.

The Colorado-based Religious Right leader made the comments during an interview with Pat Buchanan that aired March 28 on FOF's daily radio broadcast (cohosted by John Fuller). Buchanan and Dobson were discussing public education in California when Dobson said, "Pat, I'm going to say something now that's going to surprise some of our listeners because I've never said it before. First time, John. I've been on the air here with Focus on the Family for 25 years, it's the first time I've said this. But in the state of California and places that have moved in the direction that they've gone with the schools, if I had a child there, I wouldn't put that youngster in the public schools.

"I've been very careful," he continued, "not to be negative to the public schools because there are many Christian teachers that are struggling mightily to do what's right there, and I haven't wanted to put pressure on them, but given the fact that in every classroom in the state for 13 public school years they're being taught homosexual propaganda and these other politically correct, postmodern views, I think it's time to get our kids out. And I'm going to get hit for that, and, you know, that's the way it is."

Buchanan was quick to agree, asserting that children's souls were at stake and "they [public schools] are poisoning that."

Several days later, controversial radio counselor Laura Schlessinger endorsed Dobson's call.

"I stand with Dr. James Dobson," Schlessinger said. "Take your kids out of public schools." Fundamentalist Christian broadcaster Marlin Maddoux also told listeners that he backs the anti-public school drive.

Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, noting the new opposition from Schlessinger and Dobson, quickly jumped on the bandwagon.

In April he wrote, "[They] now say many government schools are beyond reform and need to be abandoned. They're right."

On April 30 Dobson reiterated his call to abandon public schools during an appearance on Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" program. Asked about his comments by conservative host Sean Hannity, Dobson replied, "I said let me simply say, not for everybody, but if it were my child in California, where they're teaching homosexual propaganda, starting with kindergarten, 5-year-old children sitting on the floor, hearing about adult perverse behavior, I would get my kid out of there."

The "homosexual propaganda" that Dobson is referring to is actually legislation signed into law last year by Gov. Gray Davis that adds sexual orientation to a list of forms of discrimination that are banned in California public schools. The legislation was designed to give schools new tools to combat bullying and harassment of gay students.

After the measure became law, a California Department of Education Task Force devised a series of recommendations to implement its provisions. One recommendation calls for including material about gay and bisexual figures in history in the curriculum "when appropriate" and in an "age-appropriate and culturally sensitive" manner.

Far-right activists who oppose all government involvement in public education are using Dobson's statement to boost their cause. Marshall Fritz, head of a fringe group called the Separation of School and State Alliance, hailed Dobson's comments. "With [this] courageous and insightful statement, Dr. Dobson joins the millions of Americans who have concluded that many public schools are no place to train new generations of Americans," Fritz said in a statement.

Fritz, who advocates abolishing public schools outright, sponsors an online petition calling for an end to public education. He claims support from several Religious Right activists, among them D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries; Tim LaHaye, author of the popular "Left Behind" book series, and Domino's Pizza magnate Thomas Monaghan. (Only about 16,000 people have signed Fritz's petition, and several hundred signers are from abroad.)

Some anti-public school activists believe the new onslaught of support from the Religious Right marks a turning point.

But the American public, it would seem, does not agree. Despite decades of anti-public school propaganda emanating from the Religious Right, 90 percent of Americans with school-aged children send them to public institutions, a figure that has remained steady for years. Furthermore, polls show most Americans giving favorable grades to the public school their own children attend.

Ky. Representative Uses 'Faith-Based' Funding To Win Votes, Critics Say

U.S. Rep. Anne M. Northup (R-Ky.) has created a non-profit organization to steer federal money to religious groups in order to shore up her political strength in the African-American community, critics have charged.

The non-profit, Louisville Neighborhood Initiative Inc., (LNI) doles out federal money to poor, mostly minority neighborhoods. Critics say Northup targets black churches for grants to win votes.

"I can't paint a clearer picture," said the Rev. C. Mackey Daniels, pastor of West Chestnut Baptist Church. "The support was given in order to get votes."

The arrangement was reported in Roll Call last month. The newspaper noted that it's not unusual for members of Congress to launch non-profits, but that they usually don't hold official positions with groups that receive federal money to avoid a conflict of interest.

Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project, said the arrangement deserves closer scrutiny.

"There are broad prohibitions on providing any special benefit to any person or outside group," Ruskin said. "It's clearly an open question that she has done that. It's something the ethics committee should really look at."

Continued Ruskin, "It's one way of building a political machine. She's trying to squeeze out any political advantage she can."

Northup's group has run into trouble before. In February the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky sued the organization, charging that it was soliciting proposals solely from church-based groups, not similarly situated secular charities. Officials at LNI denied the allegations but agreed to change their policies.

Northup has never been popular in the black community in her northwestern Kentucky district. Roll Call reported that she has never won more than 9 percent of the black vote. In 2000, she won the general election with just 53 percent of the vote.

Her efforts through LNI may be changing some minds, however. The Rev. Anthony Middleton of Cable Missionary Baptist Church said LNI helped him receive funding to build a family center. The exchange has led him to take a second look at Northup.

"I voted Democrat. I'm a registered Democrat, and I continue to vote Democrat," Middleton told Roll Call. "But I think it's time for the black community to wake up and see who is delivering on their promises. Because the Democrats aren't. I think she deserves another look as far as being the best person out there."

In Maryland, meanwhile, a Republican gubernatorial hopeful has promised to use money from "faith-based initiatives" to build support in black churches. U.S. Rep. Robert Ehrlich, the leading contender for the GOP nomination, told reporters April 30 that he will neutralize race as a factor through the promise of government aid.

"I'm a white guy. I'm a Republican," Ehrlich said. "But I'll deliver. I'm not saying this gets me 20 percent of the black vote, but it lowers the temperature."

Ten Commandments Display Struck Down In Elkhart, Ind.

A plan to retain a Ten Commandments monument in Elkhart, Ind., by surrounding it with historical documents has been rejected by a federal court.

U.S. District Judge Allen Sharp said the proposal would still violate the Constitution. Ruling in late April, Sharp gave city officials 30 days to come up with an alternative proposal.

"The city of Elkhart has choices, but the proposed remedy is not among them," Sharp wrote. "The religious language...cannot remain in its place of prominence by the Elkhart Municipal Building."

The judge's ruling was the latest twist in a long-running legal battle over the display of the Ten Commandments in Elkhart. The stone tablets, which sit in front of city hall, were maintained by the government for years. Two residents sued in 1998, seeking the monument's removal.

A federal appeals court agreed, and the U.S. Supreme Court later refused to hear the case. City officials, who are reluctant to remove the monument, are trying to come up with a plan to secularize the display by adding other elements.

The Indiana Civil Liberties Union has recommended that the city move the marker to private property.