Florida TV Preacher Closes Religious Right Lobbying Office

A Religious Right pressure group founded by TV preacher D. James Ken­nedy announced abruptly in April that it would close its doors.

The Center for Reclaiming America, based in Fort Lauderdale, laid off staff members and ceased operations. An allied office in Washington, the Center for Christian Statesmanship, was also shuttered.

The organizations were outgrowths of Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries. Coral Ridge, with an annual budget of about $40 million, regularly churns out material attacking separation of church and state, gay rights, public education, evolution and other Religious Right targets.

The ministry referred to its decision as a “streamlining” and said it would shift its focus elsewhere.

“We’re getting back to our core competency, the production of media,” Brian Fisher, executive vice president at Coral Ridge Ministries, told the Fort Lauder­dale Sun-Sentinel. “Our heart and soul is the teaching of Dr. Kennedy, and getting it to more people than those who come to church.”

The church is facing leadership problems as well. Kennedy suffered a massive heart attack late last year and has been recuperating. It is unclear if he remains involved in the group’s daily operations or if he will be able to assume his duties in the pulpit.

The Center for Reclaiming America held an annual conference promoting right-wing politics and the Religious Right’s social agenda. (See “Religious Right, Still Wrong,” April 2007 Church & State.) Fisher said the future of that gathering remains uncertain.

“We’re still evaluating,” he said. “I think we’ll have something, but the name or purpose or format hasn’t been determined.”

Fisher denied that Coral Ridge is having financial problems. As if to prove the organization’s vitality, just days after the announcement, Coral Ridge issued a press release trumpeting a new DVD it has put out attacking public schools. The DVD, however, offers no new ideas. It merely proffers shopworn claims that the Religious Right has circulated for years by insisting that public education is under the control of the National Educa­tion Association and that schools promote homosexuality. It demands vouchers.

A Coral Ridge press release asserts that the effort will also include a petition drive called “Freedom for Students.” The petition urges governors to promote voucher bills. It asserts that vouchers would give “students and their parents freedom to choose their own schools – public or private – in order to receive the best education available.”

During its existence, the Center worked hard to court influential far-right Republicans. In July of 2001, then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay addressed a Capitol Hill gathering sponsored by the Cen­ter for Christian Statesmanship and at­tacked the separation of church and state.

DeLay praised President George W. Bush’s “faith-based” initiative, asserting it is a good way of “standing up and rebuking this notion of separation of church and state that has been imposed upon us over the last 40 or 50 years.”

He added, “You see, I don’t believe there is a separation of church and state. I think the Constitution is very clear. We have the right and the freedom to exercise our religion, no matter what it is, anywhere we choose to do it. We have an opportunity to once again get back into the public arena.”