Religious Right Holds Too Much Power In GOP, Ex-Sen. Danforth Warns

Some long-time Republican leaders are beginning to believe that the Religious Right holds too much sway over their party.

In a March 30 op-ed piece in The New York Times, former U.S. Senator John C. Danforth warned, “By a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians.”

Danforth, a former Missouri senator and United Nations ambassador, argued that recent events prove the overwhelming influence of Christian conservatives in the party. He cited their successful drive to prod Congress to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case, constant calls for restrictions on stem-cell research and the push for a Federal Marriage Amendment.

“The problem is not with people or churches that are politically active,” observed Danforth, an Episcopal priest. “It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious government.

“When government becomes the means of carrying out a religious program,” he continued, “it raises obvious questions under the First Amendment. But even in the absence of constitutional issues, a political party should resist identification with a religious movement. While religions are free to advocate for their own sectarian causes, the work of government and those who engage in it is to hold together as one people a very diverse country.”

Danforth urged his party to wake up and “rediscover” its roots.

Danforth’s comments come close on the heels of remarks by U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, one of five House Republican members who voted against intervening in the Schiavo case.

In a March 23 report on the action in the Times, Shays expressed alarm.

“This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy,” Shays said. “There are going to be repercussions from this vote. There are a number of people who feel the government is getting involved in their personal lives in a way that scares them.”

Polls showed that a large majority of Americans, including evangelicals and conservatives, were put off by lawmakers’ rush to thrust themselves into the Schiavo situation. According to a CBS News poll, 82 percent thought Congress and the president should have stayed out of the matter.