Congressional Leaders Meet With Religious Right To Plot Strategy

Religious Right activists and their congressional allies are huddling in Washington, D.C., to figure out how to ensure a large Election Day turnout of the so-called “values voters.”

In late March, several Religious Right leaders met with top Republican House and Senate officials. Those taking part included Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council; Gary Bauer, former Republican presidential candidate and head of American Values; the Rev. Rick Scarborough of Vision America and Roberta Combs of the Christian Coalition.

Congressional leaders included House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).

Bauer, in a memo to his American Values supporters, said the meeting with congressional leaders focused on “ways we can win important public policy battles, such as defending traditional marriage and advancing the right to life.” Bauer added that the Religious Right is a “growing coalition,” claiming that African-American pastors are joining the movement around the marriage issue.

Texas pastor Scarborough also boasted to his supporters about attending the gathering.

“For three hours we discussed how we could effectively work together to move the conservative moral and social agenda,” wrote Scarborough in his March 23 e-mail.

Scarborough also said he disseminated his “Values Voter Contract with Congress.” The document lists a host of actions that lawmakers or candidates for public office should support, such as banning same-sex marriage, permitting organized prayer in the public schools and limiting the power of federal judges.

Scarborough maintained in his e-mail that “one of the Congressional leaders came to me and stated that what I presented was the most visionary thing he heard at the meetings.”

Congressional Republicans are clearly worried about President George W. Bush’s plummeting approval ratings and are looking for ways to shore up his evangelical Christian base. The conservative magazine, Weekly Standard, reported that GOP leaders told the Religious Right activists that they would work to “schedule some votes on controversial issues that may help drive the party’s base to the polls in November.”

Frist has already announced that the Senate will vote in June on the so-called “Marriage Protection Amendment,” which would ban same-sex marriages in the country. The Standard’s Fred Barnes wrote that this spring and summer Republican leaders in both chambers of Congress “plan to bring up a series of issues that are popular with the Republican base of voters. The aim is to stir conservative voters and spur turnout in the November election.”

Religious Right figures have been prodding the Republican leadership to work harder to energize their evangelical constituency. Some among the Religious Right are grumbling that Congress has not done enough to advance its agenda. 

In late March, The Washington Times reported that Religious Right activists and their supporters had warned Con­gress that they “feel unappreciated and frustrated with Congress and that the party must get more aggressive on such values issues as marriage, human cloning, religious freedom and abortion if they want a decent” turnout in the fall elections.

The conservative newspaper also reported on a poll commissioned by the Family Research Council (FRC) that showed 63 percent of “values voters” believed that Congress “has not kept their promises to act on a pro-family agenda.”

The survey of “self described evangelical Christians” showed that a majority of them want same-sex marriage outlawed, larger fines levied against “indecency” and harsher restrictions on reproductive rights.

The FRC announced that its political arm, called FRC Action, would host a “Values Voter” conference this fall in Washington at the Omni Shoreham, the same venue as Scarborough’s recent “War on Christians” conference. The FRC event is co-sponsored by other Religious Right pressure groups, such as James Dobson’s Focus on the Family Action.

Paul Weyrich, a long-time Religious Right politico, told a Focus on the Family publication that he also believes Congress has not been attentive enough to the Religious Right.

“I don’t see evidence of a pro-life agenda,” Weyrich told Citizenlink. “We know that there’s going to be a vote on the marriage-protection amendment, but Congress hasn’t made the president’s tax cuts permanent, which really impact middle-class families. They also haven’t done much on pro-life or family-values legislation on Capitol Hill.”