Editor’s Note: This is an expanded version of the article that appeared in the October 2008 print edition of Church & State magazine.
By Rob Boston
For the past two years, numerous media pundits have been all abuzz over the so-called “death” of the Religious Right. There is one problem, however: Someone forgot to tell the Religious Right.
A recent Americans United study of the finances and influence of the Religious Right shows a movement that is very much alive and kicking. Indeed, our research shows that the nation’s leading Religious Right organizations took in more than half a billion dollars over a recent 12-month period. Several of the organizations reported dramatic increases in their budgets; only a few showed a drop.
Financial information was not the only factor we took into account when compiling this list. We also attempted to determine the influence organizations have on the larger political scene. A group can have a modest budget and still cast a long shadow.
Many of these organizations are also well represented in Washington, D.C., and in state capitals. Their lobbyists troll the halls of Congress or state legislatures, in some cases actually helping draft legislation.
For budgetary data, Church & State relied on Internal Revenue Service Form 990, a document that most 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) tax-exempt groups are required to file. In most cases, the figures come from a period spanning the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007.
1. Christian Broadcasting Network
Founder and Chairman: The Rev. Pat Robertson
2006 Revenue: $246,986,289
Location: Virginia Beach, Va.
Web site: www.cbn.org
Overview: Television preacher M.G. “Pat” Robertson founded the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in 1961, primarily as an instrument of Pentecostal preaching and evangelism. Over the years, the ministry took on a political cast and became a vehicle for the propagation of Robertson’s far-right views.
In 1988, Robertson ran unsuccessfully for president in the Republican primaries. He gathered millions of signatures from supporters during that campaign and later used them as the basis for an explicitly political group, the Christian Coalition. The Coalition did well during the 1990s but began to experience financial difficulties and leadership problems as the decade wound down. In 2001, Robertson withdrew from the organization completely. (It still limps along, based in South Carolina, with a budget of $1.4 million.)
Some today deride Robertson’s influence among conservative Christians, but no other Religious Right leader has the media and academic platform he has. During the presidential primary season, Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani made personal appearances at Robertson’s Regent University and courted his support.
President George W. Bush has also labored to keep Robertson happy. At least 150 Regent graduates were placed in the Bush administration. Among them was Monica Goodling, who sparked a scandal by applying a “pro-God” political litmus test to non-political appointments at the Justice Department. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft is now a professor on the Regent campus, and a Robertson charity, Operation Blessing, has received $1.5 million in tax money under the Bush “faith-based” initiative.
CBN’s major project is production of the “700 Club,” Robertson’s talk/news program. The show, estimated to have about 800,000 viewers daily, is Robertson’s primary vehicle for spreading his political views, which include vociferous opposition to church-state separation, legal abortion and gay rights. Like the Fox News Channel, CBN gives right-wing members of Congress and authors friendly interviews and publicity.
Robertson frequently uses the program to espouse extremism. Over the years he has ranted that America should be a Christian nation, compared gay people to Nazis, blamed court decisions and civil liberties groups for the 9/11 attacks and asserted that God punishes communities that displease Him with hurricanes, tornados and possibly even meteors. One of Robertson’s most infamous observations is that Episcopalians, Methodists and Presbyterians reflect “the spirit of the Antichrist.”
Aside from Regent, Robertson’s empire includes the American Center for Law and Justice, a Religious Right legal group (see below); Operation Blessing, a charity that has been racked by scandal, and Regent University, a graduate-level school.
Now 78, Robertson has been increasingly shifting day-to-day responsibilities to his son, Gordon, who often appears alongside him on the “700 Club.” It has been reported that CBN has an endowment of at least $1 billion, meaning the ministry should be able to continue long after Robertson has retired.
Robertson Quote: “America wasn’t built on Hinduism. America wasn’t built on Islam. America wasn’t built on Buddhism. America and our democratic institutions were built on the Christian faith. There is no question about it.” (“700 Club,” July 30, 2007)
2. Focus on the Family
Founder and Chairman: James C. Dobson
2006 Revenue: $156,972,266
Location: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Web site: www.focusonthefamily.org
Overview: Child psychologist James C. Dobson formed Focus on the Family (FOF) in 1977. Dobson made his name by endorsing corporal punishment for children at a time when most experts on child rearing were moving away from it, views he outlined in his first book Dare to Discipline.
Dobson came to national prominence in the mid 1980s after serving on a presidential commission charged with studying the effects of pornography. He produced a number of other books, and FOF began publishing a variety of magazines. In 1988, FOF took control of a struggling Religious Right group in Washington, the Family Research Council (see below). Now technically separate, the groups today claim to be “spiritually one.”
Radio made Dobson famous. He began broadcasting in March of 1977, when his organization was based in Southern California. FOF experienced rapid growth and by 1981 had 34 employees. Within a few years, the staff had reached 1,200, and FOF branches were being opened overseas. The organization now has representation in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Singapore and Ireland.
Today, according to FOF’s Web site, the ministry’s broadcasts are heard on more than 5,000 stations in 155 countries, reaching 220 million people daily. The group’s budget (excluding its more political arm, FOF Action) is $142,279,843.
Many people view Dobson as a grandfatherly dispenser of homespun wisdom on how to raise kids and build strong marriages. In fact, his political views are quite extreme. He has attacked the concept of tolerance, asserting that it leads to the blurring of right and wrong. A fundamentalist raised in the strict Church of the Nazarene, Dobson embraces a literal interpretation of the Bible. He opposes legal abortion, often attacks public education, berates feminism – Dobson’s group has gone so far as to attack the Girl Scouts as a front for humanism and radical feminism – and sponsors programs to “convert” gays to heterosexuality. In recent years, FOF has taken the lead in opposing same-sex marriage in the states.
Dobson, 72, frequently issues personal endorsements of political candidates and in 2004 formed an overtly political arm called Focus on the Family Action. With a budget of nearly $14.7 million, FOF Action produces materials on political issues and sponsors “citizenship rallies” that, it says, “spotlight the positions of candidates for key offices.” This allows FOF Action to effectively endorse office seekers while maintaining the façade of nonpartisanship.
FOF is also affiliated with “family policy councils” that lobby legislatures in 35 states. FOF’s CitizenLink magazine frequently comments on national and state issues. The FOF Web site says of CitizenLink, “Our experts grapple with contemporary social issues and provide a biblical perspective on national and local news.”
Dobson Quote: “The separation of church and state is not in the Constitution. No, it’s not. That is not in the Constitution.... It’s not in the Bill of Rights. It’s not anywhere in a foundational document. The only place where the so-called ‘wall of separation’ was mentioned was in a letter written by Jefferson to a friend. That’s the only place. It has been picked up and made to be something it was never intended to be.” (“Larry King Live,” Nov. 22, 2006)
3. American Center for Law and Justice/Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism
Founders: Pat Robertson (ACLJ) and Jay Sekulow (CASE)
2007 Revenue: $42,658,159
Location: Virginia Beach, Va., Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Ga.
Web site: www.aclj.org
Overview: Attorney Jay Sekulow, a Jewish convert to evangelical Christianity, came to national prominence in 1987, after successfully arguing a case before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Jews For Jesus, which protested a policy at Los Angeles International Airport banning all forms of solicitation.
Three years later, Sekulow, under the auspices of Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE), a group he founded, argued another case at the Supreme Court. This time he represented Bridget Mergens, a public high school student in Washington state who wanted to form a Bible club.
Sekulow’s successful litigation of the cases impressed TV preacher Pat Robertson, who hired Sekulow to run the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), an organization Robertson perceived as a fundamentalist Christian answer to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Robertson and Sekulow have used the ACLJ to chip away at the church-state wall, erode abortion rights, oppose gay rights and push other Religious Right social goals. Sekulow, 52, is also close to the Bush administration and helped vet Supreme Court nominees.
Sekulow has a considerable media presence. His daily radio show, “Jay Sekulow Live,” is heard on 850 stations, and his weekly television program “ACLJ This Week,” appears on several major Christian networks.
At first glance, the ACLJ’s funding appears to be slipping. In 2006, Church & State reported an annual budget of $14,485,514 for the group. The most recent 990 puts that figure at $10,433,987. That number is misleading, however. CASE still exists and operates in tandem with the ACLJ. CASE brought in $32.2 million last year, making the Sekulow operation’s income considerably higher than it appears to be.
In recent years, the group has been dogged by allegations that Sekulow collects an enormous salary and that CASE has purchased several homes for him. This does not appear to have slowed down the group’s fundraising.
Sekulow Quote: “They have taken prayer out of schools…the Ten Commandments out of the courts…now they are trying to stop us from even mentioning God in public. This is an outrage.” (ACLJ fundraising letter, June 2006)
4. Alliance Defense Fund
President, CEO and General Counsel: Alan Sears
2007 Revenue: $31,674,124
Location: Scottsdale, Ariz.
Web site: www.alliancedefensefund.org
Overview: Founded in 1993 by a coalition of more than 30 Religious Right leaders, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) has become the nation’s most prominent Religious Right legal group.
ADF founders, which included James Dobson, Donald Wildmon, the late Bill Bright and the late D. James Kennedy, originally conceived the organization as a funding pool that would finance legal cases brought by other groups that advanced the Religious Right’s view in the courts.
This strategy was employed for a few years, but the ADF now directly litigates cases itself and is headed by Alan Sears, formerly an anti-pornography crusader in the Edwin Meese-era Justice Department. The ADF is rigidly anti-gay and promotes its Christian fundamentalist vision in public schools and government institutions.
A flavor of Sears’ views can be found in the titles of the books he has coauthored: The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today (2003) and The ACLU vs. America (2005). Sears, 52, is so concerned about the “homosexual agenda” that he once opined that SpongeBob SquarePants might be part of a gay plot to indoctrinate children.
The ADF has become one of the leading proponents of the “war on Christmas.” While it raises a lot of money fighting this “war,” actual litigation over the issue is rare. Other ADF cases seem to have been filed as ploys to raise cash. In 2005, the ADF sued a California public school after claiming that officials had ordered a teacher to stop using the Declaration of Independence in class. The claims were exposed as false, and the case quickly unraveled and was dropped – but not until the ADF had used the manufactured controversy to win media appearances and raise money.
The ADF has worked aggressively to lure churches into a right-wing political machine. This year, it announced plans to urge evangelical pastors to openly defy federal tax law by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit. The drive sparked a backlash from a group of Ohio clergy and tax law experts, who asked the IRS to investigate ADF lawyers for urging churches to violate tax law.
Working with a network of pro bono attorneys nationwide, the ADF offers training for both established lawyers and law students. The latter are “equipped with a distinctly Christian worldview in every area of life, particularly in the areas of law and public policy,” boasts the ADF Web site.
Sears Quote: “Homosexual activists have noticed very astutely that the use of humor is a primary vehicle to help them reach their goal of cultural acceptance. Humor had been used by the entertainment industry in the past to stir up antiwar sentiment (the Marx brothers’ Duck Soup, M*A*S*H, Dr. Strangelove) and to promote feminism (Nine to Five) and cross-dressing (Some Like It Hot and Tootsie). Homosexual producers and directors readily admit that humor is their best weapon to soften up the American public for the future promotion of their agenda. If you can get people to laugh about something, you are then on the way to convincing them to accept the behavior as normal.” (The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today, coauthored with Craig Osten, 2003)
5. American Family Association
Founder and Chairman: The Rev. Donald Wildmon
2007 Revenue: $22,547,087
Location: Tupelo, Miss.
Web site: www.afa.net
Overview: The American Family Association (AFA) was formed in 1977 under the name National Federal for Decency. The goal of its founder, the Rev. Donald Wildmon, was ambitious: clean up smut on television. Wildmon vowed to use boycotts to bring advertisers to their knees.
The original plan did not work out as well as Wildmon had hoped. Years went by, and risqué TV programs continued to proliferate. The rise of cable brought movies and shows featuring sexual themes right into American living rooms. Wildmon shifted gears, changing the name of the organization and adopting a host of Religious Right boilerplate issues, such as promoting religion in public schools, pushing the display of religious signs and symbols in government buildings and opposing gay rights.
Wildmon still promotes boycotts, but their effectiveness is disputed. A long-running Wildmon-sponsored boycott of the Disney Corporation didn’t affect the company’s bottom line. Wildmon claimed success for a boycott of Ford Motors, but auto analysts said the company’s drop in sales was due to other factors.
Most recently, Wildmon has called for a boycott of Hallmark, the greeting card company, which has been marketing a line of cards for same-sex marriages, and of fast-food giant McDonald’s, which Wildmon scored for joining the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
Wildmon was instrumental in forming the Arlington Group, a coalition of Religious Right organizations that meet regularly in a Washington, D.C., suburb to plot strategy. (Unlike the Coalition for National Policy – see below – the Arlington Group does not contain secular conservative organizations and sticks to “culture war” issues.)
Wildmon, 70, is a United Methodist minister. He does daily radio broadcasts over American Family Radio to more than 200 stations and distributes a daily round-up of right-wing news called OneNewsNow.
Wildmon Quote: “There is a deep-seated hatred of all things Christian in the entertainment industry. It is reflected in their products. They express this hatred by censoring all positive portrayals of Christianity. They think that the sooner they can drive this ‘God idea’ from society, the better society will be.” (American Family Association Journal, September 2005)
6. Family Research Council
President: Tony Perkins
2007 Revenue: $11,783,971
Location: Washington, D.C.
Web site: www.frc.org
Overview: The Family Research Council (FRC) is the Washington, D.C., beachhead of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family (FOF). Founded by Dobson in 1983, FRC is legally separate from FOF, but the two groups acknowledge they are “spiritually one.”
The FRC’s public profile was boosted dramatically with the decline of the Christian Coalition. FRC annually hosts a “Values Voter Summit,” an event attended by thousands that is nearly identical to the “Road to Victory” conferences the Christian Coalition used to sponsor. The group is well connected with the Republican leadership in the nation’s capital and often asks GOP lawmakers to speak at its events. In 2007, every major GOP presidential contender attended the Summit.
Tony Perkins, a former Louisiana state legislator, is the current president of the FRC. He took the job after an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 2002. During the run-up to the race, Perkins sparked controversy when he agreed to address the Council of Conservative Citizens, an outgrowth of an old racist group called the White Citizens Council. (In the primary, he received only 10 percent of the vote.) The Nation has reported that in 1996, Perkins, then managing a U.S. Senate campaign for Woody Jenkins, paid $82,000 for a mailing list owned by white supremacist David Duke.
Under Perkins’ tutelage, the FRC has become more aggressive in attacking same-sex marriage and gay rights generally. The FRC also opposes legal abortion, frequently assails public education and lambastes “judicial activism.”
And like other Religious Right groups, it sometimes ventures into unexpected territory. For example, Perkins has attacked Earth Day as “a calculated attack on the sanctity of human life,” and he joined with other anti-environmentalism religious activists to push the “We Get It” campaign to minimize concern about climate change.
The FRC now has a 501(c)(4) “action” arm and last month announced the formation of a political action committee to give money to candidates.
Perkins Quote: “We have broken our covenant with God, and if we want our courts to get it right, you and I must get it right by returning to covenant with Almighty God. Are you ready to return to a covenantal relationship with God where there is no other God over America but Jesus Christ?” (Speech to The Call prayer rally, Washington, D.C., Aug. 16, 2008)
7. Concerned Women for America
Founders: Tim and Beverly LaHaye
2007 Revenue: $10,640,810
Location: Washington, D.C.
Web site: www.cwfa.org
Overview: Founded to oppose feminism, Concerned Women for America (CWA) claims to be “the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization.” Its mission is to “bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy.”
CWA was formed in 1979 by Tim LaHaye and his wife, Beverly. At the time, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was gaining steam, and conservative activists sought a vehicle to oppose it that would – at least on the surface – be run by women. (Today, three out of five of the organization’s highest-paid positions are held by men.)
Rather than close shop after the ERA failed to pass, CWA moved on to other issues. In the 1980s, its leaders frequently attacked public schools for promoting “secular humanism.” The group also added opposition to abortion and gay rights to its plate. Today, its Web site lists “six core issues”: opposition to same-sex marriage, opposition to legal abortion, promoting vouchers and other forms of tax aid to private schools, opposition to pornography, “religious liberty” issues and national sovereignty. (This latter category includes opposition to the United Nations and demands for a crackdown on illegal immigration.)
Tim LaHaye, now 82, became famous in the 1990s after he coauthored several apocalyptic potboilers about the end of the world called the Left Behind series. The LaHayes live in semi-retirement and no longer run CWA on a daily basis. The group’s Web site lists Beverly LaHaye, 79, as “founder and chairman” of the group, and its current president is Wendy Wright.
Tim LaHaye Quote: “Although the left is determined to turn America into an amoral, socialist state similar to China or Cuba, it is not inevitable. We still have time to turn back the tide to traditional moral and spiritual values and to restore genuine individual freedom. But we must understand how the humanists have gained such mind control that 10 to 15 million of them can literally overpower a nation of more than 270 million people.” (Mind Siege: The Battle for Truth in the New Millennium – with David Noebel)
8. Jerry Falwell Ministries
Founder: The Rev. Jerry Falwell
2007 Revenue: $4,208,989
Location: Lynchburg, Va.
Web site: www.falwell.com
Overview: The Rev. Jerry Falwell is considered the godfather of the Religious Right, and the story of how the controversial televangelist was persuaded to lead the Moral Majority by a band of conservative strategists is well known.
Falwell died in May of 2007, leaving his fundamentalist Christian empire in the hands of his two sons, Jerry Jr. and Jonathan. Jerry Jr. serves as president of Liberty University, while Jonathan pastors Thomas Road Baptist Church, a congregation that claims over 24,000 members and oversees the television ministry.
Although the TV ministry is less prominent and takes in less money these days, other aspects of the Falwell empire are doing very well. USA Today reported in May that Thomas Road is growing and that Liberty University has topped 11,000 in enrollment. Reported the newspaper, “Liberty’s online distance learning program has reached 27,000 students, exceeding the elder Falwell’s goal of 25,000. Revenues grew from $147 million in 2006 to $232 million in 2007.”
Liberty’s budget now exceeds $203 million annually. Liberty Law School Dean Mat Staver operates Liberty Counsel, a Religious Right legal advocacy group, from Lynchburg. The creation of this university, and the waves of fundamentalist activists it unleashes on society every year, may turn out to be Falwell’s most lasting legacy.
Politically, the Falwell boys are on the same page as their father. Jonathan Falwell told Baptist Press in June that his father would have supported John McCain, in the belief that the Supreme Court might overturn legal abortion if another justice or two are replaced.
“We are so close…we are one vote away from a court that would be a strict constructionist court [and] not one that tries to legislate from the bench,” he said.
Jonathan Falwell Quote: “As our nation has turned away from (and even become hostile toward) the Ten Commandments and other biblical principles, we have seen our citizenry become progressively more dishonest and deceptive. Crime has risen, our schools have failed and our culture has become vulgar and crude. I believe it’s all related to the ouster of God from our schools, our media and our society….” (Newsmax.com, April 18, 2008)
9. Southern Baptist Convention/Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
2007 Revenue: $205,716,834; ERLC Revenue: $3,394,327
Location: Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.
Web site: www.sbc.net
Overview: It may seem odd to list a religious denomination among the nation’s top Religious Right groups, but the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has earned the distinction. The leadership of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination has been firmly aligned with the Religious Right for nearly three decades. SBC agencies often take public policy positions identical to that of other Religious Right organizations and joins with them in various coalition efforts and legal briefs at the Supreme Court.
The SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission – a fancy name for a lobbying office – is headed by Richard Land, who openly meddles in Republican Party politics.
Last year, Land, who frequently visits the nation’s capital, spent an inordinate amount of time promoting the presidential candidacy of Fred Thompson. Land constantly sang Thompson’s praises in the media and publicly defended him on several occasions. Land gushed to one Washington newspaper, “Fred Thompson reminds me of a Southern-fried Reagan. To see Fred work a crowd must be what it was like to watch Rembrandt paint.”
Land does not even pretend to be non-partisan. In 1998, he told The New York Times that the Religious Right was tired of being taken for granted by the GOP. “The go-along, get-along strategy is dead,” Land said. “No more engagement. We want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of the marriage.”
During the 2008 primary season, Land compared U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton to Darth Vader and a witch (saying if she failed to be president, she would want to park her broom outside the Supreme Court for life). He has called George W. Bush “the greatest president of my lifetime,” and Land claims he recommended that John McCain put evangelical Christian Sarah Palin on the ticket.
Although McCain has not been a favorite of right-wing evangelicals, Land says the Arizona senator can be counted on.
“McCain knows if he wins this election, it is because evangelicals put him in the White House, and McCain is very loyal,” Land told an Oklahoma Baptist gathering in August.
Baptist churches are autonomous and somewhat difficult to corral, but SBC leaders dream of hammering them into a right-wing political machine. Land’s point man in Washington, Barrett Duke, sees the need to turn up the heat. He told the Christian Index in August of 2007, “There are 16 million Southern Baptists, and we should be able to shut down the congressional switchboard all by ourselves when there is a need to voice our convictions on a certain issue.”
In a 1997 sermon, Land insisted he does not favor theocracy – he just believes a majority should be able to impose its religious will on others.
“It’s our work to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Land said. “But when we preach that Gospel, and God has blessed it and people’s hearts and minds have been changed, then they have the right as citizens to come forth in the public arena and say, ‘This is wrong, and we want it stopped.’ For example, abortion is the killing of innocent children, and we want laws to change it. When we convince a majority of Americans that we are right, that’s not called a theocracy, that’s called the democratic process.”
The SBC has taken some rather controversial positions over the years. It endorsed a boycott against the Disney empire, asserting that the company was promoting homosexuality. The boycott lasted eight years and ended with Disney altering none of its policies.
In 2005, attendees at the SBC’s annual meeting entertained a motion calling on all Southern Baptists to withdraw their children from public schools. The resolution was eventually watered down to denounce public schools for allegedly putting forth “offensive materials and programs” promoting homosexuality.
In 1998, the SBC approved a resolution calling on women to “graciously submit” to their husbands.
Land Quote: “We must confront those trying to keep us from the public square. [America] was founded by Christian men who believed Christians should use their faith to make public policy.” (Family Impact Summit, Tampa, Fla., September 2007)
10. Council for National Policy
Executive Director: Steve Baldwin
2007 Revenue: $1,680,914
Location: Washington, D.C.
Web site: None
Overview: The Council for National Policy (CNP) is a good example of how a small organization with a modest budget can have a big impact. Founded in 1981 by Tim LaHaye and other right-wing activists, the CNP undertakes just one task: convening meetings of the heads of various right-wing groups at posh hotels around the country to share ideas, plot strategy and vet GOP presidential hopefuls.
The CNP does not lobby or file lawsuits. Membership is by invitation only, and the group seeks no media attention. It doesn’t even have a Web site. As far as the CNP’s leadership is concerned, it would be better if you didn’t even know the group existed.
In 1999, the CNP attracted more attention than usual after it was reported that George W. Bush had addressed the group. Bush was pressed by reporters to give details about what went on during the closed-door meeting but refused.
In 2004, a New York Times reporter managed to attend a meeting of the group and even obtained its membership list. At that time, reported David Kirkpatrick, the CNP’s membership included Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson, Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association and Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform.
The CNP’s most recent IRS filing sheds a little more light on the organization. Its address is listed as 1411 K St., N.W., Suite 601 in Washington. The form dryly reports that the CNP exists to provide “educational conferences and seminars for national leaders in the fields of business, government, religion and academia to explore national policy alternatives.” It adds that “weekly newsletters are distributed to members and a semi-annual journal is produced, consisting of speeches from meetings.”
The 2006 filing lists Steve Baldwin, a California Religious Right activist, as the group’s executive director. (Most recently, Baldwin – not to be confused with the actor of the same name – coauthored a book titled From Crayons to Condoms: The Ugly Truth About America’s Public Schools.)
T. Kenneth Cribb is president of the CNP board, while Heritage Foundation executive Becky Norton Dunlop serves as vice president and long-time right-wing activist Paul Weyrich acts as secretary/treasurer.
The CNP’s Board of Directors consists of direct mail guru Richard Viguerie; Family Research Council President Tony Perkins; anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist; Richard P. Bott Sr., president of Bott Radio Network; Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, a wealthy Michigan financier of right-wing causes; Stuart W. Epperson, chairman of Salem Radio; Robert Fischer; Kevin L. Gentry; J. Keet Lewis; Christopher Long; Eugene Meyer; Ken Raasch; Adam B. Ross and Stacy W. Taylor.
Others who have been affiliated with the CNP include TV preacher Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell, longtime anti-feminist crusader Phyllis Schlafly, Iran-Contra figure turned right-wing talk radio host Oliver North, the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), wealthy California savings-and-loan heir Howard Ahmanson, former House Majority Leader Dick Army (R-Texas), former Attorney General John Ashcroft and Tommy Thompson, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
GOP presidential candidate John McCain addressed a New Orleans CNP gathering in March, where he stressed his opposition to legal abortion and same-sex marriage. News of Sarah Palin’s selection as McCain’s running mate reportedly was joyously received by the group at its meeting in Minneapolis just before the Republican National Convention.
Reflecting on the GOP ticket, Baldwin said members of his group are not crazy about McCain but will back him.
“The vast majority of conservatives are lining up behind him, despite their concerns, because Obama scares the daylights out of us,” Baldwin said.
• • •
There are plenty of other Religious Right groups, of course. The field is crowded with lesser lights. Former FRC operative Gary Bauer runs American Values, a group he describes as “committed to uniting the American people around the vision of our Founding Fathers.” In reality, it’s just a vehicle for Bauer to bash gay people, Muslims, legal abortion and church-state separation.
In California, the Rev. Lou Sheldon heads the Traditional Values Coalition, which claims to work with 40,000 churches nationwide, spreading mostly anti-gay propaganda. The group has a lobbying arm in Washington, headed by Sheldon’s daughter Andrea. From Lufkin, Texas, Falwell acolyte the Rev. Rick Scarborough runs Vision America, a group with a modest budget struggling to find a niche for itself. In Aledo, Texas, David Barton peddles “Christian nation” propaganda from his WallBuilders organization.
Some organizations specialize. Seattle is home to the Discovery Institute, a group that spends most of its time promoting “intelligent design” creationism. The group’s budget was $4.1 million last year.
Other groups have small budgets but exercise great ideological influence. The Vallecito, Calif.-based Chalcedon Foundation had a budget of only $711,390 last year but remains influential. The “Christian Reconstructionist” writings of its founder, the late Rousas John Rushdoony, are cited by many Religious Right leaders as foundational to the Religious Right worldview that secular government is evil and Christian fundamentalism must reign supreme. (Gary DeMar’s Powder Springs, Ga.-based American Vision spreads the Reconstructionist viewpoint as well.)
All of this raises the question of how powerful these groups and the constituency they represent are. An answer to that is perhaps found in recent political developments. Republican presidential hopeful John McCain felt the need to placate the Religious Right with an evangelical Christian running mate who shares conservative views on social issues.
The New York Times reported that McCain wanted to put U.S. Sen. Joseph Liberman (I-Conn.) on the ticket but had to back down after his campaign received a series of outraged calls from Religious Right leaders. Scrambling, McCain latched onto Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, even though she had yet to be fully vetted by his staff.
And, despite all of the talk in the media about a new breed of evangelicals who are eager to move beyond culture war issues and take on global warming and the needs of the poor, polls don’t show the white evangelical vote up for grabs. They are backing McCain in numbers comparable to George W. Bush in 2004.
“The Religious Right is not dead,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “AU’s new survey of its funding and power should help dispel the myth that the Religious Right is on the ropes. Forces determined to merge government with their narrow version of religion are alive and kicking, and it behooves us all to understand their goals and tactics.”