Periodically we hear that the Religious Right is dead or dying.
This movement, which merges fundamentalist Christianity with far-right politics, has certainly had its ups and downs over the years. All social and political movements do. Leaders come and go. The number of supporters varies. Funding vacillates.
But no one should assume that this natural ebb and flow means that the Religious Right is on the verge of extinction. It’s true that the movement’s leaders and foot soldiers were dismayed by the election of Barack Obama in November. But it’s also true that those results energized the Religious Right, and it remains well funded and politically connected.
Americans United periodically surveys the strength and funding of the nation’s leading Religious Right organizations. We find that the top 10 groups bring in more than half a billion in funding every year.
We also find that these organizations have friends in high places. When Religious Right groups hold national meetings, they are able to persuade top congressional leaders to address them, as well as presidential hopefuls.
The Religious Right is also adept at adapting to changing circumstances. When the debate over health care became prominent, Religious Right groups joined forces with the secular right and began exploiting that issue to boost their profiles and raise funds. They recycled discredited attacks about “death panels,” rationing and mandated abortion coverage to inflame their followers.
Over the summer, groups like the American Family Association and the Family Research Council (FRC) issued e-mail bulletins nearly every day on some aspect of the health-care debate – usually spreading wild tales and misinformation.
Americans United doesn’t take a stand on issues like health-care reform, but we would be remiss to overlook what’s going on here: Religious Right groups are reconfiguring traditional “culture war” issues and aping the highly partisan attacks of their allies in the far right to give their groups new life. (It’s no accident that the Heritage Foundation, a D.C. think tank that focuses mainly on low taxes, deregulation and an aggressive foreign policy, cosponsored the FRC’s “Values Voter Summit” this year.)
For the Religious Right, the desired result is the same as always: Get enough of “their people” elected to office so that “godly” legislation can be enacted. We know what this means: indoctrination in the public schools, an end to legal abortion, limits on the civil rights of gays, tax funding for “faith-based” groups and an erosion of the church-state wall generally.
The Religious Right and the secular far right may have areas of disagreement, but they are increasingly joining forces to block any policy initiative they don’t like.
This new partnership is evidence of an invigorated Religious Right movement, not a dying one. Americans would do well to monitor these developments closely.