Approximately 568 people attended Focus on the Family's (Focus) "Protecting the Family, Defending the Faith" conference for attorneys and their spouses held in Colorado Springs at the beginning of March.
According to Tom Minnery, Focus' vice president of public policy, the five-day conference had two purposes: to minister to the attendees personally and spiritually, and to inspire them to defend freedom of religion through the courts.
With the exception of Gary Bauer's keynote address, most of the plenary sessions had the tone and consistency of a mass marriage-counseling session. The remainder of the conference featured legal seminars which provided technical information on such matters as suing to stop harmful sex education, defending crisis pregnancy centers, suing abortion clinics for malpractice, and homosexuality and sexual orientation issues.
The most overtly political statements were made by Bauer, president of Family Research Council. At the time of the conference, Bauer was personally preoccupied with lobbying Congress to defeat the nomination of Henry Foster to the position of Surgeon General. Bauer was also lobbying to pass the family tax credit bill, which would provide a tax credit of $500 for every dependent to "enhance the value of bearing and raising children."
Bauer expressed his concern that Republican leaders, including the Republican candidates for president, are taking advantage of the pro-life movement even as they show their willingness to abandon the abortion issue. He called on conference participants to decide whether their foremost allegiance was to the GOP or to the cause of "family, faith and freedom."
Assuming their dedication to "the cause," Bauer suggested that the only way the pro-life movement will continue to have leverage within the Republican Party is to threaten to form a third party if Republican candidates continue to compromise their agenda.
Bauer specifically recommended that James Dobson meet with Dole, Gramm, Gingrich, and other Republican leaders to say that he's losing patience with their lack of commitment to family issues and will be running for the Republican presidential nomination himself. Bauer was certain that the Republican leadership would immediately offer to do whatever it takes to satisfy Dobson so that he won't run. Another pressure technique Bauer proposed was to return fundraising appeals with a note saying they wouldn't give any money to the Republican party until the GOP showed its allegiance to the pro-family agenda. At Bauer's suggestion, Focus on the Family drafted a letter to Republican Party chairman Hailey Barbour to be signed by everyone in attendance.
It is cause for grave concern that Focus on the Family — which usually strives to appear merely conservative — finds the Republican leadership liberal enough to warrant the formation of a third party even further to the right.
Julie Schollenberger is director of the Institute for the Study of the Religious Right. For more information, contact ISRR at P.O. Box 26656, Los Angeles, CA 90026.