IFAS | Freedom Writer | March/April 1997 | question.html

Is the religious right losing its punch?

The radical religious right is, and always will be, a minority. However, that is not to say that they are powerless. Taking advantage of voter apathy, the religious right makes its mark in low turnout elections. For example, approximately 10% of the eligible voters turn out for the typical school board election. When special interest groups organize through local churches and turn out their voters, they have a disproportionate impact at the polls.

The same is true for county Republican committees. Seats on these committees often go unclaimed. To take over the Republican Party, all the Christian Coalition had to do was to teach its members how to grab these county seats. That put them in a position to elect state and national delegates. So, even though the majority of rank-and-file Republicans are moderate, much of the party leadership has become right wing.

Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, is a brilliant strategist. In an effort to broaden the base of his organization he frequently comes close to disenchanting the coalition's core supporters.

Earlier this year, Reed announced the Christian Coalition's Samaritan Project, which is designed to reach minorities in the inner-cities. For some time he has sought the support of conservative Christians in the African-American community, who, for the most part, have viewed him with suspicion.

It is likely that the mostly white Christian Coalition isn't enthused with the Samaritan Project. So, around the end of March, Reed announced that the Christian Coalition had earmarked $2 million dollars to engage in the battle to institute school prayer. This is the kind of thing that appeals to the group's hard core members. So, what we see happening is an effort to broaden the base, without losing the core.

This non-election year is a good time to build and strategize. Next year, the Christian Coalition and its allies will work hard to maintain Republican control of Congress. Right now, they can save their strength.

To properly gauge the overall strength of the religious right, the movement must be viewed over time, not just by one election cycle. The leaders of the religious right learn from their mistakes, and they keep coming back. They are in this for the long haul. To overlook the serious threat the radical right poses to religious freedom and democracy would be to do so at our peril.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.