IFAS | Freedom Writer | July/August 1997 | guide.html

ACTIVIST GUIDE
Fighting to win

By Rev. James W. Watkins

In community after community we allow the religious right to seize the floor and set the public agenda. Meanwhile, we are stunned over what the general public can be led to believe about public schools, libraries, Planned Parenthood, Public Broadcasting, mainline churches, and the US Constitution. We must take a more pro-active posture. We must retake the floor, setting the public agenda and arguing from our strengths. The following suggestions have been effective in derailing the religious right in North east Ohio.

First Organize a "letters to the editor" committee with regular meetings. Examine your local newspapers for stories that mention or promote religious right themes and issues. At your meetings, practice writing short "letters to the editor" rebutt ing religious right points of view. Then, send the letters. Editors are flooded with shrill extremist sounding letters. Often they have no letters from the more "high-minded" moderate elements in the community. Attempt to remind average citizens what Amer ican values really are, and how the religious right actually undermines our traditional American values. Enlist local ministers, rabbis, business people, and others known for their moderate/liberal mindset. Have committee members solicit them to write "le tters to the editor" rebutting religious right propaganda. The letters to the editor column in your local newspaper can be used as a free advertisement for tolerance, the social value of pluralism, church-state separation, and freedom of conscience. Use l etters to the editor regularly to get the message out.

Mainstream Opinion, my new website, contains short, readable editorials specifically written to rebut religious right propaganda. The editorials are updated regularly and indexed by title. Those of you interested in becoming Mainstream Opinion associates may download any editorial so that a copy may be submitted by fax to your local opinion page editor. If you are looking for a way to fight the religious right, log on at http://www.mainstreamop.org.

Second A religious right meeting, in full swing, is not an attractive sight to most Americans. One of the best ways to educate others is simply to take them to a local religious right meeting. When I first spoke out against the Christian Coalitio n in my area, some of my friends asked, "How could Christians being involved in politics be bad?" Since words could not express what I already knew all too well, I said, "I trust your good sense. Come to the next Christian Coalition meeting with me. Make your own judgment." They did. After the meeting the reaction was, "We certainly do not want those people speaking for us!"

Third A good way to put the religious right on the defensive in an upcoming local election is to survey the candidates in local races especially school board races. Asking questions "out loud" that have only been whispered in private can have a dramatic effect.

For a recent election in Lake County Ohio we formed Citizens for Political Responsibility (CPR). We then compiled a list of survey questions specifically worded to reveal religious right sympathies of candidates. We mailed each candidate a survey, followe d up with a phone call. Simultaneously, we faxed a copy of the survey to all local news media and followed those up with phone calls. The stir caused by raising questions in such a public way focused attention on the background of several religious right candidates. Clearly, we caught them off guard. All lost in close races.

You may obtain questions suitable for such a survey from Freedom Writer. Check with your local Board of Elections regarding the proper registration of a committee that plans to be active in an upcoming election.

Fourth One of the best ways to expose religious right radicalism is to get their leadership before a general public audience in a predetermined debate format. Challenge your most obvious religious right leader to a public debate moderated by the League of Women Voters. Usually this religious right leader will be the local county or state chair of the Christian Coalition. If possible, make the challenge during a local Christian Coalition meeting. Beforehand, quietly make sure the local press will be present. The challenge should be stated as a formal "proposition" for debate. I have used, "Resolved: that the Christian Coalition (or religious right) is a divisive force within the American political and religious community." Since you may have to ne gotiate your resolution, start with a strong one!

For maximum effect, make the challenge in September or October of an election year. You will have religious right leadership spending valuable pre-November time either trying to dismiss your debate challenge, or preparing for it. If they refuse to debate, ask "How can the same people who claim a desire to be a part of the public debate refuse to debate in public? What are they afraid the public will discover?" If debating the religious right appeals to you, and you would like to discuss it further with me , I can be reached at watkinsjw@juno.com.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.