IFAS | Freedom Writer | September/October 1999 | letter.html

A letter to the publisher

A READER WRITES

I am puzzled by the tone of recent Freedom Writers suggesting that the Religious Right movement is so weak that it is no longer a concern. That notion is inaccurate. A moderate could read your newsletter and mistakenly conclude that there is no need to vote because the Far Right is already doomed. Did you intend to convey that impression?

For example, the May/June 1999 issue on Robert Simond's Citizens for Excellence in Education (p. 3) states, "Initially successful, several school boards were taken over through CEE's efforts. In virtually every case however, mainstream candidates won back the seats lost to the radicals." Although correct, this does not mention the community turmoil, lingering damage to public schools, and huge investments of time and money involved.

Consider the example of suburban Plano, Texas. For one long year in 1994-1995, a majority of our school board members supported the educational agenda of the Religious Right. There were many controversies: a move to introduce creationism in science classes; removing factual information about condoms from an HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum; ramming through a narrow, sectarian "traditional moral values" resolution in one night; cries of "anti-Christian bigotry" by the new school board majority; and the abrupt resignation of our superintendent. Ties between the school board members and national Religious Right organizations were not documented, but their policy goals matched. An opposing community group soon formed and worked very hard. Starting with the 1995 election, moderates have controlled the majority of the school board. Problem solved, right? No, problems created that year outlasted that majority. A curriculum audit documented administrative disarray that year, and our staff still fear public controversy and speaking out.

Other examples in Freedom Writer that concern me include recent front-page articles about the troubles of the Christian Coalition, and your prediction that five "Religious Right presidential candidates will go nowhere" (March/April 1999). Don't get me wrong: I enjoy reading about hardships the Christian Coalition encounters and I find it useful. I agree that Bauer, Smith, Buchanan, Quayle and Keyes are unlikely to win the Republican nomination. The tone is what puzzles me.

It is good to celebrate our victories and to realistically assess weaknesses in the Far Right away from fundraising hype. Let's remember that we achieved those victories with diligence, involvement and hard work. It is counterproductive to indicate that no further action is needed.

Evelyn Peele, Plano, Texas


PUBLISHER'S RESPONSE

The rise of the Religious Right in the mid-seventies went largely unnoticed by most observers. By 1984 we became concerned enough to start publishing Freedom Writer. Our most difficult task was convincing the general public and the media that there was a problem.

We wrote about the Moral Majority, the American Coalition for Traditional Values, the Eagle Forum, Citizens for Excellence in Education, Christian Reconstructionists, and many other groups. We continually exposed their agendas and the threat that they posed to democracy and traditional American freedoms.

Early on, Paul Weyrich said, "We have enough votes to control this country, and when the people say 'we've had enough,' we're going to take control."

For years, the leaders of the Religious Right acted as if Weyrich's proclamation were true. Jerry Falwell boasted of his 100,000 Moral Majority leaders and 7 million followers. Bob Simond's Citizens for Excellence in Education took over some school boards. Later, Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition claimed almost 2 million members.

Today, we know that the Moral Majority's leadership never consisted of more than a handful of fundamentalist pastors with large churches. Likewise, the Christian Coalition has never had 2 million members.

Yet, with the perception of strength, the Religious Right intimidated many, won some elections, and caught the media's attention. Then, along came the Promise Keepers. Some called them "the third wave," and warned of dire consequences. That group, too, has diminished.

The Freedom Writer has always reported objectively, whether or not beneficial to our fundraising efforts. The truth is, as a movement, the Religious Right is currently in disarray. Paul Weyrich admitted earlier this year that there was never a "moral majority," a name Weyrich coined for Falwell's organization, and that the Religious Right has lost the culture war.

The Christian Coalition, the newest of the prominent organizations threatening the separation of church and state, is nearly bankrupt. Pat Robertson's backing is the only thing keeping the group together.

Focus on the Family is heavily funded, but most of that group's finances go into its Christian ministry, not politics. Now its leader, James Dobson, is searching for a successor. Most radical organizations weaken dramatically upon the departure of their founders.

Currently, on the national level, there are no groups that have the numbers or the finances to wage full-scale war against democracy, to create a "Christian America."

The threat of some radical third party has also all but vanished. The Christian Right simply doesn't have the numbers to wage successful political campaigns.

Will there be any more nationally prominent Religious Right organizations? Probably. It's only a matter of time before a new leader catches the imagination of the faithful. Meanwhile, the skirmishes will continue.

Voter apathy may be the biggest problem facing our democracy. It's true, when school boards are taken over by the radicals, moderates always win them back. However, the fact remains that in the average school board race less than 10% of the eligible voters turn out. Imagine the turmoil that could be avoided if it were otherwise.

There are many issues about which we should be concerned. They include, but are not limited to: school vouchers, school prayer, creationism, reproductive freedom, gay and lesbian rights, and censorship.

As long as national Religious Right groups have a few dollars, their lobbyists will push for change in these areas. With or without national groups beating the drums, local groups and individuals will keep things stirred up. We must never let down our guard. In the words of abolitionist Wendell Phillips, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

© 1999 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.