Religious Right

   The term Religious Right identifies a movement among conservative Protestants to advance their views about a variety of issues in American society through political activism. The movement drew strength in reaction to events such as Supreme Court decisions banning organized prayer at public schools and legalizing abortion; the rise of a visible gay/lesbian community and its drive to end discrimination; and the battle to have creationism taught in the public schools. Finding it difficult to enact their views into law, some conservative Christian leaders began to question the idea of separation of church and state, which their opponents continually cited. They claimed that separation violated the original intent of the country's founders to be a Christian nation.
   organizations devoted to each of these controversial issues had been in operation for years. in 1979, during Ronald Reagan's presidential bid, the first visible attempts were made to bring them all together and to mobilize conservative Christians (including Roman Catholics) for political activity. Three major groups were formed: the Moral Majority (led by fundamentalist Baptist minister Jerry Falwell [b. 1932]), the Religious Roundtable (led by Southern Baptist businessman Edward A. McAteer [b. 1927]), and Christian Voice. They launched campaigns to register conservative voters, developed a set of issues to present to constituencies, and brought religious and political leaders together for mutual support.
   Though supportive of Reagan's generally conservative economic program, the group found little support from him as president on its most important agenda items. He nominated Sandra Day o'Connor to the Supreme Court over their objections on the abortion issue, and he offered only token support for a constitutional amendment on school prayer and for antiabortion legislation. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court made additional rulings against school prayer (1985) and creationism (1986).
   In 1988, televangelist Pat Robertson decided to run for president. He was not helped by the financial scandal that involved his close associate, Jim Bakker, and spread to include popular preacher Jimmy Swaggart. Robertson's campaign fizzled in the Republican primaries. Also hit by the scandal, Jerry Falwell disbanded the Moral Majority in 1989. Partly in response, Robertson founded the Christian Coalition to continue the task of mobilizing the conservative religious community.
   By the end of the 1980s, the Religious Right had become institutionalized as part of the American political scene. It includes such groups as the Traditional Values Coalition (1982) founded by Presbyterian Louis Sheldon, and the American Family Association headed by Methodist Donald E. Wild-mon (b. 1938). The cause was also joined by Focus on the Family, founded in 1977 by psychologist James Dobson (b. 1936), which through the 1980s built a national audience on Christian radio.
   The Religious Right scored some victories in the 1990s, such as the inclusion of its profamily plank in the 1992 Republican Party platform, the defeat of President Clinton's proposals on gays in the military and health insurance, and the passing of the Defense of Marriage Act by Congress in 1996. However, they could not prevent Clinton's reelection in 1996 or elect former Marine officer Oliver North to the U.S. Senate. The antiabortion movement was hurt by its violent fringe, and conservative House Speaker Newt Gingrich was ousted. By century's end, the Christian Coalition lost its tax exemption for its involvement in partisan politics.
   Though still an active force in the Republican Party, the Religious Right has been weakened by its failure to have implemented most significant proposals into law, and its seeming inability to turn back continued gains by its opponents.
   See also Evangelicalism.
   Further reading:
   ■ Leith Anderson, Winning the Values War in a Changing Culture: Thirteen Distinct Values that Mark a Follower of Jesus Christ (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 1994)
   ■ Stephen Bruce, Conservative Christian Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998)
   ■ Ralph Reed, Active Faith: How Christians Are Changing the Face of American Politics (New York: Free Press, 1996)
   ■ Pat Robertson, with Bob Slosser, The Plan (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 1989)
   ■ Glenn H. Utter and John W. Storey, The Religious Right, 2nd ed. (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2001).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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