The 10 Most Dangerous Religious Right Organizations
The movement known as the Religious Right is the number-one threat to church-state separation in America. This collection of organizations is well funded and well organized; it uses its massive annual revenue and grassroots troops to undermine the wall of separation in communities nationwide.
Americans United staff members have carefully researched this movement, and here are the 10 Religious Right groups that pose the greatest challenges to church-state separation. Most of these organizations are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, but the financial data includes some affiliated 501(c)(4) lobbying organizations operating alongside the main organizations. The figures come from official IRS filings or other reliable sources.
1. Jerry Falwell Ministries/ Liberty University/Liberty Counsel
Although Jerry Falwell, a Religious Right icon and founder of the Moral Majority, died in 2007, his empire is going strong thanks mostly to Liberty University, a Lynchburg, Va., school now run by his son, Jerry Falwell Jr. Following in his father’s footsteps, Falwell Jr. regularly meddles in partisan politics – from local contests to presidential races. This year, he invited Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney to give Liberty’s commencement address, introducing him as “the next president of the United States.” A second Falwell son, Jonathan, is pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church, a mega-church in Lynchburg. Liberty Counsel is a Religious Right legal outfit founded by Mat Staver that is now based at Liberty University, where it launches lawsuits undermining church-state separation and encourages pastors to get involved in partisan political activity.
2. Pat Robertson Empire
Known for his years of involvement in far-right politics, TV preacher Pat Robertson has forged a vast Religious Right empire anchored by the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Robertson also runs Regent University and a right-wing legal group, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). (Attorney Jay Sekulow heads ACLJ, as well as his own quasi-independent legal outfit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism.) CBN, which brings in the bulk of Robertson’s revenue, broadcasts far-right religious and political invective laced with attacks on church-state separation, a concept Robertson has called a “myth” and a “lie of the left.” His “700 Club” TV program is a powerful forum for the promotion of right-wing ideology and favored politicians. Robertson has been welcomed into the halls of government. The current governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, is a Regent U. graduate.
3. Focus on the Family (includes its 501(c)(4) political affiliate CitizenLink)
Fundamentalist Christian James Dobson founded Focus on the Family to offer “biblical” solutions to family problems. Dobson, a child psychologist by training, soon branched out into the dissemination of hardcore right-wing politics with an international reach. Dobson has been a major player in the halls of power in Washington, D.C., and Focus-aligned “family policy councils” pressure lawmakers and influence legislation in 36 states. In fact, the Colorado-based organization frequently plays a key role in fighting gay rights and restricting abortion at the state level. Jim Daly is now president of Focus; Dobson left the organization in 2010 but remains active on the political scene.
4. Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund)
The ADF may have changed its name, but it still promotes a familiar Religious Right agenda. The Arizona-based organization, which was founded by far-right TV and radio preachers, attacks church-state separation, blasts gay rights, assails reproductive freedom and seeks to saturate the public schools with its narrow version of fundamentalism. In recent years, the ADF, headed by Ed Meese acolyte Alan Sears, has worked aggressively to overturn a federal law that bars tax-exempt churches and other nonprofits from intervening in partisan elections. The group says church-state separation is not in the Constitution and calls the church-state wall “fictitious.”