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Religious Right Has-Beens Try for a Resurrection

Will financial and sex scandals sink the hopes of middle-age culture warriors Ralph Reed and Randall Terry? Don't count them out just yet.

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Terry, by contrast, has moved closer and closer to an overt theocratic vision over the years.

In one notable 1993 speech, he told a crowd: "I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good. ... Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this county. We don't want equal time. We don't want pluralism."

More recently, in the wake of the Tiller shooting, Terry urged abortion opponents to step up their attacks. He called for "confrontational" tactics and "highly charged rhetoric" -- ignoring pleas that confrontation and rhetoric has escalated the debate over abortion to the extent that some extremist groups openly espouse violence.

The re-emergence of Reed and Terry comes at a time when the religious-right movement has reached something of a crossroads. Warhorses like Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy are dead. TV preacher Pat Robertson is aging and less visible.

Even Dobson of Focus on the Family claims to be scaling back. While some have questioned the legitimacy of Dobson's semiretirement -- he still does radio broadcasts every day, still issues regular mailings to followers and still plans to endorse political candidates -- the ministry founder has handed day-to-day operations to Jim Daly.

Several new religious-right leaders have been proposed, but many of them tend to be figures from the political world, such as ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Georgia Rep. Newt Gingrich. (See Americans United for Separation of Church and State's "Power Struggle," in its May 2009 Church & State .)

Reed and Terry, by contrast, have failed in their attempts to launch political and artistic careers, but they do have experience in grassroots organizing, mobilizing houses of worship and raising funds -- qualities that are essential to any effective religious-right operation.

But there are those who believe the religious right doesn't need new leadership -- chiefly the men and women leading religious-right groups now.

In June, a band of religious right organizations called a press conference in Washington to announce a new Freedom Federation, a coalition of right-wing theocracy-minded groups. The Federation released a "Declaration of American Values," reiterating the groups' opposition to legal abortion, gay rights and church-and-state separation. They pledged to work together to press the religious right's social agenda.

Organizations taking part in the effort include the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Liberty University, the Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, Vision America, Concerned Women for America, the American Family Association, Catholic Online, the Traditional Values Coalition and a host of smaller entities.

Religious-right groups have tried this before. For many years, the leaders of national groups met in a war council called the Arlington Group. This new effort is a little different in that it includes Hispanic and Catholic organizations.

Prior efforts to grow the religious right base by building bridges to these communities have mostly fallen flat -- but, like Reed, group leaders may realize that if they don't do something to expand their demographic pool, their influence will decline.

What role will Reed and Terry play in this dynamic? Can the two resurrect their careers as religious-right kingpins, or is their day done?

Stay tuned. There's definitely going to be more to this story.

Rob Boston is an associate editor for Church and State Magazine .