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At the Values Voter Summit, Wing-Nut Christian Right Plots Its Comeback

Religious conservatives, safely out of the public eye, let loose a string of shocking diatribes at the Values Voter Summit.

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an incumbent in a heated GOP gubernatorial primary contest with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, recommended a more radical approach. Demanding a return to "principles that originated in God's natural law," Perry said that states must assert a right under the Tenth Amendment to refuse to enact certain federal laws. Perry also attacked the oft-heard claim that government cannot legislate morality, labeling it "a great lie."

"As far as I'm concerned, you can't not legislate morality," Perry said. He wound up with a religious right favorite (if shopworn) line: "Freedom of religion is not to be confused with freedom from religion."

During a Saturday night banquet, religious right anti-feminist crusader Phyllis Schlafly, who was given an award named after Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, didn't even bother to pretend the Democrats might be a viable option.

During her career, Schlafly said, she learned "how important it is that we have a conservative party so we can nominate conservatives during the primaries and convention. And it surely cannot be the party of Nancy Pelosi or a president who thinks he can run the country with 34 czars."

Despite all of the talk about health care and socialism, some speakers made sure to serve up the "culture war" red meat the religious right loves to consume. The job of blasting gays and same-sex marriage, for example, was turned over to Bishop Harry Jackson.

Jackson, who pastors a megachurch in Prince George's County, Md., a suburban area northeast of Washington, briefed the crowd on his efforts to block the legalization of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia. He opined that same-sex marriage proponents "are easily led" and thus fall for claims by gays that they are discriminated against.

Insisting he is neither Democrat nor Republican but a "Christocrat," Jackson energized the crowd by leading them in a chant: "Let God arise and his enemies be scattered." (The passage comes from the Psalms 68:1. The following lines are a bit more ominous: "As smoke is driven away, so drive them away. As wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God." In a sense, you might say it's imprecatory prayer lite.)

Members of the overwhelmingly white crowd were told to stand and shout it three times. Then, he said, "We're gonna lift up our hands like we're in a black Baptist church" and offer personal prayers.

But Jackson was an exception, as speaker after speaker returned to themes of health care, the federal deficit and bank bailouts. The emphasis on these issues was clearly designed to curry favor with the "tea party" crowd in the hopes of tapping into the activism of this rowdy crew.

Speakers constantly praised tea party agitators, as well as the raucous protestors who ran amok at town hall meetings this summer. A special session was held on how to host your own event.

The FRC and other religious right groups are obviously pinning a lot of hope on tea and curmudgeons, and they may need that help. FRC President Tony Perkins claimed that more than 1,800 people registered for the event. A rough estimate by Americans United, however, points to a crowd of about 1,000. Furthermore, despite heavy promotion, fewer than 600 people voted in a straw poll of 2012 GOP presidential hopefuls.

To boost its numbers, the FRC planned a number of special events for young people during the summit.

Among the speakers was Lila Rose, a college student who has made a career out of traveling to Planned Parenthood clinics posing as a teenager made pregnant by an older man and secretly taping staff responses. She is wildly popular with the crowd, which hails her as the vanguard of a new generation.