5 Reasons the Religious Right Should Stop Whining About Being Persecuted
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I’ve been writing about the Religious Right for nearly 25 years now, and one thing that never ceases to amaze me is when the leaders or supporters of these organizations claim they are being persecuted. Really? In a country that has a strong Christian culture and where at least 75 percent of the population professes some form of Christianity, it would seem odd that Christians would be persecuted. Yet the claim is made, constantly.
A new study on the power of religious advocacy groups in Washington by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life show yet again how absurd that claim is. Pew researchers examined 212 religious groups on the right and the left that engage in advocacy work in the nation’s capital. Their findings are illuminating. Anyone who believes the old saw that conservative Christians don’t have a voice in D.C. should take a look. With that thought in mind, here are five reasons why the Religious Right should stop complaining about persecution:
1. Of the 10 largest religious advocacy groups in Washington, seven take the Religious Right line on most issues.
Five of the top-10 groups (Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, Home School Legal Defense Fund, Focus on the Family’s Citizenlink and the Traditional Values Coalition) are Religious Right organizations. The two other groups are the U.S. Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops, which marches in lock step with the Religious Right on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and taxpayer funding of religion, and the National Right to Life Committee, a more narrowly focused group that shares the Religious Right’s views on abortion. Marginalized movements don’t have this much representation in Washington.
2. These organizations raise a ton of money.
The Pew report lists budget figures for each group examined. The numbers are staggering. In 2008, the Family Research Council, which, since the demise of the Christian Coalition has become the leading D.C.-based Religious Right group, took in more than $14 million. Concerned Women for America collected $12.5 million. Even the Traditional Values Coalition – a less prominent outfit run by gay-bashing minister Louis P. Sheldon and his daughter – raised $9.5 million. The figure for the Catholic bishops is even more impressive: $26.6 million. (Of course, not all of this money is spent on direct lobbying because these organizations advocate for their views in many ways.) Smaller Religious Right outfits didn’t make the top 10 but still raise considerable sums: the National Organization for Marriage brought in $8.5 million, and the American Life League raised $6.6 million. Remember anti-Equal Right Amendment crusader Phyllis Schlafly? Her Eagle Forum still exists. It raised $2.2 million in 2009.
If you add up the budgets of the seven conservative religious advocacy groups in the top 10, the figure tops $95 million. As infomercial pitchmen are fond of saying, “But wait, there’s more!” If you include budget figures for a few of the leading fundamentalist ministries (such as Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and the empire created by the late Jerry Falwell), many of which are overtly political, and add in a handful of the top Religious Right legal groups, the numbers reach the stratosphere, exceeding $1 billion annually. No political movement that has control of that much cash can claim to be persecuted.
3. These organizations enjoy incredible access to legislators.
Most advocacy groups woo lawmakers with money (through allied political action committees) or by implying that there are votes to be had among their respective constituencies. Some far-right religious groups can offer both. The Family Research Council, for example, runs several PACs, including a new super-PAC that, thanks to the Supreme Court, can raise unlimited funds to pour into races. Do politicians take notice? You bet. At last month’s “Values Voter Summit” sponsored by the Family Research Council in Washington, both House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor took time out to address the crowd, and every major GOP presidential candidate was there as well.