By Karl Day, Director at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. Tim Drenk and Macel Ely did the research for this report.
June 1995 – For more than a decade, certainly since the founding of the Moral Majority by the Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1978, those who have stood for traditional Judeo-Christian values have been vilified by liberals.
Across the nation, conservatives – especially religious people allied with the American Family Association and other groups – have been attacked openly by the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, Planned Parenthood and other radical organizations. The attacks ordinarily are launched through the major media, but Christians are being assailed at the local level as well.
An example of this took place last fall at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston, Virginia. Thirty-five people gathered to hear Galen Nelson, a national field coordinator for People for the American Way (PAW), discuss the “radical right” agenda in education and politics and the dangers of the “immense grassroots machinery” used by the “bigots” and “fascists” of what PAW calls the “Religious Right.”
People for the American Way, an organization founded in 1982 by Norman Lear, is headquartered in Washington, D.C., with offices in New York, California, Florida and North Carolina. Funded primarily by Hollywood, the Playboy Foundation and other liberal sources, PAW’s announced purpose at the outset was to counter the religious right; PAW is a direct response to the burgeoning of evangelism on electronic media and it now claims 300,000 members.
Mr. Nelson began by showing a video entitled, “The Religious Right: In Their Own Words,” which portrayed a series of quotes by prominent figures such as Pat Robertson, Rep. Bob Dornan, Pat Buchanan and Phyllis Schlafly. The quotes, although rational in their original context, were taken out of context and made to seem outrageous. The video concluded “....on a positive note” with a quote from the Clinton Inaugural poem by Maya Angelou, a board member of the North Carolina PAW.
Nelson summed up the “Religious Right,” a term used pejoratively for pro-family organizations such as the American Family Association, by stating that the video represents “the hatred and misguiding (The Religious Right) set forth.” He explained that the pro-family movement has changed dramatically since the early 1980s when it was composed primarily of poorly organized TV evangelists. Since the late 1980s, however, the leaders and their style of operation have become well-organized, grassroots-based and accustomed to “militaristic strategies.”
The American Family Association is a major force for Christian values, and its leader, Donald Wildmon, is frequently disparaged by liberal spokesmen. Other groups are also tagged as “Religious Right,” and this is how PAW’s Galen Nelson presents them.
Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition has two “central goals,” Nelson said. They are to take over the Republican Party (patently untrue) by working from the grassroots up, and to elect “Christian candidates” (partially true) to public office. Unaware that two members of the “opposition” were present in the audience, Mr. Nelson boasted that in 1993, PAW sent an “undercover spy” to a local Christian Coalition meeting to learn their strategies.
Nelson claimed that Christian Coalition President Ralph Reed encourages members to engage in deceptive campaign practices. He also charged that the Coalition opposes the National Education Association, homosexual rights, and “equal rights for women, including reproductive freedom.”
The Christian Coalition does have significant differences with the NEA and with the pro-abortion stance of those who speak of “reproductive freedom.” They are not, however, opposed to homosexuals having civil rights, just special rights that exceed those granted to all citizens under traditional interpretations of the Constitution.
Next, Nelson attacked Focus on the Family, which, according to PAW, “urges pro-family voters to become active in state and local primaries” and “conducts seminars across the country to help evangelical Christians become involved in the political process.” These statements are correct. But to say that Focus on the Family is “anti-choice, anti-gay and against sex education curricula that are not strictly abstinence-only” is misleading.
Like Christian Coalition, Focus opposes abortion, special rights for homosexuals and believes that the best form of sex education in our schools is abstinence-based. “Local schoolbook censors frequently use Focus on the Family’s material when challenging a book or curriculum,” Nelson noted. As a pro-family voice, Focus is often a resource for concerned parents as they monitor what is being taught to their children.
Eagle Forum, Nelson noted, “opposes the ERA, abortion rights, AIDS education, sex education that is not strictly abstinence-only, self-esteem programs in the public schools, funding for the NEA and federal support for day care and family leave....Phyllis Schlafly is an outspoken critic of public education and her materials are frequently cited by local schoolbook censors.” Once again, there is a mixture of fact and fiction in these allegations.
Eagle Forum holds that the Equal Rights Amendment is unnecessary, opposes “choice” as defined by pro-abortionists and contends that the only form of sex education which has demonstrated positive results is abstinence-based. They also believe that many “self-esteem” programs in public schools are a form of social engineering. Their opposition to federally sponsored day care and mandated family leave policy, which threatens small business owners, is well known. With regard to school books, Eagle Forum has sounded alarms about books that reflect anti-family values or distort history to degrade America.
Citizens for Excellence in Education (CEE) was described as one of the most active groups challenging books, educational materials and curricula in the public schools. “CEE has initiated various censorship incidents involving the ‘Impressions’ reading series, drug-abuse prevention programs and self-esteem curricula.” In fact, these statements do explain much of CEE’s reason for being.
Concerned Women for America was portrayed as a large, conservative, women’s group founded by Beverly LaHaye which has close links to Oliver North and which was very vocal in their opposition to the nomination of Joycelyn Elders for U.S. Surgeon General. It is unclear whether the allegations about Oliver North are true – Mr. Nelson offered nothing to substantiate his claim. Otherwise, the statements are essentially true.
After telling the audience that Mrs. LaHaye had referred to Dr. Elders as the “Condom Queen,” Nelson commented, “These are disgusting remarks coming from the Concerned Women for America.” There is nothing on record, and no proof was offered, to indicate any racism in Mrs. LaHaye’s policy-based opposition to Dr. Elders’ nomination.
Other problems with CWA, according to Nelson, are that it opposes federal day care, the ERA and family leave laws, facts confirmed by the public record.
Stealth strategies or legitimate activism
Nelson went on to say that “progressives are threatened” by the Christian Right because the Christian Coalition is using “stealth” to get elected to school boards and city councils. According to Nelson, such “stealth” strategies are “undemocratic.”
He charged that Christian Coalition encourages candidates to “stay away from public appearances and the media” and to “take (their message) to the people.” PAW “resents this approach,” he said, because PAW “works for full disclosure of the candidates’ positions.” Nelson cited New York City’s remarkable pro-family school board elections as an example of the success of the “stealth method.”
Mr. Nelson then suggested that several voter guides printed by the Christian Coalition were in violation of tax laws. To date, there has been no evidence presented to support this claim.
Finally, Nelson accused pro-family groups in Virginia of trying to “censor curricula” and “take over school boards.” He cited the following as examples of these efforts:
Pro-family organizations seek to “censor” The Washington Blade (a Washington, D.C. homosexual newspaper) by preventing its distribution in public and school libraries.
In fact, groups have worked and continue to work, not to censor this paper, but to have it removed from library areas easily accessible to children. They also oppose Children of the Rainbow and other “diversity curricula” because “on three pages, the curriculum talks about homosexuality” and “has a lavender cover.”
Opposition to Children of the Rainbow and similar curricula is based upon its representations of homosexuality as a healthy alternative life style. Pro-family groups consider such representations misleading, offensive and dangerous.
Pro-family groups support abstinence-based programs like Sex Respect and are against Family Life Education (FLE) and other sex education curricula because they are not strictly abstinence-based and because they include such videos and programs as “Main Street: Growing Up Gay” and “Secrets.”
The best approach to stemming the tide of out-of-wedlock births and the spread of venereal diseases, including AIDS, is abstinence. Pro-family groups are concerned that sex education programs are not presenting, as their central focus, the best message to children. Also, according to fliers sent to residents of Fairfax County, Virginia, “Right-Wing Extremists want YOU to pay for THEIR version of an AIDS prevention program” (emphasis theirs).
The “AIDS prevention program” is put on by Norm and Ginny Cadarette. Norm Cadarette was infected with the AIDS virus from a blood transfusion a number of years ago. He and his wife travel extensively encouraging students to refrain from sex because of the consequences. Their message: love is far more important than sex, which is best realized in marriage.
The “biggest” area of concern for PAW seems to be school prayer. Nelson acknowledged that “students can pray silently” as long as they do not share their prayers with others. The “new rhetoric of the Religious Right,” according to PAW, claims that the absence of prayer in schools has caused a decrease in SAT scores and an increase in school violence. The response to this statement from one sympathetic member of the audience was to proclaim loudly, “It makes me sick!”
Obviously encouraged, Nelson went on to say that school prayer is a “cruel way to pit students against others” from minority religions. In fact, in Nelson’s view, the only way to protect religious freedom is to disallow school prayer. He failed to explain how freedom is enhanced by denying it.
Nelson concluded his presentation by listing several ways to combat pro-family forces on the local level:
Mobilize neighborhoods and make pro-family groups look like a small minority at every school board and city council meeting.
“Force” candidates to publicly admit whether they belong to or agree on issues with organizations such as the American Family Association, Focus on the Family or the Christian Coalition.
Rally against candidates who have similar positions, “so you can filter out those Religious Right candidates.”
Expose pro-family organizations that “train students to harass teachers to get them fired.”
Finally, Nelson added that there are other ways to combat the Religious Right, and although they “may be illegal, you may want to participate in them.” With this, he smiled and the audience laughed.
The agenda of People for the American Way is clear. Their goal is to prevent pro-family citizens from becoming involved in PTA, school boards and local government. Presenting no evidence to substantiate their claims, PAW suggests that such people need to be eliminated from public debate because “there is a strong connection between Religious Right organizations, racist organizations and white supremacy groups.”
PAW’s attack on groups such as Focus on the Family for conducting seminars and discussions designed to encourage like-minded citizens to become a part of the grassroots, pro-family political movement is hypocritical. For, in fact, PAW conducts the same types of meetings in an attempt to mobilize its own constituents.