Republican electoral defeat leaves religious right largely intact

By JewsOnFirst.org, November 20, 2006

The Republican defeat was hardly an unmitigated disaster for the religious right. Christian nationalists will continue to pose an extreme danger to the First Amendment's guarantees regarding religion.

Right-wing Christians control many of the state Republican parties and dominate state Republican legislative majorities. Given the loss of opportunity on the federal level, there will probably be more, not fewer, state legislative attacks on science, gay rights and reproductive rights. Additionally, there will probably be an increase in state legislation deliberately breaching the separation of church and state in school and public life.

We should expect state- and local-level efforts to:

As in the past, when advocates of pluralism object or successfully oppose their projects, religious right campaigners will resort to vilification.

On the national level and, in states where Democrats gained legislative seats or governorships, we should expect the religious right to wage aggressive, bullying campaigns to defend their gains, most notably:

Meanwhile, the religious right can build on its successes of recent years. The success of anti-marriage amendments presages a new round of electoral "wedge" issues (and the continued viability of gay bashing as an organizing tool).

Even more threatening are initiatives by lavishly funded religious right legal groups like the Alliance Defense Fund and the Rutherford Institute. These groups encourage local governments and school boards to fight lawsuits involving church-state issues with the avowed purpose of eviscerating the First Amendment.

Similarly, the religious right legal groups encourage individuals to sue schools and local governments that won't permit religious practices in violation of the First Amendment. This is very intimidating and sometimes the threat to sue is enough.

Amplifying this line of attack on pluralism are courts packed with Republican judges, plus a sympathetic Supreme Court.

The religious right continues to enjoy unrivaled media support for its agenda. That includes the sympathetic support of the aggressive radio and television hosts, not to mention the unfair, unbalanced Fox networks. Additionally, there are the hundreds of Christian television and radio outlets, the latter of which dominate the airwaves outside of major urban areas.

Moreover, the religious right enjoys a weapon unavailable to the mainstream: the authoritarian nature of their churches allows "patriot pastors" to regiment and mobilize their congregations for political purposes. In his book Conservatives Without Conscience, John Dean argues that authoritarianism – and a constituency disposed to follow the leader -- has been an important dynamic of the political right.

The Republican majorities of the last decade presented the religious right with splendid opportunities for growth. Even if the legislative majority wasn't big enough, or religious enough, or right enough to enact their complete Christian nationalist agenda, it gave religious right leaders visibility and power, especially with their followers.

As it was in 1980 and 2000 for the anti-corporate wing of the Democratic Party, for the religious right the fall of the federal majority means a resumption of business as usual – the steady growth that increasingly crowds diversity out of public spaces. Religious right groups are already using the "threats" posed by a Democratic Congress to mobilize their constituencies and add to their bank accounts.

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