One of my favourite episodes of All in the Family was when Archie Bunker realized how narrow thinking could manifest itself. After going into one of his usual tirades, he was approached to attend a meeting of like-minded good old Americans, only to have them don white sheets and propose a cross burning at his son-in-law's home, because of a letter he had written to the editor of the New York Times. This was Archie's spiritual awakening and it was so well done.
Many people mistakenly believe that the Moral Majority/Religious Right came about after Roe vs Wade, when abortion became legal, but that is not true. It was formed to fight against the end of segregation. In a sermon by Rabbi Caryn Broitman:
And Ronald Reagan ran on a platform opposing the Civil Rights movement.
Evangelicals withdrew from politics for most of the last century until the rise of the religious right in the late 70’s. This rise was not in response to Roe v Wade, as their organizers would have us believe but in response to a civil rights issue, namely the Supreme Court decision that ruled that institutions that practiced segregation would forfeit their tax exempt status. This decision led to the withdrawal of tax-exempt status for Bob Jones University, who among other things, did not admit Blacks, and when they did, had a policy against interracial dating.
It was race, as well as the desire to maintain control over evangelical institutions, and not abortion, that led to the establishment of the religious right, as historian Randall Balmer has documented. In fact, the first candidate the religious right supported was Ronald Reagan, who had signed into law an abortion rights bill as governor of California. When Reagan was elected, his administration argued, not surprisingly, on behalf of Bob Jones University to the Supreme Court in 1982 to keep their tax-exempt status despite their racially discriminatory policies. (1)
"With Reagan's outspoken opposition to the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Republican strategists knew that they would have to write off the black vote. But although 90 per cent of black voters cast their ballots for the democrats, only 30 percent of eligible black Americans voted. Republican ... strategist Paul Weyrich stated "I don't want everyone to vote ... our leverage in the election quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down. We have no moral responsibility to turn out our opposition." (2)And when George W. Bush was running against John McCain for the leadership of the Republican party, one of the first places he visited was Bob Jones University. When McCain's team got wind of it they went public, stating that in his attempt to woo the Religious Right, he had spoken at a school that forbid interracial dating and were strongly anti-Catholic.
Bush fired back and told CNN, "I denounced the policy at Bob Jones", but transcripts of his speech showed that he did no such thing. (3)
However, inadvertently, the backlash resulted in the university changing it's policy in 2000:
Jones acknowledged that recent scrutiny of the school's policies was behind the decision. "This thing has gotten so out of hand," he said. "All of a sudden the university is at the center of a Republican presidential debate."The southern school adopted its ban on interracial dating in the 1950s ... BJU did not admit black students until the 1970s. The school lost its tax-exempt status in 1983 after a 13-year battle with the Internal Revenue Service, which said the school's policies violated federal law.The school had justified its ban on interracial dating by saying that God created people differently for a reason.George W. Bush spoke at the school prior to South Carolina's primary. Although other candidates have spoken at BJU over the years without incident, the appearance by Bush was portrayed by political foe John McCain as an endorsement of the school's extreme beliefs, including its prohibition on interracial dating and its anti-Catholic views. (4)There are many reasons to be alarmed over the rise of the Religious Right in Canada. I had mentioned that since they have such strong backing from their American counterparts, they are a threat to our sovereignty. But there is another threat that is more profound. The legitimizing of bigotry.
The Religious Right/Moral Majority resulted with the founding of the Council for National Policy, where Stephen Harper delivered his now infamous speech.
The relationship between the Republican Party and the Religious Right started in earnest in 1981 with the creation of the powerful insider club known as the Council for National Policy (CNP). Excited by Reagan's election, Tim LaHaye of the Left Behind series, Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, Richard Viguerie, a wealthy Republican fundraiser, and other far-right conservatives decided to bring together the religious right, the small government/anti-tax right, and several extremely wealthy, like-minded businessmen such as Joseph Coors (whose company recently bought Molson) and Herbert and Nelson Bunker Hunt, rabid anti-Communists affiliated with the John Birch Society. (5)They apparently approved of Stephen Harper three years before "W". He was one of them: A good old boy. In fact Paul Weyrich, mentioned above as a Reagan strategist, went to extraordinary lengths to help Harper get elected in 2006.
A top U.S. conservative commentator now says he authorized an e-mail warning right-wing American groups not to talk to Canadian journalists before the election for fear of scaring voters and damaging Stephen Harper's chances. Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation, told The Canadian Press last week that the widely distributed message was the product of an overzealous staff member of the research group. (6)This group was founded on racism and only embraced issues like abortion after, when they realized that hatred was not palatable. But after visiting many (many, many, many) sites associated with this movement, their visceral attacks on the gay community and women are alarming. But what is also alarming is their veiled attacks on Muslims and their 'white supremacist' activities on campuses. Morton Blackwell, one of the founders of the Council for National Policy is behind a new group Youth for Western Civilization, and the renewal of an older group Young Americans for Freedom.
They launch campaigns like “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day” and run “Straight Power” demonstrations with signs that read “End Faggotry” and “Go Back in the Closet.” Similar campaigns are beginning to take place on Canadian campuses, where the subtext is often Muslims.
Sadly, many of the foot soldiers of the Religious Right would not condone this behaviour, and believe that they are only protesting abortion or same-sex marriage. Yet they may now be aligned with a movement that is so much more.
The Moral Majority was never a majority. A majority of Americans are unwilling to have Paul Weyrich or anybody else dictate to them what is moral and righteous in personal life. In 1992, when the morals police and gay bashers seemed in ascendancy at the Republican National Convention, the public response was so negative that George Bush had to spend the first couple of weeks of the campaign backpedaling. (7)And as Rabbi Broitman points out:
The religious right has never represented all evangelicals, however, and in the last few years there has emerged an alternative voices in the evangelical community that have been suspect of the close alliance between evangelicals and one political party. As Evangelical leader David Gushee argues, “it is impossible both to represent the ‘Church’ and to function as a bloc within a national political party.” Religion is most faithful to its truth when it speaks from the margins of power, not the seat of power. (1)It might be time for some members to start reassessing this political movement fueled by religious fervour, or they could find themselves, like Archie, in a room full of people wearing white sheets.
1. Yom Kippur Sermon 5769: A critical analysis of the Jewish alliance with the Christian Right regarding Israel, By Rabbi Caryn Broitman, Yom Kippur 2008
2. Hard Right Turn: The New Face of Neo-Conservatism in Canada, Brooke Jeffrey, Harper-Collins, 1999, ISBN: 0-00 255762-2, Pg. 22)
3. The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception, By David Corn, Crown Publishers, 2003, ISBN: 1-4000-5066-9, Pg. 36-37
4. Bob Jones University Drops Interracial Dating Ban: Fundamentalist school finds itself thrust into Republican presidential debate. From Evangelical Press, Christianity Today, March 1, 2000
5. Too Close for Comfort: Canada's Future Within Fortress North America, By Maude Barlow, McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 2005, ISBN: 0-7710-1088-5, Pg. 48
6. Harper's U.S. neocon booster changes his story, By Beth Gorham, Canadian Press, January 27, 2006
7. Corruption of the Jean Pool, By Calvin Trillin, Time Magazine, March 08, 1999