Christian Coalition

2012-06-04 02:38:46

The Christian Coalition is a Washington, D.C.–based national advocacy group that supports conservative political and religious ideals. The Christian Coalition lobbies Congress, state legislatures, city councils, and school boards on a range of issues, including abortion regulation, religious expression in public schools, social welfare policy, and tax-relief. The Christian Coalition maintains an extensive grassroots network of volunteers and distributes candidate voters’ guides prior to elections that describe candidate positions on religious, social, and economic issues. The Coalition maintains its activities concentrate on ‘‘traditional family values’’ and are nonpartisan, but liberal advocacy groups, such as People for the American Way and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, have claimed the Coalition policies and voters’ guides favor Republican Party issues and candidates. Despite its disclaimers, the Coalition has become a powerful force in the Republican Party, influencing the latter’s position on many social issues.

The Christian Coalition was founded in 1989 by Rev. Marion G. (Pat) Robertson, a television evangelist (host of the ‘‘700 Club’’) and founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network. Robertson created the Christian Coalition after his failed bid for the Republican Party nomination for President in 1988. Early promotional literature stated the group’s purpose as to ‘‘mobilize and train [theologically conservative] Christians for effective political action.’’ The Coalition’s inaugural event was a $500,000 campaign to defund the National Endowment for Humanities. The bulk of Coalition efforts, however, have involved election-related activities such as voter registration, ‘‘get-out-the-vote’’ campaigns, and distributing candidate voters guides. The Coalition experienced initial political success by recruiting unknown conservative candidates for lower level political offices, a strategy described by Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed as supporting ‘‘stealth candidates.’’ By 1995, the Coalition claimed a dominant or substantial role in the Republican parties of thirty-one states. In the 2000 general election, the Coalition distributed 70 million candidate voters’ guides, primarily to conservative Christians. The Coalition claimed responsibility for the conservative Republican takeover of Congress in the 1994 election and for securing the election of George W. Bush as President in 2000.

Although the Coalition’s agenda concentrated initially on religious and moral issues, Reed expanded the organization’s focus to include support for conservative economic policies, health care reform, and increased defense spending. In 1995, the Coalition announced its ‘‘Contract with the American Family,’’ which outlined ten legislative or policy goals, including school prayer, regulation of pornography and abortion, the adoption of a flat tax rate, and the abolition of the Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The Republican controlled Congress embraced several of the Coalition’s proposals, resulting in legislation authorizing federal funding of religious charities (Charitable Choice) and regulating sexually explicit material on the internet. Criticism of the Coalition’s political activity and voters’ guides led the Internal Revenue Service to deny the organization’s charitable taxexempt status in 1999. The Coalition reorganized through one of its state affiliates.

An organization related to the Christian Coalition is the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). Pat Robertson founded the ACLJ in 1990 as a legal advocacy group ‘‘dedicated to defending and advancing religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, and the two-parent, marriage-bound family.’’ Modeled after the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLJ represents religiously conservative litigants in controversies involving public school student religious activities and abortion clinic protests, among others. Through its general counsel, Jay Sekulow, the ACLJ has argued several leading free speech and religion clause cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens (1990), Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches School District (1993), Madsen v. Women’s Health Center (1994), and Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000). ACLJ also maintains an active amicus practice before the Supreme Court. ACLJ has been effective in encouraging the Supreme Court to adopt a First Amendment jurisprudence that provides equal access to public facilities and funding for religiously motivated expression and conduct.


References and Further Reading

  • Boston, Robert. The Most Dangerous Man in America? Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1996.
  • Brown, Ruth Murry. For a ‘‘Christian America’’: A History of the Religious Right. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2002.
  • Diamond, Sara. Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States. New York: The Guilford Press, 1995.
  • Green, John C., et al. Religion and the Culture Wars. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Pub., 1996.
  • Watson, Justin. The Christian Coalition: Dreams of Restoration, Demands for Recognition. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.
  • Wilcox, Clyde. Onward Christian Soldiers? The Religious Right in American Politics. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226 (1990)
  • Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches School District, 508 U.S. 384 (1993)
  • Madsen v. Women’s Health Center, 512 U.S. 753 (1994)
  • Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000)