Since 1988 I’ve been keeping an eye on a faction of the Religious Right known as Christian Reconstructionists.

Reconstructionists are so extreme they make TV preacher Pat Robertson look like a moderate. They call themselves Reconstructionists because they plan to “reconstruct” American society along “biblical” lines – well, it’s really more their interpretation of what the Bible mandates. In their case, that means a country that is a fundamentalist Christian theocracy operating under Old Testament law.

You read that right – Old Testament law. That means you’d get the death penalty for adultery, fornication, homosexuality, “witchcraft,” blasphemy, incorrigible juvenile delinquency, worshiping “false gods” and other offenses. (There aren’t going to be a lot of people left in the “reconstructed” society, are there?)

Some Reconstructionists go so far as to say the Bible mandates executions by stoning. Under their rule, America would be kind of like Iran but with fewer beards.

It’s easy to dismiss the Reconstructionists as a bunch of loons, but their influence has been disturbingly widespread among the Religious Right. The dean of the movement, the late Rousas John Rushdoony, founded a group called the Chalcedon Foundation and wrote a number of books that influenced leading Religious Right leaders. His multi-volume Institutes of Biblical Law is probably the best known.

Rushdoony’s son-in-law is a man named Gary North, who has also written numerous books. The pair had a falling out some years ago over some obscure Bible passage, but North still rolls along.

North holds very radical views. He has compared public schools to “whorehouses,” assailed democracy and once wrote an entire treatise on why stoning is the preferred method of execution (in part, because there are lots of stones lying around so everyone can join in). None of this has kept him from winning connections in some unexpected places.

Consider Ron Paul. Paul, a former Texas congressman and Republican presidential candidate, has fans in some progressive quarters because of his anti-war stand. Unfortunately, his positions on many other issues spring from the Stone Age. Although Paul has always denied being a Reconstructionist, he certainly shares many of their views: He is a creationist who is hostile to public education, reproductive justice, LGBT rights, etc.

Recently, Paul announced plans for a curriculum for home-schoolers that will teach “biblical” concepts. The director of curriculum development for that program is none other than North.

Paul and North go back a long way. In 1976, when Paul served an eight-month interim term in Congress, he put North on his staff.

North’s influence over the planned curriculum will obviously be significant. In a video, he says it will “teach the biblical principle of self-government and personal responsibility.”

That’s sounds pretty innocuous, but my guess is that Paul and North aren’t highlighting the more extreme elements of Reconstructionst theology because it might dampen sales. But it will be in there in one form or another.

You can read more on the “God Discussion” blog here. (Full disclosure: This piece links to an article debunking “Christian nation” views that I wrote for Alternet.) Writer and researcher Sarah Posner also has some good info.

The Reconstructionists aren’t likely to take over tomorrow and refashion American society to look like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. But that doesn’t mean we can dismiss their influence. Some Religious Right leaders admit that the Reconstructionists established the theological basis for political and legal action by right-wing Christians.

Prior to the Reconstructionists, many conservative Christians argued that political action was “of the world” and not part of their mandate. When Jerry Falwell and others jumped into the fray in 1980, they found biblical grounding in literature from the Rushdoony camp. And Reconstructionism-based thinking still percolates through the Religious Right movement today.

The Reconstructionists are now trying to raise up a new generation of leaders through the Paul/North home-school curriculum. No one disputes their right to do that, but those of us who defend church-state separation and freedom of conscience have a right – some might say a duty – to let Americans know what they’re up to. We must keep a close eye on those who yearn to replace our secular democracy with a fundamentalist theocracy.