Political pundits who are convinced that the Religious Right is shrinking might want to take a look at the latest draft of the Republican Party platform. It’s evidence that this movement has lost little of its political might.
A platform subcommittee in Cleveland rejected amendments to soften the party’s language on abortion and LGBT rights; it also added language backing Donald Trump’s proposal to restrict immigration from Muslim-majority countries.
Moderate delegates tried – and failed – to stop the platform committee’s rightward turn. “We have a bathroom or restroom obsession in this platform,” Anne Dickerson reportedly said. “Stop repelling gays, for God’s sake.” But fundamentalist heavy hitters appear to have successfully blocked those moderate efforts. A number of proposals bear the clear imprimatur of the Religious Right, likely due to the influence of the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins and Christian pseudo-historian David Barton, both of whom serve as Republican delegates. According to The New York Times, delegates adopted provisions asserting “that man-made law must be consistent with God-given, natural rights” and that public schools should teach the Bible in as a historical document. Doing so, they alleged, is “indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry.” (It is already legal for public schools to teach the Bible in history or religion courses, as long as it isn’t taught from a devotional perspective.)
Miss the 1950s? Some Religious Right leaders do.
Delegates also voted to categorize pornography use as a “public health crisis” and, at Perkins’ urging, passed an amendment favoring “conversion therapy,” a debunked, faith-based treatment intended to “convert” LGBT people to heterosexuality. That directly contradicts recent court rulings that determined the so-called ‘therapy’ is fraudulent. Trump lacks a consistent socially conservative record on LGBT rights, and The Times reported that his campaign aides interfered little with the drafting process. The changes, which will be either adopted or rejected by a full committee later this week, reflect the influence Perkins and other Religious Right leaders still wield.
“He [Trump] is going to be the nominee for the party. He has his own ideas,” Perkins told The Times. “But this is a statement of not Donald Trump’s campaign, but of the Republican Party.”
The proposals adopted by delegates this week don’t reflect popular opinion (most Americans still support abortion rights and marriage equality) or constitutional law. But that probably doesn’t matter to delegates. This was a power play: Perkins and his fellow fundamentalists weren’t able to prevent Trump’s ascension, but they’re acting now to prove they can still stop perceived centrist drift.
It’s not yet clear if their efforts will be effective. Their proposals must be adopted by a full committee in order to make it into the official platform. Even if they are adopted, party platforms don’t automatically translate to policies. Candidates often ignore platforms, and there are Republicans who reject the Religious Right’s political agenda – even though they failed to prevent fundamentalists from pulling the strings this week.
But the results of this week’s subcommittee prove the Religious Right isn’t quite a toothless tiger. Its leaders are still influential – and still determined to enforce their vision of an officially “Christian America.”