Sep 22, 2009

I endured my second Values Voter Summit over the weekend, and as my colleague Rob Boston shared with you yesterday, it was an interesting time.

Like Rob, I was subjected to some crazy Religious Right rants and raves. But it doesn't upset me that much any more. After all, I've read or heard most of them before, and the majority of the Summit speakers are older and ultra-conservative. I practically expect them to be backward.

What does disturb me is when I see the young "values voters" spouting off. As a younger person, I always assumed that my generation, and the ones after, would be different. I believed we were on the same page regarding church-state separation, reproductive rights and gay marriage. I had hope that in the future, these particular concerns would eventually become non-issues.

But I left Saturday evening feeling very differently. I had been exposed to far too many young Religious Right activists over the weekend, and the thought petrified me. What is worse is that I noticed a large chunk of the Summit's time was dedicated to the topic of how to reach "Millennials" with the Religious Right's message, followed by finding ways to encourage young people to speak out on its behalf.

Take, for example, William Bennett's moment in the spotlight. He is the author of a two-volume work, America: The Last Best Hope, which he is pushing to be the leading history text for students across the country. It's already been approved for use in Indiana, Illinois and New York City, as well as individual school districts across a lot of the country.

Bennett has always been a Religious Right favorite, first as U.S. secretary of education under Ronald Reagan and, since then, as the "leading spokesman for the Traditional Values wing of the Republican Party."

Bennett claimed at the conference that no other history book in all of the country is accurate. According to him, current textbooks have been by usurped by liberals who are unpatriotic and do not teach children how to be in love with their country.

"It's time to get the story of America back right," he declared to a cheering crowd.

It's as if Bennett's book is really, as it proclaims in its title, the last hope for saving all of today's youth's from becoming dreaded liberal thinkers. I wish that were the case. But it's not.

There are already many youngsters eager and waiting to carry the torch. And they are convincing more youth to join with them and "stand up" for their faith, which they claim is under attack by those who want to keep church and state separate.

Leading the way is Carrie Prejean, the 22-year-old former Miss California. According to Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, Prejean has become a "kind and graceful and loving voice for marriage."

The beauty queen told the adoring audience she couldn't believe how "intolerant" America is. Our country allegedly attacked her for standing by her faith in opposing gay marriage, and in the end, Prejean lost her chance to be Miss USA.

"Even though I didn't win the crown that night," she said, "I know that the Lord has so much of a bigger crown in Heaven for me."

[caption id="attachment_2139" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Carrie Prejean, former Miss California "][/caption]

Another young activist, Jason Mattera, told a crowd of students how professors and the majority of their classmates may be liberal, but it's okay to stand up against them.

Mattera remembered fondly how he became active in politics, demanding that for every liberal speaker, his college must also invite a conservative Christian speaker to campus. Students can't just be taught a secular point-of-view, he said.

[caption id="attachment_2135" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Lila Rose, President, Live Action"][/caption]

And then there is UCLA college student Lila Rose, the Religious Right's new darling, who believes she will single-handedly defund Planned Parenthood with YouTube exposés.

When she was 15, Rose founded Live Action, a student-led non-profit that uses new media to propagate a Religious Right agenda.     She encouraged a group of 30-plus students on Saturday to do the same.

[caption id="attachment_2136" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Jason Mattera, Young America's Foundation"][/caption]

It was disappointing to see all this, but it left me with this important lesson: Despite how the times change, we're still going to have a determined group that seeks to impose their religious-political agenda on the rest of us. Instead of Phyllis Schlafly, we'll have Lila Rose. Instead of Tony Perkins, we'll have Jason Mattera. And instead of Maggie Gallagher, we'll have Carrie Prejean.

Needless to say, this weekend has given me even more reasons to keep up the fight for church-state separation.

[caption id="attachment_2137" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="The audience at the panel discussion Turning the Tide in Your Generation"][/caption]