January 2012 Church & State | Editorial

Religious Right groups and their political allies often assert that an aggressive interpretation of church-state separation is pushing faith-based groups out of the public square.

A new report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life should finally debunk this claim. Pew researchers examined 212 groups across the political spectrum that engage in religion-related advocacy work in the nation’s capital. They found that these groups aren’t merely doing well in Washington, D.C., they’re thriving.

What’s more, the biggest groups tend to be affiliated with the right wing. Of the 10 largest advocacy groups, seven take ultra-conservative stands on social issues. They include the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, the Home School Legal Defense Fund, Focus on the Family’s Citizenlink and the Traditional Values Coalition.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is well represented, too. It has a budget of $26.6 million and enjoys easy access to many powerful legislators.

These groups raise and spend a lot of money. Not all of it goes to direct lobbying, of course, but the sums spent on all forms of advocacy are considerable. If you add up the budgets of the seven conservative religious advocacy groups in the top 10, the figure tops $95 million.

Every day, these organizations are on Capitol Hill, at the White House or at the federal agencies trying to get their theological views written into law or perhaps seeking support for their schools and other ministries from the taxpayer. They are hardly being gagged. In fact, religious denominations don’t have to register their lobbyists or file lobbying reports, as secular groups must do.

With this much money at their fingertips, right-leaning religious advocacy groups can’t say they have no influence or that they are being outspent by their opponents. In fact, Americans United’s budget is much more modest. Nevertheless, by working harder and smarter, we are able to win important victories that shore up the church-state wall.

No one is trying to stifle religious voices. It’s true that Americans United and its allies put forth spirited opposition to any scheme by would-be theocrats to merge church and state. We point out that their plans are bad for America and rally the people to oppose them. That’s hardly the same thing as trying to keep the Religious Right from speaking out.

Despite impressive amounts of money and power, the Religious Right doesn’t always get what it wants. Instead of carping, maybe the people in this movement should accept the fact that the American people don’t support their goals.