Nov 08, 2006

Last night’s election results show that the Religious Right failed in its effort to build a church-based political machine on behalf of preferred candidates, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“The Religious Right threw everything it had into this election and still came up short,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Its campaign to politicize churches and demonize its opponents has failed.”

Lynn noted that Religious Right organizations attempted to forge church-based political machines in several states, but the effort seems to have floundered.

In Pennsylvania, for example, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, a Religious Right favorite, lost his bid for reelection. In Ohio, gubernatorial candidate Kenneth Blackwell, another Religious Right ally, was unsuccessful. Both men lost by large margins.

Americans United’s Lynn, author of the new book Piety & Politics: The Right-Wing Assault On Religious Freedom, said the election results leave the Religious Right with little to cheer about, but he doesn’t expect these outcomes to slow down the movement.

“Despite unprecedented efforts to mobilize churches with questionable tactics, the Religious Right failed yesterday to elect many of its favorite candidates,” Lynn remarked. “But I’ve followed this well-funded movement long enough to know that its leaders won’t go away quietly. We can expect them to be angrier than ever in the upcoming months.”

AU noted the rejection of Religious Right candidates in other races:

  • Kansas: Controversial Attorney General Phill Kline, who attempted to build a church-based political machine and vowed to imprison doctors who provide abortions, lost his reelection bid to Democrat Paul Morrison, 42 percent to 58 percent. Kline had appeared at the Family Research Council’s “Values Voter Summit” in September, where he promised to press a Religious Right agenda if returned to office.
  • Maryland: Republican Senate candidate Michael Steele, an opponent of legal abortion and stem-cell research, was defeated by Benjamin Cardin, 54 percent to 44 percent.
  • Missouri: U.S. Sen. James Talent (R), a favorite of the Religious Right, was defeated by Claire McKaskill 49 to 47 percent. A ballot initiative to approve tax funding of stem-cell research won 51 percent to 49 percent.
  • Florida: In the race for U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris (R), who based much of her candidacy on Religious Right appeals, lost badly to incumbent Senator Bill Nelson, 60 percent to 38 percent.
  • Michigan: Dick DeVos, Republican candidate for governor, was easily defeated by incumbent Jennifer Granholm, 56 percent to 42 percent. DeVos helped found the Council for National Policy, a secretive Religious Right umbrella group, and has heavily funded the Family Research Council.
  • Oklahoma: U.S. Rep. Ernest “Jim” Istook (R), a frequent backer of a constitutional amendment designed to weaken the separation of church and state, lost his bid for governor to incumbent Brad Henry. The race was not even close, with Henry at 66 percent and Istook 34.
  • Indiana: U.S. Rep. John Hostettler, a frequent speaker at Religious Right gatherings and sponsor of a bill designed to make it harder for people to bring church-state cases into federal courts, was trounced by Democrat Brad Ellsworth, 61 percent to 39 percent.
  • Kentucky: Anne Northup, a Republican who successfully used the promise of public grants through the “faith-based” initiative to woo religious voters in 2002 and 2004, lost to Democrat John Yarmuth, 51 percent to 48 percent.

Although ballot initiatives banning same-sex marriage passed in several states, a provision to impose a near-total ban on abortions in South Dakota failed 56 percent to 44 percent. National Religious Right groups had poured into the state, hoping to create a tide that would carry the initiative to other states.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.