The God’s Honest Truth About the Religious Right

21 Jun

The Religious Right’s self-portrayal as mobilizing in response to the Roe decision was so pervasive among evangelicals that few questioned it. But my attendance at an unusual gathering in Washington, D.C., finally alerted me to the abortion myth. In November 1990, for reasons that I still don’t entirely understand, I was invited to attend a conference in Washington sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Religious Right organization (though I didn’t realize it at the time). I soon found myself in a conference room with a couple of dozen people, including Ralph Reed, then head of the Christian Coalition; Carl F. H. Henry, an evangelical theologian; Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family; Donald Wildmon, head of the American Family Association; Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Edward G. Dobson, pastor of an evangelical church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and formerly one of Jerry Falwell’s acolytes at Moral Majority. Paul M. Weyrich, a longtime conservative activist, head of what is now called the Free Congress Foundation, and one of the architects of the Religious Right in the late 1970s, was also there.

In the course of one of the sessions, Weyrich tried to make a point to his Religious Right brethren (no women attended the conference, as I recall). Let’s remember, he said animatedly, that the Religious Right did not come together in response to the Roe decision. No, Weyrich insisted, what got us going as a political movement was the attempt on the part of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies.

Bob Jones University was one target of a broader attempt by the federal government to enforce the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Several agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, had sought to penalize schools for failure to abide by antisegregation provisions. A court case in 1972, Green v. Connally, produced a ruling that any institution that practiced segregation was not, by definition, a charitable institution and, therefore, no longer qualified for tax-exempt standing.

The IRS sought to revoke the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University in 1975 because the school’s regulations forbade interracial dating; African Americans, in fact, had been denied admission altogether until 1971, and it took another four years before unmarried African Americans were allowed to enroll. The university filed suit to retain its tax-exempt status, although that suit would not reach the Supreme Court until 1983 (at which time, the Reagan administration argued in favor of Bob Jones University).

An excerpt from the 2006 book ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ by Randall Balmer

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