When presenting its legislative ultimatum to Newt Gingrich and others, Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed was widely quoted as joking that these were the "ten suggestions," not the "Ten Commandments." But Reed did not disguise the fact that he expected quid pro quo--Gingrich's support in exchange for the Christian Coalition's support of Gingrich's Contract with America.
What are these "ten suggestions"?
Reviled in this section of the contract is the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by 180 nations but awaits U.S. ratification. In part thanks to the Christian Coalition and Phyllis Schlafly, ratification is going nowhere in the U.S. Senate.
"Defunding" Planned Parenthood is another as yet unsuccessful battlecry.
What does this mean? The Religious Right wants religious groups and churches not only to raid the public till, but to take over secular social services. This would be easily accomplished if "unmandated funds" for welfare in the form of block grants to states is passed in the federal budget.
The camel's nose is already under the tent. There is precedent in a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court permitting federal funds to subsidize abstinence programs for public school students by religious groups. Local governments often contract with churches to provide shelters and other services for the homeless or children. Religion gets the credit; the taxpayers get billed.
Section 104 of the recently vetoed welfare bill--authored by Sen. John Ashcroft, R-MO, a Christian Coalition cheerleader--authorized houses of worship to completely take over some government-funded welfare services. Persons on welfare would use government vouchers and certificates to pay for religious "worship, instruction or proselytization" activities.
All this is advanced as a way to prevent states from "discriminating" against an institution because of its "religious character."
Taxpayers would be forced to fund religious charities, or alternately would be allowed to "tithe" through their taxes to religious groups.
". . . if given the choice between having their tax dollars subsidize government welfare programs or subsidize private charitable programs, many would prefer to designate the money to a private charity of their choice. Christian Coalition urges the United States Congress to enact legislation to give taxpayers this opportunity."
In this manner, avers the coalition, "private charities would compete on an equal footing with government welfare programs for the portion of the federal budget that is allocated to poverty programs, thereby increasing competition."
Paradoxically, the Religious Right is seeking to "deprivatize" religion (establish state-funded churches). Public social services would be destroyed; religious programs would be publicly-funded! Religion will get the credit; beneficiaries will be proselytized; taxpayers will get you-know-what.
These schemes are not going away. Michigan Gov. John Engler, an arch-conservative Catholic who basically abolished state welfare services, approved a multimillion-dollar contract last fall with the Salvation Army to care for the state's homeless population. Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice has established a "Faith and Families" project in which religious social service agencies are funded. U.S. Sens. John Ashcroft and Dan Coats have introduced a dollar-to-dollar tax credit for donations to charities serving the poor.
While this campaign is on the back burner, funding has been dramatically cut. The bizarre inclusion of Legal Services Corporation under "arts" funding was apparently meant to camouflage the Christians' special interest in abolishing federal legal assistance to the poor. Perhaps the Corporation is seen as "competition" for dollars the coalition wants to go only to churches. But its main criticism is that the Corporation provides divorce services to the poor, which is contrary to the religious views of Robertson and Reed. The Corporation was not abolished but it lost significant funding last fall.
Ralph Reed claimed responsibility for the surprise Religious Right takeover during the off-year 1994 elections. The Christian Coalition organizes through fundamentalist churches--and is hoping to do more with Catholic churches--using a perfect, ready-made captive audience as the target for its voter registration drives, and distribution of biased election-eve legislative "scorecards."
Reflecting the infiltration by the Christian Coalition of the Republican Party, many governors and members of Congress endorse by word or action major portions of the Christian Coalition's Contract on the Family. The Kansas Republican Party, for example, recently adopted a party platform that could have been written by Pat Robertson or Pat Buchanan, according to press observers, including: constitutional amendments to ban abortion and force prayer in schools, support for school vouchers and creationism, and elimination of the U.S. Department of Education.
A c(4) lobbying group should not be allowed to organize through c(3) tax-exempt groups like churches. Politically active churches should not be allowed to retain tax-exempt status. Should elections and legislation be dominated by out-of-control fundamentalist and Catholic churches? Should churches be allowed to use their tax-exempt fortunes to topple our secular Constitution and establish "One Nation Under God"?
For now, the Christian Coalition has succeeded only in swamping Congress with legislation, failing thus far in accomplishing most of its ends. But its means are grave cause for concern.