The movement known as the Religious Right is the number-one threat to church-state separation in America. This collection of organizations is well funded and well organized; it uses its massive annual revenue and grassroots troops to undermine the wall of separation in communities nationwide.
Americans United staff members have carefully researched this movement, and here are the 10 Religious Right groups that pose the greatest challenges to church-state separation. Most of these organizations are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, but the financial data includes some affiliated 501(c)(4) lobbying organizations operating alongside the main organizations. The figures come from official IRS filings or other reliable sources.
1. Jerry Falwell Ministries/ Liberty University/Liberty Counsel
Although Jerry Falwell, a Religious Right icon and founder of the Moral Majority, died in 2007, his empire is going strong thanks mostly to Liberty University, a Lynchburg, Va., school now run by his son, Jerry Falwell Jr. Following in his father’s footsteps, Falwell Jr. regularly meddles in partisan politics – from local contests to presidential races. This year, he invited Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney to give Liberty’s commencement address, introducing him as “the next president of the United States.” A second Falwell son, Jonathan, is pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church, a mega-church in Lynchburg. Liberty Counsel is a Religious Right legal outfit founded by Mat Staver that is now based at Liberty University, where it launches lawsuits undermining church-state separation and encourages pastors to get involved in partisan political activity.
2. Pat Robertson Empire
Known for his years of involvement in far-right politics, TV preacher Pat Robertson has forged a vast Religious Right empire anchored by the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Robertson also runs Regent University and a right-wing legal group, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). (Attorney Jay Sekulow heads ACLJ, as well as his own quasi-independent legal outfit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism.) CBN, which brings in the bulk of Robertson’s revenue, broadcasts far-right religious and political invective laced with attacks on church-state separation, a concept Robertson has called a “myth” and a “lie of the left.” His “700 Club” TV program is a powerful forum for the promotion of right-wing ideology and favored politicians. Robertson has been welcomed into the halls of government. The current governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, is a Regent U. graduate.
3. Focus on the Family (includes its 501(c)(4) political affiliate CitizenLink)
Fundamentalist Christian James Dobson founded Focus on the Family to offer “biblical” solutions to family problems. Dobson, a child psychologist by training, soon branched out into the dissemination of hardcore right-wing politics with an international reach. Dobson has been a major player in the halls of power in Washington, D.C., and Focus-aligned “family policy councils” pressure lawmakers and influence legislation in 36 states. In fact, the Colorado-based organization frequently plays a key role in fighting gay rights and restricting abortion at the state level. Jim Daly is now president of Focus; Dobson left the organization in 2010 but remains active on the political scene.
4. Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund)
The ADF may have changed its name, but it still promotes a familiar Religious Right agenda. The Arizona-based organization, which was founded by far-right TV and radio preachers, attacks church-state separation, blasts gay rights, assails reproductive freedom and seeks to saturate the public schools with its narrow version of fundamentalism. In recent years, the ADF, headed by Ed Meese acolyte Alan Sears, has worked aggressively to overturn a federal law that bars tax-exempt churches and other nonprofits from intervening in partisan elections. The group says church-state separation is not in the Constitution and calls the church-state wall “fictitious.”
5. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Lobbying Expenditures: $26,662,111
The USCCB for years has lobbied in Washington, D.C., to make the hierarchy’s ultra-conservative stands on reproductive rights, marriage, school vouchers and other public policies the law for all to follow. This year, the USCCB escalated its efforts in the “culture war” arena, forming the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty. Led by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, the committee seeks to reduce Americans’ access to birth control, block efforts to expand marriage equality and ensure federal funding of church-affiliated social services, even if the services fail to meet government requirements. American Catholics often disagree with the hierarchy’s stance on social issues, but the bishops’ clout in Washington, D.C., and the state legislatures is undeniable.
6. American Family
Founded by the Rev. Donald Wildmon, the Tupelo, Miss.-based AFA once focused on battling “indecent” television shows. When that failed, the group branched out to advocate for standard Religious Right issues such as opposing gay rights, promoting religion in public schools and banning abortion. In recent years, AFA staffer Bryan Fischer has become notorious for making inflammatory statements. Fischer has asserted that Adolf Hitler invented church-state separation and has proposed kidnapping children being raised by same-sex couples. The AFA, designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, frequently announces boycotts of companies that don’t give in to its demands. The organization says it operates nearly 200 radio stations nationwide.
7. Family Research Council
Revenue: $14,840,036 (includes 501(c)(4) affiliate FRC Action)
This group, an offshoot of Focus on the Family, is headed by GOP operative and ex-Louisiana legislator Tony Perkins. It is now the leading Religious Right organization in Washington. Every year, FRC Action sponsors a “Values Voter Summit” to promote far-right politicians and rally Religious Right forces nationwide. The 2012 edition hosted many top Republican politicians and drew about 2,000 attendees. The organization frequently assails public education, political progressives, reproductive justice and the church-state wall and seeks to form a far-right coalition with the Tea Party. FRC is also known to engage in harsh gay bashing and has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
8. Concerned Women for
Revenue: $10,352,628 (includes 501(c)(4) affiliate CWA Legislative Action Committee)
Founded to counter feminism, Concerned Women for America (CWA) claims to be “the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization.” Its mission is to “bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy.” CWA was organized by Tim and Beverly LaHaye in 1979 to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment, and when that issue faded, it moved on to other Religious Right agenda items. The group attacks public schools for allegedly promoting “secular humanism” and supports the teaching of creationism in science classes. It also vehemently opposes abortion and gay rights.
9. Faith & Freedom Coalition
This 501(c)(4) advocacy group was founded by former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed. He formed the organization after his run for lieutenant governor in Georgia was derailed because of his ties to disgraced casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In just three years of operation it already boasts more than 500,000 members and claims affiliates in 30 states. Reed is infamous for exaggerating his organizations’ clout, but his latest group is certainly making political waves. In 2012, it hosted forums for GOP presidential hopefuls in four states. Faith & Freedom Coalition claims to have budgeted $10 million in 2012 to lure conservative religious voters to the polls.
10. Council for National Policy
The Council for National Policy exists to do just one thing: organize meetings of right-wing operatives, Religious Right leaders and wealthy business interests at posh hotels around the country to share ideas, plot strategy and vet GOP presidential candidates. Membership is by invitation only, and the group seeks no media attention. Despite its small size and shadowy operations, the CNP – founded by Religious Right godfather Tim LaHaye – wields a great deal of influence, showing that even organizations with modest budgets can have a significant impact. U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), after his now-infamous “legitimate rape” comment, showed up at the next CNP meeting to ensure ongoing financial support as he runs for the U.S. Senate. Heritage Foundation Vice President Becky Norton Dunlop currently serves as CNP president, with Phyllis Schlafly and FRC’s Tony Perkins also taking leadership roles.