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The Religious Right

A Short Timeline History


The Religious Right can be loosely defined as a cultural movement that responds to changing sexual mores by asserting a radical, socially conservative model of government. The movement's natural enemies are feminism and lesbian and gay rights, both of which promote a broader and more flexible concept of personal autonomy.


While the Supreme Court's controversial school prayer ruling in Engel v. Vitale didn't technically create the Religious Right, it certainly galvanized social conservatives who felt that society had become unacceptably secular.


The Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion, very likely created the Religious Right as we know it today. The anger of conservatives, who often characterize the ruling as a rejection of human life in favor of sexual liberation, has motivated the movement's base for four decades.


Semi-reformed segregationist fireband Jerry Falwell co-founded the Moral Majority, the first national modern Religious Right organization, in 1979.


While some might have doubted the Religious Right's power and relevance during the 1970s, none could do so after 1980 - when the movement brought in four million new evangelical voters to elect President Ronald Reagan by a landslide and produce the first Republican Senate majority since 1952.


Psychologist and syndicated advice columnist James Dobson created the Family Research Council in 1983, which worked to reframe the Religious Right's historically macho agenda around the maternal protection of children. This broadened the movement's appeal, though the Religious Right remained, and still remains, a primarily male movement.


Reagan carried 49 out of 50 states in the 1984 election, further solidifying the Religious Right's influence over mainstream politics.


The unsuccessful attempt to nominate notorious Christian Dominionism scholar Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court demonstrated the limits of a Religious Right movement whose power had, up until that point, often appeared to be limitless.


Right-wing televangelist Pat Robertson was a serious contender for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination, but the eventual nomination of the more moderate George Herbert Walker Bush - like the unsuccessful nomination of Bork - showed the movement's limitations.


Robertson didn't let his unsuccessful 1988 campaign deter him from building a national platform. When he founded the Christian Coalition in 1989, it quickly became one of the most powerful institutional forces in American politics.


White nationalist Pat Buchanan's infamous "Culture War" speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention merged the interests of the Religious Rights with that of the racially-charged "state's rights movement, further expanding its base of support within the party.


The Christian Coalition was instrumental in generating Republican turnout for what would ultimately be a completely successful Republican takeover of both chambers of Congress - the first time the Republicans had held the U.S. House in four decades.


The Republican majority was no political match for President Bill Clinton, whose slick and very Southern approach to politics quickly helped reframe the Religious Right as a sinister, meddlesome movement in the eyes of many moderate voters. While the movement remains part of the Republican Party base, and achieved some resurgence during the administration of President George W. Bush, Religious Right founder Paul Weyrich echoed the sentiments of many in the movement when he wrote in 1999 that "we probably have lost the culture war."
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