The Top Ten Power Brokers of the
by Rob Boston (Church and State)
AlterNet, July 7, 2006 - www.alternet.org
The United States is home to dozens of Religious Right groups.
Many have small budgets and focus on state and local issues; the
most powerful organizations conduct nationwide operations, command
multi-million-dollar bank accounts and attract millions of followers.
They have disproportionate clout in the halls of Congress, the
White House and the courts, and they wield enormous influence
within the political system.
What follows is a list of the nation's
Top Ten Religious Right groups, as determined by publicly available
financial data and political prominence. Additional information
describes the organizations' leaders, funding and activities.
1. Christian Broadcasting Network_Founder,
CEO and Director: The Rev. Pat Robertson_2004 Revenue: $186,482,060_Location:
Virginia Beach, Va._Web site: www.cbn.com
Overview: The Christian Broadcasting Network
(CBN) airs Robertson's "700 Club," an incendiary daily
mix of Pentecostal faith-healing, lifestyle advice and far-right
politics. He calls church-state separation a "lie of the
left" and thinks Christians like him should lead the world.
With his withdrawal from the Christian Coalition in 2001, Robertson
uses CBN as his primary political soapbox. The show, which according
to Nielsen Media Research has 830,000 daily viewers, opens with
a "newscast" that parrots Robertson's views, often followed
by commentary from the televangelist himself. Top leaders of the
conservative movement regularly pontificate on the program, and
Republican members of Congress appear to tout legislative goals.
Robertson, 76, has a history of controversy.
His 1991 book The New World Order was based on a host of anti-Semitic
sources, although Robertson has always been pro-Israel for end-times
theological reasons. The same book opines that former presidents
Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush may have been unwitting dupes
for Lucifer. On his TV show, Robertson once charged that Methodists,
Presbyterians and Episcopalians represent "the spirit of
the Antichrist." In a Sept. 13, 2001, diatribe, he asserted
that the terrorist attacks on America happened because of the
Supreme Court's rulings in favor of church-state separation. In
the ensuing controversy, Robertson shifted the blame to Jerry
Falwell, who had been on the show with him.
Over the years, the failed presidential
candidate has often dallied with brutal dictators. He celebrated
Guatemala's Pentecostal strongman Efrain Rios Montt, lauded Frederick
Chiluba of Zambia as a model for American politicians, hunted
for gold with Liberia's Charles Taylor and did business with Mobutu
Sese Seko of Zaire. (He was caught using relief airplanes owned
by his charity, Operation Blessing, to ferry diamond-mining equipment
in and out of Zaire.)
Despite all of this, Robertson retains
a close relationship with the Republican Party establishment.
Operation Blessing has received $1.5 million in taxpayer funding
through the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
CBN is Robertson's flagship tax-exempt
operation. He also founded and runs the American Center for Law
and Justice, a Religious Right legal group; Operation Blessing
and Regent University, a school offering degrees in law, business,
journalism, theology and other disciplines. Added up, Robertson-related
groups brought in $461,475,115 in tax-free donations in 2004.
Robertson Quote: "The fact that [the
courts] are trying to ignore this country's religious heritage
is just horrible. They are taking our religion away from us under
the guise of separation of church and state. There was never any
intention that our government would be separate from God Almighty.
Never, never, never in the history of this land did the founders
of this country or those who came after them think that was the
case." ("700 Club," July 19, 2005)
2. Focus on the Family
Founder and chairman: Dr. James C. Dobson_2005
Revenue: $137,848,520_Location: Colorado Springs, Colo._Web site:
Overview: Although sometimes mistakenly
identified as a minister, James Dobson is a child psychologist
who founded Focus on the Family in 1977. Dobson, 70, rose to national
prominence after the release of his first book, Dare to Discipline,
a controversial volume that lauded corporal punishment for children
at a time when many child-rearing experts were recommending against
it. He came to the attention of aides to President Ronald Reagan
and during the 1980s served on various White House commissions,
including a 1985-86 stint on Attorney General Edwin Meese's Commission
From modest origins, FOF has expanded
into a huge ministry with a worldwide presence. Dobson's radio
broadcasts are heard daily by an estimated five million Americans.
According to its Web site, "Focus on the Family hasbecome
an international organization with more than 74 different ministries
requiring nearly 1,300 employees" with a "daily broadcast
heard on over 6,000 facilities worldwide." FOF produces 10
magazines that are mailed to 2.3 million people and responds to
as many as 55,000 letters per week. The ministry also produces
various DVDs, books, pamphlets and other materials. It has political
affiliates in 32 states that lobby and monitor state legislation.
A product of the strict Church of the
Nazarene, Dobson is a hardcore fundamentalist who refers to church-state
separation as the "phantom" clause in the Constitution.
He frequently lambastes gays, legal abortion and the teaching
of evolution in public schools. FOF sponsors controversial "Love
Won Out" conferences run by an "ex-gay" ministry
that seeks to convert homosexuals into fundamentalist Christian
Although he poses as an avuncular family
counselor, Dobson and his empire spread Religious Right propaganda
and extreme rhetoric. In a 1996 radio address, he attacked the
concept of tolerance, calling it "kind of a watchword of
those who reject the concepts of right and wrong.It's kind of
a desensitization to evil of all varieties." Two years before
that, an FOF magazine attacked the Girl Scouts for being agents
of "humanism and radical feminism."
More recently, Dobson lashed out at a
pro-tolerance video produced for public schools that featured
popular cartoon characters, among them SpongeBob SquarePants,
because the group that produced it put a "tolerance pledge"
on its Web site that included gays.
Dobson has promoted right-wing politics
for a long time, but in 2004 he took the step of forming a more
overtly political arm, Focus on the Family Action, and began personally
endorsing candidates for public office. According to information
on the FOF Action Web site, the group collected just under $25
million in 2005.
Figures such as these give Dobson major
political clout. He regularly threatens Republicans with retaliation
if they do not do his bidding and claims credit for knocking U.S.
Sen. Tom Dashle (D-S.D.) out of the Senate in 2004. Dobson also
issues regular threats to other Democratic senators representing
"red states." In June of 2004, during a visit to Colorado
Springs to speak at the U.S. Air Force Academy, President George
W. Bush took time out for a private half-hour meeting with Dobson.
Dobson Quote: "Do we as Christians
need to be liked so badly that we choose to remain silent in response
to the killing of babies, the spreading of homosexual propaganda
to our children, the distribution of condoms and immoral advice
to our teenagers, and the undermining of marriage as an institution?
Would Jesus have ignored these wicked activities?... No, I am
convinced that he would be the first to condemn sin in high places,
and I doubt if he would have minced words in making the point."(Christianity
Today, June 19, 1995)
3. Coral Ridge Ministries_Founder and
President: The Rev. D. James Kennedy_2005 Revenue: $39,253,882_Location:
Fort Lauderdale, Fla._Web site: www.coralridge.org
Overview: D. James Kennedy, a former dance
instructor who was converted to fundamentalist Christianity after
hearing a sermon on the radio, founded Coral Ridge Ministries
in 1974. Kennedy, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (PCA),
is now seen on about 600 U.S. television stations on Sunday mornings.
His "Coral Ridge Hour" mixes fundamentalism with strident
attacks on public education, gays, evolution, legal abortion,
"secular humanism" and other Religious Right targets.
Kennedy, 75, has a strong presence on
radio as well through "Truths that Transform," a daily
half-hour commentary heard on 744 stations. In addition, he has
authored several books that promote far-right views.
Kennedy is a big promoter of the "Christian
nation" view of American history. Every year, his Center
for Reclaiming America for Christ, hosts a major Religious Right
conference in Fort Lauderdale. The event attracts a mix of activists
and politicians. In 2006, Arkansas Gov. (and 2008 presidential
hopeful) Mike Huckabee spoke.
In 1995, Kennedy decided he wanted a presence
in Washington and opened the Center for Christian Statesmanship.
The Center hosts regular events for Capitol Hill staffers to instruct
them in the proper "biblical worldview" and works closely
with far-right GOP lawmakers.
Kennedy Quote: "This is our land.
This is our world. This is our heritage, and with God's help,
we shall reclaim this nation for Jesus Christ. And no power on
earth can stop us." (Character & Destiny: A Nation in
Search of its Soul, 1997)
4. Alliance Defense Fund_President, CEO
and General Counsel: Alan Sears_2004 Revenue: $17,921,146_Location:
Scottsdale, Ariz._Web site: www.alliancedefensefund.org
Overview: The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF)
was founded in 1993 by a coalition of 30 Religious Right leaders,
among them James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, Donald Wildmon and
the late Marlin Maddoux and Bill Bright. The original idea was
to create a funding pool that would subsidize the Religious Right's
courtroom activity, and as its Web site proclaims, "reclaim
the legal system for Jesus Christ." ADF head Alan Sears served
under Reagan-era Attorney General Edwin Meese, leading the Meese
Commission on Pornography.
While the ADF still supports lawsuits
spearheaded by other groups, it has begun directly litigating
in court as well. The org_anization also sends intimidating letters
to government officials and public schools, containing thinly
veiled threats to sue unless ADF demands are met. Last year, the
group launched a campaign to derail the alleged "war on Christmas"
and bragged that it had 800 attorneys standing by. (In the end,
only one lawsuit was filed.)
Some ADF cases are filed merely to generate
publicity. In 2005, the ADF sued a public school in California
on behalf of a teacher who claimed he had been ordered to stop
using the Declaration of Independence in class because of its
reference to the "Creator." The ADF arranged for intense
media coverage of the case but quietly dropped the suit once it
became obvious the teacher's claims were not true.
Aside from threatening public schools,
the ADF also diverts a lot of money into opposing same-sex marriage
and what it calls the "radical homosexual agenda." It
also opposes legal abortion and supports cases filed by employees
seeking the right to proselytize on the job.
The ADF sponsors regular training for
lawyers under its National Litigation Academy. In exchange for
free instruction, "each attorney pledges 450 hours of pro-bono
time to the Body of Christ," says the ADF Web site. More
than 900 lawyers have reportedly participated. The group also
sponsors Blackstone Legal Fellowships where law students "receive
intensive training in Christian worldview principles and how they
apply to the study and interpretation of law."
Sears holds extreme views. He was the
first Religious Right figure to assert that the cartoon character
SpongeBob Square_Pants might be gay and has criticized the 1959
comedy film "Some Like It Hot" for promoting cross-dressing.
Sears Quote: "One by one, more and
more bricks that make up the artificial 'wall of separation' between
church and state are being removed and Christians are once again
being allowed to exercise their constitutional right to equal
access to public facilities and funding." (January 2004 e-mail
5. American Family Association_Founder
and Chairman: The Rev. Donald Wildmon_2005 Revenue: $17,595,352_Location:
Tupelo, Miss._Web site: www.afa.net
Overview: Donald Wildmon, a Methodist
minister, founded the American Family Association in 1977. Its
original name was the National Federation for Decency. His goal,
Wildmon boldly stated, was to rid the television airwaves of "anti-family"
programming, mainly through boycotts and threats of boycotts of
companies that advertised on shows Wildmon dislikes.
The AFA has since branched out, engaging
in typical Religious Right activities like attacking gays and
bashing evolution. It now includes a lucrative radio empire with
176 affiliates in 34 states, a fundamentalist Christian news service
and a legal group called the Center for Law and Policy. In 2000,
Wildmon launched a nationwide campaign to urge states to pass
laws mandating the display of "In God We Trust" posters
in public schools.
Wildmon, 68, has flirted with anti-Semitism,
suggesting that Jews control the entertainment industry. The AFA's
Journal has also reprinted articles from The Spotlight, an anti-Semitic
newspaper. In December, Wildmon said evangelicals may stop supporting
Israel if Jewish leaders don't stop criticizing the Religious
Wildmon Quote: "Anti-prayer/Anti-Christian
groups - like the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of
Church and State - have teamed up with liberal judges on the U.S.
Supreme Court and are stripping away our religious freedom."
(Fall 2000 fund-raising letter)
6. American Center for Law and Justice_Founder
and President: The Rev. Pat Robertson_Chief Counsel: Jay Sekulow_2005
Revenue: $14,485,514_Location: Virginia Beach, Va., and Washington,
D.C._Web site: www.aclj.org
Overview: The American Center for Law
and Justice (ACLJ) was founded by TV preacher Pat Robertson in
1990, originally as a joint project of Robertson's Christian Coalition
and Regent University. Closely modeled on its nemesis, the American
Civil Liberties Union - the organization whose name it mimics
- the ACLJ was among the first Religious Right legal groups in
the nation. Headed by Jay Sekulow, a Jewish convert to evangelical
Christianity, the group seeks to roll back Supreme Court rulings
upholding church-state separation, abortion rights and gay rights.
Although it claims to be non-partisan,
the ACLJ works closely with far-right Republicans in Congress
and even tried to intervene in Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court
case that awarded the 2000 election to George W. Bush. Sekulow
has a close relationship with Bush, and several media accounts
have reported that he is among a small group that helps select
and promote Bush federal court nominees, including appointments
to the Supreme Court.
Sekulow, 49, hosts a television show,
"ACLJ This Week," that airs on several Christian cable
networks. (His son Logan hosts a Christian variety program as
In November, Legal Times reported on a
series of shady financial deals involving Sekulow. His salary
at the ACLJ, for example, exceeds $600,000 per year and he is
listed as an independent contractor so the figure does not have
to appear on financial disclosure forms. Sekulow maintains control
of a separate legal group, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism,
with annual revenues of $14 million, that also solicits donations.
He often hires family members to help run his various operations,
and the groups he works for have leased or purchased three homes
Sekulow Quote: "The fact is the phrase
'separation of church and state' is not found in the U.S. Constitution,
the framework of our freedom. Too often, the 'separation of church
and state' phrase is allowed to take the place of our actual constitutional
provisions." (Ministry Magazine, Fall 2004)
7. Family Research Council_Founder: James
C. Dobson_President and CEO: Tony Perkins_2005 Revenue: $9,958,115_Location:
Washington, D.C._Web site: www.frc.org
Overview: The Family Research Council
(FRC) was founded by religious broadcaster James C. Dobson in
1983 to give his views a presence in the nation's capital. For
many years, the group was merely an arm of Focus on the Family.
In 1992, Dobson severed the official ties, although he says they
remain "spiritually one."
Gary Bauer, a former Reagan administration
official, ran FRC for several years. The group's current president
is Tony Perkins, a 43-year-old former Louisiana state legislator
and anti-abortion activist. The FRC focuses on culture war issues
such as abortion, gay rights and end-of-life care. Recently, it
has led the Religious Right effort to attack the federal courts
and strip judges of their ability to hear church-state cases,
sponsoring a series of anti-court rallies called "Justice
Headquartered in a 10-year-old building
on the edge of D.C.'s Chinatown, FRC has become the leading Religious
Right group in the nation's capital and enjoys a close relationship
with the GOP leadership. In March of 2005, Senate Majority Leader
Bill Frist and then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay spoke at an
FRC briefing. DeLay made controversial remarks about Terri Schiavo,
a Florida woman in a persistent vegetative state. (Americans United
released a tape of the remarks to the media.)
Perkins Quote: "The [Supreme] Court
has become increasingly hostile to Christianity. It represents
more of a threat to representative government than any other force
- more than budget deficits, more than terrorism." ("Confronting
the Judicial War on Faith" conference, March 7, 2005)
8. Jerry Falwell Ministries_Founder and
Director: The Rev. Jerry Falwell_2005 Revenue: $8,950,480
Location: Lynchburg, Va.
Web site: www.falwell.com
Overview: Jerry Falwell is perhaps the
best-known Religious Right leader in America today, if only due
to his long service to the cause. His Moral Majority is long gone,
but Falwell remains on the scene and continues to attack church-state
separation through several vehicles.
Falwell's empire includes his congregation,
the 20,000-member Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg; Liberty
University; "The Old Time Gospel Hour" television program;
the Liberty Alliance and a legal group headed by Mat Staver called
Liberty Counsel. Although no longer in his prime, Falwell continues
to be a frequent guest on the Fox News Channel and regularly cranks
out fund-raising mail touching on all the standard Religious Right
Falwell, 72, has a long track record of
intolerant and bizarre pronouncements. His newspaper labeled the
children's show character Tinky Winky a stalking horse for the
gay-rights movement in 1999. He has asserted that the Antichrist
is alive today and is Jewish. Two days after the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks, Falwell appeared on Pat Robertson's "700
Club" and opined that God had lifted his protection and allowed
"the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve."
The comments sparked nationwide revulsion.
Despite all of this, Falwell continues
to be embraced by leaders of the Republican Party and makes regular
Falwell Quote: "Separation of Church
and State has long been the battle cry of civil libertarians wishing
to purge our glorious Christian heritage from our nation's history.
Of course, the term never once appears in our Constitution and
is a modern fabrication of discrimination." ("Falwell
Fax," April 10, 1998)
9. Concerned Women for America_Founders:
Tim and Beverly LaHaye_2005 Revenue: $8,484,108_Location: Washington,
D.C._Web site: www.cwfa.org
Overview: Formed in 1979 by Beverly and
Tim LaHaye, Concerned Women for America brings "biblical
principles into all levels of public policy." It was originally
intended to counter feminism, including opposing ratification
of the Equal Rights Amendment. When that issue died with the failure
of the amendment, CWA focused on opposing communism. Since the
collapse of the Soviet Union, the group has dealt mainly with
culture war issues such as abortion, gay rights, sex education
and alleged "secular humanism" in public schools, pornography
and opposition to church-state separation. The group adds a heavy
dose of United Nations-bashing to the list. It claims 500,000
members, although the figure is probably exaggerated.
CWA regularly brings volunteer lobbyists
to Capitol Hill under an effort called "Project 535."
As the group Web site puts it, "These ladies fearlessly speak
with the member or his staff to discuss a particular piece of
Despite its name, men hold some leadership
positions at CWA. Mike Mears is executive director of CWA's political
action committee. Bob Knight heads the group's Culture & Family
Institute. Wendy Wright, 43, serves as president. Now in semi-retirement,
the LaHayes, now both 80, are less heavily involved with day-to-day
Tim LaHaye has a long history of involvement
in far-right politics. He lectured on behalf of the John Birch
Society throughout the 1960s and '70s and later helped found the
Council for National Policy. More recently, he is known to most
Americans as the coauthor of the best-selling Left Behind novels.
These apocalyptic potboilers have made LaHaye a very wealthy man.
Tim LaHaye Quote: "America's public
education is purposely designed to eradicate Jesus from the scene
and replace Him with the likes of John Dewey, Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm
Wundt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, and many
more." (Mind Siege: The Battle for Truth in the New Millen_nium,
10. Traditional Values Coalition_Founder
and Chairman: The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon_2005 Revenue: $6,389,448_Location:
Anaheim, Calif. and Washington, D.C._Web site: www.traditionalvalues.org
Overview: The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon founded
the Tradi_tional Values Coalition (TVC) in 1980 primarily to work
on issues in California. The group later branched out, establishing
a Washington beachhead. The D.C. office is run by Sheldon's daughter,
Andrea Lafferty. The organization is a 501(c)(4) group, which
means donations to it are not tax deductible. However, it maintains
a fully tax deductible arm called the TVC Education and Legal
Institute. (Sheldon also runs a small political action committee
that in 2006 gave all of its money to Republican candidates in
Sheldon, 72, claims to represent 43,000
churches, but critics dispute that figure. In the world of the
Religious Right, the Presbyterian minister has a reputation as
something of a money-grubbing huckster. He has been criticized
for acting as a front for gambling interests on at least two occasions.
An aide to disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff once called
Sheldon "Lucky Louie" in an e-mail when the two worked
together on a lobbying project on behalf of the legalized gambling
Sheldon's rhetoric is shrill, even by
Religious Right standards, and he makes no efforts to moderate
his extreme goals. His daughter is equally florid, once claiming
in a 1999 fund-raising letter that she had confronted a "witch"
who had sown a "spirit of confusion" over the Senate.
For many years, Sheldon carved out a niche
for TVC by engaging in unrelenting gay bashing. When other Religious
Right groups began moving in on this turf in the 1990s, Sheldon
diversified, ramping up his assaults on church-state separation,
public education and the federal judiciary.
None of this has hurt TVC's standing in
Washington. After Bush's re-election in 2004, Sheldon held a "Christian"
inaugural event that drew White House strategist Karl Rove, Repub_lican
National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman and others.
Sheldon Quote: "A dangerous Marxist/Leftist/Homo_sex_ual/Is_lamic
coalition has formed - and we'd better be willing to fight it
with everything in our power. These people are playing for keeps.
Their hero, Mao Tse Tung, is estimated to have murdered upwards
of 60 million people during his reign of terror in China. Do we
think we can escape such persecution if we refuse to fight for
what is right?" ("The War on Christianity," column,
TVC Web site, Dec. 13, 2005)
Lauren Smith, Americans United communications
assistant, provided research for this article.