April 2, 2004

Joan Bokaer discusses the Religious Right

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Yesterday afternoon, Joan Bokaer, director of TheocracyWatch, addressed the issue of “The Rise of the Religious Right” as part of this week’s symposium on the separation of church and state. Bokaer discussed the “political manipulation” of the Religious Right to an enthusiastic audience in Anabel Taylor Hall. The symposium, from March 31 to April 5, is sponsored primarily by the Center for Religion, Ethics, and Social Policy (CRESP), TheocracyWatch, and Cornell United Religious Work. TheocracyWatch, a project of CRESP, has a “mission to spread the word about the complete restructuring of our government. We want to get the word out to as many people as possible because the agenda of the Christian right is to replace the Constitution with biblical law,” said Kathleen Damiani, president of TheocracyWatch.

Bokaer’s lecture was an example of such an effort. “This talk is about a small group of Republican strategists who targeted a religious position, and about a group of religious leaders who targeted the Republican party to bring the United States government under religious control,” Bokaer said. She used several graphs to demonstrate the principal idea that the “Christian Right controls the agenda of both houses in Congress.” In recent years, Republican voting patterns have been consistent with the goals of the Christian Coalition and Eagle Forum. Bokaer noted that the charts show that such “polarization is continuing.”

The lecture began with the history of the Religious Right and included a range of topics such as the 1964 presidential candidates and the creation of the term “moral majority.” Republican strategists expanded the base of the Republican Party by targeting Fundamentalist, Pentecoastal and charismatic churches.

Bokaer also suggested that the Religious Right persuades citizens to unwittingly vote against their own socioeconomic interests by insisting that the “Republican party is the party of God.” According to Bokaer, the Religious Right works with “stealth” by presenting themselves as centrists when their goals are in fact far from moderate.

“Bush is a very good example of a stealth candidate,” Bokaer said in response to a question regarding the President.

She said that people vote for the Religious Right without fully understanding their agenda and “it is our job to wake up the voting public.”

Copies of the photos and slides as well as text of the lecture were available to encourage audience members to share the information. “We want people to hear the talk and give the talk … to make people aware that their country is changing,” Damiani said. In her lecture, Bokaer made several references to the book, America’s Providential History, which she believes is consistent with many of the Religious Rights ideals. She compared the book’s views with the Texas Republican Party Platform of 2002 which she concluded both aim to scale down government by eliminating taxes and shifting the responsibility of charity and education onto religious institutions. According to Bokaer, these actions are justified by the claim that God is the provider, not the government. Bokaer stated that such goals of the Religious Right support corporate interest and “the separation of church and state is an obstacle to the Religious Right.” The Constitution, however, does not mention God, Bokaer argued. “It was no accident that they wrote a secular document.”

Bokaer also commented on the Supreme Court’s recent decisions regarding issues ranging from sodomy to vouchers, expressing a positive view of the rulings. “Something interesting is happening in the Supreme Court — there may be some waking up there,” Bokaer noted with approval.

Bokaer also discussed the impact of the Religious Right in President Clinton’s impeachment. Clinton’s “crime was against the Ten Commandments, not the Constitution,” Bokaer said. Yet, she continued, even moderate Republicans voted against Clinton because of pressure from the Religious Right.

Bokaer further criticized the goal of the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage stating that past amendments have expanded rights to citizens. The gay marriage amendment, however, uses the Constitution to discriminate against a group of individuals. The lecture closed with Bokaer’s praise of several politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, who have withstood pressure from the Religious Right. She encouraged the audience to spread the message about the ongoing political manipulation and urged audience members and their friends to register to vote.

“I think [Bokaer] gives a very compelling analysis of documenting the ways in which the ideas of a very specific group of people are influencing the Republican party,” said Anke Wessels, director of CRESP.

Although the lecture was appreciated for shedding light on the issue of the Religious Right, there were mixed reactions about Bokaer’s argument.

“I personally thought she exaggerated the role of the Christian right … I also think that her discussion of the Texas Republican platform was too narrow to be considered representative of the National Republican party,” said Dave Gardner ’04. Gardner added that he disagreed with her interpretation of the reasons for Clinton’s impeachment. “The impeachment of Bill Clinton was not simply due to the religious right. There were a lot of political reasons but she painted it as motivated strictly by the religious right … I thought that it was important to have a dialogue but overall her argument was pretty weak,” he said.

In comparison, Bria Morgan ’04 commented that, “I think it’s fantastic that Cornell is sponsoring an event like this especially at this time before the elections. I think it’s fantastic to have this sort of opinion being presented … [and] to support an issue that is so important yet under the radar.”

Archived article by Diana Lo
Sun Senior Writer