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Religious Right forces form new group to consummate marriage with the GOP.

In a secret meeting March 2 in Washington, D.C., 15 Religious Right leaders and their allies agreed to form a new coalition to push their agenda in Congress and within the Republican Party.

Called the Committee for a Pro-Family America, the new group will be chaired by right-wing strategist Paul Weyrich, who convened the summit at his Free Congress Foundation offices near the U.S. Capitol.

The meeting included the Eagle Forum's Phyllis Schlafly, Focus on the Family's Tom Minnery, Family Research Council staffer Bob Morrison, Christian Coalition President Don Hodel and Executive Director Randy Tate, the American Family Association's Pat Trueman, Carmen Pate of Concerned Women for America, the Traditional Values Coalition's Andrea Sheldon, Council for National Policy founder Tim LaHaye, former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey, Michael Schwartz of the House Family Caucus, Massachusetts business executive Michael Valerio, Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association and Mariam Bell of the Justice Fellowship.

"Jim Dobson threw out the challenge to us," Weyrich told Human Events, referring to the religious broadcaster's recent round of angry attacks on GOP congressional indifference to the Religious Right.

Dobson wants Congress to lower the wall of separation between church and state, ban abortions, restrict legal protections for gay people, censor the Internet, defund the National Endowment for the Arts and enact other "pro-moral" legislation.

According to Human Events, the gathering decided to form an "independent force" within the Republican Party, rather than bolting to a third party. The coalition will meet regularly to exchange information and coordinate efforts. Candidates for public office will also be discussed.

Members may try to coalesce behind a single GOP presidential candidate to ensure that the party's nod in 2000 goes to someone who will advance the Religious Right agenda.

Agreement on a single presidential candidate may be difficult, however. U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft, former Vice President Dan Quayle and business tycoon Steve Forbes all have a following among religious conservatives. Family Research Council President Gary Bauer, a close ally of Focus on the Family's Dobson, is also threatening to run.

Meanwhile, Religious Right leaders are insisting that their days of quiet cooperation with an unresponsive Republican leadership are over. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, told The New York Times, "The go-along, get-along strategy is dead. No more engagement. We want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of the marriage."

Added Land, "It's time for candidates who will not only work with us, but for candidates who are us." (The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation's largest Protestant denomination. Its leaders once strongly supported the separation of church and state, but a fundamentalist takeover moved the tax-exempt, supposedly nonpartisan group into the Religious Right camp.)

The growing rebellion also catapults Dobson and Bauer into the front ranks of the Religious Right, eclipsing former Christian Coalition executive director Reed. Bauer has been harshly critical of Reed's effort to make the Religious Right a domesticated performer within the GOP "big tent."

In a recent interview with The Christian Science Monitor, Bauer derided Reed's willingness to settle for what Reed has called "a place at the table" in the Republican Party.

"Nobody's going to put on your tombstone, 'He had a place at the table,'" said Bauer. "The thing you want on your tombstone is, 'He liberated the slaves,' or 'He stopped the slaughter of the innocents.' That's what men and women of faith in both parties ought to be involved in."
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Title Annotation:Committee for a Pro-Family America
Author:Conn, Joseph L.
Publication:Church & State
Date:May 1, 1998
Words:589
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