Why do Social Democrats do what they do?

August 05, 2010

STRATEGIES TO CONFRONT THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT, By Wayne Madden, Edmonton, from the August 1-31, 2010 issue of People's Voice

(The following article is from the August 1-31, 2010 issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading communist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to: People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)

By Wayne Madden, Edmonton

In Texas and other states, Republicans adopt key policies suggested by "evangelical" conservatives on health, education, human rights, environment, the role of government, and international relations. In Canada, key members of the Harper government (as well as provincial governments in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan) have close ties with religious fundamentalist organizations. For fear of being accused of opposing religious freedom and rights, politicians (of all parties) and media do not question political activities or fundraising undertaken by religious groups. It is just not politically correct.

The growing power of religious conservatives is well documented. Although a minority in society, they influence government by organizing their supporters to lobby for social conservative policies. While claiming they do not seek to establish a theocracy, they work for government policies that reflect Judeo-Christian values on which they claim both Canada and the United States were founded. (In fact, both countries were founded on principles of separation of church and state, and free exercise of religious beliefs, unencumbered by government interference.)

This movement is not going away. How do we respond?

Be informed. Scan news and their websites for information on evangelical political activities. Do not assume stated goals are their ultimate goals. Their strategy is incrementalism. On reproductive rights for example, they begin by pushing to end public funding for abortion, but their ultimate goal is recriminalizing abortion. Another example: In state referenda to restrict marriage rights they claimed their "only goal was to protect marriage". After winning several referenda, they moved on to try and prevent local and state governments from passing laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination or including sexual orientation in hate crimes laws.

While monitoring religious groups, also monitor political leaders and representatives. It is reasonable for them to meet with and listen to Christian groups, but many then ignore secular (and religious) groups who do not share the fundamentalist agenda. Pay extra attention when controversial issues arise. Be prepared to expose hypocrisy, for example, politicians who preach family values, but are unfaithful in their own relationships.

To defeat the "evangelical" political movement, we must copy their strategies. Religious organizations get legislation they want (and block laws they do not want) by engaging in sophisticated strategies of lobbying, that includes motivating their supporters to contact political office-holders through letters, e-mails and telephone contacts. We must do likewise.

It is essential to have an organized response both to conservative religious organizations and to political representatives. Build coalitions of activists that include Christian and religious moderates who support separation of church and state. Such coalitions work on issues as they arise, but must be proactive, working to prevent governments from developing policies based exclusively on religious beliefs.

We know coalitions work. Remember, coalitions of peace activists opposed to United States military involvement in Indo-China, eventually helped to force U.S. withdrawal, allowing the people of Vietnam and Cambodia to find their own solutions.

Respond on key issues both to religious groups and politicians. It is particularly important for progressive Christians to express their views to leaders of evangelical organizations, confronting their pretensions these groups present "the Christian" point of view.

Engage in boycotts when necessary. Boycott corporations and businesses that publicly support or give encouragement to right-wing religious agendae or organizations. Write to CEOs and business owners and make it clear you will boycott them and why. Obviously boycotts are more effective when led by organized groups.

Keep up pressure even when progressives are in power. In fact it is more important to keep pressure on politicians and political parties that have won election on socially progressive policies. Public pressure gives them power to stand up to conservative religious organizations. If we fail to give that support and public pressure, then our representatives may feel they have no choice but to accommodate or submit to the will of religious pressure groups on various issues.

Above all, focus on the issues on hand. Whether you are defending teaching evolution in schools, demanding stronger hate crimes laws, or supporting Palestinian rights, do not attack their right to personal beliefs. Our goal is preventing public policies from being set by fundamentalist religious agendae, not interfering with democratic religious freedom and rights.

Unfortunately, space in one article does not permit more complete discussion of strategies to confront the religious right. Progressive political, religious and social organizations need to discuss how they can get involved in preventing any further slide to domination of our political decision-making process and definition of public policy by social conservative religious groups.

A good place to start is by working at issues in your own community. For example, if religious groups are demanding the that parents have the "right" to withdraw children from classes in school on evolution or human sexuality, respond by making representations to school boards and officials defending the right of children to have a complete education on all issues, including controversial issues.

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