Saturday, February 20, 2016

Segregation, Not Abortion, Formed the Christian Right

FRC president, Tony Perkins addressing a White supremacy group
I have often said that if one scratches the surface of the misnamed Christian Right - including the hater merchants at The Family Foundation ("TFF"), Virginia's leading hate group - one will often find unreformed segregationists.  For the more than two decades that I have been following the "professional Christian class" and the various "family values" organizations, beneath the surface of feigned religiosity and piety there has always been an undercurrent of racism and bigotry.  Tony Perkins, the president of Family Research Council ("FRC"), a Southern Poverty Law Center certified hate group, has documented white supremacist ties, and the only time The Family Foundation seeming cares for blacks is when it seeks to manipulate black pastors into carrying TFF's political water by lobbying legislators as if they were trained circus dogs.   Once the political lobbying effort is over, the lily white TFF reverts back to its white exclusivity.  A piece in Slate looks at the real history of the Christian Taliban Right  and notes the research done by Dartmouth professor Randall Balmer (his article is a must read).  Here are article excerpts:
The modern religious right formed, practically overnight, as a rapid response to the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade. Or, at least, that's how the story goes. The reality, Randall Balmer, a Dartmouth professor writing for Politico Magazine, says, is actually a little less savory to 21st century Americans: The religious right, who liked to call themselves the "moral majority" at the time, actually organized around fighting to protect Christian schools from being desegregated. It wasn't Roe v. Wade that woke the sleeping dragon of the evangelical vote. It was Green v. Kennedy, a 1970 decision stripping tax-exempt status from "segregation academies"—private Christian schools that were set up in response to Brown v. Board of Education, where the practice of barring black students continued. 

As Balmer shows, feelings about Roe v. Wade were mixed in the conservative Christian community in the early 1970s, with quite a few evangelical leaders agreeing with the court that abortion is a private matter. Desegregation, however, was a different issue altogether. Anger about forced desegregation of private schools galvanized conservative Christians. Bob Jones University stalled and resisted admitting black students, forcing the IRS to strip its tax exempt status in 1976, an event that spurred evangelical leaders to action. Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich, two conservative activists who had been seeking a way to marshal evangelicals into a Republican voting bloc, pounced. Balmer writes:
Weyrich saw that he had the beginnings of a conservative political movement, which is why, several years into President Jimmy Carter’s term, he and other leaders of the nascent religious right blamed the Democratic president for the IRS actions against segregated schools—even though the policy was mandated by Nixon, and Bob Jones University had lost its tax exemption a year and a day before Carter was inaugurated as president. Falwell, Weyrich and others were undeterred by the niceties of facts. In their determination to elect a conservative, they would do anything to deny a Democrat, even a fellow evangelical like Carter, another term in the White House.
The argument they used to defend school segregation will sound familiar to anyone following the lawsuits against mandatory contraception coverage in health insurance plans or the battles over whether businesses have a right to refuse gay customers: "religious freedom."

How did abortion eclipse pro-segregation as the rallying cause of the evangelical right? Balmer argues that Weyrich, in particular, was a sharp enough political thinker to realize that pro-segregation sentiment was enough to get the ball rolling, "but they needed a different issue if they wanted to mobilize evangelical voters on a large scale." They took their new coalition of evangelicals and pointed them in the direction of fighting abortion.

Balmer suggests that "the spike in legal abortions" after Roe was the shock to their system that made them realize that women really were going to use this new right they’d been granted. There was also a more concentrated effort to put out anti-abortion propaganda that framed the procedure as "murder" and suggested the next step was legal infanticide. 

Balmer doesn't mention it, but there was one other shift in the public consciousness going on at the time. The "Stop ERA" campaign, headed up by Christian right leader Phyllis Schlafly to kill the Equal Rights Amendment banning sex discrimination, got moving in 1972. By the time male Christian conservative leaders like Weyrich and Falwell decided to make abortion a centerpiece issue, Schlafly had done the yeoman's work of convincing huge numbers of evangelical Christians that feminists were a threat to the very fabric of society. 

Balmer notes at the top of his piece that it's common for anti-choicers to compare themselves to abolitionists. Once you know the pro-segregationist history of the religious right, however, it becomes clear that this comparison is not only obnoxious, but offensive. 
I strongly recommend a full read of Balmer's article.  Here is the shocking background of Green v. Kennedy, referenced above:
In May 1969, a group of African-American parents in Holmes County, Mississippi, sued the Treasury Department to prevent three new whites-only K-12 private academies from securing full tax-exempt status, arguing that their discriminatory policies prevented them from being considered “charitable” institutions. The schools had been founded in the mid-1960s in response to the desegregation of public schools set in motion by the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. In 1969, the first year of desegregation, the number of white students enrolled in public schools in Holmes County dropped from 771 to 28; the following year, that number fell to zero.
Yes, you read it correctly, NO white students attended public schools. The bottom line is that right wing Christians are offensive period.  In general, they are selfish, lie incessantly to further their theocratic goals, contemptuous toward the rights and beliefs of others, and, as was they case with their forebears, they use the Bible and claims of protecting "religious liberty" to discrimination and bigotry across society.  Decent, moral people need to shun them and cease giving religion undue deference.

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