Freedom Writer - May 1995
An olive branch with thorns?
By Skipp Porteous
Christian Coalition leader extends an olive branch to American Jews.
Headlines of that sort appeared in papers across the country after
Ralph Reed's April 3 speech at an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) conference
in Washington, D.C. The Christian Coalition executive director's appearance
was the climax of months of heated exchange between liberal and conservative
groups -- specifically the ADL and the Christian Coalition.
The debate has been building for a couple of years. In June 1993,
I was the Ben Epstein Memorial Lecturer at the ADL's 80th National
Commission meeting in Washington, D.C. My talk focused on the political
organizing and intolerance of the Religious Right, particularly Pat
Robertson and the Christian Coalition.
"There is no question that the Religious Right has the right to participate
fully in our democratic society," I maintained. "Part of the strategy
of the Religious Right is to take advantage of a system where most
Americans just don't vote. By organizing a few politically active
churches, they are able to achieve a disproportionate impact at the
My presentation featured the Christian Coalition's 1990 video, "America
at a Crossroads." Produced just a year after the formation of the
Christian Coalition as an organization, the video emphasizes the "Christian
Nation" theme, and details how the Christian Coalition intends to
take over the United States through the political process. An organization's
early declarations are a good indication of the group's objectives
and plans. That's why I've shown this video to thousands of participants
at gatherings across the United States.
Shortly after that talk in Washington, the Institute for First Amendment
Studies provided research assistance to the ADL in preparing a report
on the Religious Right. Called _The_Religious_Right:_The_Assault_on_
Tolerance_and_Pluralism_in_America_, the 193-page report was published
last year. In the book's foreword, Abraham Foxman, national director
of the ADL, wrote: "The problem with issuing a critique of the religious
right movement is that much of what this movement says it wants is
right: most of us value strong families, better schools, a government
that upholds its commitment to religious liberty."
While celebrating those values, Foxman said the ADL's report demonstrates
that the Religious Right "brings to cultural disagreements a rhetoric
of fear, suspicion, even hatred." He never mentioned anti-Semitism,
because that is not the focus of the book. The ADL's report created
a firestorm, not because it said anything new, but because of the
stature of the organization publishing the report. Two groups, the
Free Congress Foundation and the Christian Coalition, immediately
published rebuttals, challenging some of the allegations made by the
The Christian Coalition's response was titled _A_Campaign_of_Falsehoods:_
It said: "The reader is left to simply take it on faith that the ADL's
most damning charges are true, which they are not. In fact, much of
the ADL's report is simply a retread of materials (some over a decade
old) from groups like People for the American Way, Americans United
for the Separation of Church and State, the Institute for First Amendment
Studies and other groups that long have had political axes to grind
against religious conservatives." The ADL's report "relies heavily
on bizarre theories like those propagated by People for the American
Way and Skipp Porteous, a Massachusetts-based conspiracist-cum propagandist
who specializes in spreading falsehoods and innuendo about religious
"The ADL report is full of accusations that the Christian Coalition
does not support the separation of church and state. Its sources include
undated flyers passed out at conferences and quotations lifted out
of context -- as well as more unreliable pseudo-scholarship by Skipp
Porteous. It also features attacks on David Barton, a Texas-based
scholar who has argued that many of America's founders were sympathetic
to Christian values."
Of course, our argument with David Barton wasn't the fact that some
of America's founders were sympathetic to religion. Barton wrote _The_
Myth_of_Separation_, self-proclaimed as the book that "proves that
separation of church and state is a myth," a theme he regularly promotes
at Christian Coalition conferences.
Allegations flew back and forth for months, until, finally, both sides
sat down and talked. Then, just when things began to cool down, in
February of this year _The_New_York_Review_of_Books_ finally examined
Pat Robertson's 1991 best-seller, _The_New_World_Order_. This caught
my attention because for years I've been telling people wherever I
speak, "If you want to really know where Pat Robertson stands, read
_The_New_World_Order_." Well, the reviewer, Michael Lind, did just
that. He concluded that many of Pat Robertson's political beliefs
and conspiracy theories are based on the writings of anti-Semitic
conspirators of the past.
Soon other writers, such as Frank Rich of _The_New_York_Times_, jumped
into the fray. "Is Pat Robertson anti-Semitic?" asked Rich. "He says
not. But that doesn't alter the fact that his book disseminates old
anti-Semitic conspiracy theories."
"Perhaps Pat Robertson in his heart is not an anti-Semite," concluded
Anthony Lewis. "He just thinks a satanic conspiracy led by Jews has
threatened the world for centuries. And the intellectual conservatives
defend him because he lines up votes for the Republican Party."
Facing a public relations nightmare just a year before the presidential
election, the Christian Coalition's adorable Ralph Reed swung into
action. Employing a carefully plotted strategy, Reed began popping
up all over TV land. Then the ADL invited him to speak at their Washington
conference. At that meeting, Reed said all the right things. But that
wasn't the end of the matter.
Albert R. Hunt, in an April 6 article in _The_Wall_Street_Journal_,
wrote, "Ralph Reed, the media-savvy Christian Coalition operative,
was positively eloquent in a speech to the Anti-Defamation League
this week, vowing to create closer bonds between Jews and conservative
"A new era for the religious right, a political epiphany?" Hunt asked.
"Not quite. This is part of the calculated politics practiced by the
resourceful Mr. Reed and his eccentric boss, the Rev. Pat Robertson.
It's the inside/outside or good cop/bad cop routine, where the powerful
Robertson-Reed empire seeks respectability in the corridors of Republican
power, but also protects its flanks by feeding the flock the red meat
of divisive issues. If caught in contradictions, the disingenuous
but surprisingly successful defense is to charge that critics are
religious bigots who oppose people of faith."
Hunt goes on to shamelessly assail Robertson, enumerating facts about
Robertson that _The_Freedom_Writer_ has been reporting for years.
"The notion that criticism of Pat Robertson or the religious right,"
Hunt said, "reflects anti-Christian bigotry pervasive in America is
"Most national Republican leaders privately have little regard for
Mr. Robertson, but they do value his constituency," Hunt added. "So
look for more good cop/bad cop routines like Mr. Reed's speech this
week," Hunt concluded, "which was really about politics, not tolerance."
The problem facing Reed now is how to sustain his balancing act. With
contenders for the Republican nomination openly courting the Christian
Coalition, Reed needs to maintain more than a modicum of moderation.
Meanwhile, the rank and file members of the Christian Coalition insist
on pushing for state-sponsored prayer in public schools, criminalizing
abortion, and depriving gays and lesbians of equal rights.
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