The Religious Right

The Way of the Cross Procession in Washington, D.C.

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The ultra-conservative movement generally referred to in the United States as the Religious Right came of age in the late 1970s. This movement was the result of Catholics and evangelicals coming together to collectively oppose pro-choice reform, sex education, the Equal Rights Amendment, and more in what would become "the largest campaign of civil disobedience since the 1960s antiwar movement." The goal of the Religious Right is and has always been to see public policy shaped by Christian principles and social conservatism.

Family Values

From a Religious Right perspective, the sexual revolution has brought American culture to a fork in the road. Either the American people can endorse a traditional and religious institution of family and the values of loyalty and self-sacrifice along with it, or they can endorse a secular hedonistic lifestyle grounded in self-gratification and with it a profound moral nihilism. Proponents of the Religious Right's approach to public policy do not tend to see any broadly applicable alternatives to these two possibilities—such as a hedonistic religious culture or a deeply moral secular culture—for religious reasons.


It is a myth that the Religious Right was formed in response to the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which was that all women have the right to choose to have an abortion. However, abortion is and has been a keystone topic of the movement, and the Religious Right did strongly oppose the Supreme Court's decision. For many religious conservatives, this was the ultimate extension of the sexual revolution—the idea that sexual and reproductive freedom could be used to defend what many religious conservatives consider to be murder.

Lesbian and Gay Rights

Religious Right proponents tend to blame the sexual revolution for increasing social acceptance of homosexuality, which some religious conservatives regard as a contagious sin that can be spread to youth by exposure. Hostility toward gay people reached a fever pitch in the movement during the 1980s and 1990s, but the movement has since transitioned into a calmer, more measured opposition to gay rights initiatives such as same-sex marriage, civil unions, and nondiscrimination laws.


The Religious Right has also tended to oppose the legalization and distribution of pornography. It considers it to be another decadent effect of the sexual revolution.

Media Censorship

While media censorship has not often been a central legislative policy position of the Religious Right, individual activists within the movement have historically seen the increase of sexual content on television as a dangerous symptom of and a sustaining force behind cultural acceptance of sexual promiscuity. Grassroots movements such as the Parents Television Council have taken aim at television programs that contain sexual content or that appear to condone sexual relations outside of marriage.

Religion in Government

The Religious Right is often associated with attempts to defend or reintroduce government-sponsored religious practices ranging from government-endorsed school prayer to government-funded religious monuments. But such policy controversies are generally seen within the Religious Right community as symbolic battles, representing flashpoints in the culture war between religious supporters of family values and secular supporters of hedonistic culture.

The Religious Right and Neoconservatism

Some leaders within the Religious Right see theocratic movements within Islam as urgent threats. Rev. Pat Robertson of "The 700 Club" endorsed former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 presidential election because of Giuliani's perceived tough stance against religion-motivated terrorism despite his pro-choice stance and the fact that, at the time, he had been divorced twice.

The Future of the Religious Right

The concept of the Religious Right has always been vague, nebulous, and somewhat insulting toward the tens of millions of evangelical voters who are most often counted among its ranks. Evangelical voters are as diverse as any other voting bloc, and the Religious Right as a movement—represented by organizations such as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition—never received evangelical voters' ubiquitous support.

Is the Religious Right a Threat?

It would be naive to say that the Religious Right no longer poses a threat to civil liberties, but it no longer poses the most serious threat to civil liberties—if it ever did. As the general atmosphere of obedience following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks demonstrated, all demographics can be manipulated by fear. Some religious conservatives are more motivated than most by the fear of a potentially hedonistic, nihilistic culture. The proper response to that fear is not to dismiss it but to help find more constructive ways to respond to it.

View Article Sources
  1. Shields, Jon A. "Framing the Christian Right: How Progressives and Post-War Liberals Constructed the Religious Right." Journal of Church and State, vol. 53, no. 4, Autumn 2011, pp. 635–655, doi:10.1093/jcs/csr027

  2. Shatz, Naomi Rivkind. "Unconstitutional Entanglements: The Religious Right, the Federal Government, and Abstinence Education in the Schools." Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, 2008.

  3. Balmer, Randall. Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts Faith and Threatens America. Basic Books, 2007.

  4. Bull, Chris, and John Gallagher. Perfect Enemies: The Religious Right, the Gay Movement, and the Politics of the 1990s. Diane Publishing Company, 1996.

  5. Kintz, Linda, and Julia Lesage, editors. Media, Culture, and the Religious Right. University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

  6. Hamid, Shadi. "For Religious American Muslims, Hostility From the Right and Disdain From the Left." The Brookings Institution, 5 Aug. 2019.

  7. Cooper, Michael, and David D. Kirkpatrick. "Pat Robertson Endorses Giuliani for President." The New York Times, 7 Nov. 2007.

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Head, Tom. "The Religious Right." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Head, Tom. (2021, February 16). The Religious Right. Retrieved from Head, Tom. "The Religious Right." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 10, 2021).