The Religious Right

The Religious Right Movement and the Sexual Revolution

National Mall Hosts Way Of The Cross Procession. Win McNamee / Staff Getty Images

The movement generally referred to in the U.S. as the Religious Right came of age in the late 1970s. While it's extremely diverse and shouldn't be characterized in simple terms, it's an ultraconservative religious response to the sexual revolution. It's a response to events that are seen by Religious Right proponents as being connected to the sexual revolution. Its goal is to effect this religious response as public policy.

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 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. 

Abortion

If the modern Religious Right had a birthday, it would be January 22nd, 1973. That was the day the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Roe v. Wade, establishing that all women have the right to choose to have an abortion. 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 religious conservatives generally regard as a contagious sin that can be spread to youth by exposure. Hostility towards lesbians and gay men 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.

Pornography

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 wedlock.

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 a greater threat than secular culture since the events of 9/11.

The 700 Club's Rev. Pat Robertson endorsed thrice-divorced, pro-choice former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 presidential elections because of Giuliani's perceived tough stance against religiously-motivated terrorism.

The Future of the Religious Right

The concept of the Religious Right has always been vague, nebulous and vaguely 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 11th 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. Sometimes they do foolish things based on that fear, and that should not be surprising. The proper response to that fear is not to dismiss it but to help find more constructive ways to respond to it and to expose the way that charlatans, politicians and hatemongers blatantly exploit that fear for their own selfish and sometimes destructive purposes.