10 Reasons Why the Religious Right Is Not Pro-Family
by Rob Boston
The following article is from Free
Inquiry magazine, Volume 19, Number 1.
"America is involved in a Second Civil War," screams the cover copy on James
Dobson and Gary Bauer's 1990 book Children at Risk: The Battle for the Hearts and
Minds of Our Kids. "On one side are those who defend family, faith and
traditional values. On the other side are those who aggressively reject any hint of
tradition or religion and want a society based on secular values."
Randy Tate, Executive Director of Pat Robertson's Christian
Coalition, warned in August that if Coalition members failed to vote, "the
anti-family, anti-Christian Left ... which undermines the marriage-based family"
would run America.
It seems as if every other word out of the mouths of Religious Right leaders these days
is "family." Dobson calls his group "Focus
on the Family." Bauer, his Washington sycophant, heads the Family Research Council. Religious Right leaders constantly
claim to be carrying forth the banner for "family values."
Having monitored the Religious Right for 12 years, I am convinced that the Religious
Right is many things, but pro-family isn't one of them. The banner that the Religious
Right hoists is for narrow, reactionary, right-wing politics, not family values.
With that thought in mind, here are ten reasons why the Religious Right is not
1. Ignorance Is Not Pro-Family.
Parents who really care about children want them to grow up well educated and ready for
the challenges of an increasingly technological society speeding toward the next century.
Yet the Religious Right, through its constant advocacy of creationism, would have children
learn Bible stories in place of real science. Thanks to their meddling, many public
schools are afraid to teach evolution, and biology textbooks give the subject scant
attention. As a result, an entire generation of public schoolchildren may grow up lacking
an understanding of the principles underpinning modern biological sciences. Such ignorance
cannot fail to have widespread and dangerous repercussions in the fields of medicine and
Furthermore, Religious Right activists bash public education incessantly, yet they have
constantly stood in the way of efforts at innovative school reform. Instead, they champion
outdated techniques such as rote drilling and mindless memorization.
2. Denying Children Access To Sex Education Is Not Pro-Family.
Concerned parents realize that children are curious about how their bodies work and
need accurate, age-appropriate information about the human reproductive system. Yet,
thanks to Religious Right pressure, many public schools have replaced sex education with
fear-based "abstinence only" programs that insult young people's intelligence
and give them virtually no useful information.
One Religious Right video I saw a few years ago depicted an actress dressed as a nurse
lecturing a classroom full of high schoolers on the importance of abstinence. One boy
raised his hand and asked what would happen if he engaged in premarital sex anyway. The
"nurse" sighed and replied, "Well, I guess you'll die." Real
pro-family parents don't deny the importance of stressing abstinence to young people, but
they also know that today's teenagers are sophisticated enough to see right through
simplistic, fear-based messages.
3. Censorship Is Not Pro-Family.
Most parents want their children to grow up with a love of reading. But in public
education, the Religious Right does all it can to disrupt this by constantly challenging
works of literature. At a certain age, young people need books that are compelling and
interesting, books that are more than simply high school versions of "See Dick
run." Yet Religious Right organizations have challenged novels like The Catcher
in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, Go Tell It on the Mountain,
and a host of others. Not satisfied with having their own children excused from reading
these modern classics, the Religious Right has sought to have them completely taken out of
schools, denying access to other people's children as well.
In recent years, Religious Right groups have stepped up their attacks on America's
libraries, insisting that all "controversial," "anti-religious," or
"pro-gay" materials be placed on restricted access or removed altogether. The
Religious Right has even attacked children's books that dare to portray nontraditional
families in a positive light.
4. Religious Coercion And Intolerance Are Not Pro-Family.
Religious Right groups conceived and advocated for the odious and misnamed
"Religious Freedom Amendment," a constitutional amendment that would have
removed the separation of church and state from the Bill of Rights and replaced it with
religious majoritarianism and heavy-handed coercion. Real pro-family parents recognize the
equal rights of all children in public schools, no matter what their religious or
philosophical beliefs and reject all forms of coercion in the schools. Contrast this to
the Religious Right view, which holds that the majority should be able to impose its
religion on everyone else. How would you like your child to be the only first grader sent
out into the hall every morning during prayer and Bible reading because you're not
Christian? Doing something like that to an impressionable youngster is child abuse, not
practicing family values.
5. Denigrating Some Families Because They Are Different From Yours Is Not Pro-Family.
Real family values advocates recognize that child rearing is difficult and that all
families need support. The Religious Right's view is that only heterosexual, two-parent
families are worthy of support. Single-parents are criticized, and gay parents are
Religious Right groups would deny gay people the right to adopt, even if that means
children must languish in institutional care. Some groups go so far as to support denying
gays access to their own children. In Virginia, several Religious Right organizations
supported a court ruling denying a lesbian mother custody of her own child, for no other
reason than her homosexuality. Real family values means realizing that people who think or
live differently than you can be good parents too. The Religious Right has always been too
immature and intolerant to recognize this.
6. The Philosophy Of "The Ends Justifies The Means" Is Not Pro-Family.
In the political sphere, Religious Right groups will do anything to win, including
smear its opponents, distort their records, lie, and violate federal election laws. Real
family values proponents struggle to teach their children ethical values, including those
of fair play and honesty. Leaders and members of the Christian Coalition have the gall to
accuse the group's opponents of being "anti-family" when it's their actions that
have dragged our political system further into the gutter.
7. Hatred Is Not Pro-Family.
No parent in his or her right mind would teach a child to hate. Yet the Religious
Right's rhetoric toward its perceived enemies is laced with hatred and intolerance and has
that effect. Gay people, liberals, the nonreligious, pro-choice Americans, advocates of
women's rights, and others have all been subjected to vicious verbal assaults and
name-calling by Religious Right organizations. Real pro-family Americans realize that they
should strive to avoid saying things they would not want their own children to repeat.
Children exposed to Religious Right rhetoric could not help but learn to hate and fear
those targeted by these organizations.
8. Hating America Is Not Pro-Family.
Real pro-family parents teach their children that our nation, while it has often fallen
short of its lofty ideals, strives to be a good country where people are treated with
justice and fairness. They recognize the occasional shortcomings of our political and
economic systems and urge children to work to correct injustices. The Religious Right's
rhetoric increasingly attacks and vilifies America. Many groups assert that our government
is no longer legitimate because of court rulings they dislike, going so far as to flirt
with approving of armed rebellion. This extreme view does nothing but give intellectual
aid and comfort to the "hate America" crowd, exemplified by violent militias and
other radical anti-government activists.
9. Ignoring Children's Needs Is Not Pro-Family.
The Religious Right is obsessed with children, but only "unborn" ones. While
they constantly assail legal abortion, Religious Right groups have done virtually nothing
to improve the lot of American children across the board. These organizations never lobby
for better health care for poor children or seek to improve the circumstances of poor
families. Robertson once attacked Head Start, one of the most effective programs for
helping poor children get a decent education, and he has been a vociferous critic of
welfare, even though children are the primary recipients of many welfare programs.
Robertson also advocates turning education over to "free market" forces, which
would all but guarantee no access to decent education for the poor. Many Religious Right
groups, notably Dobson's Focus on the Family, actually advocate violence toward children.
Dobson is a vocal proponent of corporal punishment, despite the fact that numerous studies
have shown that striking children is ineffective and actually fosters anti-social
10. Attacking Working Moms And Making Them Feel Guilty Is Not Pro-Family.
Real family values advocates support all mothers, whether they work outside the home or
not. The real pro-family position recognizes that many mothers today are conflicted about
working outside the home and that some do so because of financial necessity, others
because they choose not to withdraw entirely from the workforce. Religious Right groups
seek to make working moms feel guilty, yet they have done nothing to help make America's
business climate friendlier toward working mothers. In fact, when family needs and big
business wants collide, Religious Right groups usually side with big business. Many
opposed 1993's Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires companies to give parents time
off to tend to sick family members, holding that it would harm the nation's business
On the issues that really are "pro-family," such as affordable health care
for children, creating quality, safe public schools, or ensuring access to affordable,
safe day care, the Religious Right has either been silent or has served as
obstructionists. In the place of these issues, the Religious Right has substituted its own
agenda, which includes creationism and mandatory worship programs or coercive prayer in
public schools, censorship, an end to legal abortion, and mean-spirited attacks on gay
people and others who serve as targets of their hate. They can call it
"pro-family" if they want, but plenty of evidence, including plain old-fashioned
common sense, would seem to indicate otherwise.
Rob Boston is the Assistant Editor of Church & State magazine,
published by Americans United for Separation of Church and
State in Washington, D.C.. He is the author of The Most Dangerous Man in
America: Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition (Prometheus Books, 1996) and Why The
Religious Right Is Wrong (Prometheus Books,