MADELEINE BRAND, host:
The Christian Coalition is losing members and political clout. This week, the Alabama chapter announced it's cutting ties with the national organization and dropping the name, saying the Christian Coalition is no longer focused on such key issues as abortion and same-sex marriage. The Christian Coalition once had considerable influence in Washington and a presence in all 50 states - no longer.
Here to explain why is NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams. He joins us every Friday.
JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:
How are you, Madeleine?
BRAND: Fine, thank you. So in the 1990s, under Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition was quite a powerful lobbying group. What happened?
WILLIAMS: Well, Reed left in '97, I believe, and also Pat Robertson, who had been the founder - it was founded back in '89. And Robertson left in 2002, turned over the leadership of the group. So kind of the feature personalities, the driving personalities were gone. But there were also some deeper problems. For example, there was questions raised by the Internal Revenue Service about the tax exempt status of the group and how they were getting involved in political support for groups through distribution of voter guides, political surveys at churches.
And so that created tensions between the Christian Coalition headquarters and the various state chapters. And there was a sense that there was, you know what? There's same-sex marriage, there's abortion, there are issues that everybody agrees on. Once that fell away, I think the group's power has fallen away.
BRAND: Hmm. And let's talk about religion and politics in general. A new poll was released yesterday by the Pew Research Center, looking at Americans' attitudes about the intersection of religion and politics. And what are the take-away headlines from that?
WILLIAMS: The take-away headline, the big one, I would say, is that, you know, 69 percent of Americans say liberals have gone too far in keeping religion out of schools and government. And the Democratic Party, gosh, just 26 percent say the Democratic Party is friendly to religion. So the Democratic Party continues to have trouble when it comes to religion and people who feel that their religious faith is important to them.
But on the other side - this is so interesting to me, Madeleine - what you find is that people who are Christian conservatives have reservations. According to them, you know, about half the public expresses weariness about the ability of the Christian conservative movement to force their values onto politicians. And so that's not good for the Right, if you will. But of course the Right remains much larger. White evangelical Christians, according to Pew, make up 24 percent of the population, share the same core beliefs, and as a result are able to act as a group. And politicians react to them and woo them for the their votes as a group.
BRAND: Well, it's interesting. This poll surveyed this one figure that - they asked the question, is the Republican Party friendly to religion? And Catholics and white evangelical Protestants - the core of the Christian right - the decline was 14 percentage points from last year, in terms of whether or not they thought the Republican Party was friendly to religion.
WILLIAMS: Right. But you've got to remember that's people who are worried about things like the Terri Schiavo case and thinking, you know what, the Republicans should have done more. So they're reacting out of anger at what most people, I think, in the country without regard to their sentiments on religion would regard as a pro-life administration in Washington. There are people who even want more.
BRAND: So is this going to be a problem for Republicans in coming elections?
WILLIAMS: It's not that those people are going to go - be so disaffected they go to the Democratic side of the political aisle, Madeleine. But it is the case that they might be less active, and therefore less likely to go to the polls. And of course an activated base was the basis of President Bush's re-election just in 2004. And as we go towards the mid-term elections, it's bad news when you see that your base isn't exercised and energized about getting out to vote.
BRAND: NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.
Thank you, Juan.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Madeleine.