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The Good, Bad and Ugly



December 18, 2010, 2 pm

DADT Repeal and DREAM Defeat: A Failure of Evangelical Influence?

Post by Sarah Posner

  • This afternoon the Senate failed to break a Republican filibuster of the DREAM Act, and voted, finally, to repeal the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy on gays and lesbians in the military.

    Viewing today as a microcosm of religious political activism, these two votes caused me to wonder: do elected officials give a damn what religious activists have to say?

    Let's take DREAM first: there was a pretty wide coalition of religious activists who supported DREAM and brought their message to the Hill. The activists included long-time proponents of immigration reform, including Protestant denominations and Jewish groups, as well as some relative newcomers to the immigration reform fight. Conservative evangelicals came out for DREAM, and even for comprehensive immigration reform (if it doesn't include equal justice for gays and lesbians). The coalition group Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform included representatives of the National Association of Evangelicals and some religious right organizations. You know, the ones with all the pull because they represent such a crucial slice of the Republican vote.

    But even that couldn't move opponents of justice for undocumented children. Sure, a lot of religious right groups, like Concerned Women for America and Eagle Forum, oppose the DREAM Act. There's a split in the religious right over immigration policy (let's call it a divide between the "broader agenda" evangelicals and the Americanists with their feet still locked in the 1950s). But why, given that the pro-immigration reform camp was in agreement with mainline Protestants, Jews, social justice Catholics and other liberal religious constituencies that have been in the trenches on this issue far longer, could they not push the Senate on that arc of justice?

    On Don't Ask, Don't Tell, conservative religious opposition seemed not to matter, either. The final vote against this backward -- shall I say it? -- abomination was decisive: 65-31, with eight Republicans voting with the Democrats for repeal. That's a pretty amazing rebuke to the religious right, and all its bogus fear-mongering and primary threats. What mattered more was the support for repeal from the military brass.

    Some might view this as a victory against the homo-hating religious right, and it is. Although it was their influence that made this battle so protracted, in the end, their position was decisively rejected.

    As I was writing this, though, I received a press release from Liberty Counsel -- whose president, Mat Staver, was one of the conservative evangelicals who supported the DREAM Act -- on behalf of the Freedom Federation, a coalition of religious right groups that claims to be reaching out beyond the religious right's historically white base. The first words on the subject line were, "Freedom Federation Pledges Full Mobilization on Behalf of . . ." and I thought, ah, they're getting up in arms about the failure of the DREAM Act. But, sadly, no, it's a promise to mobilize a claimed 40 million supporters "to overturn DADT repeal."


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