Religious lobbying is changing political focus

Number of lobbies has grown from 40 to over 200

By Mercedes White

Deseret News

Published: Monday, Nov. 21 2011 10:00 p.m. MST

This divide is particularly pronounced within the family of the late Martin Luther King Jr. King's widow Coretta favors same sex marriage and has compared homophobia with racism and has said that if her husband were alive today he would affirm the civil rights of gays and lesbians to marry. On the other hand, King's daughter Bernice vehemently opposes same sex marriage. As an elder in an large Atlanta church she teaches that homosexuality is a sin and in 2004 organized a march in opposition to gay marriage that started at her father's grave.

According to Pew's calculations roughly 390 million dollars are spent annually by religious lobby groups in pursuit of their policy objectives. From 2008 to 2009 of the 40 biggest spenders, 14 were inter-religious groups, six were Jewish, six are Evangelical Protestants, five were Catholic, four were mainline Protestants and two were Muslim.

The report cites how religious groups successfully advocated for the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, a campaign to advocate on behalf of persons in foreign countries persecuted because of their religious beliefs, and the Jubilee 2000 campaign, which focused on debt relief for poor countries at the turn of the millennium.

The study does not address the factors behind the rise of religious lobbying groups in Washington, but Christopher Morrisey, an adjunct professor at St. Mary's College, says it's a natural outgrowth in a country where religion matters to most of its citizens. "Explicit religious participation in public discussions makes sense and can be valuable," Morrisey says. "Many citizens think of policy issues in religious terms." He argues that while some people may don't like the influence of religious organizations in politics, "at least religious advocates make religion's contributions to clear and debatable rather than murky and unavailable."

Of religious advocacy groups Morrissey says, "I have learned that they are both idealistic and realistic about their roles in policy and governance. They want to influence the policy making process, but they know that actual influence is tough and often fleeting."

"Real influence" he said, "takes working in coalitions ... and long term focused effort."

EMAIL: mwhite@desnews.com

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