Tony Perkins Pops Off


Tony Perkins speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington D.C. on October 7, 2011. Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Paul Rosenberg recently published an essay at Salon that challenged the myth that the United States was founded as a Christian Nation. The occasion was the then-forthcoming annual celebration of Religious Freedom Day, which commemorates the enactment of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. The Statute, written by Thomas Jefferson and shepherded into law by James Madison in 1786, is generally regarded as the taproot of how the Framers of the Constitution and the First Amendment approach religion and government.  Rosenberg interviewed me for his story, and we agreed that that the Christian Right generally, and the Family Research Council (FRC) in particular, is promoting the myth of a Christian nation that never was. I believe that this is a serious weakness in the justifications the Christian Right uses to advance its contemporary agenda.  It is an effort to press the Framers of the Constitution into their service with the false claim that the Framers held to a certain “Christian worldview” –– and that they forged the Constitution and the First Amendment to establish and advance it.

Tony Perkins, president of FRC responded by devoting the entirety of his regular Washington Update missive to slamming us.  But out of the fog of Perkins’ remarkable tangle of distortions and falsehoods, his essay inadvertently underscores my point about the weakness of the Christian nationalist claim.

First, let’s note that the Christian Right generally avoids talking about the Constitution because of the well-established history that the Framers deliberately did not include anything about God, Christianity, or religion at all in the nation’s charter, except to state in Article VI that there shall be no religious tests for public office.  But Perkins, writing “with the aid of FRC senior writers” rests his case with this:

Our own Constitution closes with the words, “In the year of our Lord, 1787.” That’s a reference to Jesus! The signers not only embraced Christianity, they anchored our most important document in it.

Common sense tells us that the style of the dating of a document does not define its contents or the intentions of the authors.  However, historian John Fea of the evangelical Messiah College has written about this very point.

I am often asked about this reference when answering questions about my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

The phrase “Year of our Lord,” which is the only reference to God in the United States Constitution, was, of course, a standard eighteenth-century way of referencing the date.

Then he explains:

We know that the phrase “Year of our Lord” was not included in the draft of the Constitution that was approved by the Convention.

No one knows for sure how it got in there, but it is clear that it was added afterward, perhaps as some speculate, as a “scrivener’s touch.”

Second, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom that so guided the Framers of the Constitution, was intended to guarantee the rights of conscience of individual citizens, declaring:  “…all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

And when Jefferson wrote “all” he meant everyone, including, as he later wrote “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.” This idea–that one’s religious identity should be neither an advantage nor a disadvantage under the law––was central to the intent of Madison and the Framers and cannot be undone with false claims and interpretations of convenience.

Anyone who wishes to get the real story should consult legitimate histories by contemporary historians (such as John Ragosta’s Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed.)

Third, Perkins regales us with the spectacle of setting up and knocking down of a strawman

Thomas Jefferson, meanwhile, was so proud of writing the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom that it’s included on his tombstone! Does that sound like someone who doesn’t believe in expressions of faith?

Like Jefferson, Paul Rosenberg and I are not opposed to expressions of faith, and there is nothing in Rosenberg’s essay that suggests otherwise. It is certainly true that Jefferson had his authorship of the Virginia Statute engraved on the monument that marks his grave. As a matter of fact, John Ragosta and I discussed that very point in an interview at Religion Dispatches, published on January 8, 2018.  Jefferson certainly believed, as do Rosenberg and I, that the right to believe as you will, to think differently than powerful government and religious institutions, and from the rich and the powerful, is essential to democracy.

Another strawman is Perkins’ claim:

One minute the Left is rushing to write our obituary — and the next, we’re powerful enough to create a theocracy!

There have certainly been many obituaries for the Christian Right published over the years, but none of them have been written by me or by Paul Rosenberg. In fact, I have criticized such unfounded claims many times over the years. As recently as December 28, 2017, for example, I tweeted “Nota bene for the New Year. The Christian Right is not dead, dying or diminished.” I also have never written and do not believe that they are “powerful enough to create a theocracy” – although I maintain that they have not only been effectively building for power,  but their theocratic intentions are unambiguous, and they are not to be underestimated (as my new article in The Public Eye makes clear.)

But of course, I could be wrong this time.

Tony Perkins and most of the Christian Right hitched their wagons to the political fortunes Donald Trump and losing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. It was a big risk given the long shadows on their characters including credible accusations of serial sexual predation. Trump and Moore were featured speakers at the 2017 Values Voter Summit hosted by the FRC and other leading organizations of the Christian Right last fall. Most of the Christian Right stood by Moore throughout his campaign, and continue to stand by Trump, who in his first year in office has managed to become the most unpopular president in modern American history. And there are indications it may get worse. Polls show that once overwhelming White evangelical support for Trump is slipping. What’s more, some evangelical leaders are concerned that Trump, Moore and the evangelicals who supported them may have severely damaged the reputation of evangelicalism itself. The editor of Christianity Today, the leading magazine of evangelicalism wrote that in the wake of the Roy Moore fiasco, “No one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.”

It’s possible that such reactions are overwrought. As bad as things may look for Trump and evangelicalism right now, Christianity has withstood worse. What’s more, the political climate could change quickly, as sometimes happens. Part of the strength of the Christian Right has been its ideological adaptability, its political resilience, and its attention to the details of building for political power.

Whatever the future may hold for religious and political leaders, they intend to wield the power they have now in ways that will affect many people.

There could hardly be a better example of the stakes in the contemporary struggle over the meaning of religious freedom than the recent formation of the federal Department of Health and Human Service’s “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” within its Office for Civil Rights. The division will oversee enforcement of federal laws that allow medical providers to refuse to provide or to even be indirectly involved in care that conflicts with their moral or religious conscience.  This is understood to mean an expansive policy tilt to the discriminatory doctrines of the Christian Right and Roman Catholic Bishops on such matters as reproductive choice, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Jefferson, Madison and the leaders of their generation sought to prevent favored factions from being able to use the government to enforce their doctrines on everyone else. And yet this is exactly what the FRC and their allies are trying to do.

A Manhattan Declaration Reunion in Rome: Conservative Catholic-Protestant Alliance Strengthens

Five years ago, approximately 150 American right-wing religious and political activists came together to sign The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, which called for a rededication to the fight for “the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.” The Vatican hosted a conference last week featuring similar themes and many of the same faces, further solidifying the conservative Catholic-Protestant alliance against LGBTQ people and reproductive justice.

Culture War Exporter Rick Warren sits in the front row as Pope Francis speaks at the Humanum meeting at the Vatican

Culture War Exporter Rick Warren sits in the front row as Pope Francis speaks at the Humanum meeting at the Vatican

The Manhattan Declaration—published in 2009covered familiar right-wing talking points, but it was far more than just another conservative call-to-arms. As PRA research fellow Fred Clarkson observed, “[I]ts distinct achievement has been to broaden and deepen the emerging alliance between conservative Roman Catholics and right-wing evangelical Protestants.”

Nine Catholic Archbishops joined some of the best-known Christian Right leaders in the United States on the list of original signatories. Among them were key right-wing leaders such as James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Alan Sears, president of the Alliance Defending Freedom; Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; and Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. Evangelical scholars like Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, added their names to the list. Prominent anti-gay culture warriors like Rick Warren also signed. Key leaders involved with the New Apostolic Reformation—Harry Jackson, Joseph Mattera, and Samuel Rodriguez—were on the list, too.

Many of these same individuals teamed up again this week in Rome at “Humanum: An Interreligious Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman,” which was convened by Pope Francis. The conference follows a recent synod gathering at which Catholic bishops considered, but ultimately rejected, proposals to soften the church’s stances on homosexuality and divorce.

Robert P. George, creator of the Manhattan Declaration and co-founder of the Witherspoon Institute which funded the debunked anti-gay Regnerus study, was a key organizer of Humanum. Speaking in an interview at the conclusion of the event, George enthusiastically described the shared values and understandings that had been made evident at the event despite so many “profound theological differences” among attendees. Though admitting that “things look very black” back in the U.S. when it comes to marriage and family, George was optimistic about the potential found in the unification of conservative believers. “People are leaving this conference on fire!” he exclaimed.

Several prominent signatories were also in attendance, including Tony Perkins, Alan Sears, and Brian Brown. And Eric Teetsel, executive director of the Manhattan Declaration’s nonprofit, was present as well. In the list of goals he presented to his Facebook followers before departing for Rome, #1 on Teetsel’s list was “ask Pope to sign the Manhattan Declaration.”

Rick Warren and Russell Moore—two of the most prominent right-wing Protestants in the U.S. and both signers of the Manhattan Declaration—were featured speakers at the event.

Indulging anti-Western sentiments, Moore explained to the global interfaith audience, “Western culture now celebrates casual sexuality, cohabitation, no-fault divorce, marriage redefinition, and abortion rights as parts of a sexual revolution that can tear down old patriarchal systems.”

Critiquing the Western world as “anti-family” is an increasingly popular tactic for right-wing Western culture war exporters who are seeking to foster stronger relationships and gain favor with their conservative international comrades. In doing so, these [mostly U.S.] right-wing leaders are effectively forming a consolidated conservative voting bloc at the UN and in other international decision-making bodies which enables them to advance their anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice agenda with increasing efficiency.

Speaking later in the day, Warren agreed with Moore. Marriage, he said, is being “ridiculed, resented, rejected, and even redefined.” He went on to charge the attendees, “The church cannot cower in silence. The stakes are too high!”

Warren—like Moore—is a strategic thinker. For a Protestant speaking at the Vatican to address “the church” in broad, collective terms, he’s effectively making a bold statement of shared ideology and mission, brushing aside historic tensions between Catholics and Protestants that have been smoldering ever since Martin Luther famously nailed his Ninety-Five Theses onto the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517.

The linking of conservative movements in the Roman Catholic and right-wing evangelical Protestant worlds is a dangerous threat to movements for LGBTQ and reproductive justice, and the ties are growing stronger. Next year, the Vatican will be coming to the U.S., providing further opportunity to strengthen these new alliances. In September 2015, Philadelphia will play host to the Eighth World Meeting of Families—an event coordinated by the Roman Catholic Church and held every three years with the expressed purpose of “strengthening the sacred bonds of the family unit across the globe.”

During his address to the Humanum audience, Pope Francis announced that he will be personally attending the event in Philadelphia. This will be his first papal visit to the United States, and organizers expect his presence will attract more than a million people.

When the Manhattan Declaration was first published in 2009, many social justice advocates especially expressed concern about the inclusion of a call for civil disobedience. Timothy Kincaid, writing for the Box Turtle Bulletin, noted:

“While this alliance is one that does not reflect the face of Christianity, it also is not a declaration of a new-found position of agreement based on shared Christian teaching and ideology. There is no mention of shared faith in creeds or teachings, no virgin birth, no resurrection, no divine redemption.

Rather, this is a statement of political purpose by an alliance of socially conservative activist who oppose abortion and marriage equality. … This is, in short a political alliance. It is a pact and a threat.”

This threat cannot be overstated. As various factions of the Christian Right continue to strengthen their alliances through the common ground of shared enemies, culture war casualties will only increase.

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FRC’s Anti-Choice Conference: How the Right Co-Opts Feminism and Racial Justice

Family Research Council (FRC)

Click here for our full profile on Family Research Council (FRC)

Last week marked the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the 40th anniversary of March for Life.  On January 21, antichoice activists gathered at the Family Research Council headquarters in D.C. for ProLifeCon, which focused on developing tactics for disseminating antichoice messages through social media and the internet. The conference marked another episode in the Right’s ongoing campaign attacking women’s bodily autonomy and access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare. As PRA detailed in its Summer 2013 issue of The Public Eye, these efforts have relied heavily on rhetorical maneuvering seeking to reframe abortion as a women’s health issue and antichoice stances as authentic feminism.

Political Research Associates was watching and listening to the conference. Among the extensive list of speakers, three, in particular, help shed light on the ways in which antichoice activists co-opt the language of feminism, women’s rights, and racial justice to undermine access to abortion and comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Here is what they had to say: 

Bethany Goodman


Bethany Goodman

Bethany Goodman

First to take the stage was Bethany Goodman, Assistant Director of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, which coordinated the demonstration held on the National Mall later that day. Goodman’s remarks focused on the importance of using social media campaigns to increase support among millennials and to expand the Right’s base of support. Goodman, previously Assistant Director of March for Life’s digital strategy, discussed the organization’s social media theme, “Why We March,” and encouraged viewers to access March for Life content on Twitter, Facebook, and an iPhone application. All of this content was designed to draw attention to “the women who are harmed by abortion.” Later, Goodman claimed, “We want a culture of life … where we embrace women in a loving way.” Goodman’s remarks are reflective of a shift in antichoice rhetoric, away from moralizing arguments about abortion toward a strategy of framing antichoice arguments as having a woman’s best interest at heart—as even being “feminist.” Speaking eagerly about the “youthful pro-life generation.” Goodman concluded her speech by stating, “The theme of this march is adoption,” arguing that adoption should replace abortion.

Ryan Bomberger

Ryan Bomberger

Ryan Bomberger

The adoption theme was echoed by Ryan Bomberger, a cofounder and chief creative officer at the Radiance Foundation.  This antichoice, multimedia organization gained notoriety for its “Too Many Aborted” web and billboard campaign, which used inflammatory slogans such as “The thirteenth amendment freed us, abortion enslaves us.”  Under the pretense of advancing racial justice, Bomberger claimed that the billboards illuminated “the disproportionate impact of abortion in the Black community,” and that the billboards were simultaneously a “campaign promoting adoption.”  He continued by stating that adoption was “one of the only two life-affirming alternatives to abortion,” and that we currently live in a “culture of death.”  In an attempt to discredit a major provider of comprehensive reproductive healthcare, Bomberger described Planned Parenthood as “abortion-minded, abortion-centered” and claimed that it “continues to demonize adoption” through convincing pregnant women to seek abortions rather than choose adoption.  Yet Bomberger went further, accusing Planned Parenthood of supporting a “eugenics sort of mindset.”  Finally, like many of his fellow speakers, Bomberger also sought to recast antichoice as pro-woman.  Near the end of his speech, Bomberger reminded the audience, “You cannot ever forget the woman in this equation.”

Click here to see our full profile on Bomberger.

Jane Fuller

Jane Fuller

Jane Fuller

Jane Fuller, the executive director of Assist Pregnancy Center of Virginia, began her speech by discussing her choice to first drop the word “crisis” from the name of her organization and later to change the name of the organization to “Metro Women’s Care.” (Crisis pregnancy centers have been widely documented as presenting conservative, antichoice ideologies as “health care,” “supportive counseling.”) Fuller went on to contrast her clients’ descriptions of abortion clinics as “cold,” “dirty,” and as employing “indifferent staff” with her center, which she claims is “geared towards the age group we are trying to reach,” namely young people.

Fuller then praised a new Virginia law,  which requires women to receive an ultrasound and wait 24 hours before having an abortion, and discussed how this law has led to an increase in the number of women at her pregnancy center.  Virginia’s ultrasound law is part of a larger, coordinated strategy to pass incremental restrictions on abortion—primarily at the state level—in order to chip away at women’s reproductive freedom and ultimately to overturn Roe.  Like Bomberger, Fuller also accused Planned Parenthood of exploiting women, stating, “Anyone who can take infanticide and promote it as quality healthcare knows how to manipulate.”  She called on activists to shift their focus from the unborn baby to the pregnant mother and to “focus on her and her needs.” Fuller’s rhetorical maneuvering mirrored that of Goodman and Bomberger.

All three speakers seek to co-opt the language of women’s rights in order to reframe antichoice policies as authentic feminism and, in the case of Ryan Bomberger, racial justice. Even though the antichoice movement’s strategies may be retooling for the 21st century, with social media integration and prayer smartphone applications, many of their messages are thinly veiled forms of arguments that have circulated for 41 years since the Roe v. Wade decision—arguments now veiled beneath the disguise of women’s rights and racial justice.

**Owen Jennings contributed to this article

Profiles on the Right: Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX)


Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), headquartered in Fort Belvoir, VA, is a national nonprofit organization ostensibly advocating for the “ex-gay” community. The group was founded in 1998 as an effort to mock the successful pro-gay organization, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). PFOX tries to portray the “ex-gay” community as large group of unfairly maligned Americans, claiming that “each year thousands of men and women with unwanted same-sex attractions make the personal decision to leave a gay identity.” Much like the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and the now defunct Exodus International, however, PFOX does not keep statistics and has failed to back up this claim through any substantiated quantifications.

The organization was jumpstarted in 1998 by an $80 thousand grant from the Family Research Council (FRC), an organization which also, upon the closing of Exodus International in 2013, created the “ex-gay” groups Voice of the Voiceless (VoV) and Equality and Justice for All. PFOX is listed as a partner in PATH, or Positive Alternatives to Homosexuality, a “non-profit coalition of organizations that help people with unwanted same-sex attractions (SSA) realize their personal goals for change.”

PFOX was founded by the late Anthony Falzarano, who claimed to have been a prostitute and the late Roy Cohn’s houseboy before his “transformation.” Falzarano was notoriously anti-LGBT, and was once quoted on CBS News saying, “AIDS comes directly from Satan. He uses homosexuals as pawns and then he kills them.” After Falzarano left PFOX over claims that the “ex-gay” movement was being used by the religious right for public relation purposes, Regina Griggs and Richard Cohen took over, with Griggs as the Executive Director and Cohen as the President of the Board of Directors. As of 2018, PFOX relies mainly on an unpaid group of staff and volunteers and has an annual budget of less than $25,000.

PFOX uses the idea that “sexual orientation and gender identity are largely fluid” to promote the idea that people can “leave homosexuality”, making comparisons between homosexuality and substance addiction. PFOX attempts to maintain a benign façade of advocacy, claiming they believe “those with unwanted same-sex attractions deserve the right to self-determination and happiness based on their own needs,” and call the rejection of the “ex-gays” by gay activist organizations “heterophobia”. They also, according to their brochure on “Gender Identity Confusion,” raise funds for reversal surgeries and breast explants for “former” transgender people.

PFOX’s message is confusing. At times it seems as if they believe they are an anti-defamation group, promulgating the unfair treatment of “ex-gays” and detailing the struggles of “ex-gays”. They compare ex-gays to recovering alcoholics and to “reformed porn addicts”, and state that “like other addictions, the process of overcoming a sometimes lifelong struggle is unique to each person.”

At other times PFOX seems to be a support group for people who know gay or ex-gay people and find homosexuality morally reprehensible. And yet at other times they seem to be a resource for those seeking help trying to change their sexuality. It makes sense that their ostensive message is muddled, though, when one considers the actual activity of the group.

PFOX also serves as a resource for highly-dangerous practice of so-called “conversion therapy.” They often refer people to discredited therapists. Most famously, Richard Cohen’s methods became somewhat infamous after several interviews in the national media. Cohen, who in 2002 was expelled from the American Counseling Association (ACA) for unethical practices, made embarrassing appearances on The Daily Show and CNN, among other new outlets, where he aired his unusual therapy techniques. These included beating a pillow with a tennis racquet while professing anger at your parents, and the decidedly homoerotic “holding”/”touching” technique, during which Cohen took male clients on his lap, held them, and repeated affirming words to them to recreate Father-son bonds. In 2007, Cohen was “let go” from PFOX, but was brought back into the fold behind the scenes as early as 2009. PFOX continues to offer his services at public speaking events.

PFOX also turned to getting materials and speakers into public schools. Assisted by Right-Wing legal groups such as Liberty Counsel, they filed lawsuits against both the Montgomery County school district (Maryland), and Arlington (Virginia) public schools so they could distribute their fliers to students.

PFOX’s fliers tell students that being gay is a choice and that people can change their sexual orientation. One letter they circulate, meant for district superintendents and penned by the mostly fake group American College of Pediatricians, says, “most adolescents who initially experience same-sex attractions, or are sexually confused, no longer experience such attractions by age 25” and that the longer students “delay self-labeling”, the lower risk they have for abuse, anxiety, and depression.

Although the group claims to “seek tolerance for all”, their literature often warns against gay people as agents of indoctrination, and continually promotes the pseudo-science of conversion therapy, which the psychological community has vehemently warned against as dangerous and inneffective. Moreover, the organization itself is associated with numerous virulent anti-gay crusaders. Current President Greg Quinlan, an “ex-gay”, was quoted at an AFTAH conference in 2010 saying, “I wasn’t your flaming faggot, you know…You know, the one whose wrists are so limp that when the wind blows they slap themselves in the face.” Board member Matt Barber has often called homosexuality a “sexual perversion” and has been quoted saying, “It boils down to this: there is nothing ‘conservative’ about one man violently cramming his penis into another man’s lower intestine and calling it ‘love’.” Board member Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at Family Research Council (FRC), was a key player in the Southern Poverty Law Center naming FRC as a hate group in 2010, and has said, in reference to uniting gay partners during the immigration process, “I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than import them.”

Richard Cohen’s book, Coming Out Straight, was also used to promote the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda, after Cohen donated several copies to organizations promoting the bill. One of the major backers of the bill, Stephen Langa, got much of his information about homosexuality from Cohen’s book.

Most noticeably lacking from PFOX’s leadership and board are any actual “ex-gays.” The 10-member board has never included more than two “ex-gays”, with the majority of them identifying as “everstraights”. Moreover, parents of openly “ex-gay” children seem to be hard to come by. The closest the group comes to fulfilling its name is through Executive Director Griggs, who speaks openly about her loving, but disapproving relationship with her openly gay son. The events held by PFOX and other ex-gay organizations never seem to turn up many “ex-gays” either, such as the widely-publicized “Ex-Gay Pride Month” in 2013, which was canceled after no “ex-gays” turned up to buy tickets. Cancellations of other events have led many to believe that PFOX and other “ex-gay” organizations may not actually have any followers.

Next ProfileAlthough PFOX has become less active, they more recently turned their attention to transgender people, even arguing that part of the “problem” is that parenting has become “a lost lifestyle.” A program is Delaware that allows “gender confused children to be given pro transgender counseling along with puberty stalling hormones” has caused PFOX to argue that parents are trusting schools to guide their children and are instead becoming “badly surprised” by the school’s decisions. PFOX claims that the solution to this “problem” is more responsible parents who are not afraid to tell children “the truth—that they are created by a loving God who designed them as either a boy or girl in the womb with tremendous, unique worth.”

Updated: 4/10/18

EXPOSED: How the Right’s State-Based Think Tanks Are Transforming U.S. Politics

Two networks of conservative, state-level think tanks have matured rapidly over the past three decades. By crafting public policy, collaborating with Republican state legislators, and fostering new leadership for the Right, they have significantly shaped recent U.S. politics. And their work has only just begun.



Via the 2013 SPN Annual Meeting promo video

Screencap of 2013 SPN Annual Meeting promo video, via Corey Burres

The Democratic Party’s wins in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, and its modest successes in recent Congressional elections, have obscured a series of setbacks for the party in the states. As National Journal put it, the GOP “wiped the floor with Democrats” in the 2010 midterm elections, setting a record in the modern era by picking up 680 seats in state legislatures. The next-largest harvest of legislative seats was the Democrats’ 628-seat gain in the Watergate-dominated election of 1974.[1]The 2010 landslide gave the GOP the upper hand in the subsequent Congressional redistricting process, allowing Republicans to tilt the playing field in their favor and shape U.S. elections for years to come. In the meantime, conservatives have used friendly, GOP-dominated state legislatures to ram their agenda through legislatures—in “red” states and even some states that lean “blue”—on a range of issues: imposing harsh voter restrictions in North Carolina, for example, and passing dramatic anti-labor legislation in Michigan.

The roots of this debacle go far deeper than one or two election cycles and cannot be explained by the normal ebb and flow in electoral fortunes of the two major parties. The seeds were actually sown in the late 1980s, when strategists in the conservative movement came to an important realization. If they were successful in their efforts to devolve much of federal policy-making authority to the states—a key goal of the “Reagan revolution”—they would need relevant resources to elaborate their vision, and the organizational capacity to implement it. The two networks of state-based think tanks that emerged from that realization amount to one of the great under-reported stories in modern American politics. We are just now seeing the implications of the networks’ work, and of the conservative strategists’ vision.

Though several Washington, D.C.-based think tanks were profoundly important in President Ronald Reagan’s administration, few state-level groups existed at the time. Reagan encouraged the creation of think tanks in state capitals, and two related networks of policy shops and advocacy groups emerged from this idea.[2] Both have become part of the deep infrastructure of the conservative movement, and they play a critical role in taking the movement’s agenda to the states, where a fierce battle over the role, size, and scope of government is playing out.

The State Policy Network (SPN) comprises think tanks that are modeled after the Heritage Foundation, in that they conduct research and make policy recommendations to government agencies and legislative bodies. SPN currently comprises 63 member organizations—at least one in each state. SPN members vigorously promote a “free market,” anti-labor agenda, and they are joined in this mission by dozens of conservative and libertarian groups with which they liaise, including national institutions like the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Alliance for School Choice, Americans United for Life, and the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights.[3]

The second network comprises organizations that are modeled on the Family Research Council (FRC), one of the foundational organizations of the Christian Right that was, for several years, the public policy arm of Focus on the Family (FOF). These think tanks are called Family Policy Councils (FPCs), and they take policy research and political advocacy to state capitals the way the FRC does in Washington, D.C.[4] They focus primarily on reproductive rights, traditional “family values” (especially marriage), and, increasingly, religious liberty. This is in keeping with the agenda of the 2009 Christian Right manifesto, the Manhattan Declaration.[5]

Though the individual institutions tend to command our attention, the influence of the networks is much greater than the sum of their parts. Comprising part of the core infrastructure of the conservative movement, they create synergies by sharing information, resources, and best practices. These synergies allow even the smallest members to rely on the same research as the networks’ largest and best-endowed institutions. Crucially, they also equip the Right with a common set of talking points and understandings, even as the individual institutions maintain the flexibility to tailor their strategies to state-level circumstances.

“The states are our first and final frontiers of liberty,” an SPN video declares. “Just as the pioneers journeyed to the wild west to discover new frontiers and stake their claim for a new life, we must stake a claim for freedom for us and the generations yet to come. Moving the locus of power from DC to the 50 freedom frontiers requires fortitude, bold strategies and a network of equipped trailblazers.”[6]

Division of Labor

In a speech at the Heritage Foundation in 1989, Republican political operative Don Eberly outlined
how the networks would operate, explaining that there would be a business-oriented group (the Commonwealth Foundation) and a Christian Right group (the Pennsylvania Family Institute). “We have organized a leadership team,” he said, “that is implementing . . . the Pennsylvania Plan.” He explained that the Commonwealth Foundation, of which he was founding president, would function as the state-based equivalent of the Heritage Foundation, while the Pennsylvania Family Institute, where his wife Sheryl was on the board, would be the equivalent of the Family Research Council.

“We now have both economic and social issues coalitions on the state level that meet regularly and are developing agendas,” Eberly continued. “This September [1989], we had our first statewide conservative conference for local leaders and activists, patterned after [the Conservative Political Action Conference] in Washington. The conference, which will become an annual event, attracted 320 people from all across the state and sent shock waves throughout the political establishment.”[7] The conference is still staged annually and it has served as a model for similar conferences held elsewhere—for example, in North Carolina.[8]

The Pennsylvania Plan was a model for two incipient national networks of think tanks—one wing focusing on economic issues, the other primarily on social and cultural concerns—that would share a common free-market ideology and sometimes a common agenda. Initially, both Pennsylvania groups were substantially underwritten by right-wing philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife and other “strategic funders” of the Right, as journalists called them at the time.

The State Policy Network was formed in 1992 to coordinate the activities of the business wing, and it was underwritten by South Carolina businessman Thomas Roe. A small predecessor—the Madison Group, which included Roe’s South Carolina Policy Council, Scaife’s Commonwealth Foundation, and the Independence Institute, underwritten by the Adolph Coors Foundation and other Coors interests—became the core of the SPN. Roe, Scaife, and Joseph Coors—the Colorado beer magnate who led his family into political prominence—were all major funders and board members of the Heritage Foundation at the time.[9]

In recent years, members and associates of the State Policy Network have been the recipients of massive infusions of cash that have come largely from secretive, donor-advised funds serving as financial funnels for individuals, corporations, and foundations. According to the Center for Public Integrity, Donors Trust and the related Donors Capital Fund have quietly funneled nearly $400 million from about 200 private donors (including the ubiquitous Koch brothers) to free-market causes since 1999. The Center also reported, in 2013, that Donors Trust had given $10 million to the SPN over the course of the previous five years, and that in 2012 “SPN used the money to incubate think tanks in Arkansas, Rhode Island, and Florida, where it hosted its yearly gathering in November.”[10]

An investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) in November 2013 unearthed an internal list of SPN’s major funders for 2010. It included Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, as well as such major corporations as BMO Harris Bank, Microsoft, Facebook, and the tobacco companies Altria (formerly Phillip Morris) and Reynolds American.[11]

SPN spends about $5 million annually to support existing groups and help start-ups develop the management and leadership skills of their staff and board; recruit and mentor staff; teach strategic marketing and branding; and network with other think tanks to leverage knowledge and resources. Thomas Roe, SPN’s late founding chairman, wanted it that way. “We still do it today,” said Lawrence Reed, president emeritus of the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “It keeps us knowledgeable about what everyone else is doing, it keeps us talking, and it stops us from reinventing the wheel over and over again.”[12]

SPN member organizations have used this strategic capacity in the fight for a range of major initiatives, notably anti-labor legislation.[13] According to a 2011 report in Mother Jones, SPN’s affiliates have led the charge at the state level in the Republican Party’s “war on organized labor. They’re pushing bills to curb, if not eliminate, collective bargaining for public workers; make it harder for unions to collect member dues; and, in some states, allow workers to opt out of joining unions entirely but still enjoy union-won benefits. All told, it’s one of the largest assaults on American unions in recent history.”[14]

In Michigan, for example, the Mackinac Center made four policy recommendations to give unelected ‘emergency managers’ more power to terminate union contracts and fire municipal elected officials “in the name of repairing broken budgets,” Mother Jones reported. “All four ended up in Governor Rick Snyder’s ‘financial martial law,’ as one GOP lawmaker described it.”[15] A writer for Forbes called it “one of the most sweeping, anti-democratic pieces of legislation in the country,” investing Snyder with the power “not only to break up unions, but to dissolve entire local governments and place appointed “Emergency Managers” in their stead [emphasis in original].”[16] The legislation became law in March 2011.

Some SPN institutions are small but exert disproportionate influence by keeping a high media profile. Other institutions, like the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) and the Mackinac Center, have multimillion dollar budgets and large staffs, and they play an outsized role in state politics by partnering with other institutions, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Since 1975, ALEC has developed model, business-oriented legislation in cooperation with a national network of state legislators and began a more formal and coordinated relationship with SPN and member organizations beginning in the mid-2000s. A study by the Center for Media and Democracy found that two dozen SPN groups, including the SPN itself, are organizational members of ALEC and serve on one or more of its legislative task forces. CMD identified several areas of ALEC’s policy foci in which SPN members play a role: privatizing public education and public pension systems; rolling back environmental initiatives; disenfranchising people of color, the elderly, and students; and attacking workers’ rights.[17]

Several SPN members have shepherded bills through the process of becoming official ALEC “model” bills. For example, Arizona’s Goldwater Institute and the Mackinac Center were responsible for ALEC adopting five model bills targeting public-sector unions.[18]

According to an investigation by the Institute for Southern Studies, the Civitas Institute and the John Locke Foundation—SPN member organizations in North Carolina—published more than 50 articles, op-eds and blog posts fomenting unfounded fears of voter fraud. These helped catalyze passage of a strict photo ID law, an end to same-day registration, and a shorter early voting period in 2013.[19] The legislation will likely suppress turnout among African Americans and young people. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit to block enforcement of key provisions of the law.[20]

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in many ways personifies how SPN provides infrastructure, develops personnel, and hatches ideas for the conservative movement. Prior to his election to the Senate in 2012, he served as a senior fellow with TPPF’s new Center for 10th Amendment Studies. In 2010, he co-authored a report that became the basis of ALEC’s model legislation to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).[21]

The SPN’s recent mixing of Tea Party activism (largely funded by the Koch brothers) with more buttoned-down business conservatism is not without its challenges. An SPN “ToolKit” featured on its web site in 2013, for example, urged members to avoid language that smacks of “extreme views,” advising: “Stay away from words like radical, nullify, or autonomy,” and especially “states’ rights.”[22]

Origins of a faux news network

The State Policy Network has now been developing and deepening its capacity—not only to do research and policy work, but also to absorb and integrate new projects—for more than two decades. At the same time, it has faced new challenges and taken advantage of new opportunities in an era of digital activism and new media.

SPN’s adaptability in the new era is illustrated by its development of a news network. Three dozen SPN affiliates now field their own “investigative reporters” on behalf of a recently created member, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which describes its mission as “exposing government waste, fraud and abuse.”[23] It seeks to fill a void created by the loss of a third of the nation’s journalism jobs since 1992. The Center was created by the now-defunct Sam Adams Alliance, which began as a Tea Party organization and was folded into SPN.

SPN’s state news websites collectively produce Watchdog Wire, which publishes work by “citizen journalists.” As the website describes the project, “by covering stories in your local community that are otherwise ignored by the establishment media, you can make a difference!”[24] The Franklin Center claims that it “already provides 10 percent of all daily reporting from state capitals nationwide.”[25] The basis for the claim is unclear, but whatever its truth, it does speak to the Center’s ambitions.

The Sam Adams Alliance also separately created three websites modeled on Wikipedia: Judgepedia, Ballotpedia, and Sunshine Review. They offer right-wing analysis of (respectively) the judiciary, election issues, and governmental performance. These projects have since been folded into the Lucy Burns Institute, an SPN member based in Madison, WI.  Like many SPN organizations, it has extensive ties to the Tea Party and funding from the Koch brothers.[26]

The Franklin Center and the Lucy Burns Institute are part of a surge of recent development in SPN’s infrastructure that has expanded its capacity to influence both media and public policy, as well as the range of ways by which it carries out its mission. Donors Trust has funneled cash to both the Franklin Center and to many SPN affiliates for their “news” operations. Its $6.3 million donation to the Franklin Center constituted 95 percent of the Center’s revenue in 2011.[27]

This network has had some success. While some affiliates do little more than blog off of Associated Press stories, others feature established conservative journalists. In Oklahoma, the former editorial page editor of the Oklahoman newspaper, Patrick B. McGuigan, serves as the local bureau chief, and he has a weekly segment on the CBS affiliate in Oklahoma City, called Capitol Report. [28] And stories in the Pennsylvania Independent, a Franklin Center online publication supported by the Commonwealth Foundation, have been picked up by mainstream outlets, including the Philadelphia Inquirer.

To date, though, the network has shown little capacity to stand on its own and depends almost entirely on funding through Donors Trust. As of August 2013, the Pennsylvania Independent had only one ad—for the Commonwealth Foundation’s own campaign to privatize state-owned liquor stores.[29]

Building for the future

While the State Policy Network has mostly limited itself to the role of influencing public policy through the traditional work of think tanks—research, media work, and lobbying—the Family Policy Councils are more explicitly involved in mobilizing the Right’s grassroots base to become active in electoral politics.

There are 36 state FPCs, which typically have the word “family” in their names, such as the Massachusetts Family Institute, Louisiana Family Forum, and the Family Foundation of Virginia. Others are less obvious, bearing such names as the Center for Arizona Policy and the Christian Civic League of Maine, but they are all outgrowths of the original Reagan era plan to take the Christian Right’s agenda to the states.

A change in the federal tax law in 2004 required 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations to be less political than they had been, necessitating separately incorporated political action arms. As a result, FOF formed Focus on the Family Action, which later changed its name to CitizenLink for the sake of clarity.[30]

While the Family Research Council and its feisty spokesmen, Tony Perkins and Jerry Boykin, disproportionately make headlines, CitizenLink quietly cultivates the grassroots. Spending about $13 million annually (as of 2012), CitizenLink coordinates the work of the FPCs, ensuring accreditation and compliance and providing services to increase the capacity of the institutions to carry out their mission.[31] It also does candidate trainings and works primarily for Republicans in national elections. CitizenLink reportedly spent $2.6 million on independent expenditures in 2012, mostly on behalf of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.”[32]

The network has played an important role in the political development and subsequent raw political power of the Christian Right. Many of the older FPCs have been active for more than two decades, crafting an activist religious-political culture, affecting electoral outcomes, and ultimately developing the clout to influence legislation and policy outcomes on such matters as abortion and LGBTQ rights.

Indeed, FPCs have often been leading actors in the state-level battles over marriage equality. The Christian Civic League of Maine played a central role in the seesaw battle over same-sex marriage, which was endorsed by the legislature and repealed by the voters in 2009, then restored by a second referendum in 2012. The League’s executive director and one of its board members[33] launched a new political action committee, Protect Marriage Maine, to carry out the political organizing and advertising drive against the ballot initiative, collaborating closely with the National Organization for Marriage.[34] Such collaborations have been a hallmark of the FPCs from the earliest days.

An important trend in recent years, indicating the significance of the role of the FPCs in the wider Christian Right, has been the gradual adoption of the integrated, three-part agenda of the Manhattan Declaration. This is evident in many ways, including the way that “guest posts” from FPC leaders are introduced on the national web site. For example: “CitizenLink is proud to work with The Family Foundation of Virginia and other family policy organizations across the country to stand for marriage, life and religious freedom.”[35]

“These councils are independent entities,” according to CitizenLink, “with no corporate or financial relationship to each other or to Focus on the Family.”[36] But if FOF and CitizenLink are legally separate entities with different tax statuses, they are best viewed as two parts of the same organization. They share the same offices, board of directors, top executives, and president, James Daly.[37]

There is a method to the disclaimers, though, because stretching the rules regarding federal tax-exempt status of the member agencies has been an issue over the years. Many of these groups engaged in lobbying and electoral activities—such as the dissemination of biased voter guides—beyond what the privilege of federal tax exemption allows. Quietly coming into compliance with the law, and becoming more sophisticated regarding how best to use the several relevant legal categories available for politics and public policy, has been a trend for both state networks, following the lead of The Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council.

The creation of separate-but-related groups that can legally carry out various political, lobbying, and electoral functions is an important development in the history of these groups at all levels. For example, the Family Institute of Connecticut (FIC), which has focused on anti-marriage equality, antichoice, and pro-school privatization issues in recent years, has divided into three closely related but legally distinct entities: FIC itself; FIC Action (a 501(c)(4) lobbying group); and the Family Institute of Connecticut Action Committee, a political action committee (PAC) that focuses on candidates for state-government offices.[38]

Efforts to draw bright lines for legal purposes notwithstanding, the lines still sometimes blur. “Needless, to say,” wrote Jim Daly in a joint Focus on the Family/CitizenLink annual report, “2012 was extremely busy for our CitizenLink staff as they were actively involved in multiple state legislative and election efforts. More than 2 million emails were sent to CitizenLink constituents regarding important issues. In addition, CitizenLink produced mailers for the November election that went to more than 8 million homes in 16 swing states. And that was just the beginning!”[39]

Two paths converge

Member organizations across both networks share some common issues, such as school privatization and the idea that public education should be controlled locally, though there are often differences of emphasis. The Boston-based Pioneer Institute primarily promotes corporate-style charters and makes little mention of homeschooling, for example, while the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) is primarily interested in homeschooling. “The public schools here have become a primary battleground in the culture war,” MFI declares, “with homosexual activists using them to indoctrinate students with their agenda.” Consequently, “MFI supports the restoration of decision-making authority over school policy and finance to parents, locally elected school committees and taxpayers.[40] In Louisiana, both networks have mobilized to promote and defend Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s controversial voucher program, which extended vouchers even to marginal religious schools, some of which use crackpot textbooks to teach science. One claims that the Loch Ness Monster is both real and a proof against evolution.[41] The Pioneer Institute has promoted New Orleans—where 80 percent of the public schools after Hurricane Katrina became charters—as a model for Boston.[42]

Cross-network collaborations are facilitated by having seasoned leaders who share a common vision and are able to mobilize the resources to carry it out. In creating the State Policy Network and the Family Policy Councils, the conservative movement’s strategists sought to create a deep infrastructure that would be build capacity over time, both in terms of policy development and electoral strength. They were also developing a talent bank of research and policy experts and organizational executives who would create synergies for the movement and shape the priorities of the Republican Party.

And in fact, SPN affiliates sometimes serve as governments-in-waiting for Republican administrations in the states, in much the way that Republican administrations in Washington, D.C., often draw staff from such national think tanks as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. In Massachusetts, Gov. William Weld “hired almost everybody” out of the Pioneer Institute following his election in 1994. Succeeding governors Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift also appointed Pioneer staff or board members to crucial positions that enabled them to implement their ideas, notably in shaping the state’s charter school policies. Cellucci, for example, appointed Pioneer executive director James Peyser as chairman of the state board of education.[43]

SPN think tanks have also provided leadership opportunities for policy professionals and politicians. Veterans of the board of directors of Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Foundation include former Lt. Governor William W. Scranton III and current U.S. Senator Patrick J. Toomey (R-PA). Three members of Congress—Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and former U.S. Reps. Mike Pence (R-IN) and Tom Tancredo (R-CO)—ran SPN member groups before coming to Congress.

Likewise, the FPCs serve as talent-development agencies. Ron Crews, who led the Massachusetts Family Institute from 2000 to 2004, rode the notoriety he gained in the wake of the historic 2003 Goodridge v. Department of Public Health decision (in which the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized same-sex marriage) to an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2004. Tony Perkins was the executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum before coming to the Family Research Council. Brian Brown directed the Connecticut Family Institute before leading the National Organization for Marriage.

All of this is important because the cumulative experience of these two networks—in fostering leaders, working with government officials, creating collaborations, and becoming part of the furniture of public life in state capitals around the country—is transforming American politics from the state level up. The networks’ growing ability to craft and influence public policy, working in tandem with the American Legislative Exchange Council, corporate interests, and Republican state legislators, has justified the persistence and long-range ambitions of conservative strategists three decades ago, when the movement was just beginning its long march to state power.

[1] Jeremy P. Jacobs, “Devastation: GOP Picks Up 680 State Leg. Seats,” National Journal, Nov. 4, 2010,

[2] John J. Miller, “Fifty flowers bloom: Conservative think tanks—mini-Heritage Foundations—at the state level,” Hey Miller, Sept. 16, 2009, Republished from the National Review, Nov. 19, 2007. See also John J. Miller, “Safeguarding a Conservative Donor’s Intent: The Roe Foundation at 39,” Foundation Watch, Capital Research Center, May 2007,

[3] “Directory,” State Policy Network,

[4] Frederick Clarkson, “Takin’ It to the States: The Rise of Conservative State-Level Think Tanks,” Public Eye, Summer/Fall 1999, In addition to the pieces cited in this essay, see Jason Deparle, “Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government,” New York Times, Nov. 17, 2006,; and Lee Fang, “The Right Leans In: Media-savvy conservative think tanks take aim and fire at progressive power bases in the states,” Nation, Mar. 26, 2013,

[5] Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance,” Public Eye, July 23, 2013,

[6] “SPN Annual Meeting Promo 1,” YouTube,

[7] Don E. Eberly, “The States:  The New Policy Battleground, Lecture # 225,” The Heritage Foundation, Oct. 27, 1989,

[8] “Conservative Leadership Conference,” Civitas,

[9] Clarkson, “Takin’ It to the States: The Rise of Conservative State-level Think Tanks.”

[10] Paul Abowd, “Donors use charity to push free-market policies in states: Nonprofit group lets donors fly ‘totally under the radar,’” Center for Public Integrity, Feb. 14, 2013,

[11] “EXPOSED: The State Policy Network, The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government,”, Center for Media and Democracy, Nov. 2013.

[12] John J. Miller, “Safeguarding a Conservative Donor’s Intent:  The Roe Foundation at 39,” Foundation Watch, Capital Research Center, May 2007,

[13] “EXPOSED: The State Policy Network, The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government,”

[14] Andy Kroll, “The Right-Wing Network Behind the War on Unions,” Mother Jones, April 25, 2011,

[15] Kroll, “The Right-Wing Network Behind the War on Unions.”

[16] Erik Kain, “Michigan Governor Plays Fast and Loose with Democracy, Invokes Radical New Powers,” Forbes, March 11, 2011,

[17] EXPOSED: The State Policy Network, The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government,

[18] Paul Abowd, “ALEC anti-union push includes key players from Michigan, Arizona think tanks,” Center for Public Integrity, May 17, 2012,

[19] Sue Sturgis, “Special Investigation: How Art Pope helped turn back the clock on voting rights in North Carolina,” Institute for Southern Studies, Aug. 2013,

[20] Charlie Savage, Justice Department Poised to File Lawsuit Over Voter ID Law,” New York Times, Sept. 30, 2013,

[21] Mary Tuma, “Ted Cruz Used Texas to Create ALEC’s Anti-Obamacare Legislation,” Current, Oct. 16, 2013,; Ted Cruz,  “Texas Public Policy Foundation report gives states options for pushing back on federal overreach,” Texas Public Policy Foundation, Nov. 18, 2010,; Ted Cruz and Mario Loyola, “Reclaiming the Constitution Towards and Agenda for State Action,” Texas Public Policy Foundation, Nov. 2010,

[22] “A Tool Kit to Keep Government Local People, Local Decisions, Local Solutions,” State Policy Network and State Budget Solutions, 2013,

[23] Jason Stverak, Media Shield Law Doesn’t Protect First Amendment, Free Press, The Franklin Center, Sept. 16, 2013,

[24] “About Watchdog Wire,” The Franklin Center, Watchdog Wire, May 25, 2012,

[25] “Driving the News:  How right wing funders are manufacturing news and influencing public policy in Pennsylvania,” Keystone Progress, Aug. 2013, (subscription required).

[26] Sara Jerving, “The Lucy Burns Institute (Publishers of Ballotpedia, Judgepedia and WikiFOIA) and Her Right-Wing Bedfellows,” The Center for Media and Democracy, Nov. 26, 2012,

[27] Abowd, “ALEC anti-union push includes key players from Michigan, Arizona think tanks.”

[28] McGuigan reported on SPN’s national convention in Oklahoma City without disclosing his relationship to the Franklin Center or the Franklin Center’s relationship to the SPN and the host affiliate, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. See “Capitol Report: National gathering in Oklahoma City focuses on public policy,” YouTube, Sept. 30, 2013,

[29] “Driving the News: How right wing funders are manufacturing news and influencing public policy in Pennsylvania,” Keystone Progress, Aug. 2013, (subscription required).

[30] Electa Draper, “Focus on the Family rebrands political arm as CitizenLink,” Denver Post, May 20, 2010,

[31] “CitizenLink,” Charity Navigator,

[32] “Exclusive: Largest Dark Money Groups Share Funds, Hide Links,” OpenSecretsBlog, Sep. 10, 2013,

[33] In the run-up to the 2012 initiative, Emrich was employed by the Family Research Council as its new “Northeast Field Ambassador”: “Bob Emrich joins Family Research Council,” Christian Civic League of Maine, Oct. 27, 2011,

[34] This followed a split with former League executive director Mike Heath, whose extreme statements were seen as counterproductive. The split also led to a rebranding in which the League sought to become known as the Maine Family Policy Council. The change apparently didn’t take, and the organization is now known by both names. Brian Tashman, “Ron Paul’s Iowa State Director Dedicated His Career to Fighting ‘Evil’ Gay Rights,” Right Wing Watch, Dec. 30, 2011,

[35] See Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance.”

[36] “Family Policy Councils,” CitizenLink, Individual FPCs rarely mention their close connections to FOF, or CitizenLink, or FRC, which maintains a similar, but not identical, list of affiliates. FRC Action, the 501(c)(4) political arm of FRC, also lists the FPCs as state-level affiliates.

[37] For example, see “Focus on the Family and CitizenLink 2012 Annual Report,” Focus on the Family, A separate annual report for CitizenLink is at Rev. Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is also a member of both boards.

[38] “Latest FIC Action Committee’s 2010 Endorsements,” Family Institute of Connecticut, 2010,

[39] “2012 Annual Report,” Focus on the Family.

[40] “Parental Rights and Education,” Massachusetts Family Institute,

[41] Bruce Wilson, “Nessie a Plesiosaur? Louisiana To Fund Schools Using Odd, Bigoted Fundamentalist Textbooks,” Talk to Action, June 17, 2012,

[42] Jim Stergios, “6 Takeaways on New Orleans’ charter initiative,” Pioneer Institute, Oct. 19, 2013,

[43] Paul Dunphy and Nikhil Aziz, “The Pioneer Institute: Privatizing the Common Wealth,” Political Research Associates, July 2002,; Frederick Clarkson, “Takin’ It to the States: The Rise of Conservative State-level Think Tanks.”

Profiles on the Right: Tony Perkins

Tony Perkins

Tony Perkins

Tony Perkins is the president of the Washington D.C.-based Family Research Council (FRC), a Christian lobbying group that describes a LGBTQ lifestyle as “unhealthy” and “destructive” to “individuals, families, and societies.”  The FRC, perhaps the most powerful right-wing Christian presence in Washington, has strong connections to its grassroots base, and is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Perkins is one of the most influential Christian Right voices in Washington. His good looks and skillful delivery of carefully constructed messages and arguments render him a popular figure on the Christian Right, and a dangerous megaphone for scapegoating a variety of marginalized groups, including: LGBTQ people, immigrants, single parents, and youth.

In his mission to “reclaim the culture of Christ” Perkins feels free to demonize LGBTQ people, identifying homosexuality as a source of mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, child molestation, and immoral behavior in general. He maintains the belief that homosexuality is a sin and that it can and should be cured through the love of Jesus Christ.  He continually cites pseudo-scientific evidence from groups like the American College of Pediatrics (a discredited organization) to bolster his arguments.

In a 2010 response to several cases of anti-gay bullying that led gay teens to commit suicide or experience depression, Perkins said it was not “inacceptance” that led young gay and lesbian children to suffer, but that depression and suicide were the mental consequences of being gay. “We know from the social science that [homosexuals] have a higher propensity to depression or suicide because of that internal conflict,” he said.

Perkins was one of many right wing evangelicals to denounce the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The Huffington Post quoted him saying, “Today is a tragic day for our armed forces. The American military…has now been hijacked and turned into a tool for imposing on the country a radical social agenda. This may advance the cause of reshaping social attitudes regarding human sexuality, but it will only do harm to the military’s ability to fulfill its mission.”

Perkins argues that religion, particularly Christianity, is under attack by secular institutions. He simultaneously believes those who practice the religion of Islam are a danger to America. He has called the LGBTQ rights movement an act of cultural and corporate terrorism. Because he appears less strident than the older anti-gay spokespeople, like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Louis Sheldon, he is able to deliver their same messages to their audiences without sounding shrilly alarmist.

In September, 2013, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) appointed Perkins to the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement. The appointment is the first official capacity Perkins has served for Louisiana since resigning as a state representative in 2004.

Next ProfileThis profile is part of a series on key anti-LGBTQ opponents adapted from Political Research Associates’ Resisting the Rainbow report.