Why Evangelicals Are Bolting the GOP

A growing number of evangelicals see the Republicans ignoring their values and find the Democrats eager to welcome them in.

A version of this article is also appearing in the Washington Monthly .



The Republicans were filibustering the Bible bill. On a Tuesday afternoon in early February, Republican legislators in Alabama took to the floor of the state house to oppose legislation that would authorize an elective course on the Bible in public high schools. The recommended curriculum for the course had been vouched for by Christian Right all-stars like Chuck Colson and Ted Haggard, but so far as Republicans were concerned, there was only one pertinent piece of information about the bill: It was sponsored by two Democrats. Now Republicans were prepared to do everything in their procedural power to stop it, even if that meant lining up to explain why they could notstand for this attempt to bring a class about the Bible into public schools.

 

When I came to Montgomery to watch the debate over the Bible literacy bill, I had expected something pro forma, a Bible love-fest. Alabama is, after all, God's country. This is the state that produced Judge Roy Moore and the Ten Commandments statue. Martin Luther King Jr., pastored his first church here, Dexter Avenue Baptist. In Snead, a convenience-store owner offers free coffee or soda to anyone who recites the Bible verse of the month, and people do it because it's a two-fer: Learn the Bible and get a free Dr. Pepper.

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As far as people around here are concerned, you can always use a little more Bible. It's not taught in the schools very often because the Supreme Court ruled in 1963 that public schools couldn't hold devotional classes, and many school boards—unsure of how else to teach about the Bible—don't want to get sued. But when some local leaders learned last summer about a curriculum package produced by the Bible Literacy Project out of Fairfax, Va., the problem seemed to be solved. The course presents the Bible in a historical and cultural context—giving students a better understanding of biblical allusions in art, literature, and music. More important, it has been vetted by conservative and liberal legal experts to withstand constitutional challenge.

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Amy Sullivan
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