The Family Research Council’s recent Pray Vote Stand activist conference was intensely focused on helping religious-right activists and likeminded politicians take greater political power and use it to impose their religious and political worldviews on American schools, law, and society. Among the political goals on display:
- Getting Trump or a likeminded Republican back in the White House.
- Putting Republicans in majority control of the U.S. House and Senate as well as state legislatures.
- Electing religious-right activists to school boards around the country.
- Demanding publicly and behind the scenes that any Republican nominees to the Supreme Court be fully committed to the religious right’s “biblical worldview.”
Those political goals are the means to policy ends: a nationwide abortion ban, reversal of marriage equality for same-sex couples and nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans, the virtual elimination of transgender people from public life and the actual elimination of gender-affirming care for trans youth, the further weakening of church-state separation, restrictions on the freedom to learn and teach about racism and sexuality, and more.
The tactics being used to mobilize religious-right voters include fearmongering claims that liberals are out to destroy religious freedom along with ugly anti-trans rhetoric and anti-LGBTQ smears being promoted under the banner of parental rights.
Right Wing Watch has previously documented the far-reaching effort unveiled at the conference to ensure that future Republican presidents’ Supreme Court nominees are fully committed to the religious right’s “biblical worldview” and interpretation of the Constitution. And we have reported on religious-right efforts to train and elect school board candidates who want to do the same with public schools—and purge education officials who disagree.
2024 Elections: ‘The Last Chance’
The 2024 elections were a primary focus of religious-right leaders and activists at Pray Vote Stand. Conservative Christian voters mobilized to get former President Donald Trump elected in 2016 and turned out in large numbers for Trump in 2020. When the effort to reelect Trump failed, Family Research Council leaders promoted Trump’s lies about the stolen election and were actively engaged in the effort to pressure state legislators, members of Congress, and Vice President Mike Pence to help throw the election to Trump after his defeat.
In a breakout session on the 2024 election map, the American Principles Project’s Terry Schilling talked about nine U.S. Senate races his group is paying attention to. Schilling also gave his analysis of GOP disappointments in 2022. His advice to Republican candidates in 2024: reclaim Trump’s populist economic message, portray Democrats as extremists on abortion, and go hard on anti-trans “cultural” messages.
FRC Action’s Matt Carpenter talked through various lists of potentially close House races, beginning with his top 10 and ending up with a list of 65 races of interest. Ballotpedia’s Victoria Rose, introduced as a graduate of Hillsdale College, talked about gubernatorial, state legislative, and school board races as well as ballot initiatives; she spoke about Ballotpedia’s commitment to neutrality. Reflecting the increasing national interest in school boards, Ballotpedia is expanding its coverage of those races.
Just days before Pray Vote Stand started, FRC President Tony Perkins announced that former Rep. Jody Hice, who joined FRC earlier this year, had been named president of FRC’s political action arm. In addition to seeking financial support for FRC Action’s 2024 ground game voter turnout efforts, which include engaging “Watchmen” pastors and church-based “Community Impact Teams,” Hice announced that he wants to raise $4 million in super PAC funding to allow it to play more of a direct role in ten or a dozen congressional races. “If we get another 10 or so biblically based members of Congress with courage and backbone, that makes a major difference in the whole thing,” Hice said.
One of FRC’s political strategies is to produce and distribute millions of flyers contrasting the Republican and Democratic party platforms in a way meant to steer voters to the GOP. FRC and other religious-right activists have played a major role in shaping recent GOP platforms.
Former Rep. Michele Bachmann, who chairs FRC’s board, finished FRC Action’s session by making the pitch for contributions to support Hice’s plans to “take this biblical worldview into affecting political outcomes”—specifically to go on 800 or more radio stations and mobilize a network of 16,700 pastors. Speaking about 2024, Bachmann asked, “How many of you think this may be the last chance in this country?”
Another Pray Vote Stand sponsor, the American Family Association’s Action arm, has made itself a kind of one-stop shop for pushing its “biblical worldview” into policy with its state-focused Center for Government Renewal, its court-focused Center for Judicial Renewal—which is heading up the religious-right effort to vet potential SCOTUS nominees—and it absorption of ivoterguide.com.
Gina Gleason, head of California pastor Jack Hibbs’ political organization Real Impact, was also at Pray Vote Stand to talk up his church’s ballot harvesting operation—an example of right-wing activists adopting a strategy they generally denounce as a threat to fair elections. Hibbs, a high-profile ally of Perkins and Christian nationalist political operative David Lane, is pushing school boards around the country to adopt passage of anti-LGBTQ policies, a strategy being carried out by members of a local school board who attend Hibbs’ church.
Trump as Commander-in-Chief in the Nation’s ‘Spiritual War’
Trump was not the only presidential candidate to speak at Pray Vote Stand, but he was far and away the crowd favorite. Trump was greeted as a hero, and he won about two-thirds of the votes of activists who took part in the conference’s presidential straw poll. “No president has ever fought for Christians as hard as I have,” Trump proclaimed to cheers.
Trump took credit, as he frequently does, for giving the religious right what they most wanted from him: a Supreme Court that overturned Roe v. Wade. Since the conference, Trump has annoyed some anti-abortion activists with comments about the politics of abortion bans, but there is no denying that without his Supreme Court nominees they would not be in position to pass state abortion bans and demand a national one.
As the Daily Beast noted, Trump and the other Republican presidential contenders who spoke—former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy—fought to outshine each other with their appeals to the crowd, tossing out red-meat attacks on transgender people and marriage equality, promising to defeat the “Marxists” supposedly controlling schools and other cultural institutions, and vowing to dismantle separation of church and state and wage, in DeSantis’s familiar words, a “war on woke.’
Religious-right activists and political organizations at Pray Vote Stand, like those who gathered a few months earlier for the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference, are intensely focused on building their political power in 2024. Working in their favor: right-wing media platforms and allied organizations to amplify their messaging; extensive infrastructure to carry out target voter registration and mobilization efforts; and millions of dollars to help elect politicians that embrace their authoritarian, freedom-restricting agenda.
Americans who embrace a different vision of the American Way, of a society grounded in individual freedom, equality under the law, and communities that reflect and protect our diversity, must demonstrate the same level of commitment to our democratic values and to the work necessary to protect our democracy.