People for the American Way ist eine gemeinnützige Organisation, die 1981 von Norman Lear, einem Fernseh- und Filmproduzenten ins Leben gerufen wurde. Sie wurde explizit als Gegenentwurf zu den Organisationen der Religiösen Rechten gegründet, die zu dieser Zeit unter der Präsidentschaft Ronald Reagans an Einfluss gewonnen hatten. Lear, der damals an einer Dokumentation über die Religiöse Rechte und deren Agenda arbeitete, nahm diese Erfahrung zum Anlass selbst aktiv für die eigenen Standpunkte stark zu machen.
War die PFAW zu Beginn ihres Bestehens noch klar auf beide große Parteien ausgerichtet, hat sie sich inzwischen zu einer der wichtigsten liberalen advocacy groups entwickelt. So spricht sie heute neben Demokraten in erster Linie noch progressive Mitglieder der Republikaner an. Dem Selbstverständnis nach kämpfen die People for the American Way für die Wiedererlangung beziehungsweise den Erhalt amerikanischer Grundwerte und somit für den Fortbestand des American Way: Respekt und Toleranz für Diversität, Meinungsfreiheit, Redefreiheit und Religionsfreiheit, Gerechtigkeit im Sinne von Equal Justice und ein gutes, gemeinschaftliches Zusammenleben.
Peter Mongomery ist Vize-Präsident von People for the American Way.
(vorbereitet von Martina Schäfer)
How would you describe the “American values” that your group stands for?
PM: When the people that started this organization 25 years ago, when they chose the name People For the American Way, I mean a lot of people hear that name and they think 'oh we must be conservative because American way, sounds like American values', they consciously did that because they said no you do not get to own that flag you on the right, I can love this country too. When you look at what they said when they founded the organization, it was really a country where diversity is accepted and celebrated. You are respected, even if you are different, you have equal treatment under the law. How you get treated by the law, it should not matter who your father was, or what kind of church you go to or do not go to, the law should apply to everyone equally. That everybody should have the same opportunities. This part of the American myth -- that even if you born the poor kid from Hope, Arkansas you can become president, equality of opportunity, the fact the government is going to provide you the protection to live out your life to full potential, no matter who you are - I think is very much part of the American psyche. We want to promote policies that reflect these core values of individual liberty, fairness, equal opportunity, and equal treatment under the law. A lot of those were laid out in the Constitution, although the country for most of its live did not live out to those ideals. One of the geniuses of Martin Luther King Jr., when he was trying to rally sort of people in the middle, to reach out to average Americans on the civil rights movement, he was not sort of denouncing America. He was saying, “I just want to hold this country to its ideals.” He went back to the words in the Declaration of Independence and was very successful at making a lot of Americans in the middle say, “You know he is right, what is happening down there is just not American.”
Has the influence of the religious right grown during the Bush presidency?
PM: Yes, definitely. I think that we see that strength in a lot of different ways. I mean it plays out in the fact that people from the Religious Right organizations have been appointed to all levels of government from the White House to the federal judiciary to less visible but very important panels that make decisions about federal health care and international aid. A sort of very strong anti-abortion politics of the Right have influenced American policy on international family planning support, how we spend our AIDS-fighting money. You know the fact that a lot of our money is now going to abstinence only programs, both in America and abroad. So there, some of the influence is very visible.
How has the religious right managed to exert such a large influence on politics?
PM: Well, I think one of the reasons that they have been able to do that so effectively is, the Right is a lot more disciplined. They have a network of think tanks and elected officials and now a lot of media outlets, both the political media outlets like Fox News and Christian Radio, and elected officials. And when they sort of agree on a strategy, they all stay focused on that strategy and play it. And part of what Ralph Reid, who was really the mastermind behind building the Christian Coalition, did, was, he sort of brought the Religious Right and the Political Right together by saying, “We are going to be marginalized if we just are known as the people who care about abortion and gays.” They sort of adopted a lot of the economic policies and included those as pro-family. Anti-estate tax, anti-tax generally, anti-government, they put all that under the pro-family. And that sort of brought the Religious Right and the Political Right together, in a way that has helped to build the majorities that we have now, the Republican majorities. And the liberal side does not have the same infrastructure, does not have the level of discipline that goes from the elected officials all the way down.
Some evangelical organizations, like the National Association of Evangelicals, for example, are trying to expand Christian politics into more centrist and liberal directions. Do you think they will be successful?
PM: I think that some of what that reflects is that there is a real distinction between the political leadership of the Religious Right groups and their constituencies. The leaders are trying to elect certain people and build their own political power. I think that is very different than the people in the pews and in lot of these churches. I think a lot of these churches and people in the pews are not monolithically conservative and some of them I think are probably fed up with hearing so much politics in their churches. I just got a little taste of that. I attended part of the War on Christians Conference, which happened at the beginning of last week. And several of the speakers, even talking to their own serious activists, they said “I know a lot of you here think we should not be talking so much about politics and we should be focusing more on the gospel, but we need to do this.” I thought it was interesting that several speakers said that, meant that they are hearing within the evangelical community that there is a danger to trying to see Christianity and evangelical Christianity so close to tied with right-wing politicians and a right-wing political agenda. And we see now other more progressive evangelical Christians trying to build a cross-set divide on issues like poverty too. I think that there are some interesting developments.
What are the weaknesses of the current religious right movement?
PM: Well, if you look at the polling in this country, year after year the polls continue to show that more people accept that gay people should have the same legal rights and do not support legalize discrimination. And so, I think that is a long term weakness for them, that even while they have built a lot of political power they have not at all these issues won the minds and hearts of the American public. Part of why they still win victories, they choose marriage to make these fights on. A lot of people who support anti-discrimination laws think that gay people should have the same job and housing rights, but they are not sure about marriage. Because that is a kind of that religious questions, that is the piece of their territory. They try to make all the discussion of gay rights be around marriage, to make it sound like your church is forced by the government to marry people that your religion doesn’t want to. Even though that is very untrue, that is how they defined it. But I think that that is one of their long term weaknesses, that they are kind of losing some of the hearts and minds on that.
Do you think the religious right is here to stay? Or will evangelical involvement in politics diminish with time? You mentioned this conference with all those people from the Religious Right lamenting the emphasis on politics.
PM: I think there are people who feel this way. Maybe some ministers who feel that way, but as a political movement, I just can not see the Religious Right is going to go away. They are embedded in the political structure of the country and the Republican Party, and whether this awakening is still growing or the enthusiasm is helping enough, I think is too early to tell that. I think it will be interesting to see, if the movement’s been out there in the recent years of religious liberals and progressive religious voices are able to sort of assert more directly their view of Christianity, which leads to very different politics. There has been an effort to do that, to sort of bring more explicit liberal, explicit Christian voices into the public debate. That may, if it is successful, would temper the power and the consequences of the Right. But I do not see it driving them out in the public arena. I mean think there is going to be a substantial core minority of the electorate that is motivated by that for the foreseeable future, but it is hard to predict. The three issues that as long as I can remember have most motivated them, and they are related, one is abortion, one is the visibility of gay people and gay rights, and one is the separation of church and state and how much visibility. None of those are going away, and if Roe v. Wade is overturned that does not mean that they are done. Then it is going to be battles in every state, huge cataclysmic battles in state legislatures around the country. The fact that the gay rights battles are not going away, and neither is the church-state separation issue. And this country is becoming much more diverse religiously than it used to be. All around the country there are increasingly large communities of Muslims and Hindus, not just in the big cities, but in the South and all over the place. A lot of people in the Religious Right see that as a real threat, and so asserting this is a Christian nation, I think that impulse is becoming stronger for them not weaker.
Religious conservatives have suggested that the Democratic party is anti-Christian. How successful has that campaign been?
PM: You’re right, I think one of the things that the Religious Right has done, one of their most effective ways at mobilizing their base is to tell people over and over again that they are being persecuted. That the liberal institutions, the government, and the Democratic Party, 'they want to destroy your church, they want to take away your religious liberty'. The whole “War on Christians” thing, I mean it is really offensive in some ways, if you look around the world and see people who face real persecution for their religious beliefs. To imagine that evangelical Christians in this country, who now are in power mostly, that they are claiming that they are persecuted: I find it very offensive but it’s just an organizing strategy. Part of that is convincing people that the Democratic Party hates religion; that groups like us, who defend separation of church and state, are hostile to religion. They have been more successful on that than they should have been. Part of the problem is that a lot of Democrats and progressives are uncomfortable talking about faith. They are not as comfortable as the Right in saying this is what the Bible says so that is what we should do. This has left the impression in the public arena that you have religious voices on the one side and non-religious voices on the other, and that is devastating politically because most Americans are religious. Therefore most Americans in the middle who are not strongly committed one way or the other, if they think that, 'well I am religious I have to be in this party'. They are going to pick up a lot of bucks this way. I think it is important that progressive politicians who are people of faith are comfortable talking about that. Religious leaders of progressives have to be more out there, I mean our great social justice movements have often been lead by religious people. The Civil Rights Movement and pretty much every big social justice movement have had progressive religious people in their lead. Resurrecting that tradition I think is important.
Do you think that the next Democratic presidential candidate will have to appeal to conservative Christians in order to be elected?
PM: I do think it has to be someone who can deal authentically with the religion issue and with the values issue. It does not mean that they have to wear their religion on their sleeve like George Bush does, but they have to be someone who can make people think that he is comfortable talking about it, whatever he is, that he understands and respects their faith, and the role of the faith in their life. Some of the Democratic leaders are not comfortable with that and they have been very clumsy at it. I think that is probably more important than someone who shifts to the right.
What is your position on faith-based initiatives?
PM: I think that religious institutions across the political spectrum do good work. It is grounded in their faith and what people see as their religious obligations and there is a tremendous amount of good work that is done by Christian organizations on the right and left: feeding the hungry, dealing with people who would be otherwise forgotten in our society. I think the prison ministries that Chuck Colson does, I do not know a lot of the details of that work, but I would say a lot of this is really good work. Now that Colson acts as a political figure, very separately from the work that he does to average the ministries, supporting a range of right-wing politics. Again, you have to separate the leader and the leader's political agenda from some of that work he and the people who support him carry out. I think it is definitely not true, everything is not political. It is a lot of good work that is done by people of faith all across the political spectrum that it is not about politics, it is about humanity. Human, compassionate work and that is good work. I think that are two different things that we are talking about. But, I think, when we are talking around the faith-based initiatives, and we are really talking about federal money flowing into these. For us the real issue around that is whether we are going to be using tax dollars for organizations that require people to adopt a certain religious faith, a religious practice for part of their treatment. We think that is counter to our understanding of the Constitution. Whether people can take tax dollars and discriminate on the basis of religion and in how they run their programs. We do not think they should be able to. Again, not that we would stop them from running their program, they were certainly free to run their program, and there are religious organizations that have taken federal money to do good work. People like Catholic charities and others, who managed to operate with federal funds in a way that does not require federal funding of the religious proselytizing and the religious practice.
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