Religion, and particularly the Catholic Church, was at the center of the emergence and initial mobilization of the pro-life movement in the United States. The movement originated in Catholic opposition to the liberalization of abortion law beginning in the 1950s, and accelerated rapidly after 1973 when abortion was legalized nationwide by the Supreme Court. Protestants began entering the movement in large numbers beginning in the 1980s, which corresponded with a peak in the amount of antiabortion street protest (and violence). All forms of pro-life protest—educational outreach to influence public opinion, political and legal involvement to influence the legal status of abortion, the development of crisis pregnancy centers to persuade individual pregnant women to carry their pregnancies to term, and direct action against abortion providers—have their roots in this formative period of movement mobilization, and all have continued to be important elements of the movement over the last half century. All these forms of protest activity include a religious component. They involve activists of deep religious faith, motivated by religious ideas, using religious principles in arguments about abortion, and depending on the leadership and resources of religious organizations. But the role of religion in the movement is sometimes overstated. Religion has not been the sole source of support for the movement. Pro-life protest has always included activists and organizations that are partially or wholly outside these strands of religious influence. Religion has also been a frequent source of tension and conflict in the movement, in addition to being a source of support. And the relationship between religion and the movement in recent decades does not distinguish it from the underlying partisan political landscape in which it is now firmly rooted.
Christopher W. Hale
Historically, the Catholic Church in Latin America has supported conservative interests. It legitimized Spanish colonial rule and sided with traditionalist elites following Latin American independence. However, beginning in the mid-20th century, some within the Church engaged with social causes, and a new progressive theology inspired many priests and bishops to advocate politically on behalf of the poor. The resultant movement helped topple dictatorships, facilitated transitions to democracy, and developed as a result of three factors. First, liberation theology emboldened clergy to support the political causes of the poor and created an ideological frame encouraging Catholic laity to organize for social change. Furthermore, competition from new Protestant religions provided Catholic leadership with an incentive to support secular political movements and created an opportunity for political engagement through the Catholic Church. Finally, decentralization within the Church encouraged Catholic adherents to engage and develop organizational capacities at the grass-roots. Taken together, scholarly explanations emphasizing framing, opportunity, and resource mobilization create a compelling account of the development of progressive Catholic activism. Less sustained theoretical attention has been given to assessing the dynamics of conservative Latin American Catholic advocacy. The Church consistently opposes abortion, divorce, the use of contraceptives, and gay marriage. Moreover, although the Catholic Church has enabled many women’s political movements, it suppresses efforts at liberalizing reproductive rights. Future research on Catholic advocacy in Latin America should identify additional pathways through which framing, opportunity, and resource mobilization influence conservative Catholic advocacy in the region. Additionally, the Church’s relationship with environmental issues is understudied. Finally, Latin America offers untapped potential to examine the complicated relationship between ethnicity, religion, and collective action.
Pedro A. G. Dos Santos and Linsey Moddelmog
Established in 2003, the Frente Parlamentar Evangélica no Congresso Nacional (National Evangelical Front in the National Congress) unites evangelical members of the Brazilian National Congress to pursue political agendas informed by their shared religious beliefs, as opposed to traditional party affiliation or political coalition. The rise in power and influence of the Evangelical Caucus is related to the transformation of Brazilian society from centuries of Catholic dominance to an early 21st century where around one-quarter of the population identifies as evangelical. Even though this group is known for its heterogeneity, as the Evangelical Caucus continues to increase in numbers and influence, the group may be able to better influence policymaking related to morality politics and views shared among evangelical Christian voters.
Contrary to popular belief, Northern Irish politics is not an entirely religious affair. The widespread and longstanding use of the labels “Catholic” and “Protestant” to denote political allegiance undoubtedly contributes to such an impression. The relationship between religion and politics in Northern Ireland is, however, more complex than these convenient labels suggest. Indeed the question of whether and to what extent religion possesses any political significance in the region has generated considerable academic debate. Organizationally, there is a clear separation of church and party in Northern Ireland. The main political parties have eschewed formal ties with churches, and faith leaders have largely confined themselves to involvement in “small p” politics. The one exception to this general rule has been the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Its close ties with the Free Presbyterian Church has long rendered it a unique case in the British and Irish context. The historical relationship between the main unionist parties and the Orange Order, a quasi-religious organization, further blurs the lines between religion and party politics in Northern Ireland. Since the signing of the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement in 1998, alternative or non-ethnonational political issues have become increasingly salient in Northern Ireland. More specifically, touchstone moral issues have taken center stage on several occasions. Abortion rights and marriage equality, for example, remain high on the contemporary political agenda, with clear party differences observable on each issue. The staunch moral conservatism of the DUP, derived from its commitment to a fundamentalist Protestant doctrine, again sets it apart. The continued exceptionalism of Northern Ireland on these issues, compared with the rest of the United Kingdom and, increasingly, Ireland, serves to reinforce the importance of understanding the role religion plays in shaping party policy programs and party competition in the region.
There are many versions of liberalism, but it would be uncontroversial to say that they agree in placing a premium on individual liberty. As a political paradigm, liberalism is committed to protecting the freedom of persons to live and think as they choose without interference from the state, provided they do no harm to others. This fundamental commitment underlies the classical liberal arguments for religious liberty and toleration articulated by John Locke and J. S. Mill. It forms the basis for legal provisions guaranteeing freedom of religious belief, worship, and expression in liberal democratic nations, as well as the principle of non-establishment, which prohibits the state from favoring any religion or from favoring religion over nonbelief. The formulation of these two principles, religious freedom and nonestablishment, requires that the spheres of the secular and the sacred be distinguished in order to institute a particular relation between them. Questions have been raised about the validity and universality of this distinction, as well as its implications for the place of religion within political life. In contemporary political theory, the topic of public reason has been especially prominent, the point of contention being whether and how religious discourse may be allowed in political reasoning. Balancing religious freedom against other fundamental liberal rights poses another difficulty in cases where the beliefs and practices of religious individuals and communities come into conflict with general laws or compromise equality, another central liberal value. Sometimes social and political judgments about such cases seem to apply a double standard to the religious practices of certain minorities, moreover, and to reflect an element of cultural racism. This is arguably true of attitudes and decisions in Western countries regarding the hijab and other types of veils worn by Muslim women. Applying liberal principles for regulating religion in a fashion that is genuinely neutral and impartial remains a challenge. Indeed, some argue that there is no way of defining “religion” for the requisite purposes without privileging certain forms of it. If so, liberal efforts to protect religious freedom may end up enforcing varieties of religious establishment.
Conservative Christianity’s alignment with the Republican Party at the end of the 20th century is one of the most consequential political developments, both for American religion and American party politics. In the proceeding four decades, what has been the nature of this relationship? The inclusion-moderation thesis suggests that once religious movements are integrated into political parties, their interests are often co-opted by broader party interests and their positions moderate. For the Christian right in the U.S. there is mixed evidence for the inclusion-moderation process. Considering all the evidence, the most apt description is that conservative Christianity has transformed the Republican Party, and the Republican Party has transformed conservative Christianity. With its inclusion in the Republican Party, the Christian right has moderated on some aspects. The movement has become more professional, more attuned to the more widely accepted, secular styles of democratic politics, and more engaged in the broader goals and positions of the party. Conservative Christianity has also failed to fully achieve some of its most important goals and has lost some of its distinctiveness. In these ways, the party has changed the Christian right. At the same time, the Christian right has altered Republican politics. National candidates have changed their positions on important social issues, including abortion, gay rights, and religious freedom. The party’s platforms and judicially strategies have been strongly affected by movement’s interests, and conservative Christian activists have come to be central to the Republican Party. It’s stability and strength within the party have given the movement power. In these areas, the Christian right has evangelized the Republican Party rather than moderated. A fair assessment is that for the Christian right there has been partial but quite incomplete adherence to the inclusion-moderation process.