Ohio Religious Right: 'Welcome to Our World'

Basking in the glow of the sweeping passage of Ohio's Issue 1 last fall, Citizens for Community Values President Phil Burress boasted to The New York Times that his religious-based political movemen

Basking in the glow of the sweeping passage of Ohio's Issue 1 last fall, Citizens for Community Values President Phil Burress boasted to The New York Times that his religious-based political movement was just starting.

"I'm building an army," Burress told the paper in a Nov. 26, 2004, story. "We can't just let people go back to the pews and go to sleep."

The Times described Burress' plans to take his statewide grassroots movement to a new level "using a computer database of 1.5 million voters to build a network of Christian conservative officials, candidates and political advocates. He envisions holding town-hall-style meetings early next year in Ohio's 88 counties to identify issues, recruit organizers and train volunteers. With a cadre of 15 to 20 leaders in each county, he says he believes religious conservatives can be running school boards, town councils and county prosecutors' offices across the state within a few years."

Next year is here, and wishful thinking has turned into political organizing for the religious right in Ohio. Check out the game plan at ohiorestorationproject.com:

· Ohio Restoration Project will "create, fund and operate a public information program for pastors and the Christian community" by focusing on key "family" issues such as marriage, right to life, educational choice, taxes and employment; by mobilizing 2,000 "Patriot Pastors" to "equip the Christian community to be engaged in the 2006 elections;" and by increasing "values voter" turnout from 22 percent to 35 percent in 2006.

· Each Patriot Pastor will provide 100 "intercessors" who can join in an Ohio network of "e-prayer" to pray at a moment's notice, recruit 200 volunteers to "make a difference in their congressional district" and register at least 300 new voters "able to shine a light for Godly candidates in the 2006 election cycle."

· When it's all said and done, the organization seeks to register up to 600,000 new "values voters" in Ohio to impact the 2006 elections, which of course will include the open governor's seat and Mike DeWine's U.S. Senate seat as well as congressional seats, the state legislature and various statewide offices.

· These Patriot Pastors and 30,000 other supporters will gather at an "Ohio for Jesus Rally" at Nationwide Arena in Columbus in early 2006 to kick off the official campaign to win these races. Among the scheduled featured speakers will be Burress and Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, whom this organization would love to see become Ohio's next governor.

Just what kind of Ohio is the Ohio Restoration Project plotting to restore? Here are the movement's core issues:

· Cultivating a "culture of life" in Ohio, with no details about what this actually means. Though with the Terri Schiavo situation having sparked Republicans in the state legislature to consider new laws regarding citizens' end-of-life decisions, it's easy to see the religious right's traditional anti-abortion platform morphing into more invasive and insidious positions.

· State government "should encourage strong marriages," although again there are no details as to what this means in practical terms. Having slammed the door on gay marriage in Ohio via Issue 1, there's not much else the religious right can do with this concept beyond gloat — unless, again, more invasive and insidious ideas are coming down the track such as criminalizing divorce and adultery (which the twice-divorced Burress seemingly would have a hard time justifying).

· Promote widespread use of vouchers to pay for students to attend religious elementary and high schools. To me, this issue gets to the heart of what Ohio Restoration Project is all about — controlling the future of society by controlling who teaches our children and what they're taught.

"For far too long educational bureaucrats and the elitist unions have dictated public policy in the classroom," the Web site argues. "It's time to again make children the focus of our efforts and engage children, parents and teachers in a covenant of trust. The end results could change a generation. School choice for parents is fair, equitable. 'My child, my taxes, to the school of our choice.' If parents decide to take their children where they can learn of their Creator, read from the Bible and pray, that should be their prerogative. If some parents chose a secular system that provides a revisionist version of history, excludes the evidences against creation and discriminates against taxpayers of faith, that should be their prerogative."

The godless, depraved system being skewered, of course, is the longstanding American tradition of public education, which once again serves as the right wing's punching bag for all that's evil in the U.S. Apparently in every community it's run by godless, depraved elected school board officials and elitist teachers who dole out "revisionist" history lessons.

And so Burress and his devotees seem to be devising a two-prong attack on public schools, starving local systems of students (and resources) by diverting kids to private religious schools and running right-wingers for school board seats in order, I suppose, to introduce Christianity to the system's few remaining lost souls.

And I don't know what kind of public school system this organization is talking about, since as the parent of a child in Cincinnati Public Schools I have lots of opportunities to interact with and influence the folks who teach my daughter, from helping design our new school building to serving on the committee that spends CPS budget dollars on our school's daily needs.

Maybe if right-wingers didn't spend their free time praying so much, they'd get off their knees and attend a parent/teacher conference or join a local school decision-making committee.

I also have to say I'm extremely concerned that the wife of the man these right-wingers are counting on to put their ideas into practice as governor, Ken Blackwell, currently serves as interim superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools. Either Rosa Blackwell is a Trojan horse for the religious right, situated to help destroy the system from within, or she repudiates her husband's connection to the Ohio Restoration Project. I guess we'll see.

· Tax reform would push the state "to tighten its belt and control spending," with some general talk of eliminating waste, encouraging better stewardship and accountability and providing tax breaks for corporations and companies that invest in their communities. Basic Republican Party positions here.

· And medical reform could turn Ohio into "a destination place for multitudes of people who need quality health care" and "a safe place for good doctors to use their healing talents." What this is all about is tort reform, which the organization would like to see limit citizens' noneconomic lawsuit damages to $250,000; require all malpractice lawsuits go before a panel of legal, medical and hospital professionals to determine if the case has merit; limit attorney fees in such lawsuits; and ask doctors to police their ranks to "eventually" revoke the licenses of incompetent repeat offenders. Again, boilerplate GOP positions.

And so the Ohio Restoration Project swarms out of Greater Cincinnati behind Burress' religious rhetoric with the goal of pushing Blackwell and other right-wing candidates to higher office. Aren't you proud?

But before Blackwell starts planning his inauguration, he ought to remember that Burress expects total subjugation to his doctrine.

"I'm not an R or a D," Burress told The Times when describing his disappointment at certain Republican officeholders (like DeWine and Attorney General Jim Petro, Blackwell's foe in the race for governor) he called "enablers of the homosexual agenda." "Both parties are driven by selfishness. They are run by people who are Republican or Democrat because it benefits them or their jobs. Our movement will be built on passion, on values, on fire-in-the-belly morals."

And how's this for churning up fire in the belly? The Ohio Restoration Project's overall slogan is: "America Has a Mission to Share a Living Savior With a Dying World."

That gets me pretty excited about working for a better future for my children and grandchildren! How about you?

Religious right leaders in Ohio clearly see a dying world that needs a living savior to rescue it. One way to create a dying world is to kill it.

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