Ralph Reed Redux

Controversial Former Christian Coalition Leader Struggles To Build A ‘Faith & Freedom’ Group To Wage War on Church-State Separation

According to Jim Garlow, secularism is America’s number one enemy.

The senior pastor of San Diego’s Skyline Church laid it out in a speech he gave before a group of Religious Right activists gathered in Washington, D.C., Sept. 10-11.

“Godlessness has created havoc in our culture,” Garlow said. “If we didn’t face secularism, we wouldn’t have babies being ripped up in the womb. If it wasn’t for secularism, we wouldn’t have the definition of marriage being destroyed… We wouldn’t have oppressive taxation if it wasn’t for secularism. We wouldn’t have debt so excessive that we are literally stealing, it’s a form of theft, from generations yet unborn if it wasn’t for secularism.”

Garlow, who led the way for California’s anti-gay marriage amendment, Proposition 8, to appear on the ballot in 2008, continued to rile up the crowd by identifying America’s second enemy: Islam.

“We are all deeply aware of the threat of Islam to everything that we value and hold dear,” he said. “We have the issue of sharia law – can Muslims, in fact, function within the framework of the U.S. Constitution once they reach a big enough population?”

Garlow, a Newt Gingrich associate, continued, “How do we know which mosques are peaceful and which are terrorist groups?”

The fiery preacher was just one of many speakers to appear at the first-ever Faith & Freedom Coalition Conference and Strategy Briefing. The event, put on by the recently resurfaced Ralph Reed, was held at the Mayflower Hotel in the nation’s capital, where speaker after speaker attacked church-state separation and attempted to use scare tactics and outright lies to inspire fundamentalist Christians to get out the vote this November.

“The Judeo-Christian heritage of our Constitution and our culture and our people is under attack!” warned former Ohio politician Ken Blackwell, who challenged the audience to “put your candle on a candlestick, not under a bushel, and raise it high and say ‘our God lives!’”

The conference came just before the annual “Values Voter Summit” – an event sponsored by the Family Research Council (FRC) and its allies – but drew a significantly smaller crowd of about 200. The briefing attracted some big-name speakers, however, most likely because of the relationship many have with Reed, the former executive director of the now-struggling Christian Coalition.

Reed launched the Faith & Freedom Coalition just weeks after the November 2008 election. Recognizing that conservatives “were taken to school” by the Obama campaign’s use of technology, he said his fledgling grassroots organization will use the Web to mobilize a new generation of values voters.

According to Reed, this conference was not just meant to be an inspirational tool but also to serve as a training ground to get down the “nuts and bolts of turning out the vote” by using “every technology in our disposal.”

He boasted to the conference crowd that the Faith & Freedom Coalition adds 1,000 members every day and now includes 400,000 people across the country. He said the person “that deserves the bulk of the credit for that is Barack Obama.”

Vowed Reed, “We are going to have the most ambitious get-out-the-vote effort that any pro-family group has had ever.” He promised that within the next 10 years, he will build an organization of 3 million member activists, 2,500 chapters, 1 million volunteers and a voter database of 10 million registered, conservative, pro-life voters.

It’s an ambitious plan for a man who despite his choirboy looks has been embroiled in scandal and controversy throughout the years.

While still in his 20s, Reed was tapped in 1989 by TV preacher Pat Robertson to lead the Christian Coalition. Soon after he began his career, he took a large Republican Senatorial Committee donation to produce allegedly “non-partisan”– but, in fact, clearly stacked – voter guides on behalf of the 1990 re-election effort of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). His actions set a partisan pattern that led the IRS to deny the Christian Coalition tax-exempt status in 1999.

As the Coalition’s influence started to dwindle in the late 1990s, Reed jumped ship and started a new career as a political consultant and lobbyist, where he began working with his good friend and lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

With Abramoff, Reed led clueless evangelical Christians into a morality-based campaign against new Indian casinos, even though Reed knew the drive was being paid for by existing Indian casinos that didn’t want competition. Reed was richly paid for his work.

And Reed even lobbied against legal protections for Chinese immigrants in the U.S.-owned Mariana Islands, where workers were being forced to have abortions and dragooned into sex slavery. He sent out a mailer that said the new laws would prevent Chinese workers from coming to the Marianas where they are being “exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

Yet after all this, Reed still has his supporters – possibly because he is believed to have been successful in the past at bringing people to the polls. In 2004, working with the Republican Party, Reed helped President George W. Bush secure a record 79 percent of the white evangelical vote.

But U.S. Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, which came after the demise of the Christian Coalition, lacked a similar result. Reed hopes the Faith & Freedom Coalition solves this problem. 

“I believed that something needed to be done,” Reed said, describing how he felt after the 2008 election. “But I was very reluctant to take it up because I knew I had come up short and failed in many ways. I knew that I was not the ideal person to lead such a movement.

“As I prayed about it,” Reed continued, “I thought about what I can do. I’m not ready to give up on America. Then I realized that God is not looking for perfect people, because there has only been one perfect person in the history of the human race. God is looking for broken people and repentant people. He is looking for humble and contrite people.”

It was soon after this realization, Reed claimed, that Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity called him and begged him to get involved.

“I told him, ‘I’m doing this for the Lord, and that’s the only reason why I’m doing it,’” Reed recalled.

The Faith & Freedom Coalition, which is registered as a 501(c)(4) non-profit, is headquartered in the offices of Reed’s consulting firm, Century Strategies, near Atlanta. It plans to launch state and local chapters, just like the Christian Coalition, but will also explore “virtual chapters” that operate only online.

“The Internet’s first wave was the e-mail, and the next wave was social networking, which Obama perfected,” Reed said. “There’s going to be a third wave, which we’re still developing.”

Reed has promised that his new pet project is “not your daddy’s Christian Coalition.” Prior to the conference, he said, “It’s got to be more brown, more black, more female, and younger. There’s a whole rising generation of young leaders in the faith community, and rather than nab the publicity I did at Christian Coalition, I want to cultivate and rein that rising generation.”

Yet almost all conference attendees were white and middle-aged or older. And there was hardly any talk about technology. Only 10 people attended the session on “Social Networking.”

The crowd cheered when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich challenged them to go back home and get their local school boards to teach the Declaration of Independence and “insist that we have the right to explain what the word ‘Creator’ means.”

And Southern Baptist lobbyist Richard Land won audience plaudits when he declared that their “religious freedom is under dire threat.” He cited the recent federal court ruling overturning Proposition 8 as an example of how the “rights of gays, lesbian, bisexual, transgender must always prevail and the religious rights give way.”

In addition to Garlow, Blackwell, Gingrich and Land, other speakers included: U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), right-wing Catholic activist Deal Hudson, Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, anti-tax leader Grover Norquist, Bush-era political strategist Karl Rove, FRC President Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer of American Values and media figure Tucker Carlson.

At the conclusion of the conference, which ended with a banquet and remarks by former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa,), Reed asked the crowd, “Would you like to make this an annual event?” The audience clapped and cheered loudly. Reveling from the enthusiasm, Reed promised that he would charge more per ticket next year.

But Barry W. Lynn, AU’s executive director, said Reed shouldn’t hold his breath. Lynn said it’s hard to take Reed seriously, if only for the fact that he only drew 200 people to his conference while claiming to have 400,000 members. 

“Reed is gambling that evangelicals are willing to forgive his past sins,” said Lynn, “but I sure wouldn’t bet on that.”