Limestone prophets: gauging the effectiveness of religious political action organizations that lobby state legislatures.

Author:Micon, Joe
Position:2007 Paul Hanly Furfey Lecture - Report
 
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The religious groups or denominations to which most Americans belong have long had an official presence in state capital buildings. Generally speaking, their purpose is to help their local congregations and central religious bodies to influence the state legislative arena achieve public policy consistent with those bodies' social and theological underpinnings.

As an elected Indiana State Representative with a special interest in the behavior of religious groups, I am aware of the various religious political action organizations that work the hallways, lobbies, and committee rooms of our state's General Assembly. During my time as an executive director of one of these religious Assembly. During my time as an executive director of one of these religious political action organizations, I searched for ways to make my organization effective in its mission and successful in its interaction with legislators. This study seeks to learn more about religious political action organizations, specifically why some seem to be more effective than others.

Kraus (2007) examined how 15 religious political action organizations in Washington, D.C. establish their policy agendas, and Olson (2002) has studied the role of clergy associated with Mainline Protestant political action organization in Washington, D.C. Both of these studies provide important information about national-level religious political action organizations; however, the only research I know of that has looked into state-level religious political action organizations is Yamane's (2005) extensive empirical study about the political advocacy of State Catholic Conferences, which is the public policy arm of the Catholic bishops at the state level.

I think we need more research on the religious groups that try to influence legislation at the state level. First, I will say a few words about Indiana's religious landscape and political climate. Then, I will describe the six religious political action organizations operating in the Indiana General Assembly. Finally, I will tell you about my research into these groups and what I have learned.

RELIGION AND POLITICS IN INDIANA

About six million people live in Indiana. According to the Association of Religion Data Archives' figure for 2000, an estimated 972,810 residents of Indiana (called "Hoosiers") are Evangelical Christians (16% of the population), 836,009 Hosiers are Roman Catholics (14%), and 723,295 are Mainline Protestants (12%). (1) According Green (2005), 12,160 Hoosiers are Jewish, just 0.20 percent of the population, and 11.069 Indiana to the Society of Friends, 0.18 percent of the population. Fifty-eight percent of Hoosiers belong to other groups or are unchurched.

Thus, for a state that is located in America's heartland, Indiana has a surprisingly large number of people who do not have ties to organized religion. I think this helps to explain why Hoosiers have a demonstrated streak of independence. Many of us don't want to be told what to do by anyone, including church leader. Those who are religious adherents are more likely to be Protestant than anything else, and they are more likely to be evangelical Protestant than mainline Protestant. This helps to explain why Hoosiers tend to be conservative on moral issues.

Political analysts would say that Indiana is a red state, since it has a long history of supporting Republican presidential candidates. In fact, the only time in recent history that it did not was when LBJ won in the landslide of 1964. True to form, 60 percent of Indiana residents voted for President Bush in 2004, but the political landscape is more complex than that. Hoosiers have supported a mixture of United States Senators over the years, from liberals, such as Vance Hartke and Birch Bayh, to conservatives like Dan Quayle and Dan Coats. Our current senators are Democrat Evan Bayh and Republican Richard Lugar. The people of Indiana also have supported a mixture of Republicans and Democrats at the gubernatorial level. Indiana had there Republican governors between 1969 and 1989 and three Democrats between 1989 and 2005. Republican Mitch Daniels won the 2005 gubernatorial race with 53 percent of the vote. Republicans control the state Senate by a 66 percent to 34 percent margin and Democrats currently hold a one seat majority in the House of Representatives, which is where I sit.

How does the religious makeup of the General Assembly compare to the religious composition of the state? According to the Indiana Chamber of Commerce's 2007 Legislative Directory (Schenkel 2007), the Senators and Representatives that make up the Indiana Legislature identify themselves as churchgoers in far greater proportions than the Hoosier population in general (see Table 1). Mainline Protestants are the most over-represented group, being 35% of the General Assembly, but only 12% of the population. Catholics and evangelical Protestant legislators are also over-represented, albeit by smaller margins. Only 16% of the members of the Indiana General Assembly are in the Other/None category, compared to 58% of the Hoosier population in general.

TABLE 1 Faith Tradition of Legislators Faith Tradition % of All % of State Legislators Population Evangelical Protestant 19 16 Roman Catholic 21 14 Mainline Protestant 35 12 Jewish 1 0.2 Friends (Peace Church) 1 0.2 African American Congregation (a) 7 n/a Other/None 16 58 Total 100 100 (a) The historically African American denominations are not included in the 2000 Association of Religious Data Archives congregation and membership totals. Like their contemporaries nationwide, Hoosier politicians take their faith identities very seriously. In the Indiana General Assembly there are weekly Bible studies sponsored by and for Indiana legislators. The issue is not whether there should be prayer in the statehouse, but what form it should take. How prayer should be spoken before each legislative session in the Indiana House Chamber is a controversy currently being litigated before the United States Court of Appeals.

SIX RELIGIOUS POLITICAL ACTION ORGANIZATIONS

There are six religious political action organizations currently registered with the Indiana Secretary of State as lobbying organizations--Advance America, the Indiana Family Institute, the Lafayette Urban Ministry, the Indiana Catholic Conference, the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Indiana Friends Service Committee. The six organizations vary in their political stances and in the issues upon which they focus their resources.

Advance America is dedicated to informing and educating the citizens of Indiana as to how their government works and what they can do to make a difference on issues of importance. The organization directly communicates with 45,000 evangelical households, 3,700 evangelical churches, and 1,500 evangelical-owned businesses throughout the state. Its priority issues during the 2007 Indiana General Assembly included support of conservative family and social values, support of non-public and home schools, and the repeal of property taxes.

The Indiana Family Institute works in association with 38 other Family Policy Councils across the nation as an associate of Focus on the Family, but the majority of its efforts center upon public policy, research, and education regarding the health and well-being of Hoosier families. It is committed to strengthening and improving the marriages and families of Hoosiers and seeks to partner with other organizations, groups, and individuals who share their mission. Its objective is two-fold. First, to preserve pro-family policy already within State Government; and second, to push for additional policies that will strengthen Indiana families. The Indiana Family Institute works with churches, lay leaders, government, groups, and organizations to promote and implement effective marriage ministry and marriage enrichment programs. During 2007, the Indiana Family Institute lobbied the Indiana General Assembly to implement a constitutional ban against gay marriage and worked against legislation requiring public schools to educate parents the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

The Lafayette Urban Ministry (LUM), a social concerns organization of 47 Lafayette Indiana churches, serves as a social safety net for low-income children and families. Its membership is mostly Mainline Protestant churches, although it has a significant minority representation of Roman Catholic and Peace Church members. The Board of Directors of the Lafayette. Urban Ministry is composed primarily of members representing the United Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and United Church of Christ congregations. While primarily an agency that provides various direct services to needy families and children, LUM has a significant public policy presence at the Indiana State House. Its major public policy goals in 2007 were to increase the state's minimum wage, increase various state tax credits for low wage workers and their families, and to strengthen the state's social safety net for low-income children and families.

The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana regarding state and national matters. Its agenda is set by Indiana's in Indiana regarding state and national matters. Its agenda is set by Indiana's Catholic Bishops. During the legislative session, the Indiana Catholic...

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