The First Amendment to the Constitution specifies that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Church and state are explicitly separated in the United States; but the government freely invokes the name of God in most of its enterprises. Our currency bears the motto “In God We Trust,” both houses of Congress employ full-time chaplains, and (despite occasional protests) the Pledge of Allegiance most of us grew up reciting at the start of each school day describes the United States as “one nation, under God. “ While many Americans shake their heads over their perception that religious worship has somehow gone out of fashion in America, most opinion polls agree that approximately 96 percent of the population believes in God. A 1993 survey was able to turn up fewer than one million Americans willing to identify themselves as atheists-out of a total U.S. population, according to the 1990 census, of 248,709,873.
The rise of the so-called Christian Right—religiously motivated conservatism-should surprise no one, though it has worried many, who see in overt unions of religious faith and politics a threat to First Amendment freedoms. At present, the most significant political manifestation of the Christian Right is the powerful lobbying group called the Christian Coalition, which was spun off of the unsuccessful 1988 presidential campaign of religious broadcaster Pat Robertson (b. 1930). Based in Washington, D.C., the coalition boasts a membership of 1.6 million and has claimed responsibility for the Republican sweep of the Congress during the midterm elections of 1994. In 1995, the organization spent more than a million dollars mobilizing its “born-again” evangelicals behind the conservative “Contract with America” promulgated by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. While some people have welcomed what they see as a return of morality to American political life, others see the Christian Right as narrow, coercive, and intolerant.