Narration: While abortion is often cited as the reason evangelical Christians became politically active in the 1970s…
ARCHIVAL (With God on Our Side, 2004):
PROTESTERS: Unborn babies who by the hundreds…
Narration: …historian Randall Balmer points to another important moment. One that started with the conservative political strategist named Paul Weyrich.
ARCHIVAL (BILL MOYERS, 1980):
PAUL WEYRICH: We will truly see a moral majority in America.
RANDAL BALMER (PROFESSOR OF RELIGION, DARTMOUTH COLLEGE): Weyrich had been trying to mobilize evangelical voters and has said in many occasions, including to me personally, he said, “I tried everything to get them involved in politics. I tried the abortion issue. I tried the women’s rights issue. I tried pornography. Nothing got their attention. That is the attention of evangelical leaders until the IRS began to pursue the tax exemption of racially segregated schools.”
NARRATION: Many of those schools were private Christian schools created as a response to integration and some schools and colleges still barred black students or interracial dating. After courts ruled that schools that discriminate weren’t entitled to tax exemptions, the IRS began to investigate.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 12-5-78):
The Internal Revenue Service proposed to make private schools prove they are not practicing racial discrimination or lose their tax-exempt status.
RANDAL BALMER: It was only then, according to Weyrich, that evangelicals became interested in mobilizing politically.
NARRATION: The schools called the IRS rules too broad and said they interfered with religious autonomy.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 12-5-78):
WALTER CRONKITE: The Internal Revenue Service has begun hearings in Washington.
NEWS REPORT: Religious and conservative groups had been mobilized to the point where 200 speakers demanded to be heard.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, IRS CONGRESSIONAL HEARING, 12-5-78):
JUNE GRIFFIN: These men do not have the rightful authority to tell us how to run our schools, our homes and our churches.
RANDAL BALMER: That got the attention of people like Jerry Falwell and others and they used that as a catalyst for their political activism in the late 1970s.