The Republicans and Social Conservatives: Is This Marriage Still Strong?

February 14, 2011

In my year-end fundraising letter for CFI, I expressed my concern over the results of the November elections in the United States.  I observed that the elections would likely re-energize social conservatives and we could expect a renewed effort to achieve goals dear to their hearts, such as restrictions on abortion and stem-cell research. 

Interestingly, I received about a half-dozen replies from CFI supporters who also identified themselves as supporters of the Tea Party movement.  They all criticized me for misreading the results of the elections.  They claimed the results primarily reflected a desire for fiscally responsible and limited government.  Furthermore, they maintained that not all Tea Party adherents are social conservatives. 

That last statement is undoubtedly accurate.  There is a libertarian component in the Tea Party movement.  But how strong it is remains unclear.  Moreover, it is unclear how much influence these libertarians will have on the Republican Party’s agenda, which, sadly, appears to remain rigidly aligned with the goals of social conservatives. 

Evidence of the continuing dominance of social conservatives within the Republican Party emerged this past week.  Despite all the talk about the need to focus on spending, just a few weeks into this congressional session, Republicans began pushing for various restrictions on abortion . One piece of proposed legislation removes the tax benefits from employers whose health plans provide coverage for abortion. It seems like the Republican Party’s eagerness to control women’s reproduction trumps its traditional deference to business decisions. 

In fairness, though, there was one recent development that indicated some libertarians in the Republican Party may actually be willing to break ranks with Republican Party leadership on key issues. Last week, 26 Republicans in the House, including some newly elected Tea Party supporters, joined 122 Democrats to vote against extension of the Patriot Act—temporarily delaying its reenactment. They are troubled by several of the Act’s provisions, including a provision that authorizes government access to the library and bookstore records of anyone deemed suspect. I applaud the actions of these Republicans; they have shown they understand that the call for limited government should not be reduced to a simple demand for a government that spends less. Our civil liberties should be at least as important as our purses.

But in the long run, this willingness by a few to break ranks with the House leadership, although commendable, may mean little. The overwhelming majority of Republicans appear content with the pact they made with social conservatives three decades ago. For them, fetuses and wiretaps have priority— and “limited government” merely implies that we should save a few dollars and buy our surveillance equipment from China.


#1 Valerie Eisman (Guest) on Monday February 14, 2011 at 8:22am

More importantly the Tea Party is pushing within the Republican Party to cut PBS which is the leading science television and educational station in our country.  Never mind the bloated defense budget which Obama himself raised last year by 8% and is now pretending that the cuts made are significant.

This country cannot afford to lose the only popular scientific voice of credilibty in the entire nation which has warned us against widespread species extinction and global warming now for almost a decade.

What we can afford to lose are unnecessary weapons research for more advanced space weapons system, old military bases in Japana and around the world, and a continued and failing war in Afghanistan.  But they don’t want to touch the profits inherent in the perptual warfare economy so they attack science and education (cutting back Pell Grants).

This country will never go forward without sustaining college grants for our next generation of science and engineers.  We are already losing many of our nation’s scientists who are moving abroad. 

Why is there no article yet by CFI on these most critical issues?

#2 Max (Guest) on Monday February 14, 2011 at 9:40am

Is this CFI or ACLU?

#3 dogon on Monday February 14, 2011 at 10:03am

I can take the commentary as being that of an individual and not the position taken by CFI, but I fear every possibility that opinion may be taken for position. 

Although there may be social conservatives in the membership of CFI, it must be that they don’t make themselves known to any degree.  I would like to hear their opinions as well.

#4 Max (Guest) on Monday February 14, 2011 at 10:35am

If I’m against legalizing drugs and prostitution, or selling porn to kids, or amnesty for illegal aliens, or letting neo-Nazis march through a Jewish neighborhood, then what, I can’t be a free-thinking humanist?

#5 Naikaidiver on Tuesday February 15, 2011 at 7:37am

The whole concept behind the term, “Free Thinking” allows (and encourages) people to think for themselves and make up their own mind concerning issues that they care about.  Judging from your sarcasm, you understand this concept well.

We all have our own personal opinions when it comes to policy.  The only constant in the equation is that not everyone agrees.  The hard part is accepting this constant and not letting it get in the way of forward progress through compromise.  While it may be impossible to make everyone happy, it certainly is possible to hear everyone.

[ I acknowledge that while listening to myself I often sound “out of touch” and “overly idiolistic” but I assure you that is not the case. ]

#6 Ronald A. Lindsay on Friday February 18, 2011 at 11:45am

Thanks to everyone for their comments.

@max and dogon: There is no such thing as a heresy test for secular humanists. We don’t have a creed (except perhaps that there should be no creed). So on any one issue you’re likely to find some disagreement among humanists. For example, there are some humanists who believe abortion is immoral. Bob Price, who is one of the hosts for Point of Inquiry, has such a view (although he doesn’t believe abortion should be illegal). Because CFI is firmly committed to the principle of free inquiry, we encourage frank and open discussion on all issues.

That said, respect for minority views within the humanist movement cannot preclude CFI, as an organization, from taking a stand on matters of public policy that we believe are important. On a few selected issues, such as the legality of abortion, same-sex marriage, and the funding of stem cell research, CFI has adopted an official position. Doing so only means, however, that we will use our resources to advocate for public policy consistent with that position, not that we will “expel” anyone who disagrees with that position.

@Valerie CFI, through its affiliate’s magazine, Skeptical Inquirer, has published articles on the importance of science education. A couple of years ago, we also lobbied for an increase in Pell grants. Whether w e should undertake additional action in connection with current debates on the federal budget is something we are considering.

#7 Val Esman (Guest) on Friday February 18, 2011 at 11:59am

CFI seems to be dealing with all the minor matters (homeopathic medicine) and none of the major ones like Planned Parenthood and PBS which are both in the process of being chopped out of the federal budget.

I received an email nationally from CFI about Darwins Day, a symbolic act, but nothing about PBS which represents real science, not symbolism.  Same goes for Planned Parenthood which enables poor women to obtain contraception and abortion.

While the Republicans proceed to wipe out in practically one session many of the gains of the last 5 decades, CFI is silent because it’s trapped by it’s own ideological stance (while decrying ideology) that it’s religion primarily oppressing us and not dogma (that of the Republican party of small government, anti-abortion, etc.)

CFI is a throwback to the 1980’s.  It fails to comprehend or act on the major issues of our time.  While its speakers and members sit around debating evolution with religious folks, the Republican Party is on a rampage against social progress in this country. This organization is diverting people off into silly and nonproductive deadends.  It deliberately is ignoring all the major issues of the hour. As such, it’s become useless to real people and irrelevant.

#8 Max (Guest) on Saturday February 19, 2011 at 4:06pm

That’s right, Bob Price doesn’t draw a line between abortion and infanticide, which means he believes abortion is murder.
If I believed that abortion is murder, I would want to outlaw it in all cases other than to save a life, and I wouldn’t want to be a member of an organization that advocates for keeping murder legal.


Is it just me, or did your name get shorter?

PBS science programs are nice, but the federal government doesn’t really need to be in that business, competing with private companies. You could argue that it’s an “investment in education,” but PBS doesn’t just teach science. It also covers politics with a decidedly left-wing bias, which shouldn’t be subsidized by all Americans. Would you want PBS to receive federal subsidies if it had a right-wing bias like Fox News?

#9 Val Esman (Guest) on Saturday February 19, 2011 at 5:02pm

Actually for all those “leftwing programs” PBS has been forced to add “rightwing” programs like the recent program on Reagan’s 100th birthday.

And I guess to folks you truth and independent reporting does look decidedly “leftwing” when it doesn’t come foaming and ranting at the mouth a la Faux News commentators.

And now that many commercial news stations are dropping foreign news altogether, PBS is one of the few places where we can get foreign news coverage.  But I suppose in your book covering foreign movements that are for democracy and sometimes anti-American, that’s a leftwing conspiracy too.

#10 Max (Guest) on Saturday February 19, 2011 at 8:36pm


So the federal government should subsidize television programs you want to watch, whose ratings are too low for commercial channels.
What if I like to watch grass grow and paint dry? Should the federal government subsidize that?
I can understand subsidizing something like C-SPAN, which provides live coverage of Congress and public events, yet C-SPAN receives no government funding. And it has been accused of having a conservative bias.

#11 Max (Guest) on Sunday February 20, 2011 at 2:09pm


Where’d you get that Obama raised the defense budget by 8% last year?
The DOD budget was raised by less than 2.5% if you count the war supplements. The base budget was reduced.

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