Why Evangelicals Will Vote (It's Not What You Think)

Tony Perkins is President of Family Research Council. This article appeared in Real Clear Politics on October 25, 2018.

When the stunned political class woke up to a world in which Donald Trump was president, plans began almost immediately over what they would do when they held power again. Even civility and basic human decency could wait until left-leaning leaders gained control of the country, opined Hillary Clinton. This culture clash was on full display during the confirmation process of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh, but those saying that the Supreme Court controversy is the lever motivating the electorate in the midterms are missing the bigger picture.

The issues that animated some of Trump’s most dedicated voters leading to the 2016 presidential upset, which were under the radar of the pollsters and politicians, still motivate them today. More than any other issue, I believe Americans’ concerns over religious liberty and our basic First Amendment freedoms continue to drive passionate voters to the polls. This is because people have come to understand that some want to transform this country from a nation with limited governmental powers founded on rights given by their Creator to a nation in which elites have absolute power and get to decide how the rest of us must live.

On my radio show “Washington Watch,” I talked with Sen. Ted Cruz the day after Justice Kavanaugh’s White House swearing-in about this fundamental shift. He observed that the left has given up trying to persuade people and instead has devolved to using “brute power.”

Attempts at mob rule can be seen as senators and administration officials are chased into elevators by highly paid protesters or harangued in restaurants, but it goes much deeper than that. Governmental power is increasingly being applied against people of faith at work, at school, in public life.

Case in point: The broken down health care law, Obamacare, has many flaws, but chief among them was an attempt to force people of faith to purchase products and fund deadly drugs against their consciences. The abortion lobby moved from “choice to coercion,” using the blunt instrument of the law rather than the consent of the governed to get what it wanted. The left refused to extend conscience-rights protections even to nuns, and ordinary people were forced to defend themselves.

You can see the shift in lawsuits against Buffalo, N.Y., Catholic Charities, which for years has worked to find children loving homes through adoption, but was forced to stop when the agency wanted to follow the thousands-of-years tradition of placing children in stable homes headed by a mother and a father. Nothing stopped secular forces from utilizing adoption agencies they preferred, but instead, faith-based services were under fire for differing in their belief about family.

You can see prejudice against people of faith in the repeated lawsuits against a cake baker who believes marriage is a holy union between a man and a woman (can the left really only find one cake baker in Colorado?) and in court cases against high schools where faith and football meet on the field or in sneering accusations against people applying for higher office.

Last year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein launched a “thinly veiled attack” against the faith of 7th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Amy Coney Barrett, who as a law professor at the University of Notre Dame had written and talked about religion in public life.

“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein said.

I wonder if the senator remembers that America’s founders wanted to escape laws that allowed discrimination against people if their faith differed from that of their rulers. It is a dangerous precedent if we communicate to our citizens that today faith disqualifies them from public service. Good thing no one told that to Mother Teresa.

Bullies who use their influence to discriminate against people who think differently from them populate too many institutions. Consider the controversies in Silicon Valley where employees at companies like Google fear reprisals if they express conservative views or the CEO at Mozilla lost his job for quietly supporting traditional marriage with a campaign contribution years earlier.

Expressing one’s faith in such settings is treated like an offense committed by the “bitter” who “cling to guns or religion.” In other settings, faith is treated as a joke.

At this year’s Emmy Awards, “Saturday Night Live’s” Michael Che explained that his mother would not be watching the show “because you guys don’t thank Jesus enough. That’s true. The only white people that thank Jesus are Republicans and ex-crackheads." My many Democratic friends would disagree, but that’s beside the point.

In the face of rampant disrespect for religious differences, is it any wonder that people of faith turn out in droves in one of the few places where the left can’t easily put its finger on the scales -- the ballot box?

Evangelicals, especially the subset that George Barna calls SAGE Cons — Spiritually Active Governmentally Engaged Conservatives – made their voices heard in the last election. Ninety-one percent of SAGE Cons -- 20 million U.S. adults -- voted, and 94 percent of them voted for Donald Trump.

And while President Trump and his team have delivered on many promises to people of faith at home and abroad, I believe the ongoing attacks against religious liberty and the faithful will motivate voters in the midterms.

In the first annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, Vice President Mike Pence addressed representatives of more than 80 nations on religious discrimination worldwide, explaining why it is important to defend religious freedom. Pence said: “The right to believe or not believe is the most fundamental of freedoms.  When religious liberty is denied or destroyed, we know that other freedoms — freedom of speech, of press, assembly, and even democratic institutions themselves — are imperiled.”

He’s right. In defense of religious freedom, people of faith will pray, vote and stand for founding principles in the midterms because elections are one of the few places left where our voices can’t be silenced. We can do all three in the ballot box.