By Rev. Andrew J. Weaver, Ph.D. | 11 August 2006
Editor’s note: This article by Rev. Dr. Andrew Weaver is a ground-breaking expose of potentially historic significance. The significant Catholic backing and direction of the Washington, DC-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, and the links between key Catholic IRD leaders and the major right-wing foundations that have underwritten IRD’s budget for decades, reveals an historic effort by prominent Catholic leaders to displace the mainline churches at the center of American public life.
“There is a kind of Henry V quality about all this. ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.’ I mean, that really is true. [We are] people who have been together in a great moral cause…”
—George Weigel, describing Neoconservatives
When President George W. Bush met with religious journalists in May of 2004, the religious authority he cited most often was not a fellow United Methodist or even another Protestant. It was a man the president affectionately calls “Father Richard.” He is Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus, who, the President explained, “helps me articulate these [religious] things” (Time, 2005). A senior administration official confirmed to Time magazine that Neuhaus “‘does have a fair amount of under-the-radar influence’ on such policies as abortion, stem-cell research, cloning and the defense-of-marriage amendment” (Time, 2005).
Father Neuhaus, 69, has been a leading culture warrior in the Neoconservative camp (Berkowitz, 2003). Although his ideological positions have been challenged by fellow Catholics as inconsistent with church teachings (Cocozzelli, 2006; Commonweal, 2006; Linker, 2006), few mainline Protestants are aware of his activities or those of other influential Neocon Catholics such as Michael Novak, George Weigel, and Robert P. George. Fewer still realize that these Catholics direct a group of paid political operatives who work ceaselessly to discredit mainline Protestant leaders and their Christian communions (Swecker, 2005; Weaver et al, 2005). The Washington-based think tank that they lead is the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD – website).
Six of the 17 current members of IRD’s board of directors, a full 35 percent, are prominent conservative Catholics (Institute on Religion and Democracy, 2006). They include founders Father Richard John Neuhaus of the Institute on Religion and Public Life and Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute, along with George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Professor Robert P. George of Princeton University, Mary Ellen Bork (wife of Judge Robert Bork), and board chair, Professor J. Budziszewski of the University of Texas at Austin (IRD, 2006). In addition, four other conservative Catholics sit on the IRD advisory board: Professor Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard University School of Law; Opus Dei evangelist and Catholic priest, Rev. John McCloskey; Russell Hittinger, Warren Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Tulsa, as well as Jesuit priest and professor, Rev. James Schall at Georgetown University (IRD, 2006).
These prominent Catholics confer their prestige and considerable power to encourage right-wing donors to finance IRD. They are key links to the patrons of IRD which include Richard Mellon Scaife, Howard Ahmanson and the Bradley, Coors, Smith-Richardson, Randolph, and Olin foundations with whom these Neoconservative Catholics have had a long working relationship (Media Transparency, 2006a).
All of these benefactors have a common political aim (National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, 1997), which is to neutralize and overturn the social justice tradition of mainline Protestant churches because they are in tension with unfettered capitalism (Swecker, 2005; Clarkson, 2006). Between 1981 and 1984, the seed money for IRD, consisting of several hundred thousand dollars, came primarily from Richard Mellon Scaife and the Smith-Richardson foundations (Howell, 2003). Between 1985 and 2005 right-wing patrons donated an additional $4,764,000 to IRD (Media Transparency, 2006a). During these same years, at least $70,688,171 was given by conservative donors directly to these same Catholic Neocons or organizations in which they are employed or serve on boards (Media Transparency, 2006a; Blumenthal, 2006; Powell, 2003). However, that is not the total amount, because Christian Reconstructionist patron, Howard Ahmanson, (Blumenthal, 2004) gives money to IRD and other groups in a manner that cannot be tracked through current tax laws (Naughton, 2006).
While Father Neuhaus and his Catholic cohorts have built and sustained an organization that has consistently labored to generate suspicion and hostility about mainstream Protestant leaders, not a penny has been spent nor staff member assigned to attempt to change anything about the Catholic Church. This conduct constitutes the single greatest breach in ecumenical good will between Roman Catholics and Protestants since Vatican II.
It is not just the Protestant targets of the IRD or the author of this article who are concerned about Father Neuhaus’s behavior in the Christian community. Recently the New Republic published an article by Damon Linker, a Catholic former editor at Neuhaus’s own journal, First Things. Linder expressed deep misgivings about the conduct and motives of his former colleague in a critique entitled “The Christianizing of America”:
the one [Catholic writer] who has exercised the greatest influence on the ideological agenda of the religious right is Richard John Neuhaus…Any attempt to come to terms with the religious challenge to secular politics in contemporary America must confront Neuhaus’s enormously ambitious and increasingly influential enterprise (Linker, 2006).
Linker concludes his piece by describing the Neuhaus vision:
The America toward which Richard John Neuhaus wishes to lead us — [is] an America…in which moral and theological absolutists demonize the country’s political institutions and make nonnegotiable public demands under the threat of sacralized revolutionary violence, in which citizens flee from the inner obligations of freedom and long to subordinate themselves to ecclesiastical authority, and in which traditionalist Christianity thoroughly dominates the nation’s public life (Linker, 2006).
Father Neuhaus wrote the founding document for IRD and has been a central figure at IRD from its inception in 1981 (Howell, 2003). He is also the founder of a second Neoconservative think tank called the Institute on Religion and Public Life (IRPL) whose principal function is to publish First Things magazine. Eight key officials at IRD are also on boards at First Things: Mary Ann Glendon, David Novak, Michael Novak, George Weigel, Hadley Arkes, Timothy George, Russell Hittinger, and Robert P. George (First Things, 2006). As a leading architect of the Neocon movement, Neuhaus and his IRPL have benefited from funding by the same benefactors who bankrolled IRD to the tune of $8,387,500 from 1989 through 2005 (Media Transparency, 2006b).
Michael Novak and George Weigel — The Ethic of Jesus or Machiavelli?
Michael Novak is a co-founder of IRD and has been a well-paid activist at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) for more than two decades. Other power players at AEI include, Lynne Cheney, wife of Richard Cheney, and Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House (AEI, 2006). Between 1985 and 2004, AEI received a whopping $42,342,101, mostly from right-wing funders; while Novak was given $1,527,397 in support from the Olin and Bradley foundations between 1985 and 2004 (Media Transparency, 2006c). With this funding Novak has worked to create moral and theological justification for unfettered corporate avarice, which according to some Catholic observers looks more like the teachings of Machiavelli than those of Jesus Christ (Zwick and Zwick, 1999).
The Catholic Workers (founded by Dorothy Day to minister to the poor) have pointed out that Michael Novak and his associates (such as Weigel and Neuhaus) are guilty of using “Catholicism as window dressing to promote an economic system based solely on self-interest, a system that has nothing to do with the Gospel or Catholic social teaching” (Zwick and Zwick, 1999). Novak has gone to great lengths to explain why there should be no checks on the power of corporate CEOs like the late United Methodist, Ken Lay, founder of Enron (Zwick and Zwick, 1999). Novak argues that those who criticize the dreadful economic discrepancies in our country and world suffer from the “green worm of envy.” He writes in On Corporate Governance: “Envy never travels under its own name; it prefers prettier names, good names to which it has no right: ‘justice,’ ‘fairness,’ and the like” (Zwick and Zwick, 1999). These beliefs are anathema to mainstream Christian thinkers like John Wesley (Stone, 2001).
If that were not enough, Novak, along with fellow IRD board member George Weigel, attempted to manufacture a Christian justification for President Bush’s war of aggression against Iraq in 2003 (Berkowitz, 2003). They did so in direct conflict with long-standing Catholic teachings and the impassioned appeals of numerous prominent Catholic leaders, including Pope John Paul II (O’Huallachain and Sharpe, 2005; Allen, 2003).
Novak and Weigel’s challenge to the church’s just-war doctrine attracted the attention of the Bush White House prior to the invasion of Iraq (Berkowitz, 2003). In February 2003, Novak and Weigel were invited by James Nicholson, former National Chairman of the Republican Party then serving as Ambassador to the Vatican, to visit the Holy See and argue the Bush administration’s case for war with Iraq (Berkowitz, 2003).
Weigel’s vigorous defense of the Bush “shock and awe” war against Iraq and of corporate gluttony ensure that he receives steady support from right-wing foundations. Between 1985 and 2004 the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where Weigel is a key player, received $12,535,574 (Media Transparency, 2006d). The donors have been, by and large, the same folks who bring us IRD.
Neo-conning at Princeton — Robert P. George
Robert P. George is Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He serves on the boards of directors of several right-wing groups including IRD, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Institute for American Values, the National Association of Scholars, and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. George is also on the board of the anti-gay Alliance for Marriage and is a regular contributor to National Review (People for the American Way, 2006).
With President Bush in office, Neoconservative Catholics such as Robert George have gained unprecedented power. He is a regular advisor to the president on matters from Supreme Court nominations to faith-based initiatives. He serves on the President’s Council on Bioethics, where he has worked to obstruct federal funding of stem cell research (Blumenthal, 2006). The Nation magazine reported that “Bush’s operative, former Republican National Committee chief and chief Enron lobbyist Ed Gillespie, also a right-wing Catholic, chose George and others to teach Bush how to ‘speak Catholic'” (Blumenthal, 2006). A conservative Catholic magazine, Crisis, wrote in 2003, “If there really is a vast, right-wing conspiracy, its leaders probably meet in [Robert] George’s basement” (Blumenthal, 2006).
George, like other IRD-affiliated Catholic Neocons, has been effective at tapping into right-wing money. The Nation magazine documented that between 2000 and 2005 the Madison Program at Princeton and Professor George received grants and gifts totaling $2,280,625 from several of the sources that fund IRD (Blumenthal, 2006). In addition, despite George’s ardent denials that he receives funds from the secretive group, Opus Dei, the Princeton University newspaper, Daily Princetonian documented that from 2000 through 2002 his Madison Program obtained at least $390,000 from groups used as conduits to funnel money from it (Eshel, 2005).
In a book entitled The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion and Morality in Crisis, George expresses the sort of views about human sexuality that will keep the money of social conservatives flowing his way. He wrote: “The plain fact is that the genitals of men and women are reproductive organs all of the time — even during periods of sterility.” According to journalist Max Blumenthal, George advocates for state laws that criminalize adultery and fornication. He also calls for a curb on “sexual practices he views as immoral, including oral sex and masturbation (which he calls ‘bad’ sex)” (Blumenthal, 2006).
The New York Times recently reported that Robert George has been working closely with Republican Senator Santorum of Pennsylvania to put a gay discrimination amendment into the U.S. Constitution (Kirkpatrick, 2006). In 2002, Santorum spoke at an Opus Dei event in Rome at which he attacked President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 endorsement of church-state separation. Santorum said the Kennedy vow not to enforce Catholic doctrine through civil law has caused “much harm in America,” and he went on to describe President George W. Bush, a United Methodist, “as the nation’s first true Catholic president” (Boston, 2006).
Father John McCloskey and Opus Dei
Rev. John McCloskey is an Opus Dei priest who sits on the IRD advisory board. As James Martin, S.J., put it in the Jesuit weekly, America, “Opus Dei is the most controversial movement in the Catholic church today. It’s fiercely evangelical and fully devoted to the pope and the Catholic hierarchy. It’s also a powerful force within the Vatican” (Martin, 1995). McCloskey joined Opus Dei when he was a 16-year-old high school student in Washington, DC, and he remained active during his college years at Columbia University and later when he worked on Wall Street for Citibank and Merrill Lynch (Boston, 2006; Suellentrop, 2002). He moves comfortably in elite circles where he focuses his evangelism (Fishman, 2004).
When Father McCloskey was ordained in Rome in 1982, he offered bellicose images of the priestly role: “Priests are warriors for Jesus Christ. They are the Navy Seals, the Army Rangers, and the Green Berets of the Catholic Church, and I’m proud to serve among her ranks” (Boston, 2006). He worked as associate chaplain at Princeton University’s Aquinas Institute from 1985 to 1990 (Martin, 1995). However, he was dismissed from that post after a faculty protest that chastised him for “being overly aggressive in recruiting and impinging on academic freedom” (Eshel, 2005; Martin, 1995).
As an Opus Dei evangelist, he now operates out of the Catholic Information Center, a couple of blocks from the White House. He has been called “a spiritual K Street lobbyist” for Opus Dei as a result of his high profile converts such as Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican and former United Methodist (Suellentrop, 2002). Other right-wing political insiders who converted to Catholicism under McCloskey’s guidance include Jewish-born pundit Robert Novak (who outed a working undercover CIA agent) as well as the supply-side television commentator Lawrence Kudlow (Suellentrop, 2002).
Father McCloskey is no fan of progressive Catholics or of Protestants. He has said, “A liberal Catholic is oxymoronic. The definition of a person who disagrees with what the Catholic Church is teaching is called a Protestant” (Boston, 2006). In 2000 Father McCloskey laid out his vision of American Christianity in the year 2030 (McCloskey, 2000). In his “new church order” there is no dissent remaining in the Catholic Church, and mainstream American Protestant churches (which he calls “Protestant sects”) will be virtually a thing of the past. All faithful “evangelical, biblical” Protestants will have joined his one true politically-correct church and the rest of Christendom is left behind with the pagan masses (McCloskey, 2000).
Mary Ann Glendon — “The highest-ranking female adviser in the Roman Catholic Church”
Mary Ann Glendon is a member of the IRD Advisory Board and the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University. According to the Boston Globe, she is “the highest-ranking female adviser in the Catholic Church” (Greenberger, 2004). In 2004, she was appointed by Pope John Paul II to head the Pontifical Academy of Social Science which produces research upon which the Catholic Church establishes its social policy. In 1995, she headed the 22-member delegation of the Holy See to the Fourth United Nations’ Women’s Conference in Beijing (Greenberger, 2004). She has been mentioned as a possible Supreme Court justice nominee (Fox News, 2005) and is a member of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics (People for the American Way, 2006).
Glendon also serves on the Catholic League’s Board of Advisors with three other IRD associates: Robert George, Michael Novak and George Weigel (Catholic League, 2006). The Catholic League purports to defend Catholics’ right “to participate in American public life without defamation or discrimination.” However, John M. Swomley, emeritus professor of social ethics at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri, calls the Catholic League one of the “most dangerous of the far-right organizations” (Swomley, 1998). He wrote that while “it masquerades as a civil rights organization,” the Catholic League’s actual “mission is to censor or suppress any activity, language, speech, publication, or media presentation that it considers offensive to the papacy, the Vatican, or the Catholic church in America” (Swomley, 1998).
William A. Donohue, who has been the president of the League since 1993, appears frequently on news programs, primarily to attack gays, progressives, and Hollywood (Media Matters, 2004; 2006). Recently he declared on national television “there are people in Hollywood, not all of them, but there are some people who are nothing more than harlots” who “will do anything for the buck.” He added that, if asked “to sodomize their own mother in a movie, they would do so, and they would do it with a smile on their face.” And, “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular…Hollywood likes anal sex” (Media Matters, 2004; 2006).
Glendon was a 2003 winner of the Bradley Prize, a $250,000 award given for achievements that promote “liberal democracy, democratic capitalism and the vigorous defense of American institutions” (Powell, 2003). The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which awards this prize has been a major contributor to IRD for over 20 years and is “the country’s largest and most influential right-wing foundation” (Media Transparency, 2006e).
Harry Bradley was an early financial supporter of the John Birch Society and an exploiter of female employees. Although women had worked at Bradley’s plants since 1918, they were not paid the same as men. “They finally sued in 1966, charging the company paid less to women than male workers operating the same machines. A federal judge ruled in their favor” (Media Transparency, 2006e).
Assailing Mainline Protestants — “warming the heart of Goebbels”
Recently, Rev. Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches and a United Methodist minister, observed “there is a growing body of evidence that groups like the IRD” are working to “deliberately divide and undermine institutional churches…This is a concerted effort, not just against the National Council but the mainline churches themselves, to erode the confidence in leadership of these churches” (Guess, 2006).
Here is how the attacks are carried out. In November of 2005, in an unusual move, 99 (now 109) United Methodist bishops from every region of the United States as well as Europe, Africa, and Asia released a joint Statement of Conscience entitled, “A Call to Repentance and Peace with Justice” (United Methodist Reporter, 2005). The bishops are the elected officials who constitute the consecrated leadership of the 11 million member United Methodist Church (UMC), which includes among its members President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney.
In the Statement of Conscience the bishops confess, “In the face of the United States Administration’s rush toward military action based on misleading information, too many of us were silent.” The bishops commit themselves to pray for the end of war in general and “the unjust and immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq” specifically, to reclaim their prophetic authority to speak out against war and injustice, and to engage in advocacy and peacemaking as integral to Christian discipleship (UMR, 2005). The signers reflect a wide consensus and are comprised of a broad national, age, gender, and theological diversity.
A few days after the bishops’ Statement of Conscience was made public, the Weekly Standard published an IRD response (Fred Barnes is the executive editor of Weekly Standard and a board member at IRD). In IRD’s attack piece on the bishops for the Weekly Standard, it accused them of “flogging the President.” Its graphic denunciation of the bishops followed the Neoconservative party line, condemning the bishops for being out-of-touch “liberal elites” who promote “anti-Americanism” and have “hostility to capitalism” (Tooley, 2005a).
Bishop Kenneth Carder is one of the most respected leaders of the United Methodist Church. Here he speaks of one of his many encounters with the IRD:
This was followed by a Christmas fundraising appeal from IRD dated December 22, 2005, in which it smeared the bishops a second time. IRD claimed that the bishops’ Statement of Conscience is “insulting” to the “brave young men and women” who are serving in Iraq (Tooley, 2005b). Never mind that family members of the bishops have been and are serving in Iraq. IRD sneers at the bishops’ call for peace, justice, and reconciliation in Iraq as sounding “like warmed-over 1960s utopianism” and proceeds to mock them as “flower children and chronic demonstrators who never really grew up and faced the real, sinful world” (Tooley, 2005b). In a direct challenge to the basic patriotism of the bishops that would warm the heart of Joseph Goebbels, IRD declares:
No doubt, if transported back in history, these bishops likewise would have impartially “lamented” the “continued warfare” between Allied and German forces in Normandy in 1944, while blaming the plight of millions of victims of fascist aggression on the United States (Tooley, 2005b).
This malicious accusation, typical of IRD, is made despite the fact that among the bishops are decorated World War II and Korean Era combat veterans.
IRD is not above using explicit hate language to attack mainline Protestant leaders. Eight days after President Bush’s famous “mission accomplished” declaration, Dave Berg, a “segment producer” for the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” wrote a commentary for IRD, posted on its website on May 9, 2003 (Berg, 2003). After Berg announced that “the war in Iraq is coming to a victorious close,” he attacked “the godless army of America’s mainstream Protestant leaders” who “worship at the altar of the United Nations” and “gave aid and comfort” to our enemies. He named Jim Winker, General Secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, Bishop Clifton Ives of West Virginia, and Bishop William Dew of Arizona, among his targets. He then directed toward these United Methodist leaders, baseless accusations. He said these respected men of God have “hatred for President Bush and for America itself” (Berg, 2003).
In the past year, IRD has published a series of particularly demeaning attacks questioning the faithfulness and integrity of the United Church of Christ (UCC) and its elected leadership (IRD in the Media, 2006; Rempe, 2006). One article mocked the UCC by calling it the “Church of Sponge Bob” (Tooley, 2005c). The United Church of Christ comes out of the deepest roots of American religious liberty. It is the direct heir of the Pilgrim father and mothers, making the UCC the oldest church in the United States of America. When Rev. John H. Thomas, Presiding President of the UCC, challenged IRD over its repeated baseless attacks against his communion, Steve Rempe accused Rev. Thomas of suffering from severe mental illness (Banerjee, 2006). The New York Times reported on April 6, 2006, that IRD spokesperson Rempe said: “In Thomas’s case, I’m seeing an advancing case of paranoia” (Banerjee, 2006).
IRD has assaulted the integrity of myriad honorable Protestant and Jewish leaders including Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Rev. Jim Wallis of the Sojourners community; Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun; America Baptist Dr. Tony Campolo; Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams; Bishop Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Rev. Gardner C. Taylor, past president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention; Rabbi David Gelfand at The Jewish Center of the Hamptons; the Most Rev. Frank Griswold, presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church ; and Rev. Welton Gaddy of The Interfaith Alliance (Faith and Freedom, 2006; United Methodists Affirming Christ’s Teachings in our Nation, 2006; IRD in the Media, 2006; Neuhaus, 1997). This is an incomplete list of those attacked.
IRD — “the shock troops of the conservative revolution”
Dr. Randall Balmer is an evangelical Christian, editor-at-large of the conservative Christianity Today magazine, and Professor of American Religion at Columbia University. He conducted research on IRD for his new volume entitled Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America. Balmer made these observations about IRD:
What has really impressed me in the course of writing this book is the kind of infrastructure that the neo-cons have built over the past decades. IRD is an important element in that infrastructure. I don’t think it’s overstated to say it’s a conspiracy (Balmer, 2006).
The former senior vice president at the Heritage Foundation, Burton Yale Pines, has referred to think tanks like IRD as “the shock troops of the conservative revolution” (Burton, 2005). There are now dozens upon dozens of these right-wing “think tanks” waging ideological war on our society, especially in Washington, DC (Rich, 2005; Burton, 2006). Most of the funding for these groups comes from the same sources that fund IRD (National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, 1997). What is unique about IRD is that it is a Catholic-directed attack on Protestant churches.
Imagine the outcry from Catholic leaders, a fully justified response, if a highly influential group of Protestants obtained a million dollars a year from left-wing sources to generate a propaganda campaign against the leadership of the Catholic Church over the issues of the ordination of women and divorce. Moreover, this Protestant-directed group constantly sought to undermine Catholic leaders and missions through twisted and demeaning distortions of what they said, while seeking no reforms in their own communions. This is exactly the situation we have at IRD.
IRD constitutes the most grievous breach in ecumenical good will between Roman Catholics and Protestants since the changes initiated by Vatican II. Since that time there have continued to be differences between Catholics and Protestants, as well as internal divisions on both sides. What has been remarkable has been the mutual respect among Catholics and Protestants and their ability to work together on many matters. We believe that the sustained attempt by one segment of the leadership of the Catholic Church to undermine the leadership of mainstream Protestantism is a unique breach of ecumenical relations. How other Catholic leaders deal with the debates internal to the Catholic Church introduced by its Neocons is a matter with which Protestants have no business interfering. But Protestants have the right to expect that those Roman Catholic leaders who wish to maintain ecumenical relations with Protestants will publicly disown and reject the activities of the IRD.
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IRD’s Robert George on the Separation of Church and State
JFK on the Separation of Church and State
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