A board member resigns, believing that Lear’s criticisms of the Religious Right are distortions.

Television producer Norman Lear’s 1980 brainchild, “People for the American Way” (PAW), is a grassroots group designed to combat the “radical religious right.” It débuted with a series of brief, televised, public service announcements in which “Christians” expressed their distaste for preachers who told them how to vote. “That’s not the American way,” they chided.

Next came an extravagant, celebrityladen television special, “I Love Liberty.” Now, emerging from its formative years, the organization may be entering a cantankerous puberty. A television special, “Life and Liberty … For All Who Believe,” aired in six cities in October, and more showings are scheduled.

The program features Burt Lancaster, brow furrowed, solemnly announcing that the New Right wants to “force, and I mean force, their narrow doctrine on all of us.” A similarly emotional appeal is apparent in full-page newspaper advertisements that accuse Jerry Falwell and “other electronic preachers” of a preposterous agenda: “They racially segregate private schools. They want to deny homosexuals the right to vote. They ban all new dictionaries in Texas. They want to deny you social security benefits.” In the “Life and Liberty” documentary, Lancaster says “Falwell and Pat Robertson call for the end of public education.”

The hyperbole is a departure for Lear, who early on claimed his group would not “appeal to fears and anxieties” to raise support. The histrionics brought criticism from some well-respected religious figures associated with the group. One board member who is reassessing his involvement said, “What they are doing now is as bad as what they are combating.”

George ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.