PUBLIC POLICY

When a member of Congress has a complicated question involving religion, more often than not the person who provides the answer is Charles H. Whittier.

Twenty years ago, when Whittier became the specialist in religion and public policy at the Library of Congress’s Congressional Research Service, lawmakers were concerned about a narrower range of religious issues. He says their questions were limited primarily to church-and-state issues, such as prayer in public schools and federal aid to parochial schools. Today, the researcher says, questions range from Islamic fundamentalism to liberation theology, and from conservative Christian politics to liberal religious activism.

Says Whittier: “… The interest in and concern about religious values and activism by religious groups, both conservative and liberal, are at an all-time high.”

Whittier provides answers to lawmakers’ questions in telephone calls and brief reports, as well as in longer research studies.

Sometimes he projects trends, such as when he prepared a report on the future of the Religious Right in light of the PTL scandals. As to the possible impact of those scandals on the conservative Christian political movement, he wrote: “Continuing investigations may further damage the public image of the new Religious Right, but there is no reason to believe that the vitality of [political] evangelicalism or fundamentalism will be significantly diminished. The strength of the movement lies not in its personalities, vivid as their impact may be, but in underlying values, sustained by a vast and expansive network of social institutions.”

Asked what topics are of interest to legislators at the moment, Whittier said the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution has prompted ...

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