Even its most vociferous critics acknowledge that the Christian Coalition has become a major force on the American political scene.

But seven years after its founding by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, the Christian Coalition, which now claims to have 1.7 million members and supporters, is experiencing growing pains as it attempts to secure a place in the political mainstream.

Sued by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in July and publicly shunned by leading Republicans at the national convention in August, the coalition has seen some rocky political days of late. Its rising clout is still viewed with wariness by many in the political establishment. However, coalition leaders say that neither lawsuits, nor trailing polls, nor lukewarm candidates will hinder their organization's stated purpose of giving Christians a voice in government.

At the coalition's annual Road to Victory conference September 13-15 in Washington, D.C., executive director Ralph Reed set a defiant tone: "I've got news for our critics, the Radical Left, and yes, the liberal bureaucrats at the Federal Election Commission: We will not be harassed. We will not be intimidated, and we will not be silenced. … We have First Amendment rights, and we are going to exercise them."

But the line between free-speech rights and improper partisan politicking has become a controversial one for the coalition. In July, the bipartisan FEC filed suit (CT, Sept. 16, 1996, p. 105), charging that the coalition had violated federal election laws by supporting Republican candidates through the distribution of its voter guides and through illegal campaign contributions. Reed responded that his organization obeys "both the letter and the spirit of the law."

The pending ...

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