Baptists and Church-State Advocacy: An Analysis of the Relationship between Membership Opinion and Lobbying the Supreme Court
Andrew R. Lewis
Department of Political Science; Princeton University
September 5, 2009
Interest groups provide an opportunity for citizen interests to be represented before the Supreme Court. In recent decades, numerous religious advocacy organizations have formed, seeking to influence the Court. Among these groups, advocacy organizations connected to religious denominations have structural advantages, as they can easily overcome the collective action problem. They have advantages in resources, membership numbers, and leadership autonomy. However, they are constrained because their members do not join for ideological incentives, as denominational group membership comes as a byproduct of their affiliation with a local church. This may reduce their ability to gain influence. Two denominational groups, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the Baptist Joint Committee (BJC), serve as a useful case study to analyze how the structure of denomination advocacy groups affects political decisions, particularly lobbying the Supreme Court and taking positions on constitutional issues. Using the Baylor Religion Study, this study compares the activities of the BJC and ERLC on church-state issues, evaluating the congruence between their members’ opinions on church-state issues and the groups’ official church-state positions and amicus brief filings. It finds that the members of both the BJC and the ERLC prefer government support and accommodation of religion. These opinions differ from the actions that the groups take, especially the BJC. The BJC takes positions and actions that are incongruent with the policy opinions of its membership, and the ERLC takes positions more in line with the views of its membership, though it does not support accommodation as much as its members do. I argue that it is the structure of these denominational groups that allows the members to take positions that are incongruent with the positions of the membership. Particularly, denominational leaders have increased autonomy, because the members do not join for the benefits that the group offers, the members cannot easily leave the group, and the group leaders do not depend on membership dues. This study has implications for the tactics that groups targeting the Court may take and citizen representation before the Court. It also describes the opportunities and constraints of religious denominational advocacy groups, which differ from the opportunities and constraints of other citizen religious groups.
Keywords: interest groups, religion, denomination, Baptist, church-state, members
Date posted: August 29, 2009 ; Last revised: August 30, 2009
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