The emergence of conservative Christians as a political force has caught many Americans by surprise. Estimated today at somewhere between 30 and 50 million Americans, this group had largely withdrawn from public life in the 1920s to concentrate on personal salvation. But the perceived breakdown of older societal norms - the growth of crime and violence, the drug culture, open pornography, among other social pathologies - has brought many of these people back into the public arena under the banner of the Moral Majority in the 1970s, and, more recently, the Christian Coalition. The heart of their critique of recent social trends is their belief that traditional values espoused by many Americans, especially those associated with the family, have been pushed to the outer edge of American life by what they see as an unreasonable expansion of individual rights and a misinterpretation of the constitutional separation of church and state.
Critics of these conservative Christians, however, worry that they threaten the principle of separation, indeed the democratic process itself. Jews, who have suffered historically from the conjoining of church and state, tend to be especially concerned. While few would deny that the conservative Christians have accurately identified certain real problems in our society, considerable controversy remains over how to address these problems.
The discussion so far, especially in the Jewish community, has generated much heat and little light. Acting in its tradition of reasoned discourse, intellectual openness, peaceful resolution of intergroup conflict, and vigorous debate on public-policy matters, the American Jewish Committee has brought together in this publication four essays that reflect diverse points of view. The first, by Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed, was delivered at the AJC's annual meeting in Washington, D C , on May 5, 1995. The other three - by AJC legal director Samuel Rabinove, AJC interreligious affairs director Rabbi A. James Rudin, and Marshall Breger, a former advisor to President Reagan and now a professor at Catholic University - are adapted from presentations at a symposium held by the AJC's Philadephia chapter, under a grant from the Klingenstein Fund.