- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

In 1979, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, then the head of a congregation he founded in Lynchburg, Va., with a popular television show, founded a group called the Moral Majority that would have a lasting effect on American politics. Mr. Falwell mobilized socially conservative Christian voters and turned them into an influential voting bloc, helping to elect Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. Although the Moral Majority dissolved in 1989, the mobilized religious conservatives, the so-called values voters, helped carry President Bush to victory in 2000 and 2004. Mr. Falwell died yesterday after collapsing in his office at Liberty University, but for years to come his legacy of politically invigorating religious voters will continue to shape the terrain of American politics for the better.

Mr. Falwell was vital to bringing evangelicals who had previously divorced themselves from politics back into the political arena. Said Ralph Reed of Mr. Falwell: “He gave a voice to conservative people of faith who had previously been marginalized in our politics.” He did it largely by talking about the issues, translating widespread opposition to Roe v. Wade, for instance, into votes for those who oppose — or would appoint judges who oppose — the egregious Supreme Court ruling.

Rep. Barney Frank quipped that anti-abortion activists and legislators seemed to believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth. That could not be said of Mr. Falwell, who worked to provide a home for unwed mothers in order to encourage young women to consider adoption instead of abortion. “For 18 years, we have owned and operated the Liberty Godparent Foundation here in Lynchburg, Virginia — a home for unwed mothers, mostly teen girls, and about 1,200 homes around the nation that interface with us,” he said on the Fox News Channel show “Hannity and Colmes” in 1999. “We have therefore talked to thousands of young ladies. We’ve placed for adoption hundreds of babies.”

Mr. Falwell’s legacy will also be preserved through Liberty University. The school he founded in Lynchburg in 1971 under a different name grew to become the largest fully accredited Christian university, with 9,600 students on campus and more than 17,000 enrolled in its distance learning program. Mr. Falwell’s congregation, Thomas Road Baptist Church, which he founded in 1956, now has 22,000 members.

The trend in American politics to which Mr. Falwell was so integral will survive him. The fact that it seems to go without saying that candidates seeking the Republican nomination need to appeal to religious conservatives is testament to Mr. Falwell’s enduring influence on the Republican party and American politics.

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