Thursday, July 20, 2006

The former Christian Coalition of Ohio has become the second state chapter this year to split from the national organization, which has been in financial decline and has taken some policy stands critics find inconsistent with traditional conservative values.

“From this time forward, we will be known as Ohio Christian Alliance (OCA),” said Chris Long, executive director of the new group.

“It was a sad day when our board found it impossible to continue a name that was associated with the national organization,” he said Wednesday, adding, “But the board felt it would rather function as an independent organization than an organization shrouded with perceptions contrary to Christian commitments, and it voted unanimously” to spin off.

The Ohio chapter follows the lead of the Iowa chapter, which severed its ties in March in a statement nearly identical to the one issued by Mr. Long.

The Iowa group reinvented itself as the Iowa Christian Alliance (ICA).

“When your budget goes down from $26 million to $1 million (in a decade) … it indicates the grass roots no longer has faith in the national organization,” Steve Scheffler, president of ICA, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

“When a faith-based group can’t get it right on a tax increase, how do you motivate the base?” he asked, referring to support the Christian Coalition of America (CCA) gave for a proposed tax increase in Alabama in 2003, despite opposition from the state chapter.

Mr. Long said recent published reports indicating the CCA was $2 million in debt, was being hounded by creditors and was being sued for late bill payments also “reflected badly” on the national body.

Asked about that yesterday, CCA president Roberta Combs said, “We’re not $2 million in debt. A lot of debt has been paid off. We have a budget of more than $1 million now, and we’re still here.”

Mr. Long and Mr. Scheffler noted there is current concern on the part of some conservatives regarding the fact that the Coalition is united with the liberal group,, in supporting the concept of “net neutrality.”

Net neutrality calls for all content on the Internet to be treated equally, with no preferential service. “But cable and TV companies want to make the Internet into two entities: a fast track and a slow track” and to charge Web sites and Web users additional fees for the “fast lane,” offering faster speed, said Michele Combs, Roberta Combs’ daughter, also of CCA.

She said a diverse group of nonprofits and others know they “would be put in the slow lane” since they could not afford fast-lane service.

“We’re not moving to the left, but this time the liberal left has it right,” said Jim Backlin, CCA’s vice president of legislative affairs.

The Christian Coalition was founded in 1989 by Pat Robertson, and it became the heart of political fundraising and lobbying of the so-called Christian right. It was seen as a major factor in the 1994 Republican Revolution, when Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress.

Many say the organization began going downhill when Mr. Robertson stepped down in 2001. But sharp conservative criticism of the group preceded Mr. Robertson’s departure, after he said publicly he supported China’s one-child policy.

The overwhelming support conservative Christians in Ohio gave President Bush in the 2004 general election was crucial in his defeat of Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat. These same voters also were drawn to the polls by a proposed constitutional amendment banning homosexual “marriage” and civil unions, which passed easily.

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