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CHRISTIAN RIGHT GAINING FORCE IN POLITICS

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The push to stop gay rights is now the most incendiary political battle mounted by the Christian right.

But it is only one front in a broad campaign to restore traditional Christian values to American society."The sleeping giant is awakening, and we're taking our place in the body politic," said the Rev. Lou Sheldon, founder of the Traditional Values Coalition, based in Anaheim, Calif. "It's a big tent and now that we're in it, we have economic concerns and environmental concerns. We're here to stay."

Christian conservatives across the nation are embracing issues including - abstinence-based sex education, stopping the president's health-care plan, advancing the anti-environmentalist "wise-use movement," removing school textbooks that include items deemed pro-gay or occult, etc.

Idaho's Christian right's most high-profile initiative campaign is led by the Idaho Citizens Alliance, which wants to keep sexual orientation from becoming a category protected from discrimination.

Critics of the Christian right fear a theocracy.

"It's clearly a national movement. They're all singing the same theme in their direct mail - attacks on education materials and multicultural education, any type of sex education curricula," said Deanna Duby, director of education policy for People for the American Way, a liberal civil liberties group.

Mary Rohlfing, a Boise lesbian and co-chair of the civil rights group Idaho for Human Dignity, says homosexuality is "a wedge issue" used by the right to entice mainstream voters who are not in favor of discrimination but are not comfortable with homosexuality.

Conservative Christians counter that liberals are trafficking in bigotry by questioning Christians' participation in the political process.

Measuring the religious right's success is difficult, because influence is not reflected at the ballot box alone.

The New York Times pronounced the Christian right in virtual control of the Republican party in Texas, Oregon, Virginia, Iowa, South Carolina, Washington and on the move in California, New York, Florida, Louisiana and Minnesota.