Right-wing Christian groups are making a concerted effort to gain a voice on school boards throughout the United States. Professor Louise Adler of California State University, who has been studying conservative religious organisations since the 1980s, told the conference that they had established programmes "to recruit, train and promote" candidates for school boards.
They were also beginning to adopt a harder line over teaching material they considered unchristian or even satanic. "The primary shift over the past five years is that rather than Religious Right parents trying to get their children from using particular material, the parents are now insisting that the material be completely removed from the schools," she said.
Another academic who has been monitoring the Religious Right for several years, Professor Catherine Lugg of Penn State University, said that they were coalition-building with other organisations in an effort to shape public policy, particularly over education. She argued the "while the Religious Right's political strength is significant, it has been overstated". Nevertheless, a study that she has written with Professor William Boyd and school administrator Gerald Zahorchak illustrates how Pennsylvania's education department and public school educators were outwitted and outmanoeuvred by in-state religious conservatives.
Martha McCarthy, chancellor professor at Indiana University, said that in her state the Religious Right had broadened its appeal by shifting from "biblical absolutes to focusing on parental rights".
She believes the Religious Right is "likely to continue to press for deregulation of home-schooling and private education, the elimination of national standards and assessments, return of prayer to public education and the return of the voucher programmes so parents can select religious schools for their children".
* The influence of the Religious Right will also be examined in next month's issue of Education and Urban Society. It will contain a paper by James Cibulka of the University of Maryland who maintains that "we are witnessing the resurgence of religiosity as one of the principal cleavages in school politics ... although it is tempting to treat the New Christian Right as an aberration that will disappear, the history of religion and politics in America, and its close intersection with school policy, indicates the opposite is true".