Global Policy Forum

300 Religious Right Participants Attend Beijing PrepCom


By Jennifer Butler*

June 1, 2000

As a United Nations preparatory committee met to begin the five year review of the Platform for Action of the UN Fourth World Conference on Women, Austin Ruse, Director of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), sent out a call to action. In his rallying cry, Ruse summoned hundreds of "pro-family and pro-life advocates" to come to the UN to fight against "the Beijing Platform for of the most radical and dangerous documents you can imagine." His call took on biblical proportions as he promised his people, "You will work alongside Catholics, Evangelicals, Jews, Muslims, Mormons." "We are the children of Abraham," claimed Ruse, "arising to fight for faith and family."

The Platform for Action feared by Ruse was adopted by consensus by the 189 countries represented at the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. The most comprehensive document on women's rights ever agreed upon by governments, the Platform for Action represents the culmination of four global women's conferences. Most significantly, the Beijing Conference signaled the realization of a global women's movement that is seeking to address the diverse issues that affect women worldwide. The Non-governmental Organization (NGO) Forum outside Beijing drew 40,000 women from all parts of the world, breaking all records of NGO attendance at a UN meeting.

The Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the Beijing Plus Five Special Session of the General Assembly met from March 3 to 18 to work on an Outcome Document for the Special Session in June. On the first day of the PrepCom, scores of lobbyists wearing red buttons emblazoned with the word "motherhood" swarmed the room where government delegates were gathering. While conservative and pro-life groups have attended other United Nations events, their numbers at this meeting were far greater than ever before. They were highly visible among the 1,700 NGO representatives and appear to have reached their goal of having at least 300 participants. Who were these "motherhood" advocates and what do they seek to accomplish?

This report explores the origins and agenda of this pro-family coalition, its impact on the Beijing Plus Five PrepCom and possible impact on the UN community. It presents an overview of the history, strategy, and agenda of the leaders of the pro-family coalition as well as responses from the feminist and progressive religious community. The appendix goes into depth about the most of the major organizations in the Coalition.

The Religious Right in the United States Conservative religious political activism, while relatively new in the NGO community at the UN, is not new in the United States. The pro-family coalition at the PrepCom emerged from this seasoned US political movement.

The Christian Right has played an increasingly vocal role in United States politics since the 1970s. After the landslide defeat of Barry Goldwater the 1964 presidential election, the Old Right of the Republican Party, recognizing that its message had failed, modernized its ideology and renamed itself the New Right. Their message appealed to many groups that had not previously been a part of the Old Right, including conservative Christians. During the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, the New Right was able to politically mobilize growing numbers of conservative Christians who, until the 1970s, had only been marginally involved in politics. These conservative, largely white, middle-class Christians are now a major part of the right, which over the past three decades has developed a well-financed and well-run infrastructure consisting of publications, research centers, think tanks, foundations, campus organizations and youth groups.

The leaders of the conservative NGO coalition at the UN have emerged from largely from the Religious Right in the US. They are therefore referred to as the Religious Right or the "pro- family" coalition.

The Roots of the Religious Right NGO Coalition at the UN Conservative organizing at UN meetings is not a new phenomenon. The Religious Right advocated conservative positions at the International Conference on Population and Development (1994), Fourth World Conference on Women (1995) and Habitat (1996). Pro- family groups describe these conferences, especially the International Conference on Population and Development, as having been watershed events in their realizing the importance of advocating their positions in the UN arena. What is new is the fact that these groups are now coordinating their efforts.

Four organizations provide the leadership for the Religious Right Coalition at the UN. These organizations represent highly organized constituencies in Mormon, Conservative Catholic and Conservative Evangelical circles. The World Family Policy Center (WFPC), established in 1997 by Brigham Young University with the support of top leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or Mormon Church), is the only organization in the coalition that is part of an established religious institution. The other members of the coalition are well-financed para-church structures.

The Howard Center, also established in 1997 and based in Illinois, is a private foundation established by a wealthy benefactor, John Addison Howard. Allan Carlson, Director of Howard Center and Richard Wilkins of WFPC initiated the formation of the pro-family coalition.

The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), founded in 1997 and directed by Austin Ruse, was established with funding from Human Life International (HLI). HLI is a self proclaimed "truth squad" formed to defend the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on contraception and abortion. While HLI is not part of the Vatican, its Pontifical Council on the Family has endorsed many of its events.

The Family Research Center (FRC) represents the conservative evangelical wing of the coalition. While not representing any singular church, the FRC brings to the coalition an enormous, well-organized constituency of conservatives across many churches as well as its connections to the Christian Right in the US.

Although the pro-family coalition claims to represent Muslims and Jews, it presently has no major organizational leadership from either of these faith groups. The coalition is clearly seeking such alliances and individual Muslim and Jewish leaders have been involved in coalition events. In addition to these four organizations, which provide the leadership for the coalition, about a dozen other groups from all of these constituencies support its efforts. Each of these organizations is detailed in Part II.

The large numbers of pro-family delegates at the PrepCom can be deceiving, since they actually represent only a handful of organizations based mainly in the United States and Canada. Still, while just a few conservative organizations participated in the PrepCom, many of these organizations represent a powerful, well-organized constituency base. Each has access to vast financial resources and demonstrates a growing interest in influencing the United Nations. The issues that concern them have managed to galvanize them despite their religious differences.

World Congress of Families (1997, 1999) The WFPC and the Howard Center began efforts to organize an interfaith lobby of pro-family NGOs and governments by convening a conference called the World Congress of Families I in Prague in March of 1997. The coalition was solidified at a meeting the World Congress of Families II (WCF II), convened in Geneva during the fall of 1999. Family Research Council was a co-convening organization of both conferences, C-Fam was a co-convening organization of the second. Estimates put WCF II attendance at between 800 and 1,575 participants, twice that of the previous conference. Press accounts suggest that at least half of the representatives were from the United States and a large percentage was Mormon.

The WCF II was billed as a response to the "organized efforts at the United Nations and other international agencies to discredit or deny traditional family life." The goals of the conference, as stated by conference organizers, are: · To proclaim the family as the fundamental unit of society. · To rally organizations and individuals to protect and fortify the natural family, at the national and international levels. · To change the basic terms of debate on issues affecting family life. · To develop guidelines for creation of family-centered policies and laws.

A committee lead by FRC drafted the Geneva Declaration, a statement of purpose that affirms "that the natural human family is established by the Creator and essential to good society." The natural family is "the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature and centered on the voluntary union of a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage. The natural family is defined by marriage, procreation and, in some cultures, adoption."

According to their mission statements, the sponsoring organizations, unlike many conservative organizations, seek to reform UN policies. Conservatives for many years have criticized UN policies from the outside, working through the US Congress to cut support and funding. The effort to shut down or influence UN actions by obtaining ECOSOC status and lobbying governments demonstrates a dramatic shift in strategy.

The Religious Right's Strategy According to Austin Ruse, since the UN works by consensus, "a dozen states can stop anything." Delivering one of the closing speeches at the WCF II, Ruse proposed: We are at the drawing stage. Concretely, this is what we must do. Although our main concern at the UN is the Group of 77, the negotiating block from the developing world, we need to concern ourselves with all 135 states. We don't need them all, we need only a few. Therefore, I propose that we establish a permanent UN pro-family bloc of twelve states. And upon these we lavish all of our attention.

In October, 1999, just before the WCF II, the Permanent Observer of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the governments of Argentina and Nicaragua sponsored a conference with C-Fam, the Howard Center, WFPC and the Catholic Archdiocese of New York. According to press accounts, about a dozen parliamentarians and senior government officials also met in a closed-door session during the WCF II to discuss building a pro-family block.

Diplomats, politicians and high church officials who responded to invitations to attend WCF II include: · Max Padilla, Nicaragua's Minister for Family Affairs, · Aldo Omar Carreras, Argentina's Undersecretary for Population, Interior Ministry · S.Shahid Husain, Senior Advisor to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Mission to the UN. · Ambassador Mokhtar Lamani, the Permanent Observer of the OIC to the UN · Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon · Roman Catholic Archbishop Alfonso Cardinal Lopez, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council on the Family, · Bishop John Njue of Kenya, The Catholic Diocese of Embu · Grand Imam Dr. Mohammad Sayed Tantawi of Egypt

The pro-family coalition is working towards accrediting more conservative NGOs. The Vatican has been pressuring the UN to accredit more NGOs sympathetic to the Holy See's position on reproductive rights. One conservative press account boasts that Couple To Couple League (CCL) was given ECOSOC status without the usual final interview. CCL, established in 1971, like many pro-family NGOs has just recently expanded its operations to include global organizing. The pro-family coalition is also encouraging pro- family NGOs to influence the composition of state delegations.

During the PrepCom pro-family representatives exploited North-South political tensions. Their media and public statements paint much of the Beijing Platform for Action as an attempt by Western nations to impose their culture on "UN-dependent countries with different cultural and religious values and beliefs." Pro-family organizations perceive developing nations as being more religious and as favoring large, traditional families and therefore seek to build on this perceived commonality.

As observed during the PrepCom, pro-family leaders are willing to break UN rules and guidelines for participation in order to achieve their goals. Austin Ruse remarks in his speech at the WCF II remarked, "We broke all the rules of UN lobbying which forbid leafleting on the floor of a UN conference. We had our people fan out across the floor of the conference and we placed this letter in the hand of every delegate. Something like pandemonium ensued."

Governments failed to reach consensus on the Outcome Document during the PrepCom and had to continue to meet through May and early June to finish reach consensus. Some of the failure to reach consensus can be attributed to the presence of the coalition of groups from the Religious Right. The five year review process for many of the world conference has not been as successful as NGO's would like, but the Beijing Plus Five PrepCom has had more set backs than most.

Trends in Religious Right Organizing at the UN Religious conservatives have traditionally been suspicious of interfaith relations and ecumenical work. While Conservative Catholics and Evangelicals have since the eighties worked together on addressing concerns around abortion, interfaith coalitions among conservative Catholics, conservative evangelicals, Mormons and Muslims are rare. This interfaith coalition among religious conservatives might suggest that religious conservatives increasingly find more in common with religious conservatives of other faiths than they do with non-conservatives in their own faith traditions. The pro-family coalition trains and exhorts its members to overcome "bigotry and predjudice" to work together on a common cause. This represents a radical realignment of religious and political interests.

It remains to be seen whether the members of the coalition can indeed keep their prejudices in check. Human Life International, the parent organization of C-Fam, has earned a reputation for being anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim. The Howard Institute in its May, 2000 publication of The Religion and Society Report supports the idea that "...two European Jews, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, played a major role in the secularization of culture, launching major assaults on the God of the Bible and leading countless Jews and Gentiles into skepticism and unbelief." Faithless actions such as these, the report implies, led to the Holocaust, "a clear sign of God's wrath at broken covenants." The same article goes on to assert that a "second six million" Germans were cruelly murdered at the Allies' hands after the war. It then draws parallels between abortion and the Holocaust. Such views will undoubtedly make alliances with Jews difficult if not impossible.

The agenda of this pro-family coalition has been shaped by US political rhetoric and represents a spill over of US politics into the NGO community and international arena. The rhetoric and polarization brought by pro-family forces echo that of the current Republican Congress and Religious Right in the US.

The momentum in this coalition has been building over the past few years, as demonstrated by the relationships built through the World Congress of Families gatherings and newly established operations such as WFPC and C-Fam. News articles from pro-family organizations convey that the leadership feels a sense of accomplishment and excitement about the work accomplished at the PrepCom. C-FAM is also expanding its staff by at least one member, according to a recent news release. The WFPC and Howard Center are planning World Congress of Families for 2002 and four regional meetings leading up to the Congress.

The Pro-family Platform While most NGOs involved in the global women's movement share a common vision, they bring to the UN passionate concerns about a wide range of issues concerning women. In contrast, the conservative coalition is a single-issue group, focussed on the themes of motherhood and family as they define those terms. A small group of leaders provides analysis and strategy for the masses of inexperienced individuals they command.

Coalition members wore large red buttons emblazoned the first week with "motherhood;" the second week with "the Family." Outside this political context, such slogans would be benign. After all, women's rights advocates protect motherhood and family by working to reduce maternal mortality and drawing international attention to the key role mothers play in development, to name a few examples. In fact, one well-respected NGO in the global women's movement is named "MADRE" in honor of the strong mothers who hold their communities together. In fact, feminist argue that the policies the pro-family coalition advocates undermine the strength and stability of families.

While family and motherhood are concepts of equal concern to women's rights and Religious Right activists, the two sides define family and motherhood differently. Women's rights activists advocate that women have the right to choose motherhood. Motherhood does not confine women to the private sphere. In fact, women's rights activists have observed that women in public leadership are often more sensitive to the needs of families and mothers.

In contrast, for the pro-family coalition women do not choose motherhood but are, by nature, mothers. God has created women to produce children and raise families, not to have careers. Efforts to increase numbers of women in the workforce therefore destroy the "natural family." Pro-family advocates refrain from openly claiming that women and men are unequal. They instead assert that men and women have "complementary" natures or roles that are "physically and psychologically self-evident."

The pro-family leader Kathryn Balmforth of the World Family Policy Center decries the "emphasis" in the PrepCom's outcome document on "getting women into the paid workforce and out of their homes and families." For Balmforth, families who depend on childcare undermine the family and society. Rather than condemn women for working outside the home, she portrays them as deluded by feminism or victimized by poverty. Women are forced by economic necessity or misled by feminists to work outside the home and neglect their families. Balmforth claims that women therefore need to be "liberated from their jobs and free to raise children." Quotas and affirmative action programs, as Austin Ruse puts it, "force women out of the home and into places they don't necessarily want to be." Quotas are also considered to be undemocratic.

Underlying these concerns is an outrage at the feminist assertion that gender is a social construct that benefits men at the expense of women. According to one pro-family advocate, "The abolition of this sexual division of labor amounts to the abolition of motherhood."

In using the word "pro-life," the members of this coalition assert more than a belief that abortion is wrong. They are against all attempts at family planning, which they often equate with abortion. The pro-family coaltion views attempts to control fertility as undermining women's procreative role in society. The Geneva Declaration and many WCF II speeches define one of the major threats to the family as being below- replacement fertility and population control by Western governments. The Declaration states, "Human society depends on the renewal of the human population; the true population problem is depopulation, not overpopulation." The pro-family coalition therefore promotes large families.

Outrage that gender would be questioned as a social construct parallels their fear of lesbian and gay rights. The pro-family coalition takes pains to delineate that the "natural family" is defined by marriage between one man and one woman. "Deviations from these created sexual norms lead to obsession, remorse, alienation, and disease."

Pro-family NGOs believe that the family is disintegrating because of feminism, the sexual revolution, gay rights and liberalism. In their view, feminism has devalued "traditional" female roles. Pro-family advocates bill themselves as the true protectors of women and sometimes even use the language of women's rights in describing their mission. They portray feminists to their constituencies as imposters or a fringe group that does not speak for the majority of women. The very name of the organization, "REAL Women," states this view clearly.

Impact on NGO Organizing The Religious Right coalition sought to overwhelm the PrepCom by sheer numbers since they lack organizational representation. While most NGOs try to keep their accredited participants to a reasonable number so as not to crowd others out, the numbers of pro- family NGO representatives were far out of proportion to the number of organizations they represented. Surprisingly, many pro-family representatives were not well informed and were stumped by the use of basic terms such as "NGO," "CSW," and "PrepCom." Some were unclear about what organization had accredited them to the process. At least a third of the pro-family NGO representatives were male, in an NGO arena that is predominantly female.

In some cases, they engaged in objectionable and aggressive behavior. A group of cassocked Catholic friars decided to use "prayer warfare" to attempt to defeat their feminist opponents. Groups of friars continually surrounded individual women's rights activists to pray for them an action that clearly felt threatening to the surrounded women. Women's rights advocates also rallied around lesbian participants who felt vulnerable to verbal abuse.

Pro-family representatives targeted specific caucuses (issue oriented and regional NGO working groups) in an attempt to outvote feminist NGOs or slow down discussions by focussing on singular issues such as abortion. Pro-family organizers used cell phones to rally large numbers of pro-family participants to key meetings. The youth and health caucuses were primary targets. Pro-family leaders had organized the presence of at least forty youth under the name World Youth Alliance. Youth caucus leaders report that a high percentage of the youth were young men and from the Washington D.C. area.

Feminist efforts to maintain a representational democracy were met with protests by conservatives that feminist NGOs were not being democratic and transparent. However, pro-family NGOs did not openly advertise their own strategy meetings nor did they display their lobbying materials as most other NGOs do. The Religious Right in the US maintains extensive alternative media networks which help propagate their views. This pro-family group is no exception. A well-financed newsletter, Vivant!, published by the NGO Caucus for Stable Families (run out of the C- FAM office), presented the pro-family perspective on daily events. Websites of CWA and Family Voice also carried daily news briefs of the proceedings. Many NGOs and some government delegates expressed frustration that pro-family news propagated misinformation and misrepresented individuals.

The intensity of pro-family organizing led some government delegations to criticize the NGO presence in general. The European Union, supported by JUSCANZ and Mexico, issued a strongly worded statement criticizing those who had attempted to hinder the work of the PrepCom.

The Response of Feminist NGOs Governments had agreed before the meeting that the Platform for Action could not be reopened for debate during the review process. Therefore, most caucuses countered Religious Right attempts to reverse gains made at Beijing by stating simply that the Platform for Action was not open for debate. While the caucuses found this clarification helpful and exhibited strong leadership (in particular the youth caucus which was inundated by the Religious Right), the continued pressure slowed the work of some caucuses.

Women's rights activists printed green buttons with the slogan "I support the PFA (Platform for Action)." The green buttons enabled government delegates who support the Platform for Action to recognize supportive NGO participants. The youth caucus quickly produced buttons and T-shirts emblazoned with "Youth for Human Rights."

Feminist religious NGOs had a stronger presence than ever before. Ecumenical Women 2000+, a coalition of Protestant UN offices and ecumenical organizations, brought to the PrepCom a group of Protestant women from all over the world. Protestant churches support the Beijing Platform for Action and have been active in the UN conferences on women. Religion Counts, an initiative of Catholics for a Free Choice and the Park Ridge Center, brought together an interfaith group of women from around the world to lobby government delegates. A religion caucus initiated by Ecumenical Women 2000+ and Religion Counts printed stickers with the words "Women of faith believe in the PFA" which were very popular among all of the women's rights activists.

The two organizations also conducted a series of three panels called "Religion: Women's Liberation, Women's Bondage," which drew large crowds. The panels featured women of all faiths discussing their struggle towards gender equality within their religious traditions. Because of the interest in religion at the committee meeting, the Religion Caucus held a fourth panel discussion called "Religions for the PFA."

Religious organizations that support the Beijing Platform for Action added an important dimension to the organizing of women's rights activists. The Religious Right cannot bill the global women's movement as "ungodly" and anti-religious when a significant number of religious organizations and individuals are a part of the movement. The women's movement cannot so easily be demonized when others of the same faith traditions as the pro-family coalition support the Platform for Action. Religious groups in support of Beijing also play a crucial role by helping religious communities understand the faith basis for working towards gender justice.

Responding to Religious Right Organizing

Until now, the NGO community has generally consisted of progressive social justice advocates encouraging states to take greater steps to ensure human rights and promote peace and development. The growing presence of NGOs from the Religious Right will clearly change the nature of NGO organizing.

The NGO community, which runs according to the rules of democracy, clearly will be open to the participation of NGOs from the Religious Right. As new organizations enter the community, however, the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Status with the UN (CONGO) may increasingly need to find ways to structure this democracy to promote fair play and prevent conflict. Understandably, many NGOs are wary of supporting any attempt by CONGO to organize or structure the NGO presence at the UN for fear that it might limit NGO access. Unfortunately, the lack of power and structure vested in CONGO can also hinder the effectiveness of the NGO community and democratic processes as demonstrated at the PrepCom.

NGO committees and informal caucuses at UN meetings may have to more clearly define their missions and membership criterion. For example, the health caucus at Beijing Plus Five meetings might be more accurately labeled the "pro-choice health caucus." Since the Religious Right often adopts the language of women's rights, yet defines such words differently, mission statements for NGO Committees and caucuses will need to be very specific in defining their goals.

Feminist religious NGOs can play an important role by presenting a different religious perspective. Religion plays a key role in the lives of women as well as government delegates and state politics. The Religious Right does not have hegemony on religious language-a powerful feminist movement exists in all of the world's religions. The Religious Right demonizes feminists in part by painting the feminist movement as a movement of "Godless radicals." A feminist religious stance shakes up this simplistic dichotomy and makes demonizing feminists more difficult.

Feminist religious NGOs can speak powerfully to the positive and negative role religion can play in women's lives, and be a witness to the international community of how religion and culture can and are being transformed in favor of gender equality. Ecumenical Women 2000+ and Religion Counts played this role at the PrepCom. Feminists, both non-religious and religious, felt that the presence of religious feminists was an asset to the community.

NGOs in support of women's rights and justice will need to improve their communication systems. The Religious Right has an excellent communication system, which includes impressive websites. Progressive organizations can emulate the Religious Right's use of technology. The ability to communicate with the public is crucial given the fact that the Religious Right often misconstrues and misinforms its public. Feminists and all concerned NGOs need to be ready to provide accurate information to constituencies sought out by the right.

Lastly, NGOs can directly address the concerns that the Religious Right identifies. Clearly, the pro-family coalition is capitalizing on concerns held by many in the United States and by people elsewhere in the world as well. Those concerns are real and valid, even if the solutions proposed by the Religious Right fall far short. Women's Rights NGOs can publicize their work on protecting motherhood and family. Feminists can make clear their own responses to the difficulties faced by mothers and families. The work of feminist activists in this area is something we can definitely celebrate publicly.

Coalitions by nature are fragile and unstable. The member organizations of the pro-family coalition have many theological and political differences, which could cause the demise of the coalition. Some of their constituencies have traditionally been anti-UN and may doubt the efficacy of organizing at the UN. Still, at this time the pro-family coalition is poised to build enthusiastically on its March efforts. NGOs should prepare to meet any challenges they may present.

Appendix: A Close-Up Look at The Pro-family Coalition

A close look at the organizations participating in the pro-family coalition shows the breadth of their coalition across faith lines throughout the US and Canada. While the coalition is not as extensive or diverse when compared to vast network of NGOs involved in the global women's movement, it is growing quickly and has access to financial resources. They are advantaged in some respects by their single-issue focus and hierarchical leadership structure. This enables them to make a high impact strike on the areas they are concerned about. Feminists will need to find a way to counter this strength without compromising their own democratic values.

The World Family Policy Center, formally called NGO Family Voice, was founded by Richard G. Wilkins a law professor at Brigham Young University (BYU) - the Utah-based Mormon university. Susan Roylance of United Families International (UFI) first convinced Richard Wilkins to get involved internationally by telling him about preparations for the Habitat Conference. His experience at Habitat, referred to by supporters as "the Istanbul Miracle," inspired him to found the WFPC with the cooperation of BYU's President, its Law School and the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies. WFPC is "devoted to providing world-wide democratic input on pro-family and other value-based issues within the UN system." It also provides legal analysis and lobbing information.

The Howard Center was established in 1997 "to provide research and understanding that demonstrate and affirm family and religion as the foundation of a virtuous and free society." The Howard Center describes itself to be a resource center for information about "the natural family, the benefits of a religious-based family culture, and a variety of influences wittingly and unwittingly working against the natural family." Interestingly, the center clarifies that it is "not an advocacy group; we do not lobby institutions." Whether or not the Howard Center had an NGO delegate at the Beijing PrepCom meeting, the center clearly has helped shape the agenda of Religious Right representatives.

The Howard Center was established by Dr. John Howard a wealthy benefactor who, in addition to many other degrees, holds an honorary degree from BYU. The Howard Center's director, Dr. Allan C. Carlson, is well connected in the Republican Party. Among other political appointments, Dr. Carlson was appointed by President Reagan to serve on the National Commission on Children. Carlson is the former President of the Rockford Institute, which seeks the "renewal of Christendom" through the "defense of family, promotion of liberty, decentralization of political and economic life, the adherence to truth revealed through scripture, and the celebration of literary and artistic inheritance of our civilization."

The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) was founded in 1997 by Human Life International (HLI), the "world's largest pro-life and pro-family apostolate with 56 US Chapters and a network of international branches and affiliates serving 88 countries." The Reverend Paul Marx founded HLI in 1972 because he believed the Roman Catholic Church's heirarchy had not done enough to defend its teaching on contraception. Many civil rights groups and researchers describe HLI as one of the most extreme groups in the radical right. Critics claim that HLI incites violence and is anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim as well as anti- feminist and homophobic. Father Paul Mark, suggested in his autobiography that Jews are leaders of the abortion movement and that Muslims "aren't hesitant to kill you to please Allah." Such history reveals how surprising this conservative coalition is, and may indicate potential fault lines in the conservative interfaith alliance.

Austin Ruse, C-FAM's director, was on the planning committee for the WCF II. C-FAM is also listed as one of six co-convening organizations. One researcher suggests that "while other groups provide finances, contacts and a policy agenda, Ruse is the person who attends the UN conferences and attempts to make the pro-family agenda have an impact. His aim is to establish a block of 12 countries to halt 'anti-family policy' at the UN."

During the Beijing Plus Five Preparatory Commission, C-FAM published the daily newspaper Vivant! and provided the office space for the pro-family coalition, referred to in publications as the NGO Caucus for Stable Families. C-FAM's mission statement states: C-FAM will be an advocate on behalf of the rights and responsibilities of men, women and children, especially within the framework of the family as the fundamental unit of society. In keeping with human dignity and liberty as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), CAFHRI respects the diversity of cultural traditions and religions. The pro-family coalition bills the global women's movement as an anti-religious, Western feminist imposition on developing nations.

A recently posted C-FAM job announcement shows how C-FAM perceives its role in the pro-family coalition:

C-FAM is the first full time pro-life and pro-family office working at the UN headquarters.C-FAM works exclusively on issues related to life and family within the UN context.C-FAM is at the center of an international coalition of groups that work with UN bureaucrats and diplomats in protecting the unborn and the family.

The Family Research Council was one of the six co-convening organizations of the WCF II and has published many articles authored by WCF II participants and pro-family representatives attending the PrepCom, including Dale O'Leary and Richard Wilkins. In 1998, FRC could boast a membership of 445,000 and a budget of $14 million. Until recently, Gary Bauer headed the organization.

The FRC has a United Nations Project aimed at reforming the UN so that it is more in line with the political goals of the Religious Right. The FRC's United Nations Project seeks "to call the UN to account for its failure to protect human rights around the world despite its obligation to do so under the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights." FRC sent its senior director for national security and foreign affairs and Senior Fellow for life studies as well as three students.

Many of the organizations described below have consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. Organizations with consultative status may attend UN meetings open to NGO involvement. These organizations enabled religious conservatives to obtain the credentials necessary to participate in the PrepCom, registering numbers that exceeded loosely enforced UN guidelines.

Real Women of Canada, whose mission is "To reaffirm that the family is society's most important unit and to promote the equality, advancement and well-being of women," was present at the World Congress of Families and links its web site to C-FAM. United Families International (UFI), founded and directed by Susan Roylance, accredited a number of pro- family participants at the PrepCom. Roylance organized a conservative Mormon presence at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women and the Habitat II Conference in 1996 UFI, along with Concerned Women for America and Real Women, is one of the few female- headed NGOs in the Religious Right coalition.

Concerned Women for America (CWA), a Conservative Evangelical Protestant women's organization, sent four women to the PrepCom and published daily news briefs on its website. Founded by Beverly LaHaye in the early eighties, CWA claims to be the nation's largest public policy women's organization. Researcher Jean Hardisty of Political Research Associates confirms that it has as many members as the National Organization for Women. The organization's mission is to "protect the family through prayer and action." Beverly LaHaye is well connected to the Christian Right. She is wife of Tim LaHaye, the cofounder of the Moral Majority and a well-known Christian right leader. Founding members of CWA's advisory council include the wives of Jerry Falwell, Senator Jesse Helms, and television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart.

LaHaye recently established The Beverly La Haye Institute, which sent participants to the WCF II. Dr. Allan Carlson was the keynote speaker at a forum sponsored in October 1999 by LaHaye's new research institute. The CWA web site urges members to sign the petition "A Call for Families of the World" (the Geneva Declaration) that emerged from the World Congress of Families.

Tom Minnery, Vice President of Public Policy of Focus on the Family, also a leading Conservative Evangelical organization, attended a press conference at the UN organized by C-FAM during the PrepCom. Founded by Dr. James Dobson, a Christian Right leader, Focus on the Family has 2.1 million members and an annual budget of 110 million. Focus on the Family and C-FAM came together to make a statement in opposition to the See Change Campaign, an effort led by Catholics for a Free Choice to revoke the Holy See's Observer State status. The title of the press release describes their view of the event: "Focus on the Family Joins Historic Alliance of Evangelicals, Catholics and Muslims to Defend Catholic Church at the United Nations."

The International Right to Life Federation (IRLF), based in Cincinnati, accredited at least six people. Mr. J.C. Wilke is the president of IRLF and is also with the Life Issues Institute (mentioned in Vivant!), which shares the same address as IRLF. IRLF claims chapters in 170 countries. The National Right to Life Committee, one of the largest "pro-life" (anti-choice) organizations in the US, also has ECOSOC status and accredited a few participants.

The Couple to Couple League (CCL), a Catholic organization, accredited twenty participants. The World Movement of Mothers, based in Geneva, accredited several participants as well. The World Movement of Mothers now serves on the Executive Committee of the NGO Committee on the Family, a substantive committee of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations (CONGO).

Religious Right groups often place a high priority on organizing youth, and this pro-family coalition is no exception. The World Youth Alliance (WYA) was the name given to the group of youth at the PrepCom meeting, although the youth were not accredited by WYA and knew little if anything about the organization when questioned. Mostly inexperienced and uniformed conservative youth were led by a handful of leaders who did understand the PrepCom process and shaped the issues for the youth. Most likely, WYA does not have an organizational structure and membership. It describes itself in Vivant! As having grown out of the participation of pro-family groups around the UN Youth Forums in Braga and the Hague. The same article attributes much of the organizing of WYA to Ryan Nelson, an WFPC participatnt. WYA activities are also mentioned in Religious Right coverage of the ICPD plus five proceedings.

One of the few non- North American NGOs from the religious right was True Love Waits of Kenya. True Love Waits is a Southern Baptist initiated interfaith campaign to get youth to make a commitment to wait until marriage to have sex (one can become a 'secondary virgin' by the grace of God). The Baptist World Alliance has carried this campaign to 165 Baptist groups around the world.

While a few Muslims were accredited by the pro-family coalition, little if any organizational presence existed. At the World Congress of Families II, only one of the six co-convening organizations was Muslim and a only few Muslims gave presentations. While the coalition seems to seek partnership with Muslim NGOs, its primary contacts thus far appear to be with some of the leaders of the OIC.

End Notes

1. Jean Hardisty. Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers. Boston: Beacon Press, 1999.
2. Catholics for a Free Choice, The World Congress of Families II: A Call to All People of Good Will, Washington D.C.: CFFC, 1/2000.
3. Catholics for a Free Choice, The World Congress of Families II: A Call to All People of Good Will, Washington D.C.: CFFC, 1/2000.

*Jennifer Butler
Ecumenical Women 2000 Plus
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


  • Austin Ruse's speech at World Congress of Families II "Toward a Permanent United Nations Pro-Family Bloc"
    Austin Ruse is founder and President of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, based in New York. A former businessman and publisher, he now edits C-Fam's Friday Fax, an international e-mail service in support of family and religious liberty.

  • Geneva Declaration from WCF "A Call To Families"

    Other Links

    Pro-family Websites:

    Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute
    Family Research Council- UN Program
    Concerned Women for America
    World Congress of Families II (WCF)
    NGO Family Voice
    Howard Center

    More Information on NGOs at the UN


    FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.