About Faith in Public Life
Faith in Public Life (FPL) is a strategy center for the faith community advancing faith in the public square as a powerful force for justice, compassion and the common good.
In order to maximize the faith community’s unique ability to shape public debates, FPL identifies and creates moments of opportunity, builds and supports broad coalitions, and designs and implements innovative campaigns, bold initiatives and capacity-building tools. FPL’s approach emphasizes results, rapid response, cutting-edge skills and media savvy.
Following the 2004 election, in which faith was often deployed in service of a narrow and partisan agenda, a diverse group of 40 religious leaders came together to advance a positive alternative: a robust and effective faith movement pursuing the common good with the savvy, flexibility and nimbleness to thrive in a new political and media environment.
Faith in Public Life was founded to fuel this burgeoning faith movement with cutting edge strategies and capacity-building resources. The founders gave FPL a movement-focused mission, rather than an organizational or issue-focused one, and the specific mandate to lift up religious voices speaking for justice and the common good, build bridges and facilitate strategic alliances, and find new ways forward on historically divisive issues.
In just a few years, FPL has played an important role in changing the narrative about the role of faith in politics, winning major progressive policy victories, and empowering new religious leaders to fight for social justice and the common good. Our media expertise, rapid-response capabilities and strategic campaign development have made us respected commentators in the media and valued partners with a range of religious groups working for economic and social justice. The timeline highlights some of our hallmark achievements as a strategy center for the faith community.
2006: Lifting up new voices
Following the 2004 election, “values voters” and Religious Right groups were the face of religion in politics. In Ohio, the “Patriot Pastors” were portrayed by the media as a political force. Shortly after FPL was founded, we helped “We Believe Ohio,” a fledgling clergy coalition in Columbus and Cleveland, become a force in the Buckeye state that challenged the Religious Right’s dominance. By providing We Believe’s diverse leaders with media training, communications capacity, and strategic counsel, we broke the Right’s chokehold on the media narrative in that year’s elections. We Believe clergy spoke out about issues such as the minimum wage and immoral campaign tactics, engaged candidates and publicly confronted Religious Right leaders.
2008: Changing the political debate
As the 2008 presidential primaries approached, FPL was determined to organize events that would carve out a positive, constructive role for faith in the political narrative. Well before the primary debates began in fall 2007, we organized an ideologically and religiously diverse board of faith leaders to sponsor the Compassion Forum, a one-of-a-kind event at which diverse faith leaders would ask candidates substantive questions about moral issues such as climate change, health care and poverty. Securing commitments from candidates was a great challenge as they fought for votes every day on the campaign trail, but thanks to our persistent engagement with the campaigns, our well-organized coalition of leaders and cosponsors, and our strategic choice of location and time – a Christian college in Pennsylvania just days before the state’s Democratic primary – then-Senators Obama and Clinton took part in the forum.
The event was broadcast live on CNN and rerun later in congregational broadcast networks, and it provided moderate and progressive faith leaders with a national platform to discuss issues that unified much of the faith community, rather than dividing. Amid a seemingly endless season of political showdowns and “gotcha” moments, it was more substantive and issue-focused than any other debate.
2009-10: Health reform
Following the landslide election of 2008, progressives took on one of the great social justice challenges in America – reforming a woefully inadequate healthcare system that cost too much, covered too little, and left millions of Americans behind. FPL impacted this historic legislative fight in numerous ways. We formed a groundbreaking partnership with faith-based community organizing networks and prominent clergy to mount 40 Days for Health Reform, a campaign that included Christian radio ads, cable TV ads featuring clergy in key states, press conferences, op-eds, marches, vigils and an innovative call-in webcast featuring clergy and President Obama, which drew 144,000 live listeners.
We also directly impacted the legislative debate at key moments. As the Senate prepared to vote on the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) initially withheld support because of concerns about federal funding of abortion services. In addition to supplying the media and key Congressional staff with expert analysis of this policy area, we organized public support for the reform bill from dozens of Nebraska’s most prominent faith leaders, which generated media coverage in key newspapers. When this same issue arose in advance of the House of Representatives vote, we played the same role in key offices Capitol Hill and in the media, outflanking the Religious Right’s effort to deceive well-intentioned lawmakers from conservative districts about this highly charged issue and kill the bill.
2011-12: Exposing immoral economic values
After Republicans seized control of the House of Representatives in 2010, conservative leaders not only embarked upon a relentless crusade to slash vital safety-net protections for struggling families, but also claimed that their immoral agenda was consistent with Christian theology. We could not let this stand. In concert with partner organizations, we called attention to GOP budget author Paul Ryan’s devotion to the cruel and anti-religious philosophy of Ayn Rand. Through a variety of tactics, from holding press conferences with Senators to confronting Ryan face to face with a Bible and putting it on Youtube, we generated copious media coverage that directed withering public scrutiny on the extremist roots of the GOP’s economic agenda. Ryan tried to backpedal from his embrace of Rand’s extreme ideology, but the values behind his federal budget plan were exposed.
Ryan simply could not leave well-enough alone. In early 2012, he inaccurately claimed in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network that his radical federal budget plan upheld Catholic Social Teaching about protecting the poor and vulnerable. Thanks to a flurry of strategic media outreach by FPL, cable news networks, newspapers and online media covered the fact that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops had said Ryan’s budget failed “a basic moral test.” We also coordinated the public rollout of a letter from Georgetown University faculty rebuking Ryan’s misuse of church teaching to justify his extreme budget cuts – on the same day he spoke on campus. The conflict between Ryan’s budget and Catholic theology continued to haunt him throughout the spring and summer, as the Nuns on the Bus tour rolled through 12 states to highlight the devastating impact the Ryan budget would have on low-income people in communities across the country. FPL helped conceptualize the tour and led the media strategy and outreach, resulting in hundreds of newspaper, television and radio stories.
2012-13: Rolling out innovative tools
FPL has developed sophisticated civic engagement tools called the Religion Models that enable us to precisely target people of faith for contact during issue campaigns. In the past two years they’ve been put to use as never before. Using the Religion Models, ISAIAH, a faith-based community organizing group in Minnesota, was able to efficiently reach thousands of people of faith with phone calls and direct mail with tailored messaging in a successful campaign to defeat a discriminatory state voter-ID ballot initiative that would have disenfranchised poor, minority, elderly and young Minnesota voters. This year, the Religion Models have been put to similar use in legislative fights on issues ranging from gun violence prevention to food stamp funding in key states.
2013 – Hitting the road
The effort to reform our broken immigration system has been the biggest legislative debate since the 2012 election. While media coverage initially focused on developments inside the Beltway, FPL laid the groundwork to insert powerful voices into the debate in key states and Congressional districts. While Congress debated a bipartisan reform bill, we played an integral role in planning and executing the “Nuns on the Border” bus tour, which held 50 events with Catholic Sisters from coast to coast — including many in crucial Congressional districts – to rally the faith community in support of reform that keeps immigrant families together and builds a roadmap to citizenship for the undocumented. FPL helped conceptualize the tour and led the media strategy and outreach, resulting in scores of newspaper, television and radio stories that lifted up the faith community’s commitment to common sense reform and turned up the pressure on strategically important Members of Congress. Along the way, we mounted phone-banking campaigns targeting Capitol Hill offices and coordinated letters to newspaper editors, editorial board meetings and op-eds.
As the legislative debate progressed through the summer, FPL also built a groundswell of support on Catholic college campuses. In partnership with the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, and the Ignatian Solidarity Network, we organized an open letter from 100 Catholic college and university presidents calling on Catholic members of Congress to support bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship. These influential voices, which were previously absent from the political narrative, resonated in national media outlets such as the Washington Post and The New York Times. The letter also ran as a full page ad in Politico, amplifying this message to a key audience of policymakers, pundits and Congressional staffers.
We didn’t stop there. We also hired organizers to help plan events on dozens of campuses from coast to coast as students returned for the fall semester and the legislative process on Capitol Hill slowly moved along. As the debate continues, this momentum is demonstrating to Catholic lawmakers that immigration is an enduring priority at Catholic institutions.
Along the way, we’ve also engaged in other advocacy and communications efforts, such as providing media strategy and outreach for a massive faith leaders’ rally at House Speaker John Boehner’s district office in Springfield, Ohio, and placing radio ads in key districts in Nevada and Nebraska that featured religious leaders and children of undocumented parents who live in constant fear.