For decades, the Christian-right foot soldiers who form the backbone of the Republican Party have regularly and enthusiastically showed up for legislative battles over religious freedom and reproductive and LGBTQ rights. On Sept. 1, they scored one of their biggest victories yet: the Texas Heartbeat Act, which bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy and deputizes private citizens to report anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion.
Six days later, religious conservatives celebrated another critical legislative victory, one that signaled a new frontier in their movement. In the east Texas city of Tyler, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the Election Integrity Protection Act of 2021, passed in late August after Democrats fled the state in a futile effort to stop it. The new law severely restricts voting access in Texas, with the biggest impact on voters of color; Abbott hailed it as a “good paradigm for other states to follow.” Also in attendance were his lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, and state Sen. Bryan Hughes, key architects of both the voter and abortion bills and heroes to evangelical Christians around the U.S. Patrick is well known to religious-right voters for his opposition to reproductive and LGBTQ rights and promotion of “Christian values.” The mood was jubilant.
The Christian right’s ability to mobilize its own voters has long made it one of the most potent forces in American politics. But this year, evangelical leaders have embraced a new strategy, one with direct roots in the outcome of the 2020 election: Religious activists have taken up the cause of “election integrity,” pushing bills to crack down on voter fraud, even though no evidence of widespread fraud in U.S. elections exists. In the process, they’ve helped restrict ballot access for millions of Americans – the most regressive wave of voting measures since the Jim Crow era – and drawn a direct connection between their new cause and their core religious beliefs.