Updated May 15, 2012
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Religious Tradition and
This report divides religious advocacy groups into six mutually exclusive categories based on
their organizational structures.
Membership organizations – groups whose main constituents and/or funding sources are
individual members – are by far the most common organizational type. They represent
about four-in-ten of the organizations in the study (90 groups, or 42%). Of these, more than
a quarter (24 groups) are interreligious. Roughly equal numbers of these organizations draw
their members primarily from evangelical Protestants (16 groups), Catholics (15) and Jews (14).
Some derive their funding exclusively from individual members, but many also receive support
from foundations or other sources. Examples of membership organizations include Americans
United for Separation of Church and State, Family Research Council and the Unitarian
Universalist Service Committee. This category also includes religion-related professional
associations, such as the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, the American Association
of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, and Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights.
Groups that primarily represent
institutions, rather than
individuals, are the next most
common type. They include
almost a fifth of the organizations
studied (37 groups, or 17%). These
advocacy groups defend the
interests of secondary schools,
colleges, hospitals, international
relief and development agencies,
social service providers, broadcast
media organizations and religious
orders. Associations of Catholic
institutions, such as Catholic Relief
Services and the Association of
Catholic Colleges and Universities,
are particularly common
(16 groups). Organizations
representing religious institutions
tend to be funded by those
institutions. Many have had a steady Washington presence for decades, consistently focusing on the same issue areas.
Thirty-two advocacy organizations (15%) represent official religious bodies. A quarter
are mainline Protestant groups (eight), and about a fifth are evangelical Protestant (six). The
remainder represent a variety of faith traditions, including Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Scientology
and the Baha’i faith, among others. These groups, such as the United States Conference
of Catholic Bishops and the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church & Society,
defend the official interests and positions of their religious traditions or denominations, or the
interests of interdenominational associations of official religious bodies, such as the National
Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA and the National Association of Evangelicals. They
typically receive financial and organizational support from the religious bodies they represent.
Religion-related think tanks make up one-in-ten religious advocacy groups (21 groups, or
10%). More than six-in-ten of them (13) are interreligious. These groups conduct research
and provide policy recommendations on religion-related issues or approach their research
and policy recommendations based on values rooted in a particular religious tradition. For
example, the Culture of Life Foundation conducts research on bioethics, family and marriage,
and other social issues, largely from a Catholic perspective. Similarly, the Center for the Study
of Islam and Democracy conducts research and policy workshops that promote the idea that
Islam and democracy are fully compatible. Think tanks typically are funded by donations from
benefactors – individuals and/or foundations – that support their policy positions.
While short-lived alliances frequently form around legislative issues, more enduring networks
of groups are common enough to be considered as their own category. Permanent coalitions
are about as numerous as think tanks (19 groups, or 9%). More than half of these (11 groups)
are interreligious. These coalitions typically have their own funding, which is separate from the
funding of the member groups. Unlike temporary alliances, however, they also tend to have
their own permanent staff, as opposed to staff borrowed from alliance members. Established
coalitions often have emerged from what originally appeared to be short-term alliances. For
example, Jubilee USA Network, a coalition of development agencies and relief groups from
different religious traditions, was formed in the late 1990s to support legislation to provide debt
relief for Third World countries. Today, Jubilee USA Network works for the broader goal of
complete cancelation of developing countries’ international debts.
Hybrid groups (17, or 8%) blend features of more than one structural type or do not fit neatly
into any of the above categories. An example is the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which
conducts legal research and generates publications like a think tank but also provides pro
bono legal representation for individuals and religious bodies to further the cause of religious freedom. Six of the 17 hybrid groups in the study are interreligious, five are rooted in the
evangelical Protestant tradition, four represent Catholic points of view, one is affiliated with
the Unification Church and one is Muslim.
Religious Tradition and
Within each religious tradition, one or two organizational structures tend to predominate.
Among evangelical Protestant advocacy groups, about four-in-ten (41%) are individual
membership organizations, such as Concerned Women for America and the Home School Legal
Defense Association. Jewish groups also tend to represent the interests of individual members
(56%), as do Muslim groups (53%). And among interreligious advocacy organizations, a
majority represent either individual members (42%) or think tanks (23%).
Most Catholic advocacy groups represent either individual members (37%), such as Human
Life International and Leadership Conference of Women Religious, or institutions (39%), such
as Catholic Charities USA and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.
By contrast, half of mainline Protestant advocacy organizations (50%) represent the interests
of official religious bodies, such as the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.
For a full list of groups and their
organizational structures, see the online directory.