Social conservatism in the United States
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Social conservatism in the United States is a political ideology focused on the preservation of traditional values and beliefs. It focuses on a concern with moral and social values which proponents of the ideology see as degraded in modern society by liberalism. In the United States, one of the largest forces of social conservatism is the Christian right.
Social conservatives in the United States are concerned with many social issues such as opposition to abortion, opposition to feminism, support for traditional family values, opposition to pornography, support for abstinence-only sex education, opposition to same-sex marriage, opposition to transgender rights, support for school prayer, support for school vouchers, support for Sunday blue laws, opposition to gambling, and opposition to recreational drug use, among others.
As many of them are religious, more specifically Christian, social conservatives push for a focus on Christian traditions as a guiding force for the country on social issues. This includes advocacy for the presence of religion within the public sphere, such as the display of Judeo-Christian statuary in general and especially during Christmastide and Eastertide, as well as supporting the presence of religion in the education system, along with backing parochial schools, as social conservatives believe that "religion is the firmest foundation for the moral development that students need to become productive, law-abiding citizens."
As a term, social conservatism describes conservative stances on socio-cultural issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and school prayer as opposed to what is termed social liberalism (cultural liberalism). A social conservative in this sense is closer to the meaning of cultural conservatism than the broader European social conservatism and may hold either more conservative or liberal views on fiscal policy.
Opposition to abortion
The United States anti-abortion movement opposes induced abortion on moral and religious grounds and supports its legal prohibition or restriction. Social conservatives often support the overturning of Roe v. Wade and are generally "pro-life" (belief in the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death). These beliefs are often based on the argument of "fetal personhood". Personhood arguments focus on giving a fetus the status of a person which then entitles them to the right to life. Pro-life beliefs tend to be associated with conservative Christian groups, especially the Catholic Church.
Opposition to feminism
Social conservatives often oppose feminism, believing that men and women are fundamentally different and their traditional gender roles in society should be maintained. They often promote women's traditional roles as homemakers and caregivers, discouraging women from participating in the workforce, government, or military. A number of social conservatives favor complementarianism with respect to gender roles.
Social conservatives often blame feminism for many social problems ailing American families. They hold that feminism in modern times has created an upsurge in the non-married population, undermined male authority in families, and contributed to the decline of the traditional family. Many cite the declining birth rate due to legalized abortion. Others have cited the rising rate of single mother families due to rising rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births, and the resulting psychological and economic toll on children. Children of single or divorced parents are more likely to suffer from poverty and to be incarcerated for behavioral problems.
Support for sexual morality
Every since the sexual revolution in 1960s United States, sexual ethics have been a point of contention in the culture war between social conservatives and liberals. Social conservatives call on the government to exert moral leadership over sexual mores, and actively promote family values. They stress the sanctity of marriage and childbirth, blaming social liberalism for the rise in casual sex, premarital sex, out-of-wedlock births, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and pornography ever since the mid-20th century.
Opposition to pornography
Opposition to pornography is a traditional stance of social conservatives in the United States. Many blame pornography for corrupting children, encouraging sexual violence against women, promoting casual sex, and destroying marriages. Many conservative Christians.
Support for abstinence-only sex education
Social conservatives are concerned with the moral education and possibly age-inappropriate information children receive from sex education classes in public schools. They prefer abstinence-only sex education for its compatibility with traditional Christian ethics regarding chastity and the sanctity of marriage. Abstinence-only sex education teaches that sex is limited to the bounds of marriage, and that premarital sex is unacceptable. Conversely social conservatives oppose comprehensive sex education as it teaches morally questionable concepts such as birth control, which they believe leads to premarital sex, sexually transmitted infections, and teenage pregnancy. The wearing of purity rings among unmarried women is encouraged by social conservatives in order to preserve traditional Christian notions regarding human sexuality.
Opposition to same-sex marriage
Social conservatives oppose same-sex marriage, civil unions, and LGBT adoption, as homosexuality goes against fundamental Christian teachings that marriage is between a man and a woman. They often believe that homosexuality is abnormal, that the recognition of same-sex unions will promote homosexuality in society, and that children are raised better by opposite-sex couples. Social conservatives are skeptical of the legalization of same-sex marriage, supporting instead laws such as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Some are more tolerant of civil unions than same-sex marriage, but many oppose homosexual relations of any form. While social conservatives typically support basic LGBT rights, they are concerned with "normalizing" same-sex relationships through the institution of marriage. Some conservatives support same-sex marriage, such as Log Cabin Republicans.
Support for school prayer and creationism
Social conservatives support school prayer, which has been banned in public schools ever since a series of 1960s Supreme Court decisions such as Engel v. Vitale. They have continued to attack the Supreme Court, blaming these decisions for pushing Christianity out of America's mainstream culture.
Many social conservatives, mainly Christian fundamentalists, believe that creationism or intelligent design should be taught in public schools in place of evolution. More moderate conservatives support the teaching of creationism alongside evolution, specifically promoting theistic evolution, in which God is regarded as guiding evolution.
In public schools, social conservatives have supported classes on "The Bible in History and Literature" (cf. National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools).
Support for school vouchers
Peter S. Wenz explains the support of school vouchers, writing: "Social conservatives favor vouchers because they allow religion to be taught in government-funded schools, and they think religion is the firmest foundation for the moral development that students need to become productive, law-abiding citizens."
Support for accommodationism
Social conservatives are accommodationists who often oppose secularism, state atheism, and moral relativism, viewing them as threats to the nation's Christian character. They hold that the Establishment Clause solely prevents the establishment of a state Church nationally, not public acknowledgements of God nor "developing policies that encourage general religious beliefs that do not favor a particular sect and are consistent with the secular government's goals." Such Judeo-Christian heritage includes, for example, the national motto "In God We Trust", the courtroom oath "So help me God", the supplication which begins court sessions "God save the United States and this Honorable Court", "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, Congressional prayer, a National Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving, among others.
Notwithstanding, socially conservatives Justices in the United States such as Clarence Thomas have argued that the Establishment Clause's purpose was to prevent federal interference with the established Churches of the states within the Union and that the Constitution does not prevent the establishment of state churches with respect to the states (cf. Federalism).
Social conservatives appeal to Christian nationalism, supporting the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. As such, social conservatives in the United States support Sunday blue laws, which are consistent with Sunday Sabbatarian principles, thus favoring legislation that prohibits Sunday trading (cf. Lord's Day Alliance); social conservatives also back the presence of Judeo-Christian monuments and statues in the public square. In the same vein, social conservatives support regular church attendance and participation in Sunday School.
Opposition to drugs
Social conservatives in the United States have maintained an opposition to drug usage on moral grounds. They have historically supporting the temperance movement and the war on drugs. As such, social conservatives support Sunday blue laws, consistent with Sunday Sabbatarian principles.
Opposition to gambling
Social conservatives are opposed to gambling, viewing it as immoral. As such, social conservatives have rallied to prevent casinos from opening in areas where they are numerically in strength, citing that gambling is opposed to family values. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union, one of the oldest organizations espousing social conservatism, advanced the argument that "communities with casinos suffer higher rates of home foreclosures, financial distress, and domestic violence", thus calling for people to oppose gambling.
The 1897 Constitution of the National Reform Association, one of the oldest organizations espousing social conservatism in the United States, with a focus on introducing a Christian amendment to the U.S. Constitution, expressed alarm at what they viewed as:
Perceiving the subtle and persevering attempts which are made to prohibit the reading of the Bible in our Public Schools, to overthrow our Sabbath laws, to corrupt the Family, to abolish the Oath, Prayer in our National and State Legislatures, Days of Fasting and Thanksgiving, and other Christian features of our institutions, and so to divorce the American Government from all connection with the Christian religion; Viewing with grave apprehension in our politics, the legal sanction of the liquor traffic, and the disregard of moral and religious character in those who are exalted to high places in the nation.
The 1960s saw a surge in grassroots social conservative activism in response to the successes of liberal politics in changing American culture. Democrats continued to put forward increasingly liberal policy ideas that ran counter to the beliefs of many conservative Americans which mobilized them to protect their interests. Some social conservatives supported candidates such as Barry Goldwater in the 1964 Republican Party presidential primaries. There was a rise of social conservatism that advocated a strong moral code and increased religious authority.
Historians have pointed to the 1970s as a turning point where "a vast shift toward social and political conservatism" really began. Meg Jacobs and Julian E. Zelizer argue that this period saw an increase an activism and concern with personal and social issues which lead to a growth of social conservatism. There are multiple theories on the growth of social conservatism in this period. Some of the possible reasons or combination of reasons for this phenomenon are the backlash to the Vietnam War, the expanded conversation on civil rights, the economic changes in the United States and the overall changes in culture in this period. Some commentators refer to social conservatism and renewed conservative grassroots activism as a reaction to the counterculture and cultural upheaval of the 1960s–1970s. A notable event regarding social policy in the 1970s was the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973 which recognized a legal right to abortion.
Starting in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan, a prominent conservative Republican, exemplifies the rise of social conservatives in mainstream politics. Reagan appealed to social conservatives who felt marginalized by the growing liberalization of American culture, calling on the "forgotten man" or "moral majority". After the tumultuous period of political and cultural changes in the 1960s–1970s, Reagan's moderate traditionalism appeared as a source of needed stability for many Americans.
Major conservative welfare reform took place in the 1990s. In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA) was passed narrowing the benefits of welfare recipients and encouraging work. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) also came into effect during this period, limiting the time benefits can be received.
Social conservatives again became powerful in American politics in 2001 with the election of socially conservative President George W. Bush. It has been argued that many of Bush's policy decisions were strongly influenced by his religious beliefs. During his time in office, Bush would pass influential conservative social policies such as the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and support an increase in funding of abstinence-only sex education. While President Bush did not strongly promote "pro-life" policies, he supported the movement through an emphasis on parental rights and focus on strict regulation of taxpayer funding.
In American politics, the Republican Party is the largest political party with some socially conservative ideals incorporated into its platform. Social conservatives predominantly support the Republican Party, although there are also socially conservative Democrats who break ranks with the party platform. Despite this, there have been instances where the Republican Party's nominee has been considered too socially liberal by social conservatives. This has led to the support of third party candidates from parties such as the Constitution Party, whose philosophies sometimes parallel that of social conservatism. While many social conservatives see third parties as a viable option in such a situation, some high-profile social conservatives see the excessive support of them as dangerous. This fear arises from the possibility of vote splitting. Like any other interest group, social conservatives usually must find a balance between pragmatic electability and ideological principles when supporting candidates.
The American Tea Party movement is generally regarded as fiscally conservatives who tend to avoid social conservative issues. The Tea Party Patriots is officially neutral on social conservatism. While social conservatism tends to emphasize community, faith and family as core values, the Tea Party Patriots identifies its core values as "Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, Free Markets". Some branches are opposed to social conservatism. However, independent polls have repeatedly shown that Tea Party supporters are nearly indistinguishable in their views from traditional Republican social conservatives, despite their choice to emphasize economic issues. While not allying itself officially with the Christian conservative movement, members of the Tea Party movement statistically identify with Christianity and social conservatism more often than the general American populace (44% compared to 34% of the population). Some social conservative leaders have criticized the Tea Party movement for "libertarian" and "irreligious" views. Nearly 80% of those in the Tea Party movement are members of the Republican Party.
- Mike Huckabee
- Rush Limbaugh
- Sarah Palin
- Mike Pence
- Rick Santorum
- Phyllis Schlafly
Minor political parties
- American Solidarity Party
- Christian Liberty Party
- Constitution Party
- Prohibition Party
- Alliance Defending Freedom
- American Center for Law and Justice
- American Family Association
- American Principles Project
- Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
- Christian Coalition of America
- Concerned Women for America
- Family Research Council
- First Liberty Institute
- Foundation for Moral Law
- Liberty Counsel
- Lord's Day Alliance
- Medical Institute for Sexual Health
- Moral Majority
- National Center on Sexual Exploitation
- National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools
- National Reform Association[disambiguation needed]
- Pacific Justice Institute
- Woman's Christian Temperance Union
- Bell, Jeffrey (2012). The Case for Polarized Politics: Why American Needs Social Conservatism. New York: Encounter Books. pp. 6–10. ISBN 9781594035784 – via Proquest ebrary.
The Case for Polarized Politics: Why American Needs Social Conservatism.
- Marsden, Lee (December 28, 2012). The Ashgate Research Companion to Religion and Conflict Resolution. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 978-1-4094-7128-8.
Even within the secular heartlands of Western Europe and the United States religion began to force its way into the political agenda with the emergence of the American Christian Right as a new force in social conservatism in the late 1970s and in the UK with the issue of fatwas calling for the death of British author Salman Rushdie, promoted by the publication of his book The Satanic Verses, which was declared blasphemous by Ayatollah Khomeini, Supreme Leader of Iran, in 1989.
- Quantz, Richard A. (January 8, 2016). Sociocultural Studies in Education: Critical Thinking for Democracy. Routledge. p. 137. ISBN 978-1-317-26076-9.
Some important narratives appealed to by social conservatives that were not mentioned in Chapter 4 include the America is a Christian Nation narrative discussed earlier; the God Created man as Head of the Family and any other traditional family narrative, such as the Evils of Drugs and the Evils of Sex narratives; and any of the narrative found in the Bible, especially the Genesis, Jesus Son of God, and the Apocalypse narratives.
- Chambers, Kerry (January 1, 2011). Gambling for Profit: Lotteries, Gaming Machines, and Casinos in Cross-national Focus. University of Toronto Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-4426-4189-1.
Historically, Protestant evangelicals, traditionalists, and social conservatives have condemned gambling as immoral and attempted to exert social-norm pressures on others.
- Thompson, Michael (2007). Confronting the New Conservatism: The Rise of the Right in America. NYU Press. pp. 2–3. ISBN 9780814782996.
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- Wenz, Peter S. (February 10, 2012). Beyond Red and Blue: How Twelve Political Philosophies Shape American Debates. MIT Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-262-26127-2.
Social conservatives favor vouchers because they allow religion to be taught in government-funded schools, and they think religious is the firmest foundation for the moral development that students need to become productive, law-abiding citizens.
- Quantz, Richard A. (January 8, 2016). Sociocultural Studies in Education: Critical Thinking for Democracy. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-26075-2.
Social conservatives tend to advocate for abstinence education, church attendance, prayer in school, public Christmas displays, patriotism, the military, and gun rights. ... Whereas religion is considered to be in the private realm, social conservatives often argue that the cultural history of the United States makes it perfectly legal to allow some aspects of religion to move into the public sphere. Primarily they advocate the public space be open to the display and expectations of broad Judaic-Christian traditions and often specifically Christian traditions.
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From the perspective of social conservatives, the grant requirements ensure that organizations that support abstinence-only and conservative sexual morality are provided with funding under the program.
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Throughout the twentieth century, many evangelicals accepted theistic evolution ... Some Christian right organizations supported the teaching of creationism, along with evolution, in public schools.
- Scharrer, Gary (July 19, 2008). "Schools in Texas get OK for elective Bible course". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved October 14, 2020.
Local school districts got a green light Friday to offer high school students an elective Bible course ... The argument focused on legislative intent. In the end, the board's coalition of social conservatives prevailed, 10-5.
- Wenz, Peter S. (February 10, 2012). Beyond Red and Blue: How Twelve Political Philosophies Shape American Debates. MIT Press. p. 7, 91. ISBN 978-0-262-26127-2.
Social conseratives find happiness on drugs morally despicable.
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The Chick-Fil-A boycott was counterbalanced by a movement of social conservatives supporting the restaurant chain.
- Grem, Darren E. (2016). The Blessings of Business: How Corporations Shaped Conservative Christianity. Oxford University Press. p. 122. ISBN 978-0-19-992797-5.
By the 1980s, Chick-fil-A was so unique among fast-food restaurants that its Sunday closing policy was the equivalent of a totem for conservative evangelicals, a symbol that represented the proper posture that conservative people of faith could and should hold toward corporate culture or American society in general.
- Warren A. Nord. Does God Make a Difference?. Oxford University Press.
First Amendment Politics: At the risk of oversimplifying a very complicated situation, I suggest that conservative justices tend to favor a weak reading of both the Free Exercise and Establishment clause, while liberals tend to favor strong readings. That is, conservative justices have been less concerned about the dangers of establishment and less concerned to protect free exercise rights, particularly of religious minorities. Liberals, by contrast, have been opposed to any possibility of a religious establishment and they have been relatively more concerned to protect the free exercise rights of minorities.
- Robert Devigne. Recasting Conservatism: Oakeshott, Strauss, and the Response to Postmodernism. Yale University Press.
Conservatives claim that liberals misinterpret the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment. They point to the opinion written for the Supreme Court by Hugo Black in Everson v. Board of Education: "The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: neither a state nor a Federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another." The establishment clause, conservatives insist, precludes the national state from promoting any religious denomination but does not prohibit state governments and local communities from developing policies that encourage general religious beliefs that do not favor a particular sect and are consistent with the secular government's goals.
- ABA Journal Sep 1962.
Much more recently, in 1952, speaking through Mr. Justice Douglas in Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 313, the Supreme Court repeated the same sentiments, saying: We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. Mr. Justice Brewer in the Holy Trinity case, supra, mentioned many of these evidences of religion, and Mr. Justice Douglas in the Zorach case referred to ... [P]rayers in our legislative halls; the appeals to the Almighty in the messages of the Chief Executive; the proclamation making Thanksgiving Day a holiday; "So help me God" in our courtroom oaths – these and ... other references to the Almighty ... run through our laws, our public rituals, our ceremonies ... the supplication with which the Court opens each session: "God save the United States and this Honorable Court" (312–313). To this list may be added tax exemption of churches, chaplaincies in the armed forces, the "Pray for Peace" postmark, the widespread observance of Christmas holidays, and, in classrooms, singing the fourth stanza of America which is prayer invoking the protection of God, and the words "in God is our trust" as found in the National Anthem, and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, modified by an Act of Congress of June 14, 1954, to include the words "under God".
- Drakeman, Donald L. (2010). Church, State, and Original Intent. Cambridge University Press. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-521-11918-4.
The more common version of the enhanced federalism argument relates to the possibility voiced by Justice Clarence Thomas that there is something about the establishment clause that "resists incorporation." This argument has been advance in a variety of ways, but the basic point is that the First Amendment was specifically designed to protect the established churches in the states from federal interference. That Congress should make no law "respecting" an establishment of religion is thus read as forbidding laws on the subject matter of religious establishments in the states.
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The bone-dry churches and social conservatives railed against repeal. One Methodist Bishop declared that only "the rakes, the roves, the prostitutes, (and) the brothel keepers" were for it.
- Mayer, Russell K. (March 6, 2014). Taking Action on Internet Gambling: Federal Policymaking 1995–2011. Lexington Books. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-7391-8066-2.
...of conservative ideology, whereby social conservatives oppose the morally questionable activity of Internet gambling, combined with liberal ideological beliefs about freedom from government interference in the personal realm.
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...and much of his support base then switched to the other social conservative, Mike Huckabee.
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Santorum, like Bachman, had a consistent record on social conservative issues, which was viewed as an asset.
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For the socially-conservative American who thinks government intervention has some place in the economy, the American Solidarity Party might fit.
- McKeen, Leah A D, "Canadian Christian Nationalism?: The Religiosity and Politics of the Christian Heritage Party of Canada" (2015). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 1740.
- Jones, Mark P. (February 24, 2020). Voting and Political Representation in America: Issues and Trends [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 497. ISBN 978-1-4408-6085-0.
- Micklethwait, John; Wooldridge, Adrian (April 2, 2009). God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 95. ISBN 9781101032411.
He also, to litigate on behalf of socially conservative issues, helped in 1994 to foundthe Alliance Defense Fund, which has notched up more than twenty-five victories before the U.S. Supreme Court and hundreds more before the lower court.
- Hunter, James Davison (2010). To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Oxford University Press. p. 122. ISBN 978-0-19-974539-5.
- Marcus, Ruth (December 3, 2019). Supreme Ambition: Brett Kavanaugh and the Conservative Takeover. Simon and Schuster. p. 81. ISBN 978-1-9821-2386-4.
The leaders of three socially conservative groups—the American Family Association, the American Principles Project, and Liberty Counsel--joined with Jauregui to send a letter to the president pushing for Barrett.
- Engdahl, Sylvia (2007). Religious Liberty. Greenhaven Press. ISBN 9780737738551.
... supposed the federal law, as did the socially conservative Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
- Vaughan, Joel D. (June 15, 2009). The Rise and Fall of the Christian Coalition: The Inside Story. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 200. ISBN 978-1-62189-212-0.
Catholic University's Mark Rozell told The Virginian-Pilot in late 2001 when Pat Robertson resigned as the Coalition's chairman: "Christian Coalition, without a doubt, has been the most successful social conservative organization in this country."
- Deckman, Melissa (May 24, 2016). Tea Party Women: Mama Grizzlies, Grassroots Leaders, and the Changing Face of the American Right. NYU Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-1-4798-6642-7.
- Rimmerman, Craig A.; Wilcox, Clyde (October 1, 2007). The Politics of Same-Sex Marriage. University of Chicago Press. p. 245. ISBN 9780226720005.
In 2003 Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, questioned the Republican commitment to fighting for the socially conservative policies that defined the group.
- Bennett, Daniel (June 10, 2015). "The Rise of Christian Conservative Legal Organizations". Religion & Politics. Retrieved April 27, 2017.
- Gottlieb, Samantha D. (January 2, 2018). Not Quite a Cancer Vaccine: Selling HPV and Cervical Cancer. Rutgers University Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-8135-8780-6.
- Dumenil, Lynn (2012). The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Social History: Men's-YMCA. Oxford University Press. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-19-974336-0.
He launched the Moral Majority, a voter mobilization and lobbying organization, in June 1979, and he also formed the Moral Majority political action committee to raise money for socially conservative congressional candidates.
- Gold, Michael (March 28, 2018). "Walmart Pulls Cosmo From Checkout. Plus! Guess Who's Claiming Victory". The New York Times. Retrieved April 25, 2020.
- Gearon, Liam; Prud'homme, Joseph (April 4, 2018). State Religious Education and the State of Religious Life. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-62564-726-9.
- Farmer, Brian (December 18, 2008). American Conservatism: History, Theory and Practice. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 174. ISBN 978-1-4438-0276-5.
- Josephson, Burack (September 1, 2004). Fundamental Differences: Feminists Talk Back to Social Conservatives. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 178. ISBN 978-0-585-46378-0.
PJI, along with several other California-based social conservative organizations, initiated what they termed a "Parental Opt Out Program," so that parents who wished to could "ensure that their children are not exposed to such controversial and potentially harmful social instruction."