20 Leading Figures of the Religious Right (and How They Got There)

There is the right and then there is the religious right. The latter describes the many individuals and their organizations who make up the more Biblically driven faction of Conservative politics in the United States. While some of these individuals, such as Mike Pence and Ted Cruz, are household names, others are more influential through their media empires or lobby groups. While some are highly respected by mainstream Republicans, others are far more controversial. But one thing they all have in common is their influence, and these are the 30 leading figures of the religious right.   

Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann hit the national political stage when she threw her hat into the ring for president during the 2012 election. Before the primaries, Bachmann was best known as the first Republican congresswoman to serve the state of Minnesota. Today, the married mother of five remains in the political spotlight as an advocate for the pro-life movement and often appears in Conservative media to discuss her beliefs.

David Barton

David Barton has made a name for himself as an author and evangelical Christian political activist. Born and raised in Texas, Barton spent years as a high school teacher and principal. He then formed Specialty Research Associates, Inc., a company that claims to “focus on the historical research of issues relating to America’s constitutional, moral, and religious heritage.” Still, Barton has been criticized for rejecting the widely held view that the U.S. Constitution advocates the separation of church and state. Despite being highly controversial, Barton remains influential. He is the founder of WallBuilders, LLC, and was a vocal supporter of Ted Cruz during the 2016 presidential election.

Glenn Beck

Glen Beck is easily one of the best-known names amongst Conservatives and those on the religious right. Beck got his start in radio, bouncing from station to station before The Glenn Beck Program landed a spot on Premiere Radio Networks and gained 6.5 million listeners to become the 4th most successful radio show in the nation. Beck transitioned to television, hosting an hourly segment on CNN before getting his show on Fox News. Since leaving Fox to found and run Mercury Radio Arts and TheBlaze, Beck continues to host extremely popular radio and television shows, and has written a whopping six New York Times bestsellers.

Leo Brent Bozell III

Leo Brent Bozell III got his start campaigning for Conservative politicians through the National Conservative Political Action Committee, but has since found his niche in the media industry. A nephew of Conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr., Bozell is a board member of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. He is the founder of the Media Research Center, CNSNews.com, and the censorship advocacy group Parents Television Council. An avid writer, Bozell has a nationally syndicated column which appears in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and National Review, among others.

Ted Cruz

After graduating from Princeton University, Ted Cruz jumped right into politics, serving in such appointee positions as Director of the Office of Policy Planning at the Federal Trade Commission, Domestic Policy Advisor to George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign, and Associate Deputy Attorney General at the U.S. Justice Department. Today, the married father of two represents the people of Texas in the U. S. Senate and was one of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination during the 2016 presidential election.

James Dobson

James “Jim” Dobson consistently ranks as one of the most influential Conservative Christians in American politics. Educated at both Point Loma Nazarene University and the University of Southern California, Dobson founded Focus on the Family in 1977 and the Family Research Council in 1981. Though Focus on the Family continues to thrive, Dobson left the organization in 2003. In 2010 he launched the non-profit Family Talk. In addition to his political activism and his work with Family Talk, Dobson has authored dozens of books on marriage, parenting, and other family matters.

Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Though he has proven to be incredibly controversial amongst even those who describe themselves as Conservative Christians, there’s no denying Jerry Falwell, Jr. is a leading figure of the religious right. In 2007, Falwell took over the role of president of Liberty University from his father, the equally controversial Jerry Falwell, Sr. Since then, Falwell has dabbled in national politics. He endorsed Donald Trump for president. While he turned down the position of U.S. Secretary of Education, he was appointed to chair a task force on reforms for the Department of Education.

Joseph Farah

Joseph Farah is one of the leading Conservative figures on the religious right and within media. Born to Syrian and Lebanese parents in New Jersey and a self-proclaimed evangelist, Joseph spent six years as the executive news editor at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. In 1990, he was given the task of turning the Sacramento Union into a politically Conservative alternative to the Sacramento Bee. Less than a year later, Farah was able to use his editorial success to co-found the Western Journalism Center, through which he received the Washington Times Foundation National Service Award. In 1997, he established the online WorldNetDaily, a continued source of politically right-leaning news.

Robert Grant

Known as the “father” of the Christian Right, Robert Grant is a political activist who has led a number of Christian Right groups during his long career. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Wheaton College, a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate of Philosophy from the California Graduate School of Theology. This ordained Baptist minister took on the role of chairman of Christian Voice, “the nation’s oldest conservative Christian lobby.” Through Christian Voice, Grant became involved in national politics, even campaigning for the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Over the years, Grant has founded or co-founded a number of influential organizations, including the Moral Majority, the American Freedom Coalition, the Religious Freedom Coalition, and the American Coalition for Traditional Values.

Mike Huckabee

Former pastor Mike Huckabee got his political start as governor of Arkansas from 1996 until 2007. Huckabee became well-known during the 2008 presidential election, during which he campaigned heavily for the Republican nomination and won the Iowa Republican caucus. Though John McCain ultimately secured the nomination, Huckabee landed a role of a different kind: television host. His popular Fox News talk show ran from 2008 to 2015, until it was moved to the Trinity Broadcasting Network where it continues to air. Huckabee remains a frequent contributor to a variety of media outlets, and has written a number of best-selling books dealing with the topic of politics and religion.

Alveda King

Alveda King may not be as well known as her uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King, but the former Georgia state representative has certainly solidified herself as one of the most influential figures of the religious right. King is a vocal advocate of the pro-life movement and  acts as director of the organization Civil Rights for the Unborn. Additionally, King is a minister, a best-selling author, and a frequent contributor to the Fox News Channel and Newsmax.

Sarah Palin

Though the married mother of five had led a successful grassroots campaign to become the governor of Alaska, no one had really heard of Sarah Palin before John McCain chose her as his running mate during the 2008 presidential election. This made her the first Alaskan to appear on a national ballot, and the first Republican woman to run for Vice President. Though McCain/Palin ultimately lost the election, the experience launched Palin and she became one of the leading figures of the religious right. Her book, Going Rogue, was a national bestseller, and she became a political commentator for the Fox News Channel. No longer officially associated with Fox, Palin continues to comment on national political issues.

Mike Pence

“[Mike] Pence doesn’t simply wear his faith on his sleeve — he wears the entire Jesus jersey,” says Indiana columnist Brian Howey. After earning his law degree from Indiana University, Pence took on such roles as Conservative radio and television talk show host, U.S. Representative, and U.S. Senator before ultimately becoming Governor of Indiana in 2013. Though Pence enjoyed a successful tenure as governor, he became a household name in 2016 when he was elected Vice President of the United States alongside President Donald Trump.

Tony Perkins

Though he began his career as a police officer and TV news reporter, Tony Perkins got his start in politics after he was elected to serve two terms in the Louisiana House of Representatives. Though he lost a race for U.S. Senate in 2002, Perkins’s Washington, D.C. ambitions didn’t end there. He was appointed president of the Family Research Council, an organization which describes itself as a lobby for conservative policy. Though both Perkins and the Family Research Council seem to be constantly plagued by controversy, both remain influential among the Christian right.

Ralph Reed

Ralph Reed got into politics as an undergraduate student at the University of Georgia. He was one of those later profiled in the Gang of Five about the influential political figures who got their start during the 1980s. Though Reed has run for office in Georgia, he has become best known as the first executive director of the Christian Coalition and the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. The latter has been largely responsible for bridging the gap between evangelical voters and the Tea Party movement.

Pat Robertson

Pat Robertson has long been one of the leading figures of the religious right across myriad mediums. He is perhaps best known as the host of the popular “The 700 Club”, and currently serves as the chancellor and CEO of Regent University. Robertson has also founded various religious organizations including the American Center for Law and Justice and International Family Entertainment Inc. (perhaps better known as Freeform or the former ABC Family Channel).

Alan Sears

Alan Sears earned a bachelor’s degree and a law degree at the University of Louisville. He got his start in government as a staff executive director of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography, better known as the Meese Commission. Though he was not a voting member of the commission, Sears made a name for himself by energetically supporting the strengthening of certain anti-obscenity laws. Still, Sears is perhaps best known as the long-time leader of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal advocacy group strongly associated with the Christian right. Though he retired as president and CEO of the Alliance in 2017, Sears led the organization to countless victories.

Louis P. Sheldon

Louis P. Sheldon is an Anglican priest and the chairman of the influential Traditional Values Coalition. As such, Sheldon often speaks and writes about such hot-button topics as same-sex marriage, religious liberty, and abortion. His opinions have appeared on Fox News, CNN, PBS, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, among others. Sheldon founded the Traditional Values Coalition in 1980, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in history from Michigan State University and a Master’s of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Donald Wildmon

The highly controversial Donald Wildmon is a minister, author, and former radio talk show host. His most influential roles were that of founder and chairman emeritus of the American Family Association and American Family Radio. An Army veteran and ordained Methodist minister, Wildmon founded the National Federation for Decency (which ultimately became the American Family Association) in response to feeling like there was no primetime television suitable for a family with young children. Wildmon and his organizations actively protested a slew of popular television shows and entertainment companies, including Charlie’s Angels, Three’s Company, All in the Family, Disney, Madonna, Blockbuster Video, Howard Stern, and even Mighty Mouse. Though officially retired, Wildmon’s organizations and radio networks are still popular and influential, and overseen by Wildmon’s son.

Rick Warren

Rick Warren is an evangelical pastor and founder of Saddleback Church, the eighth largest megachurch in the United States. He became a household name when his book, The Purpose Driven Life became a New York Times bestseller, ultimately selling more than 30 million copies (and counting!). Warren has been very vocal about his traditionally Christian views on such topics as abortion, stem-cell research, and same-sex marriage. He often expresses his views on national platforms.

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