Conservative Protestants in the United States in the early 1960s generally tended to be politically disinterested and inactive. Politics was seen as something that was best left to politicians. Jerry Falwell, a conservative Southern Baptist pastor, was critical of more liberal Baptists for becoming involved in the civil rights conflict of the 1960s. Like most American conservative religious leaders of that age, he saw his role as limited to ministering to the spiritual and pastoral needs of his people. This can be interpreted as a lingering after-effect of the fundamentalism of the 1920s, which encouraged believers to disengage from the world around them .
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The Rise of the American “Religious Right”
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Falwell’s change of heart illustrates well the sea-change that swept through conservative American Protestant churches, in response to developments of the age. Three pivotal court decisions were handed down in 1962–3. Engel v. Vitale, 1962, ruled that a prayer used in the New York school system was unconstitutional. The text of the prayer was: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.” In Murray v. Curlett and Abington Township School District v. Schempp, the Supreme Court ruled that school prayers and Bible readings constituted violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. These were followed by other decisions which alarmed conservatives, including the legalization of first trimester abortion, and the sanctioning of government involve- ment in private Christian academies.