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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 March 2005, 16:57 GMT
Educating America's Christian Right
By Mark Alden
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents

Energised by last year's election victory which mobilised their vote, Christian conservatives have been confidently pushing a moral agenda which puts education at the heart of a battle to change US culture.

Patrick Henry College, Virginia
Patrick Henry students are committed to transforming America

Sitting in a noisy but strangely tidy student canteen, Naomi Laine outlined her political vision.

"My intention is to impact the culture [of America]," she said.

"The people are the most important component of a society, and so that's where the battle for the minds needs to be waged."

Naomi sounds like a well-seasoned politician. But she is in fact a first year student at Patrick Henry College, America's first university established primarily for evangelical Christian home-schooled children.

Patrick Henry College is located in the small commuter town of Purcellville, Virginia.

It is only a short drive from Washington DC but just far enough away not to be influenced by the big city culture of the capital.

Founded in 2000 and with ambitious plans for expansion, the college sits on a 106-acre plot of land, dominated by the colonial grandeur of Founders Hall, the main building on the campus.

Biblical values

All the students at Patrick Henry are highly motivated, intelligent, and perform at a level to rival those in America's best known Ivy League universities.

They are also all deeply religious and committed to transforming America.

Michael Farris, founder and president of Patrick Henry College
We want our kids to be world changers
Michael Farris, Patrick Henry founder
In fact all students have to sign a statement before they arrive, confirming, among other things, that they have a literal belief in the teachings of the Bible.

"We want our kids to be world changers," said Michael Farris, founder and president of Patrick Henry College.

Mr Farris, a constitutional lawyer and political activist, established the college with a very clear aim: "To prepare Christian men and women who will lead our nation and shape our culture with timeless Biblical values and fidelity to the spirit of the American founding."

"If we are going to have our values reflected in our culture, we've got to train our kids in those values and train them for leadership," Mr Farris said. "And so this is a very concerted effort to train top leaders."

Political training

Mr Farris is one of the leading figures in the Christian revival taking place in America today.

More than 90% of the population say they believe in God, while 70% are Christian.

Christians do have something to say in politics
Michael Farris
Mr Farris is training a new generation who will place Christian beliefs at the heart of their social and political activities.

"Christians do have something to say in politics," said Mr Farris. "We have as much right as anybody else to speak our mind and assert our values."

The values Mr Farris wants to instil in his students are those of the conservative Right.

Freedom is the key concept, and for Mr Farris freedom means the right to hold private property, and self-government.

He sees a limited role for the federal government, with decision-making being taken only by elected officials.

He is not a fan of the UN or the Supreme Court because they are unelected.

He is also vehemently opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Conservative conspiracy?

With President George W Bush in the White House and a Republican dominated Congress, the time seems right for Mr Farris and Patrick Henry College.

Patrick Henry College students
Patrick Henry students can look forward to a career in politics
His students already have a level of access to Washington politics that few universities in the US can match.

Also, some 22 conservative members of Congress have employed interns from Patrick Henry over the past few years.

Critics see the college's very close connections to Mr Bush's White House as evidence of a conservative conspiracy to take over the institutions of power.

But Mark Rozell, professor of public policy at Washington DC's George Mason University, sees it differently:

"What Michael Farris is doing with Patrick Henry College is a perfectly legitimate part of the political landscape," he said.

"If other people feel threatened by it, they've got to get out there and mobilise their folks to be well-trained, serving internships, getting to Washington and so forth."

Democrat response

It is a message that is beginning to be heard.

Since November's election, leading Democrats such as Hilary Clinton are looking at how they can also engage in the language of God.

Our faith has been stolen and it's time to take it back
Jim Wallis, preacher
Jim Wallis, one of America's leading evangelical preachers, said it was time to end the Republican stranglehold on faith-based politics:

"Somehow Jesus has become pro-rich, pro-war and only pro-America," he said.

"How did this ever happen? Our faith has been stolen and it's time to take it back.

"There's a growing progressive evangelical movement in the US which cares about poverty and the environment and we're talking about what it means to apply faith to our politics."

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents was broadcast on Thursday, 3 March, 2005, at 1100 GMT.

The programme will be repeated on Monday, 7 March, 2005 at 2030 GMT.

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