Beltway Fever has infected the national leaders of the Christian Coalition, and the latest bout of illness has them standing with the ACLU, MoveOn.org, U.S. PIRG, SEIU and the Progressive Democrats of America in support of Net neutrality regulation.

Sadly, this is not the first time leadership at the Christian Coalition of America has sided with the forces of big government and against good sense and the rest of the conservative movement.

In 2003, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley — also my friend and former House colleague — attempted to pass a voter referendum to broadly raise state taxes. The usual suspects — public employee unions and newspaper editorial boards — all applauded the effort to hike taxes by more than a billion dollars a year. Among those in the cheering section was the national Christian Coalition, which loudly supported this tax increase on Alabama families.

Fortunately, John Giles and the Alabama chapter of the Christian Coalition courageously broke with the national chapter and worked to defeat the tax increase. Together, we won the debate and turned out conservative voters, who soundly defeated the higher tax plan at the polls. Even better, without the tax increase, Alabama’s government today is enjoying record budget surpluses, and Riley is running for re-election on a tax cut platform.

One would think that the Alabama experience would give the Washington, D.C., staff of the Christian Coalition, and their president, Roberta Combs, a measure of pause, but they keep getting it wrong. They continue their sit-in with the far-left activist group MoveOn in support of the Clinton-Markey effort to dramatically expand federal control over the Internet.

The national Christian Coalition’s logic on this issue is puzzling. While the organization strongly supports imposing federal indecency rules on speech on cable and satellite networks, they now claim a “free speech” rationale for supporting government control over the Internet.

Assuming that free speech is in fact what they are interested in, they should oppose Net neutrality. Secure private-property rights and consumer choice will guarantee continued free speech on the Internet, not increasing the power of federal regulators and Washington lobbyists, as Net neutrality regulations would.

Just as the national Christian Coalition was wrong when it embraced the Left’s position that raising taxes was the solution to Alabama’s fiscal crunch, they too are wrong in agreeing with the Left that government regulation is the answer to a free and dynamic Internet.

Net neutrality mandates threaten the very diversity of Internet options and the innovation Christian Coalition members rely upon. Indeed, why is the Christian Coalition supporting a federal law that would force Internet service providers (ISPs) to treat pornography the same as family-friendly content?

Like the rest of America, religious and social conservatives will benefit from greater competition and more choices. The marketplace provides options like family-friendly ISPs and parental controls. Government regulatory solutions would treat “all content equal” and impose a one-size-fits-all approach. This may be good for MoveOn members, but it is not in the interest of individual liberty or key activists in the conservative movement like Christian Coalition members.

It is no surprise that every other conservative or free-market group that has spoken out on telecommunications policy has come to the same conclusion: Increasing federal regulation of the Internet will reduce choice, growth and innovation. Among those standing opposite the national Christian Coalition on this issue are the Heritage Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Progress & Freedom Foundation, and my own organization, FreedomWorks.

In the end, I do not want to make too much of the Christian Coalition’s support for Net neutrality, because it does not really matter outside of the liberal blogosphere. In this instance, it is fortunate that the Christian Coalition of America’s president does not even speak for most the of the grassroots activists who traditionally make up the Christian Coalition.

On-the-ground chapters in the states continue to distance themselves from the Washington, D.C., leadership. The influential Iowa chapter in March this year went so far as to publicly disavow any relationship with the national Christian Coalition and even changed its name to the Iowa Christian Alliance.

The national Christian Coalition was once an important part of the movement that helped bring conservative, limited government ideas to majority status in America. Today, the shell organization that remains is too often simply another Washington, D.C., voice calling for bigger government.

Its support for Net neutrality is erratic, misguided and at odds with every serious conservative organization on this issue. The Christian Coalition’s endorsement should not be allowed to provide “bipartisan” cover for the left-wing assembly currently attempting to expand federal control over the Internet.

”’Dick Armey is the president of Freedomworks.”’

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