The Rev. Jerry Falwell predicted while speaking on Feb. 28, 1984, in Smyrna, Ga., that the Senate would pass a constitutional amendment allowing prayer in public schools. (Associated Press file photo) (AP)
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The Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade is the culmination of a long, dedicated political engagement by religious conservatives who mobilized into the Republican Party beginning in the 1970s and later formed effective alliances with other GOP factions. The Virginia origins of this powerful political movement that transformed the GOP and ultimately overturned a constitutional right are little known.

Before the creation of Moral Majority, which played a huge role in the 1980 national elections, its leader, the Rev. Jerry Falwell of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., became involved in two political campaigns in Virginia that gave him the confidence that he and other religious conservative leaders could become a powerful national political force.

In 1978, Falwell successfully organized a campaign to oppose a state referendum to legalize pari-mutuel betting. He and other leading conservative religious figures in the state had mounted an expensive television and print advertising campaign.

The referendum failed by a narrow margin, and many credited Falwell’s leadership of the conservative religious coalition for this outcome. Although Falwell had previously preached separation from the political world, by the late 1970s, he had changed his mind and decided to use his skills at working for political change.

After the referendum’s defeat in 1978, Falwell said that this effort to build a coalition of religious leaders into political action was a portent of “future endeavors together.” On that day, he could not have known just how much those future endeavors would change the face of American politics.

Dennis Pederson, the executive director of the group opposed to the referendum, later said that this campaign gave conservative religious leaders in the state “a taste of what they could do in politics — how influential they could be.”

He said that Falwell had brought together a wide spectrum of religious leaders who “had never sat around a breakfast table before to discuss how they could organize to pursue a common goal.”

In that same year, there was a close election for the U.S. Senate, pitting Republican John W. Warner against a Democratic candidate, Andrew Miller, who was widely expected to win. Warner had earlier lost the GOP nomination to a strongly conservative candidate, Richard D. Obenshain, who later died in a plane crash, resulting in Warner being called to be the party nominee.

The conservative wing of the GOP, especially religious conservatives, did not trust Warner. He thus openly sought a nod of approval from Falwell to establish his credentials with members of the GOP who had earlier opposed his candidacy.

On the Sunday before the election, the two major-party nominees attended a service at Thomas Road Baptist Church at Falwell’s request. Both attended and eagerly awaited some approving sign from Falwell.

It was a measure of how much influence the candidates believed Falwell could have with a bloc of voters in the state. After introducing the candidates by their political credentials, Falwell, in his reference to Warner, added “and my friend.”

Never again would a Democratic nominee for statewide office in Virginia seek Falwell’s approval. Warner won the election by a mere 4,721 votes, and more than a few observers suggested that Falwell’s nod to the GOP candidate had been important to that outcome.

Stepping successfully into state politics that year gave Falwell the confidence that he could be an agent of change in government and public policy by mobilizing religious conservatives.

Secular New Right leaders approached Falwell that year and offered their backing if he could use his skills to head a national political organization that would link conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists to the Republican Party. Falwell agreed and formed his Moral Majority, relying primarily on his connections with fellow pastors in the Baptist Bible Fellowship denomination.

Falwell and Moral Majority soon became the face of the Christian right movement in the United States. For the 1980 national elections when he and his new organization burst on to the political scene, he claimed to have mobilized as many as 4 million previously apolitical religious conservatives.

Some observers disputed that number, but whatever the exact figure, Falwell certainly had been the key figure to initially mobilize a large corps of activists who, over time, transformed the GOP and American politics more generally.

When Moral Majority disbanded in the late 1980s, in its place came the Christian Coalition, also headquartered in Virginia. By the mid-1990s, political analysts and scholars of the religious conservative movement were writing about the eventual takeover of the Republican Party by the movement in various states. Numerous other religious conservative organizations, many statewide and regional, now carry the work of the organizations that formed in Virginia and helped power a transformative political movement.

Abortion access in America

Tracking abortion access in the U.S.: After the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, the legality of abortion is left to individual states. The Post is tracking states where abortion is legal, banned or under threat.

Abortion pills: The Justice Department appealed a Texas judge’s decision that would block approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. The Supreme Court decided to retain full access to mifepristone as the appeal proceeds. Here’s an explanation of what happens next in the abortion pill case.

Post-Roe America: With Roe overturned, women who had secret abortions before Roe v. Wade felt compelled to speak out. Other women who were seeking abortions while living in states with strict abortion bans also shared their experiences with The Post through calls, text messages and other documentation. Here are photos and stories from across America since the reversal of Roe v. Wade.